FRANKLIN — During its June 10 meeting, the Franklin Village Council appointed resident Ed Saenz to the seat recently vacated by Commissioner Steve Rosenthal. The replacement means that five of the seven trustees on council are appointees not voted in by the community.
Rosenthal announced his departure at the May 13 council meeting, citing a recently occurring business conflict that prohibits him from holding public office. He’s listed online as a principal for Rock Gaming.
Following his resignation, the Village Offices immediately began taking applications from residents interested in serving on the volunteer council. Per Franklin’s charter, the seat must be filled by appointment within 30 days of a vacancy.
“It happens. People get jobs or have health issues, and it’s not unusual for there to be vacancies on councils,” said Village Administrator Amy Sullivan. “(Appointments are) something that the charter dictates. Vacancies are filled by appointment. If the charter says they need to be filled by election, we would’ve had five different elections.”
Though the five appointed trustees on council were seated per the specific directions in the village’s charter, some residents seem bothered by the governing body being largely made up of representatives and not elected by villagers. Residents Bill Lamott and Dom Schiano are two in the community who have voiced their concerns about the turnover at the council table.
“It’s not so much the makeup of council — it’s the ability for villagers to pick who they want to represent them on council,” said Schiano.
One of Schiano’s concerns is the fact that during its Dec. 10, 2012, meeting, the council voted to move the scheduled September 2013 election to November 2014, effectively extending the trustees’ terms 14 months. The motivation to move the election, Sullivan said, was largely financial. By moving elections to even years to coincide with larger elections, such as gubernatorial or presidential races, the election responsibilities will fall into the hands of Southfield Township, saving Franklin between $2,000 and $3,000.
During that December meeting, the move was approved 4-2, with appointed Commissioner Brian Gordon abstaining. Schiano thinks all of the appointed trustees should’ve opted out of the vote so it wouldn’t appear that unelected officials were voting to extend their own terms.
“They’re volunteers; let’s face it. I think anytime you can get someone to volunteer for the good of the village, that’s great,” said Schiano, noting that he has previously served the village in various positions, including on council. “But people may have a different opinion on things. Sometimes, people want to spend money on one thing verses another. The only time (residents) get their vote heard is during the election.”
Even if the council had voted the other way and chosen not to extend trustee terms, the September election still would have moved to November of even years. Just four days later, the Michigan Legislature, in the midst of a whirlwind lame-duck session, passed Public Act 523, which mandates that villages in Michigan hold elections in November of even years, and they would be conducted by the appropriate township clerk.
Public Act 523 was an action expected by many around Michigan, said Sullivan, who said the Legislature had indicated before that it would seek to reduce the number of elections held in each municipality annually, so voters aren’t surprised by elections or confused about when to vote on certain issues. Whether the council voted to approve term extensions or not, Franklin is now obligated by state law to forgo the September election and wait until November of 2014. However, the act does allow for villages to hold special elections — still run by the township — if the villages carry the full cost of running the election.
Franklin’s hands are tied when it comes to the timing of the next election for village officials. But, as far as the charter requirement to fill vacancies by appointment, that could potentially still be up for debate. If pressured, the village could put an amendment to Section 26 of the charter on the ballot during the next election.
“The council is following the policy set by the charter to fill the vacancies; nothing unusual about that. In fact, that is the way the village has been operating since its inception. There have been prior resignation and they were all filled in the same manner. The only way to change that is to amend the charter,” said Sullivan.
The village of Franklin is also looking to appoint volunteer members to various boards and commissions, including the Planning Commission, the Historic District Commission and the Zoning/Sign Board.
For more information, including application forms for village positions and to see the full text of the Franklin Village charter, visit franklin.mi.us.
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