By AUDREY BARNEY
Capital News Service
LANSING — In light of several recall demands in the state, the House Redistricting and Elections Committee is debating whether to tighten the law, making it tougher to recall an official.
The 1954 Michigan law allows for constituents to demand a recall of any officeholder.
Chief sponsor Rep. Charles LaSata, R-St. Joseph, suggested that the law needs to be tightened to avoid inaccurate accusations against officeholders. “Our goal is to tighten the law so that it can be used for its original purpose, ” said Rep. Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Muskegon. “The purpose of the recall law is to remove elected officials that have committed a crime or misused their power while in office.”
Van Woerkom, one of the sponsors of the bill, said that there has been a rash number of recalls across the state Ñ most of which are being held because the constituents disagree with the officeholder.
“It is the official’s job to make decisions for their township, ” he said. “The person in office shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder every time someone disagrees with them.”
The amendment would revise the current bill to imply that all accusations against an office holder must be true.
“With the current recall legislation, you don’t have to be truthful — all you have to do is have correct verbage and the reason has to be clear but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth,” said Greenville Mayor Jon Aylsworth. Aylsworth, who is running for the state House, totally disagrees with the current recall process.
“In Greenville we went through a recall about nine or 10 years ago, ” he said. “They are disruptive, divisive, vindictive and they pit neighbor against neighbor and really disrupt a community. They are also expensive. They can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000.”
Aylsworth said that the proposal is good because it addresses the most important issues Ñ being truthful. “I agree with the new amendment,” he said. ” I like the idea of adding the word Ôtruthfully.’ I like the idea that more people are needed to remove someone from office than it was needed to elect that official.”
While politicians are all for changing the current laws, there are some adamant Michigan residents with a lot to say about keeping the law just the way it is.
Ionia resident Clifford Lazarus is the state administrator of the Ethical Good Government, an organization whose goal is to bring back government for and by the people and uphold the state and U.S. constitutions. He and some other EGG members attended the committee meeting to express how valuable they believe the recall law is.
“We agree that there should be truth to the statements made in the accusations, but we don’t agree that the votes should outweigh the number of votes used to put the official in office,” Lazarus said.
In the meeting, Ionia resident Bob Cusack cited instances when the recall law helped the people.
“One time we demanded a recall due to zoning issues and though we didn’t get anyone, it was still good because it was forced to a vote and the tally was 3,300 votes to 1,100 votes,” Cusack said. “Recall isn’t easy. I got 40 years experience in this thing. To recall somebody they must be a pretty bad person.”
Currently, in West Michigan, there are some officials facing recall and some recalls that are being threatened.
Spencer Township Clerk Nancy Jones represented township Supervisor Robert Ballard at the meeting. She presented to the committee reasons why the law should change.
“The EGG threatened to go after everyone in our office because they didn’t like they way Mr. Ballard did his job,” Jones said. “This is legal harassment. Our supervisor is being recalled for doing his job.”
Mayor Aylsworth had a solution for residents who don’t like their elected officials.
“It’s OK to oust someone if they are breaking the law, but when you are trying to remove someone because you don’t like their opinions, that’s wrong,” he said. “That’s why we have elections every two to four years. If you don’t like your official, just wait until the election and don’t vote for him.”
The House committee decided to postpone voting on the bill until next week.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By AUDREY BARNEY