Royal Oak Mayor Fournier re-elected amid development debate

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier and two of his allies on the city commission were re-elected Tuesday after a race marked by fierce debate over the handling of city development projects.

According to final, unofficial results, Fournier received 56.6% to 42.9% for Stephen Miller.

Also re-elected along with Fournier were commissioners Patricia Paruch and Kyle DuBuc, who led a six-person field seeking three seats with 18.8% and 17.6%, respectively. All three had been targeted by a citizens’ group that questions the awarding of lucrative city contracts for for a new city hall, police station and other projects without seeking bids.

The group supported Miller for mayor and Randy LeVasseur, an incumbent who finished third with 16.2% of the vote. 

"It was a very spirited campaign and candidates with very different views of the city and the city (voters) split the vote," said LeVasseur. "I appreciate the support and confidence I received from voters but disappointed some people I would have liked voted in just came up short."

(From left) Royal Oak city commission candidate Randy LeVasseur monitors election results with supporters Chuck Semchena, David Roznowski, and Mike Skinner at the Elks Lodge #34 in Royal Oak, November 5, 2019. LeVasseur won his reelection bid.

Trailing were Pamela Lindell with 15.9%, Tom Hallock with 15.7% and Belem Morales with 15.6%.

"I'm so grateful for this entire experience," said Morales. "I've met so many residents throughout this campaign and I know we have more in common than we do differences. We all want Royal Oak to be the best city it can be."

Much of the debate centered on the multi-million-dollar Civic Center project, which some residents and businesses say is choking off parking downtown and jeopardizing the Farmers Market and other retailers. The Michigan Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge to the project in May.

The mayor and his allies say they’ve acted in the city’s best interests to attract investment, workers and visitors, arguing that opponents are mounting a “misinformation campaign.”

Miller, meanwhile, faced scrutiny over a pair of drunken-driving convictions: the first in Petoskey in 1995, when his blood alcohol level was 0.10 and a second in Berkley in 2007, when it was recorded at 0.16, twice the limit at which a person is determined to be intoxicated. There were no injuries or property damages in either incident.

Voters leaving a precinct at Royal Oak’s Farmers Market said they have been deluged with mailings, flyers, and door hangers in recent months — either defending the city’s business practices or criticizing them.

Stefan Panson, 32, said he likes the direction his city is going because he has seen property values go up. He is split on whether he'd like to have veterans or new blood on the city commission.

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier

“I’ve lived her about seven years,” said Panson, an engineer. “All the building in the downtown is advantageous. I think the mayor has done a good job but I don’t like slates (of candidates) and won’t vote for them. I think its good to have multiple opinions and voices involved in the city’s plans.”

Dan Winans, 66, and his wife moved to Royal Oak from Birmingham in 2003 and “love it here.”

“I always vote in every election,” said Winans. “The mayor lives across the street from me and he’s a good guy and doing a good job.”

Winans is involved in real estate and property management in Metro Detroit and said “it's good to see” the ongoing city projects.

Burgendy Jullo, 39, has voted in every election since she turned 18 and vote-eligible. A city resident since 2007, Jullo said while she believes the city is “basically well-run” she also believes it's time for “some new faces” in city hall decision making.

“I’m all for checks and balances,” Jullo explained. “One thing I don’t like is I see a lot of money going into the downtown (business district) but nothing much to the neighborhoods. Like there’s a crossing light on Lincoln, south of Altadena, that has not been functioning for some time and dangerous to cross there. It will probably will take some kind of an accident for it to be repaired. There was another light post in my neighborhood that had been damaged by a vehicle and was repaired with duct tape. That’s not right.”

Royal Oak city commission candidates Tom Hallock, left, and Randy LeVasseur, monitor election results at the Elks Lodge #34 in Royal Oak.

Gary Moultrup, a technical writer, has been living in Royal Oak for most of his 67 years.

“I was born and raised here,” said Moultrip. “I think things are good here. There is one group making a lot of noise about ‘no-bid contracts’ but from everything I’ve heard that’s exaggerated. Everything went on as it should have been for bids."

In August 2017, the city commission approved a no-bid contract with the Central Park Development Group, more commonly known as Boji Associates, for the company to buy the Williams Street surface parking lot for $1 and receive $5.5 million to build an office building, on the site. The city also agreed to build a park in front of the building and a parking deck nearby.

In October 2016, the city hired three firms — Krieger Klatt of Royal Oak; Rich & Associates of Southfield; and Nowak and Fraus of Detroit — to do architectural drawings and other studies for the Civic Center project.

(From left) Royal Oak city commission candidates Pamela Lindell, Tom Hallock, and Randy LeVasseur pose for a photo while monitoring election results at the Elks Lodge #34 in Royal Oak, November 5, 2019.

The city later hired all three for work on a new city hall and police station, awarding these no-bid contracts: Krieger Klatt, $585,000, in January 2018; Rich, $470,000 in October 2017; and Nowak, $261,000 in October 2017.

After it was selected following a bid process as a construction manager for the parking deck on 11 Mile, Colasanti Construction submitted an alternative proposal and received a $15.55 million no-bid contract in April 2018 to build the parking deck on 11 Mile and in February 2019 received an additional $876,640 for cost overruns.

Colasanti also received the job as construction manager for the new police department and city hall buildings.

The 598-space parking deck was opened in June, and construction began on other components with occupancy of the city hall and police department planned by next August. The city park, to be undertaken following demolition of the existing city hall and police department, is estimated to be finished in August 2021, according to city documents.