Ludington resident attempting to recall Mayor Barnett

January 19, 2024

Ludington Mayor Mark Barnett

Ludington resident attempting to recall Mayor Barnett

LUDINGTON — A Ludington resident has filed a petition application with the Mason County Clerk’s Office in an attempt to recall Ludington Mayor Mark Barnett. Tom Rotta claims that Barnett is trying to hold a deer cull on his private property.

Rotta’s recall petition application states: “”At a 9-11-23 Ludington council meeting, Mayor Barnett, citing still-unsupported anecdotes, directed the council to move to create a plan for a deer cull in committee and bring it to council for approval before 11-1-23.  Moved and passed.  No plan was ever created, but council timely approved funding a cull for $19,500.  Barnett did not disclose that the public-funded cull would be held on his private property, within a school zone, nor has he got required school approval.”

According to public records, Barnett owns .64 acre of land at 602 N. Lakeshore Dr.

“In recorded public meetings, Barnett strongly advocated for restarting a deer cull without ever disclosing to fellow officials or the public that he would be the beneficiary of the culling service by hosting it,” Rotta said in an email. “Beyond this corrupt act, the cull’s action plan permits federal agents to ‘utilize suppressed firearms from vehicles’ which is not only incredibly dangerous when your backyard borders school grounds, it violates federal law when you don’t get express permission from the school district, which has not been sought.

“Because of the unethical, illegal, and unsafe course of action that Mayor Barnett has taken surreptitiously in order to have his private deer cull, it has become a civic duty to initiate this action in order to let the voters choose a mayor that better matches our city’s ideals and values.”

The city has a three year contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to kill 40 deer with permits from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at a cost of $19,500 per year. During its Oct. 23, 2023 regular meeting, the City Council voted 6-1 to fund the deer cull from its general fund. As mayor, Barnett is not allowed to vote on city council issues except in the case of a tie.

Rotta, whose lawsuits have cost local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, attempted to recall now-former City Councilor Les Johnson. Johnson has since resigned after accepting a position as a county commissioner. Rotta was also behind a failed recall attempt against Scottville Mayor Marcy Spencer.

All elected officers in Michigan, except judicial officers, are subject to recall by the voters of their districts. An officer who is being recalled may continue to perform the duties of his or her office until the result of the recall election is certified, according to the Michigan Election Officials’ Manual, published in July 2021.

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.

Barnett, who served the city of Ludington for 19 years before retiring in 2020, was elected mayor in November 2022 with 58% of the votes defeating incumbent Steve Miller.

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.

The Mason County Election Commission consists of Chief Judge Jeff Nellis, County Clerk Cheryl Kelly, and County Treasurer Andrew Kmetz.

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.

A clarity hearing in front of the County Election Commission is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024 at 3 p.m. at the Mason County Courthouse.

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.