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Disincorporation is dead

Marie Havenga • Aug 8, 2017 at 10:52 PM

SPRING LAKE — About 30 residents and village leaders gathered at Seven Steps Up on Tuesday night to watch election results roll in on the big screen.

When the numbers flashed — 556 no votes and 325 yes — the crowd erupted in cheers and shared hugs.

Village voters soundly defeated a proposal to amend the Village Charter to allow a mechanism for future disincorporation, 63-37 percent.

Joann Chisholm, who has lived in the village for 60 years, was one of the happy ones.

“I just wanted to join everybody and see how the vote went,” Chisholm said. “There's been a lot of drama going on in Spring Lake. There's just too much going on with the disincorporation talk. I grew up in Spring Lake and lived my life in Spring Lake. I like the services they give you.”

Village President Joyce Hatton ran last year on the platform of pursuing a path to disincorporation and dissolving the village into Spring Lake Township because she believes village residents should only have to pay one tax. On Tuesday night, she was dining with her daughter and friends when she learned of the election results.

“I think that I have a very simple reaction, a very simple comment,” Hatton said. “As you know, I was elected with a mandate to bring this issue to the voters, which I did. The people obviously, from looking at the results, have spoken and they made their choice. My job is done, and effective almost immediately, I will resign.”

On Monday, Hatton announced that no matter how the vote turned out, she planned to resign Wednesday. Tuesday night, the village president said “it will be tonight.”

Upon Hatton’s official resignation, according to the Village Charter, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Powers will take over the remainder of her two-year term. Village Council will then have 30 days to appoint a replacement to fill Powers' council seat.

“I think it's for the best,” Powers said Tuesday night. “She did come in as a single-issue candidate and that issue is being addressed tonight. We certainly wish Joyce the best in whatever comes next in life.”

Village Manager Chris Burns, who threw her arms in the air and clapped when she learned of the election results, said she felt relieved.

If the charter had been amended, and a disincorporation vote passed sometime in the future, the village government would have been dissolved, with no need for a manager or village employees.

“I'm going to sleep good tonight,” Burns said. “I'm excited to get back to managing the day-to-day operations of the village.”

Burns said from what she was seeing on social media and hearing from residents, she was fairly confident voters would turn down the ballot proposal.

“But you can never take these things for granted,” she said. “I think it's a mistake to assume anything going into any election. The minute you take it for granted, you're going to be surprised.”

Burns said employees feel relief, too.

“For staff, this has been stressful,” she said. “Everyone is concerned about their future. That's very hard to live with for eight months. I'm happy for the staff that they can get back to what they do best.”

Village Deputy Clerk Mary Ann Fonkert agreed.

“It's a huge relief for everyone,” she said.

Village resident Bari Johnson, who served on the special village task force that recommended against disincorporation, said she initially favored paying taxes only to Spring Lake Township, until she learned more facts through the work group.

“I'm hopeful that we're going to be putting it (disincorporation) to bed,” she said.

Michelle Hanks, who hosted Tuesday's event at Seven Steps Up, filed a petition on July 3 to recall Hatton. The Ottawa County Elections Commission approved the petition language, but Hatton appealed. Hanks then filed a second recall petition last week.

“I'll continue the recall until her resignation becomes official,” Hanks said Tuesday night.

Hanks said she's relieved by the voters' decision.

“I think it will put the current divisive climate to rest,” she said. “I wanted to bring people together tonight to hug each other no matter what happened, to start the healing process.”

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