Council recount, potential conflict of interest discussed

Published 10:05 am Thursday, November 29, 2018

CASSOPOLIS — Like many other elections this November, the Cassopolis Village Council race was close. Five residents ran for three open seats in the council chambers, and the top four candidates were within 20 votes of the other. Katherine Yoder was reported in the lead with 210 votes, Mitchell Conner in second with 197, Geraldine Sims with 194, and Robert Collins with 191. Robert Collins initiated the recount, which could be two weeks away, according to Village Manager Emilie Sarratore.

The vote tally was not the only object of contest after the election. Mitchell Conner, a longtime resident of Cassopolis and new full-time DPW employee for the Village, may not be able to hold onto his council seat after the recount takes place. The concern with Conner comes back to his employment with the Village being a conflict of interest for his duties on village council. The council discussed the potential conflict of interest at a council work session meeting on Monday, November 26 after receiving an opinion from the Village’s attorney, Nancy Mullett.

“At this point, the decision is a legal requirement, not a policy decision,” Mullett wrote in a letter outlining her legal opinion, informed by two cases from previous Michigan attorneys general.

In other words, the decision of whether or not Mitchell can retain both his job with the Village and his council seat comes down to the decision of the village council, according to Mullett. A few council members were not fully convinced of the attorney’s legal interpretation, however. Sarratore believed the uncertainty of the attorney’s legal opinion came back to a misunderstanding of an attorney’s role.

“The attorney’s role is to interpret the law. They’re not rewriting the law. What they’re doing is interpreting the language of the law,” Sarratore said, noting the opinions of two state attorneys general that informed Mullett’s opinion.

Sarratore’s insistence did little to convince the council of the legitimacy of the attorney’s opinion. The council plans to hear from Mullett in person.

Conner’s perspective on the issue came back to his desire to serve Cassopolis community.

“I want to be a liaison between everyday citizens and the council,” Conner said. “I would really hope (the council) would allow me to keep my position at DPW. I think it would be an asset with my insight into the entire town.”

Conner is also concerned about creating a better village for his children and coming generations.

“The bigger picture to me is the future for my children. I want this town going in a good direction,” Conner said.

Given the complexity of the situation, Conner said he understands the council’s reservation. In the event the council decides his position on the council would be a conflict of interest to his employment in the city, Conner would choose his job over the council seat.

“I have six children, so my job has to come first,” he said.