Recallers set to gather signatures

Published 3:29 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The group of citizens behind the recall effort to remove five Brandywine Public Schools school board members is preparing to begin gathering voter signatures.
After a third attempt, the wording of a recall petition signed by Brandywine resident Carol Ballard was unanimously approved by the three members of the county election committee at a clarity hearing in St. Joseph on Monday morning.
School board members subject to the recall, however, say they will defend themselves against what they say are unclear and vague allegations of misconduct listed in the recall petition.
The board members subject to the recall are James Curran, president; Greg Harrison, vice president; Cynthia Benson, trustee; Michael Shelton, secretary; and Philip Bozung, trustee.
Dennis Cooper is exempt from the recall effort because he was recently elected to the school board.
Only Councilmember Michael Armstrong, who has been present at only 11 of the 37 school board meetings held from July 2002 through June 2003, is not named as a target of recall.
Recall supporters must gather all of the signatures they need to cause a special election within 180 days of having the wording approved. However, once the first signature is gathered, all signatures must be turned in within 90 days.
Harriett Dean, the supporter of the recall effort present at the clarity hearing, said she is glad to see the wording get approved, but was surprised it went through unanimously.
She said the group of citizens who wish to see the five board members removed are currently getting their paperwork together and making sure the wording is put correctly into the petition they are about to circulate.
She said the number of signatures needed to hold a recall election will be announced next Monday, because the county clerk didn't have those numbers ready after Monday's hearing.
Dean said she wants the school board members out because they are spending too much of the school district's money and that they weren't paying enough attention to how the former superintendent, Eugene Sweeney, spent the school district's money.
She said the group behind the recall have people who are willing to run for positions on the school board if removal of the current board members is successful.
Dean, however, didn't want to give out the names of possible future school board candidates yet.
James Curran, school board president, is surprised that the wording in the recall petition was approved.
The opposition group has been very tight-lipped about their motives behind the recall. In fact, Carol Ballard, under whose name the recall effort is filed, won't comment on any specific incident related to the recall.
Curran, however, said the school board members can appeal the election committee's decision through the Berrien County Circuit Court.
After word spread that the wording of the recall petition was approved on Monday, Curran said he received many phone calls from concerned Brandywine citizens who are upset that what appears to be a a very small group of citizens is causing so much trouble for the school district -- including costing it potentially thousands of unbudgeted dollars.
He hopes the silent majority -- if a recall election becomes unavoidable -- will come out and vote in favor of the current school board members.
Board members Cynthia Benson, Michael Shelton and Philip Bozung agreed with Curran.
Bozung said it's unfortunate that the recall effort is taking place at a time when there seems to be enough on the plate for the school board, such as replacing a superintendent and a curriculum director, while preparing for negotiations related to bond issue related school district building improvements.
Benson said she is disgusted with the people behind the recall effort.
She thinks the recall comes in the way of education, which she said is the purpose of school.
Benson, however, said there seems to be a grassroots movement in support of the board members subject to the recall effort.
Michael Shelton thinks the recall effort is a black eye to the school district.
He also aired what most of the board members are having a hard time dealing with.