Something Sure Smells Fishy

(Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout out to City Manager Jonathan Smith. Based on the documents that I received from a recent FOIA request, I’ve learned that not only does he monitor my website, he also apparently saves copies of my posts on taxpayer-funded city equipment for posterity, and in at least one case, he used a copy of a post to try to stir up a lawsuit. Good to know that the government is monitoring my First Amendment activity so closely! Mr. Smith is also the one who sends an annual reminder to residents about “political signs.” This reminder is based on an unconstitutional city ordinance that also infringes on First Amendment activity, so does that mean he’s being consistent? I’ll leave it to you to decide.)

And now on to the point of this post.

Let’s recap how we got to the November 2nd election for city council. Mayor Eric Haven was apparently unhappy with the names that were going to appear on the November ballot. He only liked one of the candidates – Gary Casey. The other two candidates – Steven McLean and Paul Angelini – were apparently just not his cup of tea. So, Haven went out and recruited his neighbor (Bruce Fuller) and a woman who owns a house on Main Street but hasn’t lived in it for going on fifteen months now (Laura Rodgers). They ran as write-in candidates, along with Christopher Moore. (FYI, I think it’s safe to infer that Haven doesn’t like Dr. Moore very much, given the way he’s treated him at city council meetings.)

Rodgers filed her “Write-In Candidate Declaration of Intent,” a document that is signed under oath, affirming that all of the statements on the form were true and that she was declaring her intent to run as a write-in candidate on September 8, 2021. Fuller filed his Declaration, also signed under oath, on September 28, 2021.

Haven’s Use of the Taxpayer-Funded City Manager’s Email List
to Boost His Candidates and Their Platform

The city manager’s weekly email list has been developed over the last several years due to people voluntarily providing their email addresses to the city manager for the express purpose of receiving information about city business. The emails are similar in form to the city manager’s twice monthly city manager report that you can find in the city council packets. I’ve been a subscriber since 2018, and I don’t remember anyone glomming onto the weekly email for any reason. The weekly email has also never been used for any political purposes – nor would it be proper to do so.

Haven used his elected office as the mayor to justify attaching communications to the city manager’s email list on two occasions. When you read the two attachments and Haven’s campaign letter together, it’s clear that the hope-for effect would be to boost Haven’s preferred candidates.

It started with a letter that Haven wrote to the editor of the Clarkston News that he titled “Bringing People Together.” Obviously, Haven is free to write as many letters to the editor as he wants, but using the city manager’s email list to blast this essay out to the community – something that the candidates that Haven didn’t support were unable to do – was improper. The “Bringing People Together” letter was attached to the September 30, 2021 city manager’s email (after both of the Haven-supported write-in candidates had filed their Declarations with the Clarkston clerk). The letter expressly mentioned the election year and focused on the historical aspects of Clarkston using phrases like “the subtleties of our culture,” “preserving our original village, intact,” “subtle ambience,” “purposeful planning and zoning,” “1830s mill village,” “charm,” “planning,” “zoning,” “structure,” “rules,” “preserving our ‘charm,’” “our fragile charm,” using property values as a tangible measure of charm, etc. Even though the letter used a taxpayer-funded resource for distribution, Haven included only his name, no official title, and his personal telephone number and email address at the end of the letter, further emphasizing that this was something that was personal and should not have gone out to the public using the city manager’s email address list.

The second letter, sent with the city manager’s October 8, 2021 email, was titled “A Very Big Deal” and was apparently sent to the public only through the city manager’s email list. This time, Haven focused on historic district issues. The letter notes that Clarkston is a “19th century village” and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Haven also discussed the historic district commission and the historic district ordinance, and he suggested that our historic district commission was “like an HOA without the cost.” The end of the letter included Haven’s name along with his title “Mayor, City of the Village of Clarkston.” This time, Haven provided his taxpayer-funded email address, his personal email address, and his personal telephone number.

