WINFIELD TOWNSHIP – The former superintendent of the Ionia Area Intermediate School District is the newest member of the Winfield Township Planning Commission.
The Winfield Township Board voted 5-0 on Thursday at the recommendation of Supervisor Phyllis Larson to appoint George Hubbard to the Planning Commission, which is in the midst of creating a wind energy ordinance as Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy continues to work on a proposed wind turbine project in Montcalm County.
Hubbard fills a vacancy on the Planning Commission which was created by the death of Carolyn Kelsey in July. Another Planning Commission vacancy remains open due to the resignation of Travis Carr.
Hubbard was the Ionia Area ISD superintendent from 1996 to 2007. He lives in Winfield Township and has not signed a property easement agreement with Apex, according to Larson.
“He was on the Board of Review,” Larson said of Hubbard. “He’s used to working with the public. He seems to be able to weigh it out, the pros and cons, what’s best for the community. He could go either way.”
In addition to working on a wind energy ordinance, Winfield Township also has a solar energy ordinance pending, which is scheduled to be reviewed by the Montcalm County Planning Commission on Sept. 20 (visit montcalm.org for more information about that meeting’s time and location).
Conflicts about conflicts
At this point in the lengthy and still unfolding local wind saga, it seems parties on both sides of the issue have found their own attorneys who provide them with the advice that they want to hear – which is, of course, advice the other side opposes.
Phyllis and David Larson have signed property easement agreements with Apex, which was once again the main topic of public comment during Thursday’s meeting.
“I will close this, I can adjourn it if it’s disrespectful,” warned Larson at the beginning of public comment.
Joe Hansen of Sidney Township then immediately brought up the allegation of Larson’s public of interest.
“Shouldn’t you recuse yourself? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” Hansen asked.
“At this particular time, our attorney said no,” Larson responded.
“Well, it is a conflict of interest – you know that just as well as everybody else in here,” Hansen insisted.
“I’m not going to argue with you,” Larson responded.
Robert Scott of Sidney Township pointed out that along with Larson, Planning Commission members Ben Gordon, Chris Rader and Dale Ulrich have all signed with Apex. Scott said those township officials are already receiving payments from Apex and will receive even more money if turbines are actually placed on their properties.
“The only way you get those payments is if you get a wind-friendly ordinance in this township,” Scott said. “If that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.”
“Your attorney’s job is to see to it that you recuse yourself,” added Robert Scott’s wife, Kay Scott. “Your attorney (Okemos-based law firm Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes) is not doing his job.”
Robert Scott noted that the township’s Planning Commission earlier this summer shot down a motion for a wind energy moratorium in a 4-5 vote (with Carr, Gordon, Kelsey, Rader and Ulrich all voting “no”). Scott said if Gordon, Rader and Ulrich had recused themselves, the motion would have passed 4-2 and at least had a chance to be considered by the township board.
Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township asked whether the township plans to place a moratorium on wind energy.
“The attorney said not to,” Larson responded.
Tricia Korhorn of Winfield Township said that according to a letter from Ohio-based Nolan Law attorney Joshua Nolan, Larson, Gordon, Rader and Ulrich should all recuse themselves and not participate in wind discussion.
“It’s very important that we don’t have conflicted officials dealing with topics,” Korhorn said. “Those of you who don’t have a conflict of interest and are allowing other members to participate with a conflict – you also are getting some liability. Down the road there will be a lawsuit because some turbine thing doesn’t go well and you are opening yourself up to liability. As litigation goes, the plaintiff is going to name every defendant they possibly can. All of you need to take this seriously and start recognizing the conflict that exists.
“You’re taking advice from a firm that you already referred to as an ‘Apex attorney’ in your minutes,” Korhorn added.
Leslie Rydahl of Pine Township asked Larson directly, “Am I clear that you don’t believe you have a conflict of interest?”
“I’m following my attorney’s advice,” Larson repeated. “Right now I can be here, we’re not discussing wind here.”
“So morally you don’t think you have a conflict of interest in the whole wind thing being the supervisor of this township …” Rydahl began.
“I think I’ve been able to weigh things out and I’m careful about it,” Larson responded.
“How can you be careful about that when Apex is giving you clauses …” Rydahl asked.
“Maybe those clauses aren’t there,” Larson interjected.
“Oh, they are there,” Rydahl insisted.
“No, they’re not,” Larson said firmly.
“Are you going to recuse yourself at the (future) time (of voting on a wind ordinance)?” Rydahl pressed.
“Whatever my attorney advises at the time,” Larson responded.
Mike Poulsen of Maple Valley Township chose to use a vulgarity to make his point.
“It seems to me, Phyllis, you’ve kind of forgotten who you work for and you work for these constituents and I kind of gather they’re kind of tired of paying to you sell the (expletive) on them,” Poulsen declared.
This comment was greeted with applause from some audience members, followed by a long silence.
“You can stare me down if you want, Phyllis,” Poulsen challenged.
“I’m thinking it over, because I could adjourn the meeting,” Larson noted.
“Do it, it’s your meeting,” Poulsen declared.
“Yes, it is,” Larson agreed. “But does somebody else have a comment? Be respectful or I will close it.”
This was followed by another long pause and then Hansen (who had already had a turn at public comment) declared to Larson, “You should be respectful and recuse yourself.”
The township board then voted 5-0 to adjourn the meeting.
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