by BETH ALTENA
Called “pure intimidation tactics” by Plainfield Township Manager Robert Homan, 140 residents, most angry, crowded Township’s meeting room Monday, March 15, and accused the board of a variety of violations.
The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. with a public hearing and presentation by John Short on the township’s Five Year Master Plan for Parks and Recreation. Supervisor George Meek stated that comment was to be restricted to the parks and recreation plan and not on the proposed three-lane expansion of Belmont Road planned by the Kent County Road Commission.
During the meeting the board was accused of a variety of illegal or unethical actions. Residents complained the board was violating the open meetings act in several different ways, they offered scathing comments on the lack of implementation of a background check policy, commented negatively about how Kent County Road Commission meetings were advertised and accused Homan of illegally using tax dollars to publish a political opinion in the township newsletter.
The board attended open business from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. during which time they voted to approve the background check policy they had prepared. Meek made an announcement stating that all township employees and board members had been checked and none had any violation that would require their inclusion on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry. Treasurer Jim Stover suggested making the background check policy even more inclusive. “I suggest not just employees, but any arm of the township such as the Farm Market vendors be subject,” he said.
Clerk Scott Harvey said why not make all Plainfield Avenue business people subject as well. “We aren’t in charge of the Plainfield businesses, but we are in charge of the farm market,” retorted Trustee Rebecca Borek. Meek said the board would take the issue to the township attorney.
The board also approved expanding the farm market from one day a week to two, Tuesdays and Thursdays; approved a dance permit for Vitale’s of Comstock Park; and issued a medical marijuana moratorium. Meek also told the board and audience that a letter of reprimand was being prepared regarding the article in the township newsletter by Homan that was possibly an improper use of public funds.
At 8:45 p.m. Meek opened the meeting for comments lasting less than three minutes each and said the public comment time would end at 9 p.m. for the board to go to closed session. Half a dozen residents took the board to task for privately reviewing the Road Commission plan to widen Belmont Road to three lanes between Jupiter Ave. and Post Drive.
At the previous meeting the board was drilled with questions over the project and vowed to review the plan. In the interim the board went in two groups to learn about the project. Residents called this a “split meeting” intended to avoid violating the Open Meetings Act. After listening to the slew of accusations, and with considerable difficulty in keeping resident comments to three minutes, at 9 p.m. Meek moved to end public comment and go to closed session.
Several residents demanded the comment portion of the meeting continue and shouted at the board after the microphone was turned off. The microphone was turned back on for several more comments, including one from a school crossing guard who said adding the third lane would risk her life on a daily basis. The board then went into closed session to hear advice from their attorney on what information is available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
At 10:22 p.m. the board returned from closed session and voted unanimously to comply with their attorney’s advice that information covered by attorney-client privilege was not obtainable by the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Meek opened the meeting back up to public comment, which lasted until 10:37 p.m.
In an interview after the meeting, Robert Homan responded to questions regarding the board’s meetings with the Kent County Road Commission and about the tone of the public meeting.
“The board wanted a calm atmosphere to learn more about the project from the people whose project it is—the Road Commission,” said Homan. He called the proliferation of complaints “nothing new” and compared the uproar to the response aroused when the Jupiter corridor and new bridge was built. “This is obviously the people who live on this road that are doing this,” he said. “There were 140 people at that meeting. We have over 31,000 residents, and there are people outside the township that use that road. This isn’t a neighborhood street. It’s a major north-south thoroughfare that needs fixing.”
Homan said being the subject of strong language is part and parcel of public office and people at such meetings behave emotionally. The board can meet with less than a quorum (four) without requiring the meeting to be open to the public, Homan said. He said Harvey wanted the meeting to be public and Harvey attended both meetings.
“I have attended more than 950 meetings in my time with the township. I would count this among the bottom three,” Homan said of the combative atmosphere.