I’ve linked to these two letters here (highlights added by me):

Bringing People Together
A Very Big Deal

Correspondence Using Taxpayer-Funded Resources
Sent to Some, But Not All, Absentee Voters

Haven wrote another letter, but this letter was limited to absentee voters – provided to some absentee voters but not to all absentee voters. You’ll note some striking similarities between the absentee voter letter and the “Bringing People Together” and “A Very Big Deal” letters. (Note: I didn’t receive one of Haven’s special letters to absentee voters. The copy of the letter that I was provided had notes on it made by the recipient. I removed those notes because they weren’t part of the original document.)

The absentee letter referenced Haven’s public office (“your mayor for a second term”) and noted that he was endorsing Fuller, Rodgers, and Casey. Keeping with the theme that he pushed when he insinuated himself onto the city manager’s email list, Haven used the following phrases: “protecting our city zoning,” “historic district ordinances,” “Clarkston’s ‘brand,’” “our humble beginnings in the 1830s until today,” the “National Register of Historic Places,” “Our Historic District Commission,” “like a home owners association (HOA) at no cost to the homeowner,” and “protecting our historic district.” He referenced formation of the historic district in 1980 and noted that it requires vigilance to keep the historic district free from commercial intrusion. Haven briefly described his three preferred candidates, provided instructions regarding how to vote for a write-in, and included biographies for Fuller and Rodgers. At the end of this letter, Haven used his title, “Mayor, City of the Village of Clarkston,” and included his taxpayer-funded city email address, his taxpayer-funded city telephone number, and his personal email address and personal telephone number, impliedly inviting the select recipients of the letter to contact him to discuss these candidates using the taxpayer-funded resources. I’ve linked Haven’s letter here (the highlights are mine):

Haven’s letter to some absentee voters

Fuller’s biography said he was motivated by his “affinity for this community and [his] desire to see that it maintains a unique character.” He said he was concerned about property development that “could have a detrimental impact on the quality of life in the village.” Rodgers’ biography said that she moved here because she was drawn to “what [she] like[s] to refer to as the ‘Clarkston brand,’” expressed an interest in historic preservation, mentioned the purchase of her (currently vacant) home on Main Street and said basing decisions on evidence and in collaboration with experts would be “essential for the preservation of Clarkston’s highly desired brand.”

I’ve linked to the Fuller and Rodgers biographies here (highlights are mine):

Fuller’s biography
Rodgers’ biography

The Magical Clarkston Copier

On October 6, 2021, I made a FOIA request for a copy of the declarations of intent to run as a write-in candidate for Fuller and Rodgers. The city clerk responded the same day and provided me with copies of the declarations for all three write-in candidates.

I’ve attached them here:

20211006 – Bruce Fuller’s Declaration of Intent
20211006 – Laura Rodgers Declaration of Intent
20211006 – Christopher Moore’s Declaration of Intent

One of the questions that I raised with the clerk about Fuller and Rodgers was that they did not fully complete their Declaration of Intent form; specifically, they failed to affirm that they were registered and qualified to vote at the address on their forms that they should have done by darkening the circle in front of that statement.

Here is that section of Fuller’s form, taken from the PDF file above:

Here is that section of Rodger’s form, taken from the PDF file above:

If you look at the entire form, you’ll see that both Fuller and Rodgers blackened the two other circles on the form in front of “regular term” and “general election.” Dr. Moore put an “x” in all three places on his form. When I questioned the omission, the city clerk responded as follows:

Both Laura Rodgers and Bruce Fuller did in fact mark the small circle that states that they are registered and qualified to vote at their given addresses. If this did not come through clearly on the scanned copies I emailed to you I will rescan a darker copy to you.

Well, alrighty then. I made a request for darker copies, and they were provided on November 3rd (after a follow up reminder). The new, ostensibly “darker” copies, are attached below:

20211103 – New Bruce Fuller’s Declaration of Intent
20211103 – New Laura Rodgers’ Declaration of Intent

Miraculously, the newer forms have a mark within each of the circles. Oddly, the mark doesn’t match the completed circles in the rest of the form. So weird!

Here is a section of Fuller’s form, taken from the newer PDF file above that demonstrates the inconsistency:

Here is that section of Rodger’s form, taken from the newer PDF file above that demonstrates the inconsistency:

(Note: you may have to enlarge your screen by holding your control key and tapping on the + key to see the image more clearly, but if that doesn’t work for you, clicking the link to see the full PDF file will enable you to see what I’m referring to quite easily.)

