Former Saugatuck Township Planning & ZBA Official Says Reappointment Of Planning Commission Member A Bad Idea; Questions "Personal Vendettas"
Evaluating Saugatuck Township Board Decisions
These are difficult times for Saugatuck Township’s citizens and its board. Trust in the township board has eroded to an unsustainable level. A surprisingly strong recall effort is underway and its outcome will be determined in November. I was not a member of the township recall committee, but fully support citizens’ rights to organize and call for a vote when questions of competence can no longer be ignored.
The current Saugatuck Township board will appoint two planning commissioners in July. As recent chair of the township planning commission, and a past zoning board administrator, I’ve shared in the workings of our board, our ZBA, and our planning commission.
Recently, the township planning commission has also come under criticism. Some criticism is deserved; some, not so much. However, the most appropriate way to build and maintain trust in a planning commission’s decisions is to appoint dedicated individuals, who devote the time required for training, help fellow commissioners with the workload, and don’t skip half of the planning commission meetings each year.
By state law, our planning commission must represent a diverse cross-section of the township population’s interests.
I’m not comfortable with appointing candidates by political ideology. Those who work with me know I welcome diverse opinions. Even when I disagree with fellow commissioners or citizens, I always respect, value, and can be persuaded by those who demonstrate they are informed and show up, or if they are not able to attend meetings, take time to write the commission.
Commissioners are not required to attend every planning meeting.
As chair, however, I could only watch as the prolonged absences of some commission members proved increasingly detrimental to the professionalism of the commission.
Such commissioners demonstrate a lack of concern about what is best for township taxpayers when they refuse to step aside and allow other deserving citizens a chance to serve.
Last year the township board voted to dismiss Republican Planning Commissioner Joe Milauckas.
Joe was a dedicated, educated, hardworking, and highly respected commissioner, who worked selflessly, spending hours preparing before meetings.
Joe traveled too, and each year he paid out of his pocket to fly back from vacations, making sure he NEVER missed a commission meeting. Joe felt he represented our township, not himself, and cared about how best to give all of our citizens an informed voice.
Joe’s desire to follow the rule of law annoyed some board members, and in spite of overwhelming public support to retain him, the board replaced him.
Township citizens’ voices and our best interests were ignored. I was told by a board member that personal vendettas were the reason.
This year the board will consider the reappointment of a current planning commissioner. This commissioner consistently comes to meetings unprepared. He has refused to take a turn holding the responsibility of commission leadership or even help with committee work. He misses more than half of the meetings each year and avoids getting enough, if any, planning education— a situation that often reveals itself through his public comments— eroding trust in our planning commission’s professionalism and credibility.
Following last year’s unadvised, damaging decision to replace dedicated Commissioner Milauckas, if the township board now votes to retain a commissioner who is absent more than in attendance and fails to prepare before meetings or by getting badly needed planning training, trust in the current township board will continue to erode.
It’s always hard to ask someone to step aside, and if the township has no other applicants, we must retain those who volunteer.
However, especially in these turbulent times, a basic requirement should be attendance at most all meetings.
If other candidates have applied for open planning commission positions and expressed a willingness to be here for the full year and take planning training, they should be strongly considered. Training is paid for by the township.
Taxpaying citizens deserve the most knowledgeable and dedicated representatives available to us. The decision will be made at the July monthly township board meeting. I urge qualified candidates to apply this week.
The citizens of Saugatuck Township are watching.
If given a choice, hopefully the board will consider state law and the best interest of all township citizens, not personal vendettas or ideologies.
A detrimental decision now will add to the distrust of hundreds of us attempting to decide which candidates on the November ballot are qualified, appropriate, or even mature enough to control the future of OUR township.
Kathleen Miller Cook