By Sterling McGinn

After announcing plans to remove the trees in the downtown section—a sore subject for many residents—the Newberry Village Council has decided to rescind that discission —at least for now.

The tree removal project was just one of the items discussed at the council’s monthly meeting which took place on Tuesday, August 16 at 6 p.m. in the Water and Light building.

The matter of removing the trees this fall has concerned a number of residents including Pete Wurdock, who spoke during the first public comment portion.

He wondered when the trees first became an issue and how long the village had been aware of the situation.

“I have done my own research, and I have consulted with the Michigan State University Department of Forestry…the consensus is that it can take up to ten years or more for roots of these healthy trees to break down,” Wurdock said. “Cutting them down and covering them with cement would only make subsequent repairs more difficult, if not impossible.”

He also wanted to know how removing the trees would benefit the residents of Newberry.

“These trees are what makes the village quaint—without them the village would be soulless.”

Later in the meeting, Village Manager Allison Watkins updated the board on the tree project.

“We have decided to put the tree removal on hold until we can determine the best course of action,” said Watkins. “The trees will remain until further notice to give us time to ideally contact an arborist and see what needs to come out and what can stay.”

She also noted that the bid for the tree removal will not go out at this time.

Another major topic discussed that evening was council trustee reduction, a subject which was previously considered in February.

The board held a public hearing prior to the regular council session in February to gather reactions and concerns from residents, and only one citizen attended.

A two-thirds majority vote was required to pass the resolution allowing for the reduction from six trustees to four, however, the motion failed because a unanimous vote is required with only five trustee seats being filled at the time.

Citing his concern of losing representation on the council, longtime trustee Dennis Hendrickson cast the sole nay vote on the matter at the February meeting, which caused the motion to fail.

Enough time has elapsed since the last vote allowing the council to again discuss the subject. Law prevented the board from voting on the matter for a certain length of time.

“Here we are again,” said village president Catherine Freese. “We discussed this a few months back—we did take a vote on it after a public hearing and the vote did not pass.”

The council currently has six trustee seats chaired by a president. There has been an open trustee position available for two years and the second vacant seat was recently filled with returning trustee Jeff Puckett.

Three of the six seats are filled with appointed trustees which are required to run in the November election and two more have occupants who are at the end of their term.

“No one is submitting any interest,” Freese said. She believes some individuals may be hesitant to submit letters of interest because of the election in Novemeber. “If we were to appoint anybody, they would only be serving a couple of months.”

The lack of trustees has also brought forth a concern regarding voting procedures. When the council needs to vote on a motion, the vote tally is based on the number of chairs. Four council members are needed to make a quorum. Some matters and situations, usually topics of importance and closed sessions, require a two-thirds majority, which means five council members must be present. “If you only have five people—that vote has to be unanimous,” Freese said.

If the council can reduce their number of seats, the board would consist of four trustees and a president. Three council members would be considered a quorum and a two-thirds majority would require four members to be present.

Freese said that in the upcoming election, if more than five people are on the council in November, then the board would continue to operate as a council of seven until those seats became vacant and not filled. The board would move forward with a five-member council if that is what is determined by the Novemeber election.

Voters can expect to see five positions on the ballot, though there are only three candidates running for the positions. Trustee Kip Cameron, who was appointed the board in November of 2019 and elected in 2020, has the only seat not up for election. His position is set to expire in November of 2024.

The village president seat is a separate vote on the ballot, and one person has submitted paperwork for that position. If only three people run for the five positions, that will leave the council with only four trustees and a president.

“I am a strong supporter of the seven-member council; however, we have been functioning without enough membership,” stated Hendrickson. “The vote of two-thirds means every one of us has to be here, and these are financial and important matters.”

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 20, just prior to the beginning of their regular meeting.

If the council votes to move forward with trustee reduction, the resulting ordinance would be implemented 45 days later, unless a petition contesting the decision is signed by no less than 10 percent of registered voters and submitted within the 45-day period.

Other council business that evening included the payment of village payables and reports from village management and officers.