Election Commission approves Marshall Public Schools recall language for Davis and Gamble, rejects for Lindsey

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The Calhoun County Election Commission approved the recall petition language filed against Marshall Public School Board of Education members Matt Davis and Shawna Gamble during a clarity hearing on Monday while rejecting the recall petition language filed against Board of Education President Richard Lindsey.

The petition was filed earlier this month by Albion resident and former Mayor Dave Atchison.

MORE: Marshall Public School Board members could face recall after petition filed

Now that the recall petition language has been approved for Davis and Gamble, Atchison will have 60 days to circulate the petition following a 10-day appeal period. In order for the petition to be successful, it will need 2,457 valid signatures, which is 25% of the number of registered voters in the Marshall Public School district who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

If the petition is successful, the recall will appear on the November ballot.

The language was reviewed by the county clerk, treasurer and probate judge, who determined that the language in the recall petition filed against Davis and Gamble was sufficiently clear and factual to be circulated.

"We really have to look at whether the statement is fact and whether it's clear, and that is so that the citizens who are voting in any district can walk into the polls on Election Day... and be able to make a determination," Calhoun County Clerk Kimberly Hinkley said. "Unfortunately, that does not mean it's true, but that it's a fact. We are limited in our scope of what we can look at. It's a hard decision to make, but you have to base it only on two specific things."

Davis said he appreciated the time and work of the election commission on Monday.

"I prefer to believe that everyone involved, on all sides, has the best interests of the district and all of our kids at heart," Davis said in an emailed statement. "Passion, acrimony, and rancor have become the language of public/school board discourse, and none of it benefits students. Any single person can file a recall petition for any reason, big or small, true or not. We have an appeal process available to us, and I anticipate that will take us to Circuit Court for a ruling on the language."

The petition language cites actions taken by board members leading up to and following the district's failed bond measure in November and a closed session of the board in October.

David and Gamble are alleged to have violated the Open Meetings Act and school district policy by participating in the Oct. 11 closed session of the Marshall Public Schools Board of Education and by voting to approve inaccurate minutes from that meeting.

The petition also states that Davis and Gamble disregarded voters' rejection of the proposed school bond by voting to establish a strategic action plan for Harrington Elementary that included Albion College as a partner during the school board's Dec. 13 meeting.

Davis and Gamble also are accused of violating the Michigan Code of Educational Ethics by "failing to confront and take reasonable steps to resolve ethical conflicts involving Board President Lindsey." The petition states that Lindsey violated the Marshall Public Schools policy and Michigan Code of Education Ethics by acting as an attorney for Albion College while presiding over school board discussions and deliberations related to the college.

The petition also cites a comment Davis made during the Sept. 27 board meeting, stating that it was disrespectful for Davis to tell the public that voting against the proposed bond was the "height of shooting yourself in the foot."

Davis said that he felt the language of the petition was "full of opinion and misrepresentation."

"Nothing nefarious, or anything constituting malfeasance has or will occur," he said. "I am committed to the Marshall and Albion communities and making decisions that better our wonderful district."

Gamble also stressed that although the commission determined the recall petition language to be factual, that did not mean that it was true.

Marshall Public Schools Board member Shawna Gamble pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.
Marshall Public Schools Board member Shawna Gamble pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.

"The election commission‘s responsibility is to determine if the language on the petition is clear enough for the average voter to understand," she said in an emailed statement. "They are not charged with deciding if the allegations in the recall petition are true. So, an approval of a recall petition is not a statement of guilt. I do have the opportunity to appeal the approval of the petition language in circuit court, which I will likely do."

The language filed against Lindsey was rejected because there were differences that made it less factual and clear, Hinkley said.

In a written response to the recall petition submitted to the Calhoun County Election Commission prior to the clarity hearing, Lindsey also said that the language was full of speculation and opinion.

"The language in the recall petition is based entirely upon Mr. Atchison's opinion, and not on fact and should be rejected by the Calhoun County Election Commission."

Atchsion said in an email that although he was disappointed that the election commission rejected the recall language against Lindsey, he plans to file a new petition with revised language.

"We will wait and watch as Matt Davis and Shawna Gamble file their appeals and wait for those to be adjudicated in court," Atchison said in an email. "Regardless of how successful the recall efforts are, I fervently hope all of the [Board of Education] members really start some self-reflection about the last 12 months. Really start listening to the community and make a concerted effort to try and rebuild public trust in our school board."

Gamble said that the most important thing for her and the other board members to focus on was the work ahead for the district rather than becoming distracted by the recall efforts.

"There are still a number of hurdles for Mr. Atchison and his group to overcome before the recall is allowed to be placed on a ballot for a vote. If it in fact makes it that far, then the decision is in the hands of the district at large," Gamble said. "Recall provides an opportunity for folks in the community to let elected officials know they are dissatisfied with the person’s service. Even if the dissatisfaction is based on falsehoods and misinterpretations."

Contact reporter Elena Durnbaugh at (517) 231-9501 or edurnbaugh@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.

This article originally appeared on Battle Creek Enquirer: Election Commission approves MPS recall language for two board members

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