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Leighton Twp. discusses virtual meetings dilemma

Leighton Township officials are grappling with problems associated with having public meetings during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Board members Thursday night held their meeting in-person, but offered the option for anyone to attend virtually. Even then, it’s likely their meeting pushed the limits of having no more than 10 in attendance.

Trustee John Hooker said he and other members of the Planning Commission would rather meet in person than on line, but Zoning Enforcement Administrator Lori Castello has warned that such a move may violate current state laws.

Supervisor Steve Wolbrink said, “I feel bad because we might be violating the governor’s orders, but we’re not forcing anyone to be here, they have options.”

Indeed, some attending the meeting did so via an Internet meeting application.

“How does the State House (of Representatives) do that?” asked Hooker. “They meet all the time. But how are you supposed to serve your community (with Internet-only meetings)?”

He maintained that Plan Commission meetings often includes photos and drawings of proposals, which wouldn’t show up well in virtual meetings.

Clerk Rachel Fennema asked, “Could we have the meetings in person and provide the virtual option as well?”

Wolbrink said he plans to contact the township attorney for advice he will pass along to the Planning Commission before its next meeting Wednesday, Feb. 10.

In a related development, the Township Board approved spending $120 for four cameras in township offices, but tabled a proposal to buy a 360-degree follower camera for the board’s meeting room, which would be used to enhance the Internet attendees’ experience, but would cost $1,298.

In other business at Thursday night’s meeting, the Township Board:

  • Was told there were four building permits issued in December, bringing the yearly total to 52. Wolbrink said there were 59 permits issued in 2019, 41 in in ’18 and 55 in ’17.
  • Was asked by former Supervisor Steve Deer for a clarification on whether he is the deputy supervisor. His appointment was made in November, but a supervisor cannot lawfully appoint himself to the deputy’s job.
  • Learned that the Allegan County Road Commission this year will repave Division north from 142nd Avenue to just south of 146th, a distance of a little more than two miles.
  • Was told by Wolbrink the Road Commission plans to repave 12th Street from 144th to Division, the road leading into Moline and reconfigure the confusing intersection.
  • Learned from Randy Cotts of the Fire Department there were 327 calls in 2020, the most ever.
  • Was told the Planning Commission Wednesday night approved a site plan for Verberg Concrete in the industrial park, on Electric Avenue.
  • Scheduled a budget work session for Thursday, Feb. 4, a week before the next regular board meeting Feb. 11. A public hearing on the proposed 2021-22 budget will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.

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