Clarkston city council candidate Laura Rodgers claims she is legally qualified to serve on the council even though she hasn’t lived here for more than a year (“Clarkston city council candidate clarifies qualifications,” Clarkston News, October 27, 2021). She was responding to my letter noting that (1) the Clarkston charter requires a council candidate to be a city resident for one year before the election; (2) the Michigan Election Law defined “residence” as “that place at which a person habitually sleeps, keeps his or her personal effects, and has a regular place of lodging” (MCL 168.11(1)); and (3) Rodgers admittedly moved out of her Clarkston house in September 2020.
Despite the law and the facts, Rodgers says the city attorney says this is all okay. They are wrong on for several reasons. First, they do not address the statutory definition of “residence” quoted above. Rather, they rely on her voter registration, driver’s license, receiving mail at her empty house, and paying taxes on that house. None of those, however, are mentioned in the Election Law definition of “residence.” Rodgers doesn’t and can’t say that she “habitually sleeps” or “keeps … her personal effects” at her empty house, which she candidly admits is “uninhabitable” and from which she is “living away.”
Second, Rodgers blithely relies on the city attorney’s opinion, even though he is not her lawyer and his advice can be questioned. We haven’t seen a written opinion from him and doubt there is one. In any event, this attorney has at least twice given the city bad advice that led to litigation the city lost and that cost the city thousands of taxpayer dollars that could better have been spent on crumbling infrastructure or other city needs. He urged the city council to hold a closed session that the city later admitted was illegal. The city settled the case and paid part of the plaintiff’s fees. The Oakland County prosecutor warned the council of potential criminal liability for violating the Open Meetings Act. More recently, he led the city into more than five years of litigation that resulted in the city’s loss in the Michigan Supreme Court, thousands of dollars of city legal fees, and the city’s payment of $160,000 of the plaintiff’s fees. The city attorney’s personal legal malpractice insurer contributed $35,000 to the payment, a clear indication that his insurer concluded that he acted improperly by promoting the theory that he could hide records of his work for the city in a secret off-premises file.
Either Rodgers is unaware of the city attorney’s history or she doesn’t care. Either way, we should question her judgment and ask whether we want someone on city council who relies on the advice of a lawyer who has been wrong before in significant city matters.
Third, Rodgers relies on “research done at the State of Michigan level by the city clerk.” On my inquiry, the clerk told me this was based on a phone conversation with someone whose qualifications were not disclosed and no written opinion was issued. It was also based on the clerk’s misrepresentation that Rodgers’ “personal effects are located at 58 N Main St.” The clerk made this representation even though Rodgers’ blog states on September 21, 2020 “our belongings were moved into a POD and they were whisked away for safe keeping.” So this so-called “research” adds nothing and does not refute that Rodgers doesn’t live in Clarkston.
Fourth, in an apparent attempt to change the facts, Rodgers now says she “divide[s] my time” between her empty house and “temporary lodging.” It’s unclear what that means, but any passerby can see that she is not actually living in a house she admits “uninhabitable.”
Rodgers’ legal qualification is at least questionable. I hope it will not be necessary to resolve this question in court.