Powell resigns as drain commissioner

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Osceola County Drain Commissioner Jerry Powell turned in his letter of resignation amidst a discussion with the board of commissioners at the Nov. 19 meeting.

The discussion at the meeting centered around two feuding Osceola County property owners in the area of M-66 and 22 Mile Road near Marion. Powell said an upstream drain is clogged on the property of one resident, making water pool on the property of the homeowners downstream of the drain system.

The upstream property owner offered to pay for the cost of fixing the problem and building a culvert. However, the project was delayed for a time until Powell decided to go ahead with the repair. That property owner offering to pay for the project has the option to do it himself or hire a company, and also has taken out a $1 million insurance policy, Powell said.

He claimed county drains are not under the jurisdiction of the county commissioners, but of his elected position. Therefore, the commissioners do not have any say in how he can respond to the situation, Powell said. He spoke with past drain commissioners, contacted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and consulted with legal council about the issue, confirming he was legally within his rights to take action on the project without the commissioners’ consent.

Commission Chair Larry Emig said Powell should keep important matters in mind when going through with the project. Property areas should be surveyed, a public hearing should take place for the affected parties and a licensed professional should take care of the drain clog.

After disagreement on each side, Powell produced two typed letters from his files, signed them and handed them to both Emig and the meeting clerk.

Emig read the letter aloud as asked. The document stated Powell’s resignation, effective Jan. 31, 2014, and his opinion on the issue concerning the commissioners and the drain.

“I got tired of the commissioners trying to step between me and my job,” Powell said. “I don’t think they understand the drain laws that are governed by the state.”

Now, “the ball is in their court,” he added.

In the days following the meeting, Emig said he looked into the facts further and determined Powell to be correct regarding the jurisdiction of the drains, he is not using county funds to complete the project, and explained why things got tense between Powell and the board.

“We’re not against the project, we never have been,” he said. “The issue was the process, because it seemed as if it was not as professional as it should have to be. At the time, it was unclear how the upstream property owner would take care of the issue and if the county would be held liable for any problem that might occur. I’d like to think we’re all now looking at the same end. I hope it gets done correctly.”

If a problem were to occur during the project, liability would be placed on the upstream land owner or the drain district, he added.

Emig said he did not expect to receive a resignation letter from Powell and hopes he will change his mind. Because Powell is an elected official, he would need to turn in the letter to the Osceola County Clerk, prosecuting attorney and the county’s lead judge, Emig said, as the commission does not have authority over his position. Powell has been the Osceola County Drain Commissioner for about five years.

“We’d like to have him stay on, but it’s his decision,” he added.

The resignation letter is expected to be discussed and approved or rejected at the next meeting of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners, which will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3 in the Osceola County building, located at 301 W. Upton Ave. in Reed City.