Aug. 10 2016 11:18 AM

Ferguson seeks to sway LCC trustees election

(This story has been updated to correct an error and to add new information.)

A criminal investigation into the campaign activities of a candidate for the Lansing Community College Board of Trustees has shed light on attempts by the chairman of the Michigan State Board of Trustees to influence the makeup of the community college’s governing board.

Joel Ferguson, a Lansing developer in his fourth term on MSU’s board, denies any interest in the community college’s governing board.

However, he is pushing the LCC board candidacy of Angela Mathews, whom Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum has referred to the Mason Police Department for alleged perjury over campaign violations. Ferguson said his relationship with Mathews is "none of your business."

Also, Thomas Morgan, who withdrew from the race, said he was approached by an "intermediary" on behalf of Ferguson to round out a trustee slate. Morgan declined to identify who talked to him.

“Joel wanted me to run on a slate with Bob Proctor and Angela Mathews, with the goal of taking out Alex Azima,” Morgan said via Facebook Messenger. “I’m not sure why Joel would want to defeat Alex, who is a strong advocate for the students and faculty. It seems to me that we
should be electing more pro-education candidates to public office — not trying to defeat them.”

Morgan declined to discuss the slate offer any further. He has endorsed Azima.

Ferguson denies the incident.

“I don’t know what he is talking about,” Ferguson said. “I don’t know Thomas Morgan. This is the first time I am hearing about a slate.”

Ferguson said he did his own political “stuff” and did not rely on intermediaries.

Azima said by phone this weekend he was unaware of Ferguson’s involvement and found it “puzzling.” Proctor, chairman of the LCC board, denied any knowledge of a proposed slate. “I have not been approached,” he said.

In November, Mathews will face incumbents Azima and Proctor, as well as Ryan Buck, an administrator at the Ingham County Circuit Court, for three, six-year terms on the Board. Incumbent Larry Meyer is running unopposed to serve a partial, four-year term on the board.

LCC spokeswoman Devon Bradley said Ferguson is “a friend” to the college, which values his “partnership.” She said Ferguson has not made any cash donations to the college in the last five years.

In 2012, Ferguson sold LCC the former Catholic Social Services Building, 505 N. Capitol Ave. for $1.4 million. That was about two years after Ferguson tried unsuccessfully to buy the city’s North Capitol parking ramp $2.9 million, which he said he would repair and then lease or sell to
LCC. That was after the City Council had rejected LCC’s $2.8 million offer as too low. When Ferguson jumped in, LCC’s spokeswoman at the time, Chris Hollister, referred to Ferguson as a “longtime friend of LCC.” The Bernero administration blocked the sale to Ferguson.

Current LCC Trustee Deb Canja said she believes Ferguson’s interest in LCC is “promoting qualified African American women to elected offices.”

One such woman may be Mathews, who works for Ingham County Regster of Deeds Derrick Quinney. She was one 32 applicants in January for a community outreach position, said Travis Parsons, human resources director of Ingham county. He said Quinney handled the hiring.

Quinney said Ferguson was a reference for Mathews.

“Don’t you want to know the other references?” he asked initially. Later, when queried, he said he did not recall and would “have to look.” He didn't produce any other names.

Quinney and Ferguson are friends going back to childhood. Both served on the Lansing City Council., although at different times.

Mathews ran unsuccessfully for the LCC board in 2014, from which campaign Byrum's allegations stem.

When Mathews filed her required affidavit of identity to run this year, she acknowledged under penalty of perjury that she had filed all previous campaign reports and had paid all fines and fees. But Byrum said Mathews never filed paperwork for her 2014 run for the LCC Board and that she owes $1,300 in fines and fees.

Ferguson calls that charge “shit.”

He said the Clerk's Office sent notices of her alleged violations to her Chester Road address in Lansing Township after she had moved.

"She didn’t get those notices. How can she intentionally file a false affidavit when she didn’t know?” he said

Mathews has declined to comment.

Mathews has hired Joseph Garcia, an attorney at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn. Garcia has sent two letters to Byrum trying to get the clerk to forgive the $1,300 debt.

The first letter, dated July 26, claims that Mathews did not live at the address on Chester Road in Lansing Township she listed on her 2014 affidavit of identity. Garcia writes that Mathews moved from that address to the city of Lansing in July 2014. That’s the address to which the
Clerk’s Office sent letters regarding her failure to file the paperwork to establish a campaign committee and other campaign finance act reports.

Despite her claims to having moved from the Chester Road address, Mathews did not change her voter registration until February 2015, according to public documents released by Byrum’s office. That record shows Mathews changed her address at the Secretary of State’s Supercenter in Lansing.

Regardless of whether Mathews received the letters, election official Jennifer Schuster told City Pulse that in August 2014 she spoke with Mathews about her responsibilities in a phone conversation. Schuster said Mathews told her that she was not certain she was going to actively campaign for the LCC post. Mathews’ attorney, Garcia, asserts that claim in letters to Byrum.

But an agenda from the Sept. 30, 2014, meeting of the political group The Fourth Ward Progressives shows she met with them for an endorsement. Stephen Manchester, who sends out meeting notices for the group, said his notes do not reflect that Mathews actually interviewed with the group. However, Monica Zuchowski, who is also in the group, said she recalls interviewing Mathews for an endorsement.

Moreover, Mathews' defense against perjury could open the door to another legal problem.

Lansing Township records show that Mathews signed a ballot application to vote there in the November 2014 election. If she did indeed move to Lansing in July 2014, then she may have committed election fraud because state law prohibits casting a ballot at a former polling location more than 60 days after moving.

(This story was updated to correct an error that said Robert Proctor did not return calls for comment. Because of a reporting error, the wrong number was called. This story adds Proctor’s response. Also, some readers may have seen an earlier version of this story that said that Ferguson had approached Morgan to be on a slate, according to Morgan. It should have said that an “intermediary” approached him. City Pulse regrets the errors.)