This year will be remembered for the slew of recall efforts against officials in Ionia and Montcalm counties on a variety of topics ranging from wind and solar energy to budget issues to wastewater treatment.
On Monday, enough signatures were filed against three Douglass Township Board members related to the wind ordinance controversy in that township to place the recall on the November ballot.
A total of 239 signatures were needed to initiate a recall against Supervisor Terry Anderson, Clerk Ronda Snyder and Trustee Tom Jeppesen, and 355 signatures were filed against Anderson, 356 were filed against Snyder and 358 were filed against Jeppesen, according to the Montcalm County Clerk’s Office.
Anderson, Snyder and Jeppesen have until July 6 to challenge the signatures. If they do not, the recall election will take place in the Nov. 3 general election, assuming all signatures are verified. Anyone may file to run against the three township officials as long as they file a qualifying petition with enough required signatures.
The Douglass Township recall effort was initiated by township resident Ben Reynolds.
In Ionia County’s Keene Township, Christine Hendrick of Saranac filed recall petitions on May 31 against that township’s Supervisor Robert Simpson, Treasurer Kara Albert and trustees Harvey Noon and Corey Wojcik related to that township’s solar ordinance.
Hendrick’s recall petitions filed with the Ionia County Clerk’s Office were cc’d to Ohio-based attorney Joshua Nolan who is known for his work with residents in Montcalm County who want protective/restrictive wind and solar ordinances.
Hendrick’s recall petition cites the reason for recall as follows: “On or about March 8, 2022, (Simpson, Albert, Noon and Wojcik) voted in favor of Ordinance 3-8-22 amending the zoning regulations for solar energy systems in Keene Township.”
“There’s zero protections as far as setbacks,” Hendrick told the Daily News. “By the time the public found out what was going on, we had missed our seven-day window for doing a referendum. Basically our only shot is to try to replace the board and get a board that will work with the public with an ordinance that will protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
Invenergy LLC is actively working to develop a solar project in Keene Township. The township board originally approved a solar ordinance in 2018 and voted to amend it this past March. Visit www.keenetownship.org to view the township’s solar ordinance and amendments.
Simpson told the Daily News that the news of the recall effort caught him by surprise.
“I’m not sure I agree with why people are doing it,” he said. “It’s not like the township did anything secretively.”
Simpson added that the township will have an informational meeting at 7 p.m. June 23 at Saranac High School on the topic of solar energy featuring representatives from Invenergy, Consumers Energy and Michigan State University Extension.
“I’m hoping this informational meeting will help answer some questions,” he said.
The Ionia County Election Commission will review the Keene Township recall petitions at 10 a.m. on June 15 on a second floor multipurpose room of the Ionia County Courthouse, and will review recall petitions against Belding City Council members at the same time.
CITY OF BELDING
On May 27, Daniel DeGeest of Belding filed recall petitions against Belding Mayor Bruce Meyers and Councilwoman Bonita Steele alleging their “failure to ensure the wastewater treatment lagoons were properly maintained, resulting in fines from (the Michigan Department of) Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).”
DeGeest attached a Daily News article from Dec. 14, 2021, titled “Belding To Discuss Wastewater Treatment Plant Fines; Council is Planning a Closed Session Meeting on Dec. 21.” That story detailed how the city was looking at a possible fine of $5,800 worth of costs incurred by EGLE when investigating the city’s wastewater treatment plant, as well as a possible penalty fee of $128,000 related to the plant.
The Daily News wrote a follow-up story on that topic on Dec. 24, 2021, which reported that the City Council went into closed session with the city’s attorney from the Varnum law firm and engineering and architecture firm Fleis & Vandenbrink for almost an hour to discuss EGLE’s administrative consent order related to the wastewater treatment plant. The City Council voted in open session to have their attorney negotiate with EGLE regarding the fines.
On March 1, the City Council voted to have their attorney continue to negotiate with EGLE. On March 15, City Manager Jon Stoppels reported that EGLE accepted the city’s offer of $104,000 to be paid over a five-year period.
“They’re getting fined for it and it’s leeching into our rivers,” DeGeest told the Daily News regarding his reasons for the recall effort.
Meyers told the Daily News he’s never met or spoken with DeGeest.
“I’m here to give back to the city of Belding and when the city of Belding believes that I’m not giving back or doing what I need to do, that’s up to them,” Meyers said. “It’s nothing that I’m going to be worried about. I’m focused on the future and moving forward.”
The Ionia County Election Commission will review the Belding recall petitions at 10 a.m. June 15 on a second floor multipurpose room of the Ionia County Courthouse, and will review recall petitions against Keene Township Board members at the same time.
In other pending recall news:
• OTISCO TOWNSHIP: Cara Johnson of Belding filed recall petitions against Otisco Township Supervisor Desmond Pike and Treasurer Paula Byrne for reasons related to that township’s budget process. The Ionia County Election Commission approved the recall petitions on May 18. Johnson is now in the process of collecting signatures — she must collect at least 260 signatures, which is 25% of the last gubernatorial vote in that township.
• MAPLE VALLEY TOWNSHIP: This township’s Supervisor John Schwandt will be on the Nov. 3 ballot for a recall effort involving that township’s controversial wind ordinance. That recall effort was initiated by township resident Robin Poulsen.
• WINFIELD TOWNSHIP: The Montcalm County Election Commission denied recall petitions filed against all five Winfield Township Board members by township resident Dave Meyers related to that township’s controversial wind ordinance. No new petitions have been filed at this time.
• SIDNEY TOWNSHIP: Erik Benko, the founder of Montcalm County Citizens United, a Facebook-based group “advocating against the irresponsible and invasive placement of industrial wind turbines and solar arrays in Montcalm County,” was elected to the Sidney Township Board on May 3, ousting trustee Jed Welder who was recalled in a 63% to 32% margin related to that township’s wind ordinance.