Allegan County Prosecutor Asked To Investigate Saugatuck Officials' "Abuse Of Power" By Ignoring Signage Law
The co-chairs of the pro-consolidation group Consolidated Government Committee (CGC) have sent a letter to Allegan County Prosecutor Fred Anderson asking his office to investigate the recent decision by the Saugatuck City Council and Saugatuck City Manager to ignore the city’s signage law and its “abuse of power” in doing so.
The letter, on CGC letterhead, states:
Subject: Abuse of Power: Failure to Enforce Temporary Sign Regulation Pertaining to Election Signage
Dear Mr. Anderson:
As chief law enforcement officer of the County of Allegan, we are bringing to your attention the decision by the Saugatuck City Council to not enforce the city’s temporary sign regulations as defined in section 154.140 of the Zoning Code. The signage in question is the election signage opposing the consolidation of the City of Saugatuck and the City of the Village of Douglas. This decision, coupled with the fact that the decision was made at a Workshop Meeting on Thursday, October 10th, and was not included on the Council Meeting Agenda on Monday, October 14, indicates an abuse of power may be underway in the City of Saugatuck government in connection with the November 5th election.
During the public comment period of the October 14th Saugatuck City Council meeting, the former mayor of the city and a member of the Consolidated Government Committee, Catherine Simon, questioned the council about the apparent lack of enforcement of the city’s sign ordinance in connection with the signage oppoing the consolidation ballot initiative. She specifically cited instances of signs posted in the public right of ways. The current and immediate past Mayor of the city, Bill Hess and Jane Verplank, respectively, are among the leaders of the CICC, an anti-consolidation ballot question committee; no council member has publicly stated support for consolidation, and, in fact, all members but one have placed opposition signage at their homes, with several placing signage in public right of ways.
Ms. Simon was advised that during the workshop meeting of the council held last week, the decision was made to not enforce the ordinance prohibiting the placement of yard signs and other campaign materials in the public rights of way. The rationale given was that since this issue is one of great passion for all, there were too many signs in conjunction with the consolidation issue to “efficiently” enforce the law. The council was specifically asked whether the law was still an adopted part of the code of ordinances and the response was that it was. If not for the question asked by Ms. Simon, only the opposition would have known (about the) “waiver” of the regulation, with the pro-consolidation supporters being put at a distinct disadvantage since we have complied with the regulation as written.
The Consolidated Government Committee has specifically advised its supporters to respect the law prohibiting the placement of yard signs in public right of ways or on public property. (You can find our advice to supporters in this regard on our website, www.we-are-better-together.com). We find this selective enforcement discriminatory against our attempts to comply lawfully with adopted ordinances since the group headed by Mr. Hess and Ms. Verplank has freely posted their signs in the public right of ways. We know now this has apparently been done with the full support of city officials who are sworn to uphold the law that should apply to all, not just the favored few.
By failing to enforce this ordinance so as to aid a cause that favors them personally and by not transparently disclosing this secretive action to the residents they were elected to serve, we believe the council has clearly abused the power to which it was entrusted.
We ask that you use the full powers of the office entrusted to you to ensure the ordinance is fully and equitably enforced without favor or fear. We also request your review of the process by which this decision was reached for potential violations of the Open Meetings Act.
Thank you for your time and attention to this timely issue.
Bobbie Gaunt, co-chair, Saugatuck
Max Matteson, co-chair, Douglas