Election Commission blocks recall petition against Betz — for now

County rejects recall petition language proposed by eastside resident

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MONDAY, Nov. 15 — A Republican operative and his pro-Trump attorney said they plan to head back to the drawing board this week after the Ingham County Election Commission shot down their plans today to circulate a recall petition against Lansing City Councilman Brandon Betz.

Undra Brown, 23, of Lansing, filed recall petition language last month with Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum that aimed to put Betz back up for a special election as early as next May — citing concerns Betz’ “unprofessional conduct” and alleging that hadn’t lived up to his duties.

“City Council member Brandon Betz was condemned unanimously by the City Council for unprofessional conduct in Resolution 29 of 2021,” the petition reads. “Betz has been removed from his committee assignments and on Aug. 26, 2021, Betz admitted on social media he ‘receded into private.’ Betz is still collecting his $26,552 salary as a part-time Council member.”

The Ingham County Election Commission — comprising Byrum, Chief Probate Judge Richard Garcia and County Treasurer Eric Schertzing — met today to review the recall petition and determine whether the proposed language was “factual and of sufficient clarity,” officials said.

But before the commission could consider whether the petition met those two elements, it was dismissed on a technicality. Byrum said that Brown — who moved from the Fourth Ward to the First Ward in July — hadn’t registered to vote in Lansing until about one hour after he filed the recall petition. And because those can only be filed by registered voters of the jurisdiction of the elected official they seek to recall, the Commission voted 3-0 to reject the petition altogether.

Brown, who is a registered First Ward voter, can resubmit his recall petition language at any time. He said he plans to submit another version “very shortly.” That would then trigger another 10-day window in which the commission must meet again to review the proposal. And If it’s approved, Betz will have up to 10 days to appeal the decision to a Circuit judge.

From there, Brown would have another 180 days to gather signatures from at least 20% of registered voters who cast votes for governor in 2018 in the 1st Ward — estimated to be at least 2,545 names. Those signatures must also be collected within 60 days of being filed, giving Brown and his volunteers a two-month window in which to gather and submit enough names.

And if that happens, Betz could be forced to run against any number of would-be challengers at a special election that could be scheduled as early as May 2022 in order to maintain his seat.

Betz doesn’t think it’ll come down to that. He said Brown’s petition was “false and misleading.” And after watching today’s meeting, he labeled the dismissal as “a win for the First Ward.”

“I am working as hard as ever to represent my constituents and to perform the functions of my office,” Betz said. “All of this is just Republican operatives who do not even live in our ward trying to slow our city’s progress. It’s time to move on and get back to work. The residents of my ward are ready to move on. We aren’t interested in Republican attempts to overturn elections.”

Brown is a “disruptor” at Rogue Strategy Group, a Lansing-based consulting firm that primarily lobbies for Republican causes. He helps run the organization alongside Scott Hagerstrom, a GOP operative who was the state director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Hagerstrom was also one of nine attorneys who were sanctioned in a court opinion issued in August over what has since been deemed as a “frivolous” lawsuit that alleged widespread election fraud in 2020 elections, MLive reports. He spoke on Brown’s behalf at today’s meeting.

And like the sanctions, he also thought that today’s rejection was motivated by partisan politics.

“When some public officials try to protect other public officials, it’s very disappointing,” he said.

Brown told City Pulse last month that he had “about 30 volunteers” waiting in the wings to begin collecting signatures in the First Ward, as well as a new website dedicated to the effort. He also said that Betz’ allegedly shoddy leadership on the Council has led to “a taxation without representation sort of deal” in Lansing’s First Ward.

“Brandon Betz has faced a ton of backlash for his behavior,” Brown added. “He was removed from all of his committee assignments. He said he’s still working hard for citizens, but he also said that he has receded into a more private life. That’s not fair representation for people.”

Garcia — who was initially appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. John Engler and serves as the chairman of the Election Commission — cautioned Brown that even if he had been a registered voter when he filed the petition, he still would’ve rejected the proposal for a lack of clarity. He also suggested that the resubmission include more specific concerns about Betz.

“I’d recommend you go back and do what you can to try to clean this stuff up. It may be factual but it’s also very unclear,” he said, suggesting that the petition should include a much more specific definition of “unprofessional conduct” in order to pass muster through the Commission.

Hagerstrom said he was confused by that directive, but he plans to work with Brown to file another proposed recall petition. And if that’s filed by Friday, the Commission will meet again this month. That would also keep plans on track for a potential recall election as early as May or November.

Betz faced a deluge of public criticism— including hundreds of calls for his resignation — after he sent a series of profane text messages in which he called Michael Lynn Jr., the former coleader of the Lansing chapter of Black Lives Matter, a “dickbag troll who no one listens to” and a “weak ass bitch” who only wanted more political clout. Lynn repeatedly asked Betz to stop sending him messages. Betz kept going, later telling Lynn that he doesn’t “represent assholes.”

In the weeks that followed, Betz and his wife departed to Alaska to visit family and “take care of personal affairs,” he said. Meanwhile, he was formally censured by the Council, fired from his job at the Michigan League for Public Policy and widely criticized by political groups, including the Ingham County Democratic Party and the Lansing Democratic Socialists of America. Both of them — as well as Black Lives Matter — have echoed calls for Betz to resign from the Council.

In an August turnabout, Betz posted on Facebook that he had abandoned his plans to seek a reduction to the Lansing Police Department budget. And despite calling for Mayor Andy Schor’s resignation over the issue last year, Betz publicly also endorsed Schor for reelection.

“I am no longer tied to a particular movement or ideal,” Betz wrote on Facebook in August in his first public post since he disappeared from social media in February. “I will use my knowledge, skills and experience to focus on the issues of the day with rationality and keen economic precision. I will work to ensure that our city is better than when I came into this position.”

Betz also went on to label Black Lives Matter, among other groups, as “niche” organizations run by a “small group of activists” that don’t necessarily represent the interests of the city or the safety of its residents. That post triggered another social media firestorm in the First Ward, with many residents claiming that Betz only backtracked on the political ideals that got him elected. 

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