The Cato Township Planning Commission earlier this month paused working on a wind ordinance to seek legal advice amid residents repeatedly voicing conflict of interest concerns.
The Cato Township Board voted on Sept. 13 to table the Planning Commission’s Sept. 8 request for legal counsel and to not allow them to have any more wind meetings until an attorney has been retained.
The township board’s action was received with thanks by Planning Commission Chairman Phil Morrow, but was protested by planner Brandi Clark-Hubbard.
Meanwhile, residents continued to request that Planning Commission Secretary Kim Carr recuse herself – which Carr’s husband, Patrick Q. Carr, referred to as “a lynch mob mentality.”
LEGAL COUNSEL TABLED
Before the township board voted to table the request for legal assistance, Clark-Hubbard noted that she supports hiring an attorney for consulting purposes, but not to tell planners what their wind ordinance policy should be – she noted that’s the job of the planners themselves.
“I was a little discouraged that at last week’s Planning Commission meeting our process of review and policy debate was halted – and we have made excellent progress so far – because some people think that an attorney needs to be present from now on at all of our meetings,” Clark-Hubbard said. “Our review of the wind ordinance needs to resume immediately at our next commission meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 13, whether we’ve hired that attorney yet or not, and I’m asking this board to make that that happens. We’ve come a long way and put a lot of time and effort into researching and discussing this and we should not drag this out unnecessarily.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary that the attorney be at every one of your meetings,” Supervisor Larry Gilbert agreed. “The attorney is, like you mentioned, to hopefully keep us out of legal problems.”
Clerk Todd Lincoln said he’s been in contact with the Michigan Townships Association and they provided him with several law firm contacts. Lincoln said he’s heard back from three – Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman in Portage, Bloom Sluggett in Grand Rapids and Mika Meyers in Grand Rapids – and he’s waiting to hear back from a fourth, Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes in Okemos.
Locally, the Bauckham firm represents Pierson Township; Bloom Sluggett represents Crystal, Eureka, Montcalm and Winfield townships and the city of Stanton; the Fahey law firm represents Bloomer, Maple Valley and Winfield townships; and Mika Meyers represents Douglass and Pierson townships.
The Cato Township Board voted to table hiring a law firm until they hear back from the Fahey firm, “and not have any Planning Commission meetings until we have legal counsel in place,” Trustee Jourdan Lindsay said.
The township board also voted 5-0 to extend the township’s wind energy moratorium for another six months and to place a moratorium on solar energy projects for one year. Township officials have said they believe they have a solar ordinance in place since June 2020, but so far they have been unable to find evidence of a public hearing on the solar ordinance. Lincoln is currently working to clarify this.
“I just want to thank the board for stopping our planning meetings when it comes to wind,” said Morrow from the audience. “I appreciate that motion tonight. I’m not an expert and I don’t think anybody on our committee is an expert. We need some legal advice. It is my belief once we get that, that we make them part of the process. We’ve been meeting month after month and I’m not so sure that some of the stuff that we’re talking about is legal. It depends on who you talk to and who you believe.
“A lot of times our meetings, we’re lucky if we get 45 minutes to work on the ordinance, depending on the night, because we sit here and listen to these people (during public comment),” Morrow added. “We hear the same damn things month after month. What a waste of time. What a waste of time. We could be done with it.”
“We don’t like it but it’s a system we have to live with,” Gilbert agreed. “It’s too bad you can’t have a work session and do that (without public comment), but you can’t today.”
‘CIVILITY AND RESPECT’
During public comment, Marcy Myers of Cato Township requested that any township official who has signed a lease with Apex or collected any wind-related money – or has any immediate family members or family businesses benefitting – recuse themselves from the wind ordinance discussion. She also made this request at the Planning Commission meeting earlier this month.
“Um, Marcy, you went over this …” Gilbert interrupted her.
“No, I haven’t. Not with you I haven’t,” Myers noted.
“Well, I’m going to stop you,” Gilbert interrupted again. “We’re not going to ask Kim Carr to step off the board. She’s been there. She’s done a great job.”
“This is for everybody,” noted Myers of her request.
“If I had to ask her (Kim) to resign, I would have to ask Brandi to also,” Gilbert said.
“Not resign, recuse,” Myers clarified.
“I haven’t signed a lease, Larry,” Clark-Hubbard pointed out.
“This board is not going to remove Carrs from – Kim – from that board just because Pat has signed an agreement with the company,” Gilbert declared.
“I have not signed a lease,” Clark-Hubbard repeated.
Gilbert started to interrupt Clark-Hubbard.
“No, no, no, let me speak, this is my public comment,” Clark-Hubbard pointed out. “You spoke out and you pointed me out. The fact that what I feel is best for the policy of this township for what the citizens want, that I am in favor of a protective ordinance, that you’re threatening to kick me off the committee? That was out of line, that was big time out of line.”
Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township asked Kim Carr to recuse herself at the Planning Commission meeting earlier this month and he repeated his viewpoint at the township board meeting.
“Kim Carr, Pat Carr, I don’t know how many thousands you have to receive from a special interest in order to steer your vote for that to be considered a conflict of interest,” Kwekel said. “These small townships, the ethics should really steer it. Kim should step down on her own. Personally I think it’s bribery. You’re being paid cash to vote one way.”
Pat Carr, who was in attendance with his wife, responded to these comments later in the meeting. Pat – who is chairman of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners – referenced a place-making study done about a decade ago in which the Lakeview community achieved a high ranking.
“Lakeview scored better than anyone in the county on that placemaking study per capita, better than Greenville, better than anywhere else,” Carr said. “We have our own fire department, we have our own police department, we have an airport, we have several churches, we have a hospital, you can go on and on. My point is … it’s really a shame to go through this process – I don’t know how we got to this as a society, we’ve got just a lynch mob mentality.
“When this thing started, no one came to the planning commission or the township boards in any of the townships that I’m familiar with,” he said. “It just slammed us in the face that everybody is controversial and taking that lynch mob approach that you’d better see it my way or else. It’s really sad, I guess. Particularly in this area I’ve always been proud of this district that I represent and the Lakeview area. To see us at this point in society where nobody can do anything right, there isn’t any elected officials that have any credibility, everybody’s pissed off all the time. It’s just really sad. Whether you’re for wind or against wind, we’ve got to get back to a place in society where we have some civility and some respect for one another. It’s gone out the window. I don’t know the cause of it and I certainly don’t know the fix for it, but it’s just really a shame.”
Pat has spoken publicly in favor of how he believes wind energy could benefit Montcalm County and he did so again at the Cato Township Board meeting.
“I’m in favor it it,” he said. “The motive in me supporting it goes back five years before Apex even got here. It would be a game changer if Montcalm County got even a tenth of it (referring to what neighboring Gratiot County has received from wind turbines). The reason I support it has nothing to do with what I’m going to gain personally. The two entities that I’m passionate about personally are Montcalm County and Lakeview Fire.”
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