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Council member raises eligibility concerns in Bessemer election


Ian Minielly/Daily Globe

LINDA NELSON, current member of the city council and declared write-in candidate for the November city council election, dropped a residency requirement bombshell on the council Monday. Nelson provided the city's charter and other supporting documentation regarding a two-year residency requirement for someone to run for city office in Bessemer. If this is upheld, the residency requirement would invalidate the candidacy of at least three of the current candidates for office, leaving only four on the ballot.


Bessemer - During the New Business segment of Monday's city council meeting in Bessemer, Linda Nelson produced a copy of Chapter Three of the city's charter regarding eligibility for office. The charter states, "No person shall be eligible to any elective office of the city unless he shall be an elector in the city and shall have been a resident of the city for at least two years immediately prior to the date of the election at which he is a candidate for office."

To further substantiate the claim a person must be a two-year resident before running for office, Nelson provided an excerpt from Act 116 of 1954, section 321, where it states, "Except as provided in subsection(3) and sections 327, 641, 642, and 644g, the qualification, nominations, election, appointment, term of office, and removal from office of a city office shall be in accordance with the charter provisions governing the city." In other words, the state of Michigan defers to local municipalities when it comes to regulating their city officers and candidates for office.

Included in the packet handed to the members of the council and media by Nelson was a ruling from the Wayne Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the City of Detroit Election Commission and Michael Duggan by Tom Barrow, plaintiff. Barrow sought to disqualify Duggan from the election because he did not meet the city of Detroit standards.

The court found, "Michigan statutory law provides that a city's charter governs qualifications for persons running for office" and that the "United States Supreme Court has noted that is has expressly disclaimed the idea that States cannot impose durational residency requirements."

The ruling found durational requirements by city charters serve three principal state interests:

-" ensure that the candidate is familiar with his constituency

- to ensure that the voters have been thoroughly exposed to the candidate

- and to prevent political carpet bagging"

Kathy Whitburn, mayor, pointed out this two-year requirement meant she was disqualified when she ran and won her position two years ago and that John Frello, fellow council member that has served multiple terms would have also been barred from office the early years due to the residency requirements.

Frello brought forth a motion to seek the city attorney's opinion on the matter because none of the council members were lawyers and they needed a professional opinion. After some additional discussion where Nelson and Rob Coleman made clear they did not trust the city attorney to rule in an unbiased manner regarding the issue, the council voted 3-2, with Coleman and Nelson voting against using the city's attorney, although both supported seeking an outside attorney's opinion on the matter.

Depending on the opinion of the attorney, the election, which already has its own difficulties by only allowing write-in candidates that have properly declared their intention to be a write-in candidate with the city clerk, may now leave the potential candidate pool much smaller. Currently, seven people have informed Jim Trudgeon, clerk, they intend to run as a write-in candidate, the problem is at least three of those candidates would be barred from the election if the residency requirement holds up.

The seven people that have declared their intentions to run as of Monday are, Nelson and Coleman, already current council members and Bill McDonald, Jim Slagerman, Lou Miskovich, Terry Kryshek, and Rich Duncanson, according to Trudgeon. Slagerman, Kryshek, and Duncanson currently do not meet the two-year residency requirement, leaving only four possible candidates for office, unless more people decide to run. The cutline for declaring oneself as a write-in candidate is Friday, Oct. 27.

In other news, the council voted 5-0 and 5-0 to condemn the 508 S. Moore and 100 Silver street properties. Both properties are in bad shape according to Charly Loper, city manager and condemning them ensures a future buyer will not purchase the property, thinking they can take up residency in the domicile.

Loper brought to the Councils attention the offers the city has received regarding three parcels of land in the industrial park. Loper said the council has a decision to make regarding the property. The council can either receive offers to purchase and decide amongst them who to sell the properties to, which would likely result in lower purchase prices, but greater control or the council could hire a real estate company to bring in a higher sale price, but also would cost the city the chance to control who purchases, the three properties.

Al Gaiss said the city should require a basic business plan so the city can rest assured the properties will not go undeveloped, pointing out how the city did not have any bids on the property until it passed the ordinances allowing medical marijuana facilities in the industrial park. The council was in agreement that the property should not be sold until the city can have a reasonable assurance the buyer will develop the property and set an October 31 deadline for potential buyers to develop a basic plan, which will include the necessity of building within 9 months, or as Gaiss pointed out, the length of time a woman is pregnant.

The council agreed

-to receive a Nasal Ranger olfactometer to test the system before making a purchase

-to raise many of the rates and fee's throughout the city that have not been kept up to date

-and to sell excess city equipment.


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