You have probably heard about the Leelanau County Road Commissioner who used a racial slur denigrating those of a certain race in Detroit, blaming them for the current state of affairs. Commissioner Tom Eckerle was asked why he wasn't wearing a mask at a commission 'zoom' meeting. Unfortunately, neither was he wearing a gag, for his answer was rather blunt and about to mark the end of the road for his career:
“Well this whole thing is because of them (n-word pluralized) down in Detroit."
When challenged by the chair telling him he couldn't say that, Eckerle doubled down:
“I can say anything I want. Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”
Over the next few days, before he actually resigned, Eckerle would emphasize that he wasn't a racist but wouldn't alter his beliefs, which appear totally racist no matter how you argue it. Ignorant too, since not even the weirdest conspiracy theories put the blame for the Covid-19 pandemic or its political aftermath on the black victims in Detroit.
Leelanau County is represented by Jack O'Malley in the State House. O'Malley confirmed with Eckerle that the comments were accurate, and reported:
"This type of racial slur is flat-out unacceptable and ignorant. I asked Mr. Eckerle to resign his position as road commissioner in light of these comments and shall he refuse, the citizens of Leelanau County have every right to recall him from office. It saddens me to have to even make this statement.”
Around the same time, State Senator Curt VanderWall also made a public comment on his official page rebuking the hurtful words of the road commissioner:
VanderWall differs from O'Malley's statement in a meaningful way. Whereas, O'Malley suggests the citizens do a recall election if Commissioner Eckerle doesn't resign, VanderWall overlooks the recall option and instead wanted the county government to 'begin actions to have the governor remove him from office."
Both legislators should be well acquainted with laws and due process, but VanderWall suggests a remedy of county officers taking steps in order to have the governor remove the elected official (road commissioner is an elected position in Leelanau County).
Does VanderWall's position have any merit? For if it does, then what is preventing a governor from removing elected officials for effectively exercising their First Amendment rights to speak freely, even if that speech is ignorant, intolerable, and/or racist? The governor is already exercising broad powers through the current Covid-19 emergency, can she also remove duly elected officials because their speech is offensive to her sensibilities?
Senator VanderWall wants to give her this power, just as he and his fellow senators have granted her seemingly unlawful powers with minor resistance throughout the pandemic. He is incorrect in his assessment according to Michigan compiled laws. Applicable law states (MCL 168.268):
"The governor may remove any county road commissioner when he shall be satisfied from sufficient evidence submitted to him, as hereinafter provided, that such officer has been guilty of official misconduct, or of willful neglect of duty, or of extortion, or habitual drunkenness, or has been convicted of being drunk, or whenever it shall appear by a certified copy of the judgment of a court of record of this state that such officer, after his election or appointment, shall have been convicted of a felony."
Uttering those distasteful words at a meeting is not neglect of duty, extortion, habitual drunkenness, or felonious in any way. Nor can it be claimed to be Official Misconduct which requires evidence of corrupt intent in committing malfeasance, nonfeasance, or misfeasance. Eckerle's words show ignorance, racism, and utter stupidity, as have many other politician's words in the course of the last few months (including Governor Whitmer's) in supporting an overtly racist organization with overtly racist goals called 'Black Lives Matter'.
As noted, Eckerle did resign before a recall election or any doomed-to-fail governor removal could take place. It is not clear what action VanderWall thought the county officials should have been doing before that (after all, he was a county official for many years), but it makes one wonder--
If Senator Vanderwall believes a road commissioner should be removed from office by the governor just for saying something at a public meeting that he found shocking, should he not also believe that the governor could do the same for an elected state senator that has actually engaged in official misconduct by having his business repeatedly bid for fertilizing services for a political subdivision of the state that he represents, and win the contract without having the low bid (see Article IV Section 10)?
Unfortunately, Senator VanderWall does not have the moral character needed to atone for his unlawful actions, whereas, an ignorant and racist road commissioner does.