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Recall petitions approved against 4 township officials  

Credit:  Petitions can proceed against Montcalm Township clerk and 3 Winfield Township Board members | By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | July 08, 2022 | www.thedailynews.cc ~~

STANTON – The Montcalm County Election Commission at a nearly two-hour recall clarity hearing Wednesday afternoon ruled that recall language petitions against the Montcalm Township clerk and three Winfield Township Board members could begin circulating for signatures.

Petitioners have until Aug. 5 to gather the required amount of signatures in order for the recalls to appear on November’s general election ballot in Montcalm and Winfield townships (see info box below for pending recall language).

Wednesday’s recall hearing also shed light on multiple discrepancies between what Winfield Township Board members publicly stated, what their own meeting minutes state and what actually did or didn’t happen.

MONTCALM TOWNSHIP

Karon Baird of Montcalm Township filed three versions of recall petition language against Shearer. Attached to Baird’s recall petitions was an April 15 article in the Daily News titled “Precinct Puzzlement: Montcalm Township voting precincts will not be split following missed deadlines, ‘suspicious’ resolution.”

Shearer was also recently charged with forgery, a possible 14-year felony. Shearer was arraigned in Montcalm County District Court last week on the charge, which alleges that she “did knowingly falsely make, alter, forge or counterfeit a public record with the intent to injure or defraud” between March 9 and April 7, with that public record being an alleged resolution of the township board signed by Shearer.

Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard recused herself from Wednesday’s discussion regarding Shearer’s recall language, as Millard is listed in one of the recall petition wordings. This left Montcalm County Probate Court Judge Charles Simon III and Montcalm County Treasurer JoAnne Vukin to discuss the recall wording. They ended up approving two recall language petitions, but Baird can only choose one of them to circulate.

Shearer was present Wednesday but did not speak and left as soon as her hearing was done.

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP

Dave Meyers of Winfield Township filed eight petitions each against Winfield Township Supervisor Phyllis Larson and Clerk Colleen Stebbins and four petitions against Trustee John Black. Those three board members voted in favor of approving a wind ordinance at a special meeting June 15, while Treasurer Cathy Killinger and Trustee Steve Cole voted “no.”

The Election Commission voted on Wednesday to approve five of the recall language petitions against Larson, two against Stebbins and two against Black. However, only one recall petition each can be circulated against the three board members.

PUBLISHING PUBLIC NOTICES

Questions were also raised Wednesday about inconsistencies in how Winfield Township publishes public notices, as well as statements made by township officials which don’t line up with what actually happened.

The Daily News has been regularly covering Winfield Township since 2020 and last year asked the township board to consider publishing public/legal notices in the Daily News instead of the River Valley Shopper. As a public service, the Daily News publishes for free all legal notices/public notices online at www.thedailynews.cc/michigan-public-notices-2 after they are published in the newspaper in order to make them widely available to anyone.

However, the township board voted in November 2021 to continue publishing public notices in the River Valley Shopper and the Lakeview Area Newspaper, even though Michigan’s Public Act 247 states that public notices must be published in a newspaper that has a list of paying subscribers, and that newspaper must annually average at least 25% news and editorial content per issue (the River Valley Shopper meets neither one of these requirements as its a free weekly ad publication with no editorial content).

After the township board voted on June 15 to approve its wind ordinance, they township board published that legal notice in the Daily News twice (once to correct a typo by the township), as well as later in the River Valley Shopper and the Lakeview Area News.

Robert Scott, a retired attorney from Sidney Township speaking on behalf of Meyers on Wednesday, pointed out that the township board never voted to begin publishing public notices in the Daily News.

“The Daily News was used to reach the residents sooner,” Larson responded. “Time was a factor. The township can always reevaluate its decisions and this time we did.”

“Was it with the board’s approval that the clerk used the Daily News?” Vukin clarified.

“Yes,” Larson answered.

