February 19, 2014 - City of the Village of Clarkston Manager Carol Eberhardt says she is done with The Clarkston News.
Eberhardt's email, in part, states:
"...I have stopped reading the paper...Several people called, as well as stopped in the office voicing concern about his (Cory Johnston's) mental state after his last letter. In my opinion he has crossed the line of voicing an opinion and criticism and I am now taking all precautions to protect myself from him. I am getting nevous for my saftey because his behavior is getting more and more erratic and aggressive.
"I need to tell you that I will not be available for any interviews to The Clarkston News whatsoever...
"Given the history of The Clarkston News and the platform the paper has given him, I decided to completeley remove myself from anything associated with the paper, or participate in anything that in some way encorages Cory's continued harassment through e-mail and stalking. His actions have escalated against me to the point where I have a responsibility to protect my family from harm..."
Eberhardt has not filed a police report, according to Oakland County Sheriff Office.
All City Council members were asked for comment. Only council members Peg Roth and David Marsh responded, while Mayor Joe Luginski, and council members Sharron Catallo, Eric Haven, Steven Hargis, and Mike Sabol have not responded.
Roth said she is shocked the city manager would think she has the right to no longer speak to the local newspaper.
"To be saying something negative towards any business in town goes against everything the city manager should represent," Roth said.
Clarkston City Manager Carol Eberhardt said she will no longer be available "whatsoever" to the newspaper, after an inquiry by the News about a Freedom of Information Act request by city resident Cory Johnston.
Council member David Marsh said, rather than taking their issues to The Clarkston News, residents should attend council meetings.
"It is unfortunate that the city manager is not comfortable working with our newspaper," Marsh said. "In my opinion it would be more productive for residents to attend council meetings and express their concerns. The city manager, city council and residents should share a goal of working together to resolve issues rather than confronting one another via the Clarkston News."
The next meeting of the city council is Monday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m.
The Clarkston News has given Eberhardt and others in the city opportunities to speak to the community with guest columns of their own.
In contrast with the city manager's beliefs, Independence Township Supervisor Pat Kittle said residents' opinions deserve respect.
"Last I checked, the elected officials and, for that matter, every township employee works for township residents," said Kittle. "Every resident deserves nothing but the utmost respect and to have their opinion heard."
A resident's criticism means the township did not take something into consideration or effectively communicate, he said.
"I know it impossible to make everyone happy, but if you run by the basic principle and make your decisions on what is best for the township, most of the time you will be OK and the residents will respect the decision and the evaluative process that went into it," he said.
Johnston, a former city councilman, emails letters to the city and The Clarkston News about local issues, citing law and ordinances to back up why he thinks issues are handled incorrectly.
He recently expressed concern about a bridge in Depot Park, the city's repair of it, and its compliance with Americans with Disability Act requirements.
Eberhardt, as well as all council members, were asked to respond to Eberhardt's decision saying she will no longer work with The Clarkston News.
Eberhardt did not respond. In response to his complaints, she penned a letter to Johnston in January explaining her views.
Eberhardt said Johnston has been critical of every city manager and council and that while he is good at criticizing officials, he never gives positive suggestions to problems.
Johnston said it is not his job to fix problems because he does not have the resources the city does and it is their job to fix issues correctly and if the city does not want to deal with his complaints they should just follow the rules and do their job correctly.
Johnston added his complaints are never addressed by the city, and he has even been personally attacked in an anonymous letter in the mail.
"I'm thinking something might be wrong with you, used to be nice, now you're like goofy of something, people are starting to talk, like, worried you have a health issue, you've gotten so irrational, please for your sake, get checked by a doctor," the anonymous letter said.
Johnston said he has never been diagnosed with mental illness.
He also said the only communication he has had with Eberhardt is via email—and does not think he has not done anything he feels would make Eberhardt fear for her safety or feel as if she is being stalked.
Johnston said he has no criminal record, but does in fact have a long history of volunteer work and a resume full of professional accomplishments.
Roth said she believes Johnston has the city's best interests at heart and he cares deeply for the community.
"He is very vocal," she said.
Kittle said he hears from concerned residents every day, and he considers it just another part of his job.
He added that some residents are more vocal than others, but he considers it is necessary to always addresses any resident concerns.
A downtown business employee who asked not to be identified said businesses need to support each other and she believes it is just bad business for a public official to no longer communicate with the newspaper.
She said The Clarkston News is very supportive of local businesses, and supported the Clarkston Retailers Group since it formed in 2009.
Another businessman said he believes the media has a right to have access to public officials.
"I can't imagine any public figure denying access in any town to any source of media," said local real estate agent Kevin McCort, also Council member Roth's brother.
Clarkston Community Chamber of Commerce Penny Shanks said critical residents are just another part of the job.
"I do not support anonymous attacks or lies and slander," said Penny Shanks Director of the Clarkston Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I do support freedom of speech and if you are going to be in government it behooves you to listen to people who don't agree with you. Even if you don't agree with someone chances are you will still have to work with them sometime in the future."
Shanks said residents who express concern over issues are important in America. "You need people that provide a cross check that's what makes America-America," she said.
Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.