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Published: Thursday, 9/4/2003

Hillsdale officials stand by soil law

Hillsdale County Commissioner Ken Lautzenheiser has seen recall petitions submitted not only against himself, but against five of his six colleagues - most recently against commissioners R. Andy Welden and Maxine Vanlerberg.

But despite the massive effort by county residents to oust most of the commission, Mr. Lautzenheiser said the commission will not succumb to their wishes.

At issue is a soil erosion ordinance that county commissioners claim has been in place for several decades.

Opponents say the ordinance violates the rights of property owners by giving too many freedoms to inspectors. Commissioners say it protects adjacent property owners from flooded basements when new construction is going on.

“This commission has no intention of repealing our ordinance because it is required by state law, plain and simple, it is required by state law,” Mr. Lautzenheiser said. “We will not violate our oath of office by copping out.”

The recall petitions have been initiated by members of a grass-roots organization called the Michigan Coalition for Return to Constitutional Government. Each petition states the commissioners should be recalled because they broke their “oath of office by voting to adopt an amended soil erosion ordinance and failing to act on a citizens' petition demanding its repeal.”

Roger Keller, who initiated the recall against Commissioner Alice Britton, is president and co-founder of the group. Yesterday, he said the group was formed to be a watchdog of local and state government.

The language, which has been approved in petitions against Mr. Lautzenheiser and Ms. Britton, will be heard during a clarity hearing Sept. 17. If the language is approved, petitioners will need to collect 343 signatures to put the question of a recall against Ms. Vanlerberg on the ballot and 435 signatures for Mr. Welden.

“We have trouble understanding why they refuse to repeal the ordinance. They say they can't. Of course, we know that's not true,” he said. “It's not about sedimentation control going into our lakes and streams, it's about the county and even the state taking away our constitutional rights.”

Ms. Vanlerberg was targeted for a recall despite voting no on the ordinance because she was not willing to repeal it, Mr. Keller said.

Although not surprised to see her name on a petition, Ms. Vanlerberg said she is concerned that the recall language says she violated her oath of office because she approved an ordinance that in reality she did not vote for.

“There are so many other things going on and I'm of the opinion that if a person wants to make changes, there's a proper way to do it,” she said.

“Even though I agree with something but because it passed by the majority, I have to accept that. That doesn't mean I can't study it and propose changes later on.

“I don't know if I would have or wouldn't have, but I haven't been given that chance,” she added.

- ERICA BLAKE



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