New recall language filed against Matthew Smith

FLINT — A resident who unsuccessfully brought recall language against Matthew Smith last week has again filed new, revised language to have the embattled Davison Board of Education member removed from office.

Resident Jenessa Phillips of Davison Township originally filed recall language Aug. 20 against Smith, a first-term Davison Board of Education member, after he was charged with a misdemeanor for an alleged telephone threat against the clerk of Houghton County in the Upper Peninsula in March of 2020.

The language said the reason for the proposed recall election is a “pending misdemeanor charge (malicious use of phone).” It also cited numerous potential violations of school board bylaws by representing views of the board, disclosing board information in advance, using his board position for personal gain (specifically on social media) and alleged discriminatory harassment related to his criminal charges and alleged bullying of parents on social media.

That language was rejected 2-1 by the Genesee County Election Commission, Sept. 1 after the majority of the commission said the language lacked clarity and was not factual.

Phillips was back Sept. 3 with new language that only targets the misdemeanor charge against him.

The new language states: “The State of Michigan has charged Matthew M. Smith with malicious use of telecommunication services to threaten physical harm or damage to the Houghton County Clerk.”

Phillips will go before the election commission with the new language on Sept. 14 at 8:30 a.m. in Judge Jennie Barkey’s courtroom in 7th District Circuit Court.

Phillips told the commission she started the recall because of alleged harassment by Smith both of individuals on social media and of his alleged victim in the phone threat case, Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly.

Kelly has claimed Smith threatened to poison her dogs in the alleged March 2020 phone call. That alleged threat of abuse of an animal is what Phillips said made her file the recall language.

“Now, being an animal lover and advocate, to me these allegations were particularly offensive, heartbreaking and cruel,” she said. “I could not believe this man is responsible for decisions regarding my kid, ‘our’ kids.

“I do understand to some extent the justice system and believe you are innocent until proven guilty. However, the evidence that was suggested made me uneasy, so I decided to learn more.”

Phillips said when she read media reports stating the call was traced to Smith’s phone, and that his friend, who was on the call, backed up Kelly’s story, she felt compelled to start the recall effort.

Smith has maintained his innocence in the misdemeanor charges, claiming someone “pranked” his phone, making it appear as if the call came from his number.

He has been charged with one count of malicious use of telecommunication services for allegedly threatening Kelly.

Smith said he thinks a recall is unwarranted because he still has not had his day in court.

“The recall language is based on a pending charge and I am innocent until proven guilty,” he told the commission. “My case hasn’t been heard.”

He said further Judge Barkey and the Election Commission made the correct ruling by throwing out the recall petition language. However, he said he understood those attempting the recall would try again.

“That is their right. I find it interesting that the recall was filed less than two days after the peaceful protest against the mask mandate when I supported parental rights over mandates, and not long after I was elected Chairman of the Genesee County Republican Party, and the Davison School Board voted unanimously against Critical Race Theory in our schools,” said Smith. “As it relates to the pending litigation, as I’ve stated before, I’ve never threatened anyone, and I haven’t had my day in court. This desperate political hit job needs to stop.”

Phillips said the recall is in no way connected to Smith’s recent leadership role in anti-masking rallies held outside the Genesee County Health Department and at the Genesee County Board of Commissioners meeting, nor is it related to critical race theory.

She said it has to do specifically with his actions regarding the misdemeanor charge he faces.

A jury trial on the charge has been scheduled for Sept. 16 at 8:30 a.m. in 67th District Court.

The election commission, which is comprised of 7th Circuit Court Judge Jennie Barkey, County Treasurer Deborah Cherry and Clerk John Gleason, heard arguments from both Phillips and Smith before Barkey made a motion to reject the language on the basis of it was unclear and not factual.

“It’s not up to us to decide if it’s a good reason to recall someone of if we agree with the reason,” said Barkey. “The allegations (against Smith) could be false. What we must decide is if the language is clear and factual to the voter.”

Barkey made a motion to reject the language, due to it being unclear and not factual, and it was seconded by Cherry.

Gleason attempted to argue his position in favor of the language and in doing so said he and Cherry had discussed the case prior to the meeting, which prompted Barkey to question if that was a violation of the Open Meetings Act. She then abruptly called the question and the vote was taken.

What Gleason and Cherry may have discussed was not further elaborated upon.

The Genesee County View/Davison Index has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the county seeking texts and emails between Gleason and Cherry from the time the language was filed Aug. 20 until the hearing was held last week.