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Can city trustee serve on school board?

By Judy Reed

The city attorney for the city of Cedar Springs said in a recent opinion that newly-elected trustee Pamela Conley may be sworn in to City Council Thursday evening, but that it is his opinion that once that happens, she will vacate her seat on the Cedar Springs Board of Education.

City Manager Christine Burns asked attorney Jeffrey Sluggett of Law Weathers for his opinion last week on whether Conley can simultaneously serve on both boards after Conley won one of two city council seats up for grabs.

Sluggett cited the Public Act 566 of 1978, the Michigan Incompatible Offices Act, which defines incompatible offices as public offices held by an individual that results in the subordination of one office to another; the supervision of one office by another; and/or a breach of duty of public office. Sluggett suggested that the two offices are not incompatible under the first two criteria, but they would be under the third.

“The Michigan Attorney General has concluded that a person may not simultaneously serve as a township trustee and a community college trustee if the two units of government actually enter into contract negotiations or contract with one another,” wrote Sluggett. He said one example that would render the offices incompatible would be the collection of summer taxes for the school district.

Sluggett said it was their opinion that Conley could not serve on both boards if they enter into contract negotiations with each other. He also noted that the city administers the school district elections, also making the offices incompatible.

Sluggett said that if Conley does not resign from the school board, her acceptance of the city council office would result in the vacation of her seat on the school board. “The Michigan Supreme Court has stated with regard to incompatible offices that ‘it is the universal rule that when such incompatibility exists the acceptance of the latter office vacates the first,’” wrote Sluggett, and cited several rulings.

Conley maintains that her lawyer told her the offices are not incompatible, and she plans to go ahead with the swearing-in, as well as serve on both boards. “It will be business as usual until someone sues on behalf of the school,” she said. “I’d rather leave it to what the court decides than what the Attorney General says. The court is above the Attorney General.”

Superintendent Ron McDermed said that if Conley is sworn in Thursday, he will then get an opinion from the school’s attorney.

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