ST. JOSEPH —Berrien County officials who conducted a clarity hearing Monday let stand recall language against Niles Township Supervisor Jim Kidwell but denied language related to four other Niles Township officials.
Also, the county officials - Clerk Louise Stine, Treasurer Bret Witkowski and Chief Judge of Probate Alfred Butzbaugh - denied recall wording submitted against Bertrand Township Clerk Jane Lano.
The officials decided language submitted by Herschel Hoese seeking the recall of Kidwell, a full-time Niles city police officer who was elected Niles Township supervisor in 2008, was appropriate for circulation on recall petitions. The wording reads as follows:
“Supervisor Jim Kidwell issued a press release on Feb. 28 ... that breached both the confidentiality of the township’s attorney-client privileged information of a closed session meeting held on Feb. 22 by the ... township board and the confidentiality of an employee’s right to a confidential investigation under Niles Charter Township’s Policy Manual, Section 5.9.3.”
The statement stemmed from an investigation regarding the conduct of township Treasurer James Ringler, who according to a prepared statement issued by Kidwell was alleged to have intimidated township Zoning Administrator Stefanie Woodrick into making illegal zoning changes to benefit both himself and his
real estate firm. However, an internal investigation has since been concluded, with no finding of wrongdoing.
Kidwell has argued in defense of his statement that it told the truth and nothing more. Hoese and any supporters will now have a consecutive 90-day period, conducted within the next six months, to obtain a little more than 900 signatures of township residents for a recall election against Kidwell to be scheduled.
The recall wording seeking the ouster of Ringler, Niles Township Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt and trustees Richard Noble and Richard Cooper accused them of “misuse of township funds.” County Clerk Louise Stine said she, Butzbaugh and Witkowski all agreed the accusation was too vague.
“It states ‘misuse of funds’ but there’s no how, when,”
But members of Honest Citizens for Honest Government, which sought the recall of Ringler, Durm-Hiatt, Noble and Cooper, still have the opportunity to file new language seeking their ouster, Stine said. Already, new language has been filed seeking the recall of Bertrand Township’s Lano, who was accused in the original recall language of voting to sell the Southeast Berrien County Landfill.
“The clerk (Lano) brought documentation that showed she did not vote to sell the ... landfill,” Stine said.
Already, Bertrand Supervisor John Mefford and trustees Dick Haigh and David Zelmer are facing a recall election on May 3 for voting to allow the county, not the township, to continue collecting summer property taxes. Opponents of the move have argued it costs township residents money because the county charges a 1 percent administrative fee. Lano voted against the measure.
A clarity hearing on new wording seeking Lano’s recall will be conducted on April 13, Stine said.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: