Former City Council candidate threatens recall

Marie Havenga • Jan 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Ivy Barnes says she's frustrated with Ferrysburg’s City Council, and not being chosen for a vacant council seat Tuesday night was “the last straw.”

Barnes, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in the November 2017 election, said Wednesday that she plans to seek the recall of Mayor Rebecca Hopp and Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy.

But, according to Ottawa County Elections Coordinator Steve Daitch, only Kennedy is eligible for recall at this time. Hopp will not be eligible for recall until May 9, six months after she was sworn into office after beating out Regina Sjoberg for the mayoral seat by 29 votes.

On Tuesday, City Council appointed Scott Blease to fill out the remainder of Councilman Dan Matteson's term, which expires Nov. 15, 2021. Matteson, who was elected to council two months ago with 438 votes, resigned his seat after only one meeting.

Barnes was the next highest vote-getter in the November 2017 council race with 436 votes, followed by Blease with 432 votes.

Barnes and several of her supporters say that because she was only two votes behind Matteson that she should be the one appointed to replace him.

“By the people's choice, I should have been the next person,” Barnes told council Tuesday night. “You proved to everyone where you stand.”

Barnes, who said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year ago, said she spent a lot of energy running for council last year, then again this year applying for the vacant seat.

“(Tuesday) night was a big letdown and pretty much a slap in the face,” she said. “They had me do everything all over again. I really thought Hopp was going to be different and she was going to bring good change to our community. I'm pretty flabbergasted by what happened (Tuesday) night.”

On Wednesday, Barnes said she sent an email to City Manager Craig Bessinger, asking how many signatures she needs to remove Hopp and Kennedy from council.

“As soon as I hear back from Craig, then I will start my journey,” she said.

That “journey” includes submitting proper paperwork to the Ottawa County Elections Commission, then submitting petition language. The commission then holds a hearing to determine if the language is “factual and of sufficient clarity,” according to Daitch.

If the language is approved, the recall candidates have 10 days to appeal. Only after there is no appeal, or an appeal is settled, could Barnes begin collecting signatures.

Barnes would need about 316 signatures, which is 25 percent of the number of Ferrysburg registered voters who cast ballots in Michigan's 2014 governor's race, according to Daitch.

“I thought I was done with this (seeking a council seat), then Dan stepped down and I thought, 'I'm the next person,'” she said. “I just wish it was handled differently. I put a lot of time and energy into this. I was hoping everyone was going to finally come together. Everybody was surprised by Tuesday night. I feel it was staged and set up.”

Barnes said she would have preferred that council had leveled with her about their preferences.

“If Hopp had called me and said, 'I'm not interested in you, don't even bother,' I could respect that a lot more rather than having to apply and go back up there (in front of council to answer questions) and doing all that,” she said. “I'm pretty blown away.”

Barnes said she also is upset about other issues — including an oversized banner promoting Hopp for mayor that hung on Kennedy's deck railing prior to last year’s election. The size was prohibited by the city's sign ordinance.

She is also upset that Kennedy talked with a developer to gauge interest in the the city-owned Ferrysburg Nature Preserve land if it were to go up for sale some day.

Barnes plans to include these items in her recall petition language.

“There are just too many things that they’re doing,” she said. “If the normal person were to do it, they would be in all sorts of trouble.”

During Tuesday's applicant interviews, a couple of council members questioned why Barnes had not completed all of the required questions on her application for the vacant council seat.

“I turned in all my questions,” she said. “I answered back in full detail.”

Bessinger said Barnes completed only four of the eight questions and City Clerk Deb Wierenga sent a letter to Barnes requesting she complete all of them. Barnes said she did, and mailed back her answers.

“Debbie sent me more questions,” Barnes said. “I sent those in the mail, also, because she said they weren’t there. I filled them out again and sent them back in.”

But Bessinger said they never arrived. “City Hall did not receive anything,” he confirmed.

Kennedy said the incomplete questionnaire was one of the reasons she did not cast her vote for Barnes on Tuesday night.

“I kind of felt, well, you have to follow instructions,” Kennedy said. “If you don't have time to fill the application out, maybe you don't have time to be on council.”

Kennedy said she voted for Blease because of his past experience and because he has remained involved in city work since stepping down from council in 2015. He currently serves on the city's recreation committee.

“Ivy thought she was entitled because she got the next vote,” Kennedy said of last year’s election. “That's not how it works. Ivy lost and so did Scott, so that's moot. I went, and council agreed, you go with the most qualified person. I felt that was Scott Blease.”

Kennedy said she's not concerned about the talk of recall, which she said could cost the city about $3,000.

“I don't know what it could be on, other than the fact they don't like me and they don't like how I vote,” she said. “I'm not always in agreement with them. If that's the case, everyone would be recalled.”

Kennedy said the city is “thriving,” with great services, employees, a volunteer fire department and bike paths.

“We're in good shape financially — we're not in any major debt,” she said. “I'm like, 'What's wrong?' I think the taxpayers will back us up, except for this small group of agitators. This city is very well run. We should shine like the star we are. The people I talk to love this city. They appreciate the people on council and think we do a good job.”

Both Kennedy and Hopp said they believe a recall attempt is unfounded.

“In my opinion, there has been no factual substance or misconduct in office by any Ferrysburg council member to warrant a recall,” Hopp said. “... A recall of any elected official must be based strictly on facts and not personal opinions.”

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