BESSEMER — An effort to recall Bessemer School Board member Bill McDonald sustained a setback Tuesday when the Gogebic County Election Commission rejected wording on a petition seeking a vote on the issue.
The woman who is attempting to recall McDonald, fellow school board member Sheri Graham, said she would seek to file another petition to recall McDonald, omitting language the panel found objectionable.
All three members of the election commission — probate judge Joel Massie, county clerk Gerry Pelissero and treasurer Sue Pertile — rejected the petition because of wording Graham used.
Members of the panel said some of the charges filed in the petition constituted opinions, and not facts.
Massie noted the recall law has changed in the past year and the commission is now tasked with determining factual accuracy of allegations in a petition.
Graham alleged McDonald:
—Intentionally provided false and inaccurate information at public school board meetings.
—Lied to voters, telling them to vote no on the recent bond issue and to vote for plan B, when there was no plan B. She also said McDonald indicated the bond was for 11 mills, when it was actually for seven.
—Disregarded the school district’s bidding process by giving out information and allowing contractors on school grounds without the board’s knowledge.
—Used foul language at board meetings, even though being warned not to do so by board presidents.
The three-member panel specifically questioned the use of the words, “Intentionally provided false information” and “lied to voters,” saying those statements sounded like opinions.
Graham said she had provided more detailed language, but she had to cut the wording so it would fit on a ballot.
McDonald did not deny using foul language, but said other board members have done the same. “We’re not all Snow White,” he said.
He denied the other allegations, saying the proposed recall was an effort “to dirty my name and reputation.”
He claimed he was singled out because he voted against putting the seven-mill proposal on the ballot. District residents rejected the extra millage.
“I never did say it was 11 mills,” McDonald said.
He also said the contractor charges were fabricated.
Pelissero asked McDonald if he intentionally provided inaccurate information. “I didn’t,” he responded.
McDonald said he didn’t support the lengthy millage request because he doesn’t believe the school district will survive for 25 years into the future, citing 40 businesses that have closed in recent years.
But Graham responded that there was no plan B and and the seven-mill proposal was the only option considered by the board.
She also claimed McDonald brought in more than one contractor to the school on his own.
The petition also charged McDonald is “unfit to be in the public trust,” but the panel said that was also an opinion.
Massie noted if one part of the petition was rejected, the panel had no choice but to reject the entire wording.
Graham was told she had the right to appeal the decision in circuit court, but she said she’d reword the petition and resubmit it to the election commission.
McDonald will sit on the seven-member school board through 2014, barring a successful recall effort.
The earliest a recall election could be held would be next May. Should ballot wording be approved, a total of 25 percent of the people in the school district who voted in the 2010’s governor’s race would need to sign a petition to force an election.
McDonald, on the school board since 2009, is also running for Bessemer City Council on Nov. 5.
About 15 people attended the session, including a quorum of the school board.
Only Graham and McDonald were permitted to speak.