ESCANABA — A series of changes were made by the Delta County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, most of which were related to errors made at the commission’s first meeting on Jan. 3.
The first issue from the commission’s first meeting that was addressed Tuesday was the failure to include Commissioner John Malnar on the slate of candidates for the board’s vice-chair.
Malnar was nominated for the position by Commissioner Steven Viau, however there was no second for the nomination. Believing a second was necessary, Commission Chair Dave Moyle told the commissioners the nomination failed, leaving the commissioners with only Commissioner Bob Barron as an option for the position. It was later revealed that the county has no policy requiring a second for a nomination and that a second is not necessary under Robert’s Rules of Order, the de facto handbook of parliamentary procedure.
“I sought to correct that tonight, but under Robert’s Rules we cannot run that, so that would have had to have been done by the conclusion of last meeting. So, I apologize to Commissioner Malnar for his inconvenience on that. I do not believe that would have changed the outcome of anything on that, but I wanted to note that,” said Moyle.
Next on the agenda was a policy adopted at the Jan. 3 meeting that would have sent complaints about ethics violations made by commissioners to the State of Michigan Board of Ethics for review. However, the state board exists to investigate ethical complaints about state executive-branch employees or public officers. It does not have the authority to act on complaints about elected officials or local governments and dismisses any complaints it receives outside its authority.
The initial motion to adopt the policy was made by Barron, who has been the subject of a citizen complaint about comments he made on Escanaba Township’s solar ordinance while reporting to the township board as a county commissioner last November. Barron has vocally opposed the township ordinance, which prevents him from moving forward with a planned utility solar development on property he owns.
Barron has also drawn criticism for his roles in the passing of the county’s solar ordinance while still seeking to develop solar on his own property and a controversial push to eliminate the county’s zoning ordinance.
It was Barron who made the motion Tuesday to repeal the policy set at the Jan. 3 meeting. No decisions were made on how to move forward when addressing ethical complaints, but for the moment, complaints will be submitted to the county’s ethics committee composed of the board chair, county prosecutor and the county’s personnel director.
“The ultimate decider on ethics is the public and this committee — what I don’t want to do is give somebody false hope on a complaint because the committee can do nothing. Nothing. It has no teeth,” said Moyle, adding the public has the power to start recall proceedings and criminal complaints can be sent to the prosecutor’s office.
The commissioners also voted Tuesday to allow the board chair to approve appointments to boards and committees without the approval of the board as a whole. The decision was in response to an Open Meetings Act violation that took place immediately following the Jan. 3 reorganizational meeting.
Prior to adjourning the Jan. 3 meeting, Moyle informed the public they were welcome to stay after the meeting while the board worked out its appointments. Despite many in the public staying after the meeting and the proceedings continuing to be broadcast via Zoom, discussing or taking action on business after a meeting has been closed is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Because the appointments were not legally made, the the commissioners who were appointed to the county’s planning commission were not eligible to be elected to positions on the planning commission during that board’s meeting on Jan. 10.
During the meeting, both Malnar and former County Board Chair Patrick Johnson, who no longer serves on the board but participated in public comment, expressed that Moyle should have had the list of appointments prepared prior to the Jan. 3 meeting so the list could be approved by vote. Moyle balked at the suggestion that his interest in the chairmanship was enough for him to have a list prepared.
“I would question the commissioner (Malnar) to ask me how if I was elected on the third, I should have them the third? When humanly possible — I’m not psychic. I did my best job. I had some things ready, but then to just assume that I was going to be elected chairman would be narcissistic, and I am not a narcissist. I’m human. I make mistakes, but I take umbrage with that,” he said.
Despite taking issue with the idea his lack of a set list of appointments was an error, Moyle did take responsibility for the Open Meetings Act violation itself.
“My problem is I wanted to please everybody, so what I did was when I adjourned the meeting, said come on by and we’ll check it out, I invited the public, we kept it going on Zoom, and I committed an unintentional mistake of the Open Meetings Act. … That’s my fault. The buck stops here. It wasn’t the board’s fault,” said Moyle.
The motion to give the chairperson the ability to set appointments without the input or a vote of the rest of the commission passed 4-1 with only Malnar dissenting.
A change was also made the the county’s rules and procedures to eliminate the rules for commissioners phoning in votes. The rules had apparently been a part of the county’s operating procedures for some time before being discovered by the county’s administration, but were incompatible with the Open Meetings Act, as commissioners must be present to vote.
The final change of the evening was a change to the schedule the commissioners had tentatively adopted at the Jan. 3 meeting. At that meeting, the commissioners voted to hold a committee of the whole meeting prior to the start of one regular commission meeting a month. These meetings would have been legally distinct, but the committee of the whole meeting would have been for discussion on various topics and all business would have been conducted at the following regular meeting.
However a number of issues with the plan were raised to the commissioners between the two meetings, including the fact a regular meeting could be significantly delayed if there were too much public comment at the committee of the whole meeting.
As a compromise, the commission voted to set the start time of the first meeting of the month for 5 p.m., rather than the typical 5:15 p.m. start, and to add a “workshop” as an agenda item to the meeting. While this agenda item would not be a workshop in the legal sense — a workshop is a type of meeting where votes cannot be taken — the agenda items are intended to foster discussion.
The discussions will be ended at 6 p.m., regardless of whether or not the commissioners feel there is a need for more discussion, but could end earlier. The remainder of the meeting will take place after the “workshops.”
When it came to a vote, Viau voted “present” on the issue, a vote he clarified was intended to show he did not support the decision based on the information he currently had. His primary concern was that residents who might want to attend the business part of the meeting might not know when to show up if the meeting could start earlier than 6 p.m.
The remainder of the commission supported the addition of the agenda item.