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City appointee’s criminal record may result in background checks for future appointments

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 12/12/2019 By Michael Kransz, mlive.com

FENNVILLE, MI -- Leaders of a small West Michigan city are considering background checks for appointees after they recently appointed a person to the city commission without knowing his criminal past.

“I think there would've been much more discussion about that background had we been aware,” said Fennville Mayor Tom Pantelleria. “We might have not moved as quickly as we had in filling that position.”

Pantelleria said he and others on the Fennville City Commission weren’t aware of Morgan Bolles’ lengthy misdemeanor criminal record when they appointed him Dec. 2 to fill a vacancy on city commission.

The vacancy was created by a commissioner who resigned due to new work requirements, Pantelleria said. The term which Bolles takes over runs through November 2021.

The commission doesn’t do background checks on appointees because criminal records don’t disqualify candidates from running for commission, Pantelleria said. The city charter only requires all commissioners to owe no debts to the city, be a city resident of at least one year and be an eligible voter.

“We want a more free society, we want to choose our leaders and not be too restricting in doing that, and I think that’s why background checks haven’t been a priority in that area,” Pantelleria said.

Pantelleria said he’s consulting with the city attorney on possibly requiring background checks and adding "some more parameters” for future appointments by the commission.

The commission doesn’t intend to punish Bolles for his omission or criminal record, he said.

“Even if he were elected in his own right, there’s very little we could’ve done to censor him or have him removed,” Pantelleria said.

“He’s in perfectly good standing with the community. He’s not on parole, he has served his time. He’s a free individual and he would like to do his best for the city in serving.”

Within the past eight years, Bolles has pleaded to six misdemeanors across five different criminal cases in four Michigan counties. The 32-year-old didn’t return calls for comment.

One of the most recent run-ins with the law happened in Grand Rapids in 2015.

In that incident, he was charged with two felonies -- carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent and assaulting or resisting a police officer -- as well as two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attempted assaulting or resisting a police officer.

According to Michigan State Police records obtained by MLive/The Grand Rapids Press, Bolles hasn’t been arrested or charged with any crimes since 2015. His record includes drunken driving, tampering with a motor vehicles and assault and battery.

In 2013, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor moving violation causing death. He fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the center line and killed a 26-year-old driver in a head-on crash, according to investigators. A 17-year-old passenger was also injured.

The pair were just setting out to deliver Holland Sentinel newspapers that morning when the crash happened around 2 a.m. March 8, 2012, in Allegan County. The man killed was Josh McDonald.

Bolles, who was headed home from work in Holland, was tested for drugs and alcohol. He tested negative, according to the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office.

Bolles was one of two people to apply for the vacant commissioner’s seat after it opened Nov. 18. The other applicant was local bed and breakfast owner Chuck Pappalardo, who had previously served on the planning commission.

Pappalardo was unable to attend commission meetings in 2019 because a commissioner has a personal protection order against him, according to his application. That order, he said, was issued after the commissioner's dog bit him.

If Pantelleria would’ve known Bolles’ record, he said he would’ve opened the application window longer. Bolles’ criminal record gives him pause, but it isn’t enough to sway his vote if he had known.

“I am disheartened that he did have a background that’s been brought forth. We are disheartened to see that,” he said. “With our conversations, he’s seemed like a level-headed individual. I haven’t lost any confidence in his ability to serve the city.”

Pantelleria noted that Bolles hasn’t been arrested or charged for several years.

Bolles was unanimously chosen because he had run for the seat before, attended commission meetings and was aware of the ongoing city issues, Pantelleria said. Bolles being much younger than the other commissioners was also viewed as a positive.

In the November election this year, Bolles ran for commission and lost as a write-in candidate because he missed the application deadline, Pantelleria said.

The mayor was made aware of Bolles’ criminal record by an anonymous caller on Saturday, Dec. 7, less than a week after the appointment.

Bolles’ criminal record is the second controversial revelation since his appointment.

Earlier this week, The Holland Sentinel reported that Bolles tweeted a picture of himself in September wearing a T-shirt with the saying “Socialism is for f*gs.”

On the shirt, the vowel in the last word is a fig symbol. The shirt implies a common homophobic slur. Bolles argued otherwise to the Sentinel.

Pantelleria called the shirt “inappropriate” and said he plans to issue a statement to the public on “some of the discriminatory incidents that (Bolles) may have portrayed in the past.”

“That is not what we do here,” he said. “We are an open, equal opportunity (city) for all the citizens.”

The mayor said he’ll also ask Bolles to make a statement on the recent revelations, his beliefs on equality and what he intends to achieve as commissioner.

Bolles will make $40 per every city commission meeting he attends. There are two meetings each month. His first meeting as a commissioner is Monday, Dec. 16.

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©2019 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

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