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April 22, 2019 12:30 pm

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Allegan County Elections Commission Approves Recall Petition To Oust Four Saugatuck Township Trustees; Next Step: Collecting Signatures

The Allegan County Elections Commission has approved the petition language to start the recall process of removing four Saugatuck Township trustees from office.

Facing recall are Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich, Treasurer Lori Babinski, and Trustees Doug Lane and Roy McIlwaine.

The next stage of the recall movement will be the collecting of township residents’ signatures on the petitions which would then be submitted to the Allegan County Clerk for verification.

The petition is effective for 180 days and petitioners have 60 days to garner signatures. The petitioners must amass 25 percent of the number of Saugatuck Township votes cast in the last general election, November 7.

If and when those signatures are verified, an election date will be set for township voters to decide whether to remove Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine from office.

Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jon Phillips was not among the the officials targeted for recall.

New township trustees candidates are currently being sought to possibly replace the current trustees if they are voted out of office.

Cindy Osman and Kathy Sturm, residents of Allegan County, filed the requests for approval of recall language with the county clerk on Nov. 20, attempting to get the recall process started.

Osman, Sturm and several township residents and other government officials say they have lost trust in Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine and the actions of the four in the past year have been secretive, abusive to the public and fellow government officials and detrimental to township resident’s both financially and governmentally.

If the four are successfully removed from office, several recall proponents say they want the new trustees to immediately fire Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan (who is an appointed, not elected official and thus not subject to recall) due to his history of abusive, profanity laced actions against members of the public and local and area governmental leaders - including Township Supervisor Phillips) on many occasions.

In related action, Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, who said he was speaking as a resident of the township and not as a city employee, blasted Saugatuck Township officials at their last meeting for their blatant lack of transparency, clarity and omissions regarding township board agendas and the way the board conducts meetings.

“Put yourself in residents’ shoes,” Harrier told the Saugatuck Township Board, pointing to the skimpy agenda township officials provided the public before the December 6 regular board meeting as well as the manner in which the township board carried out the meeting.

“Frankly, I don’t care if you like me or not. I am being critical because you work for me (Harrier is a township resident). I am your boss (as a township resident). I expect a little more,” said Harrier, voicing his concerns at the start of the agenda as well as at the end.

Among other items, he noted the board’s actions on two resolutions on December 6 in which township officials provided the public with no information of the proposed motions in advanced and did not provide sample motions, context, or a clear explanation beforehand about what the items on the agenda meant and their implications.

Both of the resolutions were related to the ongoing bike trail project, known as the Blue Star Trail, and both were unanimously approved. One resolution committed the township to ownership and maintenance of the township’s southern portion of the non-motorized trail at Exit 36 of I-196.

That project is a future project, pending the outcome of state grant applications made on behalf of the township with the cooperation of the Allegan County Road Commission.

The township—with the assistance of the Friends of the Blue Star Trail, a South Haven biking group—has completed some of the northern section of its bike trail, from Old Allegan Road to North Street along Blue Star Highway.

The entire bike trail - which proponents would like to see run from South Haven through Saugatuck Township - would be about 20 miles long if it is built.

The estimated cost of building the entire trail has also jumped from about $10 million to more than $21 million, according to the Friends of the Blue Star Group.

Critics in Saugatuck Township say township officials raced to begin building the initial section of its bike trail without telling the public - or soliciting public feedback - that township taxpayers would have to pay the future repair costs which could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and without conducting an engineering study to determine costs, logistical and potential building problems associated with building the trail.

Also, Allegan County Commission officials recently voted to end its resolution support of the bike trail in Casco Township citing problems with financial disclosures by the bike group which some say mislead the public with how much money the group has raised to offset initial trail building costs.

The bike group is now attempting to get county commissioners to once again approve supporting - and taking financial responsibility for - maintaining and repairing that portion of the bike trail since Casco Township officials say they will not participate in funding the venture.

If for some reason the county was to agree to financially support the Casco and Ganges sections of the proposed trail, that would mean Saugatuck Township, City of Saugatuck and Douglas taxpayers would have their tax dollars paid to the county go towards that project, in effect not only paying for the Saugatuck Township bike path, but also pay to subsidize Casco and Ganges townships’ bike trail as well.

Bike path critics say Saugatuck Township officials are not publicizing that fact to its constituents and have kept most of their actions secret from the public due to lake of public notificiation of their decisions.

The other resolution on December 6 emphasized the township board’s unanimous support for the Allegan County Board of Commissioners for a proposed resolution to have Allegan County take ownership of a section of the proposed Blue Star Trail that would run through Ganges and Casco townships.

Ganges and Casco government officials there have repeatedly said they don’t have the monetary means and staff resources to assume ownership and address future maintenance need for such a trail and as such would not financially support it.

Also, the bike group has run into trouble getting right-of-way approvals from various residents to build that section of the proposed bike trail.

On this last Saugatuck Township resolution, Harrier asked the board, “Do you think the average township resident knows that a motion you made regarding the Allegan County Board of Commissioners could eventually impact them as township taxpayers too? This is not being discussed. Why?”

“You have to do a little better, guys,’ he noted.

Harrier’s denunciation comes amid mounting criticism on the part of township residents, fire district personnel and officials from the other area’s municipalities - including Saugatuck, Douglas and Fennville - of how Saugatuck Township officials are doing their jobs and failing to keep the public informed of their decisions that are costing taxpayers’ money.

Further, many of those same critics say township officials keep secret their actions by repeatedly failing to inform their citizens about issues and decisions that will cost taxpayers’ dollars and, in many cases, will force taxpayers to pay additional and significant tax increases in the future to fund these projects of which they are not being informed of.

Criticisms range from secretly planning changes to local fire codes to benefit outside developers; not informing the public about the potential costs of repairing and replacing its bike path in the years to come; not firing Township Manager Aaron Sheridan for violating several township rules and regulations by verbally assaulting the township supervisor and members of the public; exploding in anger at members of the public and other government officials when he disagrees with them; and more.

Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jon Phillips called for Sheridan’s firing, but fellow township board members - Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine voted only to reprimand Sheridan and order him to attend anger management classes.

To date, the township has not verified publicly that Sheridan has attended any such anger management sessions.

“The public is not being well served by these (township officials’) actions and keeping the public uninformed about all that they are doing,” noted Harrier.

Some township residents have also recently raised concerns that township officials refused to consider requests to videotape and post their public meetings so the township taxpayers and voters can see what they are doing - or not doing - while handling the public’s business.

“This matter should be put before the Saugatuck Township voters and let them decide if these officials should be recalled,” said Harrier.

Recall petitions will soon be out collecting petition signatures.

Allegan County Elections Commission Approves Recall Petition To Oust Four Saugatuck Township Trustees; Next Step: Collecting Signatures

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