Recall attempt filed against village president

Marie Havenga • Jul 6, 2017 at 5:20 PM

SPRING LAKE — A local business owner has filed a recall attempt against Village President Joyce Hatton.

Michelle Hanks, who owns the Seven Steps Up concert venue in Spring Lake with her husband, Gary, filed the paperwork with the Ottawa County Elections Office on Monday.

A hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 19 in Ottawa County Probate Court. There, county election committee members will either approve or disapprove the petition language.

Hatton also has the option to appeal.

Related Story: Disincorporation debate

If the language is approved, Hanks will have until Aug. 4 to collect 282 signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

Timing is tight, according to Hanks, but she said she already has about 200 people who are in favor of the recall.

Hanks said she has nothing against Hatton personally, but that comments the village president made earlier this year comparing a proposed village parking ordinance to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany were inexcusable.

“I felt Joyce should apologize about her comments about the Holocaust, which really upset me a great deal,” Hanks said. “Her response was, 'I'm sorry it made it to the paper.' That's what pushed me over the edge, to be honest with you. I can't do anything about the craziness in Washington, but I can do something about the craziness here.”

Hanks said after Hatton “doubled down” on her comment and didn't apologize, she approached county election officials to learn about the recall process.

Because officials elected to two-year terms cannot face recall attempts until they have been in office for at least six months, the soonest Hanks could have filed for it was July 3. Hatton was sworn into office Jan. 3 after being elected in November 2016, running on a platform to disincorporate the village to get rid of what she terms “double taxation.”

Spring Lake Village residents pay taxes to both Spring Lake Township and the village. Village residents receive more services than township residents, such as curbside brush and leaf pick-up and local street plowing.

Hanks' petition language states two reasons for recall — the “inappropriate comments” about the Holocaust and Hatton's disincorporation efforts, which the Village Council and an independent disincorporation work group have spoken against.

The disincorporation work group determined that potential tax savings for village residents would be “minimal.”

The village has already spent nearly $60,000 on disincorporation education, meetings and attorney fees.

“There's a lot of upset people here in the village,” Hanks said. “... There are a number of people who reached out to me and said they want to help.”

If the August deadline isn't met, the issue could appear on the ballot next May.

“I have to prove why I believe she should be recalled,” Hanks said. “It has to be factual and supported. Because I have a lot of emotion, I had to really take a big step back and say why I am doing this.”

Hanks said the second reason for the recall drive is Hatton’s insistence on pursuing the disincorporation process, “even after the community work group and Village Council recommended against it at significant cost to taxpayers. Both of these items can be proved. That's why I chose these two. There are public meeting minutes.”

Even though the council and disincorporation work group members spoke against disincorporation, many of its members felt it was important to leave the issue up to village voters, and to provide educational forums prior to the August election.

On Aug. 8, village voters will decide whether or not to amend the Village Charter to include a mechanism for disincorporation. If the charter amendment is approved, petitions could be circulated to put the actual question of disincorporating the village on a future ballot.

In 2012, Hatton collected enough signatures to put a disincorporation vote on the ballot, but an Ottawa County judge ruled that the Village Charter did not contain a mechanism for it.

Hanks said she and her husband are also worried about their business should the village disincorporate. The village owns the parking lot surrounding Seven Steps Up, and the village plows and maintains the lots.

“This isn't personal against her, the person,” Hanks said. “This is against the public person. This person should not be in public office. The only reason they're in public office is because they gave misinformation (about potential tax savings from disincorporation).

“We have a village president who doesn't care about anything except tearing us apart, who said we have an ordinance comparable to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany,” she continued. “I said, 'I'm done. This is just crazy.' I had heard comments from people that somebody should do something. I thought, 'You know what? I'm doing it.'”

Hatton said she won't make any comments until the next Village Council work session, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Village Hall.

However, Hatton wrote a letter to the editor for publication in the Tribune, which she said “speaks for itself.” (Read the letter below this story.)

Village Manager Chris Burns said that, in 26 years as a municipal employee, she's never been involved with a recall campaign.

“They happen very infrequently,” she said. “As Ms. Hatton herself has stated numerous times during her brief tenure, voting is one of our 'basic human rights,' so the residents will ultimately determine her fate by exercising their rights.”

Ottawa County Elections Coordinator Steven Daitch said he doesn't remember any recall attempts making it to the ballot in recent years. Petition signatures were never returned for a recall effort against Grand Haven City Councilman Bob Monetza a couple of years ago.

Daitch said he is not certain if there has ever been a recall attempt against a Spring Lake Village president, but he doesn't believe so.

Hatton’s letter to the Tribune: Voters will respond

To the editor,

As anticipated, opponents of Spring Lake Village disincorporation filed a recall petition to remove me from my seat as the village president. The small group hiding behind the recall includes government employees and contractors who want to keep the taxpayer-funded, cash-guzzling gravy train known as the "Village of Spring Lake" operating for their personal benefit.

I need not respond to this group any longer. The right to disincorporate is on the ballot. The voters will respond to them in the Aug. 8 election.

If the voters want extra taxes and more government, that is their choice. If the voters want to recall the village president, that is their choice, as well. I'm not contesting a recall.

Like the media mavens who told us Hillary Clinton had the national election "in the bag," the Tribune has been playing along with a loud, pro-government minority. Fortunately, neither the Tribune nor the small band who benefit from the village's continued existence will decide the issue.

That is one of the miracles of our democracy. People vote in private, and in silence. And most Americans do not feel the need to tell anyone how they intend to vote, or how they voted.

When the village voters step into the booth on Aug. 8, they will know what to do. With only a month to go until election day, the village and the township are mailing their tax statements. The village tax is substantial. For example, the village wants over a thousand bucks for a modest, ground-floor, two-bedroom, two-bath condo — on top of a full share of township taxes. It isn't hard to imagine how this completely unnecessary double tax impacts the majority of folks trying to raise families in our town.

See you on election day.

Joyce Verplank Hatton

President of Spring Lake Village

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