By Scott Sullivan
The Saugatuck Township Board is scheduled Wednesday, July 3, to weigh hiring Griffin Graham, 24, of South Haven new township manager and an environmental activist’s request not to reappoint chair Maggie Baker Conklin to the planning commission.
Conklin, a 10-year commission member, withdrew her name from consideration for reappointment Monday.
Graham, a South Haven native, holds undergraduate degrees from Michigan State University in urban and regional planning, environmental science and management. He received a Master of Public Affairs degree from Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
While at MSU, Graham was a Michigan Association of Planning board member. He completed internships with the Meridian Township manager and most recently with the Ottawa County administrator.
Graham, who began his duties with Saugatuck Township Monday, is responsible for all aspects of the township’s operations, staff management and other fiscal and community service initiatives.
“We are excited to have Griffin and his infectious energy on board,” said township treasurer Jon Helmrich. “He brings valuable experience, insight and energy to our team.”
“I’m excited to be here and looking forward to meeting more residents and the community,” Graham told The Commercial Record Monday.
The board last month contracted with consultant Frank Walsh, who led Douglas’ city manager search that resulted in hiring Rich LaBombard Monday, to guide its effort to replace manager/zoning administrator Natalie Dean.
Dean — who had 13 years of professional experience in Marshall city government — resigned in April after less than two months in that position, citing differences between her and board members in the direction of township government.
Prior to her a new township board chosen in a Nov. 6 recall election ousted 15-year township hall staffer and 5-year manager Aaron Sheridan via agreed-upon resignation.
Walsh was hired for as much as $3,900 to conduct the search, with as much as $3,900 more to be paid on successful hiring of Dean’s successor.
P.C. Chair Withdraws
Wednesday’s meeting packet listed Graham’s hire as an action item. It also included a one-page Nov. 27, 2017, letter from Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance president and Saugatuck city/ Ann Arbor resident David Swan complaining about comments Conklin had made about him Oct. 23 that year.
Following it were a two-page June 27, 2019, letter from Swan calling for Conklin to not be re-appointed for another 3-year term on that commission, plus 16 pages of approved fall 2017 meeting minutes from that body.
Conklin and fellow P.C. member Bill Rowe have terms that expired June 30 and had agreed to be reappointed.
Conklin, on seeing the packet Monday, withdrew her name from consideration. The board Wednesday is expected to consider names of other residents who have previously applied to serve on various appointed township boards — among them Richard Brady, Daniel DeFranco, Dave Ihle and Patrick Stewart — for the planning seat(s).
The Alliance since 2007 has contested proposals by Aubrey McClendon, now Jeff Padnos to develop land in the township they own north of the Kalamazoo River channel to Lake Michigan.
Swan took umbrage at Conklin saying in October 2017, per minute meetings, that she personally feels they (commission) is doing everything it can legally to protect landowners’ rights.
“She feels,” say the minutes, “that the residents (protestors of planners’ approval of Padnos’ property plans) coming forward to make public comments are taking their anger out on the planning commission members.
“She was angered by someone present at tonight’s meeting because they went in front of (television) cameras and suggested that commission members are making so much money.
“She (Conklin) pointed out that planning commission members make $50 per meeting and wondered how much David Swan makes, ”the minutes say.
“To clarify,” wrote Swan in his June 27 letter, “being president of the Coastal Alliance is an unpaid position; the Alliance is an all-volunteer advocacy organization.”
The SDCA does accept membership fees and contracts with lawyers, consultants and for other services.
“I am not paid,” said Swan, “for the work I do as an engaged citizen. For the acting chair of the planning commission to take time during a public hearing to publicly shame a local citizen is unacceptable.
“I recognize,” Swan wrote, “that public comments can become heated, personal and not based in fact. Appointed and elected officials, however, must be held to a higher standard. When anger is expressed it should be acknowledged and proper apologies made.
“There is a foundational misunderstanding in Ms. Conklin’s knowledge of how planning commission decisions are made if she believes (its) mission is to do ‘all that they can legally to protect land owners rights.’
“Because of her public display of anger directed at me and the subsequent refusal to issue an apology, I am requesting that Maggie Conklin no longer serve on the
planning commission,” the Alliance head said.
“I realize as I’m writing this,” Conklin emailed township board members Monday, “that it was exactly 10 years ago today that I was originally appointed to the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission.
“This morning,” she continued, “I received a polite and sincere call from (supervisor) Cindy Osman letting me know that there was a ‘a lot of negative push’ to not re-appoint me, and that I should be prepared for it during the Wednesday night board meeting.
“I then went to the township website to look at the documents for this weeks board meeting and found a single person has submitted 19 pages of paperwork in support of not re-appointing me.
“I have endured a decade of stress, harassment, anxiety, threats and even stalking for the township. Quite often before meetings I would get physically ill.
“I have never lied, never lowered my ethics and always chose township and state law even when it was the hardest of decisions. I was chair through the darkest years of litigation, and I feel that it’s time that I step down and enjoy more time and less stress with my soon-to-retire husband.
“I formally rescind my application for re-appointment to the planning commission,” Conklin said.