The husband and wife legislative duo of state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) and state Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake) have introduced identical legislation in their respective chambers to implement a change in election law called for by Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard, Jr. earlier this year.
Senate Bill (SB) 204 and House Bill (HB) 4357 would eliminate the requirement that a person appointed in an odd-numbered year to fill a vacancy on a county board of commissioners must serve until a special election is held. It would also remove language in state law requiring that a person appointed during an election year must serve the balance of the unexpired term.
Instead, the law would simply state that a person appointed to a county board vacancy would serve the remainder of the unexpired term, something which has been an issue of late in the lakes area with a special primary election scheduled in May to fill Bullard’s vacant county commission seat.
At the local level, the issue recently became relevant when Bullard was selected to serve the balance of former Clerk/Register of Deeds Ruth Johnson’s term as the county’s top elections official, after she was elected as Michigan’s secretary of state last November. When Bullard was named the new county clerk/register of deeds, that left a vacancy on the county board that was filled by the appointment of Robert Hoffman (R-Highland).
However, Hoffman is temporarily filling the seat. A special primary election will be held in May, and a special general election will be held in August for voters to pick a person to serve the remainder of Bullard’s unexpired county board term. That has irked some local officials, particularly those in Highland Township, who have estimated that each special election will cost about $15,000, bringing the total tab for just that community to around $30,000.
The 2nd County Commission District covers Highland, Holly, Springfield and Rose townships, as well as the village of Holly.
Bullard in January called for a change in state law, and Hoffman has also called for the law to be changed.
“It’s mostly related to money,” Sen. Kowall said. “I just feel that the (county) board has the ability to appoint and it’s done in a more open and transparent process.”
“This is going on statewide,” he added. “If you have to have an election in a community, you’re talking, depending on the size (of the community), $30,000 to $60,000, and that’s just for a small community.”
“Requiring special elections to be done solely to fill a county commissioner post is an inadequate use of local resources,” Rep. Kowall stated in a press release. “This legislation will save local communities money that can be put to good use on other programs.”
“This is a very positive election reform that will save taxpayers’ dollars both in Oakland County and across the state,” Bullard stated in the same press release.
State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) is a co-sponsor of HB 4357.