The leader of a group “advocating against the irresponsible and invasive placement of industrial wind turbines and solar arrays in Montcalm County” was elected to the Sidney Township Board on Tuesday, ousting a trustee who supports a proposed wind farm and who voted against the township’s wind energy ordinance.
Erik Benko received 389 votes in Tuesday’s recall election compared to incumbent Trustee Jed Welder who received 196 votes – a 63% to 32% margin. Sidney Township saw a 32% voter turnout – larger than the local 2020 presidential primary election voter turnout, according to the Montcalm County Clerk’s Office.
“That’s pretty awesome,” said Benko who was getting ready to put his children to bed Tuesday night when the Daily News called him with the news that he had won by a large margin.
“I’m shaking,” he added with a laugh.
Sidney Township Planning Commission member Jeffrey Lodholtz filed recall petitions against Welder last year related to Welder’s “no” vote on that township’s wind energy ordinance, which is a protective/restrictive ordinance (depending on which side of the wind turbine debate you fall on). Benko and a third challenger, Scott Giddings, both filed to run against Welder; however, Giddings announced last week that he was no longer actively running. Giddings received 27 votes in Tuesday’s election.
Benko, the founder of Montcalm County Citizens United, a Facebook-based group, said he wanted to thank the many residents who “lifted me up and supported me throughout this campaign.”
“Without them this thing would not have ever gotten off the ground,” he said. “From helping to stuff envelopes to handing out signs, these amazing folks just go to show how powerful a campaign by the people and for the people can be.
“For almost two years now there has been a lot of speculation about ‘silent majorities’ versus ‘vocal minorities’ and with the results of this election it is pretty clear that the majority has a voice and they aren’t afraid to use it,” he added. “A major goal from the start of this thing has been driving awareness about how local politics can be just as important, if not more important than state or national politics in many regards. Judging by the turnout for this special election with just a single issue on the ballot, I’d say we accomplished that mission and more.
“Moving forward, I look forward to eagerly taking on the duties as Sidney Township’s newest trustee,” Benko said. “I will bring transparency and integrity to this position, and I will passionately represent all of the citizens of Sidney with an open mind, including my opponent and those who may not have voted for me. I truly hope that resident engagement will remain high, and together we can all accomplish great things in making Sidney everything I know that it can be.”
Welder, a longtime Sidney Township farmer, has been on the Sidney Township Board for the last five years. When contacted by the Daily News on Tuesday night, Welder declined to comment.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORTS
Benko’s campaign finance report filed with the Montcalm County Clerk’s Office showed he spent $2,223.97 on election efforts. While campaign finance reports were due on April 22, Benko didn’t file his until Tuesday, the day of the election, according to the Clerk’s Office.
Donations to Benko’s campaign included $400 from Robert Scott of Grand Rapids/Sidney Township, $350 from Kevin Murphy of Winfield Township, $300 from Wendy Switala of Stanton, $150 from Marcia Long of Sheridan, $100 from Sidney Township Board Trustee Ray Leyrer, $100 from Roxanne Niner of Stanton, $100 from Wendy Winters of Sidney, $100 from Lauri Zimmerman of Stanton, $100 from Patty Shindledecker of Sidney, $100 from Sandra Raines of Stanton, $100 from Jill Hansen of Sheridan.
Giddings and Welder didn’t file campaign finance reports as they both applied for a reporting waiver which a candidate can do if they don’t spend or receive more than $1,000 on their election attempt, according to the Clerk’s Office.
However, a political action committee (PAC) named Patriots For Montcalm in support of Welder’s election filed a campaign finance report which shows the PAC spent $3,970 on efforts to keep Welder in office. The PAC lists Laura Engel of Stanton as its treasurer and Jennifer Jane Farnsworth of Grand Rapids as its designated record keeper.
The PAC repeatedly incorrectly lists Welder as a “Pine Township trustee” in its filed paperwork.
Donations to the PAC included $1,000 from Stanton Farms LLC in Stanton, $1,000 from Farnsworth, $1,000 from Jack Pearl of Sidney, $250 from Earl Samson of Greenville, $200 from Engel, $150 from Larry Ek of Stanton, $100 from Ned Welder of Sidney (Jed Welder’s father), $100 from Jeanne Poulsen of Trufant, $100 from Bradley Farnsworth of Texas.
Benko and the PAC will both be required to file a post-election report on June 2 showing all receipts and expenditures between the reporting periods (Feb. 28 to April 17 for Benko and March 10 to April 20 for the PAC), according to the Clerk’s Office.
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