Brighton attorney Sarah Cross has submitted a complaint to Governor Gretchen Whitmer in an attempt to have John Conely, Treasurer of the Brighton School Board, removed from office.
This is not the first time Cross has sought to have Conely removed from office. A complex series of local appeals in early 2022 ultimately led to recall efforts against Conely and fellow board member Bill Trombley. Cross’ chief complaints against Conely at the time were in regards to his comparison of mask mandates in schools to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, as well as a slideshow presentation made in December 2021. The presentation, Cross said, was “created with the help of an outside group [but] failed to disclose or acknowledge what group created the slideshow.” Conely refused to apologize for the Hitler reference.
The recall never came to fruition, as Cross dropped the suit after Conely filed a police report against her, which she maintains was done as a means of sabotage.
According to Cross’ complaint, which is dated February 26, 2023, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed that Conely contacted Livingston County Sheriff’s Deputy William Schuster, the BAS school resource officer, on June 28, 2022 seeking to file a police report for “trespassing and illegal entry into Scranton Middle School.”
In this report, he alleged that he had information from an anonymous teacher who witnessed another Scranton Middle School teacher, unlock and open an outside door and allow “illegal entry” to Cross. Prior to this, he contacted the superintendent and IT director to gain access to footage to verify the incident. When Cross herself sought access to the footage, she said she was informed that the footage was confidential. Therefore, she surmised, Conely was afforded access due to his position on the board.
In his police report, Conely depicted this as an instance where teachers were actively placing students in harm’s way.
However, the documents indicate that the teacher alleged by Conely to have unlocked the door provided a statement to police denying that was true. Cross, who denies the incident ever took place, says she also provided to police a detailed statement of her whereabouts during the two weeks of the alleged incident.
Two days after providing that information to police, Cross says Conely forwarded an email to Deputy Schuster that contained an affidavit from a parent, Nickolas Shelton, who said he had been told that a witness saw Cross illegally enter an exterior door of Scranton Middle School.
Cross’ complaint says that Shelton’s “tip” turned out to be “4th hand information” that he claims to have originally received on May 23, 2022, but delayed reporting for two weeks, “because he was trying to arrange for the anonymous ‘witness’ to report the ‘incident’ under the whistleblower statute. But, he later indicates that this ‘incident’ caused him to fear for the safety of his children because of incidents like Uvalde, Sandy Hook, and Oxford.”
Cross alleges that Conely conspired with Shelton, and possibly other parents in the district, to make up the incident, noting that the final report from Deputy Schuster found no evidence a crime had occurred.
“We have a strong public interest in encouraging people to report crimes, especially threats to the safety of our children and our educators,” Cross explained in her complaint to Gov. Whitmer. “However, there is a marked difference between reporting a crime you suspect happened and making up a fake crime you know didn’t happen to threaten, harass, and intimidate your own community, the teachers and their union, and parents in the school district.”
Conely’s police report came around the same time as several lawsuits from members of Moms for Liberty, including Jennifer Smith, who currently serves as chair of the Livingston County GOP.
Last October, Cross obtained a personal protection order against Smith, alleging she had been stalked, harassed and threatened by Smith. A motion filed by Smith to dismiss the order will be back in court on March 21.
Conely is a longtime member of the Livingston County Republican Party, serving on the 38-member executive committee. In May 2022 – amidst the recall efforts – the same committee named him Republican of the Year.
The connection between Conely and the Moms for Liberty group led by Smith is a well-documented one. When Smith and the Moms for Liberty coalition engaged in a lawsuit against Brighton Area Schools’ Board of Education, Conely’s name was notably absent from the list of those facing the suit. While the lawsuits were eventually dropped, the defendants– the BAS district and the individual members of the board– stated that “these blatantly frivolous lawsuits were filed by Plaintiffs at the behest of and in secret collaboration with Conely and Trombley to judicially harass Defendants with whom Conely and Trombley had an axe to grind because of their positions on various school board issues.”
With Smith now serving as the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, the line between Moms for Liberty and the GOP has become blurred, especially following the party’s endorsement of Conely’s efforts to oust the teachers’ union offices from the district. As GIGO News reported, Smith was requesting legal advice on the matter on a social media forum more than a week before Conely brought the issue up at a school board meeting.
Cross cites Conely’s attacks on the Brighton Education Association (BEA) as an example of how personal vendettas have characterized his tenure.
It should be noted that Conely’s anti-union rhetoric dates back long before 2019: according to the Mackinac Center– a conservative educational think tank– Conely’s criticism of the union may have been a key factor in his initial election in 2010.
Additionally, Cross pointed out that Conely has been using his status as a board member to attend Brighton High School PTO meetings, despite the fact that he is neither a teacher nor parent with a child at BHS. At the January 17th meeting, Conely took issue with the school’s Hate Has to Go Week sponsored by the DEI Club, informing the principal that “the administration doesn’t support this.”
Cross also explained that all of these incidents involve Conely’s actions in his position as a school board member as compared to his personal activities as a private citizen. In her appeal to the governor, Cross argues that Conely’s actions have demonstrated a pattern of self-interest as compared to a dedication to the well-being of the community, which has in turn led to gross neglect of duty, corrupt conduct in office, and misfeasance and/or malfeasance of office.
Per the Michigan Revised School Code, a governor is permitted to remove a school board member from office if satisfactory and specific evidence of gross neglect of duty, corrupt conduct in office, or any other misfeasance or malfeasance are presented.
A request for comment was made to Mr. Conely.
Cross told GIGO News she would have no further comment as the complaint spoke for itself.
Meanwhile, Bobby Leddy, the Director of Communications for the Office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said that with complaints such as these in which an individual submits a formal petition to the state for removal of an elected official, it is sent to the attorney general for review and recommendation.