KALKASKA — A submitted recall petition against Jeff Sieting could mean his time leading Kalkaska is limited.
Voters may make the decision themselves at a future election — if at least 166 of the approximately 232 signatures featured on a petition for a recall election against village President Sieting are verified by county clerk’s office personnel.
Elizabeth Dunham, a village resident and chairwoman for the citizen’s group Kalkaska for Peace, said she submitted the petition Friday after venturing with others from the group's political arm — Kalkaska Citizens for Responsible Government — through Kalkaska to collect signatures.
“It was a very positive process,” Dunham said. “When we were able to catch people at home, they were likely to sign.”
After a brief court battle, county election commission officials and 46th Circuit Court Judge George Mertz authorized the petition’s language earlier this month, clearing the way for Dunham and others to begin collecting signatures.
Mertz scuttled Sieting’s appeal of the petition language Jan. 3. Sieting argued the language — blaming Sieting for refusing to apologize for controversial Facebook posts, writing there was not a “sliver of hope” for the village in another Facebook post, and for voting to approve the village’s 2017 budget that appeared to contain a deficit exceeding $500,000 — was inaccurate.
State law prohibits officials from passing municipality budgets with a deficit. Sieting previously argued the shortage could be covered by village reserves to make the budget whole under state law. Mertz ruled the petition need only be factual and clear, not correct, valid or true.
Sieting additionally cited his First Amendment rights to post whatever he likes on his personal Facebook page, including posts he shared or authored calling for the killing of Muslims and another suggesting it’s time to “thin the herd” concerning the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of those posts were shared out of a historical context, he previously explained.
Many of his supporters continue standing by him, explaining the Facebook posts that spread around the world were blown out of proportion.
“I’ve known Jeff for a long time and he is an amazing man. He loves everybody,” said Jerrica Temple, who lives near the village. “He’s not racist. He’s not bigoted. He has his own opinions and will take the shirt off his own back for anybody.”
Sieting did not immediately return calls requesting comment.
Clerk’s office personnel confirmed the petition, which they continue to certify before moving forward.
“I’m really hoping there are enough signatures verified,” Dunham said. “This is something that a lot of village residents hope to see happen.
“When we were actually going door to door … overall we had a very positive response from people who are ready for a change.”
Trustee Penny Dupuie was among the village residents to sign. It’s no secret she and Sieting have their differences — they have sparred numerous times at meetings over the past several months. Dupuie hopes the election moves forward for a simple reason:
“Because I feel that we need new leadership,” she said. “I think we need a new village president.”
She placed blame on Sieting for several village issues, including the budget passed in February 2017 with a deficit exceeding $500,000 before fund balance covered the difference. Dupuie and Denise Kelly were the only trustees to vote against adopting the budget, village Clerk Angie Koon said. Former Trustee Dan North did not attend that meeting.
Sieting previously said that deficit developed because of unforeseen expenses, including $40,000 for wastewater treatment plant improvements and $15,000 to pay out the remaining sick leave balance for now-retired village Department of Public Safety Lt. Glenn Artress.
“I’ve been very clear that I have a lot of concerns about the financial future of the village,” Dupuie said. “As a (village) taxpayer and homeowner, that’s important to me. I also have some very deep questions about honesty and transparency.”
Sieting frequently has called out and criticized Dupuie by name on his Facebook page. She said “bullying” of her and other village residents who don’t agree with all of his actions adds to the reasons why Dupuie believes Sieting should be ousted.
“Mr. Sieting has shown this community over and over again that he doesn’t want to listen to people who don’t agree with him,” Dunham said. “The people of Kalkaska deserve someone who is ready to have their conversations with them and take their opinions into account.”
Village Trustees Kelly, Tim Ellis, Diana Needham and Damien White could not immediately be reached.