County Election Commission Approves Roy McIlwaine Recall Petition; Revised Petition Language Resubmitted To Include Rudich, Lane & Babinski In Township Recall Effort
The recall process to remove Roy McIIwaine from office as Saugatuck Township Trustee will move forward, following a determination of the Allegan County Election Commission at a “Clarity/Factual” hearing on Monday.
However, the commission voted 2-1 that the recall language to recall Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich, Saugatuck Township Lori Babinski and Saugatuck Township Trustee Douglas Lane was not sufficiently clear.
Not deterred, the Saugatuck Township residents/registered voters that initiated the process, Kathy Sturm and Cindy Osman, immediately resubmitted a modified version of the recall language—their third filing— with the county clerk’s office after Monday morning’s hearing.
Allegan County Chief Probate Judge Michael Buck said that as part of the Election Commission presiding over the “Clarity/Factual Hearing” they were not there to adjudicate on whether or not the actions of township officials were right or wrong, but rather, determine whether the petition language submitted to the county was adequately clear and factual in order for a recall petition to be circulated.
Buck was the only member of the Allegan County Election Commission—also comprised of, per state statute, Allegan County Clerk Bob Genetski and Allegan County Treasurer Sally Brooks—to give a yes vote to the recall language for both McIIwaine and the other three township board members named in the recall.
Genetski determined the language related to McIIwaine was clear, but not the language associated with the others. Petitioners listed one reason to recall McIIwaine in their petition, while listing that same reason plus four other points, all the same, for the other three township officials they seek to have voters vote to remove from office: Rudich, Babinski and Lane.
Meanwhile, the other Election Commissioner, Brooks, voted down all the recall language petitions, citing lack of clarity.
In an effort to satisfy all the Election Commissioners’ concerns, Sturm and Osman eliminated most of the language in their latest submittal to the county clerk, particularly the language that Genetski and Brooks found problematic.
In their newly revised recall petition, Sturm and Osman submitted the very same language against Rudich, Babinski and Lane that the Election Commission already approved in its 2-1 vote saying McIlwaine’s recall effort could move forward (again, the only point under McIlwaine’s name but also part of the petition for the other township officials).
That point reads as follows: “At the Special Board Meeting held on August 16, 2017, Rudich/ Babinski/Lane voted to reprimand employee Aaron Sheridan.”
The county has set the third hearing for Monday, December 18 at 9 a.m. in Allegan County Probate Court on the lower level of the Allegan County Courthouse, 113 Chestnut St., Allegan, MI.
“We want to make it clear that this is not personal, but professional. It also proves that there are residents that have lost complete confidence in our elected officials to carry out their duties for the best interest of the public,” Kathy Sturm told the Local Observer Newspapers, following the hearing.
Meanwhile, all Township officials declined comment.
Lane was the only official named in the recall that was not present at the hearing. On the other hand, Rudich and Babinski—just as McIlwaine— took the opportunity to refute the recall language and did so with prepared statements.
Saugatuck Township Aaron Sheridan and Saugatuck Township Parks Commission Chair Jim Searing, also present, went to the defense of their colleagues.
Searing argued that local officials were doing precisely what they were elected to do.
“If every time elected official voted and there were recalled from someone who did not like there vote, our form of local government would not function,” said Searing.
Pointing out that his colleagues had been re-elected to their post by the electorate the last election, Searing concluded, “They must have served in a satisfactory manner up to that point.”
In his defense, McIIwaine argued, in his prepared statement, in part, “Potential petition signers should have the wording of the approved motion in its entirety so that they know that Mr. Sheridan was not just reprimanded. The current wording is misleading. Without the entire language those who voted yes only reprimanded Mr. Sheridan.”
McIlwaine has 10 days after the Election Commission’s determination to appeal the recall before the Allegan County Circuit Court. If not appealed, the petition can begin to be circulated for signatures before it goes to the county clerk’s office for a special recall election approval process.
