A village in turmoil

July 13, 2015

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

SHELBY — A recall effort is underway to oust two council members from their posts on the village council, and another council member has resigned.

Resident Louis Nichols filed petitions last Tuesday, July 7, in the Oceana County Clerk’s Office to recall Ben Michalko and Sharita Prowant from the council. Council member Mary Lulich resigned from the council last Thursday, July 9.

With all of the finger-pointing and arguing occurring at recent council meetings, Lulich described an exasperating situation. “I’m not a politician,” said Lulich, who was elected to the council last November. “I call it like I see it.

“I’m sorry that the residents voted for me, and I had to do this.”

Lulich said the situation has become so bad that she thinks the council should be shut down and the state should take over the governing board.

In her resignation letter, Lulich states three times: “I don’t know who to believe or trust anymore.

“I’m not wasting my valued and treasured time away from my loved ones for the maneuvers of this current council any longer,” Lulich writes. “It’s utterly frustrating and completely pointless. Excluding Sharita and Ben, the good ol’ boys club of Shelby prevails.”

Nichols, who launched the recall campaign, said, “This has gotten out of hand. I’ve been to all these meetings, and I see what’s going on. They’re being disrespectful to fellow council members.”

In the recall petition, Nichols writes that he is attempting to recall Michalko for “lack of professionalism at a village council meeting – disrespectful of village clerk (Julie Schultz) during council meeting.” In his petition for Prowant’s recall, Nichols states that she “voted ‘no’ on updates to the village water tower to make it OSHA compliant.”

With the recent resignations of Village Administrator Aaron Desentz and Village Treasurer Sue Denny, along with the constant fighting among council members, Nichols said the village is not making any progress. “This village is pretty much at a standstill. They put the brakes on it. We have a village with no supervision.”

Even if his recall attempt is unsuccessful, Nichols hopes it will open up the village council members’ eyes who he is targeting. “Hopefully if it doesn’t go, it will get their attention. We need better representation.”

The next step in Nichols’ recall process is a clarity hearing Friday, July 24, at 10 a.m.  The County Election Commission, which is comprised of County Clerk Rebecca Griffin, County Probate Judge Brad Lambrix and County Treasurer Sheila Gowell,  will either approve or disapprove of the petition language depending on the “factuality and clarity of the wording,” Griffin said.

“If the recall wording is approved, the petitions with the 100 signatures would have to be filed in this office by Friday, July 31, to get on the November ballot,” Griffin explained. “However, if there are challenges, that could delay the process.”

“It’s complicated, and it has more to do with personalities and people than policies and procedure,” said Michalko, who has been on the council for seven and a half years and is currently the mayor pro tem. “The (petition’s) wording isn’t clear enough to respond, but I did get upset at some point in the meeting, and I’m not proud of it.”

Michalko said Nichols left the meeting prior to his rant, but he does admit that he lost his temper. “It was totally out of character, and I regret it,” he said. “I apologized to everyone on the council and to the clerk. I have no animosity toward anybody.”

The councilman, known for his soft-spoken, calm demeanor, said if losing his temper during a meeting is grounds to recall him, then he should be recalled.

“I just want to see the council work in a cohesive manner,” said Village President PauI Inglis, who was elected last November. Inglis, who was the county administrator for 37 years before his retirement, said, “Maybe we can move forward for the benefit of the Village of Shelby without all the finger-pointing.”

Inglis said he does not see the recall process as the way to go in this situation. “If they’re unhappy, they should get other people to run for the positions rather than removing them through the recall process. I would rather see citizens pursue their change of council members through the election process rather than remove them through the recall process.”

In the meantime, Inglis said he’s “not going to allow these kinds of cheap shots going on at the meetings.” But if things don’t improve, Inglis said he will also quit. “I’m not going to be around if they don’t turn things around. If no progress is made, then I will leave.”

Nichols said he considers himself a “watchdog” of the council, taking over from where his late wife, Christina, left off. She was successful in recalling council members Bill Glover and Andrea Garcia in 2007 and 2008, respectively. “Two weeks before she died, she made me promise I’d keep an eye on them,” he said. Nichols said he hopes the other four council members — Inglis, Dan Zaverl, Bill Harris and John Sutton — stay on board. “I don’t want to see the good ones leave,” he said.

OCP made repeated attempts to contact Prowant but was unsuccessful.