This is a great question! The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (MZEA) and Michigan Planning Enabling Act (MPEA) both specify that a conflict of interest will require a Commission member to abstain from voting on a matter. See e.g. MCL 125.3601(7) (stating that a member of a Zoning Board of Appeal may be removed for malfeasance for failing to recuse themselves where they have a conflict of interest); MCL 125.3815(9) (stating a member of a Planning Commission may be removed for malfeasance for failing to recuse themselves where they have a conflict of interest). Even so, neither act defines what specific circumstances constitute a “conflict of interest.”
Since conflicts of interest are not set forth in the MZEA or the MPEA, we generally recommend that the Township Planning Commission defines its own conflicts of interest within its bylaws. This will allow guidance to commission members as to the specific circumstances that create a conflict and require abstention. The Michigan Townships Association has model bylaws that can be a great resource in considering the adoption of bylaws. Examples of typical conflicts of interest that are defined include the following:
- An immediate family member is involved in any request for which the Planning Commission is asked to make a decision. “Immediate family member” is defined as any Planning Commission member’s spouse, the member and member’s spouse’s children (including adopted) and their spouses, step-children and their spouses, grandchildren and their spouses, parents and step-parents, brothers and sisters and their spouses, grandparents, parents in-law, grandparents in-law, or any person residing in the Planning Commission member’s household; or
- The Planning Commission member has a business or financial interest in the property involved in the request or has a business or financial interest in the applicant’s company, agency or association; or
- The Planning Commission member believes he or she would violate their fiduciary duties to the Commission or the Township by participating in deliberating or voting on a matter; or
- There is a reasonable appearance of a conflict of interest, as determined by a majority vote of the remaining members of the Planning Commission.