Legalities of township name change process uncertain

FLINT TWP. — What happens next to a proposal to change the township’s name may depend on the advice of the township attorney.

A specially appointed committee has been meeting since September to hash out the pros and cons of changing the township’s name, converting to a city or leaving things as they are.

After months of fact-finding, the committee did not support the idea of a city conversion but did recommend a name change with the intent of creating a distinct identity for the township, building esprit de corps and making a fresh start toward attracting new businesses and residents.

Jerry Preston, chairperson of the Suggestion Committee’s presented a final report and recommendations to the township board at its Monday night meeting. Those included that the township name be changed to Carman Hills and that the question be put to voters at the next election or a special election.

But Township Clerk Kathy Funk said she has confirmed with the county Elections Commission that, according to state law, the name change cannot be put on the ballot in any election. She also confirmed that the Genesee County Commissioners would ultimately decide if the township gets to change its name.

Preston said that the recommendation to put the name change on the ballot was to allow the majority of township residents to make the decision. He also cited uncertainly in interpreting a 1992 legal opinion from 1992 about how the process works.

Township Supervisor Karyn Miller said the township attorney will be consulted about whether the issue can be balloted. If not, the board will look at another means of soliciting input such as a survey, she said, noting that would give an opportunity for input from business owners affected by the decision who do not live in the township.

Miller suggested that the board take some time to digest the Committee’s report and suggestions made during public comment.

About 10 residents spoke during public comment — about five in favor, two opposed and the rest undecided.

Kevin Stiff, a township resident and business owner, spoke in favor. Last fall, Stiff initiated the board’s action to form the name-change committee after arguing that his business has been affected by negative attention to the contaminated water crisis in Flint. Many people confuse Flint Township with Flint despite assurances that Flint Township gets its water from a Detroit pipeline and not from the Flint River.

The cost of not changing the township’s name could be greater than the cost of changing it, he said, citing buildings on Corunna Road that have sat vacant for 15 to 20 years, which also negatively affect his business.

“I hope everybody takes an educated look at this,” he said. “I don’t think this will hurt us. Everyone around us has an identity but Flint Township.”

The West Flint Business Association also supported the name change, based on a poll of its membership which was mostly favorable.

Opponents of the name change cited the history of the Flint name and disbelief that a name change would make a difference in Flint Township.

Preston explained that the Carman Hills name was the top vote getter for the Committee but not a unanimous choice.

The report included the top ten names narrowed down by the Committee from more than 100 names suggested by members of the community during March.

Those, in order of votes received, are Carman Hills; Garland, Dyewood Heights; Genesee Hills; a two-way tie between West Haven and Westwood Hills in fifth place; and a three-way tie between Oak Hills, Torrey Heights, and Bristol Heights followed by Rolling Hills in tenth place. Carman, Dye, Bristol and Torrey reflect names of township founders and Garland actually was the township’s name from 1855 to1856.

It is uncertain when the township board will act, or if it will act, on the Committees recommendation. Supervisor Miller said she hopes to have resolution, one way or the other by the end of the year.

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