Political News and Commentary with the Right Perspective. NAVIGATION
  • Front Page
  • News
  • Multimedia
  • Tags
  • RSS Feed

  • Advertise on RightMichigan.com


    Get the RightMighigan.com toolbar!



    Who are the NERD fund donors Mr Snyder?

    Raise the curtain.

    Lies, Damned Lies, and Charter Amendments

    By Kevin Rex Heine, Section News
    Posted on Sat Jun 04, 2011 at 12:36:50 PM EST
    Tags: City of Kentwood, Kentwood City Commission, Proposal 10-2, tax abatements, felony convictions (all tags)

    In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7, ESV).  The counterpoint to that beatitude, which Jesus makes in Matthew 18:21-35 and Matthew 25:31-46, is that those who have no interest in showing mercy in this life should expect to receive none at The Judgment.

    Apparently, some members of the Kentwood City Commission didn't get that memo.

    Proposal 10-2, which was overwhelmingly approved 3-to-1 by Michigan voters last year, read:


    The proposed constitutional amendment would:

    Make a person ineligible for election or appointment to any state or local elective office or to hold a position in public employment in this state that is policy-making or has discretionary authority over public assets, if:

    • within the preceding 20 years, the person was convicted of a felony involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or a breach of the public trust; and

    • the conviction was related to the person's official capacity while holding any elective office or position of employment in local, state or federal government.

    Require the State Legislature to enact laws to implement the prohibition."

    And that is actually a great idea.  Someone who has violated the public trust (either as an elected official or as a state employee) by committing a felony related to the official capacity of that office or position of employment should not be allowed to serve again until a reasonable amount of time has passed after adjudication.  As an example, it should be a minimum of 20 years before either Kwame Kilpatrick or Monica Conyers should ever be allowed to appear on a ballot again in this state.

    But Kentwood City Commissioner Frank Cummings doesn't think that goes far enough.  He has proposed an amendment to the city charter that reads as follows:

    "No person shall be eligible for any elected office if that person has ever been convicted of a felony."

    And that sets off a flag in my head, which is echoed by many people locally who are familiar with the state corrections system.

    See, in Michigan, any convicted felon, upon release from prison, receives back both his/her driver's license and voter registration as part of the release out-processing.  It's pretty straightforward logic, really: you've done your time and paid your debt to society, so you may have these two basic privileges back.  Even Proposal 10-2, in which the disqualifying felony is directly related to the felon's official capacity and duties, includes a sunset clause, because the proposal's sponsor realized that people need to be given a chance to prove they've cleaned up their act and amended their ways.

    So why does Frank Cummings (R-at large) propose an amendment that disqualifies any individual without a sunset clause or even the requirement that the disqualifying felony be related to a person's official city duties?  Here's where I need to give you some inside scoop on Kentwood City politics.

    Frank Cummings is indeed a Republican on paper, but he's a big-government, central-planning Republican (we have a name for those people).  Specifically, Commissioner Cummings hasn't yet seen the tax abatement - a.k.a. "targeted business tax break" - that he didn't like. Cummings seems to be perfectly okay with a policy of attracting businesses to Kentwood by sticking everyone else with their tax bill.

    Since November 2009, however, Cummings has had a committed public opponent to his particular habit, that being Ray VerWys (R-Ward 2).  Ray is a Republican of the tea party mold, who honestly holds that the government governs best which governs least.  He despises tax favors of any sort and generally holds that the city government's job is to keep the community safe and attractive to those who live here now and to those who may consider moving to the area.  He believes that local government's responsibility with regard to business is that it should welcome new businesses to the community, and not harass or make it difficult for existing ones to thrive.

    Cummings doesn't like VerWys very much, and he wants him off the commission in the worst way.  And because of a dark spot in VerWys' past, Cummings believes that his proposed charter amendment will do the trick.

    See, about a dozen years ago (around the time that most people his age would've been graduating from college) Ray VerWys received two felony convictions of embezzlement from two separate employers.  Given what he did, I wouldn't exactly call it dumb kid stuff; but since he's also served his sentence and made good on restitution, I wouldn't exactly consider it an automatic disqualifier ten years later either.

