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Hatton appeals county's approval of recall language

Marie Havenga • Jul 31, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Spring Lake Village President Joyce Hatton is formally appealing the July 19 Ottawa County Elections Commission decision approving language of a recall petition filed against her.

Michelle Hanks, owner of Seven Steps Up concert venue in Spring Lake, filed the recall petition on July 3, stating that 1) Hatton made inappropriate comments comparing the Spring Lake Village parking ordinance to the Holocaust in Nazi German and 2) Hatton insists on pursuing the disincorporation process even after a community work group and village council recommended against disincorporation, at a significant cost to taxpayers.

Because of Hatton's appeal, Hanks will not be able to collect signatures by the Aug. 4 deadline for the recall question to appear on the November ballot.

Hatton said she contacted three attorneys for assistance in filing the appeal against the election commission, but all three said they had no experience in such a matter.

“They wouldn't do it,” Hatton said. “They did say they would tell me how to do it.”

Hatton has stressed that she won't oppose any valid recall petition that makes it onto a ballot.

However, she said Hanks' recall reasons are not valid or correct.

“As Americans, we all have a duty to oppose any initiative – whether on a ballot, in a law or in a court order – that has as its objective the suppression of free speech,” Hatton said. “Our first amendment rights are among the most precious that we possess.”

Hatton said the recall petition, as presently drafted, seeks to recall an elected official for expressing opinions, on the parking ordinance and on disincorporation.

“As such, it is an attempt to have the electorate censor free and open debate by elected officials,” Hatton said.

Hatton said seeking the recall of elected officials for expressing opinions could set an ugly precedent and make it difficult for elected officials to speak frankly and “deliberative legislative processes would become useless exercises in 'political correctness.'

Hatton also said first amendment rights in political debate could be “rendered meaningless.”

Hatton said she has no problem with a recall election, which at this point could happen in the May election, at the earliest.

“Ms. Hanks needs to reframe her petition,” Hatton said. “If Americans could subject elected officers to recall petitions merely because they disagreed with statements about contested issues, our government for the people, by the people, would ultimately perish from this earth.”

The lawsuit she filed in Ottawa County Circuit Court states as an argument to her April work session statement comparing the parking ordinance to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany: “It is an overstatement of opinion only and cannot provide a basis for recall because the form of petition seeks to utilize the electorate to censor free speech, thus purporting to give the electorate the power to intercede in free and open governmental debate by recalling elected officials who merely state an opinion using analogies with which the voters do not agree.”

Hatton argues against Hanks' second recall petition statement, claiming it “seeks to penalize an elected official from initiating the sole and entirely lawful legislative agenda which was was voted into office to carry out: the termination of unnecessary, costly and duplicative body of government.”

Hatton said village administrators and public officials decided to spend funds “to provide a sophisticated stream of disinformation to voters for the purpose of convincing them that higher taxes that benefit the few are good for the majority of voters who already are struggling to pay property taxes.”

Hanks said if the appeal is successful, she will simply file a revised recall petition and aim for the May election.

“I was expecting her to do it (file an appeal),” Hanks said. “It doesn't surprise me that she did. I don't even know what to say anymore about the whole situation. I just think it's sad that she continues to make these outrageous comments, that she continues down this path.”

Hanks said six of seven Village Council members don't want to pursue disincorporation. Hatton is the only one who has spoken in favor of it.

“The only reason it's being pursued is because she's a loose cannon and they have to do what they think is right for the village, make sure they have adequate education and understanding of the principles,” Hanks said.

On July 19 at Ottawa County Probate Court, it was the charge of Ottawa County Election Commission members – Ottawa County Probate Judge Mark Feyen, County Clerk Justin Roebuck and County Treasurer Bradley Slagh to determine whether the recall petition language filed by Spring Lake Village resident Michelle Hanks on July 3 was true and provided sufficient clarity for voters to understand.

Feyen and Roebuck voted in favor of the language. Slagh voted against, stating that he could not verify that Village Council recommended against disincorporation.

Their vote was in no way an endorsement of recalling Hatton, but simply approval of the petition language.

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