Former commissioner makes another attempt to recall Spencer

June 30, 2023

Former commissioner makes another attempt to recall Spencer

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

LUDINGTON — Once again former Scottville City Commissioner Eric Thue is attempting to recall Scottville Mayor Marcy Spencer. Thue’s previous efforts were voted down by the Mason County Election Commission earlier this month. In his second attempt, he is attempting to recall Spencer for actions that were taken during a previous term that she served. Thue claims that Spencer violated procedures by not allowing public comment before the general business of the commission, and instead placing public comment at the end of the agenda. Ironically, Thue served as a commissioner during most of the alleged timeframe and supported the actions. Had he been opposed of the actions, as a commissioner he had the right to make a motion to change them.

Thue’s recall petition states “Continuing a meeting policy began in 2021 with her as mayor, Spencer chaired meetings of the Scottville City Commission up to March 2023, violating procedures defined by the city charter that allowed for public comments before general business of the meeting. During this time, Spencer silenced the public from speaking until all business had been conducted.”

Thue’s claims are based on a misinterpretation of the city’s Charter. The Charter lists the procedures the City Commission should follow and lists them in numerical bullet points, with “hearing of citizens” as bullet point No. 4. Nowhere does the Charter state that the listing of the procedures has to be done in that particular order. Further, the Michigan Open Meetings Act only requires one public comment session during a public meeting, but does not stipulate when that is to take place.

When Spencer was re-appointed mayor by the City Commission in January, she added a second public comment segment to the regular meeting agendas.

Thue’s petition also appears to be invalid as he describes Spencer’s office as “commissioner/mayor.” Her elected office is actually “commissioner-at-large,” as stated in the city’s Charter, which Thue uses to attempt the recall. Further, the position of mayor is not an elected position. It is appointed by the City Commission and therefore is not subject to recall by the voters. Only the City Commission can remove the mayor from that position.

Thue had been appointed to the commission in September 2021 and had taken out a petition in the summer of 2022 to run for re-election in the November 2022 General Election. However, he did not acquire the proper amount of signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. Instead of running for a vacant two-year seat, he chose to run a write-in campaign against four other candidates who were running for three four-year term seats. All Scottville commissioners are now elected at-large. The Scottville mayor is a voting commission, chosen by the commission to serve as chair. Thue only received 54 votes in the election.

Spencer, who has served on the commission for over 10 years, also lost in the election, receiving 149 votes versus 156 received by Darcy Copenhaver, 159 by Rob Alway and 162 by Kelli Pettit. Pettit recently resigned from the commission, after serving less than six months.

Spencer was re-appointed to the commission in December to serve the vacant two-year term. The actions of her previous terms cannot be subject of a recall.

A clarity hearing has been scheduled with the Mason County Election Commission to review the petition language on Wednesday, July 12 at 11 a.m. at the Mason County Courthouse. That commission consists of Mason County Clerk Cheryl Kelly, Mason County Treasurer Andrew Kmetz and Mason County Probate/Chief Judge Jeff Nellis.

The Michigan Election Law states that a recall petition shall not be filed against an official during the first six months or last six months of the officer’s term of office, if the term of office is two years or less; or during the first and last years of the officer’s term of office, if the term of office is more than two years.

The Michigan Election Law requires the Board of State Canvassers (for state and county-level offices, except for county commissioners) or County Election Commission (for all other offices) to review the language of a recall petition to determine it is factual and of sufficient clarity before the petition is circulated. The clarity/factual review is the starting point of each and every recall effort launched in Michigan.

Thue’s previous recall petition language stated: “She willfully has violated the Scottville City Charter. First, by accepting an unlawful appointment to fill a vacancy in the city commission. Second, by later accepting unlawful appointment to mayor. Third, by violating the charter’s commission meeting procedures as regards hearing of the citizens disenfranchising the public.”

The election commission voted 2-1 to deny the previous petition.

Thue also was involved in an effort by Ludington resident Tom Rotta to sue Spencer for alleged election fraud, serving the her the court documents prior to a commission meeting in January. Circuit Court Susan Sniegowski threw that case out, stating, among other reasons, that only a citizen of a community can file such a case and that the statute of limitations had passed as well. Both the current and former Scottville city attorney issued opinions stating that the allegations were false. 

The function of the County Election Commission, during the review, is to determine whether each reason for the recall stated in the petition is factual and of sufficient clarity to enable the officer whose recall is sought and the electors to identify the course of conduct that is the basis for the recall. The officer whose recall is sought and the sponsors of the petition may appear at the meeting and present arguments on the clarity and factual nature of the petition language. The Michigan Election Law states that each reason for the recall shall be based upon the officer’s conduct during his or her current term in office. The commission does not have a the authority to rule on whether the petition includes good reasons for recall, as only the clarity and the factual nature of the recall language is subject to the commission’s review. If any reason the recall is not factual or of sufficient clarity, the entire recall petition shall be rejected.

The commission’s ruling may be appealed, either by the officer whose recall is sought or by the sponsors of the recall petition. This would take place in 51st Circuit Court. An appeal must be filed within 10 days of the commission’s determination.

If a determination is appealed, the recall petition is not valid for circulation and cannot be circulated until a determination of whether each reason is clear and factual is made by the circuit court judge or until 40 days after the date of the appeal, whichever is sooner. A petition is not valid for circulation if at any time a Circuit Court determines that each reason on the recall petition is not sufficiently clear and factual.

The number of signatures needed to trigger a recall election is 25 percent of the votes cast in the officer’s district for all candidates for the office of Governor in the last gubernatorial election, which would be based on the November 2022 election. In Scottville, that’s about 125 signatures.

If a recall were to take place, Spencer would have the option to run for election during the next election. Other candidates could also appear on the ballot if they filed a petition. There is currently one vacant commission seat that will have to be selected during the November special election, if a candidate choses to run. That seat is vacant due to the vacancy left by Evans and the lack of anyone applying within the 30 day charter deadline. In the scenario that a recall petition effort were successful, it would mean there would be two seats that Scottville voters would have to elect. There is also currently an additional vacant commission seat left by Rob Alway, who resigned earlier this week for personal reasons. If that seat isn’t filled within 30 days, there would be an additional seat that would require election.

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