September 24, 2017

Volunteers interested in raising money to help fund special election for MSUE

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WEST BRANCH — The topic of a possible special election and millage proposal for the Michigan State University Extension was once again discussed in part at last week’s Ogemaw County Board of Commissioners meeting, with volunteer Vicki Rau saying other volunteers are looking to start raising funds to help offset the cost.

Rau spoke during public comment at the Dec. 22 commissioners’ meeting. She said people are willing to volunteer to help run the election and donate funds, though she said not much money has been collected because she wasn’t sure it was legal to use that money to help pay for the election.

The county has said it would cost between $35,000-$40,000 to hold a special election.

“I don’t know if it’s even feasible to raise $36,000,” Rau said. “We’ll do the best that we can. But we even talked about possibly, whatever we raise whether it be $10,000 or $12,000, if it would be something that if we don’t get enough to get on the ballot, whether it would be something you would consider possibly helping us with, and get MSU involved to at least limp along until 2018 until we can get it put on the right election.”

County Clerk Gary Klacking told Rau he didn’t think there was any issue with election workers volunteering without pay. He said those agreements are through the individual municipalities, not the county, so it wouldn’t necessarily save the county any money.

Commissioner Brenda Simmons said she was concerned with the legality of funds being raised for the election.

“It’s kind of like bribing the county to put something on the ballot for an organization,” Simmons said. “It’d be like other organizations coming to us trying to bribe us to put it on the ballot. I just don’t think it’s legal for an organization to raise money to pay for the election. This appears to me that it’s not kosher.”

But Chairman Greg Illig said he didn’t agree.

“I don’t see where it’s a bribe if they’re trying to get something passed on their own” he said. “It’s going in front of the people to vote on it.”

Commissioner Ron Quackenbush said he also didn’t agree with Simmons’ assessment, but that the county should make sure it was legal before proceeding.

“I wouldn’t have a problem with a group of citizens coming up with the funds to do it if it is legal,” he said. “I think in other instances, on a statewide level, we’ve seen something similar to that happen, but I wouldn’t say for sure.”

MSUE’s Kelley Hiemstra said she had spoken to MSUE’s legal counsel and the way the volunteers were proceeding was legal.

“Our citizens here have developed a political action committee,” Hiemstra said. “That committee can raise money and donate it to whatever organization or wherever they would like to donate it. So if they wanted to donate their money to help pay for expenses the county incurs on printing the ballots, they can do that.”

She said those members could also encourage people to vote yes, and they can try to influence citizens to vote that way.

Hiemstra also noted to commissioners that MSUE was a good partner for the county with regard to the failed Headlee restoration millage proposal.

“We really worked hard for the Headlee to pass,” Hiemstra said. “We are good citizens. All of our volunteer leaders worked hard for the Headlee.”

And she said those volunteers asked commissioners to do something different in November when the request failed the first time in August.

“They came to you and asked for a separate millage and you said that you couldn’t separate extension because you needed them as part of the Headlee,” Hiemstra said. “I think the risk for this millage is low. I think the citizens here want 4-H. They want agriculture. They want the leadership. They want the health and nutrition.”

“We’re putting things on hold because we don’t know if we’re going to be here,” Hiemstra said.

She again told commissioners that if the county charged rent to MSUE for use of its offices, it could recoup the cost from the election if a millage request passed. She also said similar proposals passed in every township in Iosco and Alcona counties recently.

“What about Oscoda County?” Simmons asked her.

MSUE failed in Oscoda County several years ago, but Hiemstra said that was a very different situation.

“That was a much smaller county that Ogemaw,” she said. “They had a fraction of what you have in Ogemaw. A fraction of 4-H. A fraction of all of our programs.”

She also said she had been approached by a couple of the new incoming commissioners in Oscoda County about the possibility of trying to bring MSUE back to the county.

Commissioners made no motions and no decisions on the topic during the meeting. It will likely be discussed more in the coming months.

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