Clerk sites speaking out at meeting and social media posts
By Barb Pert Templeton
As a lifelong resident of Marine City, Barb Watson, 76, loves her hometown and has even stepped forward to serve as an election worker, including holding the title of Precinct Chairperson, for nearly two decades.
When she received a voicemail followed by a written letter from City Clerk Shannon Adams stating her services were no longer required for the Aug. 2 primary or the general election on Nov. 8, she was certainly surprised; she was also hurt.
“Yes, my feelings were hurt,” Watson said during a phone interview on Aug. 3, her voice breaking with emotion. “I’d been working elections for 19 years and I would never do anything to influence anyone’s vote or anything wrong at all for that matter. It’s the clerk, the city manager, and the mayor that are all new there, they don’t even know me.”
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Watson agreed to help out with city elections – finding election workers has long been an issue for small towns across the area – because back in 2003 she heard just that – the city was short on help.
“I heard they needed some people so I thought I’d give it a try and I enjoyed it,” Watson said. “I got to see lots of people I know and we had quite a good team (of election workers) for a long time there, the same ones, year after year and then a lot started passing away.”
Marine City Clerk Shannon Adams could not be reached for comment on the matter this week, not by email or phone. The email dismissal letter sent to Watson and dated July 25, read in part:
“First and foremost, I want to thank you for your service to Marine City as an Election Inspector and Precinct Chairperson. It is my duty and responsibility to protect the integrity of the elections for the City of Marine City and I have grave concerns about you continuing to work for the city as an Election Inspector. While I fully respect your right to any opinions you may hold, in light of recent circumstances, how you comported yourself publicly at the City Commission meeting on 7/21/2022 and postings I have come to be aware of on social media, this behavior is not indicative of the impartiality required of a successful Election Inspector. Therefore, your services will not be -needed for the August 2, 2022 election or any forthcoming elections.’
Calls seeking comment on the issue from Marine City Manager Holly Tatum, Mayor Cheryl Vercammen, and City Attorney Robert Davis were also not returned by press time.
Voicing concerns for the Guy Center
The issue that prompted Watson to attend a July 21 Marine City Commission meeting to speak out was the city’s plan to sell the Guy Community Center at 303 South Water Street.
Watson said she knew the late Bertha Guy and that the family donated property to the city that was later sold to purchase the old Detroit Edison Plant, which became the Guy Center. She said she even recalls the donation stating that the Guy family did not wish to see the building used for city offices but instead as a place for the community.
Despite that, Watson said Marine City officials did in fact utilize the building as the municipal offices for more than a dozen years. When they moved out last year to new offices on Parker Street plans to sell the building in order to finance a city property at 300 Broadway which is the old historic city hall, started taking shape.
Watson said she was unable to attend the workshop meetings held earlier this year to get the public’s input on the sale of the building because they were at a time of day, “usually dinner time”, that was inconvenient for her. She said she has a handicapped son and any change in his schedule, including meal times, makes things difficult so those meetings proved too inconvenient.
Still wanting to be heard, Watson decided to attend the July 21 commission meeting and share her thoughts during the public comments portion of the agenda at the start of the meeting.
“I just wanted to speak my piece and say that I really didn’t want that building (The Guy Center) to fold,” Watson said. “Yes, I had my five-minute say but it has nothing to do with the oath I took for serving as an election worker.”
Later in the meeting when the commission was discussing the topic Watson admits she did speak out again saying the building shouldn’t be sold. In fact, after speaking out several times the mayor asked her to leave the meeting or be quiet as public comment was over. Watson chose not to leave.
She remains mystified by Adams actions stating that the clerk had just had her into the city offices on July 19 for her re-certification to work the upcoming elections. Then when she walked into the July 21 commission meeting Watson alleges Adams waved to her and held up two fingers denoting only two weeks until election day.
“When I work the elections. I work for her but not otherwise or outside of that time,” Watson said.
Lots of strong community support
Watson said she’s gotten lots of support from the community both in-person and on social media since she was dismissed.
The Facebook page, City of Marine City Michigan, had posters discussing the issue voicing surprise at the city’s actions.
Watson repeatedly stated she would never, ever try to influence anyone’s vote and said she and her own daughter differ politically but it’s not something she would debate with a voter or anything.
“I’m old but I’m not illiterate, I have common sense and so I would never do anything to anybody that would violate my oath,” Watson said.
In fact, Watson said she has taken pride over the years at her ability to try and make voters arriving at the polls, which can sometimes be confusing or stressful, feel welcome and comfortable.
Along with her dismissal letter to Watson, Adams also included a copy of a document from the Michigan Bureau of Elections that stated in part:
An election inspector who fails to follow the directions of the clerk of the city or township in which the election inspector is serving, or who violates any of the duties imposed on election inspectors by the Michigan Election Law, may be dismissed by that clerk.
Watson states that she never received any special directors from Adams in regards to serving as an election worker for the city beyond taking the oath for the position. She wasn’t told, even verbally that she couldn’t share her opinion or speak at any city meetings.
Watson’s fellow election chairperson, for Precinct 2, heard what happened to her and promptly resigned her post with the city. Erin Doetsch sent a letter to Adams stating:
It was brought to my attention that Barb Watson was released of her duty as election inspector due to recent events at the last commission meeting held. I do not agree one bit with this and am very disappointed in what is happening. I myself do not want to be associated with the city who does not respect the voices of those living in their community. I am stepping down as the Chair Inspector and wish you all the best in running future elections.