Under new management

Board of trustees works to define role


MARQUETTE — There’s a new manager in Chocolay Township. The question is, can he also keep a position on the planning commission?

Jon Kangas, the former Ishpeming Department of Public Works director, attended his first Chocolay Township Board meeting as the township manager on Monday.

Kangas has served for about a year on the Chocolay Township Planning Commission. It’s a position that township Supervisor Richard Bohjanen and several board trustees would like him to keep.

“As I see it by rules, he would be eligible to hold that seat,” Bohjanen said. “But I guess the question comes up — how does he feel about it, and how does the board feel about it.”

Trustee Donald Rhein, who is also a member of the planning commission, echoed Bohjanen’s support.

“I have worked with him in the last couple of months and I find he is knowledgeable, knows what he is talking about and is able to get things done,” Rhein said.

Trustee Mark Maki said he agreed that Kangas is a good fit for the planning commission, but noted that a municipal manager serving in that type of role may be in violation of state law.

“I would like to see him on there too. (But) the Michigan Planning Enabling Act states that a local elected official or an employee of the local government is not eligible to be a member of the planning commission,” Maki said. “What I also know is that we have never had an employee as a member of the planning commission.”

And documents from Michigan State University, an entity that has offered municipal planning extension courses through the Michigan Association of Planning, seem to support Maki’s point.

According to an MSU Extension fact sheet published in January 2014, municipal employees are not permitted to be on the planning commission of the city, township or village they are employed with.

“Strictly interpreting the law, anyone paid as an employee by the local unit of government for rendering services, or serving as an officer of the local unit, excluding those eligible to serve as ex officio members, may not serve on the planning commission,” the fact sheet states.

Kangas said he would be willing to serve on the planning commission as long as it does not represent an operational or legal conflict.

“I don’t mind being on the planning commission if it moves the goals of the township forward,” Kangas said. “If it presents a conflict with my day job, then obviously the day job comes first.”

The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Bohjanen said he would conduct research on the issue and bring it before the board at the next meeting.

Kangas replaces former Chocolay Township Manager Steve Lawry, who had held the position for over seven years.

Lawry was also honored for his service to the township during the meeting.

Bohjanen said he heard positive feedback about Kangas before he started the job.

“Over the New Year’s weekend — with the flooding at the mouth of the Chocolay River and all — I talked to a lot of people … and every one of them said, ‘You’ve got a good guy coming in.’ He comes highly recommended and I am glad he’s here,” Bohjanen said.

Kangas, a resident of the township, was one of three candidates interviewed for the position by the Chocolay Township Board at a special meeting on Dec. 18.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.