Critics Say Saugatuck Township Clerk & Manager Decimating Open, Fair & Impartial GovernmentIt what appears to critics to be yet another example of some Saugatuck Township officials trying to improperly consolidate control and influence on how the government is run, township officials have recently removed Joe Milauckas, a distinguished public servant with 20-plus years under his belt, from his post as a planning commission member.
“It seems there was a concerted effort to remove him from his role at the township because of all of his knowledge. It got in the way,” Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Member Kathleen “Kat” Cook told The Local Observer recently.
Those same critics say Township Clerk Brad Rudich and Township Manager Aaron Sheridan are systematically trying to take over control of every aspect of the township, regardless of township ordinancnes, long-established rules and regulations, and accepted practices.
For example, on July 5, the Saugatuck Township Board appointed builder and board of review member Chris Lozano to replace Milauckas, who was up to that point serving a three-year term on the planning commission.
In what some angry officials say they feel is yet another attempt to usurp full control over township activities, Rudich and Sheridan led the way in systematically limiting the role and responsibilities of the planning commission chair, thereby disregarding the planning commission’s own rules and regulations.
Cook had been chair of the commission until recently, but she said she got increasingly frustrated with the inappropriate actions of Rudich, Sheridan and Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion, and personally withdrew her name from contention for any officer position for the next year. She said she fully supports the new planning commission chair Maggie Conklin.
“Until the last years, according to planning commission rules and regulations, the chair held responsibility for setting and approving agendas for planning commission meetings with control over what items would or would not be discussed and when,” said Cook.
“Now, Zoning Administrator (Steve) Kushion sets those agendas, and Commissioner (Brad) Rudich—who also holds the position as township clerk with a township board vote along with holding the position of a planning commissioner—many times tells our commissioners what we can or cannot discuss or what he says he feels is basically not our business.”
In their roles as planning commission members, Cook and Milauckas characterized themselves as consistently posing challenging questions and analyzing various issues from different angles, much to the vexation of others, especially Rudich and Sheridan.
Earlier this year, Cook, in particular, criticized the township officials for what she said was a strategic effort to counteract her request for an independent consultant to help the planning commission address elements of the proposed NorthShore development, owned by Jeff and Peg Padnos and their developer, Bosgraaf Cottage Homes, which still needs final township approval.
Kushion was not available to respond to the criticisms and Rudich limited his comments on both issues—the planning commission chair’s role and Milauckas’ replacement.
“The township board has directed the zoning administrator (Kushion) to set the agenda for the planning commission with input from the chair. This was the case before Steve Kushion was hired. This was reaffirmed when Kushion was hired, that he would administer the planning commission, including setting the agenda,” Rudich told The Local Observer paper on Wednesday.
However, the township’s rules of procedure, specifically 2.3, states that the chairperson “has the right and duty to regulate the proceeding of the meeting” and does not explicitly or implicitly indicate that the zoning administrator has any right to set the agenda.
Under the rules, the zoning administrator’s main responsibilities center around acting as an advisor to the planning commission, forwarding application materials, and informing the commissioners of enforcement actions taken by the township.
Of the ousting of Milauckas, Cook said, “One of the reasons Mr. Milauckas was given for his removal was because he went out of state during the winter months and theoretically couldn’t attend planning commission meetings. In 20-plus years of dedicated service to Saugatuck Township Joe Milauckas missed approximately three meetings in total.”
Additionally, Cook noted, “Commissioner Milauckas’ deep knowledge of zoning laws and actual township history lead him to challenge commissioner Rudich on several occasions.
“Commissioner Milauckas was most often correct in his assertions. It seemed to not sit well (with Rudich, Sheridan and some other township officials) that he insisted on truthfully setting the public record straight, and properly follow procedures. He wanted the results of planning commission decisions and any information given to the public to be based on facts and the truth, not emotions and bias.”
Milauckas was not available Wednesday for comment on the matter.
Township officials also have recently been under fire by fire department personnel and officials from the other constituent members of the fire district - the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas - for proposed modifications to the International Fire Code and changing the ordinance regulating cost recovery.
The township’s move (see top story above), say critics, including Fire Chief Greg Janik, Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier and others, is essentially undermining the fire department’s ability to perform as one unit, as a district, and, more importantly perform its tasks of fire inspections and permits to protect township residents and business owners. they say.