UPDATE: Pierson president faces recall; council meeting canceled


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:36 am on Friday, December 23, 2011

From left, Pierson Village Council members Rebecca Starr, Duane Griffes and Verna Smigiel read a letter from the village attorney after Thursday night’s meeting was canceled and council members were locked out of the village office by President Karl Van Haren and Treasurer Tesha Gould. Not pictured is council member Cindy Keech, who also was present. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

PIERSON — A tense situation unfolded Thursday night at the scene of a scheduled Pierson Village Council meeting, which was canceled at the last minute.

At 6:45 p.m., Village President Karl Van Haren told The Daily News the special meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. had been canceled due to lack of a quorum.

However, council members Duane Griffes, Cindy Keech, Verna Smigiel and Rebecca Starr arrived shortly before 7 p.m. for the meeting, along with Montcalm County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Hannon and Deputy Justin Schafer.

Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard told The Daily News she requested that sheriff’s deputies attend Thursday’s meeting after concerns had been expressed by various people about Van Haren.

Hannon said he and Schafer were present, “To keep the peace.”

Hannon delivered Van Haren a copy of recall wording Starr had filed against Van Haren on Wednesday. A clarity hearing for the recall wording is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Van Haren and Treasurer Tesha Gould then handed council members copies of a multiple-page letter dated Thursday from village attorney Jeffrey Sluggett.

The letter detailed proper procedures for Village Council members. Council members also were told by Van Haren that Thursday’s special meeting was canceled and that all questions must be directed to Sluggett.

Gould and Van Haren then went into the village office and locked the door, leaving the four council members and two sheriff’s deputies standing in the Village Hall.

Council members seemed confused and stunned by the attorney’s abrupt cancellation notice and by the actions of Gould and Van Haren.

Griffes said council members had been expecting to have a special meeting with a closed session to discuss issues regarding personnel.

“Politics,” Griffes told The Daily News. “I just hate it. Things shouldn’t go like this. Lack of communication, that’s where it all comes from.

“I’m really disappointed over all this. It destroys the goal of what we should be trying to do.”

Keech, Smigiel and Starr declined to comment.

Sluggett told The Daily News this morning that he and Van Haren spoke Thursday afternoon.

“He (Van Haren) indicated they weren’t sure they were going to be able to have a quorum, in which case it didn’t seem to make much sense for the village to pay me to come up there for a meeting that we weren’t even sure was going to occur or not,” Sluggett said.

Van Haren did not return a call from The Daily News earlier this week inquiring the purpose of the special meeting. When asked why Thursday night, Van Haren refused to give a reason.

The past year has been a tumultuous one for the Village Council.

Van Haren has been village president since last December, succeeding Jim Smigiel. Several council members and officials have resigned throughout the year and the council was unable to meet in July, August and September due to lack of a quorum.

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