09-21-2017 Judge rules Hodge’s offices as Bainbridge Twp. Supervisor and as Road Commissioner were i

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Judge rules Hodge’s offices as Bainbridge Twp. Supervisor and as Road Commissioner were incompatible; meanwhile Berrien County continues discussion to take over management of Road Commission

By Annette Christie

Berrien County Trial Court Judge John Donahue ruled Wednesday, September 13 that the seats of Road Commissioner and Township Supervisor are incompatible.  Bainbridge Township Supervisor Bill Hodge had sought to remain as a Road Commission member after being elected as township supervisor in November of 2016.

In December 2016, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners vacated his seat on the Road Commission citing the Incompatibility Act.  The Berrien County Board of Commissioners, by statute, appoints the Road Commission.

Through the court proceedings, Donahue had re-appointed Hodge to the Road Commission but without voting privileges; however, in August, Donahue prohibited Hodge 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.

Berrien County Corporate Counsel James McGovern made this statement following Donahue’s final ruling, “The Hodge vs. BOC case, which alleged that the County violated Hodge’s due process rights due to the manner in which they removed Mr. Hodge from his position as road commissioner, was resolved and will be dismissed pursuant to the May 31, 2017 order that required the County to pay for lost wages and attorney’s fees,” adding, “The Court’s decision in the Prosecutor vs. Hodge case confirms the County’s long standing assertion that Mr. Hodge affirmatively violated State statute and breached his duty to both public offices when he insisted on sitting in two incompatible offices.”

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 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 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 at that time. 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 filed motions that would ultimately seek to have the Court rule that the offices of Township Supervisor and Road Commissioner are incompatible.