GUEST VIEWPOINT: Government, health, safety, and welfare

As many know, I have been critical of our local government for some time. Now is no different other than we have the added issue of a pandemic and statewide shutdown of most businesses and activities. If you do not want to read anything more about any of this, stop reading now.
The city attorney has pointed out at the last two city council meetings that there is a provision in Section 4.9 of the 30 year old city charter which states, “The Mayor or his/her designee shall be empowered as the conservator of public health, safety and welfare in cases of natural or manmade calamity as provided hereinafter by ordinance.” There is no such ordinance so no policy for what happens in an emergency.
City meetings have started back up under the requirements of the governor’s emergency orders but it is difficult to get information about much of anything because the newly expanded city hall, private offices, and toilet rooms are closed to the public. The city web site has agenda and minutes but not much else.
At least for now, as it has been in the past, only recordings of the city council meetings are available on Independence Television. Other meetings are not although a recent resolution of the city says all meetings will be recorded and available. I can assure you that the written meeting minutes will not tell you much.
Other than following the guidelines from the governor, closing the city hall, electronic meetings, and not enforcing any parking regulations, the city government has done little to address the present problem and nothing to help local businesses and residents. It took over six weeks for them to put something on the city web site other than announcing the office being closed and to call if you have any questions.
The Village of Clarkston city council unanimously decided to keep the $57,165 of taxpayer overpayment to the Special Assessment District and use it at their discretion. At the same meeting, they discussed not reinstituting pay for parking to help businesses, I guess under the assumption that paid parking is bad for business. Parking is currently free although there is no way to know that if you happen to use the parking lot. There was no overall financial assessment, no capital improvement plan, no amending of the governing ordinances, just a decision to take money from the taxpayers and not from others. The council did discuss how to use these funds at the May 11 council meeting under the agenda heading of “City Sign Project Funding” because why would they want anyone to know what they were going to discuss?
At the May 4 city council meeting they discussed bidding on city projects even though not on the agenda. The discussion went on for about 20 minutes for a project that the city council had not been advised of, never reviewed, and had not seen the bid documents and scope of work. During the council discussion, a former three term mayor and now present council member gave a summary of how he recalled city projects being done and closed with, “…not saying it is right or wrong, just how we’ve done it in the past.” No one seem bothered by the statement that they do not know if what they are doing is right or wrong. As usual, none of this is in the meeting minutes. No mention of this at the recent city council meeting because I guess how taxpayer funds are spent is just not important.
What it comes down to is we have a government that admits they don’t know what they are doing, does not follow law, charter, ordinance or resolution, doesn’t make resolutions and meeting information available to the public, and spends our tax dollars with little or no review and oversight. I do not see how any of that promotes the health, safety, and welfare of people in the Village of Clarkston as stated in the preamble of the city charter, or how it helps anyone during the present emergency.
Just in case anyone forgets, the city is also currently arguing in the Michigan Supreme Court that city administrative officials can keep city information from the city council and public. The city council, our elected representatives, seem to be OK with that since they have been defending this absurd position for four years. The city attorney informed the council at the May 11 council meeting that the city (that would be the taxpayers) may have to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees if the Supreme Court rules against the city. Funny how that comes up now after racking up four years of unnecessary legal expenses.
If this is our government, who is representing the public?
This has already become far too long and negative so I will see what I can to make the next one about what could be done to make things better.

Cory Johnston, Clarkston

Cory Johnston, PE, is a registered professional engineer with a home and office in the Village of Clarkston, a 40-year resident of the Village, a former city council member, former chairperson of the city’s Historic District Commission, and past board member of several area non-profit organizations.

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