DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The Douglass Township Planning Commission was supposed to make progress on creating a new wind ordinance Wednesday evening.
However, the meeting was dominated by public comment and escalating emotions, including Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen asking a Montcalm County sheriff’s sergeant to remove a man from the meeting and Township Supervisor Terry Anderson scolding the audience for making repetitive comments month after month. (See this reporter’s Twitter account for video clips from the meeting: @elisabethwaldon.) The meeting adjourned after just an hour and a half with no progress made on a wind ordinance.
The Planning Commission will next meet at 7 p.m. on May 17 for an ordinance workshop – a format without public comment, according to Jeppesen.
“There won’t be any public comment,” Jeppesen said. “It’s gonna be a workshop session.”
However, the Open Meetings Act (OMA) states that, “a person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body,” per MCL 15.263(5).
According to Jennifer Dukarski, a Michigan Press Association attorney with Butzel Long, many courts have addressed the question of whether comments must come at the beginning or end of the meeting, but all cases are clear: there must be public comment in an open meeting under OMA (see court case Derek Myerscough vs. Chippewa County Board of Commissioners in the Michigan Court of Appeals from Oct. 20, 2009).
“If they’re treating it as a public meeting, there must be time for public comment,” Dukarski summarized. “Workshops or advisory sessions are allowed under the Open Meetings Act, but for narrow purposes. Workshops can be held to provide training or information to members of a public body. Advisory committees can meet if they are only advisory. If a group is meeting to create a new ordinance and will make a decision on a proposal or a bill or a measure that will be subject to a vote under the Open Meetings Act, this would likely require a public meeting where individuals can address the public body in a public comment session.”
The Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the Douglass Township Board extend the township’s current moratorium on wind permits for a year (or until the township has an ordinance in place), as the moratorium is currently scheduled to expire in August. If the township board approves the recommendation, the moratorium will continue until August 2022.
Even though the Douglass Township Board voted on April 7 to stop offering a Zoom option, the Planning Commission offered a Zoom option Wednesday. Jeppesen said the township decided to offer Zoom after receiving an email from the Michigan Township Association stating that if more than 25 people were in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, Jeppesen would have to shut the meeting down.
However, there were more than 30 people present in person, not counting six Planning Commission members, and the meeting was not shut down.
PROLIFIC PUBLIC COMMENT
At the start of an hour-long public comment session, Kellie Jeppesen, the wife of Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen, began speaking about how she has been criticized for comments she made at the April 14 Planning Commission meeting about how turbines offer a retirement option for farmers.
Audience member Joe Hansen of Sidney Township interrupted Kellie several times, leading Jack Jeppesen to tell Hansen to be quiet.
“We do live here and if you want to put one (a turbine) by me, you’re more than welcome to,” Kellie said. “It’s not Apex against the world. If people are laughing at me, I don’t care. If you want to make your snide comments, go ahead. I know where I stand and I will stand here as long as I can.”
Zoning Administrator David Kelsey loudly applauded Kellie’s comments.
Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard handed Planning Commission members packets of three maps and several letters and documents addressing safety siting issues regarding turbines. During public comment, Jongewaard said the maps show the specific footprint within the township where landowners are eligible to sign property leases with Apex. The documents will be made available at the township hall.
After Jongewaard concluded his comments and sat down, several audience members muttered a variety of comments in response, including Hansen.
“People are back here talking without waiting their turn,” Kelsey declared.
“Mister officer, would you remove that person right there? Would you remove him please, mister officer?” Jeppesen asked Montcalm County Sheriff’s Sgt. Justin Schafer regarding Hansen.
“For what reason?” asked Hansen as Schafer walked over to speak with him.
“Because you’re interrupting,” Jeppesen said.
“What reason?” Hansen clarified.
“You’re interrupting the speaker on his own time,” Jeppesen said.
“He was done,” Hansen noted.
“You’re interrupting him,” Jeppesen repeated.
“He was done,” Hansen reiterated.
“I don’t want to hear another word from you or you will be removed,” Jeppesen said. “Be quiet until your time.”
Hansen spoke later in the meeting, voicing his opinion that turbines, if installed, would tear apart the community. He also turned to face Kellie Jeppesen to make some personal comments.
“If you don’t have a retirement and you’ve got property then maybe you ought to sell some property,” he said. “I’m sure you can get good money out of it.
“It’s a government boondoggle and a waste of money,” said Hansen of turbines.
Jongewaard shook his head at some of Hansen’s statements.
“Yeah, you can shake your head. Go ahead, Pinocchio,” Hansen responded.
“If you want to kick me out, that’s fine,” Hansen told the Planning Commission. “But it’s a boondoggle and you know it. You don’t need to treat people that way. You’re up here to represent people in this community, not for your self service.”
Of the two dozen people who spoke during public comment, half were from Douglass Township and half were from other townships.
‘YOU CANNOT ORDINANCE THESE PEOPLE AWAY’
Near the end of the meeting, Douglass Township Supervisor Terry Anderson stood up to scold the audience for only leaving the Planning Commission 45 minutes to work on a wind ordinance (based on the meeting adjourning at 9 p.m. … however, Jeppesen ended up adjourning the meeting at 8:30 p.m.).
“We’ve heard the same stuff over and over and over again for the last five months,” Anderson said. “They heard the same thing tonight they heard at the last meeting and the meeting before that and the meeting before that and the meeting before that.
“This gentleman threatened us with recall?” said Anderson pointing to someone in the audience. “Hey, go for it, buddy. Some of us wish to hell we had never run in November, but we’re not gonna quit. You wanna recall us? More power to you. We’re doing the best that we can.
“We cannot ordinance these people away,” Anderson said of wind developers. “We can regulate them. They’re here. If they can live with our regulations, they’re gonna be here. We can’t get rid of them. It’s as simple as that, folks. We can regulate them, but we can’t vote them out.”
Audience members began interrupting this statement with multiple comments and questions, leading Anderson to yell, “Hey, shut it, I’m talking, OK?”
Voices escalated, leading Jeppesen to repeatedly bang a gavel on his table and yell, “Call the meeting back to order, call the meeting back to order! It’s Terry’s time to talk!”
Anderson concluded by saying that the township needs to begin the process of getting a wind ordinance drafted before they can start answering questions about it.
“We’re doing the best that we can,” he repeated.
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