Schoolcraft Village Council Meets Over Newsletter Fracas

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Members of the Schoolcraft Village Council from left to right: Sy Spears, Russell Barnes, Larry Gunnett, Mike Rochholz, John Stodola. Missing from the picture but in attendance: Kathy Mastenbrook and Todd Carlin.

By Sue Moore

In a 4-3 vote, Schoolcraft’s village Council voted to remove comments by village President Keith Gunnett in the village’s upcoming newsletter calling on homeowners to sign a petition if they want a sewer system and the expenses of building it.

Trustees opposed to inclusion of Gunnett’s comments said his personal opinions should be left out of the village publication.

Gunnett defended his effort. “Three members of the council choose to have a petition.” Gunnett included himself, Trustees Russell Barnes and Todd Carlin saying they represent the wants and needs of the citizens of the village, as they would be the ones paying for it.

He said his calculation of costs per home came to $50,000 or more. Council members opposed to including his comments “must have something personal to gain because nothing else is logical.”

“President Gunnett is entitled to his opinion and has the right to express it but not in the Village’s newsletter,” said Trustee Kathy Mastenbrook. “neither he or his opinion reflect that of the entire council or community,” she said. “To maintain the integrity of the Village, its staff and the council itself, information presented in the newsletter should be based on fact versus assumptions,” she added.

Trustee Mike Rochholz agreed. Gunnett’s comments are ‘being used to mischaracterize or misrepresent staff or other council members.”

Gunnett characterized the two sides of the issue in the village. One side, he said, believes the village council should make the choice for residents; the other believes homeowners should make the sewer decision which he said he believes is the correct one.

He asked for a show of hands for those who support his beliefs. Before anyone could raise a hand, Trustee Sy Spears interrupted: “I will not vote on anything that is so irresponsible to make a decision without all the information at hand. We are not to the point where we can decide, as we are still gathering information.”

Trustee John Stodola said the “Newsletter is the instrument of the village. It should be factual, timely and forward leading as we all incur the costs of publication.” He quoted state law that says no one should give his personal opinion in an instrument paid for by the people. “We have lost sight of how to move our business in a professional and thought-provoking manner. We want to have a clear, calm, and deliberate discussion.”

“The financial information Gunnett wrote about in his message to the public is not factual,” Mastenbrook said. “Do you want to start a petition process now based on your numbers that are not accurate? “There is no project that has even been decided. None of the entities have voted on costs but we expect to have the beginning of the numbers when Wightman & Associates comes to the October 7 village council meeting.”

Gunnett answered with “It’s all been done over and over again and you know that. True you won’t know the final numbers until its paid for and all the contractors are on the dotted line. I’m not asking anybody to go out and petition now. The petition doesn’t even need the exact numbers. It’s about how do people feel about what Wightman has told us?

A Wightman engineer provided some numbers at a public meeting in June. Alan Smaka estimated it would cost a residential homeowner about $13,000, including an estimated $10,000 “benefit” fee, an estimated $2,000 connection fee and an estimated $5-per-front-foot charge. The benefit fee could be paid over the period of a bond issue, as long as 40 years, and those costs could be offset by the proportion of grant money received for the sewer system project, as much as 45 percent.

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