IONIA — Petitions to recall a Belding city councilman will soon be circulated throughout the community after a second attempt at approving recall language was accepted Wednesday morning.
Belding resident Dennis Cooper submitted recall petition language against Councilman Joe Feuerstein on June 5, which was reviewed and approved in a unanimous vote by the Ionia County Election Commission during a clarity/factual review hearing at the Ionia County Courthouse.
The language of the recall petition was limited to one sentence and was in regard to a vote made by Feuerstein at the May 20 Belding City Council meeting.
The language read as follows: “Belding City Councilman Joe Feuerstein voted yes to install the city council as the Zoning Board of Appeals on May 20, 2014.”
The three-person election committee — Ionia County Probate Judge Robert Sykes, Ionia County Treasurer Judy Clark and Ionia County Clerk Tonda Rich — considered statements from both Cooper and Feuerstein before reaching a decision.
The same committee also reviewed previous recall language submitted by Cooper against Feuerstein during a clarity/factual review hearing on June 3, which was denied in an unanimous vote.
Defending the language of his most recent submission, Cooper said the statement was taken directly from the meeting minutes from the May 20 meeting.
“I feel (the language) is very direct, distinct, factual and clear,” he said. “From my understanding and what I learned from the previous hearing, it needed to be factual and clear.”
Feuerstein claimed that although he agreed the language was factual, he did not believe it was clear.
“I’ll agree that it is factual, as I did vote,” he said. “But in understanding the clarity, it’s not there. I am required to vote by law. I voted in the best interest of the citizens of the town and there was a majority vote taken.”
Sykes questioned Feuerstein, asking him to cite specifically how the recall language itself was not clear.
“The sentence is leaving out that it was a vote for the people of Belding, not (for) an individual.”
Sykes said that Feuerstein’s argument did not focus on the clarity of the language, but on whether the language was worthy of a recall, which, as defined by the Michigan Bureau of Election, does not factor into a factual/clarity review session.
“There in lies some of the concern with recall petitions in general,” Sykes said. “You can seek the recall of any elected official for virtually any reason as long as it’s factual and of sufficient clarity. It’s not up to our commission to decide whether it is a worthy reason or not.”
Feuerstein also argued that he didn’t believe the language to be clear for two additional reasons, citing that he took issue with comments made by Cooper at the previous hearing on June 3.
“At the last (hearing) a lot of (non factual) statements were made of who Mr. Cooper represented, that he was an ambassador (of the Belding Area Chamber of Commerce),” he said.
Sykes responded, stating that those concerns were not relevant to the hearing.
“The issue before us today is not whether the proponent of the recall is truthful or not at previous hearings, it’s whether the language that is presented in this recall petition is factual and of sufficient clarity,” he said.
Feuerstein’s additional concern was that he believed Rich to be biased due to her interpretation of legislation regarding the recall process.
Dismissing the claim, Sykes stated that he believed the language to be both factual and clear.
“I do find based upon the presentations made that the current recall petition is factual and of sufficient clarity to enable Mr. Feuerstein and the electors of Belding to identify the course of conduct that is the basis of the recall,” he said.
The language was then accepted unanimously in a 3-0 vote.
“It’s one sentence, it’s a clear factual statement, whether it’s true (or not),” Clark said.
Reason for recall
Cooper told The Daily News at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting that the recall was being sought due to issues he has with various members of Belding City Council.
Cooper said that he also plans to submit recall language toward Councilman Jerry Lallo as well as Mayor Ron Gunderson once they are eligible for recall in November.
“We have full intentions of recalling Ron Gunderson and Jerry Lallo (along with Feuerstein) because of their inconsistency in their government procedures and their disrespect to the citizens,” he said. “They listen to some citizens and don’t listen to others.”
Cooper said he has personally witnessed inconsistencies at council meetings and felt the need to recall Feuerstein, who is currently the only council member eligible for recall attempts at this time, according to Rich.
“They’ve allowed one citizen to stand up for 12 minutes to speak and one citizen to stand up and speak for three minutes,” he said in regard to public comment at meetings. “They’ll answer one citizen’s question at a council meeting, but won’t answer other ones.”
Cooper did not state that he had any complaints with the other two members of city council, Councilman Mike Scheid and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Jones.
Cooper also stated that he did not intend to imply that he was the specific ambassador of, nor a member of, the Belding Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to make it clear that I was using the term ambassador very loosely, I meant that I was representing more than just myself,” he said. “I was an individual here representing the people behind me, several business owners, and constituents of the city of Belding.”
Cooper added that he intends to run in the recall election against Feuerstein if the petition is approved.
According to Rich, 327 signatures of registered Belding voters will be needed for the recall petition to be accepted.
Circulators of the petition will have 180 days to obtain the necessary signatures, which are valid for 60 days, however, for the recall to appear on the upcoming Nov. 4 ballot, the petition must be submitted on Aug. 1, 95 days before the election.
If the petition is submitted after Aug. 1, but prior to Dec. 15, and accepted, the recall will appear on the ballot in the May 2015 election.
Rich said Feuerstein has 10 days to appeal the recall petition if he so chooses. If an appeal is submitted, it would be heard before Ionia County Circuit Court, which would then have 40 days to rule on the appeal.
According to a written summery of “key points and timeframes” in regards to the recall of local election officers, petition sponsors are free to circulate their petition “if the County Election Commission approves a recall petition for clarity/factuality and the 10-day appeal period has elapsed; or any appeal to the Circuit Court has concluded (or 40 days has elapsed since the filling of the appeal).”
If the petition is submitted before Aug. 1 and approved by both Rich and Belding City Clerk Kareen Thomas, candidates for the remainder of Feuerstein’s term will have 10 days to acquire the necessary two signatures.
The recall election would then appear on the Nov. 4 ballot with all qualified candidates up for election, including Feuerstein.