By Judy Reed
The Village of Sand Lake decided Monday to appeal a judge’s decision that a petition to disincorporate the village met legal requirements.
“We just felt that the specific issue we raised in the suit was not addressed,” explained Sand Lake Village president Kirk Thielke.
Two Sand Lake planning commissioners filed the petition with Nelson Township in December. The petition states that “residents of the Village of Sand Lake, in the County of Kent, State of Michigan, respectfully petition the disincorporation of the Village, thereby transferring all its usages to the Township of Nelson.”
Sand Lake sued Nelson Township and clerk Laura Hoffman, questioning the “sufficiency” of the petition. Thielke said it wasn’t enough to certify signatures; that the clerk needed to decide whether it was “facially” defective. He maintains that since all usages cannot be turned over to Nelson, it is defective. Nelson Township did not contest the lawsuit, and decided to let Judge Dennis Lieber decide. He sided with Nelson Township that it could go for a vote.
The Village council went into closed session Monday evening to seek advice from their lawyer on whether they should appeal. After conferring with him, they came back out into open session and held a roll call vote on whether to appeal the decision. Dave Tibbe, Billie Jo Thielke, David Dewey, and Carol Simpson all voted yes; Kirk Thielke abstained because he is named in the lawsuit; Celena Rosset was absent; and Roger Towsley voted no.
“I felt like rather than spending the money to appeal, we should trust the people to make the right decision,” explained Towsley, who is against the petition. “Even if we appeal and the judge throws out the petition, there’s no reason these people can’t go and write up another one tomorrow.”
Thielke feels that spending the money now could offset more expenses later. “In the event of disincorporation, the township would not pay for the legal costs of transfer of assets. We would have to do that,” he said.
Thielke said the legal fees to fight this have already cost them $7,400, and he expects it could be $3,000 to $5,000 more. “We didn’t ask for this. Don’t we have a responsibility to defend the village?” he asked. “We are a bait shop owner, a retired school teacher, truck driver, human resource person, etc. Just regular people. We take advice from the professionals, and our lawyer recommends we take this action,” he explained.
Thielke said that they have been very diligent with the budget, and that by spending a few thousand, they might save tens of thousands of dollars.
“It takes two-thirds of a majority of electors to decide the issue. The most we ever had vote was 70. In the last election we had 24 voters. That means if only 24 voters turned out, 16 people could decide the fate for 300 electors,” noted Thielke. “I won’t let this stand to chance until we can educate the electorate on what this all means. If it costs me my job to save this town, I’ll do it.”