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Petition to remove Alma city commissioners approved for signature-gathering

Brett Dahlberg
The now-vacant Warwick Living Center in Alma has been approved to be the site of a temporary shelter for young migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. A recall petition seeks to unseat Alma city commissioners who voted for the shelter.

The fight over a recently approved shelter for young refugees in Mid-Michigan has escalated again. A petition to recall three Alma city commissioners who voted for the shelter will move forward after a county-level board approved its wording on Wednesday.

Alma’s city commission voted to allow the shelter earlier this month, despite a previous vote by the city zoning commission recommending against the shelter.

That’s what recall proponents have seized on. Each of the three petitions seeks to remove a city commissioner from office “for overruling … the planning commission.”

“We are recalling these city commissioners because they are not taking their oath of office seriously, not upholding the constitution, not defending our country and our republic first,” said Yvette Franco-Clark, who is a leader in We the County, a group opposed to the shelter.

Franco-Clark said the shelter encourages illegal immigration and jeopardizes the safety of people in Alma.

Bethany Christian Services, which would run the shelter, and the federal government, which would determine which children are placed in Bethany’s care, both said the people who will be housed in Alma are seeking asylum in the U.S., not illegal entry, and they will be thoroughly vetted before being placed.

Commissioners Roxann Harrington, Nick Piccolo and Audra Stahl are the three named in the recall petition.

Piccolo said he has no plans to leave office, but he needs to learn more about the recall process before deciding how to respond to the petition. “Surprisingly enough, it’s not like I’ve been recalled every week,” he said. “I need to get more familiar with the process.”

Piccolo said he doesn’t fault the petitioners for using the recall procedure. “I would never abrogate someone their rights,” he said. “It’s a tool available to them under the law.”

Neither of the other two commissioners facing recall answered phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Gratiot County Clerk Angie Thompson, who chaired the board that approved the recall petition’s language, said the board’s vote was not an endorsement of the effort to unseat the commissioners.

“Our job was to just determine if [the petition] was factual and clear,” she said.

The petitioners now have 60 days to gather signatures.

Bethany has already started posting jobs for the shelter in Alma.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.