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November 27, 2012

Fill Troy mayoral seat by special election, state says

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

A Nov. 16 letter from the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections advising the Troy city attorney that the mayoral seat should be filled in a Feb. 26 special election has raised many questions.

Some residents are wondering why the matter is an issue after Oakland County Election officials advised City Clerk Aileen Bittner that a successful recall of Mayor Janice Daniels would not prompt a special election.

Some residents question the position of City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm, saying  that the letter provides guidance but does not have the force of law. Also, Bluhm said the plan to appoint a mayor to fill the vacant seat in the election in November of 2013 complies with Home Rule City Act, election laws and the city charter.

And some residents are wondering who or what prompted the Nov. 16 letter from state Director of Elections Christopher Thomas.

In the letter, Thomas wrote, “…It is or position that the mandate Michigan Case Law 168.971 (1) to fill the vacancy in the next regular election date (Feb. 26, 2013) applies here.”

Thomas continued, “Had the Legislature intended to spare communities the trouble and expense of conducting a special election to fill a vacancy created by recall, it could have explicitly done so.”

Thomas told the Troy Times that he wrote the letter after seeing a news article, which prompted him to call Bluhm.

“I didn’t agree with her, and the (state) attorney general didn’t agree with her,” he said with regard to the city waiting until the November election to fill the mayoral seat.

His letter begins, “This letter is a follow up to our conversations about the City of Troy’s intention to delay the election to fill the vacancy caused by the recent recall of the city’s mayor until Nov. 5, 2013. … It is the position of the Bureau of Elections that the city is required to conduct a special election to fill the vacancy on Feb. 26, 2013.”

Bluhm said that holding a special election in February to fill the vacant mayoral seat would be hampered by a time frame. There is a 15-day window after the Oakland County Board of Canvassers certified election results Nov. 9 in which interested candidates could file to run, which would end Nov. 26. Bittner said that the 15-day window couldn’t be deviated from. 

“Recall has not happened very frequently,” Bluhm said. “There is ambiguity. Both sides are supported.”

She added that the matter could be addressed by the state Legislature.

“The process was not developed in a vacuum,” Bittner said to the council at the Nov. 21 special meeting called by Councilmen Dave Henderson and Wade Fleming to clarify the issue. “The Oakland County Election Division, our consulting authority, clarified the procedure and had no objections,” she added, saying that she also consulted clerks in municipalities where other recalls had been successful.

“A recall election cannot be overturned,” Bittner said.

Bittner said that she did not know of any other municipality that had received a letter from the state regarding election procedure following a successful recall.

“The process is in accordance with charter and not in violation of state law,” Bittner said.

“It would be a violation of the (city) charter if we were to proceed,” Bluhm said in reference to Councilman Wade Fleming’s resolution made at a special meeting called at 2 p.m. Nov. 21, stating  that Bluhm seek a legal opinion on the matter from the state attorney general and abide by the decision.

The council voted 3-3 on the move. The tie vote resulted in no action on the matter. Council members Maureen McGinnis and Jim Campbell and Acting Mayor Dane Slater opposed the resolution.

“My belief is that the state statute trumps the county and City Charter,” Fleming said to the council.

“I don’t know where the letter came from, but I don’t disregard it,” Councilman Doug Tietz said. “I’m interested in what the attorney general’s opinion is.”

“There is no reason not to support the research,” McGinnis, an attorney, said to the council. “I have the utmost confidence in the city attorney and city clerk.” She added that the matter should be addressed in the courts.

The council, after deadlock  and by consensus rather than a formal vote, appointed Councilman Dane Slater to serve as mayor in a study session following the Nov. 12 meeting. Maureen McGinnis, sworn in as mayor after election results were certified Nov. 9, and Fleming had also wanted to be considered for the mayoral seat. Bluhm explained that Slater’s approval still required council action.

Glenn Clark, who had been a supporter of Daniels, said at the Nov. 21 meeting that it was “interesting that the state election statute was not being followed.”

“Would voters have chosen differently?” he said in reference to the recall resulting in a special election.

“I’m troubled by all of this,” resident Janet Chamberlain said. “I believe the city clerk and attorney did due diligence. … I want to get to healing and quit wasting taxpayer money to call a special election.”