08-17-2017 Judge adds limits that prevent Hodge from participating on Road Commission; Coloma Townsh

DONATION FOR EDUCATION… Coloma Char-ter Township Police Chief Jason Roe presented a certificate of appreciation to Dan Crist (left) of Centsible Heating & Air. They recently made a sizable donation to the police depart-ment. Roe said the funds will be used for the purchase of take-home materials that the police officers will give to stu-dents in the elementary schools. The materials can be shared with the parents so they can be informed about the subjects that police are sharing with the stu-dents. Roe said he hopes to re-introduce police involvement in the schools especially on the topics of internet safety and bullying. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)

Judge adds limits that prevent Hodge from participating on Road Commission

By Annette Christie

Berrien County Judge John Donahue ruled on Monday, August 14, 2017 that Bill Hodge is prohibited from participating in discussion or debate or in any manner other than that of a citizen of Berrien County, with regard to his seat on the Berrien County Road Commission.  This follows up on an order Donahue made on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 that reinstated Bill Hodge to the Berrien County Road Commission and a later order in June of 2017 which prevented Hodge from voting on Road Commission matters.

Still to be determined by Donahue is whether or not the offices of Road Commissioner and Township Supervisor, of which Hodge is both, are incompatible.  However, in Monday’s ruling Donahue stated that “irreparable injury may result from the defendant (Hodge) sitting and voting on the Berrien County Road Commission and the Bainbridge Township Board as supervisor simultaneously,” followed by, “if, at a later date after a hearing, this court rules those offices are incompatible, decisions rendered may be void or voidable and result in monetary loss to said boards.”  Donahue said in the ruling that the possibility of incompatible offices exists.

Hodge was removed from the Berrien County Road Commission December 1, 2016 after being elected as Bainbridge Township Supervisor and taking office.  The Berrien County Board of Commissioners did so through a resolution that declared that the position that Hodge filled on the Road Commission was vacant due to the Incompatibility of Offices Act (MCL 15.181 et seq).   The two public offices are incompatible because Bainbridge Township is subject to current and existing contracts with the Berrien County Road Commission during and after the date that Hodge took office with the township.

Hodge sought re-instatement through the court system.  Donahue said in his opinion in May that Hodge was not removed from the Road Commission in a manner that is compliant with two state statutes and without a hearing. Donahue stated that the Board of Commissioners, in vacating Hodge’s seat on the Road Commission through the Incompatible Pubic Offices Act could not do so as only the Attorney General or the Prosecuting Attorney may seek the judicial action to do that.  He then placed Hodge back on the Road Commission.

Judge Donahue set aside the resolution which vacated Hodge’s seat on the Road Commission but did state that the two public offices at issue may in fact be incompatible.  He did not rule on that issue. He stated that prior to Hodge being removed or ordered from the Road Commission, that he was entitled to a hearing.

Following Donahue’s ruling in May, Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic did file court documents seeking to obtain a restraining order preventing Hodge from sitting and voting on the Berrien County Road Commission or from sitting and voting on the Bainbridge Township Board as the Bainbridge Township Supervisor and ultimately seeks to have the Court rule that the offices of Township Supervisor and Road Commissioner are incompatible.

In response to that, Donahue instituted the temporary restraining order preventing Hodge from voting on the Berrien County Road Commission.

Donahue did delay the trial at the request of Hodge. A new date will be set in approximately 45 days.

Berrien County Board of Commissioners seeking public input on taking over Road Commission

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution at their July 27 meeting which schedules two public hearings on the subject of the Road Commission.

The County Board of Commissioners’ Act allows for a county board of commissioners to pass a resolution to transfer the powers, duties, and functions that are otherwise provided by law for the appointed board of county road commissioners, to the county board of commissioners. The Berrien County Board of Commissioners is considering that the transfer of powers from the Road Commission to Berrien County could be added without hindering other essential services provided by Berrien County.

