This Friday, Albion’s city trust will expire, and the city council has yet to approve it. This, agenda approvals, recognition of individuals and an interrupting phone call made for a prolonged Albion City Council meeting Oct. 17.
Albion’s trust holds municipal bonds that finance both Albion’s fire station and Maple Grove Apartments. A trust allows a third party to hold assets for an entity, ensuring that the assets are set aside for whatever use they serve. Municipal bonds are sold by the city to individuals and are paid back in a predetermined number of years with interest to those that buy. In Albion’s case, the third party – a group of three trustees – oversee the bonds and determine how to invest them.
With the council set to consider the trust for approval, City Attorney Cullen Harkness made adjustments to the previous trust agreement. Under the new agreement draft, the city council would be placed in charge of appointing trustees. Previously, trustees had the power to reappoint themselves to their five-year terms for an upwards of 20 years. Harkness also suggested to shorten the trustees’ terms to three years, to keep fresh individuals on the trust. Prospective trustees would also have to wait five years from serving in public office in order to be considered by the council under Harkness’ suggested agreement.
If the trust is not approved, the trustee’s’ terms would expire and the bonds would become inaccessible for use.
Frustrations rise in “11th hour” of trust approval
Concerns over the bond first arose during a conversation between Harkness and councilman Garrett Brown on the creation of staggered terms for the trustees. Mayor Joe Domingo asked if any of the trustees were aware that the new trust agreement’s approval was on the night’s agenda. No officials in attendance had contacted them, although Harkness said they were aware of the bond’s expiration.
“So we’re writing a new trust,” said Domingo. “We got people who sit on the [trust] and we don’t even tell them we’re gonna kick their a– -s off? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Domingo said that two of the three trustees did not even reside within city limits. No official in presence knew of the trustees’ investments and why bonds for a fire station and a rent-assisted apartment complex were placed together in a trust. No one was even sure when the exact date of expiration was, said Domingo, only that it was approaching fast.
The only way to find these answers, Domingo said, was to was to get in contact with the remaining trustee in town, Chuck Robison, before motions to move were made.
“We knew that this trust was going to expire one year ago,” said Domingo. “We knew that. You bring it to us five days, ten days before it’s going to expire. This doesn’t make sense and I’m not going to sit here and approve something – and I hope the council is smarter than that, too – not knowing what figure you’re figuring here.”
Councilman Andrew French suggested to Domingo that they approve the trust agreement regardless as the council would only be approving its structure, not the problems that the previous trust agreement caused. If the trust was approved, French said, the council could still elect new trustees and hold a meeting with Robison.
“In approving the document today,” French said, “we protect ourselves in that we have a trust in place when the existing one expires.”
According to Domingo, Robison came to the council a few months prior and requested to speak to the council privately. Robison did not wish to discuss the trust with the public. Domingo said that no one ever reached back out to Robison.
“Now we’re here, at the 11th hour again, in a crisis,” said Domingo. “Not good.”
French made the motion to approve the new trust as it was, but he withdrew his motion after he and the rest of the council agreed to meet in a separate public study session with Robison to discuss the trust in more detail.
Barnes interrupted by legal team for Oct. 18’s trial
During the discussion of Albion’s trust agreement, councilman Maurice Barnes’ cell phone went off and Barnes quickly left the council room to answer it. Barnes returned, apologizing for the disruption, stating it was his legal team and he had to answer.
Late last year, Barnes was ordered to stand trial for one count of second-degree criminal sexual assault. Barnes, who frequently volunteered at the former Albion Public Schools, had allegedly sexually touched a nine-year-old girl while she was on the playground.
Before the meeting began, Barnes asked the council and community members in attendance to keep him in his prayers.
“I am an innocent man, falsely accused,” Barnes said.
According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, on Oct. 18, Barnes pleaded guilty to assault and battery at the Calhoun County Circuit Court. Charges for second-degree criminal sexual assault were dropped. Barnes will face a judge Dec. 9.
Students recognized; trick-or-treat time approved
Among the other proceedings of the city council, 15 international freshmen college students, from as far as Nigeria to Nepal, were recognized as honorary citizens of Albion. A group of Marshall Middle School students were also recognized for their promotion of Red Ribbon Week, a national movement to promote drug abuse prevention education. Special certificates were given by Domingo.
Also on the table was a motion to approve a six-month moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana shops in the area. Community member Harry Bonner and Nia Wolf, with the Albion Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, spoke up about placing the moratorium. They believed that by waiting an additional six months to consider approval, the council would have more information about where to place the shops and their risks benefits, if they were to be allowed in town at all. The council voted unanimously to approve the moratorium.
UPDATE, 5:13 p.m., 10/26/16: On Monday, Oct. 24, Albion’s city council approved a motion to extend the termination of the Albion’s trust agreement until Nov. 28 at a study session meeting. On their Nov. 7 meeting, the council will continue to discuss adjustments to be made to the new trust agreement as structured by Harkness.
Photo by Emily Miller