2006-09-09 / News

Legislative Tampering with Gubernatorial Appointments Not Likely

By Paul Gingras

The Michigan Senate is not going to block Governor Jennifer Granholm's appointment of Father Jim Williams to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, nor is the state legislature likely to mandate that the governor seek approval from the Mackinaw City Village Council for future appointments of the Mackinaw City resident commissioner, Village President Robert Heilman has been told. The message, received from State Senator Jason Allen, may have ended the village protest of the appointment, and little was said of the matter when Council met Thursday, August 17.

Noted was that Council received a letter from Michelle LaTocha of St. Ignace criticizing the board for opposing the governor's appointment of Jim Williams. Fr. Williams lives in Mackinaw City and is a Catholic priest in St. Ignace and Moran.

Following the July appointment, Mr. Heilman expressed the

opinion that Fr. Williams does not properly represent the village, in part, because he has been a voter in the area for less than two years and that Mackinaw City residents were not consulted. Some area residents also opposed Fr. Williams' appointment, said trustee Jeff Hingston.

Led by Mr. Heilman, and spurred by letters from former park commissioner Ken Teysen of Mackinaw City, Council decided August 3 to protest by writing to politicians, area newspapers, and the new commissioner.

Since then, Council decided not to send letters to area newspapers because Mr. Teysen has taken up the effort himself, Mr. Heilman said.

As promised, Mr. Heilman contacted State Senator Jason Allen to discuss the matter. Mr. Allen informed him that the appointment is not likely to be changed. The Senate's main concern, Mr. Heilman said, is to ensure that appointees do not have criminal backgrounds, and Fr. Williams certainly has a clean record, Mr. Heilman added.

Much of the controversy has centered around who is consulted for recommendations to the MISPC, so Mr. Heilman sought Mr. Allen's input concerning a possible amendment to the public cct that stipulates that one member of the commission be a resident of Mackinaw City.

Mr. Heilman's focus is to ensure that Mackinaw City residents are included in the recommendation process when it comes to commissioners who represent the village, he said. He proposes that the governor be required to seek recommendations from the mayors of Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island prior to making MISPC appointments.

Mr. Allen, however, told Mr. Heilman that amending to the act is unlikely because it could infringe on the governor's constitutional right to appoint who he or she chooses.

The seven-member Mackinac Island State Park Commission governs Mackinac State Historic Parks, which includes Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in and near Mackinaw City and Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island State Park on Mackinac Island.

In another matter discussed at Council's August 17 meeting, Mackinaw City Fire Chief Fred Thompson asked that the village hire a consultant to analyze the fire department's capabilities, prompting Council to refer the matter to the Facilities Committee and the Safety Committee. Mr. Thompson said he is concerned that Mackinaw City's growth may exceed its firefighting capacity.

The village has a part-time fire department, but 50 to 60 percent of its buildings are now larger than the village can handle on its own, in the event of a major fire, Mr. Thompson said.

Some buildings, including most new hotels, have reached four stories, and the department may not have sufficient personnel to handle fires if structures get any larger, said Village Manager Jeff Lawson.

"I want to emphasize that we can fight fires now," Mr. Lawson told Town Crier, citing the village's mutual aid agreements with neighboring departments. The departmental review, he said, is to determine if the department is doing the best it can with the resources it has, so it can make plans regarding what the department needs to handle future fires in Mackinaw City.

Buildings over four stories, for instance, he said, could require different rescue training and coordination.

The problem is that the village simply isn't sure what it can handle, Mr. Thompson said at the meeting.

"The big issue is getting half a dozen new faces on the fire department," said Mr. Heilman, who expressed concern that the village has had difficulty recruiting new firefighters. The village fire department

has 22 firemen, approximately half of them over 50 years old. Manpower, rather than equipment, is the village's most pressing concern.

The village's mutual aid agreements with surrounding communities, such as St. Ignace, are of great help, Mr. Lawson said, but Mackinaw City should not depend too much on other communities.

"Right now, you can build as much as you want on the ground, in terms of square footage," he said, but building height is another matter for firefighters. Fires in taller structures require more firemen, and the village does not want to create a situation in which it has exceeded the number of firemen available in the village and surrounding areas.

He said he would contact other fire departments to determine how they have assessed their fire departments' capabilities.

Information provided by New Jersy-based Insurance Services Office (ISO) will help the village, Mr. Lawson said. The ISO analyzes municipal fire fighting capacities and makes recommendations to insurance companies regarding premiums. The village has Class 7 fire protection capability.

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