Election Commission rejects recall language against Brandywine board members

Published 5:10 pm Monday, June 24, 2024

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ST. JOSEPH – Recall wording against three Brandywine Board of Education members was rejected Monday by the Berrien County Election Commission. Retired Brandywine Superintendent John Jarpe had submitted the recall language on June 7.

     Election Commission members said Monday that the wording Jarpe was not clear. They cited grammatical and punctuation errors and missing words, noting that the language had to be clear so that anyone signing a petition could make an educated decision on what they’re signing.

     Jarpe submitted the recall wording against Brandywine Board President Elaine McKee, Board Vice-President Thomas Payne and Board Trustee Michelanne McCombs. He also submitted wording against Board Trustee Angela Seastrom but she resigned June 14 after moving out of state.

     Jarpe retired from Brandywine in 2017 after 10 years as superintendent. His previous education career included 20 years as an elementary school principal in St. Joseph and an earlier stint at Brandywine as a teacher and assistant principal.

The recall wording submitted by Jarpe refered to action taken by the four at the Jan. 23, 2023 school board meeting, specifically stating 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.

     Jarpe said Monday that he recognized that the election commission has to be “very picky” or “otherwise they could have recalls coming out of their ears.” In hindsight, he said he was too detailed in his wording which seemed to confuse some of the commission members.

He said he doesn’t plan to refile recall wording right now.

“There’s simply not time with the window of time needed to submit wording, have a hearing, appealing a decision and gathering signatures,” he said. “I perhaps would have refiled if there was more time.”

He said his main concern remains how the three board members are governing. He thinks they are micromanaging the district and not putting the interests of students first.

“They haven’t shown me they are the board members I think they should be,” he said.

When asked Monday about the timing of the recall effort, he said board members cannot be recalled during their first year of service. He also said he didn’t think it was fair to raise the recall issue prior to the district’s efforts to pass a $22 million bond issue proposal in May. The bond issue passed and was supported by the four board members he targeted.

As for why he filed the recall wording, he said the board members he named in the recall “have divided the community”.

McCombs said Monday that she and other board members didn’t dispute the factual basis of Jarpe’s wording. She and McKee did say that it had been past practice to hear public comments at the end of the meeting. The board did end up changing the policy in March, 2023 to provide for public comment at both the start and end of meetings.

McCombs and McKee said they weren’t surprised by the recall attempt as people had been talking about recalling them from early 2023 onward. They said contrary to what some people think, they are not making the “radical changes” they have been accused of making. Their intention has continued to be that they are the voice for parents.

     Those four board members were elected to four year terms on the Brandywine board in November, 2022 and took office in January, 2023. Their tenure on the board has been controversial with people saying the new members were part of the conservative We The Parents organization, wanted to micromanage the district and institute book bans.

     The alleged book ban issue came about after the four new board members set up a board committee made recommendations about student access to sexually explicit books in the school libraries. The board ended up voting unanimously last fall to require middle and high school parents to review books before their students have access to books deemed explicit in nature.

The Berrien County Election Commission was made up of County Clerk Sharon Tyler, County Treasurer Shelley Weich and County Register of Deeds Lora Freehling sitting in for Judge Mabel Mayfield. If the wording had been approved by the election commission, Jarpe would have had to collect 872 valid signatures in order to force a recall election.