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Marathon Grand Traverse County Commission Meeting 1-16-19

The Grand Traverse County Commission meeting was a well-attended marathon session, running from 8 am until 2:53 pm, or seven hours with only short breaks. The commission chamber was filled and an overflow crowd took seats in the foyer. Three topics: the start time of meetings, an invocation policy, and discussion of the appointment of Susan Odgers to the TADL board took the majority of the time. Initial public comment lasted for over an hour.

8AM Meeting Start Time:

Overflow Crowd in Foyer

At the previous meeting the start time was moved to 8 am by a 4:3 vote with Betsy Coffia, Bryce Hundley, and Sonny Wheelock voting against the move away from the evening meeting time. At the last meeting there was a preponderance of public comment against this proposal. Today there were more public comments opposing this move. No action was taken by the Commission and the time remains set at 8 am.

Invocation Policy Adopted:

There was considerable debate and public comment on the topic of instituting an invocation policy. The preponderance of public comment and email opposed beginning the meetings with an invocation or prayer. Opposing arguments included that it was divisive and therefore unwise, that it invites litigation, that it uses religion in an attempt to legitimize controversial political decisions, that it underwrites one religious ideology over others which does not reflect the beliefs of the larger community, that it does not take into consideration people with no religious point of view, and that it draws attention to those who do not participate in the invocation which raises personal privacy issues.

Sonny Wheelock proposed having no invocation but that proposal was rejected 3-4 with Betsy Coffia and Bryce Hundley supporting Sonny. Betsy Coffia proposed an amendment to have a moment of silence instead of an invocation but that also lost 3-4. In the end the motion to have an invocation with rotating responsibility for the invocation won 4-3. Clous, Hentschel, Jewett, and LaPointe voted in favor.

Susan Odgers Reappointed to the TADL Board:

This topic also brought considerable public comment, including by Susan Odgers who spoke on her own behalf, and previous board member Tom Mair. Mr. Mair is the husband of Susan Odgers. At the last meeting the commission voted to rescind the appointment of Susan Odgers to the board. The issues debated today included:

1. It was the opinion of the county attorney, Kit Tholen, that both the motion to rescind would not be given effect by court, as well as the motion to appoint Susan Odgers not be given effect by the court. It was his opinion that both positions should be considered open.

2. Ms. Odgers was previously appointed to the TADL board by a 4:3 vote with her husband, Tom Mair, voting in favor. It was the opinion of the attorney that Tom Mair had a conflict of interest in voting. Others, including Mr. Mair, argued that there was no conflict of interest because the position is unpaid and there was no financial benefit of the appointment to either Tom Mair or Susan Odgers. Mr. Tholen had not been aware that that was the case.

3. There was debate as to whether the previous board followed the intent of the agreement on the geographic diversity of the library board. It is not clear that the previous board actually had the documentation of the agreement. There was considerable debate as to the meaning of the agreement that called for geographic diversity. Sonny and others made the argument that the board and Ms. Odgers acted in good faith on the information they had.

4. The argument was made that the previous board followed process in good faith and should not be overruled.

The meeting dynamics were complex. There was a motion on the floor to consider the previous appointments invalid. Betsy Coffia proposed an amendment to honor the intent of the previous board by appointing Susan Odgers as a part of the same motion that declared the previous appointment invalid. Her amendment recognized that the previous appointment suffered from unclear rules and a possible lack of proper information, but gave this commission a vehicle to honor the intent and good faith effort of the previous commission. The amendment was seconded by Bryce Hundley.

The other appointee at the time, Stephanie Mathewson whose previous appointment was considered invalid was also appointed to the TADL board by action of this commission today.

The nuance of this procedure is worthy of comment.

1. Had we not had two Democrats on the board this procedure would probably have failed. Betsy’s motion for amendment required Bryce’s second. Indeed the chair opposed the amendment and was overruled by a 4-3 Vote with Wheelock and LaPoint joining Coffia and Hundley in supporting the amendment.

2. Linking the invalidating of the previous appointment to a new appointment for Susan Odgers proved a successful path to reaching agreement. Once the motion was amended, it carried 6-1 with only Hentschel opposed. This kept Susan Odgers on the board, recognized the error in the previous appointment, and nullified the previous appointment.

Other Topics and Issues:

  • A $5.9M payment to MERS for the defined pension plan was approved.

  • Approval to allow an environmental group to relocate water fowl from two lakes to control “swimmers itch.”

  • Approval of an easement for TART to complete the Boardman Lake Trail circumnavigating the lake.

  • Approval of software contracts for imaging and voice mail.

  • Approval of two projects for the jail totaling just under $40K.

  • Approval of the purchase of a vehicle for the Veterans Affairs Department.

It is worth noting that the sound system in the Commission Chambers made hearing quite difficult. Gordie LaPoint went into the control room but was told that the sound could not be turned up. If you were at the meeting and had difficulty hearing you may wish to write to your commissioner or the chair.

Get Involved:

Commission meetings are 8am on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month.

You can find the phone number and email address of your commissioner here:

Commission Agenda, Videos of recent meetings, packages for meetings, and minutes are available on the grand traverse county website:

You can also find video of past meetings here:

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