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Friday, November 06, 2020

Michigan Courts defend fair ballot counting, dismiss Trump Campaign's election lawsuit

LANSING -- Today, Nov. 6, 2020, Michigan Courts ruled in favor of Michigan fair ballot counting and in defense of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Attorney General Dana Nessel supports the judges' rulings.

3rd Circuit Court ruling notes fair ballot counting in Michigan

Late this afternoon Timothy Kenny, chief judge of Michigan’s Third Circuit Court, denied a petition seeking preliminary injunctive relief that would have required Detroit and Wayne County to retain all ballots and poll books and would prevent the Wayne County Board of Canvassers from certifying election results.

In his decision in Stoddard, et.al. v City Election Commission of the City of Detroit, et.al., Judge Kenny said, "Plaintiffs’ allegation is mere speculation … and are unable to meet their burden for the relief sought."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Press Secretary Ryan Jarvi issued the following statement on this case:

"Chief Judge Kenny’s quick decision mirrors a decision yesterday by Court of Claims Judge Stephens -- specifically, that, once again, the allegations are mere speculation. The swift, clear and decisive opinion should put to rest the meritless claims that have been made in Michigan and other states around the country. We have always been committed to a fair, transparent and secure election that ensures every legal vote is counted -- and we will continue to do that."

Click here to view a copy of Judge Kenny’s opinion.

Michigan Court of Claims issues opinion denying Trump campaign's requests in election lawsuit

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens issued her

opinion today in Trump v Benson, the lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Judge Stephens denied plaintiffs' requests after she held a hearing and listened to arguments Thursday, during which she ruled the Trump campaign's lawsuit was unlikely to succeed on the merits. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Press Secretary Ryan Jarvi released the following statement:

"The Trump campaign’s lawsuit demonstrates either a failed attempt by plaintiffs to cobble together a legitimate claim, or their clear lack of understanding of Michigan’s election laws. The Court correctly described the campaign’s claims as nothing more than hearsay, and our office will ask the Court to dismiss this meritless lawsuit. The will of voters is what matters in this election, and their ballots in Michigan have been counted in a transparent, fair and accurate manner."

Click here to view a copy of Judge Stephens' opinion.

Inset photos: Attorney General Dana Nessel (above left); Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (above right). (Photos courtesy michigan.gov)

Thursday, November 05, 2020

U.P. Energy Task Force to meet online Nov. 6

The U.P. Energy Task Force is to meet online Friday with scheduled presentations about the integrated resource planning process for electric utilities and programs in Michigan that offer financing for business and residential energy efficiency projects.

The Task Force is to meet beginning at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6. Following the presentations and discussion among Task Force members, ample time has been scheduled for public comment on Upper Peninsula-related energy topics.

Those interested in joining the meeting can click on the Microsoft Teams link on the U.P. Energy Task Force webpage. Those who do not have Internet access can use a phone to participate in the meeting by dialing 248-509-0316 and entering the conference ID 425 816 987#. People who need special assistance to participate can contact Kimber Frantz at 517-284-5035 or FrantzK@Michigan.gov in advance of the meeting.

Members of the public who wish to speak at the meeting are asked to send an email to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov with "Request for Public Comment During November Meeting" in the subject line and your name. Members of the public who attend the meeting but who did not submit their names ahead of time will be still be allowed to make a comment. Each speaker will have a three-minute time limit.

Comments regarding the work of the UP Energy Task Force can also be submitted to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov.

State regulated utilities are required by law to file integrated resource plans with the Michigan Public Service Commission. The plans outline how a utility will provide reliable, cost effective electric service to its customers in the future while also addressing the industry’s risks and uncertainties.

The U.P. Energy Task Force must submit its report on overall U.P. energy issues and alternatives to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by March 31, 2021. In April, the Task Force sent to the Governor its recommendations on propane availability in the U.P. 

Friday’s meeting is being held in accordance with Gov. Whitmer’s and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendations designed to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Sunday, November 01, 2020

UPDATED: Faith leaders, law enforcement discuss "Keeping Disagreement Civil"

By Michele Bourdieu

Panelists for the Oct. 27 webinar, "Keeping Disagreement Civil," included law enforcement and faith community leaders, who discussed ways to communicate peacefully with neighbors who express opposing views and to avoid conflicts during public events such as protest marches and voting. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Communication with law enforcement, shared responsibility, and respect for people with opposing views were some of the suggestions for improving community practices discussed during the Oct. 27 local webinar, "Keeping Disagreement Civil." Hosted by Keweenaw Faiths United and Cooperative Campus Ministries, the online conversation brought together law enforcement officials, clergy, lay leaders, and -- sometimes anonymous -- members of the public who tuned in to listen or to participate by asking questions.

