Trio of Marquette city commissioners targeted for recall

MARQUETTE – An effort is underway to recall three Marquette city commissioners following their votes in March regarding the Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club’s proposed boathouse at Founders Landing.

The Marquette County Election Commission will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Henry A. Skewis Courtroom Annex, 234 W. Baraga Ave., to conduct a clarity hearing to judge the wording of recall language filed against three members of the commission: Sarah Reynolds, Mike Coyne and Dave Campana.

The three voted “yes” March 10 to allow the Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club to construct a permanent club boathouse at Founders Landing, according to wording submitted and filed Tuesday at the Marquette County Clerk’s Office by Michael Neiger.

At the session, the county election commission will determine if the petition language is clear enough for voters and potential petition signers to understand.

A total of 1,396 signatures are needed to put the recall question before the voters.

Neiger has been involved in an effort to put a proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot prohibiting further development along Lakeshore Boulevard.

A local initiative, the Marquette Citizens for City Lakeshore Preservation, is conducting a petition drive to prohibit private development between Lakeshore Drive and Lake Superior and to mandate that any buildings located in this same area would be for public use only, both in perpetuity.

“While I support and have done considerable work in the furtherance of the goals of the Marquette Citizens for City Lakeshore Preservation initiative, this recall effort was initiated on my own behalf, as a taxpayer and property owner in the city of Marquette,” Neiger said in an email. “It was not filed on behalf of the MCCLP, nor was it authorized by them beforehand.”

Neiger said a new state law prohibits recalls of incumbents when they are in the last year of their term, which is the case with the other three commissioners who voted affirmatively in March on the boathouse issue: Mayor Robert Niemi, Mayor Pro Tem Fred Stonehouse and Commissioner Don Ryan. Commissioner Sara Cambensy was the lone commissioner casting a negative vote.

According to the county clerk’s office, only Coyne’s name could be placed on the November ballot. Reynolds and Campana still would be in their first year of office so the earliest their names could be on a ballot would be May. A state law says a recall petition shall not be filed during the first and last year of each term of office.

Neiger said, “As a paddler, I support a community boathouse for Marquette. But it must be owned and managed by the city, and it must be available on a first-come, first-serve basis for city residents first, and out-city residents second.”

Coyne acknowledged recall of an elected official is a right of Michigan citizens. However, he pointed out the March 10 vote was simply to authorize the city attorney to work to develop a lease and license agreement for the boathouse, not to actually build it as stated in the recall language.

Coyne said the commission has been trying to accommodate both sides, with talk of a compromise – the boathouse being built closer to the Hampton Inn where the rowing shells currently are stored outside on the beach – discussed at a recent commission work session.

Coyne also said he believes the anti-boathouse side is upset with the rowing community and said the recall action will set a terrible precedent for government in the city.

“It creates the idea that bullying, fear and intimidation should be used to influence a commissioner’s vote instead of discussion, communication and compromise,” Coyne said.

Campana noted he stands by his March vote.

Campana said, “I voted for what I thought was in the best interests of the citizens of Marquette.”

Reynolds also said she will stick to her vote in favor of the boathouse.

“I particularly voted the way I did because I think it’s beneficial for the community,” she said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.