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 Anna Boone and her daughters, Sylvie Boone, 9, left, and Margot Boone, 6, right, assemble care packages for people in need during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day community service event at Royal Oak High School Jan. 21.

Anna Boone and her daughters, Sylvie Boone, 9, left, and Margot Boone, 6, right, assemble care packages for people in need during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day community service event at Royal Oak High School Jan. 21.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Royal Oak, Clawson grappled with big issues in 2019

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published December 27, 2019

 The Detroit Highlanders march down Washington Avenue in downtown Royal Oak during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade March 16.

The Detroit Highlanders march down Washington Avenue in downtown Royal Oak during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade March 16.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Jason Hendrickson, a firefighter and paramedic with the Royal Oak Fire Department, transports Jennifer Mollencoph, a junior at Royal Oak High School, on a stretcher during a mock mass casualty drill at Royal Oak High School in the spring.

Jason Hendrickson, a firefighter and paramedic with the Royal Oak Fire Department, transports Jennifer Mollencoph, a junior at Royal Oak High School, on a stretcher during a mock mass casualty drill at Royal Oak High School in the spring.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Seth Roche, 1, of Clawson, gleefully holds the Easter eggs he collected during the annual Easter egg hunt at Clawson City Park April 13.

Seth Roche, 1, of Clawson, gleefully holds the Easter eggs he collected during the annual Easter egg hunt at Clawson City Park April 13.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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ROYAL OAK/CLAWSON — As we wrap up the end of the decade, the Royal Oak Review is taking a look at some of the biggest news out of Royal Oak and Clawson in 2019.

Some notable events include how both cities are tackling recreational marijuana, elevated lead levels in Royal Oak service lines, big changes on the Clawson City Council, and Clawson Public Schools’ search for a solution to impending financial strife.

 

Recreational marijuana
On Nov. 6, 2018, 55% of Michigan voters approved the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana for those ages 21 and older. In Clawson, 66% of voters approved Proposal 1. In Royal Oak, 70% of voters approved Proposal 1.

Royal Oak city officials opted out six days after the passage of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act in order to prohibit recreational marijuana facilities until the city decides specifically what it will allow. It originally set a sunset provision until Feb.1, 2020, but recently, the City Commission voted to extend the date to June 1, 2020.

To date, the city has held several workshops, collected resident data on the topic using a scientific survey, and drafted ordinances pertaining to licensing and zoning of recreational marijuana establishments in the city.

Under the zoning ordinance proposed by the Royal Oak Planning Commission, recreational marijuana facilities would be allowed in two zones: general business and general industrial.

Under the proposed zoning ordinance, such facilities would be allowed in a potential 19 sites throughout the city — 11 within the general business area on Woodward Avenue, and eight within the general industrial area.

City officials said both the planning and legal departments have received numerous petitions from operators seeking to open recreational marijuana facilities within Royal Oak.

The City Commission’s goal is to adopt recreational marijuana licensing and zoning ordinances at the same time — ideally, in February.

Clawson opted out in June of 2019. Councilwoman Susan Moffitt took issue with the fact that the city did not implement a sunset clause in order to force the city to reexamine the issue at a later date. Until that time, the city had not made any effort to solicit feedback from residents.

The city later held a Sept. 11 town hall for the purpose of informing residents about the topic of recreational marijuana and to obtain public input. The Clawson City Council has not since addressed the issue, and Clawson remains a city that has opted out.

Both cities have refrained from opting in to the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act. The legislation mandates that medical marijuana establishments are only allowed in jurisdictions that have specifically opted in.

 

Lead in some water lines
On Oct. 29, the city of Royal Oak issued a public advisory warning residents of elevated lead levels detected in eight out of 30 service lines tested over the summer.

In 2018, the state modified the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper Rule to make standards for testing more rigorous in order to better detect lead in drinking water.

Subsequently, testing conducted in communities including Royal Oak, Oak Park, Hazel Park, Birmingham and St. Clair Shores revealed lead concentrations of more than 15 parts per billion — the concentration deemed “action level” by the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act — in locations with known lead service lines.

The 90th percentile value for samples taken during the testing in Royal Oak over the summer was 23 ppb. The water was tested after sitting stagnant in the service lines for a minimum of six hours.

The city will now increase the frequency of monitoring, as well as the number of sites for testing. Officials speculate that approximately 6%, or 1,400 service lines, of the city’s 23,741 total service connections were constructed with lead or materials containing lead.

