Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Chair Pens Explosive Report Questioning Legal & Ethical Decisions & Actions By Township Clerk & Township Zoning Administrator Involving Cottage Home Development Project On Former McClendon Property
In a stunning, highly critical and damning five-page report written by Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Chair Kathleen “Kat” Miller Cook to “Saugatuck Township Elected and Appointed Officials”, questions are raised about the “questionable” legal and ethical actions and decisions of Township Clerk Brad Rudich and Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion in their handling of myriad issues involving the Cottage Home proposal to develop the former McClendon dune property.
As The Local Observer only obtained a copy of this report - dated April 12, 2017 - at its printing deadline Wednesday night, we are publishing it in its entirety so the public may learn what is going on behind the scenes regarding this important development project, the actions of township officials and the many “questionable” legal and ethical decisions by Township Clerk Brad Rudich and Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion that are now being revealed by the highly respected chair of their own Planning Commission.
The Local Observer will endeavor to seek responses from all township officials cited in the report during this upcoming week and will publish them, if provided, in next week’s edition.
To: Saugatuck Township To Elected and Appointed Officials
From: Kathleen Miller Cook, Chair Saugatuck Township Planning Commission
RE: Concerns for the integrity of the Cottage Home proposal decisions.
April 12, 2017
Attached you will find a memo dated March 14, 2017 from me, as Chair of the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission to Saugatuck Township Clerk, (Brad) Rudich; (Township) Manager, Aaron Sheridan; and (Zoning Administrator) Steve Kushion.
In this memo I stated multiple reasons who our (planning) commissioners were in need of expert opinion, specifically that of a certified planner, in order to reach an informed, safe and fair decision regarding the Cottage Home development requests. (Please see attached memo for details).
There was no response to the memo from any of the three recipients (Rudich, Sheridan & Kushion). It was ignored.
On March 15, I sent an email to Rudich asking him for some kind of feedback on my request. There was still no response for over five days.
It was not until March 20th that I received any answer from either Kushion or Rudich. Rudich sent an email and informed me he didn’t think we needed an outside planner.
On Wednesday, March 22, Commissioner Conklin and I came in person to see Kushion and Rudich and again requested the help of a planning consultant. Commissioner Milauckas also sent an email on that same date to (Township) Supervisor (Jon) Phillips, Rudich, Sheridan and Kushion, also stating his agreement with the need for expert opinion. A majority of the commissioners were asking for help.
Finally Rudich agreed we could call Mark Sission, the planner who had helped the township through the McClendon development approvals. I called Sission and was told he was not available. I reported this and was then told Kushion would take over the search foa planner because he knew someone who would do it. On the 23rd of March I received an email from Kushion (see attached) saying he had spoken to the township legal staff and that they were writing a memo: “The memo will consist of opinions and procedure, giving the PC direction for the meeting…Scott (Smith, township attorney) feels that we can hold the public hearing, but hold off on a decision until the next meeting.” Kushion also said he was going to hold off on a certified planner until after the next planning commission meeting. Kushion had delayed so long in responding to our planning commissioner’s requests for planning assistance, he wrote, “I feel I can bring a planner up to speed by Tuesday anyways.”
The commission did not receive that legal memo from Scott Smith, township attorney until around 2 p.m. on the day of the planning meeting. The site plans from Cottage Home did not arrive until 2 p.m. or so that day also. Our commissioners had little to no advance time to look these complex documents over or even superficially review them. This is unacceptable.
In the course of the planning commission meeting on March 28, I attempted to ask (Cottage Home) developer Bosgraaf what few questions I knew to ask regarding the development. Several times his answer was, “I’ve spoken to your zoning staff regarding that.” I was unable to get any detailed information to my satisfaction or to assist our commissioners from Bosgraaf.
At the meeting, at my concerned urging, the commissioners agreed we should table applications so the commission could have more time to gather information, resume the search for a planning consultant and receive more of the guidance needed for an accurate and thorough analysis. That was my intention as chair in asking for the delay. Following the meeting I was approached by ZA Kushion and told I ‘needed to get to him what I thought I needed from Cottage Home.”
The next week on April 5, at a township board meeting there was major controversy regarding some things allegedly said by one member of our staff. Rudich and Kushion were very tied up for several days dealing with that. As the clock was running I decided to continue doing the research for the planning assistance requested by a majority of our commissioners.
It took a few days, but through extensive calling of contacts and referrals, I located an exceptionally strong and experienced planning consultant who came highly recommended and able to assist us immediately at a very reasonable rate. This planner has extensive experience with developments in critical dune areas and is highly skilled in site plan, PUD reviews.
