Where Hillsdale News Now Stands on the Improper City Clerk Ballot Language Issue

I'm writing this editorial as an open letter to our new city attorney, John Lovinger of Marcoux Allen, in order to clarify some misconceptions that seemed to be present after I addressed the City Council in regard to the improper ballot language that led to the city clerk's position becoming appointed rather than elected.

Firstly, I'd like to welcome you to the job, Mr. Lovinger.  I understand fully that you're getting a trial by fire with this issue, and I apologize for that, but you're replacing a man who pulled some obviously corrupt shenanigans that were clearly motivated by nepotism and got him in more hot water than I think he wanted to deal with toward the end of his career.  I have no doubt in my mind that his bungling of this little scheme resulted in the hastening of his retirement, because he got the hell out of Dodge very quickly, and with the stunts that he pulled, it's not hard to understand why.

None of that is your fault, but you are in the unfortunate position of having to clean up his mess.  I don't envy you your task.

All that having been said, what I pointed out in my comments to the city council on Tuesday evening was the fact that Section 4.12 of the City Charter -- a section that pertains exclusively to the city treasurer's position -- is named as an affected section in the city clerk's ballot language.

Now, we all know exactly what the purpose of the ballot language was.  Nobody is arguing that someone would have mistakenly voted differently because the wrong charter section was mentioned in the ballot question.  Nobody, myself included, bothered to look up the mentioned charter sections until after the vote had taken place.  Hardly anybody voted on the questions at all.  None of that is at the root of the problem I'm addressing here.

The root of the problem is that, in Michigan election law, MCL 117.21 paragraph (3) clearly states:

A proposed charter amendment shall be confined to 1 subject. If the subject of a charter amendment includes more than 1 related proposition, each proposition shall be separately stated to afford an opportunity for an elector to vote for or against each proposition.

Lew Loren (or, to introduce you, Mr. Lovinger, to my pet name for him, "LewLo") followed that law to a certain degree in that he did separate the clerk and treasurer issues into two ballot questions.

However, contrary to what you've been led to believe, he most certainly did simply copy and paste the ballot language from one question to another.

As you can see in the sample ballot shown in the most recent 97 North Broad article, the ballot language for the separate questions regarding the city clerk's position and the city treasurer's position is exactly the same, with only the name of the position being changed between the two of them.  In other words, the city clerk question was not properly separated from the city treasurer question.

The inclusion of Section 4.12 invalidates the city clerk ballot question because Section 4.12 has absolutely nothing to do with the city clerk whatsoever.

The question, of course, now becomes, "what are we going to do about it?"

Let me clarify something that you, Mr. Lovinger, and Councilperson Brian Watkins seemed to be confused about.  I didn't suggest that the City Council could simply vote to invalidate the August 4th results.  Of course they can't.  I may be young, but I'm not ignorant.  No one with a modicum of knowledge about politics -- local or otherwise -- would think that a legislative body can simply vote to nullify an election.  That wasn't what I had said.

What I had said was that the City Council now needs to take this issue to the state authorities -- in this case, the Attorney General -- and explain what's happened.  The Attorney General can then advise the city on how to fix the problem.  No offense to you, sir, but as you've already admitted at the meeting Tuesday night, you don't have the answers to these questions.  You have, however, been requested to find those answers -- which I would imagine you would most easily accomplish by conferring with the Attorney General, just as I had stated needed to occur.

Now, I have since received word that you checked with the Attorney General's office on whether or not the ballot language was submitted to them for review, but I have no details about what that review entailed, and that is something you can expect me to inquire about at the next city council meeting.  The impression that I get, Mr. Lovinger, is that you simply inquired about the ballot language in regard to conflicts with the existing charter language, not in regard to MCL 117.21 (3).  State law is the standard to which that language needs to be held, not existing charter language, and so until that matter is cleared up, this question will persist.

This may all seem trivial to some, but we have to keep in mind -- all of us -- that there is a very real power struggle taking place in this city between the residents and what we on this site like to call the "G.O.B.'s" or the "Hillsdale Good Ol' Boy Network."  LewLo was one of the top-placed public officials within that latter circle, and he was hoping to perpetuate his will through his daughter by acquiring the city clerk position for her permanently without need for an election.  The Good Ol' Boys would do the exact same with the city treasurer position given the chance.

These are not just a couple of clerical offices as some would have you believe, these are two very important positions.  One holds the money, the other keeps the records.  One writes the checks, the other runs the elections.  In a town where the corruption has already reached levels that remind me of growing up in Miami (and if you think Miami Vice depicted it accurately, multiply the criminal element in government by five), it's not hard to understand why the people are angry at losing the ability to choose two formerly-elected seats.  This was a power grab, plain and simple, and the improper and illegal conduct of those who perpetrated it along the way prove that fact.

No, this isn't a trivial matter.  This is not a situation that calls for the "what difference does it make?" attitude that Loren adopted when the Council grilled him for his insubordination.  This is a fight for control of this city.

I encourage you to research what I presented to you and the Council on Tuesday night and what I'm telling you here.  You'll find as we get to know each other that I don't take these things lightly or march into them without sufficient information.

I certainly hope that you will be a champion for the people.  The first step in proving yourself as such?  Get the August 4th city clerk question overturned and rewrite it for the November ballot.

Josh Colletta is the owner and operator of Hillsdale News Now.

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