Election to Decide Fate Of Charter Change

by CYNTHIA KMETT

The City Council Election next Tuesday, November 7, has the potential to be a game changer for the city of Troy. Not only are three council seats available, there’s a charter amendment on the ballot that if approved will definitely change the way the city does business. If voters approve the change, they will officially be in charge of approving every contract that comes up for consideration in the city.

If they vote against the charter change, Troy City Council will continue to be the representatives of residents and decide who gets the next lawn mowing contract, who gets to play football in city parks, and whether or not the Troy golf courses keep running on the contract we have, which expires in May 2018. Over 200 contracts will be up for voter approval in November elections as they expire.

It’s been said that the group, Save the Troy Civic Center, which favors the charter change isn’t getting enough attention. Well, perhaps because they have failed to show up at city council to plead their case, or even at a forum where they were invited to speak but didn’t send a representative. Yes, Mr. Savage has shown up to say he wants to save the trees and a resident at last week’s city council meeting said we were plugging a hole in the charter.

Meanwhile, at least 10 citizens showed up at last week’s council meeting asking that you vote “no” on the charter change as it will bring unintended consequences to the city’s ability to govern, and might likely cost the city its AAA bond rating, which means higher interest rates should the city have bonds to pay off in the future.

Here’s what the charter amendment says:

“The City shall not enter into an agreement for the transfer, sale, lease or use for more than 90 days of any parcel of public land the whole of which is greater than (2) acres, except by the affirmative votes of a majority of city electors voting on the question at a general election.”

Actually, the movement was started by former mayor Jeanne Stine, who wanted the voters to decide on whether or not the Civic Center should be developed in any way as part of plans provided by Robert Gibb Associates of Birmingham. No one ever brought that idea for such a vote to Troy City Council, they just started the campaign that resulted in the ballot language crafted by attorney Gregory Schmid of Saginaw.

Schmid sent a letter to voters with his views of how the charter change will impact the city. In it, he stated the city was giving out misinformation, and the “charter proposal is intended to keep their public lands open to the public, not transferred to private developers to raise revenue now.”

He wrote that current contracts and use permits are grandfathered under the new charter amendment.

He also believes that “management/operating agreements are not affected by the proposed Charter Amendment. Some of the current agreements, I suspect, are operating/management agreements.”

Finally, Schmid suggested making all contracts “evergreen,” meaning they run until one side notifies the other they want to terminate the contract.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm replied to this letter, and it’s posted, along with Schmid’s letter, on the city’s website. Just click on the ballot question on the city website, troymi.gov, and the letters are at the bottom. In her reply, Bluhm pointed out, “Although you indicate that you intended to grandfather existing city leases and agreements, the proposed charter amendment language does not contain any express provisions that allow for such a construction. As a result, if this ballot proposal is approved by the Toy voters, any agreement or sue or sale or transfer of property after November 7, 2017, would need to first be approved by a majority of voters in a November election before the City Council take any action. This is true for any new agreements, and also true for any exercise of a renewal option that requires mutual agreement and official action from the City Council.”

Bluhm also pointed out that Schmid represented that they didn’t intend to require voter approval for management or operating agreements. “Unfortunately, the proposed amendment language contains the word ‘use’ without limitations. As a result, the city has over 200 agreements that would require voter approval on a future November ballot in order to continue.”

As to “evergreen” contracts with 60 days notice for termination, Bluhm doubted many contractors would want the option of being terminated with or without cause.

Let’s clarify a couple of other misconceptions. The city was never going to sell the Civic Center land, period. They talked about potential development for two years and “selling” any land was never on the table. In fact, Troy is usually the one buying land, having upped our park acreage from 900 acres to over a 1000 acres in recent years. They also buy a lot of right of way for roads, and sometimes sell it at modest prices to those who abut the property.

Save the trees? This is an official “Tree City” and it is probably 50 percent covered by trees. It never had this many trees 50 years ago when it was all farmland. You are not stopping, and cannot stop a developer from clearing land to put up homes on property they own. Even the Troy School District, which sold some parcels of land it wouldn’t need, opted to keep 90 acres of land for a conservancy.