TRAVERSE CITY — The effort to supplant four members of the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education just kicked into gear.
Members of the TCAPS Transparency group were finalizing the language of a recall petition with their legal counsel Thursday night in anticipation of filing the initiative with the Michigan State Board of Canvassers on Friday, Justin Van Rheenen said.
Van Rheenen, a forerunner of TCAPS Transparency and parent of a TCAPS student, said there have been a lot of moving parts leading up to the eventual filing. Now, the group will have to wait 10-20 days to find out if the state board approves the language.
The original intent, Van Rheenen said, was to recall Board President Sue Kelly, Vice President Jeff Leonhardt, Secretary Pam Forton and Trustee Jane Klegman. However, Michigan election law stipulates that a recall petition shall not be filed against an official during the first year and the last year of the elected official’s term of office, if the term of office is more than two years. Klegman and Leonhardt would be in their final year in 2020.
Van Rheenen said the effort moved to just Kelly and Forton as late as Thursday afternoon, but details were ironed out later in the evening to include Board Treasurer Matt Anderson. He said they also consulted with the state election office about seeking an exemption so they can recall Leonhardt, who is serving a two-year interim term. Van Rheenen is hopeful that option will be greenlit.
Kelly, Forton and Anderson are not eligible to be recalled until Jan. 1, 2020. That would be the earliest they could submit the necessary 11,700 signatures — which represent the state-required 25 percent of registered voters in the district — to force a special election. The deadline to submit signatures is Jan. 31, 2020, in order for the election to be on the May 2020 ballot.
“We’ll let the public decide who they want to recall,” Van Rheenen said. “’Here’s the paperwork for all four of them, you decide who you think needs to be recalled.’”
Forton said Thursday she was not ready to comment directly on the recall campaign, but she believes she has served the district well as both a teacher and now as a trustee.
“I’ve been in the district working hard for kids for 20-some years, and I have never done anything that I didn’t think was in the best interest of TCAPS, its students and staff,” Forton said.
Anderson also said he has served the district “honorably and professionally,” but he said he respects the right of the community to mount a recall effort — although he believes it would be a detriment to TCAPS.
“If that’s what they feel like they want to do, we have a democratic process and that’s their right to do that,” Anderson said. “But I think it would hurt the community further and hurt the district further.”
Van Rheenen said the estimated cost of the effort, which includes administrative and marketing costs, could be upward of $80,000, or about $20,000 per candidate. TCAPS Transparency is in the process of filing the paperwork to be categorized as a 501©(3) nonprofit organization and is accepting donations.
They hope to begin gathering signatures after Thanksgiving, and Van Rheenen said they are nearing a thousand people who have signed a pledge to sign the recall petition.
“The communication we’re getting from the community in favor of this is overwhelming,” Van Rheenen said.
The TCAPS Board of Education meets Monday, Nov. 11.