(New Buffalo, MI) - An effort to block an attempt to recall New Buffalo Mayor John Humphrey and City Councilman Brian Flanagan has failed.
The Berrien County Election Commission on May 3 approved the language on petitions to recall Humphrey and Flanagan over their support of a ban on adding more short-term rentals in the city and Humphrey allegedly having a citizen escorted from a public meeting.
Humphrey said a written motion to appeal the decision was filed within the required ten days after the ruling. However, the request for appeal was denied because a letter giving notice about the paperwork being filed was not submitted to the Berrien County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office before the deadline as required.
Humphrey said the city doesn’t cover an elected official’s legal expenses related to a recall, leading Humphrey to prepare the appeal documents himself to avoid paying “thousands of dollars” for an attorney to write up the language.
Humphrey said the clerk’s office did not inform him that such a letter had to be filed after turning in the written request for a judge to hear the appeal.
“You still have to personally inform the Circuit Court via registered mail that you’re filing the appeal, but we never did that. They never told us, hey, you need to do this,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey said the language on the recall petitions is accurate but doesn’t reflect the truth or reasons behind the decision to restrict the growth of short-term rentals.
The language states Humphrey and Flanagan should be recalled for their votes in November of 2021 to adopt an ordinance that prohibits new short-term rentals in R1, R2, and R3 zoning districts in the city.
The language in the other recall petition states Humphrey instructed a police officer during a public meeting in March of 2021 to remove an individual while she was speaking during her allotted time reserved for public comment.
He denied having the citizen removed and has a police report indicating an officer acting on his own ushered the person from the meeting.
Humphrey said he wanted to provide more details behind the reasons for the recall attempt, but the BCEC did not allow him to before approving the language in the petitions.
He said permits to operate short-term rentals were issued under the previous administration despite having no language in local zoning laws allowing homes to be used for such purposes.
Humphrey said the previous city council later placed a moratorium on short-term rental permits because of increasing complaints from full-time residents about parties, loud noise, and other disruptions from the vacation dwellings.
He said another reason for the moratorium was to buy time for deciding whether to allow homes to be used for vacations or weekend getaways and if restrictions governing their use should be adopted.
The issue was still being reviewed when Humphrey and Flanagan were elected.
Ultimately, the zoning laws were amended to allow homes used as short-term rentals in the past to continue welcoming guests as long as a permit was obtained and the use of the property complies with newly adopted restrictions.
People behind the recall attempt must collect 219 valid signatures from registered voters on their petitions seeking to remove Humphrey and Flanagan. If the requirement is met, the fate of Humphrey and Flanagan will be decided by a recall election in November, halfway through their first four-year term.
Humphrey said the appeal rejected by the clerk’s office had nothing to do with the merits of his request to challenge the approval of the language on the petitions in a courtroom.
“Every attorney who has looked at the merits thought they were great. It should have been dismissed, but it never got to the judge. That’s important to point out,” Humphrey said.