Local Roan & Black Gallery Owners Violating State Law: County Clerk
Two Saugatuck Township art gallery owners who took extreme umbrage at receiving a letter from the City of Saugatuck letting them know they needed to register to vote with the township once they moved their residence out of the city - and who have accused city officials of legal and ethical violations - apparently are violating the law themselves, according to Allegan County Clerk Joyce Watts.
Doug McIntosh, who co-owns Roan & Black Saugatuck Contemporary Art Gallery on Blue Star Highway with his life partner John Newland, and some of their supporters, have been engaged in an ongoing verbal and letter-writing battle with City of Saugatuck officials over receipt of that letter.
Now, in an ironic twist, it turns out that, according to Watts, both McIntosh and Newland are currently violating state law by not having updated their driver licenses with the state within the required 10 days of moving to their new township home.
News of Watts’ finding came late Wednesday night at deadline so it was not possible to seek a response from McIntosh and Newland at that time. The Observer will seek their comments regarding being in violation of state law, per Watts’ letter, for next week’s issue.
As of Wednesday night, a check of state records showed McIntosh and Newland still were improperly registered with the state and their drivers licenses contain their old, Saugatuck residence.
The gallery owners, along with some of their cohorts, including local resident Dan Fox, have fiercely charged city staff and council members of being derisive and taking on a bully attitude against some businesses.
The men have regularly criticized Saugatuck officials at city and business association meetings, including alleging that city officials are inappropriately and illegally questioning voters’ residencies and voters’ rights as well as making allegations that city officials’ communication tone - whether in conversation, emails, or letters - is “dismissive.”
City officials, on the other hand, say they are sticking to their responsibilities and always attempt to communicate and relate to residents and businesses alike in a “professional” and amicable manner.
The situation has become so tumultuous that both city officials and critics are accusing each other of “intimidation.”
As part of this ongoing battle, Fox has even filed an ethics complaint against the city officials.
The genesis of all this hoopla is a letter sent by Saugatuck City Clerk Monica Looman to McIntosh and Newland after they moved from the city to the township that states, in part:
“Please be advised that you will not be allowed to vote until you respond to the challenge under oath and are determined to be eligible to vote in this jurisdiction. You may appear in person at my office and answer under oath the questions regarding your qualifications as an elector of the City of Saugatuck.”
Newland characterized the letter as a “dubious scare tactic” while McIntosh says that “the underlying message is: ‘You don’t live in the city, stay the hell out of our city.”
The wording of that letter that has so upset Fox, McIntosh and Newland, comes from verbatim language prepared by the state - not the City of Saugatuck - that clerks around Michigan have been sending to their respective former residents for years.
In fact, a check of Saugatuck records reveals that very same letter has gone out to several individuals in the past few years who have moved out of the city, none of whom have ever complained about its content.
“It’s basically meant to alert former residents that by law, they must register in the new jurisdiction in which they have moved their primary residence to,” says Looman.
That explanation has been dismissed out of hand by McIntosh, Newland and Fox.
Fox argues the city’s actions were an attempt “to keep him (Newland) from making critical comments to or about the city council in his capacity as a representative of local businesses.”
He is so upset about the communications that he filed the ethics complaint against the city employees and unnamed members of the city council.
Saugatuck Mayor Bill Hess says he has read all correspondence between city employees and the aggrieved gallery owners and found the communications to have been proper, respectful and part of everyday business.
Looman sent the ethics complaint and all correspondence between the city and the three men to County Clerk Watts for review,
In a recently released letter, Watts says she found the city has not acted in any inappropriate way and, in fact, is acting in accordance with state law.
Additionally, Watts also found that Fox’s claim that Looman had violated state law was ludicrous.
Fox has claimed that state statute (MCL 168.5 12) prevents the city clerk from challenging electors voting rights.
Fox worte: “The language of the statute is unambiguous: such a challenge requires that an elector, not the clerk, challenge another elector. And to do this, a written affidavit from an elector (i.e., registered voter) must be sent to the clerk.”
Watts found Fox was erroneously citing a law that had nothing to do with the actions taken by the city clerk .
In response, Looman says, “When an individual has moved and hasn’t updated their voter registration/drivers license and the clerk has verifiable information that the individual has moved, these state generated letters are sent as a courtesy to the individuals so they are aware of the election law so they don’t disenfranchise themselves from voting.
“In most cases individuals won’t receive such a letter as when one moves the individual/voter does their due diligence and changes their address/voter registration/drivers license with either their local jurisdiction, by mail or the Secretary of State’s office…
“Unfortnately, Mr. Newland and Mr. McIntosh haven’t followed the law and are now, in fact, in violation of state law for not having updated their driver’s licences within 10 days of moving into their new residences.
“I think it’s time for them to abide by the law and…move on. This has all gone too far.”