Judge: Candidates stay on Detroit school board ballot

The Detroit News

A Wayne County Circuit Court judge has dismissed a pair of challenges to keep some candidates off the ballot in the upcoming Detroit Public Schools Community District board election.

Penelope N. Bailer and Robert Earl Thomas had their names removed from the field of nearly 70 candidates after a Wayne County Election Commission hearing on Tuesday since they did not include their precinct number on an affidavit of identity as state law requires. Bailer appealed to the court to be placed back on the list.

Activist Robert Davis had challenged Bailer’s candidacy as well as that of Mary Kovari, citing residency issues. When Kovari was allowed to stay on the ballot, Davis and Detroit resident Desmond White sought a second legal action Wednesday to reverse that.

Judge Robert J. Colombo Jr. decided on both cases Friday, ultimately rejecting the Kovari challenge and granting Bailer’s request to be reinstated.

The jurist “vindicated our arguments today that Davis waited too long and the commission made a mistake when it took Ms. Bailer off the ballot on Tuesday,” said Kevin Blair, one of her attorneys.

Reached Friday evening, Davis called the rulings “absurd” and vowed to appeal.

“This matter is going to be addressed and determined within a matter of days because of the impending election,” he said.

Bailer said she correctly completed the affidavit the first time but filled out a new one after an error. The former board member said she somehow missed the “tiny” box on the second form for the precinct number, but a staffer stamped the document after reviewing it.

Davis’ challenge was filed long after the affidavit filing deadline and therefore moot, Bailer and her lawyer argued.

Bailer, who has been involved in many educational initiatives over the years, said she was elated to stay in the race for the new school board. “I really want to serve. I think we have a chance for the first time in decades to really turn around these schools. … I just want to make a difference.”

Davis argued the Friday decision was politically motivated and said he was taking the matter to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The court, he said, “has already ruled on this very issue, which is why I’m shocked by Judge Colombo’s absurd ruling. It has no basis or foundation in law.”

In his initial challenge to Kovari’s eligibility, Davis argued she failed to meet the legal requirement to reside in the Detroit school district for at least 30 days. In the challenge filed with Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and the Wayne County Election Commission, Davis’ lawyer Andrew 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, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, has said she spent 14 years as a city resident before living with her parents in Madison Heights. In June she moved in with her sister, who lives in Detroit’s Green Acres community, then officially changed her address on July 13 — six days before filing for the board race.

The retired DPS educator has said election officials told her she must be a registered voter and a city resident for 30 days before the Nov. 8 election in order to run.

But Davis disagreed with that interpretation and believes Kovari should have submitted a corrected affidavit.

“If we have to fight all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, the carpetbagger Kovari and Ms. Bailer will not be on the ballot,” he said Friday.