OTISCO TOWNSHIP — The construction agreement for a controversial Township Hall addition has been canceled.
The Otisco Township Board discussed the issue for nearly an hour during a regular meeting Tuesday evening. The discussion came to a 3-2 vote in favor of canceling the construction agreement with Scheid Construction Inc. with trustees Ben Oatley and Dan Zeigler voting against the motion.
Oatley and Zeigler both cited their discomfort with the idea of canceling a signed agreement as a reason for voting against the cancellation.
A special meeting discussing the proposed Township Hall addition is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16.
The discussion started when Clerk Lynda Sower told the board she and a few helpers visited Ashley Baptist Church, where township residents currently go to vote. The purpose of the visit was to use the space where voting takes place to tape off the measurements of the proposed hall addition to measure the amount of space.
“Is it ideal? No. It’s feasibly possible,” Sower said. “The only thing is… with large elections like the last presidential election, there could be a problem.”
Sower had concerns about the space in the addition and the way equipment will be set up. She was worried people who would come to the hall to vote might be forced to wait outside due to privacy requirements and other voting regulations.
Sower maintained, as she has for the last several months, she wasn’t sure the Township Hall addition would make it possible for the township to bring back voting from the church to the township hall. Bringing back voting to the township hall was one of the primary reasons the previous township board moved forward with the addition.
“In 2018, we’re going to be getting new (voting) equipment,” Sower noted. “I have no idea what size the equipment is going to be and what new rules and regulations are going to be.”
Treasurer Cara Johnson said moving forward with the building without knowing if it can be used for voting would be “a disservice to the residents of the township.”
“We’re possibly looking at people waiting outside (to vote),” she said. “We use the venue we have right now for free. We’ve had no complaints on it.”
Johnson also mentioned the discrepancy in price between the two bids for the addition which the board has “never gotten an exact explanation why.”
Supervisor Joseph Daller said he talked to the township attorney about the construction agreement and was told canceling the agreement “would be aggressive but may be a defendable decision.”
Johnson cited the absence of performance and payment bonds, a start and completion date, a cancellation clause and other missing contract language as reasons enough to cancel the agreement. She said she wouldn’t be opposed to offering a small percentage of the bid to Scheid Construction “for stringing it along this far.”
Laura Staats, a township resident and member of the Township Hall Addition Committee, told the township board that Scheid Construction would have no problem supplying bonds, and bonds have not been requested as part of the bid.
“That was our fault for those of us who worked on putting the bid together,” she said.
Staats said she contacted Ionia County Clerk Janae Cooper about the size of the addition and voting, and Cooper said the addition would make it so voting could be moved back to the Township Hall.
Cooper told The Daily News, based on knowledge from her own polling location in North Plains Township, that voting in the current Township Hall would be possible if the equipment was set up properly, but the situation wouldn’t be ideal. Cooper also confirmed what Sower said about equipment, noting that the size of the new equipment is currently unknown.
Joana Johnson, a township resident, said she’s never been against the idea of a Township Hall addition because bringing voting back to the hall would be a positive thing. She said more people stop at businesses in Smyrna when voting takes place at the hall. She also pointed to the process leading up to the accepting of the bid from Scheid, calling it unethical and inefficient.
Former treasurer Jan Breimayer said the $41,274 price difference between the bids from Scheid Construction and J R Wright Builders was due to more specific plans included in Scheid’s bid.
Jeff Hunter, a township resident, said he believes “the whole process was laughable” and it “wasn’t even an ethical process to start with.”
“(The previous board) handpicked two builders out of a township that has maybe 10 builders in it,” he said. “I hope the township board decides not to waste my tax dollars on something not needed.”
Regina Trann, a township resident, quoted the minutes from an April 2016 township board meeting. She said the members of the previous board “knew what was going on all the time and that each had the opportunity to say their opinion.”
“I voted for the people on the board by casting my ballot. I honored them and I still honor whoever is there now,” she said. “We collaboratively put the board in place (and should support them).”
Daller echoed this sentiment and said he trusted the previous board’s decision to move forward with the addition. He said he isn’t against the addition itself, but he takes issue with the process leading up to the decision to move forward.