Recall wording submitted against Brandywine school board members

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

ST. JOSEPH — Recall wording has been submitted against four Brandywine Board of Education members. A clarity hearing on the proposed wording is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday, June 24 in the St. Joseph Courthouse.

Former Brandywine Superintendent John Jarpe filed the recall language against board members Michelanne McCombs, Elaine McKee, Thomas Payne and Angela Seastrom on June 7. The four were elected to the Brandywine board in November, 2022 and took office in January, 2023.

The recall wording submitted by Jarpe refers to action taken by the four at the Jan. 23, 2023 school board meeting, specifically it states that the four board members voted against a motion made and supported by two other board members to move the hearing of visitors on the board agenda from the end to the beginning of the meeting.

The four board members who voted against that move in January 2023 noted that having the hearing of visitors at the end of the meeting had been a longstanding practice. The board later last year changed board agendas to have public comment at the start and end of meetings.

The Berrien County Election Commission will oversee the clarity hearing and rule whether the recall reason is factual and if the recall wording is clear so that organizers can move forward with circulating petitions and collecting signatures.

The Berrien County Election Commission is made up of County Clerk Sharon Tyler, County Chief Trial Judge Mabel Mayfield and County Treasurer Shelley Weich. If the wording is approved by the election commission, the four would have 10 days to appeal the commission decision to Berrien County Circuit Court.

Berrien County Election Administrator Kathryn Klemesrud said that Jarpe and others circulating petitions would have to collect 872 valid signatures in order to force a recall election. Recall rules require signatures to be collected in a 60 day period within a larger 180 day window from the time the recall wording is approved.

Klemesrud said a recall election could be on the November ballot if the wording is approved next week and all the signature requirements are met within the time constraints set down in the recall election law. Current state recall laws say that recall ballots feature the names of the officials being recalled as well as people filing to run against them.

If that would be the case, all seven Brandywine school board members could be on the November ballot as the seats currently held by three other school board members-Brian Burge, Jessica Crouch and Holly Pomranka are up this year. The filing deadline for those positions is July 23.

Klemesrud also addressed questions about jurisdiction as the Brandywine school district lies in both Berrien and Cass Counties. She said the initial review of the petitions and the factual and clarity hearing is done by the clerk and election commission where the officials reside-which in this case in Berrien County.

If the wording is approved and petitions circulated, the petitions would be submitted and filed with the county clerk with the largest number of voters in the school district which is also Berrien County. If the recall proceeds to an election, it will be on the ballot in all jurisdictions in the school district which are Bertrand and Niles Townships in Berrien County and Milton Township in Cass County.

Monday, neither Jarpe nor the four school board members under threat of recall wanted to comment. Jarpe retired as the Brandywine superintendent in 2017 and has spoken out against actions and proposals from the four board members both last year and this year, saying that they intend to micromanage the district.

While many board meetings last year brought out residents to speak against efforts by the new board members to establish committees and policies related to the availability of sexually explicit materials in school libraries, meetings in recent months have been quiet with no one speaking during public comment.

The school district had appeared to be fairly unified earlier this spring when a bond issue proposal to fund building improvements in the district was put before voters and approved easily.

Seastrom resigns

Brandywine School Board President Elaine McKee confirmed Tuesday that board member Angela Seastrom has resigned from the board effective June 14. McKee said Seastrom resigned for personal reasons because she is moving out of state.

McKee said those interested in applying for the board vacancy can do so until June 27 at 5 p.m. The board has 30 days from the date of Seastrom’s resignation to fill the vacancy. Whoever is appointed will serve until the November election when the remaining two years of Seastrom’s unexpired term will be on the ballot.

“The Brandywine Community Schools Board of Education is seeking dedicated and passionate individuals to fill a vacant seat on the Board,” the district posting stated. “This is an exciting opportunity to contribute to the direction and success of our school district and to make a positive impact on the education and lives of our students.”

Those interested should send a letter of interest and resume to Superintendent Travis Walker at Letters should include the person’s reasons for applying and how they can contribute to the board’s work. Resumes should detail people’s specific qualifications, experiences and any relevant background information.