CHARLEVOIX - Charlevoix County Sheriff George T. Lasater said today the meeting he promised to set up between disgruntled Bay Township property owner Lyle Barkley and township and county officials will take place next week.
Lasater said the meeting had tentatively been set for 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2, in the Pine Lake Room of the county building. He said he had invited the Barkleys, township officials, county prosecutor Mary Beth Kur and county building official Ken Doty to attend.
He said he would leave it to the Barkleys to invite a member of the Michigan Militia.
Lasater said once he had confirmation of all parties, he would release a list of participants and details of the meeting, including whether it will be open to the public.
"Things seem to have settled down," Lasater said.
Barkley, a 55-year-old excavator, has vowed to defend his family and property by force of arms should the township, backed by a district court order, try to remove three manufactured housing units from his property.
The Barkley case has brought national attention to the county, and threats from militia groups from Michigan and elsewhere to send their members to the Barkley property in his defense.
At a dawn meeting on Barkley's driveway last Thursday, Lasater promised Barkley and his daughter Kim, 22, that he would set up a meeting with all parties to the dispute. He also said he would not take any action against the Barkleys at least until the meeting had taken place and efforts had been made to reach a resolution.
Township attorney Jim Murray said today that although he had not yet been invited to the Oct. 2 meeting, he would be willing to attend "if it is a means to achieve an amicable resolution."
Murray said, however, that the sheriff cannot negotiate a solution regarding township zoning and he was not certain what the purpose of such a meeting would be.
Lasater said he would ask the elected township officials to attend or send a representative. "It's their decision," he said.
Barkley said today that while he had hoped the meeting would take place this week, the delay may have a positive effect.
"A little time may be good to let everyone cool off," he said.
Norman Olson, who attended the sunrise meeting as a pastor, mediator and senior adviser to the Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines, agreed there was no reason for concern over the delay.
"The delay shows me it's not as cut and dry, as simple, as some people think. I suspect the township people are trying to find some way to support their position.
"I think the drama in this whole thing is starting to rise. Who's the bad guy? We'll see. I hope the citizens are taking interest in this. It could happen to them next," Olson said.
County prosecutor Mary Beth Kur said she was willing to participate in any meeting the sheriff sets up. "But the fact remains, we have an appeal pending before the circuit court right now," she said.
Sherrie Selissen, the county's deputy civil court clerk, said Barkley's appeal of District Judge Richard May's Aug. 28th order backing township zoning officials was filed with the circuit court on Sept. 17.
She said Circuit Judge Richard Pajtas cannot hear the appeal until Barkley and the township attorney have filed their legal briefs, which may take several weeks.
"The appeal is not something that will happen right away," she said.
Bob Taylor, 65, a former Bay Township supervisor, said Lasater should be commended for his "measured response" to the situation.
"The sheriff has done an excellent job of warding off what might have been a very critical issue for people in all walks of life, including the people who live here, the various county and township officials, as well as the militia. I appreciate what he has done," Taylor said. "One of my biggest concerns in this is that we now have the township taking private property away from its residents and I wonder who's going to be next. We should all be concerned about this in our township."
He said that in 1997 a group of more than 100 township residents petitioned the county to put the zoning ordinance to a referendum of the people but the attempt failed as a result of misunderstanding with the county clerk over procedure.
"We never had a chance to challenge what was in that ordinance," Taylor said.
He said when he asked township zoning administrator Randy Frykberg for a copy of the Barkley citation, Frykberg said he should file the request through the Freedom of Information Act.
Taylor said he would like to see a grand jury investigation of the Barkley affair "because it includes judges, lawyers and government people up to the state level, and because of constitutional issues, may include federal levels."
"People's constitutional rights are being challenged," he said.
Fred Gray can be contacted at email@example.com