KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) - Raymond VerWys couldn't sway his fellow commissioners to keep him in office.
The embattled former Kentwood City Commissioner was voted off the commission on Tuesday night in a 4-2 vote.
When Kentwood voters passed a law in November banning felons from holding elected office, the handwriting was on the wall for VerWys.
Elected in 2009 with 54% of the vote, VerWys felt the law was directed specifically at him. He was twice convicted of felony embezzlement.
At a commission meeting on Tuesday evening, VerWys tried to convince the other Kentwood commissioners he should be grandfathered in and allowed to keep his seat for the rest of his term. He cited Michigan constitutional law prohibiting ex post facto law from impairing the obligation of contract.
"I spoke about my past. .. I submit that I've done nothing to break those oaths of office," said VerWys. "I have done nothing to cause my removal."
Several community members spoke -- most in saying that VerWys should be allowed to stay. Two argued that VerWys should lose his seat:
"Let him finish his term," said resident William Bray.
"It's not about him. It's not about what he did or didn't do. But the city has to adapt itself -- principle. And the principle is he cannot be holding office right now," said David DeBruyn, another resident.
"I'm a former offender also," said resident Ben Roles. "How long do we have to keep paying for the mistakes that we did, for the past?"
But after more than a hour of discussion, commissioners were deadlocked in the first vote. Three voted to keep VerWys in office. Three voted to oust him.
After a break, commissioners voted again. The second vote rendered VerWys's seat vacant.
Commissioners Robert Coughlin, Sharon Brinks and Frank Cummings, as well as Mayor Richard Root, voted to remove VerWys.
Commissioners Richard Clanton and Michael Brown voted to keep VerWys in office.
Two of the commissioners said it was the hardest vote they had ever made on the council.
Root, on the other hand, made it clear that the decision did not have any "gray area" and that it was spelled out clearly in city charter. He said that the charter clearly states that no city employee can be a convicted felon, even if the felony was before he became commissioner.
VerWys told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday before the meeting that he would not pursue legal action if voted off the commission because he could not afford a legal battle.
But one resident who spoke in favor of VerWys, Kevin Heine, told 24 Hour News 8 that "recall language is being prepared against any commissioner who votes to remove."
The commission will accept applications to fill VerWys' seat until Jan. 24.
In 2000, VerWys was convicted of embezzling a between $20,000-50,000 from a former employer. The next year, he was convicted in a case involving between $1,000-20,000. He served three months in a boot camp and four years on probation.
In November, he told 24 Hour News 8 his debt is paid.
"I believe redemption is a big part of who we are," he told 24 Hour News 8 at that time. "Our system of government, our system of laws says that we are there to punish people and get them ready to move back into productive members of society, and I believe once you've done that, you should be able to move on."
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