ALPENA - The Alpena County Election Commission determined the recall petition language submitted by Alpena's Cindy Johnson to remove Mayor Matt Waligora and Councilmen Mike Nunneley and Dave Karschnick from Alpena Municipal Council is worded correctly and suitable for the November ballot should enough signatures be gathered.
During a clarity hearing Tuesday morning, County Clerk Bonnie Friedrich, Treasurer Joelyn McCallum and Judge Tom LaCross said the four issues on the recall petition should be understood by those who read it on a ballot, and Johnson could begin gathering signatures after the ruling. The three elected officials now have 10 days to appeal or draft rebuttal verbiage of their own in 200 or less words to also go on the ballot.
During proceedings, all three of the council members disputed parts of the language, and Waligora questioned the merits of the accusations made in the petition. LaCross stopped Waligora during his protest and explained the purpose of the meeting was to rule only on the clarity of the wording and not to question the validity of the claims.
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
The Alpena County Election Commission held a clarity hearing on Tuesday to determine if the language being used in a recall petition filed against Mayor Matt Waligora, Councilmen Mike Nunneley and Dave Karschnick is acceptable. County Clerk Bonnie Friedrich, Judge Tom LaCross and County Treasurer Joelyn McCallum determined the wording on the petition met the demands of statute, and the collection of signatures for the recall could begin.
"We are not going to talk about the merits of the language. We will not enter into that debate," LaCross said. "This is just about the clarity of the language and does it give proper notice. If this recall position goes through, it is up to the voters, by the laws that apply, to decide what is being challenged here."
LaCross said the three officials have avenues they can take to plead their case to the voters, or challenge to commission's decision. He said a repeal can be made to 26th Circuit Court for review, and they can issue a rebuttal with a "Justification of Conduct in Office" in 200 words or less within 72 hours after the clarity ruling. The response then would be added to the ballot after its wording is approved. Before the meeting's end, Karschnick notified the commission of his intent to appeal its ruling, while Waligora and Nunneley were non-committal for now.
"This puts the people on notice, and now it is up to them to decide on the merit," LaCross said. "It also is now up to the mayor and the councilmen to respond as they see fit. Somebody could absolutely lie on a petition, but that is not why we are here today. We are here to rule on the clarity and not the merit. We will leave it to the voters to decide if they believe the accusations are valid."
The commission voted on each of the petition individually, even though the language was the same on each and the vote for each was 3-0 for all three. Friedrich said she understood the concerns expressed by Waligora, Nunneley and Karschnick, but in her mind the language fit statute demands.
"I understand the objections, and know some things are subject to individual opinion, but the recall language is the sponsor's opinion, so I think it is pretty clear on what the sponsor's reasons are for the recall. Whether they are right or wrong, they have used the right words. Now it will be up to the voters to educate themselves and listen to all sides and to gain the knowledge that they can to see if they feel it is an appropriate recall."
McCallum, who lives in the city, said she is going to have to face the same dilemma other voters will in terms of signing the petition as it stands.
"I understand the comments made by Mr. Waligora, Mr. Nunneley and Mr. Karschnick, but Mrs. Johnson evidently has her own opinions, and I, as a city voter, if asked to sign the petition am going to have to decide in my own mind how I feel about those four issues," McCallum said. "They are stated, whether they're correct or not, there is a way each of the individuals in the petitions can have their opinion expressed on the ballot, and then we will have to determine whether or not the response is an opinion facts. Now it is up to the voters to sign saying 'yes I believe these statements' or not to sign it, which would indicate they may have an issue with it."
Johnson can now begin collecting the signatures she needs to have the recall placed on the ballot in November's general election, but she will have to garner more than 800 names of registered voters for each of the three men. The list of names must be returned to the clerk's office by Aug. 3 and forwarded to City Clerk Karen Hebert, who will substantiate the signatures before the recalls will be eligible for the November election. The petition is good for 180 days from the time of the clarity ruling, but signatures on it cannot be on it for more than 90 days to be counted.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689.