SHARE

 

An image of downtown Hillsdale | Wiki­media Commons

Most of the members of the Hillsdale Board of Public Util­ities and the Airport Advisory Com­mittee are not res­i­dents of the city of Hillsdale, even though res­i­dency is a requirement under the city’s municipal code.

Four out of the five members of the Hillsdale BPU board of directors do not live in Hillsdale, according to public records. Sec­tions 3.1 and 5.1 of Hillsdale’s city code state that to be eli­gible for an elective office, a person must be a Hillsdale res­ident. This same standard applies to anyone appointed to the Board of Public Util­ities.

“Each person appointed as a member of the Board of Public Works shall possess the qual­i­fi­ca­tions required by this charter for elective officers of the City,” the city code states.

Only BPU board member Berry Hill lives in Hillsdale. When asked about the dis­crepancy, BPU director Mike Barber said he was not familiar with the details of the city code.

“Board members are chosen by those who cur­rently sit on the board, and then their pick is decided by the mayor and the city council,” Barber said. “In regards to how that works with city codes and charter, I’m not a part of that.”

Barber said BPU board members are paid $25 for attending their monthly meetings, adding many of them donate the money to local char­ities and com­munity causes.

City Manager David Mackie said that because BPU board members are paid, it renders the res­i­dency requirement in the charter pointless according to Michigan State statute 15.601.

“The statute lan­guage indi­cates that no res­i­dency requirement can be placed upon a public employee,” Mackie said in an email. “Thus, Hillsdale’s City Charter res­i­dency require­ments do not apply to BPU Board members. State statutes supersede city charters.”

Mackie said this is just one of many examples of revi­sions that need to be made to the city charter.

“Could the charter be changed? Yes,” Mackie said. “There are a number of things that could be changed. It hasn’t been changed in a very long time. So that is some­thing that we need to look at and update the lan­guage for the clarity of the city.”

BPU board members help with logistics, planning, and finances required to provide more than 6,300 res­i­dents and nearly 4,000 homes and busi­nesses with elec­tricity and water.

While not paid members like the BPU, according to a 2014 city council res­o­lution members of Hillsdale’s Airport Advisory Com­mittee are also required to be city res­i­dents or active users of the municipal airport.

“Members shall be res­i­dents of the City of Hillsdale or users of the City airport and shall include indi­viduals with knowledge and expe­rience in the fields of avi­ation and business,” the res­o­lution states.

Cur­rently, of the six members on the AAC, only the board’s chairman Richard Péwé and com­mittee member Robert Flynn live within the city limits. Only one of the other members is also an active pilot.

According to Péwé, who also serves as Hillsdale College’s chief admin­is­trative officer, he inter­prets the res­o­lution more lib­erally and thinks anyone who wants to ded­icate their time to improving the airport should be involved.

“My inter­pre­tation of the lan­guage in the res­o­lution is that it applies to anyone who uses the airport for any purpose. That’s probably vague here,” Péwé said.  “If this is an issue, council just needs to rewrite the lan­guage so it’s what they want.”

Many of the members of the AAC are not pilots either, which Péwé said he sees as a benefit. Péwé said making the airport a mar­ketable and rel­evant location in Hillsdale, takes more than just the expertise of avi­ators.

“Today it’s hard to find people that are willing to serve the council because there really isn’t any­thing in it for them, except that they’re trying to be helpful,” Péwé said. “I don’t think you need to be a pilot. I look at it as a bonus.”

Filling posi­tions involved with the city council has been a con­tinuous struggle, with numerous vacancies due to illness, res­ig­nation, and general lack of interest since before 2014. Typ­i­cally, council dis­cus­sions regarding board and com­mittee appoint­ments go unchal­lenged. Pewe said he does not want inter­ested people to be dis­suaded from helping out.

“If the lan­guage needs to be clar­ified, we should just do that,” Péwé said.