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Clarkston councilman counters critics' comments

July 03, 2013 - The June 19 edition of The Clarkston News was full of invective and criticism of Clarkston's city government from two persistent critics with headlines like "Issues with City Manager comments"; "Mayor, city attorney and council should stop what they are doing"; and "City should find new attorney to defend charter and city rules."

The News provides a platform for these two to spew their venom and apparently likes to spice up the criticism with big headlines. Readers should not take these writings at face value. The reality is far from what they portray.

Michael Powell lambasts the city manager for having the effrontery to talk to the lieutenant in charge of the Independence Township sheriff's substation (which is contractually obligated to provide police services to the city) about police coverage in the city, for making "irregular requests" for "special services"—requests like better patrol coverage of the roving bands of youths who trash our park; for vacation checks; and regarding the new bike patrol (an initiative that is township-wide, not just in the city). Apparently in Mr. Powell's world, no one from the city should dare to ask anything of the sheriff's department because that would "take an officer away from Independence Township residents."

The reality is the city manager isn't asking for anything more than what the township gets. I'll bet Mr. Powell wouldn't have any problem with the township supervisor talking to the substation commander about particular matters of concern to the township. The city is entitled to no less. I'm sure Lieutenant Feneley knows who he works for—Sheriff Bouchard. And he knows as well the sheriff's department has agreed to provide a service and part of that is to talk to those who are paying for that service.

Mr. Powell raves about a nonexistent agreement the city manager referred to. I wasn't privy to his discussion with her, but I'll bet she was referring to an Aug. 20, 2010 letter to the city jointly signed by the Independence substation commander and the township supervisor, provided to induce the city to enter into the law enforcement services agreement for the sheriff's department to replace the city's police department.

That letter lists a catalogue of various services that the sheriff's department promised to provide (including vacation checks, which Mr. Powell apparently objects to) and ends with the following invitation: "Please accept and extend to the Council my offer to meet and discuss any specific concerns or requests regarding services we would expect to provide and any extraordinary requests you might have for services at your convenience."

The current and previous city managers have accepted that invitation. The city will continue to have dialogue with the sheriff's department—because it is appropriate and proper. The current township supervisor apparently has no problem with this, per his remarks quoted in last week's Clarkston News ("The sheriff will treat the city like any concerned neighborhood association or resident and provide additional patrol if requested").

Cory Johnston's screed is the usual invective-filled nonsense that should not be taken seriously. To him, nothing anyone in city government does is ever right. He occasionally has a point hidden in among his other criticisms (such as the failure to post agendas and minutes from the city's commissions, although nothing legally requires that).

He says no one responds to his email and letters, although I do when he on occasion makes a legitimate point. He criticizes the mayor for taking action in the former city manager's absence. Ironically, it was Cory's own fusillade of criticism claiming multiple illegalities in the city manager selection process that caused a need for a quick response, including consultation with the city attorney, whom Cory accuses of encouraging such consultation in order to run up a bill. This supposed "scandal" everyone in city government is supposedly trying to "cover up and deny" was openly discussed at council meetings and in the pages of The Clarkston News.

I suppose Cory's preferred method of reaction to his multi-page letters accusing everyone of illegality is to simply stop the city government and wait for … well, what? Cory's approval of the process? Nothing else, of course, would satisfy him, since he cannot brook a good faith difference of opinion.

In his world, anyone who disagrees with his view of the law is wrong, acting illegally, and, as he suggests, should just resign. He now says the mayor and the whole council should immediately resign and the city attorney should be fired. Should the whole council resign, the county board of election commissioners (composed of the county clerk, chief probate judge, and county treasurer) would appoint four council members, who would appoint three others. I wonder whom they would find to appoint, since only one person was interested in appointment to the last council vacancy. Or maybe it would be better in Cory's world that there simply was no city government at all.

For all of Cory's accusations of illegality in city government—and his repeated letters to other levels of county and state government informing them of the rampant violations of law that he sees in Clarkston—it is telling no one in county or state government has (at least to my knowledge) ever taken any action to enforce the law as Cory sees it. Cory now promises to "ignore the city government" and "do [his] best to pretend it does not exist." I assume, then, that this will be the last multipage Cory feature in The Clarkston News. On the off chance that it is not, perhaps The News could actually check out the facts and the law instead of featuring uninformed commentary.

Richard Bisio is a member of Clarkston City Council.

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