Postcards encouraging people to “Vote for Peter Jennings” were sent to Ward 1 residents last week.
These mailers were delivered despite Hillsdale City Council’s decision in a special meeting on Aug. 1 that Peter Jennings, Ward 1 resident and assistant professor of management at Hillsdale College, is ineligible for office due to durational residency restrictions. Jennings made a public statement at that same meeting saying he would respect the council’s decision, step aside and no longer campaign.
Jennings did not sponsor the mailers, nor did he have any knowledge of them until he received messages about Ward 1 residents finding them in their mailboxes.
“As far as I’m concerned, I am out of the election,” Jennings said.
The postcards were paid for by the Committee to Elect Quality Candidates in Ward 1, according to the postcard itself. However, County Clerk Marney Kast confirmed that this committee is not on file as required by campaign finance laws.
“A lot of people are not aware that if you receive money or spend money for a campaign, you have 10 days to file as a committee,” Kast said.
She said if anyone were to approach her with a person of contact for the named committee, she could reach out to them and contact the campaign finance division under the bureau of elections.
Jennings’ name will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot because of proper voting procedures which require the top two candidates on the primary ballot to advance to the general election. At the time the council decided that Jennings was ineligible for the primary vote, primary ballots had already been printed and Jennings’s name could not be removed.
In a Facebook post commenting on the “Vote for Peter Jennings” mailers, Mayor Adam Stockford said, “The state bureau of elections and the county election committee do not make determinations on qualifications for local office. The state Constitution gives those powers to each city individually…The only thing those bodies have ruled is that Dr. Jennings cannot be removed from the ballot because a vote has already been held.”
The Council’s decision to name Jennings ineligible for office upholds the City of Hillsdale’s charter, which states that those 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.” Jennings has lived in Hillsdale since August of 2016, not meeting the durational residency requirement stated in the Hillsdale City charter.
“The mistake started with me,” Jennings said. “I was not aware of the three-year residency requirement. The paperwork I filed for candidacy did not specify any durational residency requirement. I assumed Hillsdale complied with the standard one-year residency for municipal offices that the courts long upheld as reasonable. ”
If Jennings does get the most votes in the Nov. 6 election, he will not be able to take the seat, and a special election will be held in August 2019. A special election is already being held to fill the seat of former Ward 2 Councilman Tim Dixon, who resigned earlier this month.
“We are already holding a special election to fill Dixon’s seat so it wouldn’t even cost the city extra money,” Stockford said in an email.
Jennings said that even if he does win the seat, he will not take it.
“Even if I am the popular vote winner, I don’t have the option of taking the seat because city council determined that I am not eligible,” Jennings said. “But even if Council was to reverse their decision, I still wouldn’t accept the seat because of the controversy.”
Since finding himself ineligible for office, Jennings has joined the Hillsdale Rotary Club and is committed to serving the community in that capacity.
“Another council-member has since resigned, so another election has to be held anyway,” Jennings said. “I think that’s the best course of action at this point.”