Jeff Hank is fighting mad and he wants everyone to know it.
The charismatic attorney from Lansing has good reason to be upset. His Coalition for a Safer East Lansing organization, whose aim is to legalize the use and possession of small amounts marijuana by adults 21 and over within the city, turned in petitions containing enough validated signatures in July, well in advance of the state-mandated deadline date. Their goal: allow the city's voters to weigh in on the issue during the November 2014 general election.
Since receiving the petitions from Hank city officials have dragged their feet in executing their legal obligations, resulting in the possibility that the ballot proposal will not be voted on in 2014. Hank sued the city clerk Marie Wicks to force her to comply with the requirement to forward the ballot language to the county clerk in a timely manner. He won. She still hasn't done it, according to Hank, and the city is poised to take another action he is ready to sue over.
"We are calling for the East Lansing City Clerk to resign. Either the City Council can fire her or she can resign," Hank demanded during an exclusive interview with TCC.
Issues cloud the legal zone where election law varies from other statutes. A significant discrepancy exists with the obligation of city officials to submit the petitions to the county within 2 days of completing the signature confirmation process. City clerks from cities across the state contend that the Michigan Home Cities Rule Act offers a different timetable. The Court, in the East Lansing case, agreed with Hank and has directed the city to comply with election law; Hank sent his own letter to Wicks and the Ingham County Clerk asking for expedience in resolving the conflict.
Resolving the conflict means ensuring the voters have their say on the proposal in 2014. Hank claimed he was quoted a figure of $6500 to reissue the ballots with the marijuana legalization language included. Although it was not required he raised the money himself, collecting pledges from people to avoid placing a financial burden on the East Lansing city residents. Suddenly the bill jumped up to $16,000, per a WWJ News story. Since the city delayed so long ballots have already been printed and mailed out to absentee voters, prompting the county clerk to deny the Coalition's wish for a vote this year.
"This is completely uncharted territory," Hank said. "We beat them, but this has never been litigated."
And litigation seems likely, based on the actions taken by East Lansing officials and Hank's belief that their stalling tactics have to be fought or a dangerous precedent could be set for all future local petition drives in Michigan.
Take the court decision, reached September 29. According to Hank, the clerk still has not complied with the court order and forwarded the petitions on to the county. They are being held, again, waiting for a City Council meeting on Tuesday night, Oct. 7, where a proposal to add an "explanatory caption" will be considered. There was no allowance for this delay contained in the court decision.
"If the city clerk doesn't follow the law, we will sue her again," Hank promised.
That unique caption would be a paragraph printed on the ballot right beside the language of the marijuana proposal. It would explain how the language of the marijuana proposal does not change state law and that marijuana is still illegal federally, Hank surmised, and expanded to say that adding the ballot caption is not allowed under election law.
"If (the printed language of the proposal on the ballot) was more than 100 words they would have the right to do that," he said, "but it's not."
If East Lansing is successful at adding their ballot caption it would be a first-ever attempt at editorializing the election process. "No other city clerk has ever done this, as far as we know," Hank said. "As of right now we are waiting to see what the City Council will do on Tuesday."
Hank's statement to WWJ perhaps summarized the situation best: ""In 11 other cities across the state, citizens with pro-constituent city clerks will be voting on this same issue," Hank said. "Only in East Lansing was democracy denied. We cannot allow such oppressive and anti-democratic behavior to be tolerated in our forward-thinking and progressive community."
The Agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting does not have a specific discussion outlined for the ballot proposal, but Hank is confident the issue will be brought up and debated by Council. The Agenda is available online HERE.