IONIA — At the behest of the Ionia County Election Committee, recall petition language submitted toward Belding City Councilman Joe Feuerstein was denied Tuesday morning in an unanimous vote during a clarity/factual review session at the Ionia County Courthouse.
Submitted by Belding resident Dennis Cooper, the language of the recall petition consisted of three points that Cooper cited as reasoning Feuerstein should be eligible for recall in the November General Election.
The language read as follows:
“Belding City Councilman, Joe Feuerstein, allowed the evaluation of City Manager Meg Mullendore to occur on April 15, 2014, as opposed to the original scheduled date of April 1, 2014. The two-week delay granted the city manager, per contract agreement, a $5,000 raise on April 8, 2014, without a satisfactory evaluation. Further, Joe Feuerstein agreed to a failing performance rating (2.7 out of 5) of the Belding City Manager, yet allowed the city manager to continue in her capacity. Joe Feuerstein approved reimbursement check #61081, which was both authorized by and made payable to Meg Mullendore. The only itemized documentation related to the aforementioned check obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was the city manager’s personal calendar.”
The three-person election committee — Ionia County Probate Judge Robert Sykes, Ionia County Treasurer Judy Clark and Ionia County Clerk Tonda Rich — listened throughout the 35-minute review session as both Cooper and Feuerstein defended their respective positions on the recall language.
Sykes began the meeting by defining the conditions of the hearing, which specify that the committee must reach a determination to see if each reason for the recall that is stated in the petition is factual and of sufficient clarity.
“If any reason for the recall is not factual or of sufficient clarity, then the entire recall petition shall be rejected,” Sykes said.
‘Failing’ performance rating
In arguing his points Tuesday, Cooper said that he does not believe the people of Belding are being represented appropriately by the Belding City Council.
“Today I’m here as an ambassador of our chamber of commerce representing a group of people that feel they are not being represented on council,” Cooper said. “That is why I presented this information to you. I hope you would look over the information and make a decision that is in the best interest of our city.”
In discussing the topic of Feuerstein approving a failed performance rating for Mullendore, Cooper said a 2.7 rating is viewed as a failing rating in the eyes of himself and others.
In response, Feuerstein said the scoring mechanism “is not a grading scale such as teachers use,” and stated that a 2.7 rating was not a failing grade.
“This (grade) gives the council no legitimate reason to not allow her to continue in a capacity of city manager,” he said. “As such, this language should be dismissed as lack of clarity.”
Taking into account both sides, Sykes said he interpreted this portion of the recall language to be that of Cooper’s opinion rather than fact.
Sykes reached the conclusion after he confirmed with both Cooper and Feuerstein that nowhere on the grading scale used by the council on April 15 during Mullendore’s evaluation was there anything to determine a “failing” grade.
Date of performance review
In arguing his point that the date of Mullendore’s annual review by council members should have occurred on April 1 and not April 15, Cooper stated that according to what is outlined in her contract, the meeting should not have occurred after her hiring anniversary date of April 8.
According to Cooper, Mullendore’s contract states the city manager will receive a salary increase (to) $80,000 “per the minutes in November” and that she will receive the increase in salary upon a satisfactory performance review.
“Our city manager was granted a salary increase on April 8 because she was in satisfactory standing from her previous review in November,” he said. “She was not reviewed before the April 8 contractual agreement.”
Cooper added that he had been told by the two council members not present during Tuesday’s hearing, Mike Scheid and Tom Jones, that her evaluation would occur on April 1.
Sykes then asked of Cooper what the contract specifically stated in regards to the date of April 1.
“Does it state in the contract when the evaluation should be held?” he asked.
“No,” Cooper responded.
“How can you allege there’s a breach of the contract by not evaluating her prior to April 8 if there is nothing in the contract that required that?” Sykes asked.
“Because she was given a raise on April 8 to $80,000 without being reviewed first,” Cooper responded.
“Is there a requirement in the contract that says she must be reviewed first?,” Sykes asked.
“Yes, condition upon satisfactory performance review,” Cooper responded.
However, in the contract signed on Nov. 19 by Mayor Ron Gunderson, obtained by The Daily News, there is no reference to a requirement of a satisfactory performance review for the raise to $80,000. That statement is only reflected in six month and annual reviews prior to and following the salary increase to $80,000, according to the contract.
