Fraser mayor target of recall attempt but not over sex harassment allegations

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Four different petitions with proposed recall language have been filed with Macomb County in an attempt to recall Fraser

Four different petitions with proposed recall language have been filed with Macomb County in an attempt to recall Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols.

A Fraser resident is trying to get petition language approved to mount a recall against the mayor, one of two city politicians facing allegations of sexually harassing female city workers.

Thomas LaDuke filed four proposed recall petitions with different language against Mayor Joseph Nichols on Aug. 4 with Macomb County. None specifically cite the sexual harassment allegations that Nichols and Councilman Matt Hemelberg are facing.

The county's Election Commission will meet Aug. 17 at the probate court building in Mt. Clemens to determine the clarity and factuality of the wording on the petitions.

Each petition gives a different reason to recall Nichols in the middle of his four-year term, which he won in November 2015.

"The city of Fraser is a small community ... but there are a lot of issues. Joe Nichols has shown himself over and over again to a be a person not to be trusted," LaDuke said of his reason for filing the petitions. "He is not fit for elected office."

Nichols referred a Free Press reporter to his attorney for comment. The Free Press left a message for his attorney Thursday.

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LaDuke said the petitions don't deal with the sexual harassment allegations because that matter will be dealt with by a tribunal — the City Council — in a hearing that has yet to be set.

Earlier this week, the City Council voted to hire Kirk, Huth, Lange and Badalamenti law firm in Clinton Township to oversee the tribunal hearing.

The council voted last month to hold a hearing to decide if Nichols and Hemelberg are to be removed from office over the sexual harassment allegations. Both men called the allegations unfounded and said that they would defend against them.

Nichols previously said he believes the council already "tried and convicted us. They just haven't gone through the process."

The "competent tribunal" — a hearing with witnesses and cross-examination — is allowed under the city charter with the council apparently serving as the tribunal.

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If Nichols or Hemelberg is found guilty of any misconduct in office by the tribunal they can be removed from office.

In his first proposed recall petition, LaDuke writes that during the Feb. 11, 2016,  council meeting Nichols "muted the mic" while two female residents spoke, violating their First Amendment rights to free speech. He said the women were saying something Nichols didn't like in terms of his behavior.

In his second proposed recall petition, LaDuke alleges Nichols didn't comply with a Jan. 17 Freedom of Information Act request from LaDuke asking for emails from his private gmail account that involved city business.

The third recall petition alleges during the May 30 City Council meeting, Nichols falsely accused four council members of violating the Open Meetings Act during a vote on the new city manager's contract.

The fourth petition alleges Nichols "recorded robocalls that were sent out that did not identify who paid for them nor did he file an update on this political activity with the Macomb County Clerks Office."

LaDuke told a reporter that both robocalls were done before the city budget was approved, with Nichols' voice on the recording talking about taxes being raised and that residents should attend the meeting to tell council what they think.

LaDuke said if one of the petitions is approved, organizers would need more than 1,300 signatures of registered voters to get the measure on the ballot. He would like to see the recall on the November ballot.

Hemelberg's four-year council term expires in November, which is why LaDuke could not file recall petition language against him. Hemelberg is seeking re-election in November.

Contact Christina Hall: chall99@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.

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