2 Detroit school board candidates booted off ballot

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

With the Detroit Public Schools Community District election for school board members less than two months away, two people have been eliminated from a field of nearly 70 candidates because they left information off a filing document.

The two removed from the ballot are Penelope N. Bailer and Robert Earl Thomas. The action was taken because state law requires candidates to include their precint number on their affidavit of identity, and neither included it.

Their names were eliminated Tuesday during a hearing of the Wayne County Election Commission after a challenge to the eligibility of three candidates filed by Andrew Paterson, lawyer for activist Robert Davis.

Bailer, 75, said she planned to appeal the decision.

“But the ballots will be printed next week so this is really short notice to hire an attorney and try to get all of this done on time,” she told The Detroit News in a phone interview.

Bailer, who said she is retired, was on the Detroit Public Schools board from 1990 to 1994 and serves on at least a dozen boards all related to education. “My heart is in education,” she said.

She said she filled out the affidavit correctly the first time but made an error on something and didn’t want any crossouts on it, so she filled out a new one.

“There’s a microscopically tiny little box on the form where you fill out the precinct number and the seond time I filled it out, I missed it,” she said. “But the woman who took my affidavit said she wanted to go over it carefully to make sure everything was checked properly, and she OK’d it and stamped it.”

“I was an elected precinct delegate for several years,” Bailer said, explaining that she knew the precinct number needed to be included. She said she wrote it on the first form, but forgot to include the second time she filled it out.

“I am not going to stop,” she said.

Thomas did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

A third candidate challenged by Davis, Mary Kovari, was allowed to remain on the ballot. Davis and Detroit resident Desmond White filed another challenge to her candidacy Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court.

In his initial challenge to Kovari’s eligibility, Davis argued that Kovari had not met the legal requirement to reside in the Detroit school district for at least 30 days.

“I am grateful the election commission followed the precedent established by the Michigan Court of Appeals and did not allow politics to influence their decision,” he said. “But Mary Ann Kovari’s name should also have been removed from the ballot because she is a carpetbagger.”

In the challenge filed with Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and the Wayne County Election Commission, Paterson wrote that Michigan Election Law states in part: A qualified elector is defined as “a person who possesses the qualifications of an elector ... and who has resided in the city or township 30 days.”

Kovari stated she had only been a resident of the County of Wayne for “6 days,” according to the challenge.

Asked by phone Wednesday how long she has lived in Detroit, she responded, “It depends.”

Kovari, 60, said she lived in Detroit for 14 years before moving in with her parents in Madison Heights before they passed away.

She said in June 2016, she moved in with her sister, who lives in the Green Acres section of Detroit west of Eight Mile and Woodward.

“Before that, I lived in Old Redford for 13 years and my children attended Detroit Public Schools,” she said. “I asked at the election office how long you need to be a resident to file for school board, and I was told you must be a registered voter and a resident of Detroit for 30 days before the Nov. 8th election.”

Kovari said she officially changed her address on July 13 and filed on July 19 – hence the six days.

“I didn’t really understand what residency means,” said Kovari, who added that she works as a curriculum specialist after retiring as an educator in DPS in 2013. “Who would think you’d need a lawyer to file for school board?”

“I was trying to be as honest as posible,” she said. “Even if the rule said I must be a resident 30 days before filing, I would still meet it because I’ve been in Detroit since the second week of June.”

She said she worked for 20 years in DPS.

“This is not just a whim or a lark,” she said. “I am really very invested.”

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