Officials Share Updates on Berkley and Huntington Woods in Virtual State of the Cities
(Mark H. Stowers, Nov. 12, 2020)
Berkley, Huntington Woods, MI – The 20th Annual State of the Cities Address for Berkley and Huntington Woods was a unique experience as for the first time ever the event was held virtually, and remains viewable on the CMNtv YouTube page.
Several local leaders joined the online get together including State Representative Robert Wittenberg, Mayor Dan Terbrack and Mayor Bob Paul as well as Mayor Pro Tem Bridget Dean, Berkley Council members Steve Baker, Jack Blanchard, Dennis Hennen and Natalie Price. The Berkley Board of Education president Keith Logsdon and trustee Roger Blake. The event was sponsored by William Beaumont Hospitals, and was emceed by Berkley Chamber of Commerce President Nicole Miller.
Miller gave an overview describing the adapting of the cities and businesses during the pandemic. She asked for those watching to continue supporting area businesses with shopping and dining.
“The chamber, like our local business has been affected by the pandemic of 2020 and have had to change how we do business and look for other revenue sources,” Miller said.
Miller then awarded the 2020 Best of Berkley Awards. Business of the Year was awarded to Cooper Glass Homes Realtors. Business Person of the Year was presented to Steve Johnson of Motor City Brew Tours.
Darlene Rothman, Director of the Berkley Chamber of Commerce then gave the first address in the State of the Cities. She noted that the chamber worked hard to find federal and state monies and information to help keep local businesses open early on in the pandemic shutdown.
“The Chamber recently applied for an Oakland County Grant and we were thrilled to find out we received it,” Rothman said.
Some of the funds will go toward purchasing Personal Protection Equipment and handed out to local businesses with that need.
“Some of the funds will be used to increase marketing for local businesses,” she said.
With many fundraisers and events being cancelled, she is looking forward to getting them back up and running in the future. The new edition of the Chambers magazine, Berkley Huntington Woods City Guide has been delivered. The magazine highlights many local businesses as well as advertising space.
“The chamber will also be encouraging members to create one-minute videos to share on social media to highlight memorable and interesting stories,” she said.
Rothman also promoted the Berkley Local Podcast that has attracted those outside the community to visit. She noted businesses have continually found ways to keep customers and employees safe while shopping and eating out during the pandemic.
Dennis McDavid, Berkley Schools Superintendent, spoke next virtually from his office. McDavid thanked the chamber and the communities for their support of the school system. For the past eight years, he noted that he has reported the state of the schools were strong and are getting stronger.
“I can report that again this year,” McDavid said. “We are currently going through an experience no one in our lifetime has had to endure. In March, all of the school across the state were closed and we had to turn and pivot in a weekend to distance learning.”
This school year, the district decided this past summer, based on limited information and wanting to keep students and staff safe, schools started the year in the online environment.
“This fall’s online learning has been much more robust, much more organized and much better delivered than in the spring. We had time to plan and work with our teacher to make it great,” McDavid said. “We’ve also had small amounts of students in our buildings this fall.”
There has been a mixed reaction to online learning with some students thriving and others falling behind and missing the social interaction schools provide as well.
“This has been the most challenging year for us. It may be the most challenging year ever for schools,” he said.
With masks and hygiene measures in place, the schools will allow some elementary students back in class while others choose online learning. The plan is to roll the plan out to the higher grades over time.
McDavid also told of the schools winning various awards. For the ninth year in a row, they received the 2020Best Communities for Music Education award, Berkley High School was named one of the Best High Schools according to U.S. News and World Report Magazine, BHS also received a 2020 College Success Award from GreatSchools.org, Deputy Superintendent Larry Gallagher was named Michigan Business Official of the Year and John Barth received a Meridian Award for Innovation for the third year in a row. There were many more awards and student recognition including Liv Corey being named a Pint-Sized Hero by Baskin Robbins for her artwork. The theatre and music department are working to provide digital productions and partaking in digital concerts. Teachers and staff have been working to find more creative and interactive ways to keep students educated and connected.
