Four members of the Juniata Township Board of Trustees have been named in a recall petition that was filed earlier this week.
Supervisor Neil Jackson, Clerk Heidi Stark, Treasurer Andrew Stark and Trustee Elaine Schunn were the names on the recall petition which was filed by Juniata Township resident Nancy Laskowski on Tuesday with the Tuscola County Clerk’s Office.
Laskowski represents the Concerned Citizens of Juniata Township, a group that was formed after NextEra Energy L.L.C., an alternative energy corporation that has built three wind farms in the Thumb, announced another project which was aimed at building a wind farm in Juniata and Fairgrove townships.
Garrett Tetil, a Juniata resident who helped with the handling of a special land use permit (SLUP) submitted by NextEra for its next project, called Pegasus Wind Energy. The Pegasus project calls for the construction of 63 wind turbines – 32 in Fairgrove Township, and 31 in Juniata.
“The whole reason this started is that (the Juniata Township board) sent us a notice and gave us two weeks to react,” Tetil said. “And many us didn’t even know (about the Pegasus project). So they sent us a notice saying the planning commission meeting is in two weeks and I thought ‘Holy smokes, I don’t even know about this and you’re voting on it already?’
“So that’s kind of when we all got together and started going to board meetings and voicing our concerns. And nothing has happened.”
Tuscola County Clerk Jodi Fetting confirmed a recall petition has been submitted, and explained how the process works. “(Laskowski) has filed a petition to begin the recall process,” Fetting said. “They have to file wording on the recall petition, and that wording goes in front of the election commission to determine if it’s of a clear and factual basis.”
The next stage of the process will be a Clarity/Factual Hearing by the Tuscola County Election Commission on Jan. 8. The election commission consists of Fetting, Tuscola County Probate Judge Nancy Thane and Tuscola County Treasurer Patricia Donovan-Gray.
At the hearing, the commission will either confirm or deny the petition. If the recall is denied, the process stops and would have to start over again, Fetting said. If the petition is confirmed, 147 signatures must be collected for each of the four members of the Juniata Township board for the recall to continue. The number of 147 is based on 25 percent of the number of Juniata Township residents that voted in the most recent gubernatorial election. In 2014, 587 Juniata residents voted in the most recent Michigan gubernatorial election.
Upon review and confirmation of all signatures collected, by the Tuscola County Clerk’s Office, a special election would be held, as early as May if all deadlines are met. The official up for recall would automatically be placed on the ballot as a candidate, Fetting said.
One Juniata board member, Trustee Brenda Wachner, was not named on the recall petition.
Jackson, Heidi Stark, Andrew Stark and Schunn were each elected for the board in the November 2016 election.
When contacted by The Advertiser, Jackson declined to comment on the matter.
Heidi Stark is the only board member who is also on the planning commission. A Friday call to Heidi Stark was not returned before The Advertiser’s 3 p.m. deadline.
In Juniata Township, planning commission members are appointed by the board of trustees. So, while planning commission members are not susceptible to recall, if board members are recalled, the new board members could shake up the planning commission.
Tetil told The Advertiser there were multiple reasons behind the recall petition.
“Maybe the straw that broke the camel’s back is finding out that they never hired an engineering firm initially,” Tetil said. Eventually, Juniata Township hired Townley Engineering to look at NextEra’s SLUP application, and how it fits with Juniata’s wind ordinance. Townley, which has offices in Sandusky and Freeland, provides services in mining, power and dredging, according to its website.
Tetil said that the Concerned Citizens group felt that Townley wasn’t qualified for the service based on a lack of wind energy experience and pointed out that while engineering firms often take months to look over applications and ordinances, Townley took “less than a week” to announce its positive findings at a Juniata Township board meeting earlier this month.
Tetil said that the Concerned Citizens group has pushed for the planning commission to implement a moratorium – or temporary stay – before deciding on whether to vote on the SLUP.
“All we’re asking for is just time,” Tetil said. “Make sure we know what we’re getting ourselves into and make sure (NextEra) is complying with our ordinance, which they are not.
“We’re just looking for a pause.”
Multiple Juniata residents have told The Advertiser they believe that the Juniata Township Planning Commission is not acting in the best interest of its citizens.
“We have several people that are up there speaking (at meetings) and our board isn’t even flinching, not even saying a single word,” Tetil said. “And our thought is ‘How can we not even have a dialogue on this?’ How is that possible?”
The planning commission’s first special meeting regarding NextEra’s SLUP application was scheduled for Nov. 20. After an outcry that the meeting violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, it was rescheduled for Dec. 9. The Dec. 9 meeting was attended by about 200 people, many of whom were angry at the time and day (a Saturday at 9 a.m.) of the meeting, and its location (outside in a tent next to Juniata Township Hall, in 25-degree snowy conditions).
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