The Maple Valley Township Board has decided to hire not one but two wind sound engineers, even as residents continue to voice concerns about a wind-related legal bill that has now surpassed $50,000.
The Planning Commission voted 4-1 last week to contract with Robert Rand of Rand Acoustics LLC to assist with noise level portions of the township’s pending wind ordinance. Planning Commissioner Ann Petersen voted no, saying she’d rather go with ABD Engineering & Design, and adding that she thought she remembered seeing something somewhere that made her think Rand wasn’t completely third-party.
When the township board met this past Monday, Planning Commission Chairman Roger Becker also voiced concerns from the audience about hiring Rand (even though he voted in favor of hiring Rand). Becker said after he voted, some issues with Rand were brought to his attention, including information that Rand is affiliated with Kevon Martis, the Deerfield Township zoning administrator and the founding director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition in Blissfield.
“I think I’d like to take it back to the Planning Commission and vote on whether we’re going to use him or not with the new information I found out on him,” Becker said. “So I would say we’re probably going to want to hold off on that.”
Planning Commissioner Andi Knapp responded from the audience by saying she had already contacted Rand – since the Planning Commission had approved the hire – and that he was available to host a presentation for the Planning Commission on Feb. 9 at a cost of $200 per hour (the same cost as ADB).
“I have information that he is affiliated with Kevon Martis,” Becker told Knapp. “That’s my reasoning for questioning whether we want him or not.”
Becker and Knapp then got into a verbal disagreement until Trustee Ben Newell interjected and suggested the township hire both Rand and ADB for two separate presentations (which would cost twice as much).
“We spend a lot of money and we go month to month and we keep spending more and more,” Newell said. “Let’s make a decision and just go with it.”
Knapp was not in favor of hiring a second sound engineer due to the additional cost, but Becker was in favor of it.
Newell made a motion to allow the Planning Commission to schedule meetings with both sound engineers, with a two-hour limit for each meeting, meaning a possible total cost of $800. The board voted 5-0 to approve the motion.
Becker also requested that township attorney Kyle O’Meara be allowed to attend the next Planning Commission meeting. Becker added that he had contacted O’Meara with some questions but he wasn’t sure if that would cost the township any money (multiple people quickly assured him that it does).
“Anytime we do anything with the lawyer, please cc me in on it because five minutes is $50,” Schwandt said. “We need to keep all that to a minimum.”
Schwandt said he will contact O’Meara to ask him for his thoughts about attending the next Planning Commission meeting and Schwandt will make a decision then. However, this negates the township board’s vote just two months ago to only have the attorney attend meetings when specifically invited as voted on by the township board.
Township resident J.M. Olson said the attorney doesn’t need to be present at meetings. He then proceeded to read the township’s conflict of interest policy in its entirety in the middle of the meeting. Even though it was not time for public comment, Schwandt did not cut him off.
“We don’t need the lawyer,” Olson said. “It’s very cut and dried.”
“Our lawyer told us … we do not have a conflict until there is a specific request in for a specific piece of property,” Schwandt responded. “At this time, we’re covering a whole township-wide ordinance, so … everybody’s got conflicts with different things. That’s based on what our lawyer’s told us.”
Olson brought the issue up later during public comment.
“I don’t care what he tells you. If you have a lease signed or Roger’s parents or yours or whoever, you’re conflicted,” Olson said. “By our laws, you can’t vote. We just had three motions brought up at the Planning Commission all shot down by two people who couldn’t vote by our own bylaws. Those three motions should have passed. We don’t need a lawyer to tell you that. It’s all there, black and white.
“I mean, this is getting ridiculous – $50,038.05 to the law firm,” Olson declared. “You had a one-time vote to have the ordinance reviewed for $900. How are we to $50,038? That’s misappropriation of taxpayer funds. You don’t have that unilateral authority, yet it’s still going on. Lee tried to reign it in (referring to Frandsen’s approved motion two months ago saying the attorney could only attend meetings after a vote by the board). It’s damn near doubled since he got it to where the lawyer couldn’t come with board approval.”
Olson accused the township board of criminal malfeasance.
“What you’ve done falls under that pretty damn good,” he said. “Either we run by the laws and not by improper guidance by a conflicted lawyer’s office that was put to you by the Michigan Townships Association by another lease payer … $50,000 of our taxpayer money’s been wasted without a vote. Where’s our say in this? We’ve all gotta live here. Either we start following the laws or I’m going to start filing criminal charges.”
Township resident Roger Betten Sr. had a different take (Betten Sr. and Betten Jr. both signed a November 2019 letter in support of Apex Clean Energy’s proposed wind turbine project for Montcalm County).
“The board is elected by the people,” Betten said. “If we had people do all the voting, nothing would pass. We vote you people to run the township. That’s your job and you do it the best way you can. And in my opinion, you’re doing it. I want to compliment you on what you’re doing.”
BUS GARAGE STORAGE
Also at last Monday’s meeting, Schwandt gave a report – the first report in at least recent memory – regarding revenue generated by the township’s storage facility in the old Trufant school bus garage.
Schwandt’s report came after the Daily News sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last Nov. 15 asking for a copy of township board meeting minutes showing when the township board voted or agreed to rent out the old bus garage as a storage facility; as well as monthly invoices showing who has used the storage facility for rental and at what rate and how much revenue the storage facility has generated for the township since the start of the rental business.
O’Meara responded to the FOIA request in December, telling the Daily News that township board meeting minutes from Nov. 9, 2009, show the board approving a “Maple Valley Township winter rental storage agreement for 2009-2010 at the complex facility.” However, O’Meara said the township “was not able to easily find an explicit reference to the initial approval of renting the facility, which presumably dates back before 2007” and said the newspaper would be charged money if it wished township officials to continue to look for the information (the Daily News declined this offer).
O’Meara denied the request for monthly invoices, saying the township does not possess monthly invoices with that information and does not utilize monthly invoices to account for financial information regarding the storage facility.
The Daily News sent a second reworded FOIA request in late December continuing to seek the information. The township requested a 10-day extension on Jan. 4, meaning the newspaper is now expecting to receive a response by Jan. 19.
At last Monday’s meeting, Schwandt reported the township has $2,800.20 worth of storage in the old bus garage this winter involving four campers, four pontoon boats, two boats, a car and a pop-up camper.
“We’ve got them stacked in there like cordwood,” he said. “It’s three doors wide and I’ve got four rows of stuff in there so we’ve got her about as full as we can get her.”
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