COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Three Rivers city commissioners discuss a plan following a closed session Tuesday via Zoom teleconference to draft a recreational marijuana shop ordinance and put it to a vote in 2021.

City to draft recreational marijuana shop ordinance, put on 2021 ballot

THREE RIVERS — It will soon be up to the citizens of Three Rivers whether or not recreational marijuana shops will be allowed in its city limits.

However, they may have to wait until 2021.

Following a more than hour-long closed session during their meeting Tuesday via Zoom teleconference to discuss legal opinion on pending litigation, the Three Rivers City Commission took the first step toward putting the issue of recreational marijuana shops in the hands of voters.

In a 5-2 roll call vote, commissioners voted to have City Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley prepare an ordinance under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MRTMA). It would eventually be submitted to the planning commission for a review and report, and then come back to commissioners for approval to be submitted at the “first available election” in 2021, O’Malley said, for citizens to vote on.

Second District Commissioner Alison Haigh and At-Large Commissioner Daryl Griffith dissented on the vote.

“The concept is that the ordinance or ordinances presented to the public is one that has the blessing of the city commission,” O’Malley said prior to the vote.

The measure is a response to pending litigation against City Clerk Melissa Bliss that seeks to compel her to canvass and certify a petition submitted by Jobs For Michigan Communities (JFMC), a ballot question committee, to put a similar ordinance on the November 2020 ballot that would allow recreational marijuana shops in city limits. That case had its first hearing Tuesday morning in St. Joseph County Circuit Court, which was eventually adjourned to Sept. 8.

It is unclear whether the city’s move will affect legal proceedings in the case.

Before the vote, At-Large Commissioner Clayton Lyczynski said it’s important to make sure the commission is “doing our due diligence” to represent the citizens of Three Rivers.

“I think the clear intention from what was presented to us is that there is a desire for a vote, so I think moving forward with coming up with this proposal about the issue is something I want to do to help represent the citizens who clearly have some desire for some ballot initiative to be part of the decision-making process,” Lyczynski said.

Mayor Tom Lowry echoed Lyczynski’s comments, adding that commissioners want to have “maximum input” on anything that goes to the citizens.

“The majority of the commission, I think, want to have the maximum input on anything that goes to the citizens, that we don’t automatically accept an ordinance from an outside agency or committee, that if we are going to ask the citizens to vote, that we draft it to reflect our community, not someone else’s wishes, but that it reflect our community and the city commission, and that we have the opportunity to educate our citizens as much as possible,” Lowry said.

Lowry added that the commission is “not acquiescing to an outside hustler group” that has put the city “under the gun,” and that they’re trying to give the citizens “the best opportunity to vote with the most education.”

“If we’re in charge of that process, that makes that the most possible,” Lowry said.

Members of the public commented on the situation during the citizen comments section early on in Tuesday’s meeting prior to the closed session. Andrew George, who helped lead the petition effort, commented on the legal process and the delay in the proceedings, blaming the entire situation on “political biases.”

“Make no mistake that this is not due to reasons of the petition not being valid or legal, there are biases at work here right now,” George said. “Today, they succeeded a bit in delaying this petition and forcing it to another ballot.” He then encouraged commissioners to make a motion to put the issue on the ballot.

Kathy Bingaman, who has been involved in previous ballot initiatives that have been struck down by the city, said people “just want to vote,” no matter what the subject matter is.

“We’ve done petitions in the past, the people just want to vote,” Bingaman said. “You can see a trend happening here, and it’s not a good one. The people just want to be heard. It doesn’t matter what the subject is this time. I’m here speaking because we just want to be heard. Please let us citizens vote.”

Lynn McLeod commented next, echoing George and Bingaman’s comments. She said she was herself a “victim of the font/margin rule” that “disallowed” the TR Cares petition, a bond issue petition and the sports complex petition in the past few years.

“This is the fourth time in the last three years that the public has brought petitions to the city commission with more than enough signatures on the petitions and because of some obscure rule that isn’t black and white, it’s totally subjective, they get thrown out and are never spoken of again,” McLeod said. “When you go into your closed meeting, I need you to discuss that like Andrew said — I echo what he said and what Kathy Bingaman said — because I myself have pounded the pavement to get the signatures for various reasons that should be afforded to a vote of the public. What are you afraid of?”

The Commercial-News has reached out to JFMC lawyer Douglas Mains for comment, and will update this story if and when we hear back.

In other business…

  • Commissioners approved the use of $7,500 to McKenna Associates to finalize the city’s Master Plan. Lowry said comments submitted during the 63-day public comment period on the plan will be incorporated before a final plan is submitted to the commission for approval. Planning Commission chair John Beebe said that process could take a “couple of months.”
  • Commissioners approved three anticipated and budgeted purchase orders for the wastewater treatment plant. They approved the use of $13,632.60 for 60 tons of Haydite media to replace wood media in a biofilter, $73,628.47 for rotating assembly repairs for two Sulzer pumps, and $14,152.02 for a second change order on a final clarifier coating project.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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