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Recall drive underway for school board members

 

By Judy Reed

If a current drive to recall three Cedar Springs Public School board members is successful, it could mean that all seven spots on the board would be up for grabs on the November ballot.

Recall language was approved by Kent County for Vice President Matt Shoffner and Treasurer Shannon Vanderhyde on March 26, and for Board President Heidi Reed on April 30. 

The recall language for Shoffner and Vanderhyde reads: “Enacting policy that required a ‘request to comment’ form prior to the meeting to address the board of education during public comments.” 

For Heidi Reed it is: “Enforcing policy that resulted in public comment being limited at a board of education meeting.”

The language refers to an incident that happened at a March 11 board meeting. Some people that wanted to speak were not allowed to because they had not filled out a form at the beginning of the meeting. On Wednesday, March 13, Board President Heidi Reed posted an apology for that. It read: “During our District’s last Board meeting, I did not allow an individual to speak during public comment because they had not signed our required comment form, as has been our consistent practice. Today, after consulting our Board bylaws and legal counsel, I realize that I should have allowed the comment. For this I apologize, and going forward, I will allow.” 

While they do still ask people to fill out the form for contact purposes, they do allow people to speak without filling one out if they desire.

For Cedar Springs resident Molly Nixon, one of the people who had wished to speak at that meeting, it’s about more than a violation of the Open Meetings Act. “The specific language refers to what I and other members of the community believe was a violation of the open meetings act, but that is merely a symptom of the larger problem. This board has repeatedly ignored stakeholder voices. They are beginning to rush into selecting a new superintendent when at least 4, if not 7 seats will be up for election in November. I believe this to be a mistake,” she said. (You can read her entire statement in her letter to the editor here.)

The Post asked for a statement on the recall petitions from the board members. Reed sent one on behalf of all three of them: 

“Like many districts throughout the state of Michigan, the School Board has relied upon NEOLA for its policies. Before Heidi joined the board, our policies on public comment were adopted and in place.

“On one occasion, after lengthy public comment period, Heidi disallowed a speaker who failed to follow published board protocol for participating in public comment. When that action was challenged, after contacting our legal counsel, Heidi published an apology on our CSPS website and sent to the Cedar Springs Post and stated that she would not do so in the future.

“It is our position that the recall petition is invalid, because it inaccurately implies that our board has had a practice of disallowing public comment. We think it is clear from the media accounts that multiple individuals have made their voices heard, loud and clear.

“To our knowledge, other than this one isolated occurrence, no member of the public has been denied access to public comment. Our board values input from our community and stakeholders, and subject to time limits, all public comment has been heard and permitted.

“For these reasons, we believe the petition effort is not based on fact. We will continue to serve the Cedar Springs public schools community, with the best interest of our parents, students, and staff uppermost as a guiding principle for future decisions.”

According to Kent County Elections Director Gerrid Uzarski, those circulating petitions need to get 2,356 signatures for each candidate. The number of signatures is based on the number of votes cast for governor in the Cedar Springs School district in the last election. He said that the number of signatures is 25 percent of that number. Signatures expire in 60 days.

Once the number of signatures is met and they are turned into Kent County, they do a preliminary check to make sure the petitions look ok, and then send them to each city/township clerk to verify that the signatures are valid. They have 22 days to return the petitions to Kent County. In order to be on the November ballot, everything must be back by August 3.

It’s at this point that the board members are officially “recalled.” They will then automatically be on the ballot in November, running for their seat again, unless they opt out. And anyone wishing to run against them for one of the seats, must specify which board member’s seat they are running for. The recall elections would be listed as three separate races.

The reason that all 7 board members’ seats could be open is that there are three appointed board members who are just filling in until the end of 2018 and will need to run for their seat if they so choose. Those members are Traci Slager, Matt McConnon, and Jeff Rivard. Brook Nichols, the remaining board member, is selling her house and will most likely leave in July, and then another board member will be appointed to replace her for the remainder of the year, and that person will also have to run for their seat in the fall. While the election is in November, the new members don’t actually take office until January.

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