By P.J. GLISSON firstname.lastname@example.org
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on the Gogebic County branch of the Michigan Townships Association. The members – who normally meet six times a year – managed to gather outdoors in the townships of Bessemer, Erwin and Ironwood during the warmer months of 2020. However, due to passing lockdowns, varying state meeting restrictions and general precautions, members have not united since mid-fall of last year. There is hope now of scheduling a meeting in the coming month. Erwin Township Supervisor Larry Grimsby told the Daily Globe on Thursday that he is in the process of trying to get a session scheduled. The matter is complicated by the fact that the local township group also has not had a leader since John Cox retired last November as Wakefield Township supervisor. By association, that means Cox also bowed out as GCMTA chair after a social-distanced meeting in the Marenisco Town Hall on Oct. 27. “John did a really good job in his outreach and everything,” said Grimsby, who added that, so far, “I haven’t had anybody (else) say they’d like to lead.” A December meeting, which would have included a Christmas party, had been scheduled for the Wakefield Township Hall but was cancelled. A February meeting also was dropped.
Grimsby said the timing finally seems right. Townships have processed many Board of Review concerns, and the state has loosened up restrictions for meeting in person. Moreover, he said of COVID19 shots, “Almost everybody now has been vaccinated.” Although members of many other governmental entities have held meetings online, Grimsby said that was never practical for the GCMTA, which has 32 members, plus visitors. “It’s too large for Zoom,” said Cox on Thursday regarding one of the most popular online meeting options. He agreed with Grimsby’s claim that virtual sessions – particularly in more remote township areas – are rife with connectivity issues, technological problems, and general confusion. “That’s not a good format for MTA at all,” said Cox, who emphasized the importance of members meeting in person. “That’s huge,” he said, pointing out that members traditionally eat supper together just prior to each formal session. “The kind of conversations you have prior to the meeting are sometimes better than the entire agenda.”
Beyond the more formal meeting topics, Cox said GCMTA members use each other as springboards for common concerns. By contrast, he claimed that you can call to ask state officials a question, but he kidded regarding the answer, “They read it out of a book.” Grimsby said that he hopes, by talking with each supervisor in advance of the next meeting, he can spur interest toward new leadership. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a supervisor,” he said. “We have some very experienced trustees.” Bruce Mahler, who was just elected as supervisor of Marenisco Township last November, said he also believes that anyone with the right history will lead the group well. Mahler said the situation is further hampered by the fact that many of the townships have a number of newly-elected members. Jay Kangas is a new supervisor in Ironwood Township, and all of the members on Wakefield Township’s board are new, except for Mandy Lake, who had served as clerk before being elected last November as supervisor. She also has additional responsibilities with other employment.
Although Grimsby is not newly elected, he said he has his own farm to run. His township office also has a new treasurer, Roberta Nuce, and a new clerk, Betty Perkis. “We kind of operate on a team concept,” said Grimsby in explaining his own lack of interest in running the GCMTA. “I think everyone’s just waiting until we can meet,” said Mahler, adding that the right person then will “rise to the top.”
He added that it’s also important to address other current concerns. “There’s all sorts of issues,” he said. “One of the most important issues is the potential closure of Line 5.” Built in 1953 and operated by Canada-based Enbridge Inc., Line 5 travels from Superior, Wisconsin, to southern Ontario, Canada. It crosses the Upper Peninsula and goes under the Straights of Mackinac to the Lower Peninsula, between Lakes Huron and Michigan. As Mahler noted, the line supplies 65% of the U.P.’s propane needs, and if it is closed, townships with related pipes transferring the raw product here will lose the associated income. Moreover, he said, “That product is still going to come.” He added that “more expensive and more dangerous” transport will be used such as trucks and rail cars. Grimsby said other issues include continuing concerns regarding the pandemic and – always of interest to townships – the status of roads. He said that Barry Bolich, GCRC manager, is anxious to update the townships, as is Jim Lorenson, liaison from the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners. Grimsby said that – if an April meeting can be scheduled – he’s willing to get it rolling until a new chair is elected. “I’d be more than happy to host it here,” he said of the Erwin Township Hall. If the April session occurs, it will be the first time that the GCMTA has met in six months