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E-M:/ All My Communities: Turning the tables (and chairs)

Enviro-Mich message from "Tom & Anne Woiwode" <woiwode@voyager.net>


On Thursday evening, Feb 3, in a crowded room in the Meridian Township Hall,
the residents of Meridian Township began to turn the tables (and chairs) on
an unresponsive, even hostile Township government.  Symbolically arranged so
that their backs were to the podium which holds the Township Board and
Planning Commission members who have long ignored their constituents, close
to 100 people came together for the first Town Hall Meeting  called by the
Meridian Issues Committee. In a two hour program televised live on our local
cable station and moderated by a former TV anchorwoman, the crowd learned
from three experts about land uses issues, then used the open mike format to
begin a dialogue about our concerns and hopes for our community.

The Meridian Issues Committee or MIC (pronounced "mike" as in microphone) is
a group of about a dozen township residents who have been meeting since last
October searching for a way to turn our township around on the issues,
particularly land use issues, and to reinstate respectful treatment of
township residents.  MIC members decided it was critical to give residents
their own forum, and Thursday's Town Hall Meeting confirmed the sense that
people are committed to bringing a change for our community.  A lot of
frustration and anger at the current Board of Trustees and Planning
Commission came out, as speakers spoke of their experiences.

The speakers did an excellent job of discussing some key land use issues and
tools for addressing those problems.  One speaker was Lana Pollack of MEC,
who talked to the participants about the critical need for involvement in
the political arena at the local level, pointing out that "nothing
concentrates the mind of a politician more that a defeat".  She spoke of how
poorly Michigan stacks up against other states, but also drew from her own
experience in a township similar to Meridian outside of Ann Arbor.

Among the most common issues raised were the virtually universal sense that
the Township is run by the developers these days.  Examples were manifold,
but a recent one perhaps summed up the frustration.  A three story hotel
project has been approved in an area very near a relatively new subdivision
in the south end of the township.  Appeals were filed by residents of the
subdivision and by the developer who planned and built the subdivision.
Appeals can be allowed by the Twp. Board for those who live farther than 300
ft from the rezoning (the law requires those within 300 ft be allowed to
appeal) but this Board has rejected all such appeals in recent times.  The
residents live at least 900 ft. away, and the developer doesn't live in that
area at all.  But this time, the residents were denied their request to
appeal the decision, while the developer was allowed to bring his appeal.

In addition, many people expressed their dismay at the treatment they have
received at the hands of the Board and Planning Commission.  Lack of
notification of critical hearings, dismissive and insulting comments by
officials, and increasing attempts to cut off public participation and
public access to community facilities were all cited.  Several commented on
the action of the Township Board just that week to take the very room in
which we were meeting to any further use by any non-"official" meetings by
township residents.  The action was prompted in response to this very Town
Hall Meeting.  While other rooms will still be available, the reason for the
decision to take this room off limits was that the cable TV station is set
up to broadcast from this room, as they were doing at our meeting Thursday.

In addition, one participants told that a legislator from a neighboring area
was denied a request to hold a press conference in the Township Hall
building the following day because, reportedly, the staff eat lunch in the
area and the noise of the press conference would be disruptive.  The
legislator was, indeed, introducing legislation to ban the trading of
elective positions for paid positions in a local unit of government. The
bill was prompted by the decision of the Meridian Twp. Board to hire their
own Supervisor to be the Twp. Assessor, at a raise of $50,000 in pay, while
the Supervisor was still sitting on the Board and after the Supervisor had
negotiated the position with his subordinate, the Twp Manager. No doubt, the
Twp. staff would have had their lunches very disrupted if they had heard
about all this!

Many who spoke called on those present and at home to rally to bring about
change in the November election.  All were eager to see additional Town Hall
Meetings, even if we would be prevented from using the community facility we
were meeting in at that time.  So now the members of MIC have gathered
surveys from those who came, and have posted a website for others who are
eager to join us as well.  Soon we will plan to next event, and we will work
to restore the pride that all of us feel in Meridian Township.  There is a
long way to go -- Meridian has fallen far over the past several years, to a
point where it is the prime example of what can go wrong in a community.
The challenges are great, but clearly so is the commitment to change.  Stay
tuned and see how we do!

Anne Woiwode

Tom, Anne, Nate and Pete Woiwode
5088 Powell Road
Okemos, MI 48864

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