Westland council hopes forged documents stay the course

Westland Town Clerk Richard LeBlanc has said his hands are tied when it comes to Debra Fowlkes’ candidacy.

Fowlkes, a city council candidate who passed the primary elections of August 3, falsified an affidavit stating that she paid all unpaid campaign fundraising costs to Wayne County. In reality, Fowlkes still had $ 5,100 in unpaid fees on the way to primary.

By forging an affidavit, Fowlkes should not have been eligible to appear. The Michigan Bureau of Elections also declares that anyone who falsifies the statement may be guilty of perjury.

LeBlanc said he first learned about the discrepancy three working days before the primary thanks to a complaint from a resident. He contacted advisers from the City, Wayne County, and Michigan State Attorney’s Office.

Officials at those offices, he said, told him it was too late to do anything before the primary elections. By that time, the ballots had been printed, mailed, and thousands of residents had already returned completed mail-in ballots.

“At this point in the process, a few days before the election, the only legal recourse might be if someone wanted to take action at the circuit court level,” he said. “The court could make a decision, but the clerk was unable to legally make a decision.”

No withdrawal plan from the race

LeBlanc said the proximity of the election was what made Fowlkes’ case different from William Asper’s, a mayoral candidate who was withdrawn from the ballots after the clerk determined that Asper was not a resident of Westland. Asper’s impeachment took place before the ballots were printed.

If the courts get involved and remove Fowlkes from the ballot, it would be up to the court to decide whether Candi Halton would be added to the November ballots. Halton received the most votes from candidates who failed the primary.

Court action would require someone to take legal action to remove Fowlkes from the ballots.

Fowlkes could also withdraw from the race.

But, she has no plans to do so and, according to the Wayne County Campaign Fundraising Database, has paid the $ 5,100 owed.

“I came honestly and rightly into the overall, so I’m moving forward,” said Fowlkes, who received the fourth most votes among the primary candidates. “That’s it. I guess the people of Westland voted for me, so I’m moving on.”

Fowlkes confirmed that she was aware of her hefty fee bill prior to filing, but claims she was unaware that she forged the affidavit. She says she never paid the fees because she had no plans to run again after losing a council primary in 2017.

Although she did not conduct any fundraising between 2017 and 2020, she never dissolved her fundraising committee. Thus, various expenses related to the committee have accumulated.

“I take it,” she said. “I admit it: I did wrong and I should have paid them… I’m like, ‘I’m not running. I don’t have to pay them.’ It’s stupid. I know it was. It was just a big mistake on my part. “

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How was the affidavit not verified?

Representatives for the Michigan Secretary of State and Wayne County said it was not the county or state’s role to notify cities of campaign funding gaps. LeBlanc says it is also not in his job description to investigate every claim on an affidavit.

According to the clerk, it is actually not in the books that anyone should verify these affidavits.

The clerk suggested it would be beneficial for Wayne County to adopt Oakland County’s practice of notifying a city when a candidate’s affidavit conflicts with county records. In 2019, for example, a candidate for Farmington Hills city council was withdrawn from the ballots after the county detected a clerical error on his affidavit. Several candidates from Oakland County were withdrawn from the 2021 poll, including in Novi, for filing campaign finance documents and related costs.

If nothing changes, LeBlanc said he plans to ask the county to verify a candidate’s legitimacy in the future.

“Nothing says that I am authorized to access a system over which I have no control,” said LeBlanc. “The Wayne County financial system is administered by Wayne County.”

Meanwhile, Fowlkes’ case is between her and Westland voters in November.

“The candidate has attested to a fact, and I understand the candidate admitted that the affidavit was misrepresented,” said LeBlanc. “It is, at this point, between the candidate, the voters and, potentially, the circuit court.”

Contact reporter Shelby Tankersley at [email protected] or 248-305-0448. Follow her on Twitter @shelby_tankk.

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