Dang, it’s a modern-day miracle! There were three forms copied at the same time, but two of them showed blank circles in Section 1. After “darkening” them, not only does the later copy show that the Section 1 circles were completed, they were also completed in an entirely different way from the rest of the form.

Don’t we all do that when we fill out forms?

R-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ight. Sure we do.

Election Day

I voted absentee this year, and I didn’t receive one of Haven’s special letters. This meant that I didn’t go to city hall to vote. But I have heard some troubling things about what happened on Tuesday from people who were there.

Apparently, Haven was at the polling place supporting his favored candidates and sitting in their tent. Even though campaigning is forbidden within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place, that didn’t stop Haven from accosting people within the area where there should have been no campaigning. To be fair, I don’t know what Haven was saying because I personally didn’t hear it, but I’m sure there are people who were approached who could enlighten us. I was also told that Haven followed one man out to his car (uninvited) after the man had voted.

Hours after the polls closed and no results had been reported, the candidates were advised that there were 322 ballots cast and approximately 450 write-in votes. Further, “because of the closeness of the counts and the high number of write-in votes that were cast,” supposedly the State of Michigan and the Oakland County election supervisors “strongly advised” the city not to report any election results until they could be certified by the County.

Interesting, that. When my husband first ran for city council, the circumstances were quite similar. The (former) clerk screwed up that year and gave potential candidates an incorrect date to turn in petitions, which meant that the only way that any additional interested people could run for city council was as a write-in candidate. My husband and two others ran as write-in candidates for that election (my husband won). There were also candidates whose names were printed on the ballot during that election as well. The city had no problem reporting the results that night. In 2016, when there was a tie between Sharron Catallo and Michael Sabol, the city also had no problem reporting those results that night, and the tie was later broken in Oakland County by drawing papers out of a hat. But give the current city government 322 pieces of paper and 450 written names, and that’s apparently a problem! Gosh, I wonder what the City of Detroit did with all of those pieces of paper when Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan ran as a write-in?

It Just Makes You Wonder, Doesn’t It?

What conclusions can be drawn? Well, you are free to draw your own, but I think, at a minimum, that our mayor conducted himself in a way that disgraced his office and the city. Sadly, it’s not the first time that he’s acted in an underhanded way with regard to an election. I’ve written about his first mayoral campaign, done in secret and in violation of the charter. Not only that, Haven timed his Friday resignation from the city council in such a way that his preferred replacement candidate was the only one who knew that there would be an opening on the city council due to Haven’s resignation. With the help of other city council members who shared this inside information, that preferred candidate used the weekend to get petition signatures. The public didn’t learn of Haven’s resignation until Monday evening during a non-televised city council meeting. This meant that Haven’s preferred candidate was able to obtain all the required signatures and turn his petitions in by the deadline at the end of the next day, shutting out any other interested person. If it weren’t for my election complaint, no one would have been the wiser. You can learn all about what Haven did, because I wrote about it here:

I also don’t believe that we have a magic copier at city hall. Feel free to disagree, but it certainly appears to me that someone (and I honestly have no idea who) modified the Fuller and Rodgers Declaration forms after they were submitted. It was unnecessary to do things that way – the candidates could simply have submitted corrected forms that were signed in front of a notary. I suppose it’s easier to just blame the magic copier and call it a day.

Do I know if anything untoward happened with the election results? No, emphatically no, I do not. I just find the city’s actions suspicious, especially given my personal experience with their propensity to hide records and other information from the public. I want to know why our city clerk was unable to count 322 pieces of paper to determine who won, since I know from my husband’s experience as one of three write-in candidates that the city is certainly capable of reporting out results that evening (and the winning and losing candidates in my husband’s election were separated by only a handful of votes). I would also like to know who was present during the counting and whether anyone touched any ballot who wasn’t authorized to do so. Unfortunately, the candidates that Haven doesn’t like weren’t there to see what happened.

Personally, I think that Haven’s conduct in the run up to the election was disgusting. And when the smoke clears, if only Haven’s three preferred candidates are left standing, I will never believe that they were fairly elected. But again, that’s just me and my own personal opinion. It’s a free country, and you can draw your own conclusions.