ESCANABA – Wording on petitions seeking elections to recall four officials from Fairbanks and Garden townships was not approved by the Delta County Election Commission during a clarity hearing at the county courthouse Thursday.
Larry Kelley of Garden filed petitions to recall three Fairbanks Township officers – Supervisor Ronald Collins, Clerk Kathryn Denholm and Trustee James Dalgord. Garden resident Cristi Currie filed a recall petition against Garden Township Supervisor Morgan Tatrow.
Kelley and Currie sponsored the petitions, claiming that during township meetings, the four public officials voted on issues relating to Heritage Sustainable Energy installing power poles on local right-of-ways while also having contracts with the wind energy company.
“They can’t represent the community when they have a conflict of interest,” commented Kelley. “I don’t think it’s in the citizen’s best interest when (the township officials) personally profit on it.”
Currie claimed Tatrow has a lease with and has accepted money from Heritage while voting last fall on two separate motions related to the power pole right-of-way in conjunction with Heritage proposing to build additional wind turbines.
In 2012, Heritage completed the construction of 14 wind turbines in Garden Township on the Garden Peninsula. Ever since the wind farm was proposed, much of the community has been divided over the issue. Heritage is currently proposing to build about three dozen additional turbines in Garden Township and Fairbanks Township.
While Collins and Dalgord both admitted to signing contracts with Heritage, they each explained that prior to voting on the right-of-way issue in September, they consulted counsel from the Michigan Township Association. It was each of their understanding they could vote on the issue. The remaining board members later rescinded that vote at the next meeting in October with Collins and Dalgord recusing themselves.
Denholm told the election commission that she has no lease with and no financial interest in Heritage’s project. She also said the petition language does not clearly state the reason for her recall, does not specify any official action taken, and fails to identify any misconduct. In addition, the public act referred to in the petition relates to legislators, not township officials, she noted.
Collins agreed the petition language, specifically the conflict of interest, was “quite vague,” adding, “It appears to me there should be something concrete on there… on what the conflict was.”
Dalgord commented, “The language leaves it pretty open… and may not be factual” because the township vote in question was later rescinded.
Tatrow told commissioners he has a lease with Heritage regarding phase 1 of its wind turbine project, but he has nothing to gain from phase 2 to which recent township action relates. He agreed the petition language sounded vague, also noting what has been a turbine issue in the community is becoming a personal issue.
Following additional public comment from residents of both townships, the commission did not accept the language on the proposed petitions that stated the reason for the recalls was for each official “taking official actions in violation of the conflict of interest laws as outlined in Act 318 of 1968 of the Michigan Compiled Laws.”
Commission members Probate Court Judge Robert Goebel Jr., County Treasurer Tom Sabor, and County Clerk Nancy Kolich all agreed the petition language was not clear and not specific enough for voters to know what they would have been asked to sign.
Kolich said the wording – which was the same on each petition – was vague and didn’t specify what the conflict of interest was or when it occurred. The language was very difficult for the targeted officials to address and also difficult for voters to understand, she added.
Sabor said, “I think it’s vague, too. The instructions say it must be clear and factual.”
Goebel commented he had the same concerns, noting the petition language was not specific enough for voters to sign. The wording needed to be more specific about the conflict of interest and refer to a more specific public act, he added.
Following the commission’s unanimous vote to not accept the petition language, Goebel told the recall sponsors they could redraft the wording and submit new petitions for the election commission to consider.
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