City council members confront legal challenge to licensing process

Menominee City Council member Bill Plemel, right, talks with council member Frank Pohlmann. Plemel said Monday he would like the city to provide two more adult-use recreational marijuana licenses. Pohlmann hadn’t returned the EagleHerald’s phone call at presstime to provide a comment.

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The City of Menominee’s Interim City Manager Brett Botbyl said Monday the Petoskey law firm Plunket Cooney will represent the city in the lawsuits it faces from marijuana companies that applied for retail licenses but didn’t receive them. But city council members said they weren’t certain who is representing them.

Matthew Cross of Plunkett Cooney will represent the city in a legal fight over whether the city broke laws in the way it awarded licenses for marijuana retailers.

Whether the law firm also will represent city council members, who were named as defendants in more than one lawsuit, remained a question Monday.

“I have not heard anything from the city at all. If you think that makes me happy, it doesn’t,” said Menominee City Council member Bill Plemel, who represents Ward 2 and chairs the Judicial & Legislative/Personnel & Labor Committee.

Council member Josh Jones, who represents Ward 3, also said he didn’t know who was representing the Menominee City Council.

“Until we get a chance to hear from who’s going to be representing us, I really don’t have any comment,” Jones said.

City Attorney Michael Celello said he won’t be representing the city. “Because I am a named defendant, I am unable to represent the city. Please refer questions to the interim city manager,” he said in an emailed response to the EagleHerald’s request for comment.

Botbyl, who chaired the Marijuana Selection Committee recommended to the city council which companies should receive licenses, refused to comment. “Due to the fact that we are in litigation and working with our attorneys whom are representing us, I respectfully decline to answer questions at this time,” he said.

Plemel said whichever law firm has been hired to represent the city will probably represent the city council members, too. “I would think it’s going to represent everybody. It would be crazy for each of us to go out and hire our own lawyer and it would be crazy expensive,” he said.

“We’re supposed to have a committee of the whole meeting closed so someone can explain what we’re supposed to do,” Plemel said.

Asked how the litigation might have been avoided, Plemel said, “Well, there’s been disagreement on the council. I still want to have a Committee of the Whole meeting and talk about adding one or two more retail selling units—one for Lume and one for Ottawa (Innovations). We haven’t been able to schedule that meeting,” he said. “We’re going to try to schedule that meeting.”

Lume received the Planning Commission’s approval for a special-use permit for a medical-marijuana store but had its application for an adult-use recreational marijuana store license declined. Ottawa Innovations received grow permits for medical and recreational marijuana but the company’s retail arm, Higher Love, was denied a retail license. OI Holdings and Higher Love have filed a lawsuit against the city.

The city council would have to approve any additional licenses and hasn’t yet met to discuss it, Plemel said. Plemel said when Susan Johnson, the city’s executive assistant, sent out a notice about a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting, not enough council members said they could make it.

Providing two more licenses might resolve some lawsuits but Plemel said, “I don’t know if I can convince anybody do to that,” he said.

Dawn Brazeau, deputy county clerk for Menominee County Courthouse, said Monday she had not received a written response yet from the city to the lawsuits filed so far. Plemel said, “I understand we had like 21 days to respond and we missed that first one, I guess. I know that Brett was sick, and I’m trying to give him a little leeway,” he said.

Several cases were scheduled for hearings Tuesday afternoon, including a motion from Rize, which received a license to open an adult-use recreational marijuana store at the site of the former Stang Sales & Service location. It is asking the court to allow it to proceed with its plans to open a store.

The Mike Cox Law Firm is representing Rize. “Mr. Cox is a former two-term attorney general for the State of Michigan,” Celello said.