Anger and frustration from horse country residents who believe they’re being ignored bubbled over during the Dec. 12 Oxford Township Board meeting following a vote to replace a longtime planning commissioner. They disrupted the proceedings leading officers from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office to ask people to leave after they failed to heed the same request from Supervisor Bill Dunn.
“We’re sick of it. We don’t care. Throw us out,” shouted a woman in the audience. “We’re sick of you and all your lies and all the crap that’s going on down there. We’re tired of it. Do you know you brought us to this point? We’re done. We are done being patient and coming in here.”
“(Dunn has) provided everybody an opportunity to speak,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford Township substation, as he addressed the crowd. “They made their decision. He’s asking you to leave. Your behavior’s going to get you guys in trouble.”
Property owners from horse, or hunt, country, which consisted of a mix of residents from Oxford, Metamora, Dryden and Addison townships, filled the room to express support for who they believe should represent them on the planning commission and opposition to Dunn’s choice for the seat.
“I think it’s very, very important, actually imperative, that we have somebody . . . on the planning commission that represents our interests,” said John Yarema, a Dryden Township resident who lives on Jonathan Rd.
“We are the people that live here and vote and pay your salaries and we’d like you to listen to us when we talk about who we should have on the board, not just someone you handpicked that’s going to go along with your agenda,” said Ginny Benson, who lives on Barber Rd. in Oxford Township.
“We would like to see someone who actually understands and participates (in the horse community and) with whom we have some relationship, who engages in the same kind of activity,” said Janine Klayman, a Metamora Township resident who lives on Barber Rd.
Despite protests from the audience, township officials voted 7-0 to appoint Meg Knauf, who lives on Gardner Rd. in the northeast quadrant, to a three-year term on the commission beginning Jan. 1, 2019 and ending Dec. 31, 2021.
She will replace Kallie Roesner-Meyers, a Delano Rd. resident who has served on the planning commission since 1999 and zoning board of appeals (ZBA) since 1995. Losing her spot on the planning commission means Roesner-Meyers is off the ZBA as well.
It was Dunn’s choice to appoint Knauf in place of Roesner-Meyers.
Planning commission members “are appointed by the township supervisor, subject to approval by a majority vote of the members of the township board,” according to the Authorities and Responsibilities of Michigan Township Officials, Boards and Commissions.
Dunn said Knauf’s “family and in-laws own quite a bit of property” in the northern township. Since interviewing her for the position, the supervisor said Knauf has attended planning commission meetings, reviewed the master plan and read the zoning ordinance to prepare for the appointment.
“I think she’ll be a great asset to the planning commission,” Dunn said.
Knauf grew up in the Village of Leonard and lived there until 1991. She’s lived in Oxford Township for nearly 27 years. She graduated from the now-defunct Oxford Christian Academy in 1983 and worked in the township office from 1991-96.
Horse country offers two alternatives
But the horse country residents made it clear they did not want Knauf.
“I love the Knaufs. I don’t have a problem with them,” said Benson, but “they do not represent horse country.”
“None of them are horse people. None of them have ever showed up at any of our horsey events,” she continued. “The Knaufs do not represent horse people. I don’t know of any of the horse people that even (know) them. And they’re developers, which is anti-hunt country. They don’t represent us.”
Oxford Township resident Bruce Meyers, Kallie’s husband, said when he looks at his Facebook friends, Knauf is “not a friend of anybody on any of my friends’ lists.”
“I have no idea how she can represent horse country . . . Nobody’s heard of her before,” he said. “And in horse country, that’s not good. Everybody knows everybody or knows of them.”
“We don’t even know this individual who you say represents our community,” Klayman said. “I’ve been here since 2005 . . . I live right up the street from this person. I have never seen her at a single equine function, fund-raiser, anything. So, I don’t understand what makes her more qualified than the people who we do know, who are active in this sector of Oxford and this community.”
A petition asking township officials to reappoint Roesner-Meyers was submitted to the board. It was signed by 12 people.
Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari told the crowd he felt Knauf was being treated “unfairly” and “maligned.”
“She’s been in the Oxford-Leonard area her whole life. She didn’t come from Chicago. She didn’t come from another area,” he said.
Ferrari encouraged folks to talk to Knauf and tell her their issues.
“She’s a very reasonable lady,” he said.
But the horse country crowd insisted it wanted either Roesner-Meyers reappointed or an Addison Township resident named Amanda Shelton, a lawyer who owns 120 acres on Oakwood Rd. in Oxford Township, added to the planning commission
Diane Kangas, a Dryden Township resident and representative for the Metamora Equestrian Conservation Alliance (MECA), described Shelton as “highly vested in the hunt country area” and “well liked.”
“She is here to stay and she’s a big part of our community,” Kangas said.
MECA was in favor of the board appointing either Shelton or Roesner-Meyers.
“Both of these women are highly intelligent,” Kangas said. “They represent our area well.”
