Lansing — The Board of State Canvassers on Monday unanimously approved for circulation a petition seeking to recall Gov. Rick Snyder for his 2015 decision to move the state School Reform Office to a department under his control.
But the bipartisan panel rejected nine other petitions, including six that attempted to recall the Republican governor over the Flint water contamination crisis, frustrating activists who drove from Flint and Detroit for the hearing.
In one instance, the board deadlocked in a 2-2 vote, with both Democrats supporting Flint recall language and both GOP members opposing it.
The petition approved Monday was submitted by Benjamin Lazarus, a member of the Warren Consolidated Schools Board of Education. He did not attend the hearing but told The Detroit News he believes the governor “has a toxic disdain for the rights of local government.”
Snyder used a March executive order to move the School Reform Office under the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, a move the state Board of Education quickly called “unconstitutional.” Lazarus noted the School Reform Office last week appointed a chief executive officer to run four East Detroit schools.
“As a community of leaders in education, it is our duty to stand up to injustice, especially when the well-being of children is placed in harm’s way,” Lazarus said by email. “With courage and confidence, we can restore trust in the power of ordinary people, parents and teachers, to take a stand and do the right thing.”
Most of the public debate at Monday’s hearing focused on the Flint water crisis and recall language proposed by affected residents and other interested activists.
A petition submitted by Flint resident Quincy Murphy sought to recall the governor because he “admitted” in his 2016 State of the State address that “he failed” the city.
Board member Norm Shinkle, a Republican appointee, agreed with Snyder’s attorneys that the language was not factual because Snyder told residents that “government failed you,” including leaders at the local, state and federal level. He did not “admit” to personal failure.
“If this petition would have quoted the governor in remarks from the State of the State, I would have voted for it,” Shinkle said. “But it doesn’t. It requires us to make an inference.”
Fellow GOP appointee Coleen Pero joined Shinkle in voting against the petition. Democratic appointees Jeannette Bradshaw and Julie Matuzak voted for the petition, which fell short of the the majority support required for circulation.
Murphy, who already had one petition rejected by the board last month, said he intends to review and resubmit his recall language in the near future.
“It’s unfortunate that it was deadlocked Republican and Democrat,” Murphy said. “I respect their opinion, I respect the protocol, and I’m not interested in going to court because of some technicalities. I’m looking at getting it right.”
The board rejected five other Flint-related recall petitions on technical grounds, including spelling errors, incomplete sentences and quotes that combined multiple statements by Snyder.
A 2012 state law, signed by the governor, requires the board to determine whether petitions “factually and clearly” state each reason for recall.
“I think the board followed the historical precedent that’s been set in the past,” said private attorney John Pirich, who represented the governor at the hearing. “If the language is correct, accurate and factual, as it was with the first petition, it’s certified. If it’s not, if it had errors or mistakes, they shouldn’t certify it.”
But the rejection of the Flint water recall petitions did not sit well with the 50 or so activists who attended Monday’s hearing.
“I am appalled, I am disappointed in my government, and I am disappointed in each and every one of you,” Dorothy Batchelder told board members. “You are playing with semantics, and in the meantime, my family and members of my family have been poisoned.”
Pirich, representing the governor, said he did not have any immediate plans to challenge the School Reform Office recall language in court, which means organizers should be cleared to begin collecting signatures.
Lazarus told The News he does not have an established organization capable of running a statewide petition drive but is curious to see what other groups might be interested in partnering with him. He suggested animosity over the Flint water crisis could help the cause even though his recall language is not directly related.
“The next step is really to reach out to those coalition partners,” Lazarus said. “It is a daunting task, but I believe it can be accomplished, particularly in light of all the news in regards to Flint.”
Forcing a recall election would require the collection of at least 789,133 valid signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. The 2012 recall law shrunk the collection window from 90 days to 60 days. If voters were to remove Snyder from office, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley would take his place.
Snyder has repeatedly apologized to Flint residents for the water crisis, citing failures at all levels of government, including the state Department of Environmental Quality, which did not properly ensure corrosion controls were added to Flint River water the city began using in April 2014. He has vowed to resolve the crisis during his final three years in office.
“Recall attempts are a part of the democratic process and we respect that people have the right to take part in that process,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said earlier Monday. “We’re focused on helping the people of Flint, and the governor this week plans to present a budget proposal that is aimed at long-term solutions to the crisis there.”