Saugatuck Township Officials Changing Way They Handle Board/Commission Reappointments
At least one Saugatuck Township Board member and a number of community members were not pleased by the board’s decision last Wednesday to break precedent with how it appoints candidates to other governing and and advisory bodies.
When it comes to people that serve on the Planning Commission whose terms are about to expire and they express an interest in serving again, the township board usually reappoints those individuals without batting an eye.
But last week the board, in a 4-to-1 vote, opted to publicly advertise, in a local newspaper, those Planning Commission seats that were held by Dayle Harrison and Joe Milauckas at the end of last month, despite the fact that both have expressed interest in reappointment.
Township officials have previously butted heads when it comes to Harrison, in particular, and his candidacy to the Planning Commission.
In 2012 when he was appointed to the commission, some feared that his appointment would result in a lopsided review process relative to the McClendon property development proposal because he had openly and consistently opposed the project, citing various environmental and legal concerns.
During one of the review processes, the Planning Commission voted to have Harrison recuse himself, fearing further lawsuits from the McClendon legal team.
“I want to reach out to other people (candidates to fill the expiring terms of Harrison and Milauckas). I believe in advertising these positions and not simply reappoint these positions,” said Saugatuck Township Supervisor Bill Wester, adding that a “new set of eyes” could benefit that board.
Wester noted, however, that opening up the seats for other candidates would not automatically eliminate the possibility of the two incumbents from being reappointed.
“I do have a problem with this procedure,” countered Saugatuck Township Trustee Roy McIlwaine, the one dissent voice in changing the former reappointment process.
“We are breaking precedent. You are talking about two guys (Harrison and Milauckas) that have thousands of hours of experience and have devoted a hell of a lot of time and effort to their roles.”
Later in the meeting, the board - including McIlwaine - voted unanimously to also publicly advertise the seat of Shawn Powers, whose term on the Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals also expired last month.
Saugatuck Township Trustee Jonathan Phillips sided with colleague Wester.
“You are never going to get new blood if you always have old blood,” he said. “I think it’s fair to put it out (advertise the positions). I would like to see some younger people.”
Township residents present Wednesday offered robust support for the two Planning Commission incumbents.
“I think they have proven to have incredible institutional knowledge and passion for the issues,” said Tracey Shafroth.
She praised what she referred to as Harrison’s ability to “challenge” others and bring new elements to an argument.
“He can be challenging,” said Shaforth. “But he is very smart, diligent and passionate. He brings a point of view that is informative.”
Fellow resident Larry Dickie concurred.
“I’ve been going to many Planning Commission meetings. Joe and Dayle always come very prepared. You can’t say that about everybody on the board.”
In other related developments, some township residents are questioning why the township board only advertises official legal notices, meetings, job openings, election information and other important news in only one of the local newspapers - The Commercial Record - instead of the much-larger circulation newspaper The Local Observer.
Critics contend the township board decision keeps most township residents uninformed of news, controversial action the board may take or is being considered, election notices and other important information they need to know about since few ever pay for - or read - The Commercial Record.
According to The Commercial Record’s own published circulation figures in fall 2013, the paper only has 420 paid subscribers in all of Allegan County.
The Local Observer is provided free of charge to thousands of homes and businesses throughout the lakeshore region and is mailed free to every home and business in Saugatuck Township, Douglas, Saugatuck and parts of Fennville within the township.
Local Observer Editor Mike Gallagher said, “Last year we made the township board and the two cities an offer to print all their advertising for only $1,000 a year each so they could save significant taxpayer dollars. It was our way of giving back to the communities we all live in. Saugatuck and Douglas officials took us up on our cost-saving offer, but not the township.
“The Commercial Record responded by offering the township basically the same deal - $999 per year for its advertising - and the township accepted that despite the fact that our newspaper is directly mailed to everyone in the township (thousands of homes and businesses) for free while The Commercial Record charges people $1 per issue and is only sent to 420 subscribers in all of Allegan County.
“When the township board turned down our offer (only Board Member Roy McIlwaine voted to accept it), Supervisor Wester and others came up with some explanation that they couldn’t determine how many people read The Local Observer because it’s free.
“That was disingenuous then and it’s disingenuous now,” said Gallagher. “Does anyone really think that our newspaper - which goes to thousands of local people - is not read by more people than the 420 subscribers of The Commercial Record? The real reason is some personal animosity Mr. Wester and some other board members have had for the Observer due to various stories we have printed about them over the years.
“The real losers are the township residents, most of whom now never see the township’s public and legal notices that affect them, election notices or township job openings or other information of importance.
“The township’s job is to keep residents informed, not keep imporant information about what they are doing from being disseminated to the most people possible.
“If anyone has any questions about why they are not getting this information in the largest circulation newspaper in their coverage area, they need to give Mr. Wester and their township board representatives a call. Let them explain why.”