The public hearings on this subject will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 17 and again on Thursday, August 24.  They will be held at the Berrien County Administration Center, 701 Main St., St. Joseph, Michigan in the Board of Commissioners’ Room.  Those that are not able to attend may submit their comments in writing to the Board of Commissioners, 701 Main St., St. Joseph, MI 49085 or via email to akrieger@berriencounty.org.

This is the second time in four years that the Berrien County Board of Commissioners has researched this topic.  They have been presented with the results of a feasibility study to assist them with the information needed to render a decision, however, the law states that two public hearings must be held.  In 2013, when they considered taking over the Berrien County Road Commission, they decided to hold off.

The Berrien County Road Commission and management staff has seen a lot of changes since May of 2008.  It was in May of 2008 that the Board of Commissioners expanded the Road Commission to a five-member board.  In 2011, the long standing management structure was changed by the Road Commission and a new managing director was put in place.

In June of 2012 the Berrien County Board of Commissioners received a copy of a letter that was signed by a number of Road Commission employees regarding mismanagement.  The Road Commission ordered an investigation into the employee claims.

In September 2012, the Board of Commissioners held a hearing for the Road Commissioners to discuss their actions regarding the results of the investigative report.  Two Road Commissioners were removed and one resigned at the conclusion of the hearing.

An Interim Manager was put in place at the Road Commission following the board shake up.  The three staff members that were the subject of the investigative report were either fired or they resigned.  Three new Road Commissioners were put in place in October 2012.

A new Managing Director was hired in November 2012 but was let go with a 3-2 vote of the Road Commission in May 2013.

In October 2013 as the Board of Commissioners was considering taking over the Road Commission a new Managing Director was hired.  They decided to give the individual an opportunity to resolve some of the concerns that the Board of Commissioners had.

Throughout 2014, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners authorized several contracts working together with the Road Commission while providing better service to the residents of Berrien County.  However, in May 2017 the managing director left the Road Commission, inflicting more change and adding more unknown.

All of these things took place while the Board of Road Commissioners endured 15 changes to its membership including the Chairman being replaced mid-term.  Most of the changes were the result of resignations from the board.

Coloma Township holds public hearing for Little Paw Paw Lake Cleanup District; Parks Advisory Board draft proposal presented

By Annette Christie

The Coloma Township Board held a public hearing at their Wednesday, August 9 meeting for the purposes of a Little Paw Paw Lake special assessment district. The purpose of the assessment is to fund keeping Little Paw Paw Lake in good condition, free of invasive species that damage the quality of the lake. The current special assessment district is ending and this is basically a renewal but with a few minor differences.

Coloma Township Trustee Bryan Duffield (also a resident of Little Paw Paw Lake) said that the assessment will go up a little bit from $197 to $238 per residence per year, however he said that a lot more is involved in this district than previously. Duffield said that they were able to complete enough in the first four years of the first special assessment that they didn’t need to collect the final year of assessment. Duffield said that they have had zero opposition from the residents.

The purpose of the first public hearing was to hear concerns about the project or in being included in the assessment district itself. This would be the venue for someone to speak out in objection of the plan. No members of the public spoke during the public hearing.

This will be a 20-year district but every four years they will re-visit the plan with no change to the boundaries. The second public hearing will be held at the September 13 Coloma Township Board meeting at 7:00 p.m. The purpose of that hearing is to establish the district and present the assessment roll. This would be the venue if someone had an objection to the assessment roll.

At June’s meeting, the Coloma Township Board agreed to contribute to the Little Paw Paw Lake Special Assessment District such as they do with the Paw Paw Lake Special Assessment District. Their contribution is $1,500.

Recreational Parks Advisory Board

The board was presented a draft proposal for a Recreational Parks Advisory Board by Trustee Matt Moser. With the acquisition of Washington School Park and the consideration of the FOP Youth Sports Park, Moser presented the idea months ago that the township needed an advisory board to focus on all public recreational properties that the township owns, leases, or has a vested interest in. Township officials have also been involved in the Paw Paw River Trail as well as gaining access to Paw Paw River though an old I&M sub-station site.

