CARO – An Almer Township Planning Commission meeting held Monday was in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, says an attorney for a township resident.
Joshua Nolan, attorney for Jim Tussey, of Almer Township, told The Advertiser Tuesday that he believes Monday’s special planning commission meeting violated the Open Meetings Act because it was not posted to the township’s official website, almertownship.org, as required by state law.
Nolan sent a letter Tuesday afternoon to Jim Miklovic, supervisor, Almer Township, and Robert Braem, chairman, Almer Township planning commission, citing specific Michigan laws that require such meetings be posted to a public body’s official website. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Advertiser.
The township posted notice of the special meeting at noon on Saturday (March 12), Braem told The Advertiser after Monday’s meeting. He said it was his decision to post it at that time.
“That was our counsel,” Braem said. “We followed the rules for a special meeting.”
Brian Garner, attorney for the township, later said that he “doesn’t make policy” and only tells officials what they can and can’t do. He did not return a phone call Tuesday in time to respond to Nolan’s letter.
“Despite the clear mandate…that such notice be posted on the township’s website, there is absolutely no mention of this special meeting anywhere on the Almer Township website,” Nolan wrote to the officials. “This is a clear and unambiguous violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act.”
Monday’s special planning commission meeting was held to address township ordinances regarding setbacks and noise for wind turbines. The township board had charged the planning commission with reviewing the ordinances and deciding whether or not any changes were needed and, if so, to recommend any changes.
The timing coincides with plans by NextEra Energy Resources Inc. to build Tuscola III – a $200 million wind farm in parts of Almer, Ellington, and Fairgrove townships. A company official told The Advertiser NextEra plans to apply for permits for the project soon.
At Monday’s meeting, the planning commission voted 4-3 to recommend not changing the ordinances to the Almer Township board of trustees, which met Tuesday after the deadline for The Advertiser.
Nolan said any action taken by the planning commission on Monday should be invalidated. Further, he pointed out that a public official who intentionally violates the act could be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000, plus court costs of anyone who brings action against a public body or representative.
Tussey also questioned how officials Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources Inc. and Spicer Engineering of Saginaw were aware of the meeting and able to attend though the meeting was only posted on the door of the Almer Township hall.
Daniel Ettinger, attorney with Grand Rapids-based Warner, Norcross & Judd L.L.P. who has identified himself as representing NextEra, attended the meeting. He told The Advertiser he learned of the meeting “from my client,” but walked away and out the door when pressed for further details.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the “calendar of events” on the Almer Township website did not include Monday’s meeting, though the March 2 meeting and planning commission meetings for the rest of 2016 are on the calendar.
“My belief is (the planning commission members) know how much interest there is, they know how much controversy there’s been, I can’t even fathom how they can do an 18-hour notice for a meeting like this,” said Mike Patullo, an Ellington Township citizen who attended the meeting and has been pushing for officials in that community to revisit their ordinances for Tuscola III.
Tussey said he had additional concerns, as well, including the fact that as the board discussed ordinance changes, there was a lot of two-way exchange between planning commissioners and representatives of NextEra and Spicer.
He told the board it was concerning the public was shut out of the two-way discussion and could not have any input until after the board voted.
“As board members, as planning commissioners, isn’t our goal to have ordinances that provide for the safety, both physical and environmental?” Tussey said. “You kind of set yourself up when you only allow the professionals to advise you.”
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