The topic stems from allegations that Karnatz operated in his capacity as Planning Commission chairman with a conflict of interest because he failed to disclose previous arrangements with Apex Clean Energy, including signing “steering committee” and lease agreement documents, dating back to November 2019, while subsequently leading the Planning Commission as it worked on amending the township’s wind energy ordinance. As a result of the lease agreement, Karnatz has received compensation from Apex, leading several residents to allege a conflict of interest as he was also working to amend ordinances that could potentially affect the very turbines that could eventually be constructed on Karnatz’s property.
MONTCALM TOWNSHIP – A shakeup of the Montcalm Township Planning Commission is incoming after two new members were appointed and the longtime chairman was not reappointed.
During a special meeting of the Montcalm Township Board on Wednesday evening, Supervisor Brian Blomstrom brought forth three recommendations for the board to consider to fill one current vacancy in addition to two expiring terms on the Planning Commission.
The applicants who submitted letters of interest to serve on the commission included township residents David Ellis, Rodney Nutt, Richelle Lentz, Richard Palmer and Karon Baird, as well as Commissioner Robert “Bob” Hemmes and Chairman Richard “Dick” Karnatz, who currently hold the expiring seats.
However, last week, Lentz was appointed to serve as an alternate on the township’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Additionally, Blomstrom said Nutt’s application was submitted at 5:03 p.m. on Aug. 5 – three minutes after the deadline.
“That application was null and void,” Blomstrom said. “He (Nutt) indicated he understood that and that he would apply again in the future.”
That resulted in Blomstrom considering Ellis, Palmer Baird, Hemmes and Karnatz for the three commission openings.
All three recommendations were approved by the board, but in doing so, Karnatz was not re-appointed to his seat.
In first addressing a vacant seat on the five-member commission, Blomstrom motioned, with support from newly appointed Clerk Brenda Ladermann, that Palmer be appointed.
Trustee Ed Hansen questioned Palmer’s previous work history for the township as its former attorney.
“Did he resign his position or was he let go?” he asked.
While an answer was not immediately available, Palmer stated later in the meeting during public comment that he served as the township’s attorney from 1978 to 2002.
“That was a hired position,” he said. “I got along very well with every supervisor during that time and I think with the board as a whole. The reason that I left in 2002 was that I was changing my practice. I was ready to be done with litigation. What I wanted to do was teach at the university level. I went to every township I represented at the time, which was six or seven … I said I am not handling litigation anymore, but could continue to assist in other manners. Finally, I was done doing municipal work.”
In voting on the nomination, Blomstrom, Ladermann and Trustee Brian Cousineau voted “yes” with Hansen and Treasurer Rose Hyde voting “no,” resulting in a split 3-2 approval.
“I would like to see Dave Ellis on there myself, so I will say ‘nay,’” Hyde said regarding voting against the motion.
Hansen did not elaborate on his decision to vote “no.”
Palmer’s term will expire on Aug. 31, 2025.
Reappointment of Hemmes approved
Next, Blomstrom made a recommendation for the seat currently held by Hemmes, which expires Sept. 30. Blomstrom recommended Hemmes be re-appointed for another three-year term.
The motion, supported by Cousineau, received no discussion and was approved by the board via unanimous vote.
Reappointment of Karnatz denied
In addressing the final seat, currently held by Karnatz and also expiring Sept. 30, Blomstrom motioned, with support from Cousineau, that Baird be appointed to that seat.
This motion also received no discussion and was approved in a split 3-2 vote with Blomstrom, Ladermann and Cousineau in favor and Hyde and Hansen opposed.
“I still would like to see Mr. Karnatz stay on the Planning Commission,” Hyde said regarding her “no” vote. “You’re getting all new people on here.”
Hansen again did not elaborate on his “no” vote.
Come October, Palmer and Baird will join current commissioners Hemmes, Jeff Dolphin and Ladermann, who was appointed as board liaison.
Following the meeting, the Daily News asked Blomstrom if Karnatz’s recent history involving a conflict of interest played a role in not being reappointed.
The topic stems from allegations that Karnatz operated in his capacity as Planning Commission chairman with a conflict of interest because he failed to disclose previous arrangements with Apex Clean Energy, including signing “steering committee” and lease agreement documents, dating back to November 2019, while subsequently leading the Planning Commission as it worked on amending the township’s wind energy ordinance.
As a result of the lease agreement, Karnatz has received compensation from Apex, leading several residents to allege a conflict of interest as he was also working to amend ordinances that could potentially affect the very turbines that could eventually be constructed on Karnatz’s property.
In July 2021, township attorney Jeffrey Sluggett said Karnatz was advised to recuse himself from discussions and votes about wind energy at all meetings – a measure he has made efforts to abide by since that time.
“All letters of interest submitted to me, as well as the previous history outlined in those letters, is taken into consideration when making unbiased appointments,” Blomstrom said. “The board has the right to turn down those appointments. In this case, the board approved the appointment 3-2. I’d like to note, the board made no discussion during that time about that individual (Karnatz) or appointment (of Baird).”
Blomstrom further defended his decision to appoint Baird over Karnatz.
“In looking at all of the candidates and looking at their background, experience and what they do, looking at Karon Baird, she looked to come back to the Planning Commission,” he said. “She’s been a township resident for over 50 years and she had been a commissioner previously, having been the secretary and eventually the chairperson. She has experience at all of those levels. She’s also worked on the Master Plan, has done grant writing and has a wealth of knowledge for the position.”
When asked why Blomstrom didn’t appoint Baird to the vacant position and in turn reappoint Karnatz, Blomstrom said Palmer holds a similar role previously held by the predecessor of his seat, David Jacobsen.
“The seat that went to Richard Palmer had been held by Mr. Jacobsen, who lived on Turk Lake. Mr. Palmer lives on the lake as well.”
Jacobsen, who was appointed to the commission by former township supervisor Doug Crowley and approved in a 4-1 vote of the board in March, missed his only meeting as a commissioner before then submitting his resignation, resulting in the seat becoming vacant again.
Karnatz, who will continue to chair the commission until Sept. 30, including the upcoming meeting of the commission on Tuesday, did not address the board’s decision not to reappointment him during public comment. Karnatz did, however, make a suggestion.
“I think you should reconsider your term limits on the Planning Commission,” he said. “It’s highly suggested in state law, and I believe in our bylaws, that you have staggering terms, so you don’t have three new people all at once. That’s up to you, but that’s what the state law says in the Zoning Enabling Act.”
Blomstrom responded by stating his goal was to do exactly that; however, the situation was “complicated.”
“The comment I’ll make on that is, I’m assuming it was set up that way when the Planning Commission was started, but if you look at the minutes from December 2021 or January of this year, we had a township supervisor (former township supervisor Doug Crowley) that blanketly reappointed people and changed a bunch of dates,” Blomstrom said. “Now we’re stuck in a situation where we have three-year terms, but how do you stagger them when a previous supervisor violated that? That will be a question for our attorney. I’m somewhat handcuffed right now with these three-year terms.”
[rest of article available at source]
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