2 recall petitions in Niles Twp.Published 11:35pm Monday, March 14, 2011
The controversy in Niles Township heated up even more on Friday when two petitions for recall of township board members were submitted to the Berrien County Clerk’s office.
Berrien County Clerk Louise Stine confirmed Monday that township resident Herschel Hoese filed a recall petition Friday morning targeting Supervisor Jim Kidwell. That afternoon, Randi Ray, another township resident, filed a recall petition for Treasurer Jim Ringler, Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt and trustees Richard Cooper and Richard Noble.
Hoese’s recall petition was in response to Kidwell issuing a press release to reporters last month notifying them of an investigation of Ringler for an alleged violation of township policy. The recall wording states that Kidwell’s action “breached both the confidentiality of the township’s attorney-client privileged information of a closed session meeting … and an employee’s right to a confidential investigation under Niles Charter Township’s policy manual.”
Ray’s petition was simply worded: for “misuse of township money.”
A clarity hearing has been scheduled for March 28 at the county courthouse in St. Joseph to determine if the recall process can continue. If the recall wordings are approved, recall organizers will need to gather 907 signatures for each township official to put the issue on the election ballot.
The recall effort targeting Ringler, Durm-Hiatt, Cooper and Noble is supported by the Honest Citizens for Honest Government in Niles Township group, while the recall pursuing Kidwell is being driven by another group, the Concerned Citizens of Niles Township for a Better Government.
Although Kidwell is a member of the Honest Citizens for Honest Government group on Facebook, he said in an interview Monday that he supports neither recall effort.
“My first reaction is that I am totally against all of this,” he said. “This will not be good for the township … just wasted spending.”
Kidwell said a recall is not necessary, especially since all of the board members’ terms expire in November 2012.
“We should be able to sit down like adults and sort this thing out,” Kidwell said.
Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt said she was not surprised by the filing of the recall petitions and doesn’t think it will affect township business.
“I’m doing the same thing I’m doing every other day,” she said. “It just makes it tense around township hall.”
Reached by phone Monday, Hoese said he began the recall effort against Kidwell not only because of the press release but also because he’s “not happy with the direction of the township.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Hoese said of the situation. “I wish no ill will toward Mr. Kidwell. I just think we need to go in a different direction.”
Representatives from the Honest Citizens for Honest Government group could not be reached by press time.
The only two trustees not being targeted for recall, August Kuehn and Gary Conover, by law cannot be recalled since they are still in the first six months of their service.
Should enough board members be recalled so that there no longer is a quorum, the county will appoint new officials until the next election.
The recall efforts are taking place amid controversy involving both Ringler and Kidwell.
Ringler was investigated earlier this month regarding an alleged confrontation between him and the township zoning administrator. According to Kidwell’s press release, on “two separate occasions … Ringler tried to intimidate (her) into making illegal zoning changes.”
An internal investigation of Ringler revealed he did not violate township policy, but the township is still waiting to hear from the state attorney general’s office, where a complaint was also filed.
Ringler and his attorney are considering pursuing a lawsuit against Kidwell for distributing the release, which Ringler has called “defaming.”