Court tosses out recall petition language aimed at Williamston school board members who supported transgender student rights


Four Williamston Community School Board members are unlikely to face an immediate petition drive for their recall after Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Patrick Conlin invalidated recall language approved by the Ingham County Election Commission earlier this year.

In his ruling, released Tuesday, Conlin wrote the court found the four petitions violated state law “as they purposely or inadvertently seek to misinform voters and mislead them as to the state of the law.”

Petitioner Jonathan Brandt wanted to recall the four members for voting for a policy that extended nondiscrimination protections to transgender students. That decision was made by a 6-1 vote on Nov. 17, but not until a significant rift formed in the rural district of about 2,000 students east of Meridian Township.

On Jan. 9, on his fourth time before the Election Commission seeking approval for the language to recall the board members, he won a 2-1 vote. The language that was approved referred to a school policy, 8011, and took issue with the board’s reliance on state and federal civil rights laws to back up their decision.

But Conlin found Brandt’s language was vague and factually inaccurate in his order invalidating the petition language.

Board President Greg Talberg and members Nancy Deal, Sarah Relanger and Christopher Lewis faced possible recalls. The Election Commission comprises Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, county Clerk Barb Byrum, and Richard Garcia, the county’s chief judge of Probate Court.

Garcia and Schertzing voted to approve the language in January. But Byrum voted no. Minutes from that meeting show Byrum did not believe the language was “clear,” as required by Michigan election law.

Talberg, Deal, Relanger and Lewis appealed the commission’s decision Jan. 19. However, judges in Ingham, Shiawassee and Jackson counties all recused themselves from the case, leaving it to the Washtenaw courts to decide.

Talberg explained the policy decision in November as a pragmatic move.

“We’re really trying to be proactive and pragmatic so that we don’t get stuck in a situation where a kid is stuck in the middle of this,” he said.


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