The panelists included these representatives from local law enforcement: Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean, Hancock Police Chief Wayne Butler, Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly,  Michigan Tech University Police Chief Brian Cadwell, and Sergeant Matt Djerf of Michigan State Police Calumet Post. (All are pictured above except Sheriff McLean, who participated by phone.)

The clergy and lay leaders on the panel, pictured above, were the Rev. Bucky Beach, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton; Paul Mitchell, lay minister of the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (KUUF); Sarah Semmler Smith, Finlandia University campus pastor; Rick Stanitis, Canterbury House Episcopal Church Ministry; David Holden, Temple Jacob president; and the Rev. Peter Norland, pastor of Portage Lake United Church.

Sarah Semmler Smith, Finlandia University campus pastor, who has lived in the local area for only one year, related to the panel her experience with a local peaceful protest. She had wanted to bring her two daughters, ages 5 and 8, to the event but hesitated bringing them to the march. She said what she had heard about the local "gun culture" led her to wonder about community safety.

Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean replied that marches here have always been peaceful and it is "foreign to us" to see violent protests in other areas. He noted the only disruption here might be the driver of a truck who intentionally put something in his vehicle to produce smoke as he drove past marchers, in order to harass them.

A young family, one of several with young children, participates in the June 3, 2020, Black Lives Matter march across the Portage Lift Bridge in protest against the death of George Floyd and other victims of racist violence. The Houghton police assisted in directing traffic during this peaceful march. Marchers reported most passing vehicles were supportive and only a few made negative comments. (Keweenaw Now file photo)*

Bucky Beach, one of the organizers of this webinar, asked what peaceful marchers or community members faced with disagreement in the current political climate can expect from law enforcement to keep disagreement from getting out of hand.

Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly said the first step is communication.

"We know the people in the community," Donnelly said.

He estimated that 90 percent of people in this small community are on a first-name basis with someone in law enforcement.

Michigan Tech University Police Chief Brian Cadwell added that the First Amendment requires being sure people have a right to express their opinions, even though opposing sides, especially recently, don't want to listen to each other. People need to tolerate opposing opinions.

Panelists discuss "open carry" of firearms

Semmler Smith's mention of the "gun culture" led to a discussion on Michigan's "open carry" law and the recent attempt by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to require that citizens not bring a firearm any closer than 100 feet to a polling place during the election. McLean referred to a court that recently found her rule unconstitutional. However, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently announced that her office is appealing that court's ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.** See UPDATE below.***

Donnelly replied to a question from a listener, read by Bucky Beach, on the laws concerning bringing a firearm to a protest or a polling place. Donnelly noted what is legal and not legal at a polling place (open carry vs concealed carry) is not as cut and dried as you'd expect.

"I know in our area one of the things that we were told by some of our election officials is if they see someone displaying a weapon they're going to ask them not to display it there," Donnelly said, "and if they choose to continue to do that they'll probably give us a call so there'll be a level of comfort there."

Donnelly added that people who open carry a weapon to a protest are usually well versed in second amendment rights so they are careful not to cross the line to "brandishing" a weapon, which is a felony that would cause them to lose those rights.

"I know that's not very comforting to a lot of people, but we hope that is what will keep them from stepping over on that," Donnelly said.

Rev. Peter Norland, pastor of Portage Lake United Church, asked if the law is the same for open carry at a polling place as at a protest.

Sheriff McLean said the law is one and the same in both instances throughout the state.

"Legally we can't tell them they can't do it," McLain said, "and it doesn't matter if it's a pistol strapped on their hip or a rifle slung over their shoulder."

He noted there are places of worship and schools where guns are not allowed, which can be complicated if that school or place of worship is used as a polling place, especially if school is in session.

Bucky Beach asked where the line is drawn between open carry and "brandishing" a weapon.

Donnelly gave some examples of displaying the weapon in a way that makes people feel threatened. Sergeant Matt Djerf of Michigan State Police said "brandishing" is any kind of threatening gesture made when the weapon is produced. Cadwell said "brandishing" is waving the weapon about in order to induce fear.

Communication with law enforcement

Another question from a listener, read by Beach, asked about racist or other incidents in which a law enforcement officer acts in an inappropriate way and whether there are complaint channels for that.

Djerf replied that the State Police would ask people to come in and talk to them first or they can contact the internal affairs bureau in Lansing, and speak with them. An investigation would be possible.

