By Tom Tolen

This Friday, March 4th, has been set for a hearing on an effort by a Brighton woman to recall two Brighton Area Schools Board of Education members. On Jan 25th, Sarah Cross - a local attorney — submitted proposed petition language with the Livingston County Clerk’s Office requesting approval of her petition to forcibly remove trustees John Conely and Bill Trombley from office.

At a hearing held on Feb. 7th, the Livingston County Election Commission, composed of County Clerk Betsy Hundley, County Treasurer Jennifer Nash, and Probate Court Judge Miriam Cavanaugh , rejected the petition. Commission members said the petition and the language contained in it lacked clarity, and while the proposed petition made several contentions, they were not demonstrated to be factual, but rather, a matter of opinion.

Cross is undaunted by the rejection and is hopeful that she will win approval to initiate her recall campaign. She told WHMI, “It’s very common for petition language to be rejected on the first submission,” adding that she "took their feedback on the original language and simplified it to remove anything that might appear to be an opinion, rather than a verifiable fact, and to remove anything that was potentially confusing."

In the original petition language, Cross said Conely should be recalled because, she contends, he compared mask mandates to actions by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, and because he presented to the school board an anti-mask slide show that contained misinformation from an outside group that he would not identify. Conely responded by saying Cross’s argument “is weak.” Conely continued by saying, quote, "I have three decades of service to the Brighton Area Schools. Under no circumstances was I saying anyone was a Nazi. It’s all about the parents’ rights. We’re referring to the forced masking of students and it’s illegal.”

The petition wording directed at Trombley referred to his alleged actions at a Sept. 27, 2021, Board of Education meeting and that Trombley admitted he didn’t read meeting packets, stating, "Mr. Trombley coughed through the presentation of a community member during the call to the public and then proceeded to cough on the woman as he exited the meeting." Daniel Wholihan, Trombley’s attorney, argued that the petition language was unclear and too generic in nature.
When informed by WHMI that the revised petition does not mention the coughing incident but only states that he did not read the board packets, Trombley, told WHMI, in his words, "I’m sure there’s more to it than I didn’t read the packet.” Trombley said he'll “have more to say after the (hearing).”

Cross conceded that collecting over 5,000 signatures in a short time frame is a high number, "But,” she says, "the number is high because the Michigan Constitution doesn’t want voters to abuse the recall process." Cross told WHMI, quote, "I have a lot of support in the community for this petition and fortunately, I was able to get feedback on new language from some fellow attorneys in the community and other people who have been involved in other recalls in the state." She said she "would have preferred to have made multiple allegations, but the more allegations you make, the more opportunity to find a reason to reject it."

According to County Clerk Hundley, 5,472 signatures by registered voters within the BAS district must be collected. The recall language is valid for 180 days from the date the language is approved by the Election Commission. However, signatures on a petition form are valid for 60 days. Signatures older than 60 days before filing the petition form with the County Clerk will be deemed invalid.