CATO TOWNSHIP – The Cato Township Planning Commission pressed pause on wind ordinance work to seek legal advice as one of its own members fielded multiple requests from residents for her to step down.
Wednesday’s meeting began with nearly an hour of public comment voicing concerns about Apex Clean Energy’s wind turbine proposal for Montcalm County, as well as concerns about possible conflicts of interest within the township.
Planning Commission Secretary Kim Carr is married to Patrick Q. Carr and they have signed a property easement agreement with Apex. The Daily News previously detailed in a July 28 story how Pat Carr in his capacity as chairman of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners encouraged county officials to voice their support for Apex’s project as he believes it will financially benefit the entire county.
“It has come to our attention that some of our township officials have a personal and/or financial interest in this wind project being created here in our county,” said Marcy Myers of Cato Township during Wednesday’s Planning Commission public comment. “Any officials or their immediate family who will benefit in any way from this project need to immediately recuse themselves from participating, debating and voting on a wind ordinance. You cannot be neutral if you have any type of outside interest in this project. The moral conduct of our government body is failing if it allows any member to participate in the creation of this new ordinance if they have a benefitting interest in the wind project, monetarily or otherwise. Recuse yourself today.
“This past article in the Daily News (from July 28) is an embarrassment to our county,” Myers added. “I cannot believe that we have county officials that have already signed up to receive new or future payments for a project that the majority of the citizens are against. This, in my opinion, is corrupt, this is unethical and shameful. Our officials need to step up and call out those individuals who are benefitting from big wind. Per the article, certain officials are influencing other officials to step up and push out their agenda so their own personal and financial future is secure. This is just so wrong.”
Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township brought up the same concern during public comment.
“Kim Carr, you are married to Pat Carr,” Kwekel noted. “Pat Carr is looking at getting millions off of this project.”
“No, no he is not,” Kim interjected with a laugh. “You have misinformation, I am sorry.”
“No, that’s how it sounds – you’re looking at a million dollars over your 55 years of the lease for every turbine you get. You’ve already received thousands,” Kwekel responded.
“Let’s not personally attack people, please,” said Pat Clark of Cato Township from the audience.
“It’s a board member working for the government,” Kwekel pointed out. “It’s nothing personal, but you are an authority. You don’t have to answer the question, but this is my public comment and I can use it how I choose.”
“We set some ground rules at the beginning (of the meeting), Jeremy,” Chairman Phil Morrow interrupted.
“This is my time to comment how I choose,” Kwekel noted.
“Jeremy, thanks,” Morrow responded.
“Are you cutting me off?” Kwekel asked.
“We set some ground rules at the beginning and I hope, I mean I think most of you respect those …” Morrow began.
“I don’t see how it’s a personal attack, I mean, I’m not trying to attack you,” Kwekel said. “If there’s something I’m saying that’s wrong, if you haven’t received more than a thousand dollars or if Pat hasn’t received more than a thousand dollars, then correct me.”
“All set?” Morrow asked Kwekel.
“It’s an obvious conflict of interest and you should step down,” Kwekel told Kim Carr. “If it was a good project, then you could step down and it would pass without your vote.”
Planning Commissioner Brandi Clark-Hubbard noted that the Michigan Planning Enabling Act requires townships to define conflict of interest in their bylaws.
“If you’ve followed the Daily News, there’s been six articles since our last meeting about conflict of interest (in other townships),” Clark-Hubbard said. “I, as a commissioner, I want to know what the definition is. As public officials, anytime you’re making decisions on behalf of the public, there’s an expectation that you’re not going to benefit financially from it. Now it gets a little hairy when everybody lives in the same township. But we need to be in compliance.”
“I think we have a very diverse commission,” Morrow responded. “We have people who I think are on all sides of the fence. As the chair, it doesn’t concern myself at this point. I think we’ve been very open and speaking our minds. Is it on my mind, has it been on my mind? Yeah. But I think we’ve been very open and honest.
“If we have turbines, will certain people benefit in our community when it comes to that? Sure. I’m sure they will,” Morrow added. “Will we all benefit from that as a community if we do have them? My belief is we will based on that monies that come in from that. Is there a detriment to that too? Yeah, sure there is. But we still have a lot of work to do, as far as I’m concerned.”
The Planning Commission decided to ask the Cato Township Board if an attorney could provide some legal advice regarding the wind ordinance and conflict of interest issues, which resulted in the Planning Commission tabling any further discussion on its ordinance Wednesday.
“I feel like it’s irresponsible for our commission to proceed without some legal guidance,” Kim Carr said.
“I personally have sought some legal direction on my position on this commission and I have been advised to proceed as I am and as I have been,” Kim added. “I have been on this commission for 12 years and I will continue until I am told that I should not. I understand conflict of interest, I’ve been in the corporate world for 38 years. I understand conflict of interest. I’m not planning to put myself in a position of such.”
The Planning Commission also agreed to recommend that the township board extend its wind energy moratorium for another six months. The township board will next meet at 7 p.m. on Monday.