(New Buffalo, MI) - New Buffalo Mayor John Humphrey denies he instructed a police officer to remove a citizen from a city council meeting and claims to have proof.
That's the other reason behind his appeal of a May 3 decision by the Berrien County Election Commission to approve the language in a second petition seeking his recall.
The second recall petition states that at a city council meeting on March 21, Humphrey "instructed a New Buffalo Police officer to remove an individual while she was speaking during her allotted time at the session of the meeting reserved for public comment."
Humphrey said he has a copy of a police report that shows he did not order the person from the meeting. According to the report, realtor Carie O'Donnell, who opposed the city's ban on additional short-term rentals, was gaveled and advised by Humphrey that she was out of order and would be asked to leave if she didn't stop.
O'Donnell continued to speak and raised her voice, talking over Humphrey while he repeatedly warned her to try and regain order, police said. Humphrey then stated "Rich" to New Buffalo Police Chief Rich Killips.
In her report, Officer Courtney Severn said Humphrey mentioned her police chief's first name, combined with O'Donnell's disruptive behavior, which caused her to walk to the podium where the woman spoke and was escorted out of the meeting.
“She was screaming and yelling at the top of her lungs. Never at any point did we say throw her out,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey also said he suspects her behavior was staged to fuel a recall attempt his opponents were planning to file.
In the report, Killips said O'Donnell, before she began speaking, was pacing in and out of the meeting room. Killips also said O'Donnell told him she felt like she would pass out and, "I can't believe I'm about to do this."
"All of this led me to believe that a crime or some sort of political act was about to take place," Killips wrote.
Had he ordered her removed from the meeting, Humphrey said his actions would have complied with the city's longstanding rules on behavior at council meetings.
"I took an oath to uphold those rules. You can say anything you want, but there's a limit on civility on how you do it," Humphrey said.
Several other realtors, and people wanting to convert their homes into short-term rentals, have strongly opposed Humphrey's ban at public meetings.
He said many of those people live outside the area but have interest locally in short-term rentals. Humphrey said a select number of people might be hurt financially from the cap, but there's been no harm to the "greater public."
"In my opinion, this is a cohesive effort to try and limit or remove power from the people that live here and give it to the other people that don't," Humphrey said.
No hearing date has been set for the appeal to be heard by Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Donna Howard. If the request fails, supporters of a recall must submit 219 valid signatures to have a recall election in November, where Humphrey and Flanagan would face opposition.
"We'll proceed through the process and see what they say. Either way, we will use our rights forwarded to use by law to challenge any signature submitted, and we'll see if this makes it to the ballot or not," Humphrey said.