By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
Last week’s Charlevoix County Commissioners’ Committee of the Whole meeting vacillated from placid to outbursts of animus and latent resentment as board chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4) admonished fellow commissioner ShirleneTripp (R-District 1) for what he deemed ethical failings.
[private]The intent of the meeting was to question Tripp and Charlevoix County Planner Larry Sullivan on the origin, intent and distribution of a property rights consent form which would give property owners along the Boyne City-Charlevoix Road non-motorized trail route – a route which has yet to be determined – the opportunity to give up rights to portions of their property for the trail’s construction.
“As far as I’m concerned, people have stepped out of bounds,” Evans said.
Sullivan said, while he prepared the document following an unspecified meeting with parks officials, he had nothing to do with its distribution.
“This document was not intended to be recorded with the register of deeds’ office,” he said. “I did not distribute it. I do not know who has it at this point in time.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Ron Reinhardt (R-District 3) said he did not believe the form was a legally binding document.
“That’s not saying that it wasn’t,” he said. “If it is, then I stand corrected.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Richard Gillespie (R-District 6) said the form “very much appears” to be more than an advisory document.
County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) said if it was meant to be advisory, it would not have bore the words “we agree” on it in addition to space for a tax ID number, address and signature of landowner and two witnesses.
Even more disconcerting to him, Christensen said, was the second paragraph of the form which states, “Should there be a need or desire on the part of either the property owner or the County of Charlevoix to locate the trail outside of the existing right-of-way, an easement agreement detailing the precise location of the trail will be developed and signed by all parties with that agreement being filed at the Charlevoix County Register of Deeds Office.”
He added, “It just doesn’t have the air of an advisory document.”
Evans said another problem with the document is that it was never brought before the full board or the board’s civil counsel John Jarema.
Tripp said the document came out of an unnamed subcommittee meeting called by Charlevoix County Parks and Recreation Director Ross Maxwell and parks and recreation committee board member Shirley Roloff.
Tripp said there was not a quorum present at the meeting and she did not know if minutes were kept.
Sullivan said the meeting was posted, but Charlevoix County Clerk Cherie Browe said the posting never came through her office as is proper procedure.
“Until you guys decide you want to pay me for those meetings, you got as much as you’re going to get,” Tripp said.
Jarema questioned the legality of the meeting and urged board members to follow procedure to avoid legal issues.
Evans then addressed Tripp’s comments to newspapers concerning other commissioners and the civil counsel, includingTripp’s assertion that the public inquiry of the form in question was mere retaliation for comments she has made to a Petoskey-based newspaper concerning its Freedom of Information Act case with Christensen, Jarema and the County of Charlevoix.
“We have some ethics that have gone out of hand here,” Evans said. “I’m disappointed with accusations that continue to pop up in papers with your quotes.”
He added, “If you decide you are not going to work with our civil counsel. That you are not going to work with this board or the clerk’s office, I would hope that you take it upon yourself to terminate your job as commissioner.”
Reinhardt agreed, saying, “You don’t retaliate against fellow board members.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Bob Drebenstedt said a lack of communication amongst board members is only fueling the fires of dissention.
Tripp said she has been disparaged from sharing her point of view for years, citing that she has been ignored because she is the only woman on the board.
“At least you could communicate and say which direction you’d like to see something go,” Tripp said.
Sullivan said he was confused on whether he was supposed to contact the board’s civil counsel with every issue he discovers or to bring it before the board first.
Gillespie said he feels procedures are already in place, but are not necessarily being followed.
“This keeps getting thrown back at us and I don’t think we’re doing it right,” he said. “Get the property owners agreement and we’ll go from there.”
Tripp asked how Gillespie thought the parks and recreation committee should go about doing that, adding that the non-motorized trail steering committee recommended that the county should not go door to door as had earlier been suggested.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bay Township’s Bob Taylor called the document a fraud, equating the whole issue to a sinister “hide-and-seek.”
“I felt like I was being lied to,” he said. “People did not do their jobs and commissioner Tripp did not do her job.”
However, Tripp said every property owner along the proposed trail route has, at the very least, been notified by mail.
“I personally called as many as I could get phone numbers on,” she said.
No decisions were made on this issue as is procedure with committee of the whole meetings, but the board did agree to “move forward” from this apparent gaff and put the matter behind them.[/private]