Candidate withdraws name from Belding Planning Commission

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 10:28 am on Friday, November 23, 2012

BELDING — As Belding City Council members prepared to vote Tuesday night on the appointment of Jon McGowan to the Planning Commission, McGowan came forward with some choice words before removing himself as a candidate.

Planning Commission members voted in favor 4-2 to appoint McGowan to the commission during a previous meeting in October. That decision was to be voted on by city council members on Nov. 6, however, the decision was postponed to Tuesday’s meeting so council members could review the minutes from the planning commission meeting.

If approved, McGowan would have replaced the vacancy of Michael Hughes, who resigned. The term would expire on June 7, 2014.

“As you well know there has been much discussion and controversy regarding my recommended appointment to the planning commission,” McGowan said to council members Tuesday night. “Despite the (Planning Commission’s) decision, Chairman Gary Knowltan decided to write a letter to members of city council on Oct. 31 voicing a strong opposition to the group’s decision.”

McGowan voiced his displeasure with that process, citing unfairness in the letter, claiming it was an attempt to persuade city council members’ votes, not to inform them of the happenings of the planning commission meeting.

“The argument is that because I have admittedly placed a portion of my fence in a right of way, and that I have chickens, I am breaking the law and therefore I am in default of the city,” he said. “I disagree with that logic and therefore I have asked the city to provide me with their legal disposition on the subject.”

McGowan then addressed the issue brought forward that he would not be able to hold the city’s oath of office because he admittedly had broken the law.

“There are a number of intricacies to a situation like this,” he said. “I really see no difference between a person who violates a city ordinance or law out in the open, admittedly, or one who does it in secret or private. I would rather have a public official that is honest.”

McGowan said after speaking with several city council and planning commission members in private, the general sentiment was voting yes to appoint McGowan would make them appear hypocritical.

“Certain individuals feel that I could not hold true to the oath,” he said. “The funny thing is, neither can anybody under this mentality. I can list a way that each one of you is in violation (of the oath).”

McGowan then said he believes the city’s current oath, as written, is in violation of the city’s charter, the Michigan Constitution, and that it is “inappropriate to administer in its current configuration.”

“I argue that the city has violated its own charter and the constitution of the state of Michigan by administering an oath that requires an additional oath, affirmation, or test,” he said. “The city’s charter clearly states that the oath shall be prescribed by the Michigan Constitution … there are some clear and definite differences between what is currently being used and what was intended.”

McGowan said there is a difference between agreeing to uphold and follow the constitution and agreeing to obey the law.

“To hold an office in the state of Michigan, you need not be held accountable to obey every law and ordinance of the state,” he said. “The oath simply requires that you uphold and follow the federal and state constitutions. To also require a candidate to uphold the law, as the city of Belding does, in my opinion excludes all applicants. No one is able to uphold their oath in this context.”

McGowan closed by stating that he believes city officials have selectively enforced various ordinances in an unfair attempt to keep him off of the planning commission.

“The city’s selection and enforcement of this and other issues is the key ingredient in the recipe that gives Belding the stigma of being unfriendly, uncooperative and unreasonable with respect to its residents and businesses,” he said. “I’m disappointed with the sentiment and the attitude of this city and its leaders.”

McGowan then announced he was respectfully withdrawing his name for consideration as a member of the planning commission.

“I feel that as a planning commissioner, my opinion would be rejected or discounted providing that it does not agree with (commission chairman) Mr. Knowlton,” he said.

Current planning commission member Deb Curler spoke during citizen comment in support of McGowan.

“I’m disappointed in Jon’s decision, but I can understand it,” she said. “I hope you listen to him, I think he would have been a great asset. I think he made a lot of good points on how the city of belding is. I think he voiced a lot of opinions of a lot of the citizens who wont speak up because they are afraid of repercussions.”

In response from city council members, Mayor Ron Gunderson said he was disappointed to see McGowan pull his name.

“I’m sorry that Jon elected to pull his name,” he said. “I think he would have brought a different perspective. I think there are times when we all feel we are just one vote.”

Councilman Jon Bunce said he also was surprised by McGowan’s decision.

“I’m disappointed too,” he said. “I really don’t understand why you are dropping out. I think you would have made an excellent planning commission member. I think your voice is just as equal as the chairperson’s and I think you would have had the votes here to get on the (planning commission).

Councilman Joe Feuerstein said he understood McGowan’s frustration with the city’s charter, but pointed out that it was approved be the legislature of michigan and signed be the governor into law.

Council members Mike Scheid and Andrea Belding did not comment on the matter.

A motion was then made by Feuerstein to table the issue for further discussion at a later meeting.

The motion passed 4-1, with Bunce opposed.

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