UPDATED: Marine City Commissioner Mike Hilferink arrested at Thursday meeting

Mike Hilferink.
Mike Hilferink.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated after a final review of Thursday's entire meeting.

An elected Marine City official was arrested during Thursday night’s City Commission meeting after refusing to leave the podium during public comment.

Commissioner Mike Hilferink, who’s been the subject of other recent controversy during meetings this year, was reportedly responding to the comments of other residents when he was asked to sit down and soon after approached by a Marine City police official.

Under typical meeting procedure, the mayor and commission members reserve their comments for the end of a regular meeting during commissioner privilege.

However, Marine City Police Chief Jim Heaslip, who wasn’t present at Thursday’s meeting, confirmed the incident with Hilferink Friday morning, adding, “He was asked to leave, refused to leave, was arrested for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and removed from the building, brought back to the police department, issued a ticket and then was released from here and sent home.”

Mayor Jennifer Vandenbossche didn't respond to a request for comment Friday. Commissioner Lisa Hendrick, who serves as mayor pro tem, also couldn’t be reached. City Manager Scott Adkins said in a message, he wasn't able to comment on the incident, citing it as a commission issue.

In a lengthy statement Friday afternoon, Hilferink said he believed he was being censored by commission rules, which he felt he respected at the commissioners' table, despite how "people label him" to the contrary, but that he wasn't bound by them "as a regular John Q Citizen" at the comment podium.

"I am constantly told and made to feel like I should shut up and sit down, both by comments at the podium and by those sitting at the board table, which is why I am always citing the First Amendment," Hilferink said. He did not get too specific on the content of his comments or those before him but added, "The reason I went to the podium at the last city meeting and the one last night is because ... our commission polices and procedures limits what I can and can't say about city issues, and in turn, city employees."

Marine City Commissioner Mike Hilferink holds his hands out to be handcuffed after refusing to leave the public comment podium a commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. Officials told Hilferink it was against procedure for him to respond to residnets' comments during that period rather than reserve remarks at the end of the meeting during commissioner privilege.

So, what happened?

The removal incident follows months of dissension from Hilferink, who was censured by commissioners in August to condemn alleged “disruptive, disrespectful, and injurious” behavior playing loud music and other recordings amplified at high levels at an earlier meeting coming out of closed session.

He’s been outspoken about his rights, as well as needing to inquire on city business outside of meetings and through the Freedom of Information Act. That has included appearing as a citizen in a FOIA appeal hearing before commissioners this summer and being critical of city administration. But other commissioners have pushed back on his methods, at times citing a break from the city’s charter and procedure followed at meetings through Robert’s Rules of Order.

Thursday's exchange can be seen through the city meeting video, which is shared through CTV Community Television online.

Roughly half a dozen residents spoke critically of Hilferink earlier in public comment on Thursday, citing his behavior, talking over other individuals, and social media activity as points of concern. Multiple people called for his recall, resignation, or removal from office.

Resident Patricia May, who served on the city's manager hiring committee earlier this year before Adkins was brought on full-time, was first to speak, recalling how she casted her vote for Hilferink's first term in last November's election.

"At the time, it really seemed like your agenda was for the people. But as you and I have discussed on Facebook, it clearly seems like you have your own agenda. And that makes me incredibly sad," she said. "You’re inappropriate with your comments. … You’re inappropriate with your information that you put out there. The stuff that you share is not fact-checked, and when people call you on it, you don’t have a response.”

Roughly 45 minutes into the meeting, Hilferink attempted to speak during public comment.

Attorney Robert Davis attempted to explain the break for procedure was inappropriate.

“He is not allowed to go to the podium under the auspices of going to the podium as (a private citizen) and refute what we agreed not to refute," he said. "… We start a public comment period by telling (residents) it’s a one-way street. You can talk to us. We’re not going to respond or dialogue with you."

“You can’t use the podium to do what you can’t do when you’re sitting here," Davis said to Hilferink.

Hilferink repeatedly expressed his disagreement and refusal to leave until he got five minutes to speak. At one point, he said, "If I’m removed from here, I will press assault charges.”

After two mintues, the rest of the commission voted to call him out of order. Briefly, as a Marine City officer remained nearby, officials could be heard consulting Heaslip over a call on next steps.

“Mike, I just made a motion, and it passed. You’re just holding up the meeting," Commissioenr Bill Klaassen told Hilferink.

Three and a half minutes later, Hilferink held his arms out, and the officer removed him in handcuffs.

Later on in Thursday's meeting, Commissioner Jacob Bryson issued a motion to start the hearing process to remove Hilferink from office under the city's charter, and present commissioners agreed. Hendrick said it was the same process used to attempt to remove her nearly two years ago. That attempt was unsucessful, and she added each situation is different and has to be "taken separately."

A 10 days' notice is required to set such a hearing. As of Monday, no date appeared to be listed.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Marine City Commissioner Mike Hilferink arrested at Thursday meeting