Holly resident George Kullis s...
HOLLY TOWNSHIP, Michigan – Holly Township voters will have a second chance to weigh in on whether the Holly Township Board of Trustees should expand from five members to seven, thanks to a successful citizen-initiated petition drive that forced the board to place the proposal on the November ballot.
Due to an increase in township population, the proposal last appeared on the ballot in 2008 and was narrowly defeated by 23 votes.
In April, Holly Township officials rejected the idea of placing the issue on the ballot again, and for the last several months, Holly resident George Kullis and a group of concerned Holly Township citizens have been out pounding the pavement, collecting signatures in the hopes of forcing the issue on the November ballot.
Kullis maintains that the idea isn’t necessarily about bigger government, but rather one of better representation. Additionally, Kullis believes having a seven member board will alleviate any potential for violations of the Open Meetings Act at the township offices. Currently, the majority of the board is made up the township’s administrative staff – Supervisor Jesse Lambert, Clerk Karin Winchester and Treasurer Mark Freeman. Three board members occupying the same office space leaves the daily potential for forming a quorum, thus violating the Open Meetings Act, Kullis said.
In June, Kullis was originally told that he would need 590 valid signatures, that is, 10 percent of the 5,950 people that voted in the prior election to force the issue on the ballot. In July, however, township officials bumped the number to 850, or 10 percent of all registered township electors after consulting township Attorney Greg Need. The board gave Kullis an Aug. 14 deadline for submitting the petitions.
Kullis made the deadline, submitting 876 signatures for the board’s consideration on Aug. 14.
Kullis took the opportunity during the public comment segment of the Aug. 15 Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting to have one final word before hearing the board’s decision.
“The last article that was in the paper stated that out of 1,241 townships, only 64 had seven member boards,” Kullis said. “There are 1,241 townships in the state, however, 1,005 of those townships based on population and voter registration are not eligible,” he added. “There are 138 townships that have become charter townships out of the 1,241 – they aren’t eligible, either, leaving a total of 98 townships that are eligible for a seven member board.”
Kullis said of the 98 eligible townships, one of which Holly Township is, 64 of them currently have seven member boards.
Lambert acknowledged the 876 signatures submitted by Kullis, but told the board that Winchester hadn’t had the opportunity to validate all of them yet.
“I’m in the 300s and 16 have been either not registered or there were about four or five people that actually signed twice,” Winchester said. “I still believe that they are going to get the 10 percent because we took the older ones first – the ones they did on Aug. 7 obviously, all those people are registered electors who came in to vote, so I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
Trustee Steve Ruth was interested in further debating the pros and cons of having a five member board over a seven member board, but Lambert squelched his efforts.
“I don’t really feel the need to discuss the benefits or the harm perceived in any of it,” Lambert said. “If they have the needed number of signatures, they have the needed number of signatures.”
Referencing June’s meeting where board members tentatively agreed that they would accept 595 signatures, Winchester questioned board members’ intentions. “Is that something that you’re willing to do – even if they don’t come up with the 843, should we accept anything above 595?” she asked.
Wishing to simplify the matter, Lambert suggested if the board was willing to accept 595 signatures, then perhaps it could forego additional efforts in the verification process, and simply approve the ballot language.
“Actually, what I really want is to just avoid a whole lot of confusion by saying yes it’s on or no it’s not,” he said. “I guess the resolution kind of gets you half way there, but still leaves everybody hanging because you won’t know until you count all of them.”
Winchester said the township has until Friday to verify the signatures. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t go through the correct process,” she said. “Even though we said we were going to drop it down to 595, there was the consensus of the board that we perceived to be the number of voters that voted in the last election to be 5,995,” she added. “We still need to make sure, even if we’re accepting a lower number, that they are qualified electors.”
Even so, Winchester said she felt the group had done its work. “I think they have more than shown that this is a citizen-initiated petition,” she said.
“We do have a gentleman here who passed 876 signatures,” Lambert said. “So we’ve got two options – to finish counting them, or another option would be to change the recommended number of signatures which you brought up.”
Trustee Leslie suggested the third option of altering the resolution verbiage to reflect that the board accepts the signatures as they are.
“We’d say we don’t need to count them – they have already shown their effort and we strike the part about verification of signatures and then right now, we’re agreeing to put it on the ballot, without going through the state, without Karin (Winchester) spending hours verifying those signatures,” Leslie said. “They brought us 876 signatures – we can agree now that it was a tremendous effort and that more than likely, they have more signatures than we would require.”
Leslie converted her suggestion into a motion which was seconded by Winchester. In a vote of 4-0, the motion passed.
Freeman was excused from the meeting.
The matter of increasing the townships board from five to seven members will appear on the November ballot.
“I would just like to thank the board – particularly Ms. Leslie and Ms. Winchester for helping us wrap up this petition drive in a timely manner so that the people know what it going on,” Kullis said later in the meeting. “I also want to thank those who came forward and helped with the petition drive – trust me I didn’t do that all on my own."