Royal Oak memorial move foes await review of petitions

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Opponents of a plan to move the Royal Oak Veterans Memorial inside a burgeoning downtown park believe they have gathered enough signatures to stop the relocation, but a city attorney said Thursday their petitions are under review.

At issue is whether the memorial should be maintained at its current location near the public library rather than being moved about 40 feet away as part of an overall plan for a park being created near the soon-to-be demolished City Hall and police station.

Royal Oak residents are concerned about plans being made to move the Veteran's Memorial from its current location near city hall and more than 40 feet towards the Farmer's Market as part of a redesign of a city center project to make room for food trucks and a food court.

Charles Semchena, a former city attorney opposed to the move, said he received an email this week from the city clerk saying that 872 of more than 1,000 signatures gathered on petitions had been verified.

Citizens, including veterans who circulated petitions, calculated they needed 665 verified signatures to put the proposal before the city commission for a vote. If that happened and the commission rejected the proposal, it would be put on the November ballot for a citywide vote.

Through an assistant, city clerk Melanie Halas referred questions from The Detroit News to the city attorney.

“No, there has been no certification,” acting interim city attorney Anne McLaughlin said Thursday. “The city clerk has 45 days to review the petition signatures and also any question of whether there is sufficiency under state election laws.”

 McLaughlin declined to elaborate on what problems might exist with the petitions, submitted to the city clerk on April 6. Waiting 45 days to determine whether circulators gathered enough valid signatures could push a decision into late May.

According to Semchena, the possible wait for certification is “the city playing games and another dirty trick on thousands of residents” who signed petitions.

“I don’t know what the (legal) argument can be,” he said. “There is nothing in the city charter regarding a 45-day wait. And I don’t know of any state law that applies that would supersede it.

“It appears another delay tactic by the city to push through its plans, regardless of what anyone else thinks,” Semchena said. “Demolition work in the area has picked up recently and it's possibly an effort to stall the (petition) certification until the memorial is moved.”

Veterans and others plan to pass out fliers this Saturday at the Farmers Market asking residents to call the city commission during public comment Monday night and voice their objections.

City Manager Paul Brake said earlier this month the city has every intention to go ahead with its plans for the Centennial Commons park, which includes relocating the memorial.

“We’ve said all along that was the plan and nothing has changed,” Brake said.

Critics also want the city to refund $180,000 raised by citizens to move the memorial to its current site in 2007.

Brake, who disputes the dollar estimate, described the memorial as an important but small component in the $4.6 million Centennial Commons project.

The controversy over the memorial has heated up in the last couple months after former city commission candidate Pamela Lindell and another veteran, Frank Roche, filed police reports they had been confronted by an unknown man while gathering petition signatures March 20 at the Farmers Market.

While police have interviewed the man, no charges have been sought in the incident. Roche has said he was  “bumped” by the man, who “screamed” at an elderly woman not to sign Roche’s petition. Lindell also complained the same man “stalked” her for several hours at the market.

A police spokesman said recently the investigation is pending additional interviews.

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