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

FATAL CRASH… The Watervliet motorcyclist injured in this crash last week was taken off life support Tuesday. The accident is now being invesstigated as a fatality. See the Police Report on Page 6.

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.

The seat on the Road Commission will remain vacant as the Berrien County Board of Commissioners’ is currently considering taking over the Road Commission and assuming it as a county department.  A joint meeting of the Board of Commissioners and Road Commission was held on Tuesday, September 19. No decision was made but it could be discussed at Board of Commissioners regular meeting being held on Thursday, September 21.

City of Hartford asked to make final decision on marijuana dispensary

By Nancy Albright

Cass County residents and growers Alex Vonkoenig and Janel Napier attended the September 18 city council workshop to request a final decision on their request that the council consider revising the existing City of Hartford Medical Marijuana Ordinance to allow non-physicians to operate a marijuana dispensary in the City of Hartford.

The current ordinance states that only licensed physicians can dispense marijuana to patients in need. Vonkoenig and Napier first approached the city on April 18, 2017 with their request that the council amend the existing ordinance to allow a dispensary to operate within city limits.

Applications for licenses will be accepted beginning on December 15, 2017, and Vonkoenig and Napier are pressed to make a decision on whether or not to take their business elsewhere. Vonkoenig stated, “We want the opportunity to help the City of Hartford. We won’t let you down.”

In December of 2016 the State of Michigan passed a law stating that dispensaries are no longer required to be operated by a medical professional, hence Napier and Vonkoenig’s request for a new provision to the ordinance stating that Hartford City agree to a dispensary within their jurisdiction operated by a non-medical professional.

The business would be a provisioning center only, meaning that the dispensary would act as a retailer to supply medical marijuana directly to legally eligible patients. The new laws regulating the sales of medical marijuana signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in the fall of 2016 impose taxes on dispensaries, which would benefit the city financially. In addition to a $5,000 annual fee, the city would receive 3 percent of the taxes on retail sales, potential generating millions of dollars in revenue.

Upon passing the resolution to amend the ordinance the city council requested that the Hartford Planning & Zoning Commission make a recommendation with respect to identifying feasible locations for the dispensary to operate. A dispensary must be at least 500 feet from churches and 1,000 feet from schools.

The procedure for amending the ordinance requires the zoning board’s recommendation prior to the council making its final decision. Zoning recommended that due to the small size of Hartford, the city does not have the resources to support a dispensary. However, they did recommend supporting marijuana growing, processing, testing and transporting operations. In order for the council to amend the ordinance, dispensaries should be included in the recommendation.

In order to facilitate the Zoning Commission’s recommendation, Hartford City Manager Yemi Akinwale agreed to draft a sample ordinance to be presented at the October 9, 2017 Planning & Zoning meeting. The city council can then make their final determination at the October 2017 workshop to amend the ordinance.

SAW Grant update

SAW Grant Manager Frank LaPierre of Wightman & Associates provided the council with a status update on the project to address the sanitary/ stormwater system in the City of Hartford. Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater funding for the $1.2 million program is awarded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The program entails creation of an asset management plan, recommendations on capital improvements, a 20-year financial projection for maintenance, funding recommendations, and an automated invoicing procedure for labor and reimbursement.

An engineer will be selected within the next three weeks to begin the assessment portion of the project. The formal capital improvement plan recommending repairs that need to be done now and going forward is projected to be completed by August of 2018, and the entire program is slated for completion by October 31, 2018. The program includes training on new technology designed to automate the project which will begin in early summer of 2018. The next SAW meeting will take place within the November-December 2017 timeframe to begin assessing the system.

Of the current system, LaPierre stated, “I’m pleased with the current condition of the Hartford sanitary and stormwater system. By and large I believe it’s in pretty good shape.”

Ely Park Christmas decorations

The Hartford Lions Club will again decorate Ely Park for the 2017 holiday season. The city council voted to contribute $1,000.00 to the Lions to light up the park.

Reminders to Hartford residents

The City of Hartford would like to remind residents that the last day to register to vote in the November 7, 2017 election is October 10, 2017. Visit www.cityofhartford.org for voting information or call City Hall at (269) 621-6477.

