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Winfield Township Board ousts PC member; solar ordinance referendum efforts continue  

Credit:  By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | January 19, 2022 | www.thedailynews.cc ~~

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP – For the second time this month, a local township board has effectively ousted a Planning Commission member who’s been working on a wind energy ordinance.

The Winfield Township Board last Thursday voted 5-0 to approve Supervisor Phyllis Larson’s recommendation to appoint two new members to the Planning Commission – Kenny Jones and Jake Newman.

“They both own property in Winfield Township,” Larson said. “They have not signed with Apex (Clean Energy) or made any other commitment to anything else. They don’t have a conflict of interest is what I’m trying to say.”

Multiple residents later responded to this comment by opining that Larson was effectively admitting that she has a conflict of interest since Larson has signed a lease with Apex.

Trustee John Black said he thought there was only one vacancy on the Planning Commission.

“I’m not reappointing Julia (Potratz),” Larson responded. “Her term ended in December, it expired in December.”

Black said he would abstain from voting on Larson’s recommendation, to which Clerk Colleen Stebbins responded, “You can’t.”

After a long pause, Black then voted “yes.”

In the meantime, Trustee Steve Cole arrived late to the meeting and also voted “yes” (without hearing the full discussion), making it a unanimous 5-0 vote.

Potratz – who was the only woman on the Planning Commission and who had been advocating for a more protective wind ordinance – was not present at the township board meeting. She told the Daily News after the meeting she was not aware the board was even considering not renewing her term.

“After being asked by Phyllis in December 2020 if I would be interested in joining the PC, I was unaware that my term was expiring in December 2021 or that Phyllis did not plan to renew it,” Potratz said. “As I continued to prep for the upcoming PC meeting this month, she gave me no warning she would be replacing me. I feel that this was done out of blatant disrespect. After questioning Phyllis about why she did not renew my term, I know 100 percent that her decision was not based on any professional grounds, but rather of a personal nature and not out of any care or concern for the township as a whole.

“I’ve lost all faith in our township at this point,” Potratz said. “This is not how things should work in a democracy and this will not be tolerated. For those concerned citizens of our township, I’d like to reassure you that I may be off the PC, but I’m not going anywhere.”

The Douglass Township Board earlier this month voted 5-0 to appoint three new members to its Planning Commission – effectively ousting two planners who had been advocating for a restrictive/protective wind ordinance. Meanwhile, Cato Township Supervisor Larry Gilbert earlier this month suggested he might remove two members of his township’s Planning Commission if they were going to “cause a conflict.”

Also, during Thursday’s meeting, Black noted the Winfield Township Planning Commission had discussed wind turbine mapping and setbacks at their last meeting.

“We don’t have an engineering firm hired,” he said. “After the (last Planning Commission) meeting, (Public Engagement Manager) Brian O’Shea from Apex offered to do the mapping free of charge. They do mapping.”

This comment was greeted with scoffing from some residents present.

“Unless you want me to hire an engineering firm, I would like assistance with some mapping for the next PC meeting,” Black said. “I guess I would like some direction from the board.”

Treasurer Cathy Killinger made a motion to have Apex present mapping options to the Planning Commission. The motion passed 4-1 with Cole voting “no.”

The Planning Commission is next set to meet at 7 p.m. on Jan. 24 at Crosswords Worship Center just north of Howard City.

PUBLIC COMMENT

During public comment, multiple people voiced their dismay that Portratz was ousted from the Planning Commission.

“I’m very disappointed … first off, Phyllis, that you’re not going to appoint Julia because she’s rocking the boat,” township resident Kevin Murphy said.

“No, that’s not why,” Larson responded.

“Well, that’s the way people are going to perceive it,” Murphy said. “She’s been very good for the community, trying to look at it from both sides. I’m really disgusted that that happened.”

Linda Reynolds of Douglass Township asked Larson if she and other township supervisors meet every month, referring to similarities among the townships – such as the Douglass Township Board ousting two of its own planning commissioners and the Pine Township Board approving new rules for public comment, which the Winfield Township Board also did on Thursday.

“I’m not going to say why,” said Larson of her reason for not renewing Potratz’s term on the Planning Commission. “There’s reasons. It has nothing to do with her personally or anything like that. I don’t subscribe to the Daily News so I don’t know what happens to the rest of the townships.”

Reynolds said if Larson is not reading the Daily News, then it’s even more suspicious that her township is following in the steps of other townships.

“If you’re not reading what’s going on in other townships, but you are still doing what they are doing – I have to think that you have a monthly meeting too, just like you have for the citizens,” Reynolds said.

Tricia Korhorn of Winfield Township asked for an update on the notice of intent she filed to referendum the township’s solar ordinance this past November. The township board previously in response to Korhorn’s notice voted in December to “correct” the solar ordinance wording – something Korhorn says they can’t legally do, based on conversations she’s had with legal counsel at the Michigan Townships Association, the Foster Swift law firm, the Bauckham Sparks law firm and attorney Joshua Nolan.

“They all agreed that you were not able to amend the notice as you did,” Korhorn told the township board on Thursday. “What you did could not be done. That referendum is still out there. I would like to know what you plan to do about that.”

In order to preserve her rights, Korhorn filed a second notice of intent in late December to referendum the “corrected” solar ordinance. On Thursday, she brought 288 signatures with her for the second notice of intent.

“I want this documented in the minutes,” Korhorn told Stebbins, who was not taking notes during public comment.

Korhorn asked if Stebbins had verified the previous 211 signatures she submitted with her first notice of intent.

“No, because it’s dead,” Stebbins responded.

“Well, we maintain it’s not dead,” Korhorn emphasized.

Larson said the township’s attorney will review what Korhorn has submitted and that Larson will “probably” provide an update to Korhorn at the next township board meeting.

As the meeting adjourned, Korhorn walked over to Stebbins and handed her the second set of signatures for a referendum on the amended solar ordinance.

IN OTHER MATTERS …

Also last Thursday, the Winfield Township Board:

• Approved adopting a public meeting policy with rules regarding facilitating meetings and public comments, as written by their attorney.

• Learned that Winfield Township now has the option of becoming a charter township, but board members didn’t discuss the topic.

“We really don’t have to do anything because we’re not going to change anything,” Clerk Colleen Stebbins said.

• Discussed putting a millage proposal on the ballot for a new township hall and voted 5-0 to post an advertisement seeking interested people for a steering committee to discuss the project further.

[rest of article available at source]

Source:  By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | January 19, 2022 | www.thedailynews.cc

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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