Despite deter­mi­nation that Peter Jen­nings is inel­i­gible to run for a seat on City Council his name will appear on the November ballot. COLLEGIAN | (Photo: Wiki­media)

Despite the Hillsdale City Council’s deter­mi­nation that Peter Jen­nings, asso­ciate pro­fessor of man­agement at Hillsdale College and Hillsdale Ward 1 res­ident, is inel­i­gible to run for a seat on the council due to a res­i­dency restriction, his name will appear on the November ballot, local election offi­cials decided last week.

Jen­nings entered the race for Ward 1 coun­cilmember this spring, but city offi­cials realized in July that Jen­nings had only lived in Hillsdale for two years, thus vio­lating city rules about res­i­dency require­ments for can­di­dates.

Dis­cussion over the Hillsdale City charter’s dura­tional res­i­dency restriction and whether or not it would stand in court led to dif­ferent con­clu­sions between the city and the county’s election com­mis­sions.

The city charter states that persons running for office “shall have been a res­ident of the city for at least three years imme­di­ately prior to the date of the election at which he is a can­didate for office.” It further clar­ifies that coun­cilmembers should live in the respective ward in which they are running for at least six months prior to the election.

That fact, however, did not prevent City Clerk Steve French from placing Jen­nings’ name on the ballot when Jen­nings sub­mitted his paperwork earlier this spring.

French con­firmed that he accepted Jen­nings’ paperwork and placed his name on the ballot for the Aug. 7 primary, despite the fact that Jen­nings has only lived in city limits for two years.

“The issue came to light at the end of July when one of the coun­cilmembers brought it up,” French said.

The City Council held a special meeting on Aug. 1 to discuss Jen­nings’ eli­gi­bility, which ended in a 5 – 2 vote to uphold the charter and declare Jen­nings inel­i­gible to run for office.

Matthew Bell, Ward 4 member of City Council and director of pro­grams for external affairs at Hillsdale College, voted in favor of upholding the charter.

“I have been vocal about sticking to the City Charter since I was elected,” he said in an email. “This decision was in line with that.”

Bell added that the charter as it stands cur­rently can only be changed by the people of Hillsdale. “It would take another vote of the people to change it,” he said. “I am open to any pro­posal that changes the requirement, though I would not seek to make the change myself.”

Greg Stuchell, current Ward 1 rep­re­sen­tative, voted to waive the res­i­dency require­ments for Jen­nings. He said the city manager, the city clerk, and the city attorney said Jen­nings is eli­gible to run for office.

“That’s why I made my decision,” he said.

Stuchell said that election laws are both crucial and critical.

“Before the voter sees the ballot, it has been val­i­dated and con­firmed,” he said.

After the council found him inel­i­gible, Jen­nings sub­mitted a letter to French, requesting his name to be removed from the general election ballot in November, as ballots for the Aug. 7 primary were already printed.

Jen­nings won the primary election with 68 votes, beating oppo­nents Dennis Wain­scott and Ted Jansen, who received 45 and 42 votes, respec­tively.

“After the council decided I was inel­i­gible, I tried to remove myself from the process so as to not cause more con­fusion,” Jen­nings said.

The city’s election com­mission met Aug. 30 to determine the city’s stand­point regarding whose names would appear on the November ballot. The com­mission con­cluded that Jen­nings’ name should be removed.

Marney Kast, the Hillsdale county clerk and a member of the County Election Com­mission, said that in prepa­ration for the county’s election meeting on Aug. 31, she con­ferred with the Board of Com­mis­sioners chairman and sought legal counsel, which decided that Jen­nings could appear on the ballot, con­trary to what the City Election Com­mission decided just the day before.

Kast said during Friday’s meeting, French urged the county to uphold the city’s decision to remove Jen­nings from the election.

“We could not concur with that decision,” Kast said.

Both Kast and Hon. Michelle Bianchi, probate court judge and member of County Election Com­mission, voted in favor of keeping Jen­nings on the ballot in November. Kast said she had to do what her legal counsel advised her.

In November, if Jen­nings were to receive the greatest number of votes, the council could uphold its decision that he was inel­i­gible to run in the first place, Kast said.

“It would create a vacancy and then at the next open election, the spot could be filled,” she said.

Jen­nings said when the duration of his res­i­dency came into question in mid-July, he sought informal advice from col­leagues who are attorneys. They con­firmed that, at the municipal level, dura­tional res­i­dency require­ments beyond one year are unrea­sonable and usually not enforced by the courts when chal­lenged, he said.

Mayor Adam Stockford said the issue has neg­a­tively impacted the com­munity.

“I hope it doesn’t destroy people’s faith in the elec­toral process,” he said. “Dr. Jen­nings is inel­i­gible. I don’t have the authority to override what the charter states.”

As far as if the council would reverse its decision regarding Jen­nings’ inel­i­gi­bility, Stockford said he is not likely to change his vote.

“I’ve never changed a course of vote,” he said.

An issue like this has not come up in Hillsdale before, French said.

“To prevent some­thing like this from hap­pening again, and without a vote of the people to change the charter, we just need to make sure that elected offi­cials and city employees know the charter and stick to it — that would have pre­vented this problem from arising,” Bell said.

The mayor said that it’s hard to tell what will happen in November.

“The best thing to happen would be for one of the can­di­dates to chal­lenge it in court,” Stockford said.

Wain­scott, who is running for city council for the third time, is in favor of fol­lowing the charter because that is what the people have voted, he said.

“We need to follow what the charter says,” Wain­scott said. “It’s all in the hands of the voters.”

“There’s going to be a winner and a loser, and I’m going to be one of them,” he said.

Wain­scott sug­gested that this issue should be given to a com­mittee made up of city res­i­dents to inves­tigate and reach a con­clusion.

Jansen, the Ward 1 can­didate who got the least amount of votes in the primary election, said the city has made a mistake. He is also running for the third time.

“It’s up to the city and attorney to do due dili­gence to correct the sit­u­ation, which means they’d have to sue the county,” he said.

If Jen­nings were to win the election in November, the council would need to reverse its decision regarding his eli­gi­bility before he could take the seat.

“I would like the oppor­tunity to fulfill the com­mitment I made to my Ward 1 neighbors to serve,” Jen­nings said. “But I respect the council’s decision and if they stand by their decision and refuse to seat me, then I won’t contest the issue.”

He added that Hillsdale is “a small town, but this is our piece of America, and there are a lot of good people doing their best to make our town great. I want to support and be part of those efforts.”

Jen­nings said that he hopes the city can move past this issue.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “We have more pressing issues to focus on.”


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Josephine von Dohlen
Josephine von Dohlen is a senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota who appreciates the communicative power of journalism and the community that it fosters. A graduate of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., she has previously interned with Catholic News Service and the Santa Barbara News-Press. At Hillsdale, she is a member of the Dow Journalism Program and majors in American Studies. Email: