GUEST VIEWPOINT: What do our elected leaders do in Clarkston?

What is going on with the Village of Clarkston government? First, they can’t figure out what the name of their city is. Is it the City of the Village of Clarkston, City of Clarkston, Village of Clarkston, Clarkston? They no longer know.
They spent almost $60,000 to design a garage they can’t afford to build, budgeted only $23,000 to do that, and then at the very end of the budget year they have to transfer $54,000 from their reserves to pay for all the things they didn’t budget for. When the public forces them to address this (we are not sure they would have if not for the public) they say it was wrong but probably not illegal. They then approve next year’s budget without asking any questions.
City council members, read the City Charter and Michigan’s Uniform Budget Act. Section 7.7 of the charter says, “After the budget has been adopted, no money shall be drawn from the treasury of the City nor shall any obligation for the expenditure of the money be incurred, except pursuant to the budget appropriations.” You never appropriated these funds, you never asked a single question about them.
Section 19 of the Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act says, “A member of the legislative body, the chief administrative officer, an administrative officer, or an employee of a local unit shall not authorize or participate in the expenditure of funds except as authorized by a general appropriations act. An expenditure shall not be incurred except in pursuance of the authority and appropriations of the legislative body of the local unit.”
The interpretation and recommendation by the Michigan Department of the Treasury puts it in simpler terms, “When necessary, the budget must be amended. The amendment must be approved by the legislative body prior to the expenditure being made. This is not only a requirement of the Budget Act but also a requirement of sound budgeting theory. The purpose of a budget is not only to approve expenditures but also to control expenditures.” There doesn’t appear to be much control in the Village office.
How did someone in the city office spend $54,000, perhaps more, without anyone knowing? The public knew about it. What were those elected to represent the public doing? Watch the recording of the last council meeting and you can see them saying nothing when questioned by the public who were far better informed than those who can actually vote on the budget.
What about the bridge and path at the south end of Depot Park? Over budget from the beginning, no competitive bidding, no review of contracts or approval of those contracts by the council, no review or inspections of the work, built wrong, and still not completed. There is no money in the budget to finish it or do it right.
The response from one of the council members on whether it is built correctly was “that’s just an opinion.” No it’s not, it is in fact documented in the city records, by the city engineer, and by anyone who bothers to look at it. But no one on the council has bothered to look. They accept whatever they are told by everyone except the public they work for.
What do our elected leaders do? The mayor who is the chairperson of the budget committee that helps establish the budget, has not attended the public hearing on the budget two years in a row. He says it is the public’s fault for the DPW building going over budget. No, mayor it is not. The public has been telling him and everyone from the beginning it was too expensive and the mayor’s handpicked committee was going in the wrong direction. The public did not and cannot order the architect and engineer to do anything. The public agreement is with the mayor and the rest of the Council but none of them want to do the job they were elected to do.
And what about the city manager who appears to do whatever she wants and answer to no one? In addition to spending money that shouldn’t be spent, she seems to be a little paranoid. Falsely accusing residents of stalking, harassment and threatening violence, installing security cameras in the park, and now she wants to isolate herself and staff from the public with more walls and security in the office. If the city manager thinks the public is getting violent, it might be a good idea to find out why instead of building more walls at the expense of those she is afraid of and pay her salary.
My recommendation is to not vote for any of the incumbents in November. They may be our neighbors and friends, but if they are unwilling or unable to do the job they need to move on, and they do need to move on. Once that is done, find a new city attorney who will correctly advise the council and staff to follow the law. We obviously don’t have that now. Then, look for a new city manager capable of managing within the law, not one who seems to incite violence.
Cory Johnston is a city resident and former council member. Mayor Joe Luginski and City Manager Carol Eberhardt did not respond to a request for comment.