"We have some pretty strong guidelines for us ... a code of conduct," Djerf said.

Sheriff McLean also noted citizens can call the Sheriff's office or leave a message on their Web site any time if there is a complaint about police behavior. Police are expected to be apolitical. He noted he and his officers met protesters at the beginning of the June 2020 Black Lives Matter march and greeted them in a friendly way, even those carrying signs critical of police.

During the June 3, 2020, march for Black Lives Matter, Houghton Patrolman Nathan Kinnunen, with his bicycle, watches traffic and marchers for safety at the Houghton end of the Portage Lift Bridge. Another patrolman is stationed on the opposite side of the street. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

David Holden of Temple Jacob asked about outside agitators who might be stirring up emotions at a protest or causing vandalism (which occurred at Temple Jacob recently).

McLain noted if citizens suspect outside agitators may be causing problems, they need to be good witnesses, take down license plate numbers or other information and notify police.

"Don't be afraid to call us," Donnelly added.

A question from one of the webinar listeners asked if any of the larger faith organizations were asking their ministers to counsel congregants to refrain from disruptive behavior.

Paul Mitchell, KUUF lay minister said this webinar conversation was intended to answer not only how faith leaders can establish expectations of civil behavior in their own congregations, but how they can extend those expectations into the community outside their own congregations, since laws are limited.

"If we have a community with expectations that says, 'Hey, toting guns around doesn't help the police and it doesn't help the rest of the protesters. Nobody really wants you to carry your gun around,'" Mitchell said. "We don't want our congregants to be disruptive in terms of carrying guns around."

A listener's question directed at law enforcement asked if they had coordinated a plan in case dissatisfaction with the election results should lead to violence.

Sheriff McLean said his own agency wasn't aware presently of anyone on their radar who might cause such a problem.

"I don't expect it to happen, but we're not going to close our eyes and say it couldn't happen. It certainly could," McLean said. "Once the polls close and the votes are counted, could it send somebody over the edge? Yes, it could. I just don't know. But we're aware of it."

Beach noted a question from a listener on masks and enforcement, adding he had heard of incidents of anger over masking or not masking. He asked if enforcement of a law requiring masks is up to the Health Department or law enforcement.
 
McLain said right now it's the Health Department.

"If by chance the governor and the senators and the congressmen get together and they pass a law and the governor signs it into law, then it would be on law enforcement," McLain said. "I would think each department better hire half a dozen to a dozen more officers (for enforcement)."

Recommendations for avoiding conflict

Beach then asked for recommendations from the law enforcement panelists on how ordinary citizens, who are not law enforcement, should act in the presence of conflicts.

"When do we call you? When do we just walk away? When do we engage with a conversation?" Beach asked.

Donnelly said he believed a conversation with someone who is dead set in his/her opposing opinion (such as whether or not to wear a mask) is not effective.

"I think education is the key. I think communication -- which is what we're doing tonight -- is the key," Donnelly noted. "Heavy enforcement? Oo! We're going to run into conflict there."

Cadwell added, "Anytime it escalates to a situation where it looks like somebody may become violent, give the police a call."

Peter Norland asked if police could give guidance on when to call them when people are feeling uncomfortable in a conflict situation, even though it may not be violent.

"When do we approach that line (of a need to call authorities)?" Norland asked.

Djerf referred to Sarah Semmler Smith's comments on being afraid to take her children with her to a protest, noting that police should take a look at such a situation to see if it's safe.

"One thing we all need to realize," Djerf said, "(is) we can't control somebody else's behavior. We can control our own. And as far as conflict resolution goes, that's a huge thing.

Chief Butler added, "When in doubt, call. That's the best thing to do, because there's nothing worse than being behind the power curve on any investigation."

A situation may need de-escalation because it could lead to something worse, he explained.

Cadwell said it's amazing how people are hesitant to call the police, even when there are panic buttons all over the Michigan Tech campus. They sometimes say later that they didn't want to bother the police.

"Getting bothered is our job," Cadwell added. "It's not a bother."

Beach then asked about making a distinction between de-escalation and deflection, or calming a situation by walking away from it.

"If you can walk away from a situation that's getting bad, why not do that?" Djerf suggested. "There are instances where sometimes you just can't reason with people."

Djerf noted it's important to control oneself, remain professional and calm, keep a low tone of voice, and respect feelings and opinions even if you don't agree with them.

"Having some empathy for people can go a long way. Being an active listener can be important, too," Djerf added. "Listening to them, maybe paraphrasing what they're saying and repeating it back to them. It tells them that you're listening to them."

