If you’re doing anything other than attending public meetings held every so often by the Ellington Township board of trustees or planning commission, you are missing out on a fascinating display of human dynamics.
That’s because both boards have each respectively been dealing with the oft-contentious topic of wind turbines – in this case, changes to Ellington Township’s wind ordinance.
In general, when it comes to wind turbines, each board faces two kinds of pressure – from either those who want to make as much money as possible from wind turbines or those who don’t.
The elected board of trustees are Supervisor Duane Lockwood, Treasurer Diane Wilder, Clerk Joddy Ehrenberg, Trustees Patrick Price and Michael Wagner.
The appointed planning commission is Chairman George Mika, Julie Holmes, Eugene Davison and Ed Traster. Ehrenberg – who appears to have nothing but complete contempt for most of the general public attending meetings – for some reason also serves on the commission as the liaison from the board of trustees.
Then there’s the audience.
The front row is almost always a representative of NextEra sandwiched between an attorney from Grand Rapids and the land acquisition manager from Southfield-based Atwell, which works with NextEra, of Florida.
NextEra sometimes will bring its sound and/or medical experts. Several area property owners with wind leases or ties to those with wind leases sit right next to them – at the ready to pledge their undying support and love for all things wind.
Behind them are a mix of residents, many actually from Ellington Township.
With everyone in place, the meetings begin.
Generally, the boards take care of housekeeping matters, such as paying bills, approving minutes from previous minutes, etc. in a businesslike manner. Members of the crowd listen quietly and/or mess with their smartphones.
Things change when the topic of wind comes up.
You can actually see the change happen, too.
The smartphones go down.
Some board members appear to become nervous or anxious, feet or legs start bouncing wildly, arms folded – defensive.
To be sure, some board members appear to be less concerned with what people think of them and more concerned with the actual issue of the wind ordinance.
The dynamic of one board essentially operating at the same time in two modes causes hiccups along the way.
At Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, for example, the board was deciding whether or not to recommend change to Ellington’s wind ordinance.
You have to keep in mind how significant this is – it will affect the area for decades.
However, instead of talking about those significant changes that may or may not be made, one board member – Julie Holmes – felt it necessary to mention her family’s history in the area and that “change is a hard thing to accept.”
What does any of that have to do with what the planning commission was asked to do?
Then, chairman George Mika had the table and mentioned actual changes that planning commission could consider – citing specific examples of what other area communities have learned along the way, places that have had wind turbines longer and learned from their experiences. He raised a great question: If our neighboring Huron County has x, why don’t we have x?
This apparent difference in where Mika and Holmes are at during the meeting – and the resulting human dynamics – is just one of many things happening at once.
For example, while Holmes and Mika do their thing, the Atwell guy (Dave Hollander) and NextEra attorney (Dan Ettinger) appear to take copious amounts of notes. Or are working on their next novel. Who’s to say? Just know they appear to be writing in notepads almost the entire time. Whenever anything of substance is said, the NextEra rep looks over onto the notepad. Sometimes there is a nod of “yes”, most times no reaction.
Also happening are the whispers and remarks of those in attendance. It can range from someone saying “unbelievable” or “that’s not true” to an emphatic “yes!” in agreement.
Then, after the board is done with the business of the day, it’s time for public comment.
Generally, both boards state how public comment is going down: people have three minutes to speak and are directed to address the board as a whole and “keep it respectful” – though this is certainly not always a two-way street.
A citizen asked to get on the agenda for a March 1 board of trustees meeting to talk about wind turbines.
“Is this going to be the same presentation we heard last month?” Ehrenberg responded. “Cause I don’t really want to hear it again.”
Depending on how pleased audience members are or are not with the outcome, they heap praise upon the board for all their hard work and for having a tremendous amount of insight and fortitude or essentially accuse them of lacking empathy, being lazy and/or being completely inept. Again, the human dynamics are fascinating.
Occasionally, and seemingly completely randomly, someone speaking during public comment will be reminded to address the board as a whole only and not call out specific board members and/or anyone else in the audience.
It happens more often than not. Depending on the board member’s ego, insecurity, level of irritation and/or financial or other interest in the matter at hand, they will either appear to pretend he/she didn’t hear the person and/or fully address what was said.
Sometimes it gets down and dirty, too, and one member of the public will personally attack another member of the public.
NextEra officials often go on the offensive and label those who express concerns about health, safety, and welfare as having one true mission: “delay, delay, delay.”
On Tuesday, one citizen stood and said those who have expressed interest in ensuring the best possible ordinance for all are simply being anti-wind turbines and “they don’t want to look at them and ain’t got no guts to stand up here and tell you that.”
When Bobbie Mozden, resident of Ellington Township, stood to speak to the accusation, another person in attendance – Dave Vollmar – told her to “sit down and shut up.”
“Excuse me, do not talk to me that way,” Mozden said to Vollmar, who I was sitting close to and could clearly be seen mouthing a series of explicit remarks at her.
Interested to learn more about this dynamic of the meeting, I tried to ask Vollmar afterwards and in the parking lot of the township hall about why he appears to feel he has a right to tell people to “sit down and shut up” and curse at them.
Unfortunately, he told me he didn’t want to talk about his comment during the public meeting after the fact and – after calling me names and telling me to “get the hell out of here” – accused me of “messing with” him and tried to call the police (he apparently couldn’t get a signal on his phone).
Ah well, it’s all in a day’s work and just another of those fascinating human dynamics at play in Ellington Township every so often.