Michigan township leaders meet in Harris

Ilsa Minor | Daily Press Audience members listen as former Escanaba Township Attorney Terry Burkhart, of Burkhart, Lewandowski & Miller, PC in Escanaba, presented on solar energy facilities in townships during the Michigan Township Association UP North Summit Monday at the Island Resort and Casino. The event drew a wide variety of township officials, from trustees and treasurers to zoning administrators and planning commissioners.

HARRIS — The Michigan Township Association’s UP North Summit kicked off at the Island Resort and Casino this week, drawing local officials from across the region to hear about key issues in township government.

“This is our first time back in person since the pandemic,” said Shelley Cardenas, certified municipal planner and knowledge center education director for the MTA, who noted all other training and events through the MTA had been virtual since the start of the pandemic.

While social distancing and mask-wearing was heavily encouraged at the event, there was no shortage of officials at the event. The summit reached its maximum amount of in-person registrations days before its start, leaving late registrants who wished to attend with only recorded versions of the sessions and breakouts through a “Virtual Summit.”

A highlight for Monday’s sessions was “What Your Township Needs to Know About Solar Energy Facilities.” During the session, Terry Burkhart, attorney with Burkhart, Lewandowski & Miller, PC in Escanaba, spoke about lessons learned from the battle over whether or not to allow large-scale solar facilities on agricultural land in Escanaba Township.

While Burkhart has since been replaced as the township’s representation for solar and other zoning issues, he was a key player in early discussions between the township and Orion Energy over the proposed Chandler Solar Farm, which was slated to be built in Escanaba Township and Cornell Township. Currently, a moratorium on solar development is in place in Escanaba Township and the development remains on hold.

Another session featuring a U.P. township took place Tuesday afternoon. The session titled “Fraud Prevention” featured Ironwood Charter Township Clerk Mary Segalin, who discussed how townships can develop sound policies, procedures and internal controls for detecting and preventing fraud. The session also featured MTA Member Information Services Liaison Cindy Dodge.

As the summit was designed to address a wide variety of township-specific needs, the majority of speakers were from outside the local area. Guests of the summit heard from representatives of the state’s Bureau of Elections to learn about new and upcoming changes to the election process, MTA staff on managing township finances and proper etiquette in the face of negativity from community members and other officials, and others on recreation, ordinances, and running productive meetings.

The event also featured general sessions on legislative happenings, marijuana regulation, and assessing; a dinner with entertainment for participants; and the “Northern Market Expo,” which brought state agencies and others to the Island to share how their services and products could enhance township operations.

Following the summit, a post-summit session took place Tuesday on cemetery management. The three-hour class, which included dinner, addressed many of the legal obligations for cemeteries, budgetary and management issues, roles and responsibilities of various cemetery-related local offices, and a discussion of alternative burial practices, such as “green” or “natural” burials.


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