SUTTONS BAY — The Leelanau County Election Commission approved language on the recall petition of Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education President Sue Kelly. But members of the group leading the effort aren’t rushing out to collect signatures just yet.
Justin Van Rheenen is the recall petitioner and a co-founder of TCAPS Transparency, a group formed in the days following former TCAPS Superintendent Ann Cardon’s sudden and publicly questioned resignation. He said the 2-1 decision on Wednesday was a victory for the movement, but he expects Kelly to follow suit with the two other trustees at the center of recall efforts in Grand Traverse County and appeal the commission’s ruling.
“We anticipated they would appeal, so we decided to just wait and then collect signatures after that,” Van Rheenen said.
Kelly could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but she said previously she would appeal if the petition language was approved. She has 10 days to do so.
Ian Ashton, also a co-founder of TCAPS Transparency, attempted to recall Kelly in Grand Traverse County, but that petition was thrown out Dec. 4 because Kelly is a resident of Leelanau County. Van Rheenen filed the petition for approval with Leelanau County on Dec. 5.
TCAPS Trustees Pam Forton and Matt Anderson, who are also facing recall petitions, have already filed suit with the 13th Circuit Court appealing the decision of the Grand Traverse County Election Commission. Both Forton and Anderson argue the language on the recall, specifically the use of the word “terminate,” is incorrect.
The appeals state Anderson and Forton never voted to terminate Cardon’s contract, but instead authorized Kelly to sign a separation agreement with Cardon.
In addition, Anderson’s appeal claims the petition violates state law because it was filed before Anderson completed a year in office. His term began Jan. 1, although he’d served previously as an interim board member for 4 months.
Forton’s appeal states the recall effort “creates a grave and unacceptable risk of misleading the voters.”
A hearing on the matter is set for Jan. 13, and signatures cannot be gathered during the appeals process — which could take up to 40 days.
In order to force a recall election, 11,633 signatures must be gathered and submitted within 60 days of the first signature being collected. However, those signatures must be submitted by Jan. 31 if the measure is to appear on the May ballot, which would put the effort under a severe time crunch.
Michigan statute regarding recall elections of public officers states recall language is valid for 180 days and that signatures are valid for 60 days. State law also requires the recall election be held at least 95 days after the recall petition filing and on the next regular May or November ballot.
Van Rheenen expects the Circuit Court to uphold the petition language, but he laughed when asked if the plan is to hit the Jan. 31 deadline.
“We would love to see a May election, but realistically — due to the delays — we’re probably looking at seeing this on the November ballot,” he said.
Leelanau County Clerk Michelle Crocker and Leelanau County Treasurer John A. Gallagher III voted to approve the petition language, but Judge Marian Kromkowski voted against the measure.
“We just felt it was clear and factual,” Crocker said.
Kromkowski declined to elaborate further on her reasons other than what she presented during the hearing.
“By statute, was the language in the petition factual and of sufficient clarity to allow not only Ms. Kelly but electors to understand the course of conduct that led to the recall?” Kromkowski said. “My concern was with regard to that clarity, but I defer to the 2-1 vote of our election commission.”
Although time has passed and tempers seem to have cooled since the initial eruption of public outcry over Cardon’s departure, Van Rheenen said there is still large support for the recall.
“We would all rather see resignations happen and be able to not delay this process any further so that we can move forward as a district,” he said. “In lieu of them not resigning, we still feel we have a large part of the community that is embracing the idea of a recall.”