Letter to the Editor: Vote ‘No’ on Commercializing Parks

We are in the election season and receive many mailings regarding the candidates. I received one today that I feel the need to respond with some historical facts for your consideration.

Write-in candidate Bryan Barnett, current mayor excluded from running on the ballot due to term limit regulations, rightfully claims that that he has invested in our parks and trails.

However, what he fails to disclose in his mailing is his attempts to commercialize our park lands near our homes and schools.

Starting in 2009, the City Council with the support of the Mayor actively pursued the placement of water reservoir tanks on park property — with no outreach to affected residents/subs.

The idea was, there could be a 42 percent savings by drawing water into tanks at off hours to get off-peak rates. The recommendation was quickly followed by a $508,985 engineering contract to TetraTech to place two 130 feet by 30 feet high water reservoirs in the city. The area of Tienken and Adams was targeted — first Nowicki park, then Tienken Park next to Adams High School.

Citizens began their own grassroots awareness campaign and quickly noticed the lack of a valid business case of the project with costs projections of $11 million to $18 million, and a promised three-year return on investment (equivalent to an offer from a Nigerian prince willing to help you get your inheritance via telephone).

Upon review, it was found that there were many flaws in the plan and cost creep, yet the City Council with complicit backing of the mayor proceeded despite a yearlong public outcry.

It took a picket line, 350 protestors, and Fox2 news coverage, to ultimately lead to the defeat of the effort after the letting of contracts in excess of a half millions dollars. The council and mayor’s insistence — despite countering data — “there is a compelling business case” was finally defeated.

To combat the reoccurrence of this pattern within the city, a resident-driven measure was placed on the ballot (Nov. 8, 2011) — an amendment to the City Charter that the commercialization of parks would require the vote of the citizens. The question on the ballot was as follows:

“A proposal to amend the City Charter by adding the following new Section 11.8 – Parks and Open Spaces. If adopted, this section will provide that City-owned parks and open spaces shall be used only for park and open space purposes and shall not be sold, leased, transferred, exchanged or converted to another use unless approved by voters.”

The ballot was approved by a vote of over seven-to-one by residents.

This should have closed the issue of the commercialization of public parks without a vote; however, history repeats itself. Even though the intent and letter of the law is clear, just months after passage, the mayor was in discussions with an oil company rep for an oil lease of the very same parks we just battled over.

After cursory discussions, the lease was approved as a regular agenda item at City Council Dec. 3, 2012; Mayor Barnett signed the lease Jan. 15, 2013 — all without a single public hearing to solicit resident input. It was December 2013 before most residents became aware as oil company landmen knocked on more doors.

That began a sustained resident protest ever since, the formation of non-profit Don’t Drill the Hills and a voting rights lawsuit against the city alleging violation of Charter Sec. 11.8 — currently in Michigan Court of Appeals.

How many times do we need to vote to protect our right to vote on these matters? How many protracted protests, petitions, ballot measures, law suits and long term appeals to this Mayor does it take before he gets it? It’s clear Barnett only knows how to “grow” the city by introducing industrial activity — and the only undeveloped properties left are parks and areas zoned residential. This is not the vision of the city’s future most residents share.

Ravi Yalamanchi, in his eight ears as District 1 Council representative, always kept the residents’ voices and maintaining residential character as priorities. If we want to keep what’s good about our community, the clear choice is Ravi Yalamanchi for mayor.

Shawn M. Cooper, Rochester Hills

 

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