Petition targets city councilman over Dewey Hill vote

Marie Havenga • Jul 22, 2015 at 11:12 AM

Now, Hall has turned the tables and filed a recall petition of his own.

Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck confirmed that Hall filed recall paperwork on Friday to recall Grand Haven City Councilman Bob Monetza.

The reason? “On Jan. 5, 2015, Grand Haven City Council member Robert Monetza voted to restrict access to Dewey Hill,” the petition reads.

During Monday's City Council meeting, Monetza was one of three council members to vote for the resolution, which in effect will stop the cross and Nativity scene from being displayed on Dewey Hill. The cross will be transformed into an anchor and erected during the annual Coast Guard Festival.

Roebuck said state law prohibits recall action against members who are serving the last year of their term. The terms of the other council members to vote for the resolution restricting access to Dewey Hill — John Hierholzer and Mike Fritz — are up in November. Monetza's term expires in November 2017.

“I guess they're free to do what they please,” Monetza said Friday evening. “I did what I thought was following my conscience and what was best for the city. If they feel differently, they have legal means to do whatever they please.”

Roebuck said recall law does not require that there be any wrongdoing. A person can file a recall petition simply because they don't like the way an elected official voted on an issue.

Monetza said he’s surprised and disappointed by the petition.

“Of the choices we had, this was the best choice for the city,” he said of Monday’s decision. “They may not have been the choices we preferred to have, but they were the ones in front of us. I thought it was important to take appropriate action to put the issue to bed.”

In September 2014, civil rights activist Mitch Kahle and his “Remove the Grand Haven Cross” group requested through Americans United for the Separation of Church and State attorneys in Washington, D.C., that the city remove the cross from the city-owned Dewey Hill because they claimed it violated the U.S. Constitution. Kahle and his group then tested the city's equal access policy by requesting that they be allowed to erect displays promoting atheism, same-sex marriage and pro-life agendas.

The city has spent about $12,000 in attorney fees dealing with the requests, according to city leaders.

Monday's council vote essentially ends the threat of a lawsuit.

Hall did not return requests for comment Friday.

Roebuck said the next stop for Hall's recall petition is the county's election committee, comprised of County Probate Judge Mark Feyen, County Treasurer Brad Slagh and Roebuck. That group will hold a clarity hearing at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Fillmore Street Complex, Conference Room E. The hearing is open to the public.

If the committee approves the petition language, Hall will then need to collect 953 signatures within 180 days to put the recall issue on the ballot.

Hall has written on Facebook that he wants the recall initiative on the May 5 ballot. In order for that to happen, Roebuck said Hall would have to collect all of the required signatures between the Jan. 22 hearing (if the language is approved) and Jan. 30. If that deadline is not met, the next time the issue could appear on a ballot is November.

Roebuck said that many times people will file a recall petition, perhaps as a political statement, but not follow through with filing the required number of signatures.

“People inquire in our office, submit the language, but we've seen very few actually go beyond that,” he said.

Hall was the target of a recall petition by Jennifer Williams in 2010. She cited Hall's criminal conduct as a reason that he would be unfit to serve on the school board.

Hall was accused of stealing from a school fundraiser in 2009. A jury convicted him in 2010 of larceny by conversion after he took money from an American Cancer Society fundraiser. He served two years probation and performed 60 hours of community service.

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