(The Center Square) – The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) said it will carry through on its promise to sue the Royal Oak City Commission as well as five individual commissioners in federal court.
The Commission voted 5-2 on Monday night to censure Commissioner Kim Gibbs and requested she tender her resignation after she participated in the Operation Gridlock protest in Lansing on April 15.
The TMLC announced Monday morning they’d bring legal action against Royal Oak and its city commissioners if they carried out the censure of Gibbs, stating the Republican violated no laws by attending and participating in Operation Gridlock.
The event occurred in front of the State Capitol building, and was meant to register opposition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s quarantine orders implemented to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Operation Gridlock organizers instructed protesters to stay in their respective vehicles, but some – including Gibbs – exited their cars and trucks and gathered as pedestrians on the Capitol steps, lawn and sidewalk, at times in violation of the recommended six-foot social distancing rule.
The Commission's final vote was 5-2, and was split down party lines, with the Commission's only two Republicans dissenting.
TMLC alleges the City Commission violated Gibbs’ U.S. Constitutional rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to free speech as well as the right to freely assemble. Additionally, TMLC said the censure violates procedural and substantive Due Process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
“The commission majority saw the opportunity to sanction a sitting commissioner who has been a thorn in their side, holding them accountable when they have failed to properly serve city residents,” Commissioner Randy LeVasseur told The Center Square, the City Commission’s only other Republican.
LeVasseur had previously told The Center Square Commissioner Gibbs had registered opposition to several no-bid contracts for architectural work on multiple city projects, in violation of the Royal Oak City Charter.
One bid was awarded to a prominent donor to Oakland County Democratic candidates. The donor in question, said LeVasseur, received a $500,000 no-bid contract only weeks after throwing a campaign party for Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier.
“I often have been odds with the majority as well, but never did I expect I’d see them so cavalierly trample upon someone’s constitutional rights simply to get their pound of flesh,” LeVasseur said.
“Royal Oak’s ordinances only recognize censure as appropriate where there has been an ethical violation. By the commission majority’s own admission, Commissioner Gibbs did not violate the Ethics Ordinance,” he continued.
“Ironically, Commissioner Gibbs was censured simply for exercising her constitutional rights while another commissioner, who admitted to violating the Ethics Ordinance approximately 65 times, will see no repercussions,” LeVasseur said.
Gibbs’ censure was purely a political move by the Royal Oak Commission, TMLC President and Chief Consul Richard Thompson told The Center Square.
“[Gibbs] didn’t do anything wrong,” Thompson said. “Part of the censure states she was required to wear a mask, but the protest was April 15, and the governor’s executive order to wear masks wasn’t issued until more than a week after the protest. Furthermore, the current order states masks only are required to be worn indoors, and Ms. Gibbs was on a public sidewalk.”
Thompson continued: “The governor herself stated her orders didn’t prohibit protests. As for the violation of social distancing, the governor stated those recommended guidelines were only supposed to be followed when deemed feasible.”
He added: “The censure is a political hit job backed by the Royal Oak Democratic club, and it’s working,” he said. “Ms. Gibbs’ phone number and email were given out and, as a result, she requires police protection because of the hatred directed toward her,” Thompson said.
“It’s a partisan political battle rather than a sincere attempt to stop the coronavirus from spreading. There’s a lot of politics behind the scenes, but what I’m focusing on are Ms. Gibbs’ Constitutional rights to free speech and free association, which are guaranteed in the First Amendment. “
In a twist at Monday’s City Commission meeting, Democrat Commissioner Sharlan Douglas submitted a second censure motion – against herself. Douglas admitted to sending 65 emails on the City’s email system, in which she urged people to vote against Gibbs for Oakland County Commissioner in November.
The motion failed by a 5-1 vote, with Douglas abstaining.
“Our Ethics Ordinance specifically prohibits using City resources to promote the election of political candidates,” LeVasseur told The Center Square. “I brought this violation to the attention of Commissioner Douglas and our City Attorney early in the day yesterday, and Commissioner Douglas took it upon herself to expose the issue during our meeting last night,” he said.
“Commissioner Douglas moved that she herself be censured,” LeVasseur said. “I voted against that motion.”
LeVasseur explained: “Even though she violated the Ethics Ordinance, I believe not all ethical violations rise to the level where censure is appropriate. In this instance, I did not believe either Commissioner Gibbs or Commissioner Douglas should have been censured.”