Birmingham City Commissioner Pierre Boutros is ineligible for reelection to the city commission in November under Michigan election law, according to Joe Rozell, Oakland County Director of Elections, due to failure of the candidate to comply with campaign finance reporting requirements from a past election.
Rozell sent a letter to Birmingham City Clerk Cherilynn Mynsberge dated July 30 noting that his office was in receipt of Boutros' affidavit of identity for city commission but the elections division of the county clerk's office could not certify the city commissioner as a candidate for this November's election because of his failure to comply with campaign reporting law. Rozell said the problem had to do with candidate campaign finance reporting problems dating back to July 2015.
Downtown newsmagazine received a copy of Rozell's letter to the city clerk and ongoing correspondence about the campaign act violations via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Boutros was first elected to the Birmingham City Commission in November 2015, filing as a candidate in July 2015. He is completing his first four-year term and has filed to run for a second four-year term.
In investigating Boutros' campaign finance statements, his records are filled with filing errors and notices of failures to file, as well as notices of late filing fees. Downtown found 22 notices of error or omission notifications from the county election office, and three letters to the Michigan Attorney General from Rozell notifying that office of Boutros' failure to file required quarterly statements.
Rozell said certified letters had repeatedly been sent to Boutros, with Boutros' signed signatures for receipt. All late filing fees were promptly paid, but other corrections or filings were not addressed, Rozell said..
“After a review of our records, we have determined that Mr. Boutros failed to file a required amended 2016 Quarterly report. MCL 168.558(4) as amended states, 'An affidavit of identity must include a statement that as of the date of the affidavit, all statements, reports, late filing fees and fine required of the candidate...have been filed or paid,'” Rozell wrote in his letter to Mynsberge.
He further wrote, the statute states, “An officer shall not certify to the board of election commissioners the name of a candidate who fails to comply with this section, or a name of a candidate who executes an affidavit of identity that contains a false statement...”
The statute, which was updated and took immediate effect December 28, 2018, states if the affidavit is inaccurate, it is considered perjury, which in Michigan is a felony and “is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.”
Rozell informed Mynsberge to “consider this as notice to not certify Mr. Boutros as a candidate to your Board of City Election Commissioners.”
On Friday, August 9, Birmingham City Manager Joe Valentine said from the city's standpoint, all of the election petitions from candidates, including Boutros', have been certified because Birmingham statutory requirements have been followed, which are to make sure the heading is correctly filled out, the right number of signatures were collected and verified.
“That is what we have done. Following campaign finance law is not under our jurisdiction,” Valentine said.
“The city has a legal requirement to fulfill their obligation to read and certify the affidavits as part of the full application,” Rozell said. “You can't just do part of the certification.”
Patrick D. Crandell, attorney for Boutros, responded in an August 8 letter to Mynsberge that according to Michigan law, Oakland County had four business days to provide Boutros with notice of any errors or omissions in his July 2016 and October 2016 quarterly statements, and they did not notify him of any errors during either of those periods, waiting until March 2017. Crandell said if the county had notified Boutros in a timely manner, his campaign treasurer, Sharon Sibilla, would have responded to them.
However, a failure to file notice was sent to Boutros on October 26, 2016, for his October 2016 quarterly statement.
Boutros said he first became aware of an issue on July 30, when he was notified of the issue by Rozell.
“Why would they wait to alert me? It's not my fault. There's no track of anyone seeing a certified letter,” he said.
Boutros said at that point he and Sibilla discovered misfiled notices and promptly filed amended statements.
Crandell said that while “Boutros did file amended quarterly statements after filing his affidavit, it doesn't mean his affidavit was false or that he should be disqualified as a candidate.”
Crandell cited precedent where Michigan courts recognize that mistakes in affidavits can be timely corrected, in Berry v Garrett, (2016).
“I'm not a criminal,” Boutros asserted. “This is not what I deserve for not organizing correctly.”
Rozell said the county prints the ballots for the city and provides the ballots, but does not determine the content for municipal elections.
“I don't know if we would sue to have his name removed from the ballot,” Rozell said. “But a legal challenge would definitely stand up in court. There is definite precedence when it is a campaign finance law violation.”
Eight candidates filed for four commission seats that will be decided in the November 5 election. The filing deadline for candidates was Tuesday, July 23, and candidates had until the end of the day on Friday, July 26, to withdraw from the race.
Three of the four incumbents whose terms were expiring, Patty Bordman, Pierre Boutros and Carroll DeWeese, filed petitions to run for re-election for a second four-year term on the commission. Commissioner Andy Harris, first elected in 2015, along with Bordman, Boutros and DeWeese, sent a letter to city manager Joe Valentine on July 1, stating that with his obligations to “my family, law firm, the kids I coach, and to some extent, myself, I do not have the time nor the energy to satisfy the level of commitment this exemplary city deserves.”
Also filing to run for a seat on the commission were Clinton Baller, Jake German, Brad Host, Therese Longe and Matt Wilde.