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Posted on Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Ann Arbor school board recall language rejected

By Danielle Arndt


Ann Arbor Public Schools Trustee Andy Thomas makes his arguments against the recall petition before the Washtenaw County Elections Commission Thursday afternoon.

Danielle Arndt |

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The Washtenaw County Elections Commission Thursday rejected recall petition language that was filed against six Ann Arbor school board members.

The commission voted 3-0 to reject the language on the petition on the basis of clarity. The commission did not take up the issue of whether the language is factual.

The ruling stymied for now the recall effort of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Parents for Change. The parents, who are frustrated by what they say is general dysfunction on the school board, will have 10 days to appeal the decision in Circuit Court. The group also could submit a new petition with revised language.

Jody Huhn, a Thurston Elementary School parent and member of the group, filed the petition language on July 17 against AAPS trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, Glenn Nelson, Irene Patalan, Christine Stead and Andy Thomas. Petition language could not be filed against President Deb Mexicotte because she is her first year of a new term on the board.

Trustees Baskett, Lightfoot, Stead and Thomas were present at the 1 p.m. clarity/factual hearing Thursday and all except for Lightfoot made arguments before the commission refuting and objecting to the petition language.

Huhn filed the petitions separately for each board member, however, the reasons for recall were the same for all six trustees:

  • Failure to demonstrate thoughtful consideration of constituent priorities.
  • Failure to demonstrate transparency in decision making.
  • Failure to demonstrate cohesive and singular direction as evidenced by consistent split voting.
  • Failure to provide sufficient backing and support for district superintendent position as evidenced by high turnover rate averaging 2.25 years per term.

Huhn said the elections commission's ruling that the language was unclear did not disappoint her. She described the hearing as a learning experience.

"I think it was a very simple petition but it got the message across, which is what we wanted," Huhn said following the hearing. "I don't know from here exactly where we are going to go. It can be more detailed. We can take it to the next step and try again. ... I would need to talk to my group."

Huhn said she thought some of the school board members had valid points in their statements, adding she and the other parents will need to regroup and think about how far they would like to take the recall effort.

"Ultimately, it is a group problem the way that we see it," Huhn said of the board. "They are just so dysfunctional as a group. It would be nice if you could recall them all as a group, but I don't think you can."

By law, the allegations of the language must be made pertaining to the trustees' current terms in office and each trustee, as Thomas pointed out in his objections to the language, has been in office for a different period of time.

He said the terms of two trustees began in July 2009; the terms of two others began in January 2011 and the terms of the remaining two, including Thomas, began in January 2012.

Thomas called the recall language "a hot mess."

"The language is vague, not specific. It is subject to multiple interpretations. It does not confine itself to my current term in office, as is required by law. It asserts as truth things which are factually incorrect or which cannot be substantiated in any objective way. It is simply a hot mess."

Thomas argued that the 2.25-year turnover rate "appears to have been pulled out of thin air."

"As my ninth grade algebra teacher used to tell me, 'show your work.' ... The only way one could come even close to this number is to include an interim superintendent as part of the turnover," Thomas said. "An interim superintendent is not a superintendent, but an individual temporarily placed in that position while a permanent superintendent can be hired."

The elections commission, consisting of Judge Donald Shelton, County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum and County Treasurer Catherine McClary, addressed the issue of clarity first. Because the language was rejected on the basis of clarity, the commission did not have to take up the issue of factuality.

Kestenbaum asserted earlier Thursday that the portion of the law requiring recall petitions to be factual is unconstitutional and he said he would refuse to rule on that issue.

This was the first recall hearing the commission has held since a 2012 law included stricter parameters for recalls in Michigan.

Prior to the 2012 law, the elections commission only had to make a determination on the clarity of the petition language.

"They ruled whether it was clear enough to allow the officer in question to rebut the claims," said county Director of Elections Ed Golembiewski.

Now the petitioner also has the burden of factuality, he added.

Sheldon said when he thinks about clarity, he considers whether an ordinary voter who is confronted with the petition on his or her front porch or in the grocery story parking lot would be able to clearly understand the allegations being made against the officer. He described the commission's job as preventing voters from signing or not signing a petition that could mean different things to different people.

He said "thoughtful consideration," as cited in Huhn's first point for recall, is in the eye of the beholder. He didn't understand the claim about trustees not demonstrating transparency in decision making because the board is a public body and must vote in open, public session. Sheldon also took issue with the lack of a definition for what "cohesive direction" is or what constitutes "split voting."

Sheldon said someone heading into the ballot box would not be able to appropriately weigh the accusations without context or clearer descriptions of the claims.

