Election Commission kills recall petition against Betz — again

Lansing attorney behind recall to appeal decision in 30th Circuit Court

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MONDAY, Dec. 6 — Plans to circulate a recall petition against Lansing City Councilman Brandon Betz were shot down — again — this afternoon by the Ingham County Election Commission following concerns about a “lack of clarity” in the proposed recall language.

And now the attorney who filed the petition said she plans to appeal the decision to a judge.

“They misapplied the law,” said Liz Abdnour, a Lansing lawyer and self-identified “lifelong Democrat voter” who filed the proposed recall petition language against Betz late last month.

Abdnour filed the petition Nov. 16. It states several reasons  she thinks Betz should be recalled from the Council — all of which revolve around a text message exchange Betz had in February with local activist and former Black Lives Matter co-leader Michael Lynn Jr.

The cited reasons for the proposed recall included: “Betz sent the following text messages to constituent Michael Lynn Jr. which are the basis of this recall: 1. “...you’re a dickbag troll who no one listens to. I heard you made enemies with Kathie too. Good work! 2. “All you want is power and everyone sees it. You’ll turn your back on any white person who doesn’t do exactly what you want. Weak ass bitch.” 3. “I don’t represent assholes.”

Today’s clarity hearing was designed to determine whether the language clearly identified “a basis for the recall” and whether it was “factual and of sufficient clarity” to enable the petition to begin circulating the First Ward. And by a 3-0 vote, the commission decided it wasn’t clear enough — dismissing the petition without much explanation, except to note a “lack of clarity.

“I can’t read the language and understand why it’s what would be presented to this body for recall petition language,” said county Treasurer Eric Schertzing, who sits on the commission with County Clerk Barb Byrum and Chief Probate Judge Ricahrd Garcia. “There’s no specified outcome other than ill will. If elected officials were held to an ill will criteria, then God help us all.”

Betz faced a deluge of public criticism this year — including hundreds of calls for his resignation — after he sent those text messages to Lynn. After Lynn sent screenshots to local news outlets, Betz and his wife departed to Alaska for about a week to “take care of personal affairs.”

While gone, Betz 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, former backers of the self-described Socialist Councilman. Both groups — as well as the Lansing Black Lives Matter chapter — have echoed calls for Betz to resign from the Council.

In August, Betz also labeled 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.

A legal memorandum distributed by staff to the Commission before today’s meeting began further outlined the reasoning for rejecting the petition, noting that recall language should only be considered “sufficiently clear” when it identifies a specific action at a specific event with a “specified outcome” — the latter of which was missing from Abdnour’s petition, Schertzing said.

Abdnour declined to elaborate on why she thinks the commission misinterpreted the law, only telling this reporter to expect an appeal to be filed within the next week in 30th Circuit Court. If a judge decides the commission made an error, then can she start collecting local signatures. Abdnour could also file another proposed recall petition for the commission's review.

A website recently created for the recall effort declares:

“We are a group of Lansing Ward 1 citizens who demand accountability, transparency and representation from our leaders. Our City Council representative Brandon Betz has failed us on all three counts. It’s time for Brandon Betz to go."

Abdnour’s two-person “Committee to Recall Brandon Betz” is also led by Undra Brown, a “disruptor” at Rogue Strategy Group, a consulting firm that primarily lobbies for GOP causes. He runs the organization alongside pro-Trump attorney and election conspiracist Scott Hagerstrom. The group also reportedly includes a bipartisan pack of more than 30 volunteers who are ready to start collecting signatures if and when a recall petition is approved against Betz.

“If a recall effort does not proceed, Betz will remain in his position until at least November 2023, the date of the next scheduled election for his Council seat. Lansing City Council members make about $26,000 — those are our tax dollars paying his salary,” the website notes. “We do not want our money to be spent on paying someone who has decided to not do his job for us.”

Late last month, Brown also tried to file a proposed recall petition against Betz, but the commission dismissed the petition language, largely on a technicality, because Brown wasn’t a registered voter in Lansing until about one hour after he filed the proposed recall petition.

If a recall petition is approved, Betz would then have up to 10 days to appeal the decision to a Circuit judge. From there, organizers 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 names must also be collected within 60 days of being filed, enabling a two-month window in which all names must be gathered and turned in.

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.

Last month, Betz labeled the petition organizers as “Republican operatives who do not even live in our ward.” Abdnour — who listed a First Ward address on Kingswood Drive on the petition — has since mused on Twitter about filing a lawsuit against Betz over that unfounded assertion.

“This is another attempt by Rogue Strategy Group to overturn a legitimate election,” Betz texted City Pulse last month. “It is time to move on. I will be reassigned to committees in the coming weeks and will continue to do the work to ensure this city thrives.”

Betz declined to comment about the outcome of today’s Election Commission meeting. 

Check back for continued coverage as the appeal moves forward in 30th Circuit Court. 

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