TRAVERSE CITY — The light switched off and then on again for the recall petition of two Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education trustees.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer voided a petition against TCAPS board members Matt Anderson and Pam Forton late Monday afternoon. Elsenheimer cited a state law that mandates that no elected official serving a four-year term can be recalled in the first or last years of their term.

Anderson and Forton each eclipsed the one-year mark on Dec. 31, 2019. The original petition was filed Nov. 8, which Elsenheimer said was inappropriate and not timely under the lockout provision — resulting in voiding the petition in full. A petition to recall TCAPS Board President Sue Kelly is active in Leelanau County and set for an appeal hearing Feb. 3.

Anderson said the ruling was “pretty cut and dry.”

“I’m obviously thrilled with it,” he said.

Justin Van Rheenen, the petitioner and a co-founder of TCAPS Transparency, refiled petitions with the Grand Traverse County Clerk less than an hour after Elsenheimer’s ruling. Van Rheenen said he was disappointed with petition being voided.

“We were led to believe by both county clerks ... that the filing of the language was different than the filing of the final petitions,” Van Rheenen said.

Van Rheenen said he was told filing the final petitions needed to happen after Jan. 1 but before Jan. 31.

Elsenheimer ruled in favor of Van Rheenen and the Grand Traverse County Election Commission on one matter before voiding the petitions. Elsenheimer said the language on the petitions, which was under dispute from Anderson and Forton as not meeting the burden of clear and factual, was indeed sufficient in clarity.

Forton and Anderson’s attorney, Gergory Luyt, argued the use of the word “terminate” was misleading to possible petition signers and that TCAPS trustees never voted to terminate former Ann Cardon’s employment with the district. Cardon signed a mutual separation agreement from TCAPS on Oct. 15. Board members voted unanimously to approve the agreement, which includes the phrase “amicably terminate,” on Oct. 17.

TCAPS Transparencywas formed in the days and weeks after Cardon’s departure, an exit that came under public scrutiny as many in the community believe Cardon was forced out.

Forton said the rulings were “surprising on one hand and unexpected on the other.” Neither Forton nor Luyt made oral arguments regarding the time the petition was filed, but Luyt did so in the appeal filed with the court.

“All I know is I broke no laws, I have not lied, I broke no promises to Ann Cardon,” Forton said.

Van Rheenen was pleased with the judge’s ruling on the sufficiency of the petition language and filed petitions with the same language Monday.

Anderson said he plans to fight the newest petition as well.

“It’s a legal process. It’s a political process,” he said. “I had over 19,000 people vote for me in the last election — No. 1 vote-getter. I wasn’t involved with any of the closed-door sessions or anything leading up to (Cardon’s resignation), so I don’t even know why I’m here.”

The earliest Anderson, Forton and Kelly could face a recall election is November.

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