The city set up a website with a series of tools aimed at educating residents about lead and lead testing at www.romi.gov/testing, as well as a dedicated hotline for lead questions at (248) 246-3999.

Within the first few weeks of the public advisory, more than 900 residents performed a test found on the website to determine the material of their water service lines and reported it to the Department of Public Service.

The city had been testing the water of homes with known lead service lines since 1992 without issue until the new Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act action standard.

 

Changes in Clawson leadership
Compared to the beginning of the year, only two members of the Clawson City Council remained seated at the table at the end of the year — Councilwoman Susan Moffitt and Councilwoman Paula Millan. Their terms will expire Nov. 8, 2021.

In the Nov. 5 election, former Mayor Deborah Wooley and longtime Councilman Howie Airriess were ousted by new Mayor Reese Scripture, Councilwoman Kathy Phillips — who had served on the council before — and newcomer to Clawson politics Councilman Louis J. Samson.

Mayor Pro Tem Matt Ulbrich, whose term expired Nov. 11, opted not to run for reelection.

Scripture is a Clawson resident who sued the city for allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act. She clinched the mayoral seat with 61.33% — or 1,568 votes — to Wooley’s 38.48% — or 844 votes.

During a candidate forum facilitated by the League of Women Voters, Scripture said she ran for mayor because she didn’t agree with the former City Council and wasn’t happy with its performance. She said she felt transparency was a major issue in Clawson and that she could do a better job.

Phillips sat on the Clawson City Council from 2007 to 2015. In 2015, she said, she opted not to run for reelection because her daughter was a senior in high school and Phillips wanted to be more available. Phillips said her return to politics was spurred by feedback from residents who were disappointed with the city.

“Everything that had been done had been undone, and it was just killing me to watch everything fall apart that everybody had previously worked so hard for,” Phillips said in a prior interview with the Royal Oak Review.

Airriess served on the City Council for the past 12 years and was defeated by Samson by seven votes. In a prior interview with the Royal Oak Review, Airriess said he had “mixed feelings” about not being elected. He said he did not put much effort into his campaign and that the news came somewhat as a relief.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit back and relax,” he said, but added that he will continue to organize the annual Clawson car show in the summer.

In Royal Oak, all incumbents retained their seats.

 

The future of Clawson Public Schools
After crunching the numbers, Clawson Public Schools’ leadership realized that declining enrollment has triggered the need for action.

On Nov. 18, the Clawson Board of Education unanimously authorized Superintendent Tim Wilson to formally invite the Troy School District to consider annexing Clawson Public Schools and begin negotiations with Troy Superintendent Richard Machesky.

In terms of the timeline, Wilson said that if all aligns, the goal would be to merge by the 2021-22 school year. Both school boards, as well as Clawson and Troy voters, must approve the annexation in order for it to happen.

Kerry Birmingham, the Troy School District director of communications and strategic initiatives, said the Troy Board of Education agreed to look into the annexation, but has not taken any further action. She said an internal team will look at numbers, staffing and demographics in Clawson schools before making a recommendation to the board.

As Troy voters will be part of the process, Birmingham said the district will hold public engagement meetings before proposing anything on the ballot.

Based on projections by the Clawson Public Schools administration, if the district does not act now, it will continue to lose students and per-pupil revenue at a significant rate.

The fund balance is projected to fall below the 5% threshold, or “early trigger warning,” in the 2020-21 school year. It would fall to 8.9%, or about $1.3 million, in 2019-20 and to 2.5%, or $360,000, in 2020-21, according to projections.

On Oct. 18, the Clawson Board of Education held a public workshop to discuss possible options for the district’s future. Besides annexation, the presentation included three “right-sizing” options that involve reconfiguring, closing and selling buildings.

“We have reduced our teaching staff by 13 positions in the last two years,” Wilson said at the workshop. “For many years, we’ve had no curriculum budget to buy new curriculum or textbooks, and we also have no state-of-the-art STEM classrooms.”

Wilson said he is pushing for annexation because the other three options only bump out the “early trigger warning” by one year.

If the agreement with Troy falls through during negotiations, or if the residents of Clawson or Troy vote it down, Clawson Public Schools will have to continue working on secondary plans for the future of the district.

On Nov. 18, the school board unanimously approved a resolution to give Wilson authority to form a committee and begin soliciting funds from individuals, businesses and corporations to establish a fund to sustain the long-term financial stability of the district.

Wilson said the project estimate to keep the schools going is $5 million to $7 million.

At this time, the district is not seeking to close any buildings.

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