ALBA - During the Chestonia Township’s Board of Trustees’ regularly scheduled monthly meeting last week, a defiant and hostile Robert Beckner, supervisor of the township, reacted angrily to a number of questions posed to him by a resident of the township regarding three tribal casino revenue grants from the Grand Traverse Band of Odawa and Chippewa Indians.
The questions from Chestonia Township resident Triston Cole came after the township received the most recent award in February of $30,000 for heaters, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers for the members of an organization known as the Elder’s Advisory Organization, which is a tribal senior citizens group with a Traverse City business address that is based in Suttons Bay in Leelanau County.
Chestonia Township had previously applied for and received similar grants from the tribe in both 2010 and 2011. Awarded bi-annually as part of the State of Michigan’s court settlement with five Michigan Indian tribes as a result of the 1993 lawsuit known as Tribes vs. Engler, the grant program calls for twice yearly payments of two percent of all tribal casino revenues to selected local units of government and non-profit organizations in each tribal area, including the Grand Traverse Band’s area. Grant recipients are chosen by the band’s Tribal Council.
The 2010 grant paid $30,000 to the township for the purchase of 30 Eden Pure heaters to be used by members of the Elder’s Advisory Organization, with the second 2011 grant earning the township $25,000 for the tribal senior’s group’s work to create a food pantry in Traverse City, for a total of $75,000, including the funds from the most recent grant.
Asked by Cole who is eligible to receive the benefits of the grant funds, Beckner responded by declaring “anyone over 60 who qualifies”, but did not elaborate on what those qualifications were.
Asked to be more specific, Beckner did not answer, but said, “This is benefiting seniors in Antrim County, why wouldn’t we want to help seniors?”.
When pushed further by Cole, the supervisor said he did not know of any Chestonia Township or Antrim County residents that had been assisted.
When asked why Chestonia Township was asked to act as fiduciary for the grants, Beckner responded by saying that Sam McClellan, chairman of the Elders Advisory Organization and a resident of Traverse City, had lived in Chestonia Township for a number of years, which other members of the township board agreed with.
“I’ve been to Sam’s house in Traverse City,” Beckner said, adding that he and McClellan had known each other before McClellan moved away “about six years ago”.
“He brought this to me, I signed it,” he added, referring to the grants. “He’s my friend. He filled out the applications.“
Noting that he was concerned that “things look funny” and that he had hoped he would have been reassured by Beckner’s answers, Cole then asked if the funds from the most recent grant award had already been distributed to the Elder‘s Advisory Organization, and was told by township clerk Twilla Coon that the $30,000 was still in the township’s possession.
Beckner then handed Cole a letter from township attorney Bryan Graham referring to the Michigan Services for Older Persons Act, which Cole said after reading did not appear to pertain to the matter at hand.
“We are talking to our attorney about this,” Beckner responded.
In other matters, Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean presented his monthly law enforcement report for the township, listing 44 incidents in the township in February, down from incidents during the same period last year, and treasurer Jackie Bates reported that she had recently received a letter from the U.S. Postal Service
inquiring about the township’s interest in creating a “village” post office, which the township has already discussed with post office representatives.
Nothing further is expected from the Postal Service regarding the future of the Alba post office and zip code until at least mid-May, after a decision from Congress regarding the federal agency’s budget, Bates said.
Members of the board also agreed that none would be seeking increases in wages in the township’s budget for this year.