HOLLY TOWNSHIP, Michigan – He thought the 205 petition signatures he and other citizens had collected might have been enough to cause members of the Holly Township Board of Trustees to put the issue of expanding the board from five to seven members on the November ballot, but as it turned out, he was a little short – 645 signatures short, to be exact.
The matter was discussed at the July 18 Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting.
Ever since April when township officials rejected Supervisor Jesse Lambert’s idea of adding the issue to the November ballot, resident and Holly Township Supervisor candidate George Kullis has spearheaded a citizen-initiated petition drive, enlisting the help of several other citizens in collecting enough signatures to force the issue on the ballot.
Just how many signatures are required, however, has been the question over the last two months with township officials telling Kullis last month that he would need 595 signatures or 10 percent of the 5,995 registered electors that voted in the last gubernatorial election.
In the meantime, Kullis and others have collected more than 200 signatures, and township officials asked Attorney Greg Need to weigh in on the matter.
In a memo dated July 12, Need confirmed that a citizen-initiated petition would need to contain signatures representing 10 percent of the registered and qualified electors of the township as of the close of registration for the last general November election, and that they must be submitted no later than Aug. 14.
Holly Township Treasurer, Mark...
Treasurer Mark Freeman explained that there are approximately 8,500 registered voters in Holly Township which also includes the village. “According to Mr. Need who is the legal counsel for Holly Township, we would need to have 10 percent of those registered voters which would be 850,” Freeman said. “When the board discussed this, really our consensus was we wanted 10 percent of the voters that voted in the last election and approximately 6,500 voted in the last election, so we wanted to see at least 650 signatures on the petition to put it on the ballot.”
“OK, so we’ve got numbers bouncing all around,” Kullis said from the audience. “The question that we’re asking is to have it put on the ballot because a lot of people went in the voting booth and didn’t understand what it was,” Kullis said referencing the time in 2008 when township officials were obligated by law to place the issue on the ballot because of an increase in the township’s population. The 2008 proposal failed by just 23 votes.
While the state law says Kullis’ group has until Aug. 14 to turn in the petitions, Kullis said he was initially told that they must be returned by July 11.
“The problem with Aug. 14 was that you didn’t have a meeting until three days after that,” Kullis said. “I was then told by you that I could request a special meeting, but then I was told that there was no guarantee that I could get it.
“This has been an initiative that has been going back and forth, and the sad thing is that all we’re asking for is an opportunity for the voters to make the decision on an educated basis – as it was said it was done with no fanfare before and people didn’t understand it,” Kullis said, adding that to him, it isn’t a matter of bigger government, but one of better representation.
“The cost of adding two trustees is $3,000 apiece if they attended all the meetings, and this township has been running with a surplus so it’s not going to create an additional tax burden to the taxpayers,” Kullis said.
Trustee Janet Leslie summarized.
“We could decide as a board to put this issue on the ballot with our without a certain number of signatures,” she said. “If we made that attempt and it failed again, we would then be required under state law that the citizens could compel us to have this on the ballot by having the 850 signatures.”
“Exactly,” Supervisor Jesse Lambert said. “If they come up with the necessary signatures, there are no bones or questions about it – the board has to do it.”
“I think it would behoove us to cut some slack, put it to a vote amongst ourselves and vote as to whether we would voluntarily put it on the ballot knowing that they can compel us to do it whether we choose to or not,” Leslie suggested.
“Well, we already did that once and it failed,” Clerk Karin Winchester said. “And we don’t have a fifth board member here tonight,” she added, noting Trustee Steve Ruth’s absence. While state law dictates that the citizens’ group has until Aug. 14 to collect the signatures, Winchester noted that the township has until the end of the month to get the proposal information to the state.
Leslie agreed with Winchester, but still pushed for a vote, making the motion for the board to accept the 200 signatures and place the issue on the November ballot. The motion failed with Winchester and Freeman casting the dissenting votes.
During the public comment segment of the meeting, Code Enforcer Roger Welsh took the opportunity to address the issue, speaking solely as a Holly Township citizen.
“I’ve been all for having four trustees as part of a charter township – I’ve long been a supporter,” he said. “I would hope that your petitions would be passed to make us a charter township which is a true move forward – then we would have four trustees,” he said. “But to be the only general law township in all of Michigan to have four trustees is a ridiculous approach and is completely backward from what the real intent needs to be and what it should be.”
Referencing Kullis’ comments, Welsh offered his thoughts. “What I do take incredible exception to is the idea that $6,000 doesn’t matter,” he said. “That’s my tax money – I live here, I pay those taxes, and the reason you guys have a surplus is because of old board members like me who didn’t waste $6,000 on crap that wasn’t needed,” he added. “You cannot at all support anything about putting trustees on that’s based on the tax money I pay has no value – it has value to me.”
Kullis’ opponent in the upcoming election, former Holly Township Supervisor Dale Smith said Kullis’ idea of adding more members to the board is unnecessary.
“It’s like putting chrome wheels on a Chevette – why dress something up when it doesn’t need to be dressed up?” Smith said. “Not only is this not economically sound in today’s market, it’s almost unheard of in a general law township,” he added. “It makes absolutely no sense to create a larger board, and it certainly smacks of the “court packing” done in the 1930s by FDR.”
Of the 1,240 townships across the state of Michigan, Tammy Underhill of the Michigan Township Association said there are currently 64 general law townships having seven member boards. Among those having the most are Kent County with eight, and Livingston and Washtenaw Counties each hosting seven general law townships. Southfield Township currently is the only general law township in Oakland County with a seven member board, Underhill said.
Kullis said efforts continue in garnering petition signatures, and that qualified voters wishing to sign a petition can find one at Great Lakes Market Place, 107 S. Saginaw St., Holly during regular business hours.