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Editorial: Respect voters on Berkley logo

The Detroit News

A community logo should speak to the pride residents have in their hometown, and reflect its values. Or it should just be pretty. Or clever. What it should not be is a wedge that divides citizens into passionate camps.

But that’s what is happening in Berkley. The Oakland County suburb is in an uproar over whether to change its 54-year-old city seal, which features images of a book, a church steeple, the Liberty Bell and a traditional, four-member family.

Some in Berkley thought the seal was quaintly outdated, given the shifting cultural views on family and religion.

So city leaders commissioned a study to come up with something more modern. The branding study cost $24,000 and included an online survey of residents and two focus groups.

Before it could produce something hipper, a group of residents started a petition drive to block the rebranding effort.

The group successfully collected enough signatures to take the issue to voters, and the question of changing the seal appeared on the Nov. 3 ballot.

In a decisive statement, voters expressed their desire to keep the current symbol by a vote of 1,542 to 488.

That’s a powerful statement, and it should be respected.

Instead, city officials are reviewing the vote and are expressing a desire to resume the rebranding work.

Mayor Phil O’Dwyer says the ballot proposal was not meant to be a referendum on the city’s existing logo. It was only intended to be an advisory question to see if residents wanted to weigh in on any changes to the logo.

Well, they seem to have weighed in quite heavily.

Maybelle Fraser, the 84-year-old resident who started the petition drive, says she circulated petitions to get the issue before voters because it appeared city officials were proceeding on the change without citizen input.

Fraser says the proposal was intended to ask residents how they felt about the current logo.

“A ‘yes’ vote meant we want to keep it and a ‘no’ vote meant we’ll go with something else,” she says.

The proposal was short and the second part of it could have been phrased a little better but the wording definitely illustrates Fraser’s intent.

It read: “Shall the City of Berkley, Michigan, retain its originally approved city flag established in 1961 and subsequent city logo and seal unless approved by the voters of Berkley?”

Two convoluted news releases from the city tried to dismiss or at least minimize the election results. They referred to the low voter turnout and how officials wanted “…a new brand (that) would convey a unified image, intended to bring the community together and reflect the qualities that make Berkley the 28th ‘Best Place to Live,’ according to Money Magazine.”

Usurping the will of the voters is not the way to fulfill this goal.

This might be a trivial dispute. There’s no pocketbook impact, and life won’t change in Berkley one way or another.

But the will of the people should be respected. When elected leaders believe they can divine that will better than the people themselves, it says a lot about the values of a community.