Additional reporting by Steve Marowski
Last week, an evaluation was conducted by Albion’s City Council to rate City Manager Sheryl Mitchell’s performance in her position. Three council members gave an overall score of five and two gave a score of over four. Mayor Garrett Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Sonya Brown gave scores of 3.4 and 3.8, respectively.
On Monday’s City Council meeting, Mitchell announced her resignation, effective November 8.
Garrett Brown expressed concern regarding Mitchell’s management of city workers. City workers were not initially compensated for filling Albion College potholes over the summer and Mitchell did not receive authorization for the work from the city attorney.
Mitchell only authorized the purchase of asphalt, not the work, and once she found out city workers were involved, she immediately contacted city council. City workers were compensated as city employees and paid for their work.
Over a dozen Albion residents expressed their support of Mitchell at the Council meeting. Some urged her to stay with the city. Others commended her leadership.
A censure, or a formal disapproval, of Garrett Brown and his alleged overstepping of mayoral roles was then presented by council members Maurice Barnes Jr. and Andrew French. Despite City Attorney Cullen Harkness advising Brown to not chair and vote on the censure, Brown did so anyway. The censure was postponed.
Albion has a weak mayor system of government, meaning that his executive powers are limited. Instead, the city council, which the mayor is a part of, has more power. Mitchell as city manager oversees the day-to-day operations of government while the council oversees legislation.
The next day, Albion resident and former mayoral candidate Chad Baase submitted a petition to the Calhoun County Clerk to recall Garrett Brown as mayor. Albion resident Edward Kernish sent in petition language to recall Sonya Brown. Kernish is a resident of Brown’s precinct.
Petition language becomes a petition if approved by an elections commission.
The wording of both recalls states, “Non-compliance of City Charter creating a hostile work environment for city manager Sheryl Mitchell, causing her to submit her resignation letter.”
Baase submitted language to recall Garrett Brown because he felt that the mayor was overstepping his duties as outlined in the city’s charter. He was also concerned that both Garrett Brown and Sonya Brown refused to apologize to Mitchell at the council meeting for their performance scores.
“He wants to be the ruler,” said Baase about Garrett Brown. “He wants to be the king, with a dictatorship rather than a diplomatic or democratic government.”
Brown has been reached for comment on the recall petition language but has yet to respond.
According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, Mitchell said that Garrett Brown and Sonya Brown believe she supported the annexation of Albion Public Schools and used her performance evaluation as retaliation. Mitchell said she did not take a public position on the polarizing issue.
At 9:00 a.m. October 31, the Calhoun County Elections Commission will hold a clarity and factual review hearing at the Calhoun County Building in Marshall. If recall petition language is approved by the Commission, Baase and Kernish can begin gathering signatures from Albion residents. If signatures are gathered and approved, a special recall election will be held.
The process to hold a recall election, which is outlined by Michigan election law, for Sonya Brown and Garrett Brown is outlined below.
October 31’s Calhoun County Elections Commission meeting is not meant for debating the merit of a potential recall election. The Commission does not have the authority to rule on the reasons for a recall. Instead, it will ensure that the reason for the recall is factual and clearly understood.
If the Commission appeals the language of the recall petition, 10 days are allotted to make an appeal to the Circuit Court. The court then has 40 days to make a final determination. If approved by the court, or approved by the Commission and no appeals arise, Baase and Kernish will have 60 days to obtain the required amount of signatures to hold a recall election.
The petition process
The number of signatures required to hold a recall election is 25 percent of the total number of votes cast in the 2014 gubernatorial governor election. For a recall to be held for Garrett Brown, 439 signatures must be obtained. For a recall of Sonya Brown, 96 signatures from Brown’s precinct (Precinct Three) must be obtained.
Precinct Three extends from Erie Street in the north, Water Street to the south, Finley Drive to the east and Superior Street to the west. It has 1,059 registered voters.
Garrett Brown’s recall petition can be filed at any time. Sonya Brown’s recall petition must be filed after December 5. Sonya Brown, who has a four-year term, cannot be filed during her first or last year of the term. Garrett Brown, who has a two-year term, cannot be filed during the first or last six months of his term. Both city officials were elected in December of 2016.
Once filed, Calhoun County Clerk Anne Norlander then has seven days to approve the petitions’ signatures. Signatures will not be counted if all information is not filled out or if the date given falls outside of the 60-day approval from the Election Commission. No signatures will be counted if the petition is not filled out correctly and if the reasons for recall are different than the reasons approved by the Commission.
After the petition is filed, Garrett Brown and Sonya Brown would have 30 days to challenge the validity of any signatures, providing reasoning.
If all signatures are valid, the recall election will be scheduled for the next regular election date. In the case of Garrett Brown and Sonya Brown’s potential recall, it would be held in May of 2018.
The recall ballot would have the reasoning for the recall printed on it. The officer whose recall is sought would have the opportunity to submit a statement that justifies their conduct in office.
In the election, the incumbent is made an automatic candidate in the election unless they decide to withdraw. Any other qualifying Albion resident may become a candidate for election if they submit a petition that contains a minimum of 10 percent of the required district signatures and pay a $100 filing fee.
During the entire petition process and, if another candidate is elected, the incumbent holds office.
Photo by Steve Marowski