    Just so you know, VerWys' conviction was an issue in his campaign to unseat Frank Raha in 2009.  He didn't hide it from the Ward 2 voters, and it did make the Grand Rapids Press at least twice during October 2009, so the voters couldn't say that they didn't know.  Evidently the voters were willing to be forgiving, because they ousted incumbent Raha (who'd made a point of highlighting his Lansing connections during the campaign) in favor of VerWys.

    But Cummings isn't interested in being as forgiving as the Ward 2 voters were, and seems to view himself as perfectly qualified to cast stones, especially when those stones are being cast at someone who calls him out every time on his targeted business tax breaks.  So he takes a liberty with last year's constitutional amendment in an effort to see to it that the voice of conscience is silenced.

    The City Commission meeting at which the proposed amendment will be voted on is this coming Tuesday, June 7th.  My sense of the commission is that they are going to amend the proposal to include a sunset clause of somewhere between 7 to 10 years.  (Evidently a majority of the commissioners are more interested in mercy than Cummings is.)  I intend to be at the meeting, and I encourage others to do the same.

    < Michigan Freedom To Work | RightMichigan.com Reaches 93 >

    Share This: Digg! StumbleUpon del.icio.us reddit reddit

    Display: Sort:
    Interesting... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Corinthian Scales on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 11:31:24 AM EST
    About the same time frame that a 23-year-old and his buddy were five finger discounting flat screens and padding charge cards, a self-important Commissioner Frank Cummings, r-At Large was legally throwing away $57,400 in taxpayers coerced dollars.

    "Why did we allow expansion of the current system beyond its capabilities?" asked Commissioner Frank Cummings. "We created our own problem. I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot."

    So ya, 'ol Frank Cummings should prolly face the consequences of a Ezekiel 33 styled amended Charter too.

    Cummings said someone should have predicted this problem long ago.

    "We've met and exceeded what we can handle and nobody has screamed 'fire' along the way," he said.

    That would've been your job, Frank... had you been doing it.

    Bottom line.  I do not agree with this proposed amendment as much as I don't agree with muslimama Tlaib from the Congo of Detroit pushing her "Ban the Box" legislation to be upon 'certain' employers in this state.

    From what I've read, Mr. VerWys was up front with disclosing his record to voters and they chose to hire him.  That's not any different from a private sector employer having the freedom to choose who they hire based on disclosed knowledge.

    This is a very dumb and dangerous amendment if passed.  Waaaayyyyyy too burning women at the stake 'cause they floated in water for my tastes.

    ex post facto . . . (none / 0) (#2)
    by Kevin Rex Heine on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 03:45:39 PM EST
    . . . is defined by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary as: "after the fact," or "retroactively."  (The origin is from the Latin, and literally translates as "from a thing done afterward.")

    Both the Constitution of the United States and the Michigan Constitution have crystal-clear prohibitions against ex post facto laws:

    No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.  (U. S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 9)

    No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contract shall be enacted.  (Michigan Constitution, Article 1, Section 10)

    This charter amendment, as it is currently written and according to the Kentwood City Counsel, amounts to an ex post facto law that is intended for enshrinement in the city's charter.

    I intend on raising that point tonight at the commission meeting.  For a change, probably because there's already some public backlash developing against this amendment, the commission is going to forego the "executive session" portion of the scheduled meeting and handle the entire matter in the form of the committee of the whole.

    What really bugs me is that the Mayor, Dick Root, is supporting Frank Cummings on this matter, and I know that he should know better.

    • Hmmmm... by Corinthian Scales, 06/07/2011 04:33:11 PM EST (none / 0)
    And last night, apparently . . . (none / 0) (#4)
    by Kevin Rex Heine on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 12:37:22 PM EST
    . . . the "inner circle club" of the Kentwood City Commission got their way any-damned-how.

    I showed up at City Hall earlier than strictly necessary, but that gave me time to sit in on the committee work sessions in advance of the 7:00 p.m. meeting.  What I noticed as I took the cup of coffee offered by Mayor Root was that someone had hardcopied this article (through comment # 2) and passed out copies to all of the commissioners.  At the time, only Commissioner VerWys knew me face-to-face, so it wasn't like I was actually expecting trouble.

