2017-08-03 / Front Page

Solon planners told not to speak to public

But state law does not apply
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Solon Township residents trying to express their opinions about a proposed medical marijuana facility directly to Planning Commission members are getting a cold — but polite — shoulder.

According to one Planning Commission member, that’s because they’ve been told not to speak directly to residents about the proposal. The directive came from Solon zoning administrator Tim Cypher, according to Planning Commission vice chairman Laura Tarsa.

She said she’s been pulled in many directions on the issue, and is trying her best to follow proper procedure.

“Tim Cypher has asked that we direct things to the public comment and to him because if we have questions about the application, he has that information. That would be more direct information,” Tarsa said after being contacted by the Enterprise.

Cypher, when contacted for this story starting Tuesday afternoon, said he wanted to respond with a written statement. That statement came in too late to include in this story, but is published on page 19.

Cypher’s involvement in controlling conversations with public officials about the project went further when he warned County Sheriff Mike Borkovich that his phone calls to Solon Planning Commission members may violate the state Open Meetings Act.

“I talked to one person and left messages to three, and then I got a call from Tim Cypher who thought I was on the border of being in violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Borkovich recalled. “He also told Undersheriff (Steve) Morgan the same thing, that we were on the border of violating the Open Meetings Act. I didn’t think it was because there wasn’t a quorum.”

He’s right, according to Robin Luce-Hermann, attorney for the Michigan Press Association. She represents newspapers that watch carefully over public bodies to ensure compliance with the OMA.

“That is not an OMA violation,” said Luce-Hermann, in reference to a member of a public body talking directly to constituents outside of meetings. “This has someone outside the public body approaching all the members of that body.”

Morgan, who said he was speaking as a Solon Township resident, confirmed that his efforts to talk directly with planning commissioners have been rebuffed for the same reason.

“I attempted to contact members of the Planning Commission early-on after the first meeting I attended. I was told they could not talk to me, that they were directed not to talk to me. I asked why, and I was informed that it could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Morgan said.

He said he knew discussions with public officials were exempt from the OMA, so he pressed for more information.

“I was also told they were instructed not to talk to the public, and to refer all questions to Mr. Cypher. I called Tim Cypher the following day... and I brought up the planning commissioner I had called. Mr. Cypher said, ‘That’s right, they are not to talk to individual members of the public” and all questions were to be directed to him. He said it would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Morgan continued.

He said residents have been upset at how the proposed Zoning Ordinance change has been guided through the process.

“At the first meeting I attended, arrangements were made for each Planning Commission member to set up an appointment and visit the proposed location. I was told that all but two of them did that. This was arranged by Mr. Cypher. To go up and spend time along with (applicant Sam) Rosinski and go over the plan. Yet members of the public could not talk to commissioners directly. That’s always bothered me. I couldn’t see how this was a fair way of having all opinions heard,” he said.

Solon Township Supervisor Jim Lautner said he had not been asked by Cypher to restrain conversations with constituents. He said he knows that such discussions are allowed.

“Nobody told us as a board that we can’t discuss this. The Township Board can talk to anyone one-on-one,” Lautner said.

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