Berkley City Manager Grapples with Public Discontent, Invites Sheriff to Investigate Claims

BoysGirls_trait_01Berkley CityBubbleTea Ad Manager Grapples with Public Discontent, Invites Sheriff to Investigate Claims

(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 28, 2016)

Berkley, MI –  City leaders in Berkley are facing a culture of discontent as progressive elected officials try to manage municipal business in opposition to residents who are well-organized and ready stop decisions they think will change the character of their community. Recently residents blocked an attempt to rebrand the city with a modern logo and slogan that dropped the image of a church and a traditional family of four in favor of “Berkley, where you want to be,” and a simple font.   Now there is pushback in an attempt to add diversity to the city’s housing market.

As cities around Berkley embrace the growing need for apartments for millennials and the elderly, the most vocal Berkley residents are clear – not in my neighborhood.  A movement swelled on Facebook with over 100 residents baby modern natural 04coming together June 20 to speak out against development. Online groups thrive with vibrant discussions about the decisions being made.  Yet in both circumstances residents stopped change before even giving the city a chance to appropriately present the information behind them.  A vote preceded the unveiling of the branding plan, barring changes without a public vote.  And a protest over 100 residents stopped zoning changes before those changes were unveiled.

The planning commission withdrew their proposed zoning change and cancelled an open house that would have explained the plans.  The discussions got heated and residents accused city leaders of corruption.

In response, City Manager Matt Baumgarten has asked the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department to come in and investigate resident complaints.  Baumgarten sent the following message to residents on Tuesday:

Dear Berkley Resident,

During the June 20th City Council meeting, hundreds of Berkley residents assembled to protest what they believed to be the effects of the proposed form based code offered by the Planning Commission. The proposal would have been presented in detail at an open house that was scheduled on June 21st. Tensions were high as audience members approached the podium to speak in opposition to a plan Jacks Adthat, at that point, had not been formally introduced. In disbelief, I asked myself “how did it come to this?”

Currently, 92% of Berkley’s housing stock is composed of single-family dwellings. The proposed residential form based code provided guidelines for a variety of housing types that could be built by property owners.  After hearing from senior residents who want to remain in Berkley, the Planning Commission considered what could be done to diversify the city’s housing stock.  For 18 months, in compliance with the open meetings act, their discussion focused on three questions: What types of housing would complement the neighborhoods? Where could these homes be built? Most importantly, what is appropriate for Berkley? A draft of the residential form based code was developed and an open house was scheduled so that residents could participate in the discussion.  Unfortunately, this well intended, inclusive process ended before the most productive dialogue could occur.  The lynn_stange_07Planning Commission withdrew the proposed form based code before the June 20th Council meeting and cancelled the open house due to escalating, derogatory feedback from residents.

Community outreach and inclusion is important for all issues that could affect Berkley’s ability to thrive in the future.  In this case, it turned into accusations of corruption, threats  and insinuations about inappropriate activity by Planning Commission and City Council members as well as city staff.  I received a number of emails and read social media comments describing alleged misconduct.  I believe these accusations are unfounded, however it would be inappropriate for the City Manager or the Public Safety Department to conduct an investigation as requested by concerned residents.  For these reasons, we are requesting that the Oakland County Sherriff’s Department conduct an independent investigation of the allegations.  It is important for our residents to know that their city officials are ethical and hold the public SaharaAd_04trust in the highest regard.  It appears that, for some, major trust issues exist and we must address the concerns in a transparent and direct manner.

Why do some residents resist asking elected officials and staff for information on important matters before drawing conclusions? Our role, as government leaders, is to effectively communicate with our residents.   We certainly can, and will, do a better job of providing information about city operations and plans in the future in order to avoid misinformation.  We will make every effort to be responsive so that residents will at least give city leaders the benefit of the doubt when they hear about a plan that may appear to jeopardize the community’s success. An engaged community depends upon the active participation of its residents.

Even though the proposed form based code was withdrawn, the city continues MASTER_garden16_ryan_herbto receive inquiries regarding the concept and what will happen next.  To be responsive, a list of those questions and answers are available on the city’s website and by clicking here.

I look forward to working for and hearing from you.

Respectfully,

Matt Baumgarten, City Manager

In an interview with oc115,  Baumgarten said that accusations have all been “very vague,”  and reiterated that he does not believe there are any wrong doings, simply that he wants a third party to investigate it fairly.  “I hope we can rebuild the public trust and get to a point where we can present a balanced perspective to our residents and have informed discussions.” j and d ad

“The feedback we’re getting is that elected officials have cozy relationships with developers.  I have not seen any evidence of this, but if there is evidence people should let an appropriate government agency know.  The Special Investigations Division of Oakland County Sheriff’s Office has taken on the investigation.”  Information on how to reach the SID can be found at https://www.oakgov.com/sheriff/Pages/about/div_law_tech.aspx#SIU.

Bob Perye was among the residents who came to speak at council.  “We as residents have a lot of valid concerns that council and planning commission are failing to address or dancing around. It’s eroded most of the trust in city hall at this point for a lot of people. Not a good situation for a representational government.”  He said that for him the complaint is about size.  “Its not just about the potential for rentals. I dont want ANY 3 story big footprint buildings in my backyard, next door or anywhere else in the middle of my neighborhood.”

Previous stories:

Be Berkley. Logo and Branding Results Unveiled, Voters to Decide

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2016/06/20/berkley-halts-plans-to-allow-multi-unit-homes-open-house-canceled/

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Oakland County Times has written 8070 articles for The Oakland County Times

The Oakland County Times started with one city in 2009 and has grown to the community news hub you see today. Contact editor@oc115.com if you have any questions, comments, event listings, etc. Please support this work by becoming an advertising sponsor or check out our online community garden. Also happy to hear tips and story ideas.

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