Mullendore’s contract reads: “Salary shall be at the annual rate of $72,500, after six months of satisfactory performance the salary will be increased with an additional $2,500 payable in equal installments in accordance with the city’s established payroll schedule. Upon the manager’s anniversary date, April 8, 2014, the salary will increase to $80,000. The salary will be reviewed annually, with raises conditioned upon a satisfactory performance review through the formal evaluation procedure.”
According to Feuerstein, Gunderson announced at the March 18 council meeting that Mullendore’s evaluation would occur on April 15, with no mention of an April 1 date.
After hearing both sides, Sykes said the point made in regards to Mullendore’s performance review was not factual.
“It does not appear that the statement is factual in that there was never an April 1 meeting scheduled where it was stated that her evaluation would be held,” he said. “I cannot conclude that that first basis is factual because there was never an original scheduled date.”
Cooper’s third point against Feuerstein was that Feuerstein should not have approved a reimbursement check submitted by Mullendore in November 2013 for the amount of $604.14.
According to Cooper, the only item received when he submitted a FOIA request to Mullendore for proof of itemized documentation was Mulldnore’s personal calendar.
“Mr. Feuerstein voted to approve a check that was both submitted by Meg Mullendore and authorized by Meg Mullendore with this personal calendar … that was the only basis,” he said.
Sykes asked if the calendar was the only documentation Mullendore used to establish the value of her reimbursement.
“When I FOIA’d it, (this) is what she gave me,” Cooper said holding up the calendar in his hand.
Feuerstein argued the calendar was sufficient documentation for Mullendore to submit, as it contained the number of miles listed per each day that she traveled.
“There was a reimbursement check for mileage for the city manger for traveling to and from various meetings and conferences solely for work purposes,” he said. “The manager’s calendar is an appropriate document to submit … as it shows the meetings she had along with the number of miles traveled. Yet again, the (implication) that the check was inappropriate is not a factor and should be dismissed for a lack of clarity as well as no factual basis.”
“On the third basis, to me that seems factual and clear that she was paid based upon what she included on her daily calendar,” Sykes said.
Upon discussing all three points of the recall language, Sykes then motioned the recall language be denied.
“I’m going to make a motion that the election commission not approve the recall petition based upon a finding that the first and second bases set forth in the petition are not factual and of sufficient clarity to enable Mr. Feuerstein, as well as the electors, to identify the course of conduct that is the basis of the recall,” he said.
Sykes’ motion was seconded by Clark and approved in a 3-0 vote.
New recall petition language submitted
When asked to speak to The Daily News after the session adjourned about whether he intended to submit new recall language, Cooper declined to comment.
The Daily News then approached Ionia County Deputy Clerk Janae Cooper and confirmed Dennis Cooper had submitted new recall language immediately after the hearing concluded.
Once Feuerstein was notified of the new submitted recall language, Rich forwarded a copy of the language in an email to The Daily News, which reads as follows:
“Belding City Councilman, Joe Feuerstein, approved reimbursement check No. 61081, which was both authorized by and made payable to Meg Mullendore. The only itemized documentation related to the aforementioned check obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, was the city manager’s personal calendar.”
In order to verify Cooper’s claims after he declined to comment, The Daily News submitted a FOIA to Mullendore after the meeting to obtain the materials originally FOIA’d by Cooper.
In addition to Mullendore’s calendar, which Cooper describes as “the only itemized documentation related to the aforementioned check,” there was included three other documents provided in the FOIA’d information. Those three documents include an employee weekly traveling expense report that summarizes Mullendore’s expenses, along with two accounts payable coding forms, each listing a $50 monthly phone stipend, both of which were included in the $604.14 reimbursement check.
As the county clerk, Rich will post a date 10 to 20 days from Tuesday to establish another clarity and factual review hearing for the newly submitted recall petition language.
If the recall language is approved at that time, Cooper can then begin to collect the necessary signatures needed to place the recall on the ballot, however, Feuerstein also has the opportunity to appeal the recall petition before circuit court.
In a continued attempt to clarify Cooper’s comments, The Daily News confirmed via the Belding Area Chamber of Commerce website that Cooper is neither a member of the Belding Area Chamber of Commerce nor an ambassador, as he stated Tuesday. The role of ambassador to the chamber is currently held by Maria Robertson of Metron of Belding.