Lawsuit filed in SL merger

The village has filed a lawsuit against the county election commissioners in an effort to disarm an effort aimed at disincorporating the village. The Ottawa County Election Commission includes Chief Probate Judge Mark Feyen, County Treasurer Bradley Slagh and County Clerk Daniel Krueger.
Marie Havenga
May 30, 2012


A petition drive led by village resident Joyce Hatton was certified and filed in mid-May, but village officials say the disincorporation issue is not valid because Spring Lake is a home rule village, not a general law village as asserted in the petition.

Village attorney Rodney Schermer of the Scholten Fant law firm states in the suit filed last week in Ottawa County Circuit Court that the Michigan Home Rule Village Act of 1909 does not contain any provision for disincorporation.

The suit claims that the Election Commission lacks the jurisdiction and authority to place the disincorporation issue on the Aug. 7 primary ballot because there is no legal mechanism for the village's disincorporation.

The village is asking the court to direct the commission to not place the question on the primary ballot.

Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Van Allsburg is scheduled to hear the matter on June 11.

Krueger said he was not surprised by the lawsuit.

“Obviously, I'm not an attorney, so I can't interpret what has happened,” the county clerk said. “Generally, the way I read the statute, the process was done appropriately. We're moving forward on that assumption until something different takes place.

"I don't have a legal basis to determine whether it was done properly, whether the village was a charter, general law or home rule village," Krueger continued. "That is something that should be determined by the court.”

Federal law requires that the ballot be printed no later than 45 days prior to an election, according to Krueger.

“We're just sitting on pins and needles waiting for this,” he said. “Obviously, it makes a great deal of difference to us how soon this takes place. We have to have ballots printed and get them out. We'll just have to wait and see what the outcome is.”

The village's lawsuit references a 1928 opinion by then-Attorney General Wilber Brucker regarding the disincorporation of the then-Village of Hudsonville. Buckner said Hudsonville “may not vacate their incorporation unless their charter contains a provision for such vacation.”

Spring Lake Village Council voted 6-1 last week to proceed with the lawsuit, which — according to village attorney Bob Sullivan — was the only way to attempt to stop the ballot issue once the petitions had been filed.

Sullivan said the only way the village could disincorporate would be with an amendment to the village charter, which would require a vote of village residents and approval by the governor.

Village Councilman Steve Nauta said he would like council to discuss amending the charter at a future work session.

“We ought to have a charter that allows people to have that vote,” he said. “It's a fundamental right.”

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

Click the related file below to see the civil suit document:


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