Winfield Township wind referendum scheduled, police investigation continues

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP — Winfield Township Council, in another tense meeting Thursday, voted to pay a special clerk to organize the November general election, as the current clerk faces a recall, and voted to place a wind power ordinance referendum on the ballot in that same election, even as a police investigation into the township council and township documents continues.

Winfield Township Supervisor Phyllis Larson, right, declines to answer questions during public comments at Thursday’s township council meeting as Clerk Colleen Stebbins takes notes. — DN Photo | Elizabeth Waldon

Supervisor Phyllis Larson read aloud an Aug. 8 letter to the township from Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard, stating in part, “It is becoming apparent that there will be enough signatures to move forward. with a recall election against (Clerk Colleen Stebbins) on Vote for the November General Election.

Millard said she plans to verify recall signatures by September 2, and she informed the township that she has appointed Krystal Hatfield to replace Stebbins on all work related to the November election. Hatfield is the former assistant clerk for the town of Greenville and she recently handled the primary election in Montcalm Township after that township’s former clerk, Jessica Shearer, was charged (and eventually convicted) of a crime related to counterfeiting. Hatfield will maintain office hours of 5-7 p.m. every Monday at Winfield Town Hall ahead of the November election.

The township council voted 5 to 0 to pay Hatfield $20 an hour to run in the general election on Millard’s recommendation, as well as 62.5 cents per mile for any mileage involved.

The township council also voted 5-0 to accept wording for a wind power ordinance referendum and place it on the November ballot. The wording will ask voters if they want to approve or deny the wind ordinance recently approved by the township council.

A solar power ordinance in Winfield Township was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in the Aug. 2 primary election with 457 “no” votes to 185 “yes” votes, or 71% to 29%.

Administrator John Black posted a Daily News article published August 3 stating that the Michigan State Police Lakeview Post was investigating township council members and some township documents. Black disputed that at Thursday’s meeting.

“I spoke to Phyllis. She went to the state police station,” Black said. “They didn’t know anything about it. We asked the prosecutor, our attorney did, they said a complaint was filed and it was dismissed. Is it going to be in the newspaper?

Dennis Arnold, left, asks a question about wind turbines during the Winfield Township council meeting on Thursday. — DN Photo | Elizabeth Waldon

The Daily News confirmed to police on Friday that the investigation was continuing.

“Our complaint is still an open investigation,” Michelle Robinson, MSP’s sixth district public information officer, told the Daily News.

The township council voted on June 15 to approve a wind ordinance, and they later published a public notice of that ordinance in the Daily News – despite their previous vote to use only two so-called weekly ‘newspapers’ . Asked about it by the Montcalm County Elections Commission during a July 6 recall clarity hearing, both Larson and Stebbins said the township council gave its approval at the June 15 meeting to specifically publish the public notice of the wind ordinance in the Daily News.

However, a reporter from the Daily News was present at the June 15 meeting and did not hear the board’s vote or discuss anything about how to publish the order.

According to the township minutes of that meeting, there was no vote on the matter. The very end of the meeting minutes simply states, “Due to timing, notice of adoption must be in the first newspaper to send all paperwork to the county clerk to be on the November ballot as both other newspapers (sic) the township put minutes would be more than a week and more.

“You don’t realize you work for us people,” township resident Ryan VanSolkema told township board members Thursday. “You keep throwing this shit at us with sun prescriptions aimed at liberals and all that… we shot that down. You threw that prescription on us on the shitty wind…we referendumed that (meaning we got enough signatures) in a weekend. You pissed us off enough to call three of you back. We got those signatures in two weeks. We’re just gonna keep going around in circles until you wake up.

“As far as the investigation into altering your minutes…it’s on video,” VanSolkema said. ” We have seen it. You never voted on it. We have seen your minutes. They are modified. You can not do this. When are you going to have some ethics and morals and defend your positions? If you can’t meet them, quit. You’re going to be called back anyway.

Jamie Snyder of Cato Township took video of Thursday’s meeting – as she often does – and Snyder’s mother, Linda Reynolds of Douglass Township, was also present and asked Larson to apologize to Snyder for comments Larson made during the July meeting, implying that the video of Snyder’s June 15 meeting could be edited.

“It hurts,” Linda Reynolds of Douglass Township said, seated, while asking Winfield Township Supervisor Phyllis Larson to apologize to Reynolds’ daughter, Jamie Snyder of Cato Township, for having hinted that videos of Snyder Township council meetings could be edited. Larson refused to apologize at Thursday’s city council meeting. — DN Photo | Elizabeth Waldon

Larson responded by saying, “When you think about some of the things that were said to us, no one has apologized to us. And I didn’t call her and say she did. I said videos can be edited.

Township resident Dave Meyers questioned Larson’s plan for the Planning Commission now that the solar ordinance has been voted down by voters. Zoning Administrator Dave Kelsey noted that he is currently denying all applications for residential solar panels because the township does not currently have a solar ordinance.

“Right now, there is no plan,” Larson told Meyers.

“You have to have a plan,” Meyers said. “Something has to happen.”

“We are waiting for our lawyer,” Larson said, a comment that encouraged mockery and protests from residents.

“Lawyer! You don’t need a goddamn lawyer for this,” Meyers said. “You don’t need a lawyer for a sunscreen prescription.”

Black noted that a Grand Rapids-based solar company recently approached township board members about a potential solar project in the area.

“I’m sure we’ll bring it up at our next PC meeting,” Black said.

The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for August 22.

As Thursday’s tense meeting drew to a close, Administrator Steve Cole had a request.

“Can I make a public comment? ” He asked.

“No,” Larson told him.

“Steve, you have the legal right to speak during public comments,” Jessica Kwekel of Cato Township shouted from the audience.

“Jessica, you’re done,” Larson told her.

“I’m not talking to you,” Kwekel retorted.

Cole did not share his public comment, but simply shook his head in frustration.

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