BAD AXE — While the year-long extension of a moratorium on wind energy passed unanimously at Tuesday’s Huron County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board rejected a motion to investigate two county planners.
In a 2-4 vote, the board turned down a motion to investigate planners Robert McLean and Terry Heck for misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance of office. If the charges were substantiated, it could have resulted in their removal from office.
Voting in favor of the investigations were commissioners Steve Vaughan and John L. Bodis.
Those who voted against the motions were commissioners Ron Wruble, John A. Nugent, Todd Talaski and Chairman Sami Khoury.
Commissioner David G. Peruski was absent.
Vaughan — who brought the motion to the board of commissioners after consulting the board's attorney, Stephen Allen — warned that it might be a contentious meeting.
He was right.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with wind energy,” Vaughan said prior to the regular meeting. “I’ve taken a lot of attacks in the last couple weeks, a lot of them. I don’t particularly care for that."
“They used my name and a lot of things maliciously, and a lot of it is being investigated,” he added.
He said he wanted the planning commission to operate and function properly.
“The people that we have issues with have rights and I wanted to make sure those rights were honored," Vaughan said.
It was a standing-room-only crowd in Room 305 of the County Building. Dozens of members of the public, as well as six planning commissioners and other county officials, attended Tuesday's meeting.
Attendees had a lot to say on subjects ranging from wind development and dysfunction on the planning commission, to removing various officials from their posts.
Those officials included planning commission Chairman Bernie Creguer, Allen, Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith, McLean and Heck.
Planner Robert Oakes, who was a founding member of the planning commission in 1967, addressed the board of commissioners and urged them to support the move to investigate McLean and Heck.
“(After 1967), For the next 50 years, we were pretty much functional,” he said.
He did not identify either man by name, but rather by the dates that they were appointed to the planning commission: Heck in March of 2016, and McLean in March of 2017.
“Dysfunctional commissions often fail,” he said. “Losing the Huron County Planning Commission ... would severely handicap Huron County.”
That would mean 28 townships “would have to go it alone,” Oakes added.
The planning commission’s bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order forbid planning commission members from speaking against another member.
“And that’s the reason we can’t fix it among ourselves,” he said. “… So that’s the board of commissioners’ job.”
He said the board has two choices: Do nothing and let the planning commission fail; or Correct the problem.
“Decommissioning the two dysfunctional members in question” would solve the situation, Oakes said.
Nugent spoke in opposition to the investigation, noting that the issue should have been handled in closed session. He also questioned who would investigate the matter and substantiate the charges.
“It has to be an individual who does not have a preconceived idea of who these people are,” Nugent said of a potential investigator.
He said the people being accused need due process.
“They’ve been denied this. They’ve been tried in the press and at this board,” he said. “These are only allegations of wrongdoing.”
“ … Maybe they feel that they’re doing the right thing,” Nugent added, saying he has received calls saying that both men do a great job.
“There are too many open ends to this thing,” he said. “… No one is going to be satisfied with the results. This is a lose-lose-lose motion.”
He and Vaughan then argued briefly about a legislative committee meeting that took place last week over whether Vaughan said he would attend or not.
“Oh, but somebody didn’t invite me,” Vaughan said.
“The hell I didn’t,” Nugent replied. “I called you.”
Creguer then said, “Do you understand where I’ve been, Mr. Nugent?” Creguer was criticized Tuesday for swearing at last week’s planning commission meeting.
Khoury then beat his gavel against its block several times, calling for order.
Creguer and Nugent both apologized.
Nugent said they should have been provided with a format of how the procedure works before voting on whether to investigate people.
Allen said that according to the Planning Enabling Act, the legislative body, which is the board of commissioners, could remove a planning commission member due to malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office. He later stated that removal of planning commissioners must be conducted in open meetings.
Allen said there was conduct by planning commission members that left Vaughan agitated.
The two men met in January, and Allen then prepared the motions, which Vaughan wanted to introduce as a late motion at the next board of commissioners’ meeting. But it was not allowed on the agenda.
“If there are charges to be brought, they’re reduced to writing,” and the meeting is held in public, Allen said.
After Vaughan had approached Allen, Allen said he did some investigating into “what was out there, what might constitute” malfeasance, misfeasance ornonfeasance in office.
“After I looked through the materials that were available — minutes, statements, interviews, audios of different meetings — I concluded that there was ample evidence for a charge of one of the misfeasances…” with respect to McLean and Heck.
“It appears that Robert McLean had an agenda that he brought into his interview and that he wanted to go forward with it. He had a long history dating back to 2009 of being involved in the anti-wind movement …”
In his interview with the board to be considered for the planning commission, Allen said, “(McLean) appeared he was less than forthright in answering the questions when he appeared before this board preceding his appointment to the planning commission. And then the conduct that he’s engaged in since he’s been on the planning commission is consistent with what his stated agenda was for getting on the planning commission."
McLean was later given a chance to defend himself. Heck did not attend the meeting.
McLean said he had consulted with an attorney, and there is case law that makes it clear that “one’s biases, real or imagined, have no bearing whatsoever on one’s ability or suitability for office.”
“It is quite literally irrelevant unless the official has a direct financial interest in the matter at hand …” McLean continued.
“Where (were) Vaughan and Mr. Allen, and where was this witch hunt when our (planning commission) was literally stacked with wind lease holders?” McLean asked.
“Why were none of them brought to proceedings like this? Why weren’t they defamed in public?” he asked. “Finally, what kind of legal, bizarro world do we live in when a planning commissioner, having a financially lucrative wind lease, does not make one biased, but simply labeling someone anti-wind does?”
McLean said he is often described as anti-wind.
He said Allen’s “ridiculous assertations and abrasive behavior” toward the planning commission had produced its “saddest result.” That, McLean said, was last week’s resignation of Charles Bumhoffer from the planning commission.
Bodis said that because of his background in law enforcement, he believes that any complaint should be investigated.
He also questioned whether the board is neglectful if it does not do anything.
Wruble said the issue springs from people on the planning commission having disparaging viewpoints.
He remembers when he was new to the board of commissioners nearly 15 years ago and had ideas that were different from his counterparts.
“I was probably in the same boat (McLean) was,” Wruble said. “Some of the things that I was trying to do and trying to change didn’t agree with my peers. But I was doing what I was directed to do by my constituents.”
“I wasn’t called dysfunctional, but I was called a lot of things,” he added. “Yes, I did have bias when I came here. I didn’t have an agenda. But I had bias.”
Wruble said the professionalism issues with the planners must be addressed.
“If everybody on a board is going to agree, we don’t need seven people,” Wruble said. “We need one.”
Many more audience members, including McLean, Creguer and Oakes also spoke during final public comment.
Some members of the public said that Creguer should be removed for not running meetings properly. Others called for his removal due to profanity he used at last week's planning commission meeting.
During final board comment, Nugent called the meeting painful.
"As painful as this meeting has been for everybody concerned, I think something did come out of it," Nugent said. "There's a recognition of difficulties and a commitment to improve the planning commission ..."
In other business, Khoury announced that next week's Committee of the Whole meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 20, has been cancelled.