It turns out that free speech can be very expensive. Citizens in Whitehall Township, Michigan who want to exercise their First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances are going to have to stop off at the bank first.
According to anti-Wal-Mart activists in White Hall, the township hopes to discourage an appeal of their recent approval of a Wal-Mart superstore by charging a hefty financial fee for anyone filing an appeal of their decision.
The Township Board created the $1,650 fee to appeal Planning Commission rulings — just weeks after the commission approved Wal-Mart’s plans. Before this new fee was imposed, the township charged nothing for an appeal. Now any appeal of the Planning Commission tops the fee price list.
“They are specifically attacking our group and trying to prevent our group and individual citizens in this township and in this area from appealing their decision,” Dave Frederick, an opposition leader told Wood TV. “I can’t see any other conclusion. Citizens have the right to redress the actions of their government. This makes it very obstructive in terms of citizens being able to do that.”
The Township’s Supervisor explained to Wood TV Channel 8 that the timing of the new appeal fee and the Wal-Mart approval was purely coincidental. But his remarks were contradicted by one Township Trustee, who said the new fee was passed in response to Wal-Mart’s plans. “We’ve never had an issue where that could be appealed. We’ve never been in a position for that to happen. It’s very expensive. We have to publish it in the paper and that’s like $200 or $300 dollars. We have to hire an attorney, and all those fees add up. Somebody’s got to pay for it, other than our tax dollars.”
But according to Wood TV, the fees charged in surrounding communities range from $0 to $100. Whitehall’s Supervisor denied that the fee was set to discourage opponents from appealing.
But oppoents of the plan cried foul. “We want Wal-Mart and the people of this community and Whitehall Township, we want them to know we’re not going away,” David Frederick told Wood TV. “We’re even more committed to stopping it now because of this kind of action that they’ve taken.”
Readers are urged to call Whitehall Township Supervisor Chuck Schmitigal at (231) 893-2095 with the following message:
“The Township should immediately repeal the fee on Planning Commission ruling appeals, and instead build in the cost of handling an appeal into the fee charged to developers who file plans. In this way, the developer pays for the cost of a potential appeal caused by its project.
Tapayers should not be required to pay for appeals designed to protect their properties from incompatible proposals. Put the burden on the wealthy developers, not on the average homeowner.”
It turns out that free speech can be very expensive. Citizens in Whitehall Township, Michigan who want to exercise their First Amendment right to petiton government for redress of grievances are going to have to stop off at the bank first.