McClary proposed a second motion for the commission to also go on record as saying the petition language is not factual because she did not believe any of the four reasons listed by the petitioner were. However, the motion died due to a lack of support. Sheldon said a factual ruling in this instance would be moot because petition language must be both factual and clear and since the commission had already ruled the language was not clear, such a determination on factuality was not necessary.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 8:01 p.m.

Too Bad.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

So for now? Vote them out of office. Except that most times people are so use to this kind of stupidity that they will vote them right back in. Can't wait to see how the new superintendent works out. Going to be almost like another Laurel and Hardy moment.

Jack Gladney

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 10:59 a.m.

I guess we'll have to wait until the next BOE meeting to hear about Andy Thomas' hot mess(es). Call your mom and have her watch the kids (don't bring either with you).


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 4 a.m.

How about they have consistently failed to analyze and properly predict budget and personnel requirements based on actual revenues with the resources available to them.?


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 4:01 a.m.

That they have to revert to "payday" loans would indicate that as a collective board they have failed in their fiduciary duties.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 2:54 a.m.

This School Board Should be Re-Called! Opposition needs to get a lawyer to sharpen-up their ReCall Language. The problem with Tea-Party/HomeSchoolers is they do Not cozy-up to Lawyers. More's the pity . . .

Rod Johnson

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 2:24 a.m.

I was pretty scornful of this petition and the petitioners, but reading Jody Huhn's thoughtful and modest response--even though I disagree with her goals--makes me feel more positive. Acknowledging that your opponents have some good points and thinking about what that means for your effort--that's almost unheard of in the ultra-polarized political culture we have now. Kudos to her for that.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 11:13 a.m.

I agree with this, although I'm not in favor of a recall. It is definitely a credit to respond in the manner she did. I wish all of our political dialog was this civil.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 12:12 a.m.

"It asserts as truth things which are factually incorrect or which cannot be substantiated in any objective way. It is simply a hot mess." How does one substantiate a claim that something is a "hot mess"?

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Sounds like that open window is the only thing that saved you.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 12:47 a.m.

With my son it is 3 weeks of dirty clothes on the floor and his window open on a 90+ degree day. Does that work?


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

I love that Thomas described the language as "...simply a hot mess". The board definitely did their homework. Huhn's responses seemed a bit 'deer in headlights' and ill prepared. It was as though the group got together over several bottles of wine in Huhn's kitchen, while shouting out all of their grievances as Huhn wrote their ideas on a piece of paper towel. I imagine it going something like this: "yeah! and don't forget to mention that they aren't transparent..." "...yeah and that they don't get along - look at all those split votes...write that down!" "...oh and don't forget that we've had, like, 10 supers in like 22.5 years..., what does that equal...uh, I think 2.25!" Supremely amateur and terribly done. At the very least, I hope the BOE members can get a chuckle out of the complete silliness of this situation.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10:30 p.m.

The lesson is that recall petitions require more substance than an angry rant on an Internet message board.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

This was much more than that. The rant was printed out.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

Now that it is rejected, lets hope that enough time has passed that it will just go away. Let the people behind it focus on the 2014 election and let them put a slate of candidates together. That is a much more constructive way to do this.

David Cahill

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

A wise decision.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 7:58 p.m.

I think the driving force of the recall attempt for this group is to the BOE for "Failure to hire the local superintendent candidate" that they wanted.

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

i'm not giving the boe credit for recognizing anything. they hired a very expensive failure last time around and gave her glowing reviews for doing nothing except occasionally showing up at the office.

J. A. Pieper

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

You seem to have hit the nail on the head! Whether the BOE is effective or not in much of what they do, I give them credit for recognizing that the local people were not qualified to lead AAPS!

Resident A2

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

PenguinPride - what do you mean "I think the driving force of the recall attempt for this group is to the BOE for "Failure to hire the local superintendent candidate" that they wanted. Are you saying that they were derelict by not hiring Ben Edmondson?


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

agree 100%!


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

good luck. once you elect these people to represent you (not just school board members) it's nigh onto impossible to get them out of office until their term is up, and only then if you can successfully get someone else in.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10:17 p.m.

WOW! You just perfectly defined democracy.

Maria Huffman

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

I think Andy Thomas had a good rebuttal. At least he knew who was accusing him and trying to remove him from his position.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

Does the petitioner bear the burden if court costs?


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 4:18 a.m.

Bob, are you aware if there are costs incurred, for this process?

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10 p.m.

it hasn't been in court so who would they pay?