Election Commission approves recall language against 2 school board members

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2020


DETROIT/GROSSE POINTES — Two Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education members could face a recall election.

On Sept. 16, the Wayne County Election Commission unanimously approved recall language against Board of Education President Margaret Weertz and Trustee Christopher Lee. The hearing was held via Zoom videoconferencing.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Monica Palmer filed the recall petitions with the Wayne County Clerk’s Office Sept. 4. A recall election is a process in which voters can remove an elected official from office prior to the end of his or her term by a special election.

Palmer’s reasons for the recall efforts center on Weertz and Lee voting yes on three separate issues during various school board meetings. They include voting June 24, 2019, in favor of the district’s reconfiguration plan; voting Sept. 9, 2019, to approve a $2.1 million construction contract for the district’s rocket fiber project; and on Jan. 27, 2020, voting in favor of extending the contract of Superintendent Gary Niehaus earlier than scheduled.

Palmer said she has been talking with district residents about concerns they have regarding issues within the district. Palmer said that because residents are concerned about possible backlash against them, she decided to be the person to file the recall petition.

“I put my name on the paperwork. Based on the feedback I am getting from parents, there is a desire to see this go through,” Palmer said. “There’s a handful of people that feel enough is enough. There’s a lot of them in the community feeling like they’re not being heard. They’re not liking the way the administration is taking the school system. That is the Board of Education’s job. They are supposed to be directing the administration.”

‘The community is frustrated’
Margaret Weertz provided the Grosse Pointe Times with the statement she read at last Wednesday’s hearing about the recall petition.

“I never met Mrs. Palmer, and I don’t know what she has against me. It would be common courtesy if she called and told me her grievances,” Weertz said. “I actually believe this is a well-funded group that wants to undo the democratic process. Perhaps this is funded by a Lansing PAC and people against public education? I do not know.”

Weertz was first elected in November 2014 and reelected in 2018.

“The most recent, I got 12,000 votes. I came in first by 1,000 votes. I am well esteemed in this community and work hard to make good solid decisions for the district. I do it for no personal aggrandizement. I have never taken the board stipend, a free meal or ticket,” Weertz said. “I believe these folks, including Mrs. Palmer, should simply put in the hard work, effort and fundraising to win at the ballot box like I did. If you are a good person, it is not hard to win friends and influence people. Instead, this is simply harassment over what she and her group cannot accomplish on their own.”

According to Palmer, she has reached out to Weertz in the past.

“I have stood up at more than one board meeting, and I have emailed the board. I never received a response from Margaret Weertz,” Palmer said. “I’m just one person that hasn’t been heard. The community is frustrated.”

Now that the recall language has been approved, both Weertz and Lee have 10 days from the hearing date to appeal the Commission’s decision. At press time, Weertz said she was not going to appeal. Lee, however, plans to appeal on the basis that he was not present for the vote regarding Niehaus’ contract.

According to the meeting minutes of Jan. 27, 2020, Lee was not present for the vote and was listed as “absent.” Lee said he was at the meeting but left early that night. Lee, elected to the board in November 2018, is serving his first term.

“There’s a group out there that are doing everything they can to bring down the school system. They get some delight in making trouble. This is not right,” Lee said. “They’re just a negative element that likes to cause trouble. They don’t seem to have better plans or any agenda to fix things.”

Lee said if the recall election goes through, he would run for reelection.

“I have no intention of giving up,” he said. “I have met so many wonderful, wonderful people on the school board and the administration. It’s been an overly positive experience.”

If the appeal isn’t successful, the recall language will stay and Palmer will have to generate a certain percentage of signatures from registered voters to have a recall election placed on the ballot. Palmer said it’s too soon to be placed on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot.

“It’s now up to the Grosse Pointe (taxpayers) to sign the document or not,” Palmer said.

“I would expect it would be a few months before that is done,” said Farmington Hills attorney Michael Schwartz, who is assisting Palmer with the recall effort. “(She) must make sure all signatures are valid and they are compatible with the numbers they need to get on the ballot. Some of the signatures could be invalid. You always want to get more. If you get below the number you need, then you don’t get on the ballot.”

“Once that happens, then there will be an election. Some of the people end up just resigning or they may decide they just fight it. If they appeal it, they go to the Wayne County Circuit Court.”

Schwartz, who does not live in the school district, said he was approached by Palmer and others about pursuing the recall. He said he is helping them pro bono, which means he is not charging for his services.

Recall petition language is not allowed during the first or last six months of a person’s term, which is why other board members who voted the same as Weertz and Lee were not part of the recall petition. Until the certification of the election results, the elected official whose recall is being sought will continue to perform his or her duties. The candidate receiving the highest number of votes in the recall election is elected for the remainder of the term.

This is the second recall petition Palmer filed this year. The first one she filed was rejected by the Election Commission because the language wasn’t clear.