    At the regular commission meeting (at which the public seating seemed filled to about half-capacity), the question on the resolution was set as item # 17 on the agenda (Resolutions).  Item # 11 (Public Hearings) included two applications for Industrial Facilities Exemptions (read, "tax abatements") for Hearthside Food Solutions LLC.  After the standard dog-and-pony discussion regarding how this will help a locally-owned company create jobs locally, the commission approved the applications by a 6 - 1 vote.  (Commissioner VerWys was the only "no" vote.)

    And before we get to what happened with item # 18 on the agenda, let me pause for a moment to point out that I am very sure that the City Commission knew that Commissioner VerWys and Mayor Root had provided interviews to WOOD-TV8's Joe LaFurgey, and that they had aired right about at the time the committee work sessions were breaking up.

    Once the commission reached the proposed resolution, two things happened:  The first was that Commissioner VerWys recused himself from the dais, stating that this resolution had the potential to affect him personally and so his comments should come from the floor.  The second was that Mayor Root opened up the floor for public comment.

    Including Ray VerWys and myself, five people approached the lectern to speak regarding the resolution.  Not one spoke in favor of the proposed charter amendment as it was presented.  Those who did speak cited:

    • that the city commission is perceived as attempting to overturn the ballot box result from November 2009

    • that the city is opening itself up to a big lawsuit, with attendant negative publicity, and which the city cannot afford, for violating the constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws

    • that approving this resolution for the ballot is essentially the same as putting Ray VerWys back in prison

    • that not providing a sunset clause is a very bad idea, because it fosters a "one strike and out" culture, where no one is ever permitted redemption

    And now I'm sure that all of the members of the City Commission know who I am.  (Get used to my face, y'all, you will be seeing it again.)

    Once the public commentary was closed, the commission discussed the resolution.  Without going into all the details of who said exactly what and in which order, this was the position of each of the members of the commission on the resolution:

    • Commissioner Frank Cummings - who introduced the resolution as written - said that this resolution was not targeted at any one particular commissioner, but that elected officials in general should be held to a higher standard than the rest of the public.

    • Commissioner Robert Coughlin supported the proposed amendment as written and introduced.

    • Commissioner Richard Clanton, citing the language of the Lansing city charter, recommended that the resolution be amended to include a 20 year sunset clause.

    • Mayor Richard Root supported the proposed amendment as written and introduced, questioned what the voters knew and when they knew it with regard to the November 2009 elections, and said that the retroactive implications of the resolution should be left in the hands of the commission if the amendment is approved this November.

    • Commissioner Sharon Brinks supported the proposed amendment as written and introduced, but did not oppose some sort of sunset clause. She also cited legal precedent that an expunged felony removes that conviction from consideration with regard to the proposed amendment.

    • Commissioner Michael Brown opposed the proposed amendment as written, and also opposed a sunset clause of 20 years.  A sunset clause should be included, but he didn't believe that 20 years is the right waiting period.

    The City Attorney provided evidence that, of the 100 or so Michigan municipalities that have similar language in their charters, every single one of them includes either a sunset clause or a proviso that the disqualifying conviction must be related to a crime committed while in office . . . and most commonly both.  He also noted that, regardless of what the commission might approve tonight, any approved resolution would still have to be validated by the Michigan Attorney General before it is actually placed on the ballot for voter consideration.

    At about quarter before nine, Mayor Root recessed the commission until 9:00 p.m. so that they could take a break before wrapping up deliberations and putting the matter to a vote.

    When the commission reconvened, and after some additional discussion, Commissioner Brown verified from the City Clerk that it was too late for any approved resolution to appear on the August primary ballot, but that the deadline for an approved resolution to appear on the November general ballot was about July 11th; then he put forward a motion to table the resolution until the June 21st regular meeting so that the commissioners might have time to research and consider options for amending the proposed resolution . . . the motion died for lack of support.

    Commissioner Clanton then put forward a motion that the proposed resolution be amended to include a twenty-year sunset provision . . . the motion died for lack of support.

    After some additional discussion, the question of the proposed resolution, which remained unchanged from the original wording, was called to a roll-call vote (Commissioner VerWys abstained):

    • Brinks "yes"
    • Brown "no"
    • Clanton "yes"
    • Coughlin "yes"
    • Cummings "yes"
    • Root "yes"

    I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why Commissioner Clanton, who had argued most adamantly for a sunset provision in the resolution, would vote for a resolution that did not contain that sunset amendment.  I say this because the necessary approval to place the resolution on the November general ballot required a five-vote supermajority of the commission, and Clanton, by voting against his own arguments, provided that fifth vote.