“There is absolutely nothing in the record. It’s just not true,” Scott protested in response.

A Daily News reporter was present at the June 15 meeting and did not hear the township board vote regarding how to publish the wind ordinance. The Daily News also reviewed a video recording of the June 15 meeting to doublecheck, and there was no vote or even a discussion about how to publish the wind ordinance.

According to the township’s own minutes from the June 15 meeting, a vote was not taken on the matter. The very end of the meeting minutes simply state, “Due to time schedule, the notice of adoption to be in the earliest paper to get all paperwork to the county clerk to be on the November ballot as the two other paper (sic) the township put minutes in would be over a week and more.”

Stebbins told the Election Commission that the township doesn’t typically use the Daily News because it’s more expensive than the River Valley Shopper – but at the same time she said the township decided to use the Daily News to publish the wind ordinance because the newspaper is daily and gets information out much more quickly than a weekly. Stebbins added that the River Valley Shopper is free for anyone to pick up; however, members of the Winfield Township Board and residents have publicly complained for years that they can never find copies of the River Valley Shopper in the Howard City area anymore.

“We made a decision as a board,” Stebbins said. “They (those in attendance at the June 15 meeting) couldn’t hear it. They (audience members) made so much noise that I couldn’t even hear the attorney. That’s why it went in the Daily News (to get it published sooner). If I put in the Lakeview paper, it would have come out on the 23rd. The Shopper came out on the 27th.”

“But you understand that the public is looking at this as another way you are trying to deceive them?” Vukin noted, regarding the township inconsistently publishing notices in multiple newspapers.

“Yes, I understand,” Stebbins said.

The Daily News clarified with Stebbins and Larson after Wednesday’s hearing whether they were claiming that the township board voted to change how to publish the wind ordinance.

“We discussed it and we made a decision because we knew we could get it in quicker (in the Daily News),” Stebbins said. “It was right there at the (June 15) meeting before we adjourned.”

When the Daily News asked Larson if this was accurate, Larson responded, “Yeah, I guess so.”

DISCREPENCIES IN MINUTES

Although the Winfield Township Board voted 3-2 on June 15 to approve a wind ordinance, the Daily News noticed that the township’s own meeting minutes do not even state this. The minutes only state that the township board voted 4-1 to reconsider the board’s June 8 vote to send the wind ordinance back to the Planning Commission; and that the township board voted 3-2 to make turbine height changes and setback changes to the wind ordinance. The minutes never state that the township board voted to approve the wind ordinance.

The Daily News story from the June 15 meeting also contradicts the township’s meeting minutes. While the Daily News reported that Larson abstained from voting on revisiting the wind ordinance and abstained from voting on the turbine height limit, the minutes say she voted “yes” both times. Larson did vote “yes” when voting to approve the wind ordinance.

“It’s my job as supervisor to break a tie vote,” Larson told the Election Commission. “I voted as a rule of necessity to break a vote knowing full well that I would be recalled because of that.”

Larson has voted “yes” in votes that were not tied many other times.

A CLOSER LOOK …

Approved recall petitions against Montcalm Township Clerk Jessica Shearer (only one of these petitions can be circulated):

• The first recall petition states, “In her official capacity as Montcalm Township clerk, Jessica Shearer failed to provide a full trial balance monthly for the Montcalm Township Board to review as described in the audit for fiscal year ending March 31, 2021, and she failed to compare cash balances with Rosemary Hyde, Montcalm Township treasurer, on a monthly basis, also described in the same audit She also failed to close the township’s general ledger in the financial software, leading to transactions being included in trial balances from previous fiscal years, also described in the same audit.”

• The second recall petition states, “In an email dated April 7, 2022, 3:08 p.m., Jessica Shearer in her official capacity as Montcalm Township clerk, lied to Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard that a vote of both the Montcalm Township Election Commission and the Montcalm Township Board had taken place to approve the splitting of Montcalm Township into two voting precincts. The Montcalm Township Election Commission never held a meeting and the Montcalm Township Board never voted on the issue.”

