Edits: The April resolution date was mixed up — it moved the deadline from Aug. 7 to July 24. Also, City Manager Jonathan Smith’s quote was changed to reiterate the point that Eric Haven and David Marsh had to obtain new petition signatures only if they were obtained before Haven’s resignation.
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Flip-flopping opinions by city attorney Thomas Ryan led to continued questions for candidates running for Clarkston City Council this November.
After residents alerted Oakland County and Secretary of State election officials of irregularities, the city posted an extension on Aug. 1, changing its deadline for candidates to file their nominating petitions from July 24 to Aug. 7. Open for election this November are the mayor, three two-year council positions, and a one-year council position.
According to an email City Manager Jonathan Smith sent to City Council members on Aug. 1, the change was to correct an error made by City Council in April, when it approved a resolution to move the deadline from Aug. 7 to July 24.
“Tom Ryan spoke with representatives from the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office and confirmed that the council resolution passed in April to move the petition submission deadline from the state’s deadline of 4 p.m. on the first Tuesday of August preceding the November election to the fourth Tuesday in July was invalid,” Smith said. “Therefore, the petition submission deadline remains Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 4 p.m.”
The change was made with six days notice. According to the Charter, notice of filing petition deadline requires at least one week, and not more than three weeks, notice.
The city placed the notice online and on the city office bulletin board, Smith said.
“It is not possible to place notification in the Clarkston News, given the next publication would be after the deadline,” he said.
The April decision was made based on Ryan’s advice. In a July 27 email from Smith to Mayor Steven Percival, council members Sue Wylie and Scott Reynolds, and city resident Cory Johnston, the city manager said Ryan defended the resolution – “because this resolution was to simply follow Michigan Election Law, it is not considered a change to the Charter and therefore does not require a vote of the people.”
Candidates who made the July 24 deadline included Eric Haven, running for mayor; David Marsh, running for the one-year City Council seat; and Sharron Catallo, Rick Detkowski, Sue Wylie, Al Avery, and Hampton Swayne running for the three, two-year seats.
Questions remain if the new Aug. 7 deadline meets state requirements that the city publish the extension notice at least seven days prior to the deadline. Notices were published in the Oakland Press on Aug. 3-4.
City resident Susan Bisio filed a complaint with Oakland County Election Division and Secretary of State on July 30, challenging the validity of Haven and Marsh’s nominations.
“These signatures should be disqualified because Haven obtained them before he was eligible to become a candidate and acted as a candidate in violation of the city charter,” Bisio said in her complaint. “Marsh’s petitions should be disqualified because the city clerk did not give proper notice that there would be an election for the partial term so as to enable other persons interested in running to have the opportunity to solicit and submit nominating petition signatures.”
Ryan verified Bisio’s complaint that Eric Haven’s petition signatures are invalid if obtained prior to his official resignation on July 20, Smith said in his email.
“Eric Haven and David Marsh were required to obtain new petition signatures and resubmit before Aug. 7 (if they were obtained prior to Haven’s resignation),” Smith said. “David Marsh will need to do the same, because his petition for the one-year council seat was predicated upon Eric’s resignation.”
Marsh said he collected his signatures after Haven resigned, and checked with Oakland County to make sure the petitions followed the law.
“I made sure it was all above board,” he said.
Petitions submitted by Sharron Catallo, Sue Wylie, Rick Detkowski, and Hampton Swaine remain valid, Smith said.
City resident Bill Basinger filed a letter with Oakland County Clerk and Elections Division, and the Secretary of State, on Aug. 6, challenging Ryan’s findings invalidating Marsh and Haven’s petitions.
“The extreme haste with which a decision had to be made, as the Bisio complaint was received just six days before the Aug. 7 filing deadline, deprived them of sufficient time to fully analyze the issues attributable to the Charter language in question and make a fully reasoned determination,” Basinger said in a letter sent Aug. 5 to the City Council.
“Mr. Haven clearly intended to, and assumed he was, complying with Charter Section 4.18 by resigning prior to officially filing for a place on the mayoral ballot.”
Joseph Rozell, director of elections for Oakland County, said it is a local issue.
“I’ve forwarded it on to the Secretary of State for their review,” Rozell said in a July 31 email.
The Secretary of State Bureau of Elections received Bisio’s complaint on July 31 and had it under review, said Fred Woodhams, Communications Office for Michigan Department of State, on Aug. 1.
“No decision has been made at this time about it,” Woodhams said. “As the matter is regarding the November election, it likely won’t be resolved until after Tuesday’s primary election, which has the attention of elections staff.”
Clarkston City Council scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 8, to address questions and concerns about candidate eligibility for the November local election.