State tosses Royal Oak Twp. election violation claims
State officials said Wednesday they have dismissed two complaints of alleged election violations involving a defeated marijuana initiative in Royal Oak Township.
Proposal 1 would have authorized an unlimited number of marijuana-related businesses on parcels larger than five acres that had been continuously unoccupied for at least five years.
In what is believed to be the first challenge to a Michigan community’s decision not to permit such businesses, the Invest in Royal Oak Township group sued to have the question put on the ballot in a special election earlier this month and finally turned to the Michigan Court of Appeals to have the matter put before voters.
The proposal lost overwhelmingly in the May 7 special election, with 70 percent voting no.
Invest in Royal Oak Township, led by former state lawmaker Virgil Smith, cried foul, claiming township officials violated several campaign finance laws. The group filed two complaints with the Michigan Department of State, which includes the Bureau of Elections, which monitors elections across the state for fairness.
“The Michigan Department of State has dismissed both complaints,” said Shawn Starkey, a spokesman for the department. “The petitioner can always refile with new evidence but these allegations have been dismissed.”
Starkey said one complaint involved a lawn sign that allegedly violated election law because it did not contain identification of who printed it other than “unknown.” Starkey said the state does not investigate “unknown” persons.
A second complaint focused on a photograph of a flyer that allegedly showed the township board of trustees and elected township clerk were urging voters to vote “no” on Proposal 1.
“You couldn’t read it, it was illegible,” explained Starkey. “But even if there are names printed on it with their permission, that is not an election law violation, providing it wasn’t produced with township funds or materials.”
Starkey said that complaint also can be refiled.
Matthew Schenk, an attorney for Invest in Royal Oak Township, said Wednesday he has not received any formal notification from the state regarding the complaints.
“We are still exploring all our options,” said Schenk. “We believe there were a variety of violations involving campaign finance laws and also what the township was ordered to do regarding a special election.”
Schenk noted there is still a civil action, with possible contempt penalties, pending against the township before Judge Leo Bowman of Oakland County Circuit Court.
Bowman had ordered that the entire wording of Proposal 1 be posted in a conspicuous location at polling precincts but the Invest in Royal Oak Township group say that was never done. The group also says the township never held any open office hours on the weekend before the special election, as required by law.
Township officials and their attorney have repeatedly refused to discuss the proposal, before or after its defeat.
Smith, an unsuccessful 2017 candidate for Detroit City Council who served in the state Senate and House, has said the marijuana proposal could provide jobs and raise about $400,000 a year in property tax for the beleaguered township, which in recent years has disbanded its police and fire departments due to fiscal problems.