• The third recall petition states, “Not filing payroll tax forms 941. Corresponding tax forms were not prepared or filed when they were due. In the latest audit, there were several material differences reported in the accounting balance sheet. There is no process to detect material misstatements and there is no procedure in place to correct errors. The township board does not regularly receive balance sheets to compare to any supporting documentation.”

Approved recall petitions against Winfield Township Supervisor Phyllis Larson (only one of these petitions can be circulated):

• At the June 15, 2022, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Supervisor Phyllis Larson voted to approve Ordinance No. 6-15-22, an ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities, without first publicly declaring for the record at that meeting that she had previously entered into a wind energy easement agreement with Coral Wind I LLC.

• At the June 15, 2022, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Supervisor Phyllis Larson voted to approve an ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities, Ordinance No. 6-15-22, but failed to publicly identify for the record before her vote at that meeting that she has signed two wind energy easement agreements with Coral Wind I LLC, each dated April 7, 2020.

• At the June 15, 2022, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Supervisor Phyllis Larson voted to approve Ordinance No. 6-15-22, an ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities, with the addition of a 665-foot wind turbine height limit included in said ordinance. The ordinance was adopted by a 3-2 vote.

• At the June 8, 2022, and June 15, 2022, meetings of the Winfield Township Board, Supervisor Phyllis Larson participated in wind ordinance discussions after the signing of her two wind energy easement agreements with Coral Wind I LLC, each dated April 7, 2020. At the June 15, 2022, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Supervisor Larson voted to approve an ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities, Ordinance No. 6-15-22.

• At the Dec. 9, 2021, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Supervisor Phyllis Larson voted in favor of Ordinance No. 12-9-21, ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate solar energy systems, which amended Ordinance No. 11-4-21, the day after referendum petition signatures on Ordinance No. 11-4-21 were submitted to the township. The ordinance was adopted by a 5-0 vote and provides for a minimum setback distance of 100 feet from all property boundaries and all public rights-of-way on the outside perimeter of a large solar energy system.

Approved recall petitions against Winfield Township Clerk Colleen Stebbins (only one of these petitions can be circulated):

• At the June 15, 2022, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Clerk Colleen Stebbins voted to approve Ordinance No. 6-15-22, an ordinance amending Winfield Township’s zoning ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities with the addition of a 665-foot wind turbine height limit included in said ordinance. The ordinance was adopted by a 3-2 vote.

• At the Dec. 9, 2021, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Clerk Colleen Stebbins voted in favor of Ordinance No. 12-9-21, ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate solar energy systems, which amended Ordinance No. 11-4-21, the day after referendum petition signatures on Ordinance No. 11-4-21 were submitted to the township. The ordinance was adopted by a 5-0 vote and provides for a minimum setback distance of 100 feet from all property boundaries and all public rights-of-way on the outside perimeter of a large solar energy system.

Approved recall petitions against Winfield Township Trustee John Black (only one of these petitions can be circulated):

• At the June 15, 2022, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Trustee John Black voted to approve Ordinance No. 6-15-22, an ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities, with the addition of a 665-foot wind turbine height limit included in said ordinance. The ordinance was adopted by a 3-2 vote.

• At the Dec. 9, 2021, meeting of the Winfield Township Board, Trustee John Black voted in favor of Ordinance No. 12-9-21, ordinance amending Winfield Township zoning ordinance to regulate solar energy systems, which amended Ordinance No. 11-4-21, the day after referendum petition signatures on Ordinance No. 11-4-21, were submitted to the township. The ordinance was adopted by a 5-0 vote and provides for a minimum setback distance of 100 feet from all property boundaries and all public rights-of-way on the outside perimeter of a large solar energy system.

Source:  Petitions can proceed against Montcalm Township clerk and 3 Winfield Township Board members | By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | July 08, 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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