Activist threatens suit after petition to block taxpayer aid for arena denied

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Detroit activist Robert Davis and John Lauve of Holly (above) spearheaded the petition, which they submitted on Friday to the Department of Elections.

Detroit — An activist is threatening to sue Detroit's City Clerk after the office rejected more than 8,000 petition signatures seeking to overturn a City Council-approved ordinance authorizing $34.5 million in public funding for the Pistons move downtown.

The signatures, obtained by Highland Park resident Robert Davis and John Lauve of Holly, were on their way to City Clerk Janice Winfrey to be verified, when Daniel Baxter, Director of the Department of Elections, sent a letter to Lauve saying the petition was rejected because the Aug. 5 deadline to file had passed.

Davis and Lauve spearheaded the petition drive to get the measure on the November ballot after U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith denied a request in June for a court order to block the Detroit Downtown Development Authority from using taxpayer funds to relocate the Pistons.

"We had to accept it among administrative duties, but signatures were invalid," Baxter said Friday. "They submitted the initial amount of 300 signatures on Aug. 4, in order to accept the petition they needed to submit 4,054."

Davis said he first received a letter from the clerk's office earlier this month saying without the full amount, the signatures should not have been accepted. But under Detroit’s city charter, petitioners are given another 15 days to submit after their initial submission, Davis noted. 

On Friday, Davis and Lauve arrived at the Department of Elections to turn in the remaining signatures. City workers initially said they could not file and had to submit the petition as a whole unless ordered by a judge.

But then the petition was accepted under the order of Winfrey, who left the office minutes before the signatures were submitted. Within 30 minutes, another letter rejecting the petition was sent out.  

"The city clerk's office is inept, unethical and incompetent and we are now forced to take this to federal court," Davis said. "The initial filing does not require you to file the full number. The deadline was met according to the days the ordinance went into effect on July 5." 

Davis said he plans to file a lawsuit on Monday against the clerk's office and City Council. The Detroit Downtown Development Authority declined to comment. 


Davis, Lauve and volunteers like Pamela Reed spent their weekdays working busy streets informing voters about the petition. Reed said outside of the Department of Elections that many voters have been eager to sign the petition, especially parents. 

"They see the corruption in the city and how our school system has been rigged and robbed," Reed said. "A lot of parents don't want to take their kids to charter schools, they want the public school system back and this money could do that."

Lauve said he's also fighting for many vacant buildings owned by the Ilitch empire

"Officials need to stop blocking this with ridiculous claims," Lauve said. "These are historic buildings they want to tear down to turn into parking lots for their games."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_