In Oakland, pot, sewers, school funding on area ballots

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Correction: This article has been updated to correct information on the Ferndale millage and the amount of Rochester Hills' millage request.

Voters in 31 Oakland County communities will go to the polls Tuesday to decide local races and ballot issues ranging from multi-million dollar expenditures for sewers, public safety and schools to term limits and legalizing marijuana.

Nearly 200 candidates are collectively in the running for part-time library boards, city commissions or councils and mayoral posts. Some races have been muddied with accusations of questionable tactics, including yard sign stealing and disturbing fliers circulated in some suburban neighborhoods.

Fifteen mayoral races will be decided; five candidates are running unopposed. There are council or commissioner contests in 28 communities.

The most hotly contested mayoral race is in Rochester Hills, where the city’s second-term mayor, Bryan Barnett, is running as a write-in candidate against former city councilman Ravi Yalamanchi and Jim Stevens. The city’s charter restricts mayors and council members to two consecutive terms in office but in 1995 was amended to permit running for additional terms as a write-in candidate.

Some, like Jeannie Morris, a 35-year resident, said the political campaign has gotten nasty in the city of 74,000 people with rampant sign theft, political fliers and hundreds of robocalls.

Morris was particularly angered by one flier describing her preferred candidate, Yalamanchi, as “risky” for the city because as a councilman he voted against increases for police and firefighters.

“I’m really saddened that someone who claims to have made such a positive impact on our community would stoop to this level of childish marketing,” Morris said of Barnett’s campaign.

Barnett dismissed criticisms and said matters are not out of the norm in politics but a sign of a spirited race.

“I’ve been in multiple elections and every election seems to have some controversy in it,” said Barnett, who said several hundred of his yard signs have “disappeared.”

Barnett stressed he has “played by the rules” concerning campaign literature that reflects his major opponent’s voting record.

Barnett said some of his critics have tried to create issues to distract voters from “my record and all the good things we have done here.” He ticked off: “being recognized as one of the safest cities in Michigan; one of Money magazines ‘Top Places To Live;’ low unemployment and having some of the highest property values.

Yalamanchi, CEO of Flint-based Metro Community Development Co., said, “I have no intention in discussing negative campaigning. My focus is on moving forward and my major concern is oil leases we have permitted in our city.”

Yalamanchi, who was on the city council when the leases came up, said the council did not follow the city’s charter in properly reviewing proposals or putting them to residents for a vote. He said charter language specifies that any change in city parkland must be decided by voters.

“Our attorney said that was in reference to what might happen above the ground whereas this was beneath the surface,” he said.

“That’s not right and considering we are a high-density area consisting of homes, churches, schools and businesses — this is not something that should be taken lightly.”

The third mayoral hopeful, Jim Stevens, admits there has been some “bad campaigning” including some of his yard signs being taken and replaced with ones for another candidate.

“I’m running for mayor to help residents in need,” said Stevens, a senior design engineer. “My first year I plan to donate half my salary to ones in need.”

Stevens said among those he would help would be residents with illness or single parents who have lost their jobs.

Negative campaigning has not been confined to Rochester Hills. In Southfield, the political landscape has been muddied by anonymous racist fliers and anti-gay vandalism on political signs of mayoral candidate Ken Siver, a former councilman who is openly gay.

A 44-year-old Southfield man was arrested last week after he was caught damaging one of Siver’s signs — the same sign having been vandalized six times and replaced twice, Siver said.

“Southfield has always been a welcoming place,” said Siver, 48. He said he is “greatly saddened” by the sign defacing and theft. “This is not the Southfield I have known and it is contrary to our inclusive spirit.”

Mayoral candidate Sylvia Jordan, the current council president and who is African-American, said “it is unfortunate that someone or some organization is attempting to infiltrate a racial divide in our community with these negative tactics.”

“It is a diversion on the important issues in the mayoral race of neighborhoods, roads, our library and keeping our community safe,” Jordan said.

Charter amendments

Charter questions are on the ballot in eight communities. Among the five proposed changes in Royal Oak is whether articles and sections in the city’s charter be amended to restate the charter in gender neutral terms.

Keego Harbor voters may become the sixth city in Oakland County to legalize, with restrictions, the personal use of marijuana for people at least 21 years old and on private property. The Keego Harbor amendment would permit the use, possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. Similar ordinances have been adopted in Berkley, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods and Oak Park. Pleasant Ridge has made marijuana possession a low priority crime.

Peter Trzos, who recently withdrew from the race for Keego Harbor city council, has a pending criminal case involving possession and delivery of marijuana at his Holly medical marijuana dispensary in 2013.

He withdrew too late to get his name removed from the ballot. Trzos said he is focusing his attention on his legal defense, but will serve if elected. His father, Phil, is also running as a candidate.

Berkley voters will decide if they should keep their city emblem, initially adopted in 1961, or replace it with something new. The current blue and white logo — featuring a church, family of four, an open book and a Liberty Bell — appears on the city’s flag and is displayed some signs and vehicles.

In Farmington, voters might increase the pay for its mayor and council members from $1,800 a year to $3,000 annually.

Keego Harbor and Lathrup Village voters will be asked whether there should be term limits on local elected officials.

Southfield voters are being asked if they should eliminate city primary elections and elect their city officers at the general city election.

Bonds and millage proposals

■Ortonville voters are being asked to decide whether the city should spend $20 million to contract with the county and build a sewage collection facility. Costs for a single family home, regardless of size, is estimated at $1,199 a year plus about $500 annually for service and maintenance. Payments will go down as the bond is paid down over 40 years.

■Rochester Hills seeks the renewal and new additional amount for a total of 0.1 mill to maintain and increase handicapped and senior transportation services for 11 years (2016-26). The proposal will provide $318,215 in full in first year. It would cost about $50 annually for a home with a market value of $100,000.

■Rochester Hills also seeks the renewal of 0.1948 mills for the Rochester-Avon Recreation Authority’s sports, special events, camps, special needs services and performing arts programs over the next 10 years. If passed, it would raise $618,480 in the first year. It would cost about $10 annually for owners of a home with a market value of $100,000.

■Troy is seeing to renew 0.7 mills for five years to fund its library. The proposal will raise about $3.2 million in 2016. It would cost about $35 annually for a home with a market value of $100,000.

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School proposals, renewals

Farmington: Renewal of 18 mills on property not statutorily exempt and not more than 13.56735 mills on principal residences for 10 years. Approval would raise $40.6 million in 2016. About $900 per year on home with market value of $100,000.

Ferndale: Non-homestead proposal for 20 mills over 20 years on business and non-primary residences for operating expenses. If approved, it would raise about $4.1 million in 2016.

Rochester Community Schools: Asking whether district should borrow up to $185 million and issue general obligation tax bonds for equipping and remodeling schools with instructional technology; improving physical education facilities; buying buses and improving sites. Estimated millage is 1.82 mill for up to 21 years, costing a homeowner of a house with a market value if $100,000 about $115 yearly.

Troy: Up to 18 mills on nonhomestead property for general operating costs over nine years. As part of the 18-mill proposal, the district is seeking a 5.99-mill renewal on residences which, if approved, amounts to about $30 a year on a home with a market value of $100,000. Approval of the combined millages is expected to raise about $33.6 million in 2016.