SIDNEY TOWNSHIP – As repeated calls were made during Monday evening’s Sidney Township Board meeting for Trustee Jed Welder to resign, the farmer remained outwardly tranquil while sipping from a mug sporting the slogan, “Keep calm and carry on.”
About 65 people were in attendance via Zoom for the meeting which had only been underway for a few minutes when Trustee Ray Leyrer announced, “I wanted to talk about last month’s meeting.”
Leyrer was referring to the township board’s February meeting which centered around the topic of a pending wind turbine ordinance in the township. During that meeting, Welder made repeated posts in the Zoom chatroom function – using Clerk Carrie Wills’ name – including repeatedly calling Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page administrator Erik Benko of Sidney Township “little eric,” responding to a question from Douglass Township Planning Commissioner Cindy Shick with “none of your business cindy” and telling Norm Stephens of Caro to “pipe down” and “go home.”
Welder has signed a property lease with Apex Clean Energy regarding his farmland, Trinity Farms in Sidney Township, and he has been public about it.
During Monday’s meeting, Leyrer addressed Welder directly, saying, “I want to ask Jed if he has any response to the comments he made at last month’s meeting.”
“No,” Welder answered. “I called out one member of the township. The other two don’t live here.”
“OK, but you called out people that were in the public comments,” Leyrer said. “So you don’t have anything to say about that, huh?”
“No,” Welder said again.
“Not an apology?” Leyrer pressed.
“That’s why I shut the (Zoom) chat off this time because it was getting out of hand with all the people,” Wills interjected.
“Ray, if you’d like to have a conversation about that, you and I can sit down and talk, but I don’t have anything publicly to say,” Welder told Leyrer.
“I can’t believe how you can make comments like that and embarrass the township board and embarrass the township and not have any remorse about it,” Leyrer declared. “You’re totally disrespectful to the township board. So at this time, since you don’t have any response to that, I would like to make a motion that Jed resign as trustee from Sidney Township immediately.”
Leyrer’s motion died due to no support (township board members can’t force one of their own elected officials to resign).
When public comment got underway, audience members had a lot to say about Leyrer’s motion and the lack of response from township board members.
“Thank you, Ray. I second your motion,” Kim Hansen of Sidney Township said. “You’re the only one on that board who’s got any gumption for your constituents out here. I think it’s disturbing when that kind of behavior goes on. When Sidney Township is making national news that this board is acting like clowns, it’s pretty disturbing because we’ve got a lot of intelligent people living in this community.”
“I know there’s a lot of us out here upset with the way Jed talked and represented you guys during the meeting,” added Patty Shindledecker of Sidney Township. “The fact that he won’t even apologize for it makes it even worse. I think he should be asked to resign based on his behavior and his disregard for people’s feelings and their beliefs.
“I really appreciate this show of integrity,” Benko told Leyrer. “I’m glad somebody on our board has it. It’s really embarrassing to have somebody that just blatantly is looking to line their own pockets and has zero remorse for their own behavior.”
“I think you should go on record of at least disapproving what he did,” Robert Scott of Sidney Township added. “You can censure him if you like.”
Scott also mentioned that he had written a lengthy letter voicing concerns with claims that Apex officials have made. That letter is posted on the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page.
“I definitely feel like if I conducted business in the manner that Jed did, then my position (at work) would be eliminated,” Ann Lavery of Douglass Township said. “That definitely shows the integrity of the rest of the board as well.”
This comment prompted a response from three board members.
“He’s elected,” Treasurer Corinda Stover noted of Welder. “He’s an elected official. We can’t kick him off.
“I’ve had my own talks with Jed,” Stover added.
“We can’t make anybody resign off the board,” Supervisor Terry Peterman reiterated. “I may agree with Ray, but I can’t throw anybody off the board. I can’t fire anybody off the board because we’re all elected officials. If Jed won’t resign, I can’t make him resign.”
“We’re all getting slammed left and right so I’m staying out of stuff,” Stover added. “I’m not going to get involved with all of this Facebook fighting and slander that’s involving all of us.”
“We are working in the background,” Wills noted. “We are working on things.”
Karen Oestrike of Sidney Township asked if any Sidney Township officials watched the virtual community meeting that Apex Clean Energy hosted last week. She called it “strictly one-sided” and said Apex officials never responded to her questions and she doesn’t expect they ever will. She also voiced concern regarding Apex’s response – which she said was untruthful – to woman’s question about whether any fuel is used in running turbines.
Apex had responded, “Short answer is no. The fuel is the wind. There is not diesel or gas backup to power the turbines when the wind does not blow. They’re powered by the wind.”
Albert Jongewaard, senior development manager for Apex, was present at Monday’s Sidney Township Board meeting and responded to Oestrike’s concerns.
“We had over 100 questions so it’s not that we didn’t answer questions,” Jongewaard said. “We sent an email to everybody who provided an accurate email address after the meeting to acknowledge that we would be responding to all of the questions. We will be replying to all of them and posting them on our website.”
Regarding fuel and turbines, Jongewaard emphasized, “The wind runs a wind turbine. There are types of fluid in the turbine generator itself, such as hydraulic fluid, but the wind runs a wind turbine. That’s a pretty straightforward answer.
“I know folks are referring to me as a liar,” Jongewaard added. “I look forward to replying to the letter that Mr. Scott wrote as well and seeing what they have to say. I can’t change the way somebody feels about something. There’s a lot of opinions about this, but there’s also a lot of facts and science about this and we’re going to stick to facts and science when it comes to wind energy.”
This promoted Peterman to ask Jongewaard, “I was wondering how much do they (people who lease land to Apex) get for one of these turbines on their properties?”
“We don’t answer that question in public because it’s not necessarily a public debate. It’s not necessarily a question that should be impacted by a township board or county government,” Jongewaard responded. “The lease that we have is the same payment terms for everybody.”
Paul Celebuski of Douglass Township had a question regarding whether Sidney Township is working with other townships on creating a consistent wind ordinance throughout Montcalm County.
“As you’re developing these ordinances, are you coordinating with the other townships at all?” he asked. “It makes sense to me since everything is connected that all these townships should be working together to come up with a common ordinance that suits everybody’s needs.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Peterman admitted. “Maybe that is a good idea to work with the rest of the townships and see what they’re doing.”
“You guys are all neighbors so I would hope you’re all working together to coordinate the best possible solution,” Celebuski said.
The Sidney Township Board has placed a six-month moratorium on any wind activity (the moratorium will expire in early August) and is still waiting to receive their drafted wind ordinance back from an attorney in Grand Rapids. Peterman said the board will hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed ordinance and he’s hoping they can do it in person, either at Montcalm Community College or at the Sheridan Community Center.
The Sidney Township Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. tonight. Visit sidneymi.org/home.html for information on how to virtually attend.
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