IONIA — Citizen efforts toward recall elections in Belding are now becoming a familiar obstacle for members of the Belding City Council.
On Friday, two separate instances of recall language were submitted by Belding resident Amy Garvey against Mayor Ron Gunderson and Councilman Jerry Lallo.
The language in both instances was reviewed and approved during a brief 12-minute meeting in a unanimous vote by the Ionia County Election Commission during the clarity/factual review hearings at the Ionia County Courthouse.
The recall language used, with the exception of the council members named, was identical to the recall language that was approved June 18 against former Belding councilman Joe Feuerstein, who was recalled in the Nov. 4 general election.
In each of the two hearings, with Lallo’s occurring first, the language read, “Belding City Councilman (Ron Gunderson, Jerry Lallo) voted yes to install the city council as the Zoning Board of Appeals on May 20, 2014.”
Garvey, Lallo and Gunderson were all provided the opportunity to argue for or against the language.
“Everything is factual as has been presented,” Garvey said of the recall language.
Neither Lallo or Gunderson objected to the language being clear and factual.
The three-person election committee — Ionia County Probate Judge Robert Sykes, Ionia County Treasurer Judy Clark and Ionia County Clerk Tonda Rich — agreed the language was clear and factual.
“We have approved very similar language previously and it appears to be factual and of sufficient clarity,” Sykes said.
According to Rich, both Gunderson and Lallo will now have 10 days to appeal the result of the clarity hearing.
If they choose to appeal, Ionia County Circuit Court will have 40 days to rule on the appeal.
However, Rich said the deadline to submit the necessary 320 signatures (per recall petition) of Belding residents to the county is Jan 30.
According to a written summary 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 necessary signatures are collected, valid and submitted by Jan. 30, the filing deadline for candidates for the recall election would be Feb. 4, which is the necessary 95-day mark before the May 5 election.
Reason for recall
Garvey told The Daily News that her reasons for the recall are tied directly to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
“We’re doing this because they disbanded the zoning board (of appeals),” she said. “At this point, I think it’s specifically related to that.”
Garvey said she is also being assisted through the recall language and hearing process by Belding resident Katherine Henry.
“I wasn’t really involved in this; I just signed the (recall language),” Garvey said.
Henry said the issues outlined in June by Councilman Dennis Cooper, who filed the recall language against Feuerstein and won the recall election against him, still hold true.
“There’s the same general concerns that there were with the other recall (along with) some of the outrageous actions that have taken place at city council meetings,” Henry said. “As far as legally speaking, the ZBA issue is obviously still going on.”
Henry said at this time there are as many as three possible candidates who may express interest to run during a recall election against Gunderson or Lallo
Gunderson, Lallo oppose recall
Though there was no dispute to the accuracy of the recall language, both Gunderson and Lallo told The Daily News they do not believe the recall itself is warranted.
“Although I do stand behind anyone’s Constitutional right to submit a recall, I am not happy one bit,” Lallo said. “I feel this recall effort is absolutely unwarranted; I have done nothing wrong. Mayor Gunderson and myself have acted within the law and in the best interest of the city of Belding.”
Lallo said he believes there is more below the surface in the recall efforts against himself, Gunderson and also included in the successful recall of Feuerstein in November.
“It is very evident there are some hidden agendas surrounding this recall effort,” he said. “I have served the city of Belding proudly since I was elected and my record can speak for itself. I absolutely stand behind the decisions I have made for the city since being elected.”
Gunderson’s comments echoed those of Lallo.
“I am saddened for our community, that the actions of vindictive individuals continue to breed hate, lies and pain within the community of Belding,” he said. “In the coming weeks, I plan to vigorously defend my decisions, my ethics and my character. I firmly believe that the truth will prevail and hidden agendas will be exposed. I look forward to dispelling the untruths and reaffirming my commitment to our community through an honest and clean campaign.”
Neither Lallo or Gunderson would comment as to what “hidden agendas” they were referring to.
Lallo stated he currently plans to appeal the clarity hearing ruling, while Gunderson said he has no plans for an appeal at this time.
Zoning Board of Appeals
The Zoning Board of Appeals was absorbed by the City Council in a 3-2 vote by the council on May 20, 2014. According to City Manager Meg Mullendore, the action was legal, according to Public Act 110 of 2006, which allows the council to serve as the city’s ZBA.
Mullendore said the board’s decision could be re-evaluated at any time once it was determined that a full board could be established. At that time, the ZBA could be reinstated with a separate board, relieving the city council of the responsibilities.
But since that decision was made, several citizens at Belding City Council meetings have expressed discontent toward the council for not showing any progress toward re-establishing the board with either new or original qualified members.
The issue has been discussed by council members at recent meetings and applications will be reviewed at the Feb. 3 council meeting, at which time the council could vote to release control of the board back to newly appointed members.