The petitioners must amass 25 percent of the number of Saugatuck Township votes cast in the last last general election, November 7.
The recall effort comes amid a slew of concerns that residents and officials from the other two members of the Tri-Community, Saugatuck and Douglas and the township fire department have been voicing for several months.
It also comes against a background of strong tensions between township residents and some township officials, some elements of which are reflected in the recall language submitted to the county.
For instance, many residents were vexed when the township board, at a special meeting on August 16, did not support their colleague Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jon Phillips’ motion to terminate Aaron Sheridan from his post as township manager.
Instead, the township board voted, with Phillips being the only dissenting voice, to “reprimand” Sheridan “for insubordination” and have him take an “anger management” class at his expense. Critics have characterized the embattled township manager as “unethical,” “deceptive,” and “unprofessional.”
Fire district personnel have characterized Sheridan’s comportment as prone to violence.
Also, critics of the township officials have denounced the township’s decision to modify the fire code in a way they say compromises fire personnel and residents’ safety and well-being.
That effort was first undertaken in secrecy by Rudich and Sheridan and later was rushed through for a township vote without prior discussion, participation or approval from fire department officials, say critics of the township officials.
They also condemned the township’s move to modify cost recovery ordinances, which now stipulates that for certain bills, the fire chief must now get the township zoning administrator’s approval first.
Critics including Saugatuck Township Fire Chief Greg Janik and his staff - contend Saugatuck Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion is by no means an expert on fire inspection, fire prevention, or overall fire safety, and as such, is not the appropriate person to make such decisions.
Many township residents and officials charge Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine changed the fire codes to simply placate area builders without concern of how the fire code changes now pose a safety threat to township residents and business owners. There are a number of others criticisms that are not directly implied in the recall language that has hitherto been submitted to the county.
For example, the proposed development of the former McClendon property—the NorthShore project which has been approved by the township — is also a point of contention between residents and township representatives.
Critics argue that the township has not adhered to its own ordinances in the approval process for the development; the marina by the river mouth, in particular, goes against the very spirit of the Tri-Community plan, they argue.
The language that was cut from the recall petition following Monday’s second hearing before the Election Commission includes the following four points:
1. Rudich, Lane, and Babinski at the Wednesday Aug. 2, 2017 Board meeting voted to Adopt the 2012 edition of the International Fire Code with amendments that eliminated some provisions for fire safety, being sections 16-27 and Chapter 16 Article III of the Township Code to Regulate Fire Prevention and Protection.
2. Rudich, Lane, and Babinski at the Aug. 2, 2017 Board meeting voted to amend the cost recovery sections of the Township ordinance being section 16-27 and Chapter 16 Article III of the Township Code to Regulate Fire Prevention and Protection.
3. Rudich, Lane, and Babinski on Wednesday on Oct. 4, 2017 voted not to meet with the Saugatuck Township Fire Board to discuss differences between the Saugatuck Township Board and the Saugatuck Township Fire District.
4. Rudich, Lane and Babinski on Wednesday Oct. 4, 2017 meetings, voted against videotaping Saugatuck Township Board meetings.
As for the McIlwaine petition, if not appealed, petitioners have 60 days to collect signatures beginning on the date the first signature is collected. However, the petition must be submitted within an 180-day period after the commission approval.
The county clerk then has 35 days to determine the validity of the signatures on the petition, verifying the voter registration status of those who signed. If the petition is approved, a special recall election will be scheduled for the next general election.
Other candidates may challenge the incumbents for their seats. The law allows incumbents to submit a justification statement for the conduct that triggered the recall which is printed on the special election ballot for voters to consider.
Critics of the township officials’ actions and several township residents are also questioning who is running township government when these officials - including Sheridan who is township manager and not subject to the recall move since he is a hired township employee and not elected - all show up to the county Election Commission hearings.
Questions raised include whether the township officials are using taxpayers’ money to pay for an attorney to represent them; are they being paid while they are away from the office at these hearings; how is township business being conducted when they are not there?.