Sinking fund work is moving ahead with a new cafeteria being built at Anderson Middle School.
“During this pandemic, our schools continue to work hard to support, reach and uplift all of our students and our communities,” he said.
Huntington Woods Mayor Bob Paul then gave his update. He noted the pandemic is driving the state of the city, school district, state and across the world. Mayor Paul first focused on the good things happening in his city. The approval of a public act proposal that would help fund city commitments to pension funds and free up dollars for infrastructure work passed 67 percent to 33 percent last March. Then the pandemic hit and city administration kicked up their creativity to engage the community.
“Hundreds of porch pictures were taken to commemorate no work, no salons, no schools and everyone being home at the same time for a picture,” he said.
Senior residents were prioritized to help and make sure they had what they needed including someone to talk to. Library had Zoom story time to engage residents. Fourth of July events were put into a virtual Zoom meeting including a virtual parade. Other virtual events were put together over the summer from the library to Boy Scouts and more including curbside service at the library.
“Inventive programming has continued into the fall with Full Moon Dog Walks, Eye Spy Family Photo Scavenger Hunt and Family Parking Lot Bingo,” he said.
More events including a Drive Thru Santa Storytime are planned to keep the community engaged and connected. A photo book was put together to commemorate the first six months of the pandemic. He also mentioned the city’s work in their Anti-Racism plan and several awards bestowed upon the city. Huntington Woods had the highest percent of participation in the 2020 Census in the entire United States for a city of their size.
“The future of the great city of Huntington Woods is strong and resilient.”
Next up, Mayor Dan Terbrack of Berkley gave his state of the city address. His staff put together a virtual video tour of the city to give his update. He began with history and highlighting the historical museum.
“A new exhibit of photos from slide decks between 1958 and 1963 that have never been viewed before,” he said. “You can learn all about our history by visiting the museum in our historic firehall.”
The Clerk’s office was next up as two elections were handled during the pandemic. Absentee ballots made up 47 percent of ballots this year. Voting hours were extended as well. PPE was provided by Oakland County to help Berkley voters stay safe while voting as well.
The finance and treasury department was overviewed next. Budget hearings came after the shutdown and first ever virtual budget sessions were held.
“We waved fees on water and sewer bills to help people out any way we could. We also took payments online and in person,” he said.
Berkley’s Public Works Department stayed busy during the pandemic including the 12 Mile Road Rehab Project and a city-wide road improvement project from 2018 Millage monies. Continued lead water testing continues throughout the city.
“The next step is the actual lead line replacement,” he said. “The city also covered the full cost of trees being planted this winter.”
Berkley’s Public Safety Department was covered and noted that all types of training continues throughout the department.
“We’ve also installed in-car cameras in all of our marked patrol vehicles and fire apparatus. We’ve updated our policies and procedures to be more explicit and emphasize de-escalation as the first option whenever possible.”
In addition to new staff, the city also has added new fire truck and expanded the firehall. These improvements help make Berkley the Seventh Safest Medium Size City in Michigan. The city also has implemented a K-9 Program.
The mayor highlighted the increased usage at the library through virtual access across the board. Curbside and delivery was added this summer as well. Parks and Recreation had to “evolve countless times with virtual programs while the community center remained closed.”
Zumba classes and other creative outlets were added to the virtual offerings. The Community Center did recently re-open but with strict Covid protocols in place. A new splash pad is still in construction and will be finished in spring of 2021.
The mayor noted new businesses are coming to Berkley including Aqua Tots and KinderCare and more retail and restaurant space. The city’s Master Plan was also revised with virtual help from residents with hopes that it will be adopted in early 2021. Jennifer Finney, the new Director of the DDA, noted MOGO bike stations have been installed and has been working to educate downtown businesses about all of the available loan and grant opportunities. Marketing tools and other support was also ramped up for business support.
Mayor Terbrack also encouraged residents to mask up and practice social distancing to help in fighting the virus. Miller then thanked everyone for attending and closed out the Zoom meeting.