Brush pickup is from September 25 – 29 and leaves pickup is from October 2 until bad weather starts. Residents that do not comply with set dates will be issued citations payable by mail or at City Hall.

Trick-or-Treat hours will be on October 31, 2017 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Coloma Township approves Little Paw Paw Lake Special Assessment District

By Annette Christie

The second and final public hearing was held on the Little Paw Paw Lake Special Assessment District at the September 13 Coloma Township Board meeting.  This hearing was on the special assessment roll.   Trustee Bryan Duffield said that residents set up a special assessment district to rid Little Paw Paw Lake of aquatic nuisances four years ago.

Prior to that individual homeowners donated to a pot of money that accomplished the cleaning up of the lake.  The cost per homeowner in the prior assessment district was $197 a year.  The cost on this next assessment will be just slightly more at $238 a year.  Duffield said their goal is the same to improve fisheries, shoreline weeds reduction, and an overall improvement to the lake quality.

Police Chief Jason Roe gave a preview of a presentation that he will be giving next month to the township board on the township’s Public Safety Millage.  He said that in only a few years, the millage won’t quite cover the costs associated with the public safety services.  He is preparing projections so that the township can address them to prevent a loss of service. “We are looking at a downward spiral if we don’t do something,” Roe told board noting, “This is not a mismanagement of funds, we are not over budget, it is simple economics.”

The City is paying for police protection as well. Roe said they do fund 2.5 officers and administration costs.

The board did take action to put in place a Parks Advisory Board for Coloma Township. Supervisor Ken Parrigin appointed Matt Moser as the chairman of that board.  He will likely have recommendations to complete the board at the next meeting.

Watervliet Township moves to make ordinances available online

By Annette Christie

Following ongoing review and discussion the Watervliet Township Board chose a company to provide codification services for the township at their Monday, September 18 meeting.  Clerk Patt Bambrick recommended General Code at a cost of $9,600 for the initial service and an annual updating cost of $995 going forward.

Bambrick pointed out that as required by statute (MCL 42.20) charter townships shall compile their ordinances every 10 years. The last time the township did this was in 1993.  “This will keep us consistent, legal, and current,” Bambrick said of her recommendation of General Code.  She investigated three different companies prior to making that recommendation.

Following the process, the township will be provided three ordinance books and they will be placed online.

The board also approved a resolution accepting the remaining properties of the Industrial Park.  Months ago, the Berrien County Brownfield Authority authorized offering remaining properties from the paper mill project to the municipalities that they were in being the City of Watervliet and Watervliet Charter Township. Any monies owed to the Brownfield would be forgiven and any previous consortium agreements that were held in partnership would be dissolved.  Following environmental assessments, each municipality had to accept the properties.  Supervisor Dan Hutchins said of the transaction that the remaining unsold properties that will now be owned by the township can be held for public use or could be re-sold.  Following the meeting, the board did go into a closed session to discussion real estate transactions and Hutchins did say that it may include properties at the Industrial Park.

Review of master plan in progress

Trustee Joe Stepich stated that the Planning Commission is in the process of reviewing the township’s master plan.   Stepich said since they began on September 12 they have made some good progress. He anticipates it taking several months to get it all together. Stepich asked that if the board members have anything they would like to input that they should pass it on.

Update on road commission transfer

Commissioner Dave Vollrath informed the township board that following the last public hearing regarding the Road Commission’s transfer to Berrien County, some commissioners were not ready to commit to a vote yet. Vollrath said one of the things they wanted was to have a discussion with the Road Commission Board.   That joint meeting is happening Tuesday, September 19 at 1:00.  Hutchins said right now is when they would be submitting their projects for next year but stated that clearly that was not going to happen.

Site plan OK’d for Casey’s General Store

In other business, the board approved a site plan for Casey’s General Store to be located at 3781 M-140, on the corner of Arnt Drive next to Mill Creek Charlies. This followed the approval of the Planning Commission.

The Casey’s General Store chain is the 4th largest convenience store chain in the country and has locations in all of the surrounding states. This is the first location in Michigan.  The chain began in 1968 in Iowa.  They are known as a convenience store, gas station, bakery, pizza parlor, and mom and pop shop. They are the 5th largest pizza chain in the United States.


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