Moser’s draft proposal is that the board would be advisory in nature with the township board still maintaining authority. Membership would be three township board members and two at large members who are residents of Coloma Township. It is expected that the board will discuss this at next month’s meeting.

Other business

In other business, the board authorized two special land use permit requests as recommended by the Planning Commission.

Robert Zakhar purchased an old hotel in the township which includes cottages by the lake. He plans to re-open the hotel and will reside on the property. Plans to re-establish a concession stand style building on the water was also approved but prevents liquor sales.

Robert Howell asked for an expansion on his existing garage which will allow for removing some other storage structures he has on his property.

Police Report

During the Police Report, Chief Jason Roe presented a certificate of appreciation to Dan Crist, owner of Centsible Air & Heating. They reached out to the chief to ask how they could help in the community and have made a very generous donation that will fund materials that the police officers will use when they provide programs in the schools. The materials will be used as take-home items for the students to share with their parents.

Berrien County Youth Fair has new king & queen

 Lillian Jillson of Buchanan and Ben Myers of Hartford represent the Berrien County Youth Fair as the queen and king at this week’s fair.  The new royalty were chosen Friday, August 11 during a contest in the Grandstand at the fair.  First runner-up to the king is Ryder Zielke of Stevensville and first runner-up to the queen is Serena Sommer of Eau Claire.

2017 ROYALTY… Ben Myers of Hartford and Lillian Jillson of Buchanan will represent the Berrien County Youth Fair as the king and queen. This week’s fair marks the 72nd annual Ber-rien County Youth Fair which runs through Saturday, August 19.

The new king and queen will have a busy week serving as public relations representatives of the fair, handing out ribbons and trophies, and attending ceremonies and concerts throughout the week, in addition to showing their exhibits.

Miss Jillson is an 18-year-old student at Lake Michigan College where she plans to pursue a degree in science and eventually further her studies at Michigan State University in the medical field. She shows in the equine, rabbit, home economics, crafts, horticulture and flower departments.  She is the daughter of Darrin and Melissa Jillson.

Mr. Myers is a 16-year-old student at South Haven High School.  He shows in the equine, rabbit and swine departments.  He is the son of Doug and Lisa Myers.

Miss Sommer is an 18-year-old student at Eastern Michigan University where she plans to pursue a degree in nursing. She shows in the sheep and swine departments.  She is the daughter of Sharon Sommer and Troy Cochran.

Mr. Zielke is an 18-year-old graduate of Lakeshore High School who has joined the construction workforce.  He shows in the home economics, crafts and horticulture departments.  He is the son of Norm and Jan Zielke.

Just before the king and queen contest, the Berrien County Youth Fair held its sixth annual Prince and Princess Contest.  The contestants were aged anywhere between 9 and 12 years old and were required to be a current BCYF exhibitor.   Belle Hunn of St. Joseph and Gavin Carr of Stevensville will serve as this year’s BCYF Prince and Princess.

Duties of the prince and princess are similar to the duties of the king and queen so you’ll be sure to see them around the fair attending various ceremonies and also serving as public relations representatives.

Miss Hunn is 9 years old.  She shows in the home economics, crafts, flower, and horticulture departments.  She is the daughter of Jason and Angela Hunn.

Mr. Carr is 9 years old.  He shows in the crafts, horticulture, beef, swine, poultry, and rabbit departments.  He is the son of Becky Hein and Scott Totzke.

The 72nd annual Berrien County Youth Fair kicked off Monday and ends Saturday, August 19 with the theme “Fairadise.”

Tri-City area kids who are exhibitors at the Berrien County Youth Fair this week should reach out if they win Champion, Reserve Champion, or place ribbons for their exhibits.

Contact Annette Christie at (269) 921-1802 or email ahilerk@yahoo.com so that we can make sure to include you in our post-fair coverage.


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