A petition to recall Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, failed to receive enough signatures to trigger a November recall election by the July 30 deadline.
The petition was filed by Ward 1 resident Ariah Schugat after Hayner posted a quote about journalists that contained a homophobic slur to Facebook in April. Hayner also quoted the N-word in an interview with a Black MLive reporter in May, sparking controversy, although that was not included in the petition language.
Organizers would have needed to collect at least 2,264 signatures from Ward 1 voters, which is 25% of the Ward 1 votes cast in the last race for governor. The Committee to Recall Jeff Hayner suspended signature collection efforts last week upon realizing they would not be able to gather enough signatures.
Residents canvassed for signatures in May, but their efforts were interrupted for 40 days when Hayner filed an appeal, claiming the petition’s language was inaccurate. Hayner’s appeal was rejected in Washtenaw County Circuit Court in mid-July.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Schugat said Hayner’s appeal hindered efforts to meet the signature threshold on time.
“Losing 40 days just only made things more and more difficult,” Schugat said. “We took in donations with the intent to hire canvassers but when everything was said and done, we just didn’t feel comfortable hiring canvassers with little time that we had left post-delay. But the community really came out and did the best that we could given the circumstances.”
Kyle Lady, the treasurer of the Committee to Recall Jeff Hayner, said in an interview with The Daily that he got involved with the recall campaign because he felt Hayner has not made an adequate effort to represent his constituents. Lady also said he was uncertain of the exact number of signatures on the petition.
Schugat stressed that although she felt the public response was generally positive, there were some community members who alleged the recall campaign was ill-intentioned and “founded on the grounds of a dubious nature.”
“I just saw a city official using their freedom of speech in distasteful ways and I felt that it was something that needed to be addressed as a community,” Schugat said. “The dubious suspicions are all conspiracy, at the end of the day. I went in with the best of intentions and obviously, some people are going to be skeptical and they’re allowed that.”
In response to Schugat’s petition, a website called ariahschugat.info was created and later taken down, posting claims that Schugat’s petition was created with the political motivation of providing Mayor Taylor a supermajority on City Council.
Schugat said she believes the website is harmful to how the Ann Arbor community can debate public issues.
“If someone is drawing attention to an issue, and the next thing you know there’s conspiracy websites crafted about them, there’s no way to have these open and civil discussions if people are worried about being targeted, for having a difference of opinion or thinking that a city official isn’t deserving of the seat they may have,” Schugat said.
Eric Sturgis, a Ward 1 resident of more than 20 years who has twice run for council unsuccessfully, said in an interview with The Daily that even though he campaigned for Hayner’s opponent in 2018 and thinks Hayner shouldn’t have made the comments, he feels Hayner has done a good job for Ward 1 and is being attacked for political purposes.
“(Hayner) didn’t really help himself, but I have to look at the way he’s governed. I don’t agree with all of his votes, but he’s done a heck of a job on the Gelman plume and (is) very responsive,” Sturgis said. “There’s councilmembers that the recall petitioner supports that have said stuff like they want to be a seek-and-destroy missile against another councilmember, and one of them thought that was funny. I just feel like there’s a whole different standard for different people.”
In an email to The Daily, Hayner echoed sentiments that the petition was politically motivated and called on the recall committee’s campaign finance information to be investigated.
“The entire effort seemed more like an attempt to denigrate my character than to actually run a recall campaign,” Hayner wrote. “Many of the donations were made anonymously, which is a violation of campaign finance law. The public deserves to know who bankrolled this failed effort.”
When asked about Hayner’s claim that donations were collected anonymously, Lady emphasized that the committee plans on accurately meeting campaign finance filing requirements.
“I’m disappointed to hear CM Hayner advance that disingenuous line of misinformation,” Lady wrote in an email to The Daily. “The platform we used does not expose donors’ information, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know who they are. It’s just like any other campaign — we only have to announce the donors at our filing deadlines as required by law.”
The Committee to Recall Jeff Hayner, which supported the petition, was dissolved as a ballot question committee and reformed as a political action committee on July 20. Edward Golembiewski, chief deputy clerk of Washtenaw County, told The Daily by email that the switch was an administrative change, as the committee should have initially been registered as a political action committee.
Golembiewski wrote that the committee will need to file an annual campaign finance statement in January 2022 and that even a dissolved committee would need to file campaign finance information.
The committee raised at least $11,427 in donations, according to a campaign that was temporarily available on the fundraising website Crowdpac. According to MLive, the committee will refund the money to its donors.
Sturgis said he hopes Ward 1 voters will get to reconsider their decision about Hayner in the next primary election.
“(City Council) stripped him of his committees, and they’ve done everything in their power to get rid of him, and I just feel like the voters are going to vote in 2022, and let us make that decision,” Sturgis said. “I feel like we’re being disenfranchised in the First Ward. Now, we only have one councilmember on committees, and there’s a lot of committees that make decisions on land-use stuff and that, so it just is very concerning what’s going on on City Council right now.”
Lady said that no matter what happens during the public hearing, he believes the community interest in the situation is reassuring.
“It’s been encouraging that the majority of Council opposes his statements,” Lady said. “During this effort, we started to build a lot of community interest in not just the City Council, but talking about the city government, and we started some conversations with folks about what we could do to organize as a community to advance the vision for the city that we really feel is the future of the city.”
Summer News Editor and Daily Staff Reporter Lily Gooding and Dominick Sokotoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include that Sturgis has run for City Council twice unsuccessfully.