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.