On April 11, 2017, I sat down in a meeting with Steve Kushion and Brad Rudich to discuss bringing the consultant on to assist our commissioners. We had barely sat down and Rudich asked who the person was and I said a planning consultant and he responded loudly, “Oh, no. No. No, we are not going to do that. We are not going to bring anyone on. That window has passed. We don’t need an outside planner. That could delay the decision so we are not going to do that. We have our attorney’s memo and that is all we need. No.” He was adamant.
I was shocked at his response and attitude. He had refused to even open the file I had spent a great deal of time producing.
In reviewing what occurred, I have since grown deeply alarmed at Rudich’s refusal to hire needed expertise, realizing that out of our panel of five commissioners, one of the five commissioners was blocking three others from access to necessary information they felt they required to do an accurate analysis on this extensive and detailed development. Rudich was blocking a majority of the commissioners who had requested planning assistance multiple times. This is alarming.
I question if there is a major conflict of interest in this situation.
Rudich remained adamant that we were not getting any other help. I told him I did not feel I was qualified to make a judgment on my own without technical advice, and neither was he. I also told him that legal advice is NOT technical planning advice. They are vastly different. I then told him that it was possible, without the help of a planning consultant I would have to follow my conscience, and I may need to abstain from making a vote, as I did not get the information I knew I needed to make an informed decision. Rudich left the room.
I had a brief conversation with Kushion and I asked why we didn’t set up an escrow account, as is normal for this size development. I was then told for the FIRST time we had set up an account and there was $5,000. I said, “Well good! That is what our escrows are there for to help pay for expert planning assistance. Kushion responded, “No, it’s set up to pay engineers, not planners.” I left.
Later that day I received an email from Kushion stating that the township would not hire any outside planning assistance of any kind, and if I wanted to secure planning assistance I would need to find a way to pay for it myself. The township would not incur any expense of any type for an outside planner. Kushion wanted ME to provide HIM with whatever information I needed so that he could get that request to Cottage Home.
I don’t know which was more concerning, being blocked from needed outside expertise by one of the five commissioners involved in the vote (Rudich); being told, if I wanted the help our commissioners felt they needed, I needed to find a way to pay for it myself; or the fact that ZA Kushion seems completely unaware that determining what information our commission needs to do an accurate analysis is HIS job, not ours. Please see the Zoning Administrator’s Job Description.
Note: To date, April 13, we have received no information or report whatsoever from ZA Kushion. The commission has a one-page cover memo from Kushion added to the Cottage Home packet stating Kushion believed the application was complete and it should be approved. That is it. No other guidance whatsoever.
Because I report to the Board of Directors I spoke with (Township) Supervisor (Jon) Phillips and explained my alarm and concerns.
Supervisor Phillips went to see Rudich and Kushion. Phillips can discuss what exactly transpired, but he told me that Rudich spoke in a firm tone to him telling Phillips he had no right to speak to me, the PC chair. Rudich said there was a law and he would find it and show it to Phillips.
The next morning following a meeting with Rudich, Phillips informed me that Rudich said that the mysterious law had apparently “been changed.” And that yes, Phillips could speak to me; in fact Phillips could become a commissioner on the planning commission if, as supervisor, he decided it was in the best interest of the township and a majority of the board supported that decision.
I am deeply concerned that as planning commission chair I have been systematically shut out of all information regarding not only the Cottage Home requests, but recently any other activities of a planning nature in Saugatuck Township. My ability to handle the responsibilities of the role have been badly compromised to the point where I’m having extreme difficulty carrying them out. I am alarmed for the township.
I am also alarmed for the integrity of any decision reached on the Cottage Home applications. I am aware of several instances of ex parte (private) discussions between Rudich and Brian Bosgraaf, as well as Jeff Bosgraaf.
At one point, Rudich challenged another commissioner’s right to recuse himself when that commissioner stated he had a conflict of interest. Rudich told me and several others in an email he had “spoken to Bosgraaf and Brian had said it was not a conflict.” In that instance I immediatley told Rudich he was out of line in speaking to the developer on this issue and in the future please address such discussions through the chair.
Following a discussion with some of my fellow commissioners and advisors, it was decided I needed to make a report and discuss what has transpired to protect innocent parties should there be anything of a litigious nature occur as a result of any uncovered deficiencies in the Cottage Home development.
If there are any factual inaccuracies in this discussion, I am unaware of them. I have done my best to accurately and honestly render events, as I believe they have occurred. There is documentation and witnesses to substantiate this report.
I request this memo and all attached memos be entered into and become part of the permanent Cottage Home file.
Thank you, Kathleen Miller Cook, Chair, Saugatuck Township Planning Commission.
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The Saugatuck Township Planning Commission will meet Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Saugatuck High School cafeteria to further discuss the development project’s proposals and issues. All concerned area residents are urged to attend.