Tensions ran high at Monday’s Hillsdale City Council meeting after Councilman Robert Socha introduced a new resolution regarding government overreach.
The resolution, originally published on Socha’s Facebook page on Feb. 25, addresses government overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the recently proposed House Resolution 127, which could increase firearm registration and limit the amount of legally allowed ammunition.
A condensed version of the resolution was soon added to the meeting agenda.
The resolution opposes “the passage and enforcement of any trailer bill, or any bill, or any executive order, or any departmental order, or any other order, mandate, or law which infringes on the general rights of life, liberty, and property, ordained by God and enumerated in the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Michigan.”
The resolution, if passed, seeks to ensure that if the Michigan legislature, governor, U.S. Congress, or president infringed on the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Michigan, then the city of Hillsdale would prohibit its employees from “funding and enforcing the unconstitutional actions, and will encourage general resistance to state and federal enforcement of the same.”
More than 30 people came to support the resolution at the Monday meeting and during the time for general public comment, the gathered supporters were vocal.
“I’m speaking in support of Councilman Socha’s resolution protecting our Constitutional rights,” Hillsdale resident Penny Swan said.
“Y’all took an oath to uphold the state of Michigan Constitution and the Constitution of the United States,” Swan said. “COVID-19 has been a litmus test as to the agenda of the political party of our governor and the political party of our president of the United States, and how they want to skirt our constitutional rights via this virus. I’m all for limited government, but at times, our government needs to step up and protect our constitutional rights.”
Other residents agreed.
“I think this resolution is a thing that we as a public, and you as a council, which is also voted in by the public, need to recognize, because when it comes to the Constitution, it’s the most important contract we’ve ever seen,” Reverend Dennis Wainscott said.
Karla Adams took the podium to comment, “A smile, a breath of fresh air, the simplest of things that make all the difference on the worst days and the best days. How can a country so educated misrepresent the citizens it serves?”
She continued, “To see House Resolution 127 in the process, our money being spent while we’re locked down wearing masks, unable to even communicate with our family out of fear that we’re going to kill each other, and watch our rights be stripped, is an abomination.”
Tim Martin addressed the council as well.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Rob here for standing up against what the norm seems to be today,” he said. “I hope you guys can realize and understand what we’ve all said about swearing to uphold the Constitution. All of you are sitting there because of us and not because of you. I want you to remember that. None of you are doctors and none of you are here to protect us from this little virus. You’re here to do exactly what we hired you to do and that’s not it.”
Jon Beckwith also addressed the council.
“I’ve been taking a course on the Constitution now for a year at Hillsdale and I’m amazed what I didn’t know. And I think it’d be good for everybody in Hillsdale who has any public service…to start taking courses on the Constitution so you know what you’re doing. Most people don’t and they get themselves in trouble,” Beckwith said.
Mayor Adam Stockford addressed the animosity that arose during public comment.
“Do you look at this council like we’re enemies of yours?” Stockford said, emphasizing that the council seeks to uphold the Constitution.
“I think we’ve been pretty strong on upholding constitutional rights here. We’ve been holding public meetings. We didn’t require you to wear a mask to come in here.”
Socha also commented on his resolution.
“I did not put this on the agenda to be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote yet; I wanted it on the discussion table,” he said. “I didn’t want my fellow councilmen and women to feel like this was something imposed on them. I wanted it to be able to be thought through thoroughly.”
He continued, “I did propose it with the intention of it being dressed as a resolution just so that we here in Hillsdale can let our elected representatives at the state and federal level know that enough is enough and that they’ve crossed too many lines and that we’re not going to be the ones to abrogate our responsibility to self-rule.”
Other council members also commented on the resolution.
“This gives us a chance to consider what kind of resolutions we want to have. In my opinion, the kind of resolutions we should do, we should be very disciplined about the kind of resolutions that we do. They should be very few,” said Will Morrissey, councilman and former professor of politics at Hillsdale College. “If we do a lot of them, that cheapens each one that comes out.”
Councilman Greg Stuchell also expressed reservations about the resolution.
“I think you’ll look long and hard to find someone in this county that isn’t for our Constitution. This is a very red area, and we all love it,” Stuchell said. The question, like Dr. Morrissey said, is focused versus broad, because the other responsibility we have, we’re building the city back, and to build that back, we’re taking grant money to do some of that work. Now, these people don’t play fair. We all know that. So how do we make the point and still protect our community, protect our rights, protect public housing?”
Socha addressed this concern.
“I want the money. I know we gotta play the game on a level. I mean I want to see our streets rebuilt,” he said. “It offends me, the idea that we might compromise on principles because we might lose a few dollars.”
Councilman Bill Zeiser offered a middle-ground approach.
“Had Councilman Socha’s resolution gone to a vote, I would’ve voted for it, because you can’t vote against the Constitution, at least not in this town, but that said I think on substance a lot of what Councilman Morrissey said is correct, and I think we need to understand the difference between a matter of principle and a matter of process. I think that we need to all think about how profound our founding documents are.”
Following the night’s discussion, the council voted 7 – 1 to send the resolution to the operations and governance committee for further discussion and editing.
“I do think that we’re all on the same page, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a place where people care so much about the Constitution,” Zeiser said. “But you know, even people like Hamilton and Jefferson had arguments about policy. This is not an argument about whether the Constitution is good, it’s an argument about policy. So if Jefferson and Hamilton argued about that, you know, certainly there’s room for that here without being adversarial.”