County Commissioners Approve Resolution Supporting Free Press, Funding For Acme Connector Trail

Grand Traverse County’s commissioners on Wednesday approved a bipartisan resolution expressing their support for a free press and condemning violence against the media after local journalists were attacked on two separate incidents last year while covering events . The commissioners also approved a resolution in which Dr. Michael Collins was thanked for 28 years at the Grand Traverse County’s Department of Health after the county recently decided not to renew his contract – a move that sparked extensive discussion at the commission meeting on Wednesday – and $ 50,000 pledged to help fill a funding gap for the upcoming Acme Connector Trail construction.

Free press release
Commissioners unanimously voted on Wednesday for a resolution in support of a free press, jointly drafted by Democratic Commissioner Betsy Coffia and Republican Commissioner Penny Morris. Morris said she heard Coffia was working on the resolution and offered to co-sponsor it because she was concerned that “people everywhere are being bullied for doing their job” and that it is important to publicly reiterate that “Freedom of the press” is a constitutionally protected right that is anchored in the first amendment to the constitution ”, it says in the language of the resolution.

“We need to be informed and we appreciate being informed,” said Morris. “The media shed light on things that might otherwise be kept under a rock … they do a tough job in an increasingly hostile environment.” agree, Coffia and Morris said, “A free press serves a critical purpose in keeping our communities informed and providing essential transparency and accountability,” the language of the resolution said.

After local reporters were attacked while reporting a press event with Governor Gretchen Whitmer at Discovery Pier in May and again while reporting an anti-masking event in Silver Lake Recreation Area in September, Coffia said local leaders need to rhetorically ” weaken “. The resolution said that the district commissioners “recognize the unique challenges facing the press in a political climate that often incites hostility, threats, harassment and even violence against their profession,” and that the commissioners “clearly all threats and condemn acts of violence ”. to the free press. “

Commissioner Rob Hentschel and Commissioner Brad Jewett – who attended the anti-masking event with Commissioner Ron Clous – thanked Coffia and Morris for presenting the resolution. Although Hentschel said he did not personally witness the attack on Traverse City Record Eagle reporter Brendan Quealy at the event, Hentschel said the incident was “a real moment” that worried him. “I have to be honest, it freaked me out,” he said. While Hentchel admitted that the event organizers didn’t want Quealy to cover the gathering, which was held in a public park, he said “they certainly didn’t want violence”. Jewett added that commissioners often attend community events “whether we support them or not” so that they can learn about issues and that the media is usually at those events as well. “This board supports the press and they do their work … we stand behind them, so to speak,” he said.

Collins dissolution
The district commissioners passed a resolution on Wednesday in which they asked Dr. Thank Michael Collins for 28 years of service with the Grand Traverse County’s Department of Health after the district administrators recently decided not to renew his contract. The timing of this non-renewal following a forum article published by Collins criticizing commissioners for political interference in the Department of Health’s operations drew criticism from several Collins supporters during public commentary. Collins himself also reached out to the board, saying the administrators had not made a performance-related statement for his resignation and that he believed the commissioners “silenced” the Department of Health at a time in the pandemic when their “expertise and advice” are most needed.

County administrators first spoke at length about Collins’ split on Wednesday, citing the need to clear up public misunderstandings about the case. Staff said there were concerns about Collins’s performance among several health department employees, with health officer Wendy Hirschenberger confirming that there had been a “breakdown in communication and trust” between her and other health workers and Collins during the pandemic. “We weren’t on the same page in the end,” she said, noting that Collins’ decision to speak to the media was one of those wedge issues. While Hirschenberger said she knew the timing of the contract’s non-renewal was “suspicious” in light of Collins’ forum post, she said the pre-existing broken relationship between employees was the primary reason for the non-renewal. She noted that commissioners do not normally submit contracts that are not renewed, so the commissioners were not notified prior to the split and that the termination of Collins’ agreement was “not an easy decision” to make. “

Coffia said the Commission’s decision in August to set parameters for the Department of Health’s communications and mandates on vaccines and masks – which led Collins to draft his public censure – was an example of a recurring trend on the board of directors, “unnecessary.” to take up topics to be polarized that are not in our area ”. Lane. “She said this made it harder for staff to work and created” more division in our community. “Coffia urged the board to stop making such decisions and instead focus on pressing issues such as strategic planning and defining an approach on spending $ 18 million in federal aid to Grand Traverse County.While commissioners disagreed on whether or not to agree to Collins being fired, the board officially voted for a resolution approving him and others Thanked employees of the Ministry of Health and Administration for their service to the county.

Acme Connector Trail
A project to build the 1.8 mile long Acme Connector Trail – which will connect the current terminus of the TART Trail on Bunker Hill Road with the intersection of the M-72 and US-31 in Acme (pictured) – is imminent, after district officials agreed to fill nearly half of a $ 115,000 funding gap for the project on Wednesday.

The link, which will also include a section to the east towards the Acme Meijer store and the Grand Traverse Town Center development, is valued at $ 1.5 million. Julie Clark, chief executive officer of TART Trails, said nearly $ 1.4 million has been raised, including a $ 300,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund to the Acme Township, a township -Match of $ 75,000, a donation of $ 27,500 (plus an easement) from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and $ 875,000 in private donations, among others.

The district commissioners agreed to provide $ 50,000 – $ 25,000 in 2021 and $ 25,000 in 2022 – to fill the remaining funding gap. Clark told the ticker after the meeting that TART has a plan to fill the remainder of the funding gap, although the organization may need to re-evaluate if construction offers are above estimate. Bids are due by the end of this month; Assuming they come in as planned, construction on the trails will begin this winter and be completed next summer, according to Clark.

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