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Too close for comfort

Residents call for new, clearer vote on police

Michael Sabol gives his viewpoint on the millage proposal at Monday’s Clarkston City Council meeting. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
August 11, 2010 - After 30 residents made their views known, city officials are considering a new vote for police funding in November, with new ballot language.

"I think there was a little bit of confusion and I think what was promised to us as a city was that it was going to be a police millage," said Becky Summerlee at the Aug. 9 City Council meeting.

"That's not what the wording was, so a lot of people voted against it."

Summerlee's husband Terry Summerlee requested a recount last week because absentee ballots jammed the machine, and to buy more time for City Police.

City Clerk/Treasurer Jan Gillespie said the recount won't take place until the election is finalized by the Oakland County Board of Canvassars, which will be Aug. 18 at the latest .

Gillespie, who went to county offices on Friday, said one absentee ballot did not go through their machine properly. A county canvasser was able to "rub the ballot." It went through the machine and was counted, making the total vote 410 ballots, instead of 409.

The additional vote, a "yes," narrowed the eight-vote margin to seven. The adjusted total was 195 "yes" votes and 203 "no" votes.

"This vote was so close that had the language been drawn up as promised to us as citizen this millage would have passed, but it had nothing in it," Terry said. "It didn't provide for any kind of services for the police, it didn't guarantee that any of the five mills would be used for the police."

Michael Sabol agreed.

"You shouldn't be voting tonight, you don't have approval to vote," he said. "There is not a vote that's been passed yet, so you shouldn't be voting on a contract tonight, but if you feel it's right to vote for that contract then go ahead and vote for it."

Main Street resident Stuart Mahler, commended the council.

"You don't know how hard these people worked and agonized," he told the crowd. "Believe me, they are not experts in any particular field other than caring about this community. There isn't anybody I spoke to going to the many meetings where these people haven't done their best."

Former Mayor Sharron Catallo said she believed the millage language was "formula for failure."

"The way that proposition was written didn't give it an opportunity to pass," she said. "I do think you need to go back and see what your other options are, that's the only fair thing to do for this community."

The council voted 6-1 to hold on the police contract because the majority did not feel comfortable approving the contract until getting official results from the county. Councilman Steve Hargis was the dissenting vote.

"I like the police department, I like having it here, but I think there's been a lot of discussion about this, a lot of thinking, there's been voting," Hargis said. "I think the public spoke on the vote."

While Councilman Jim Brueck agreed to hold on the contract, but said he was concerned about the budget.

"We need to do two things," he said. "One, develop a ballot proposal for November we think will give us the clear cut answer. It's 'speak then or forever hold your peace.' Then between now and then figure out how we cut back our spending. Maybe that's reducing some services. Maybe even some police services to stay within a certain budget area.

Wording must be finalized by Aug. 24, for it to be put on the ballot in November.

The council set a special council meeting for Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. to discuss police funding ideas.

City Manager Dennis Ritter said it's important for all residents who voted both yes or no, "particularly those opposed to it are made aware there is another vote."

"They should have the same opportunity to come to the council and express there concerns about having "no" vote," he said. "We've heard from this side and I think it's important for the council and community the other side is heard as well. It's simple fairness."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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