BY JIM HAYDEN
Fennville’s outgoing mayor acknowledged challenges the city’s faced recently and thanked the community for support.
Mayor Dan Rastall led his last regular commission meeting Monday, Nov. 7 election eve. He did not run again in that race. Neither did this writer, outgoing commissioner Jim Hayden.
Four write-in candidates filed to fill four open seats instead.
Special Meeting Though Monday was Rastall’s last regular meeting, he will preside over a special session Wednesday, Nov. 8, in city hall at 5:30 p.m.
It was called unexpectedly on Monday night to interview engineering firms to design Phase II of Paradise Park, which includes a new playground.
New commissioners don’t take office until Monday, Nov. 13, according to the City Charter.
Service Rastall served on the commission for 13 years including as mayor from 2007 to 2015, when he didn’t run for re-election. He was appointed back on the body in May 2021, with his term ending this year. Fellow commissioners elected Rastall as mayor in November 2021.
“I would like to thank you for allowing me to once again serve this community that I love so much,” Rastall said in a farewell letter distributed at Monday’s meeting.
Challenges “We have taken on challenges like the city’s financial questions and the loss of our local police department,” Rastall’s note continued.
In May 2022, the city hired Plante Moran of Grand Rapids to investigate accounting problems and fix financial procedures discovered when new City Administrator Kathryn Beemer began work in April 2022.
On July 17 this year, Plante delivered a written report after a forensic audit of the city, determining there were no criminal actions but transactions that, though “unusual, were authorized and/or reasonable.”
The second report later in July detailed financial and procedural problems with confusing bank records and incomplete state and federal grant filings.
Rastall took to Fennville’s Facebook page in December 2022 to comment on reports that gave the city “a black eye,” he said, including a media story that said the city bought a parking lot it already owned.
The mayor said Fennville did not buy land it already owned, but “purchased the parking lot parcel from the bank.” The then City Assessor failed to record the purchase.
“Over time, as city staff and commissions changed, any knowledge of the purchase was gone,” Rastall added. Twenty-five years later, the city bought the bank property with the building on it.
Fennville Police Chief Greg Rekucki announced his resignation in November 2022. Two candidates withdrew late in the hiring process to succeed him. In June, the commission voted to contract service with the
Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, ending a decade of an independently-run city police department.
“No matter the issue, we didn’t shrink away from it, and we kept Fennville on the path of growth,” Rastall wrote.
Successes Rastall’s farewell letter also noted city successes including the grants for updates to Paradise Park.
Fennville is now completing Phase I of those improvements, consisting of creating a wetland area to help drainage, installing a bridge and walkway, and rehabilitating two ball fields with a soccer field.
Phase I was funded with a $300,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. The city will pay the balance of the $767,000 project cost.
This fall, Fennville received a $1.1-million state grant Public Gathering Spaces Initiative grant to replace a 30-year-old playground at the park in Phase II of the plan. Work will start in 2024.
Staff Changes Rastall noted office staff changes and praised personnel – Beemer, whom he called “a real go getter and a force for change;” Treasurer Camille Clark, “a fighter and doesn’t back down from a challenge;” and Clerk Morgan Hummon, who has “a problem-solving attitude” and shown a willingness to learn.
“I believe we have the right staff in place for the future,” he said, noting public works staff is “the backbone to keeping the city running.”
He thanked fire, police and ambulance crews, “a great team looking out for the safety and well-being of our citizens.”
Rastall said the current group of commissioners “has the best interest of the city in their hearts” and incoming members should enter their roles with “patience, wisdom and a level head.”
He also thanked Fennville residents. “This is a tight-knit community that looks out for each other and picks each other up when they are down,” Rastall wrote. “I couldn’t have asked for a better community to call home.”