Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Commissioner removed from office, later returns

Commissioner removed from office, then let back on
An election filing error led to “an odd situation” and the removal then reinstatement of a Fennville City Commissioner over the last month.
The issue was discussed by city attorney Dan Martin of Thrun Law Firm PC at the Monday, Sept. 19, city commission meeting.
Commissioner Brenda Langston was elected in November 2021. She received 73 votes. No one else was listed on the ballot, though write-ins Dennis Martin received 26 votes and Tori Lyn Machan received 10 votes. All three took seats on the commission.
At the Feb. 7, 2022, city commission meeting, commissioners approved a $100 reimbursement labeled “Election Filing Reimbursement” on the regular billing statement, which raised questions.
Some municipalities allow candidates for office to pay a $100 fee to avoid collecting the number of required signatures to get listed on a ballot. Fennville does not have that option in its charter, which states in Chapter 3, Sec. 3.10 that “All candidates for a City elective office shall be nominated by petition.” Candidates need at least 15 signatures.
An investigation of the $100 reimbursement was undertaken by new City Administrator Kathryn Beemer, who started in April, in conjunction with an overall review of city funds and policies that required the city to hire in May the firm Plante Moran for $40,000 to help the city reconcile its checkbook and manage grants.
In an Aug. 22 email to all city commissioners, Mayor Dan Rastall explained the situation, referring to then-Clerk/Treasurer Deb Perez:
“We have an opening on the commission,” he wrote. “During the past election Brenda did not have the required signatures to be on the ballot. Brenda paid Deb a $100 filing fee which Deb told her would be reimbursed if Brenda won. Brenda did win and was reimbursed. However our charter says you can only be on the ballot with the petition, no filing fee. Therefore, Brenda is not a duly elected commissioner. I informed Brenda on Friday of this and let her know she is, at this time, not a commissioner.”
Beemer investigated the situation, including checking all commission votes to find out if Langston’s vote would have impacted a pass or fail of a motion.
The city’s attorney researched the issue as well, noting there was dispute among experts about what, if anything, should be done.
The attorney, Beemer wrote in an email to commissioners dated Sept. 1, “has asked at this time that we wait to take action on this agenda item, until we can say more definitively what we are going to do. He also asked that we do not remove Brenda from the roll at this time, and instead record her as absent.”
Langston was informed she was back on the commission, according to an email from Rastall. She was not at the Sept. 6 meeting, according to minutes.
On Sept. 16, Beemer sent an email saying the attorney had resolved the issue.
“What he said is that because Brenda did receive votes, then that supersedes not being on the ballot according to our charter. Obviously not a situation we’d like to repeat, but as of this time, Brenda can serve as a commissioner again, and we do not have to redo any votes/motions,” she wrote, adding, “Thanks for your understanding as we navigated this odd situation.”

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