County residents voice concerns over Board of Commissioners meeting times

Published 11:33 am Friday, June 24, 2022

ST. JOSEPH — Questions about Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting times were raised Thursday by two area residents. Thursday’s county board meeting also featured action on routine items and reports from committees. 

Adolph Peltzer of Hagar Township was the first to speak in public comments. He told commissioners they need to do more to listen and represent county residents. 

“There are three or four of us here representing the county’s 174,000 residents,” he said. “I have recommended things and represent those people. You guys don’t want to do anything for us, why don’t you ask us how to spend our money?” 

“In a democracy, you should ask the public when meetings should be,” he added. “You’re excluding 90 percent of the public by having the meetings in the morning. If you put it to a vote, most people would say they want the board to meet in the evenings.” 

Tony Benhart of Sodus Township had a different concern. He thinks board committee meetings should be available for residents to see on the county’s YouTube channel. Currently, only county board meetings are live-streamed as the committee meetings are held in rooms at the Administration Center without that capability. 

He suggested that the county board re-arrange their meeting schedule to have committee meetings held at staggered times instead of all at the same time. The committee meetings could then be held in the board meeting room so they could be live-streamed. 

“Then people can hear what’s going on in those meetings and it would also be more in compliance with the Open Meetings Act,” he said. “Right now, people can’t go to the meetings that are held at the same time. They should have the right to see what’s going on at those meetings. You should rethink those things and have all the meetings in this room.” 

In committee reports, Administration Committee Chairman Jim Curran gave a recap of the presentations made to his committee. He said Buildings and Grounds Director Robert Ray updated them on county facility projects. Ray said that work is concentrating mainly on the Courthouse and Jail which are the oldest buildings and need the most repairs. 

Curran said County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli updated them on the prosecutor’s office including the need to hire more staff to deal with record keeping. Pierangeli said that his staff has to deal with reviewing and redacting police body camera footage and that work will only increase as Michigan State Police troopers have started using body cams. 

Curran said the county board will be asked to approve four new support personnel positions for the prosecutor’s office in coming weeks, two evidence support positions and two case management positions. Job descriptions are currently being written for the posts and county officials are looking at ways to get state funding for them. 

In action, commissioners approved a grant application for a snowmobile law enforcement grant for the 2022-23 winter season in the amount of $8,627. They also amended the drug treatment court grant allocation in order to reflect an increase in funding. 

Commissioners also approved a memo with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget to credit the county for investments made to enhance 9-1-1 service. The new agreement recognizes the addition of a new repeater tower at the Lakeland Watervliet facility. 

Other action taken Thursday included an agreement with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget for aerial mapping in the county to be done throughout the year and an agreement with four other entities to share legal costs in fighting a Tax Tribunal appeal by American Electric Power for the value of the Cook Nuclear Plant. 

The county board’s June 30 meeting will be a special tribute to honor former Sheriff Forrest “Nick” Jewell who died in May. 

The county board’s July 7 meeting will be a night meeting held in Three Oaks.