Detroit Councilwoman Janee Ayers' eligibility for ballot challenged

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Detroit — Councilwoman Janee Ayers' eligibility for the Aug. 3 ballot is being called into question over allegations that her campaign failed to file campaign finance reports.

Ayers is making her second bid for one of two at-large seats on Detroit's council. 

Detroit City Councilwoman Janee Ayers

The challenge to Ayers' certification was filed April 23 on behalf of Leigh Reed-Pratt by attorney Andrew Paterson, who contends Ayers signed her affidavit of identity for the primary asserting she had no outstanding paperwork, fines or fees, a statement he argues is "false."

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey confirmed that she and the city’s Law Department received a challenge to Ayers' candidacy over the weekend. 

Ayers confirmed to The News on Monday that she submitted her affidavit and petition signatures to the clerk's office on April 6. Shortly after the April 20 filing deadline, she was certified for the ballot.

"My opponents know that the only hope they have of stopping me from continuing to serve the people of Detroit is by sinking to dirty, underhanded and baseless tricks like these," she said. "There are no issues with my campaign finance reports. Let there be no doubt; if my opponents want to defeat me, they'll have to do so on the campaign trail, not through frivolous legal challenges."

Ayers noted Monday that the last correspondence she received from Winfrey's office was a certificate of sufficiency. 

"Other than being sufficient, I don't know what these folks are looking for," she added. "We take pride in making sure that those (filings) are done."

Lisa Williams, a spokesperson for the Wayne County Clerk's Office, said in an email to The News on Monday that it appears the challenge is tied to the "Statements and Attestation" portion of Ayers' affidavit which pertains to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. 

Under Michigan law, candidates must attest that their campaign finance reports have been filed and any late fees have been resolved when they launch their campaigns. 

Reed-Pratt's challenge asks Winfrey and the Detroit Election Commission to evaluate claims that Ayers had at least two outstanding reports, amended annual reports from 2018 and 2020, that were required to be filed under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. 

Paterson, in a statement on Reed-Pratt's behalf, noted the state law, as amended in 2018, is clear. If a candidate has outstanding reports, fines or fees at the time that they sign an affidavit to qualify for elective office, they are "ineligible to be certified."

"The Secretary of State has instructed local clerks that candidates cannot be certified to appear on the ballot if they submitted an affidavit of identity containing a false statement," he said. 

The filing asks Winfrey and/or the election commission to make a ruling on the challenge on or before Wednesday.

"If a decision is not rendered by the aforementioned deadline, we will proceed with filing the appropriate legal action," it reads. 

On Monday, Winfrey said Ayers had filed the necessary nominating petition signatures to make the ballot. But Winfrey said there might be a campaign finance “issue.”

Winfrey said if a candidate has a campaign finance problem, the Wayne County Clerk’s Office, which handles campaign finance compliance, lets her know. 

Winfrey said Monday that her office will complete its certification of candidates for the ballot at the end of the week. The city’s primary ballot must be finalized by May 11, Winfrey said.

Ayers was first appointed to Detroit's council in February 2015 to finish out the final year of the term of Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins. She was elected to a full, four-year term as an at-large member of the council in 2017. 

Several candidates have faced eligibility challenges in recent days. Also on Monday,  Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's eligibility was challenged. Taylor City Clerk Cynthia Bower ruled Friday that indicted Mayor Rick Sollars won't appear on the August ballot over campaign filing issues, and in Pontiac election officials disqualified Mayor Deirdre Waterman for failure to submit campaign reports on time.

cferretti@detroitnews.com

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