CHARLEVOIX — County commissioners hashed out all details of a mystery document about highway right-of-way along Boyne City-Charlevoix Road and put the matter to bed — maybe.
A document created by county planner Larry Sullivan became publicly available at past informational meetings about a proposed, non-motorized trail along that county highway. The form never received approval from the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners, road commission or John Jarema, county prosecutor and civil counsel.
“As far as I’m concerned, people have stepped out of bounds with this document,” said Joel Evans, county board chairman.
Commissioner Shirlene Tripp said she made the form available in an advisory capacity at public meetings held in late May at Evangeline Township Hall, as a way to gauge support for the proposed trail among residents of the highway. Those who agreed to have the trail built within the right-of-way that crosses their land could sign off and be done with it.
Sullivan said he wrote the document after the county’s parks committee requested it, but did not hand it out at the trail meetings.
“I did not put it there and I did not attend those meetings,” Sullivan said.
Commissioner Ron Reinhardt said he did not understand the document to be an official and legally binding form, but commissioner Rich Gillespie said he thought the exact opposite.
“If it’s not meant to be more than a show of hands, there’s something wrong with my thinking,” Gillespie said.
Commissioner Chris Christensen said his primary concern revolved around how the document appeared to be official, even if it was never intended to be.
“It just doesn’t have the air of an advisory document,” Christensen said.
The form included a place to list property tax identification numbers and to be signed in the presence of witnesses.
Eventually, Evans questioned Tripp about why she didn’t have the form OK’d by the full board, Jarema or even county clerk Cheryl Potter Browe, whose office address is listed on the document at issue.
“Did any of that ever come to mind?” Evans asked.
The conversation frequently degraded into a shouting match, a conflict between Tripp’s attempts to defend herself and Evans’ attempts to silence her. At one point, Evans said that if Tripp interrupted him again he would ask her to leave the meeting.
The board members also discussed various newspaper articles published in recent days about the mystery form and Tripp’s published comments took center stage, including her opinion that the drama that surrounds this mystery document is retribution for a pending Freedom of Information lawsuit the Petoskey News-Review filed against the county.
In that case, Tripp publicly criticized Jarema and Christensen for sending emails to each other during board meetings as they sat across the room from each other, and the newspaper subsequently sued for copies of those emails after Jarema denied multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for the materials.
“I’m disappointed in the accusations that continue to pop up in your quotes,” Evans said to Tripp.
Evans then read from a code of conduct created by an Iowa-based consulting group that states board members will not “be critical, in or outside of the board meeting, of fellow board members or their opinions.” The Charlevoix County board has no such code of conduct on the books.