Kangas noted that when some members of MECA met with Dunn to ask him to consider these two people, the supervisor’s response was “flatout arrogant and very defiant.”
“You were not open to entertain anybody else’s ideas . . . because you had already made up your mind,” she to Dunn.
According to Kangas, Dunn encouraged MECA members to “go knock on (Knauf’s) door and warmly welcome her.”
“We were highly offended by that, obviously,” she said.
Bruce Meyers told officials the planning commission would lose a member with a great deal of historical knowledge if his wife was not reappointed. “I don’t care how good they are, they just don’t have the memory and the history (of what took place at commission meetings) and no way of obtaining it,” he said. “Without her, we lose the history.”
Meyers reminded township officials of his wife’s 24 years of service on boards, her training as a master citizen planner and all the work she’s done for the community.
“Bottom-line is you are supposed to appoint the person most qualified and most representative of an area,” he said. “I don’t know who else you would find that would be more qualified.”
Benson noted Dunn has “handpicked every other person on the planning (commission), but Kallie.”
“Kallie has been a dissenting voice because she’s actually speaking for us in the community, not just going along with whatever agenda has been told to (the planning commission) to follow,” she said.
Referencing state law, Ferrari told the crowd they cannot offer candidates for the board to consider. “It can only be somebody recommended by the supervisor,” he said. “You could (propose) Santa Claus. If Supervisor Dunn doesn’t recommend Santa Claus, it doesn’t mean anything. The only thing we can do as trustees is look at his recommendation . . . You can’t consider anybody else, but who he recommends. Our role in this is to either vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for Mrs. Knauf.”
Ferrari’s words failed to satisfy the audience.
“I am appalled at the absence of listening,” Klayman said. “What is wrong with a community offering up qualified people who they feel represent their interests and asking to have a representative voice in the decisions (regarding) their own community? What is so wrong with that?”
Julia Barlia, a Metamora Township resident who lives on Rock Valley, asked Dunn directly why he is “so close-minded” on this issue.
“I’m curious why you don’t want to have Kallie reappointed or take into consideration Amanda,” she said.
“I have no comment,” Dunn replied.
“He doesn’t like strong women,” a woman yelled from the audience.
Following the vote, folks in the audience stood up and began condemning officials.
“You should all be really embarrassed,” one man said. “You don’t listen to the people in the community. You’re violating responsibility, duty, ethics, morals.”
“You should be taken off to jail,” one woman said. “You guys are so crooked. You don’t give a crap. You don’t do anything for us . . . You just voted in somebody against all of our wills . . . You don’t know anything about us and you don’t care.”
Dunn attempted to restore order.
“I’d like the room cleared, please,” he said.
But audience members continued yelling.
At one point, some folks wanted to know why Knauf, who was in attendance, didn’t go the podium to address the board and audience.
“Tell us how many horses you own,” called out one man.
Knauf declined to speak.
“Would you speak to this group of people that’s this angry and this contentious? I would not,” said Trustee Margaret Payne.
“I’m going to ask everyone to politely vacate (the room) if you’re not going to hang in for the rest of the meeting,” Dunn told the crowd.
“I’d like to politely ask you to step down,” retorted a woman.
Patterson and Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Lenz then stepped to the front of the room and asked them to leave.
“You have an attorney. If you want to file some type of civil action, you have that right to do so,” Patterson told the crowd.
The supervisor called a recess.
After the crowd left, the meeting resumed.
Board members respond
During the trustee comments portion, some officials addressed what happened.
Ferrari said he’s sure Shelton is “smart as a whip, but that’s not the point.”
“The point is she doesn’t live here. She lives in Addison,” the treasurer said.
Under state law, one of the planning commission members can be someone who’s not a qualified elector in the municipality, but Ferrari believes it’s a “slippery slope” once the township starts “appointing people that don’t live in your community.”
“Where does that stop?” Ferrari said.
Clerk Curtis Wright, who served as township supervisor in the 1990s, told Dunn, “I can sympathize with what you went through tonight and I applaud you for handling the situation the best that you could.”
With regard to Knauf, Wright said, “I know that she’ll do the best that she can do for this township, for this community.”
As for the audience members’ behavior, Wright said, “I think there’s a lot of selfishness that went on here tonight.”
“I was so disappointed in the reactions these people had,” said Trustee Elgin Nichols. “They didn’t show any respect for anyone and I think that if they see themselves on television, they’ll see how childish they really acted.”
Dunn had the final word of the evening.
“I would hope those people would start going to the planning commission meetings and stating what their concerns are,” he said. “And I’m sure the planning commission is going to listen to them, but when you go in there guns blazing and threatening people and suing, that’s no way to get cooperation.”
“If you want cooperation, you go in there and calmly give your point of view and I’m sure almost all of them will be listened to,” the supervisor continued. “There’s no one here that’s down on horse country. We’re willing to work with them. We understand where (they’re) coming from.”