ST. JOSEPH — The fourth recall petition against Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad was rejected Monday for unclear language.
The Berrien County Election Commission voted to dismiss the recall petition at a clarity hearing Monday morning, which was submitted by Benton Harbor resident Quacy Roberts. This was the fourth recall petition Roberts filed and the third to be rejected.
The three-member commission – comprised of Berrien County Trial Court Chief Judge Mabel Mayfield, Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler and Berrien County Treasurer Shelly Weich – all voted to dismiss the petition.
The fourth petition stated, “for voting yes to raise the residents (sic) of Benton Harbor water rate” as grounds for recalling the mayor.
Roberts filed the petition on Nov. 22 with a May 19, 2020 article from The Herald-Palladium, as supporting evidence. The wording of the fourth petition was nearly the same as his second petition, which stated the mayor should be recalled for “for voting to increas (sic) the resident’s (sic) of Benton Harbor water rate.”
That petition was rejected because it pertained to a vote that took place in 2019, outside of Muhammad’s current term which began on Jan. 1, 2020. Muhammad submitted plans to raise the water rates during his prior term as mayor.
Tyler said she found the fourth petition and the evidence submitted alongside of it insufficiently clear on the ordinance in question, the date of the vote and Muhammad’s vote, and asked Roberts to submit meeting minutes as evidence instead.
“Mr. Roberts has to show us (Muhammad) voted yes during his term,” Tyler said.
Muhammad did not attend the Dec. 6 meeting. In an email to The HP, Muhammad reiterated his focus is on solving the city’s lead crisis.
“I am pleased with how the process and progress is proceeding. Residents are receiving bottled water and lead service lines are being removed,” Muhammad wrote. “This is what residents want to see happening. Residents do not want to pay $10,000 for a recall election because I voted yes to declare an emergency.”
Roberts’ third petition, which stated the mayor should be recalled for voting to declare a state of emergency was approved on Nov. 29. To force an election, he must gather 595 signatures in a span of 60 days. Those 60 days must fall within 180 days of the recall petition’s approval.
Muhammad had 10 days to appeal the approval, but as of Monday, the election administrator, Sheila Reitz, said she had not received any appeals.
Roberts said he plans to file again, despite already receiving the thumbs up on his third recall petition. Reitz said as many recall petitions can take place at once as filers want.
“I didn’t want to just back out of my things that I already had said,” Roberts said. “It’d be unprofessional.”
During the public comment portion, Michael Hoyh, a Benton Harbor resident, alleged outsiders were gathering petition signatures under false pretenses. However, Reitz told the commission that no one had come to collect the proper forms for collecting signatures yet.