ALPENA -Lawmakers of both parties in Lansing are looking for ways to make recalls in the state to rely less on opinion and more on fact. Recalls are becoming more and more commonplace and several bills are garnering attention in the state capital. One bill, House Bill 6060, was passed by the House of Representatives and is ready to move forward.
According to 106th District Rep. Peter Pettalia, Democrats and Republicans are working together to alter some recall language and he said he expects some sort of reform in the not-too-distant future.
HB 6060 would change how a county's election commission not only determines the language on a recall petition is clearly stated, but also to determine of the claims on it are factual. Currently a petitioner can make accusations that don't have to be proven true or untrue, but if the language is accurate and easily understood, the recall can move forward. Pettalia said recalls are becoming a problem in Michigan, particularly in rural areas.
"It just seems like recalls are running rampant in small counties, cities and villages and the price of the special elections are costing the taxpayers," he said. "We want to make it so recalls are not about personal issues and more about professional. It is really about making the process fair and just for actions involving criminal activity, corruption in office and not about someone's personal life. It must only be related to the office they were elected to serve and to do a duty in."
Earlier this year three members of Alpena Municipal Council were subject to recall after they voted to terminate former City Manager Thad Taylor without cause. Taylor's contract contained a clause that allowed for the council to terminate the deal for any reason. The move upset many local citizens and November voters determined the fate of Mayor Matt Waligora, as well as former Councilmen Mike Nunneley and Dave Karschnick. Only Waligora survived the recall attempt.
Recently there have been recall elections involving Montmorency County commissioners and Atlanta Community Schools board members as well.
Pettalia said the events in Alpena did not influence his vote on the bill and said he is not questioning the language or claims made in the recall petition.
"The concern over recalls and the work on the language has been going on in Lansing for the last 22 months," Pettalia said. "My vote in no way had anything to do with what happened in Alpena. The recall in Alpena was handled the way democracy intended and the voters had their say. I was in no way influenced by it."
Pettalia said besides HB 6060 there are other ideas about how to change the structure of recalls and also the cost associated with it. Pettalia said one idea is to focus on what Wisconsin does.
"There you have the person subject to recall on the ballot and also the people to elect to replace them," Pettalia said. "This would eliminate the need for special elections to a certain degree and be less of a burden on the taxpayers and that is always a good thought. Right now there are a lot of good ideas being discussed."
Pettalia said both parties are concerned about the number of recalls and the ease in which they can be made possible. He said he believes HB 6060 will be passed in the Senate and then go to the governor. He said currently the Michigan constitution states a petitioner only needs to make their claims clear, not justify them. Pettalia said the state House and Senate could amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority vote, but added he anticipates any new laws will work with what is already in place.
"If it is a violation of the constitution it will not be passed into law and we will not be working to change the constitution," Pettalia said. "I think the voters made it pretty clear in November that they didn't want changes to it. We will be working within the constitution, at least that is what is being talked about now."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689.