GROSSE POINTE SHORES — There’s a saying in politics that the only qualification needed to win elective office is to get the most votes.
Once installed, however, less mathematical standards may determine the office-holder’s worthiness of the public trust.
In Grosse Pointe Shores, Councilman Dan Schulte won two consecutive elections, the last with enough votes for his elected colleagues to appoint him mayor pro tem.
Yet, the duty, which amounts to being a mayoral stand-in, is a privilege that can be taken away — as Schulte, facing a municipal court hearing Thursday, Sept. 12, on felony charges for his second domestic violence arrest since May, and his supporters, learned last week.
“I’d like to know the specific provision in the city charter that gave you the authority to remove the mayor pro tem from office,” resident Dr. Robert Lee, a Schulte supporter, asked the council the night it unanimously (Councilman Alexander Ajlouni, approved absence) “excused” Schulte from his mayor pro tem duties, Tuesday, Aug. 20.
“The (council’s) motion was to excuse Councilman Schulte at this time from his potential duties as mayor pro tem pending further action by the council,” answered City Attorney Brian Renaud. “It was not a motion to remove him as a councilman.”
Although Schulte remains in office, he hasn’t attended, with permission, the council’s last two monthly meetings.
He also continues holding seats on various municipal committees.
“The only thing that has been excused at this juncture is his potential duties as mayor pro tem,” Renaud said.
“Where in the charter does it specifically say you can do that?” Lee said.
Renaud answered, “The charter says at Section 3.14, ‘The council shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its members.’
“It goes on to say, ‘Except where a greater number is otherwise required by this charter, the majority vote of all members of the council shall be required to decide any such question.’”
Renaud added, “That provision deals with what occurred here tonight, the excusal from mayor pro tem.”
He said the provision is backed by more than a century of Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases.
An excusal from duties doesn’t require a hearing, Renaud said.
Removing an elected official from office, described in Charter Section 3.11, has a higher burden.
The council may remove from office the mayor or council member for:
incapacity to perform duties of the office,
willful neglect of duty or
willful malfeasance or misfeasance of duty.
Renaud said grounds for removal include “conviction of a felony.”
The provision comes under Charter Section 3.10, “forfeiture of office.”
The same section addresses failure to attend council meetings without being excused by the council.
“If you miss three meetings in a row that are unexcused, you’re off the council,” said Mayor Ted Kedzierski.
“Removal proceedings can be initiated by any member of the council,” according to Charter Sec. 3.11.b.
Once removal is initiated by resolution, a public hearing must follow no sooner than 15 days or later than 45 days.
Five council members must vote in support to remove a colleague.
The resulting vacancy is filled by majority council appointment, according to Charter Sec. 3.15.
Schulte didn’t respond to an e-mailed interview request.