Mc Lain noted the importance of keeping a distance from people who might seem aggressive or threatening. If it is in a public place, retreat to where other people are. Answer them with a question to get them thinking.

Beach reported a question from a listener on the vulnerability of people of color in the community and asked if police were sensitive to aggression those people might face. 

Cadwell said, especially at Michigan Tech, with its diverse community, police are sensitive to that issue.

"We spend time working and speaking with the underrepresented constituencies on campus -- whether it's the people of color or any others," Cadwell said.

He explained that campus police want to make sure those people who are subjected to any threatening words or actions reach out to police right away so they can determine who is causing the aggression and can resolve the issue.

Beach asked law enforcement panelists if they had additional advice the religious leaders could relay to their communities.

Butler noted respecting the rights of others is important.

"Be safe," he said. "Don't believe everything that you see on social networks."

Donnelly added, "Just because you disagree with somebody doesn't mean you have to be disrespectful to them."

McLean noted the closeness of the Copper Country community and how people help their neighbors, schools, churches and community groups.

"Everybody realizes we live in a very special place," McLean said. "We live in a great community and we want to keep it that way."

Paul Mitchell of KUUF told Keweenaw Now he believed the webinar with law enforcement on keeping disagreement civil was a wonderful first step in shared responsibility.

"We've begun to recognize that it's not just the job of the police to keep us safe," Mitchell said. "It's our obligation as community members to be involved in making our community safe. We need to work with the police and work with each other to make these next few weeks and the coming years safe for disagreement.

"The law enforcement leaders shared their experience in dealing with difficult situations. Their suggestions on deflecting situations -- keeping a calm physically and in your voice, listening and asking  questions and finally walking away when necessary are the beginning steps to de-escalating conflicts. I hope as a community we can work further with law enforcement and others to expand our street-smart community de-escalation IQ."

Bucky Beach of Good Shepherd Lutheran also shared with Keweenaw Now his takeaway from the webinar.

"It is always good to hear law enforcement concerns about the safety of our community," Beach said. "It is their community too. And it's always good for the general public to understand how competent and highly trained our officers are. It helps us all feel confident and I know it helps them feel confident in us, too.

"Whether a society is civil or not is not up to law enforcement officers -- it’s up to each of us. As one panelist said, 'If you want better neighbors, be a better neighbor!'

"And it's always good advice to not engage if someone is acting aggressively toward you. Some of the specifics mentioned were helpful to practice, e.g., lowering your voice, not raising it.  Stepping back rather than forward. Asking questions instead of making counter-statements."

Editor's Notes:

* See our June 6, 2020, article, "Hundreds march across Portage Lift Bridge in peaceful, youth-led protest against racist violence."

** On Oct. 29, 2020, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's Press Secretary Ryan Jarvi issued the following statement in response to the Michigan Court of Appeals decision regarding the prohibition of open carry of firearms at the polls on Election Day:

"We intend to immediately appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Just today, a poll released by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV indicated that 73 percent of Michigan voters say openly carried guns should be banned near polling places. The merits of this issue -- which impacts all Michiganders -- deserves full and expedited consideration by our State’s highest court."

*** UPDATE, Nov. 2: Two lawsuits were filed -- and later consolidated -- that challenged the Secretary of State’s directive. On Friday, the trial court granted an injunction in the case, finding that Secretary of State Benson's directive -- that the open carry of a firearm was to be prohibited in a polling place, in any hallway used by voters to enter or exit, or within 100 feet of any entrance to a building in which a polling place was located, in clerk’s offices and absent voter counting boards on Tuesday -- likely violated the Administrative Procedures Act. The decision was immediately appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, but that court declined to hear the appeal. An application for leave to appeal was then filed with the Michigan Supreme Court. The state requested an answer from the Supreme Court by 10 a.m. this morning (Nov. 2) considering tomorrow’s election. However, the Michigan Supreme Court has not responded which means the Court of Appeals decision will stand.

"Though I am disappointed that the Supreme Court hasn’t provided guidance in advance of Election Day, it does not change the fact that voter intimidation is still illegal in Michigan," Attorney General Nessel said. "Those who attempt to deter or interfere with someone trying to exercise the fundamental right to vote will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

Benson made a similar statement:

"Voters can go to the polls tomorrow confident that safety is our top priority," Secretary Benson said. "The bottom line is that voter intimidation is illegal under state and federal law. As the Court of Appeals confirmed, anyone who intimidates a voter in Michigan by brandishing a firearm is committing a felony. The Attorney General and I are working with law enforcement to ensure the law is followed statewide."