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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Attorney General determines Incompatible Offices being Held in Battle Creek by Mark Behnke

ROJS News Guest Post
by ROJS-Radio Co-Host Autumn Smith

Photo Credit-Google Images
Mark Behnke-Battle Creek County
Commissioner refuses to give up
seat while running for City
Commissioner, at the same time.
Although the 2011 elections are over, controversy still remains in Battle Creek Michigan as a sitting County Commissioner won one of 4 at-large seats on the Battle Creek City Commission. Mark Behnke-(Republican) who had previously served on the Battle Creek City Commission; (which also included him doing 2 stints as Mayor), was elected as a County Commissioner in 2010. County Commission terms are 2 years and are partisan elections. 

Whereas the City Commission has 2 year terms and is non-partisan. Mark Behnke decided to run for City Commission while still less then halfway through his County Commission term. When Behnke announced his candidacy for City Commission, questions arose about him serving on 2 boards and the conflict of interest it would create. Before the City Commission election even took place, Behnke had stated that if he was elected to the City Commission, he would step down from the County Commission position. 

Well here we are a month after the election, and Behnke has yet to step down from either position. Battle Creek City Attorney, Eileen Wicklund contacted the Attorney General's Office in regards to Michigan's incompatible office law. The Michigan Attorney General's office deemed the two offices incompatible because of contracts between the city and county. 

"As a result, an individual attempting to serve in this dual capacity must vacate one of the incompatible offices," Richard Bandstra, chief legal counsel for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said in the letter to the City Attorney. Behnke disagrees and is using a previous attorney general's opinion from 1996 that he feels supports his right to hold both offices. 

Even though during Behnke's campaign he stated that he would step down from the County Board if elected to the city to avoid a special election , he now says that he is unsure which position he will leave.

 The county prosecutor does have the authority to take action against a person who fails to leave an elected position after being notified of a conflict of interest or incompatibility issue. The local newspaper, The Battle Creek Enquirer ran a editorial here: stating that in their opinion this issue needs to be resolved and that they feel that Mark Behnke should resign from the County Commission. Mark Behnke suggested holding a 'round table' discussion that would be open to the public, seeking input from residents and their perspective on the issue. His post on his facebook as of Dec. 9th states as follows: 

"Good morning! There seems to be some interest in my serving as a City Commissioner and County Commissioner. Some people and businesses are being very vocal on this subject. Some individauls look forward to an idea of working together in goverment to make our County and City better. I would like to see if there's any interest in having a "round table" disucssion that would be open to the public. By having a round table disucssion we would be able to see a lot of individuals perspective on this issue. Please let me know if you would be interested in particpating in a round table disucussion. Please let me know if you have any questions." 

It has been speculated that the reason Mr. Behnke ran for City Commission while still serving on the County Commission is because he was rather bitter about not being selected as Chair of the County Commission. So he went back to his old stomping grounds of 18 years and hoped to become Mayor, which also didn't happen.

It is this authors opinion that   with Mr. Behnke's 'waffling' it appears that he may believe that he is an exception to the rules and is just power hungry. At the least he is playing political games for whatever reason or smokey back room deals that could be taking place on the County Board for his possible replacement. At the worst, he may have lied to a lot of people when he stated that he would step down from the county commission should he be elected to the city. Either way, Mr. Behnke is appearing to be disingenuous to say the least.

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