2013-08-09 / Top News

Dock Acquisition Legal Efforts Are in Question

Resolution Slated for August 12 Council Meeting
By Stephanie Fortino

Confusion over hiring an attorney to work toward city ownership of the Arnold Dock and Coal Dock led the Mackinac Island City Council to table the matter Wednesday, August 7, until it can be sorted out at a special meeting Monday, August 12, at 3 p.m. Council members Dominic Redman, Anneke Myers, and Jason St. Onge volunteered to serve on an ad hoc committee to monitor the effort.

In other matters Wednesday, Mayor Margaret Doud announced the retirement of longtime city foreman Calvin “Cub” Horn. Discussion of the winter ferry contract will take place at a Transportation Committee meeting August 14, and presentation of the Ordinance Committee’s revised zoning ordinance will follow.

Residents Jay and Janet Stingel have donated $10,000 and are soliciting other donations to hire real estate attorneys to look into how the city can acquire the docks, and government affairs attorney Dennis Cawthorne was named two weeks ago to coordinate the initiative.

At the August 7 meeting, Mr. and Mrs. Stingel explained that their intent for the donation, and the Save Mackinac passthrough fund they have established with the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, was only to collect information surrounding the docks before the city takes any action. The “fact-finding mission,” according to the Stingels, was to understand who owns the docks and other similar information, and not to provide legal advice on what the city should do.

The Stingels and other residents and visitors have asked the city to protect the open space at both docks, especially since a proposal was made to construct a hotel across the head of the Arnold Dock. The city has been negotiating to purchase the Coal Dock with Jim Wynn, who purchased Arnold Transit and the docks in 2010, and Mr. Wynn, back then, proposed the city purchase both docks as a way for him to finance the rest of his purchases.

In a letter to the city council, Mr. Stingel explained that he intends to hire attorney Gary Rentrop to investigate the docks and collect information that Mr. Stingel will then relay to the city. Mr. Rentrop also serves as the attorney for the city’s Historic District Commission, and he submitted a letter to council stating he felt no conflict of interest serving in both capacities.

City attorney Tom Evashevski was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting and, therefore, did not provide a legal opinion on whether the hiring constituted a conflict of interest, and council members did not feel comfortable making such a decision in his absence.

Some on the council said they were confused about the hiring of Mr. Rentrop because they thought Mr. Cawthorne would be serving as the coordinator of the legal effort. That was obviously the understanding of Mr. Cawthorne as well, who provided city council with a retainer agreement to work for the city, but that letter was not discussed Wednesday.

Mr. Stingel said the city could hire Mr. Cawthorne if it wanted, but noted that the Save Mackinac fund would only be paying for legal fees associated with the fact-finding mission.

Mr. Cawthorne did not attend Wednesday’s council meeting and could not contribute to the discussion.

Main Dock Inn co-developers Melanie Libby and Ira Green commented during the meeting that they had already interacted with Mr. Cawthorne, who, they believed, was acting on behalf of the city. They agreed to extend the deadline of their HDC application for their proposed hotel at the head of the Arnold Dock until September 12, at Mr. Cawthorne’s request, they said. Mr. Rentrop also asked for an extension, they said later.

Alderwoman Kay Hoppenrath pointed out that the city had not officially engaged Mr. Cawthorne with a contract at the time they were approached. A contract was only discussed, she said, and not officially approved by council.

HDC commissioner Lorna Straus was present at the council meeting and noted that the HDC was not consulted before that request was made.

“The HDC was not consulted by Mr. Cawthorne,” Mrs. Straus said.

“The extension that Mr. Green referred to and that Mr. Cawthorne requested…wasn’t requested by the HDC,” she noted.

Council has yet to decide if it will engage Mr. Cawthorne’s services.

Mr. Green was dismayed at the prospect of the attorney not being involved with the legal effort, as Mr. Cawthorne’s involvement was a positive development, he said.

“We extended our period of time with the HDC and received a letter from Mr. Rentrop asking us to do so…We agreed to that for one reason, because we thought someone had been engaged to find some solution to this that made sense to everyone and was qualified to do it. So far, Mr. Cawthorne was a light here in this tunnel and so we thought maybe we could find some resolution,” he explained.

Since Mr. Cawthorne, Mr. Evashevski, and Mr. Rentrop were not at the meeting, council tabled further discussion until the August 12 special meeting.

Other Business

Calvin Horn will officially retire as city foreman May 12, 2014, but Mayor Doud noted he started an early retirement on Thursday, August 1.

The mayor scheduled a Transportation Committee meeting for Wednesday, August 14, at 3 p.m. to discuss the city’s winter ferry contract. This spring, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Arnold Transit Company submitted bids for the five-year winter service contract with the city.

After the Transportation Committee meeting, the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee will be presenting the latest draft of its updated ordinance at a public information meeting at 5 p.m. (See separate story on page 3 in this issue.)

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