By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
A heated exchange between citizen and official ensued following a lengthy meeting over the fate of the proposed Beaver Island mixed-use garage facility during a special meeting of the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 6
Noticing that the meeting had adjourned before public comment was allowed, county officials swiftly reopened the meeting and that was when several tough questions were posed.
“I find it difficult to understand how one person’s or one entity’s input into this is taken at face value as being the least that they need to do this project,” said Richard Clem of the proposed $1.445 million multi-use garage and office building which is expected to serve county transit, county road commission and the county sheriff’s office on Beaver Island. “I, for example, am gonna have a hard time understanding why we’re going to pay for heated storage for a boat.”
Clem asked the Charlevoix County Road Commission officials about their plans for the amount of equipment and where it would be stored.
“Nobody’s asking these questions … and it’s idiotic,” Clem said.
Clem then addressed Charlevoix County Commissioner Richard Gillespie (R-District 5) who lives on Beaver Island and owns a construction company there.
“Mr. Gillespie … is there absolutely no way that you have a financial interest in an upcoming building being built out there?” Clem said.
Gillespie responded: “No. But, if I do, I’ll let you know.”
Clem said, “Well, it’s a consideration that should be made now.”
Gillespie again said that he has not bid on any projects.
“Would your equipment be for rent for use on this building?” Clem asked. “Or, would a relative’s barge be used for importing materials.”
Gillspie said he has no relative who owns a barge.
“Quite frankly that would be puppy sh** on a sidewalk for me—that’s meaningless,” Gillespie said. “This building is not for me.”
Clem said he was merely asking questions that he is hearing out in the community.
“It’s widespread that nobody is asking you here in the official place,” Clem said.
Gillespie responded: “I told you: I’m not a bidder today—that doesn’t mean I won’t be.”
Clem said it would be a conflict of interest for a sitting commissioner to vote for a project in his district if he also planned to bid for jobs on the proposed project.
According to Michigan Compiled Law 15.323, which governs contracts public servants make with public entities, Gillespie would be forced to disclose any financial interest in any project that he as a commissioner oversees.
Former Norwood Township Supervisor Wayne Wynkoop was arrested and charged with one count of violating the public trust in spring of 2009 after Wynkoop was alleged to have presided over discussions on a project to reconstruct portions of Lakeshore Road in Norwood.
Though he had recused himself from voting on the project, and charges were eventually dropped, Wynkoop had faced 90 days in jail and a $500 fine for selling gravel to the Charlevoix County Road Commission, which was later used to help build Lakeshore Road, because he apparently failed to disclose the sale.
Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners’ legal counsel Bryan Graham then opined on the matter.
“There is nothing that the law prohibits that any commissioner can submit sealed bids for any project that the county’s doing—there is nothing wrong with the actual bidding process,” Graham said.
“If, during that bidding process, the county decides that it wants to enter into a contract with one of the commissioners to perform that particular task, there is a specific statute that addresses the procedures that must be followed in that event.”
Graham said there must be notes kept, and an extra-large vote of the board must occur to approve any contract of that nature.
“The bidding process itself is not precluded because there is no guarantee that the commissioner would be the successful bidder,” Graham said.
Charlevoix County Commissioner and Board Chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4) came to Gillespie’s defense.
“Thank-you for your concerns but I trust Richie as a commissioner,” Evans said.
“I think he’s honest. I think his integrity is at a place where, if there is any conflict of any kind concerning this building, he would back down—I trust that.”