After the controversial Ward 1 Hillsdale City Council election last year, Dennis Wainscott, the candidate who received the second-highest amount of votes, filed a quo warranto application for a complaint, challenging the validity of the election. His application was denied by Judge Archie Brown of the First Circuit on Monday.
Quo warranto is a type of legal action that challenges whether or not a person has the legal right to hold the public office they occupy, according to Cornell University’s legal dictionary.
Controversy arose when Peter Jennings, a Ward 1 city council candidate at the time, was found to have failed to meet the city’s residency requirement for holding a public office. The residency requirement stipulates that only people who have lived within city limits for three years are eligible to run for city council. Jennings’ election win was confirmed by a recount requested by Wainscott in December.
On Dec. 17, city council voided Jennings’ claim to his seat and scheduled a special election for Aug. 6, 2019 in order to fill the empty seat. Brown determined the council’s action was consistent with the Hillsdale City Charter, and determined there was no legal basis for Wainscott’s request for the runner-up to be awarded the seat.
“I was surprised by what was brought forth in the paperwork and some of what was said because it was not true,” Wainscott said. “I didn’t even have a chance to talk to the judge.”
Wainscott challenged Jennings’ placement on the primary ballot Aug. 1, 2018 six days before the primary election on Aug. 7. His challenge was withdrawn the next day.
The court decided that Wainscott’s application to change the ballot prejudiced officials and voters because ballots are available to absentee voters 45 days before the election. The court decided that Wainscott had plenty of time to challenge Jennings’ placement on the primary ballot without prejudicing voters.
“I took the steps that were available to me and they never said I had to do it in a certain time frame,” Wainscott said. “I did it as quick as it would have been reasonable to do.”
Wainscott said he did not know whether or not he would appeal the decision. Legally, he has 21 days from the judge’s decision to file an appeal.
At Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Adam Stockford thanked Attorneys Thomas Thompson and John Lovinger for defending the council in court.
“I think it says something that the Judge’s opinion pretty much mirrored what your opinion was, so great job guys,” Stockford said. “Thank you for protecting the city.”
Wainscott said he would not run for the vacant seat in the special election because of the expense of running another campaign.
“I’m far from being rich,” Wainscott said. “I’m one of the poor ones. I just care about the community because I’ve lived my whole life here.”