    But as annoyed as I am about that, I am most thoroughly disgusted with Mayor Root, Commissioner Cummings, Commissioner Coughlin, and Commissioner Brinks.  In spite of unanimous public commentary opposed to the resolution, evidence that the proposed resolution is inconsistent with all other Michigan municipalities having similar charter amendments, and in the face of clear testimony that this resolution violates the federal and state constitutions, these four ninnyhammers went ahead and did it anyway.  (And that, boys and girls, fits the Merriam-Webster definition of "stupid.")

    (As a total sidebar, though still relevant, major kudos should go to WOOD-TV8, WZZM-TV13, and the Grand Rapids Press for providing very fair and balanced coverage of this whole story.)

    To Commissioner VerWys' enduring credit, he did a marvelous job of maintaining his composure throughout the entire debate.  (I think that everyone in the room knew that this resolution was specifically targeted at him, despite the gang-of-four's pretensions otherwise.)  However, once the vote was done, he declined Mayor Root's offer to return to his chair for the remaining agenda items, instead opting to retire out to the hallway to process as privately as possible what just happened.  (Crystal Hilliard, with WOOD-TV8, stepped into the hallway via another door in order to interview him for the eleven-o'clock news.)

    Commissioner Brinks was having none of that.

    I'm not sure what exactly motivated it, but Brinks cut off the closing comments of one of the commissioners and promptly pitched a hissy fit to the effect that a city commissioner who had not been properly excused had absented himself from the meeting, and he ought to be ordered back into his chair.  Police Chief Richard Mattice, on Mayor Root's order, stepped out into the hallway and asked Commissioner VerWys to return to the meeting.  (My take on the Chief's reaction was that he wasn't too thrilled with the order.)

    So now the only person standing between the City of Kentwood and a disastrously unconstitutional miscarriage of justice is Michigan's Attorney General, Bill Schuette.  He can put the kibosh on this entire debacle by simply saying "no" in writing and signing his name to it.  (Jason, would you mind getting him on the phone for me?)

    In the meantime, I'm going to be having a chat with the leadership of the Independent Coalition of Kent County tonight.  A key element of that discussion will be whether or not the gang-of-four's conduct warrants a recall attempt.

    While we've all been . . . (none / 0) (#11)
    by Kevin Rex Heine on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 01:12:09 PM EST
    . . . enjoying our summers, I've been keeping a weather eye on the City of Kentwood ballot for this November's general election.

    Any shot I may have had at leveraging the ouster of Commissioner Coughlin via either the August primary ballot or the November general ballot vaporized when Coughlin pulled down 62.22% of the vote in the Ward 1 Primary.  Because that's a clear majority of the votes cast, he's in with no need to run in November.  (That Scott Bailey never actually got off his duff and ran any campaign whatsoever, let alone an effective one, didn't help matters any.)

    And as soon as my family returned from the hospital after my daughter's birth, I made a point of checking the Kent County website, Elections Department, to see as to whether or not the proposed charter amendment was actually placed on the ballot.  Imagine my surprise when I found (on page 4) this:

    City of Kentwood


    Shall Section 14.1, Chapter XIV, of the Charter of the City of Kentwood be amended to prohibit persons who have been convicted of a felony from being qualified to serve in elective office in the City?

    And this was apparently done with no fanfare or press release whatsoever.  In fact, I went by Commissioner VerWys' place of work last week and discussed it with him, and it was the first that he'd heard of it; ditto for key players in my citywide political ground crew.  Evidently, the AG approved it, the Governor signed off on it, and the City Clerk just notified the County Clerk that this was to be placed on the November ballot (all without so much as a "by your leave").

    My guess is that the gang-of-four is relying on the low-profile nature of a two-thirds-settled city general election to pull this off.  I guess that I'll just have to prove him wrong.

    Display: Sort:


    Make a new account

    Tweet along with RightMichigan by
    following us on Twitter HERE!
    create account | faq | search