By Sterling McGinn
The Columbus Township Board is facing an uncertain future.
So far, only one individual of the five-member board has decided to run for reelection, which will leave four open seats for the general election in November of 2024.
No one has stepped forward and expressed an interest for the other four positions.
This leaves residents and voters with concerns. Who will run? Will the township dissolve? Will it merge with a neighboring township?
Outgoing members feel now’s the time to get involved and see what the townships does.
The current township supervisor, Jeannie King, has served since November of 2012. She will not seek re-election.
“At this point in my life, personally, I will have served 12 years at the next election cycle,” said Jeannie King. “There are just some other things I would like to do.”
Three of those four seats include positions that handle the day-to-day business of the township. Those include: the supervisor, treasurer (which is currently filled by Jeannie’s husband Kelly King), and the clerk, which is held by Don Leech.
“If the treasurer and clerk’s positions are not filled specifically, the township cannot function,” explained Jeannie King. “They are the only two positions that can sign checks and pay the bills for the township.”
The clerk can run meetings until a supervisor is found.
The other trustee, Emerson Smith, has also decided to call it quits after this term is over.
“Going forward, the hope would be that someone will run for these positions,” she explained. “We need to have those offices filled and we would love to have someone who might have an interest in the jobs come and see what they entail.”
But King would like for interested individuals to come in and sit down long before the election. This is so prospective board members can understand the scope of their duties before taking office.
Outgoing board members will assist during the transition period and help the newly elected individuals through the Michigan Townships Association training.
McMillan resident Laura Generou moved back to her hometown several years ago and has regularly attended Columbus Township Board meetings.
“I would like to think people will care enough about our township to run,” said Generou. “People have told me they don’t feel they are qualified. As in almost any job, you aren’t expected to step into the position and know everything. The technical parts can be taught, and the Michigan Townships Association and current and past boards are willing to help.”
Ed Auge, who has been on the board for 43 years, plans to remain in office to serve the community. He has lived in McMillan most of his life.
“I personally believe that there will be people to fill these positions,” Auge said.
Not long after board members announced their plan to not rerun for election, rumors about the future of Columbus Township began to circulate.
One rumor suggested that the township board was going to spend down their funds, then dissolve. Another rumor claimed that Columbus would merge with Lakefield and Pentland Township.
“I have heard a rumor that we may combine with Lakefield and that there won’t be a Columbus Township anymore,” said McMillan resident Sheila Reed. “Someone needs to step up.”
Jeannie King said the board hasn’t discussed merging with Lakefield. “I think blending with another township would be a last resort.”
Legally, a township can’t just dissolve. Another township within the county would have to agree to merge with or annex the other. A percentage of property owners can petition the county commissioners, who could then vote on a merge. Or five percent of the township residents can sign a petition for the county commissioners to okay a township merge to take place. Voters of both townships in question would have to approve the merger.
“If there are vacancies after the general November election next year, the outgoing people would have to ‘hold office’ through January, when a vacancy in those offices would be created,” said Michael Selden, who serves as the director of information services for the Michigan Townships Association.
The board of county election commissioners would name temporary appointees to establish a quorum for the transaction of business. Appointees will only serve until the official’s successor is elected or appointed and qualified.
“I don’t think that it would go that far by any means, but that is the likely progression of what could happen,” King said. “I would be sorely disappointed if no one has any interest in these jobs. If someone is interested, we will do our best to bring them in and get them situated.”
Columbus Township covers 143.16 miles of Luce County and as of the 2020 census, the township maintains a population of 169. Columbus Township also has its own fire department, which was established in 1983. The fire department also services Lakefield Township.
The board meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the Township Hall located next door to the Offside Grill and Pub (formerly the Cobblestone).