Allegan County Clerk Appoints Impartial Public Officer To Oversee Saugatuck Township Board Recall Vote For Nov. 6th Election; Controversial Behavior Of Township Manager Aaron Sheridan Among Many Issues
The Allegan County Clerk’s Office has appointed an impartial public officer to oversee the Nov. 6 Recall Election of four of the five Saugatuck Township Board members - Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich, Saugatuck Township Treasurer Lori Babinski, and Saugatuck Township Board Trustees Roy McIlwaine and Douglas Lane.
The only board member not targeted by the recall is Saugatuck Township Supervisor Chris Roerig.
“The law (State of Michigan election law) says that a local clerk (Rudich) who is the subject of a recall shall not handle the ballots or manage the election,” Allegan County Clerk Bob Genetski told The Local Observer on Wednesday.
“The law calls for the election official to whom the recall petitions are submitted (Allegan County Clerk’s Office) to ensure the duties and responsibilities of the election are managed well,” added Genetski.
On Aug. 29, Genetski appointed Pat Phenix of Wyoming, MI to administer the entire election process as an impartial public officer for the Tuesday, Nov. 6 Recall Election, per the MCL 168.674 regulation.
Phenix is accredited by the State of Michigan to administer elections.
She will also be responsible for supervising the procedures related to absentee applications and ballot activities. The procedures for voters requesting absentee voter applications and ballots will be posted at the Saugatuck Township Hall and the Allegan County Courthouse.
“The county has done a decent job to keep the election fair and impartial,” said resident Cindy Osman, who along with resident Kathy Sturm, spearheads a grassroots organization formed to recall the township board members.
For further impartiality in the process, in accordance to state regulations, Genetski also announced that he will appoint former Saugatuck Township Trustee Jim Hanson and former Saugatuck Township Clerk Jane Wright to serve as two temporary appointees on the Saugatuck Township Election Commission, along with Saugatuck Township Supervisor Chris Roerig.
For Saugatuck Township voters, the November 6 general election will be like other elections in which they get to pick the candidates of their choice to fill the four township board positions.
By virtue of it being a recall election involving Rudich, Babinski, McIlwaine and Lane, the name of those individuals who are being targeted by the recall will appear on the ballot as contenders for the very seats they currently hold.
The electorate will get to decide if they want to vote for any member of the existing administration or choose from the challengers.
The challengers that have stepped forward include Jon Helmrich vying for treasurer against Babinski; Bill Wester, a long-time previous board member, vying for the clerk’s position against Rudich; Abby Bigford vying for trustee against McIlwaine; and Stacey Aldrich vying for trustee against Lane.
The recall was advanced by a local group - Saugatuck Township Recall Committee - whose many members and supporters say they are concerned about the direction the township is heading with those being recalled at the helm and about myriad questionable ethical and legal decisions they have made in the past year and beyond.
The concerns are vast and many: unprofessionalism (not taking proper measures against Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan’s many angry, profane outbursts; insubordination and use of vulgar language against colleagues and Tri-Community counterparts and members of the public; irresponsible spending (for example, although one percent of taxpayers complained about the township’s fire code, the board members paid substantial attorney fees with taxpayers’ dollars to make 16 revisions to it); a lack of transparency (adding agenda items at the last minute so the public doesn’t have a chance to learn what issues will be discussed and/or voted on at a public meeting; refusing to video record meetings for the public to view, etc.); risking the safety of residents and fire district personnel (when the board opted to unilaterally modify the International Fire Code that is universally adopted and also used by its Tri-Community governments Saugatuck & Douglas); and so on.
Recall supporters - including Helmrich, Osman and Sturm - also cite instances of the controversial Saugatuck Township Board members failing to inform the taxpaying public about legal and financial issues that impact them and their wallets; trying to rush through controversial legislation and legislative changes without giving the public an opportunity to ask questions or share their opinions; placing important decisions in the hands of unqualified township officals (such as fire code decisions involving developers and trying to keep the township fire department and officials from having input on those matters); and more.
“Our number one reason for running is that we really, really want new principles of cooperation with our neighboring cities,” said Helmrick during a recent presentation of his candidacy before the Saugatuck City Council.
Although certainly not the only reason that sparked the current recall effort against Rudich, Babinski, McIlwaine and Lane, the actions of Township Manager Aaron Sheridan is a key element of the recall effort.
Saugatuck Township Recall Committee members and supporters have made no secret of the fact that if the recall vote is successful in November, they expect a new board to immediately fire Sheridan for his “unacceptable and unprofessional actions and behavior”.
Helmrich - along with other township residents - says that even the city managers of Douglas and Saugatuck do not want to deal with Sheridan because of his disagreeable and unstable/angry personality, his being untrustworthy, his making often provable false statements to other government officials on various issues and more.
Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, for example, has said he does not want to deal with Sheridan because he cannot be trusted.
The final straw for Harrier and others came, they said, after it was discovered that Sheridan surreptitiously tape-recorded fellow government officials - including those from Saugatuck, Douglas and the Saugatuck Township Fire Department - and lied to them about alleged research he did and information he “purposely misstated to mislead his fellow government officials”, according to Harrier, local Fire Chief Greg Janik and others.
Sheridan’s behavior and actions have been so reprehensible, says Helmrich, Osman and Sturm, that his own township board - his bosses - were forced to publicly reprimanded him, placed the written reprimand in his personnel file, and ordered him to seek anger management help.
Those actions were taken, say several recall proponents, only to save Sheridan’s job after then- Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jon Phillips sought to have him fired for what he (Phillips) described as Sheridan’s legal, ethical and behavioral issues.
Sheridan did not respond to calls from The Local Observer for comment about the recent election announcement, his public reprimand, his controversial actions and more.
Osman and Sturm say they have received overwhelming support from Saugatuck Township residents in their efforts to place the recall ballot issue before the voters and say it is time to elect township leaders who will put the interests of the residents and taxpayers first.
It is time, they said, to replace those who have repeatedly shown little respect for those they serve and place their own self-interests above those of all Saugatuck Township residents. The new candidates for the Saugatuck Township Board say they will be sharing their views and goals for the township with the public in the coming weeks.