Tom Barrow Is Right: City Clerk Janice Winfrey Should Resign

June 18, 2013, 5:05 PM


Now that the Michigan Court of Appeals has affirmed a Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that Mike Duggan is ineligible to run for mayor, one thing is clear: Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey didn’t perform the due diligence to understand city charter rules her office was supposed to enforce.

The Michigan Supreme Court still could overturn the appeals court decision if Duggan appeals, but that wouldn’t change the fact that the city clerk was blindsided by a totally reasonable interpretation of Charter language — an interpretation now validated by two courts.

“We hold that Duggan has not met the qualifications for elected office by the plain terms contained in the Charter,” the appeals court said Tuesday.

The Duggan campaign should have anticipated this possibility and waited to file until their man was in safe harbor with the eligibility requirements. And if Duggan does make the ballot, it’s fair for voters to ask if a candidate who couldn’t avoid an obvious eligibility land mine is capable of governing a city with the problems of Detroit.

Of course, Duggan’s team did meet with officials in the clerk’s office to ensure their filing was compliant and they claim they were told everything was kosher.  Had the clerk's office suggested they wait a couple weeks to submit petitions to ensure they're complying with eligibility, this situation could have been avoided. 

Candidates should be entitled to clear direction from the clerk’s office about technical compliance with paperwork. Clearly, the clerk was unprepared or unqualified to provide that information to 2013 mayoral candidates.  

Even Duggan’s legal nemesis, Tom Barrow, places some of the blame for controversy at the feet of Winfrey.

“An incredible amount of money has been expended by all sides during this legal battle, all of which was unnecessary and should have been avoided had the Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey upheld her oath of office and not favored one office-seeker over others who were not allowed onto the ballot based on the same Charter violation,” Barrow said in a statement calling for her resignation.

If the appeal court’s ruling means Duggan can’t run for mayor, so be it. Rules are rules. But future candidates should be confident that advice and information provided by the Clerk’s was valid.

It's hard to see how Winfrey’s team can be trusted with that responsibility any longer.

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