Blanca Srock and her mother, Melissa Srock, show off their trio of beehives, kept in the woods at the back of their Bloomfield Township lot.

Blanca Srock and her mother, Melissa Srock, show off their trio of beehives, kept in the woods at the back of their Bloomfield Township lot.

File photo by Brandy Baker


A look back at Eagle stories from 2019

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 27, 2019

 Mason Alnajjar, of Birmingham, navigates the obstacles in the rock climb station at the first-ever Birmingham Bike Rodeo in July. The  sponges were meant to  simulate rocks on the road.

Mason Alnajjar, of Birmingham, navigates the obstacles in the rock climb station at the first-ever Birmingham Bike Rodeo in July. The sponges were meant to simulate rocks on the road.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Bloomfield Hills public safety officer Mariah Eckel was sworn in earlier  this year, making her the first female officer to join the department.

Bloomfield Hills public safety officer Mariah Eckel was sworn in earlier this year, making her the first female officer to join the department.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Jad Yaish, of Birmingham, tries to pop a balloon by using an air pump  during the Balloon Explosion race in Booth Park.

Jad Yaish, of Birmingham, tries to pop a balloon by using an air pump during the Balloon Explosion race in Booth Park.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced last spring that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died in August.

Longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced last spring that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died in August.

File photo by Tiffany Esshaki

 Tippy gets some love from Oakland County Animal Control Officer Rachel Whitlock, who rescued Tippy and 177 other cats from a  hoard in West Bloomfield last May.

Tippy gets some love from Oakland County Animal Control Officer Rachel Whitlock, who rescued Tippy and 177 other cats from a hoard in West Bloomfield last May.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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It’s the beginning of a brand-new decade and the start of a highly anticipated election year.

You’d think that 2019 would be the calm before the storm, but news in the Eagle’s coverage area this past year was anything but dull.

Two hotly contested ballot issues failed at the polls, in some cases leading to big changes in leadership and municipal services.

As you raise a glass to the new year, make sure your beverage is clear of the many water quality issues Michigan battled in 2019, including lead and the infamous PFAS — that’s per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, of course.

Before we move forward, let’s take one last look back over our shoulders. Here’s your 2019 year in review.


Township voters nix public safety SAD
Asked whether they would prefer a 2.3-mill special assessment tax to maintain Bloomfield Township services or to pay for retiree benefits with budget cuts — including the elimination of public safety positions — the voters were clear: Make the cuts.

The SAD would have satisfied a $5 million-$7 million annual shortfall to fund other post-employment benefits, or OPEBs. Until 2017, municipalities could pay for post-employment benefits as they came due, but that changed with new legislation effective last year.

The proposal received criticism from community members who said administrators were misleading the public in claiming the cash would be used for public safety, and they demanded that cost savings be found in the existing budget instead of raising taxes.

Those in favor of the SAD argued that the shortfall to cover the OPEB bill couldn’t be made up by slashing the budget alone.

So far, the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees has eliminated a number of municipal services, including the animal welfare division, hazardous waste disposal, the township open house and more. Further cuts are expected when the 2020-21 budget is completed in January.

The disagreement has seemingly split the township in two, resulting in a slew of insults thrown in both directions on social media sites and in the midst of trustee meetings.


Birmingham NOW fails at polls
Birmingham voters also turned down a ballot measure Aug. 6 that would have moved forward with a $54.7 million plan to demolish and redevelop the municipal parking structure on North Old Woodward.

The project, dubbed Birmingham NOW, sought to rebuild the structure with 400 more parking spaces in the downtown district, where parking supply is famously outweighed by demand.

The bond would have allowed private developers to build onto the property, creating more retail and residential opportunities. Those developers would have footed the bill for the public element of the project, and would have been reimbursed with revenue from the structure.

The proposal had strong supporters and passionate dissenters.

First, an unchosen bidder for the city parking structure project filed a lawsuit against the city manager and a city commissioner over what they said was an “unlevel playing field” for the job’s bidding process. The suit was later dismissed.

Next, two city activists filed a complaint against the city, saying their First Amendment constitutional rights had been violated when they were stopped from speaking out against the project during the  public hearing portion of a City Commission meeting. The city settled the suit in October with a stipulation for dismissal order demanding that leaders allow residents to speak on political issues during the citizen participation portion of future meetings.

One of the complainants in that First Amendment suit, Clinton Baller, used the effort to launch an ultimately successful campaign for the City Commission. He, along with newcomers Brad Host and Therese Longe, were voted onto the commission, unseating incumbent Commissioner Carroll DeWeese and Mayor Patty Bordman.


Lead tests lead to range of questions
In mid-October, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy announced that Birmingham was one of several communities statewide with water samples that yielded lead test results above the action level of 15 parts per billion.

The action level, according to EGLE, is the number that triggers automatic efforts for residents in the affected area, which can range from simple alerts and educational outreach to plans for infrastructure improvements.

Residents reeled at news of lead in the city’s drinking water, though only a select number of homes tested at such levels — older homes, typically, on unimproved streets with water lead-ins that haven’t been updated in decades.

“These are individual private properties where lead was detected in water, with lead lead-ins. This isn’t from our general water source,” said Birmingham City Manager Joe Valentine. “The real takeaway here is that the state of Michigan has changed how it’s testing water.”

The conversation turned not only to water safety standards around Michigan, but also to how the city should handle the 26 miles’ worth of unimproved streets that were annexed in the mid-1800s by the then-village of Birmingham.

Bringing those streets, and the water and sewer infrastructure underneath, up to code without double-charging those who have already funded their own street’s reconstruction is one of the top priorities for city officials in 2020, Valentine said.


Great Lakes face great problems
Speaking of water, legislators at the county and state levels wrestled with how to improve the state’s water quality in 2019.

While Michigan has among the highest levels in the nation for toxic PFAS in ground and surface water, the state is undeniably doing more than any other in the union to thwart the threat brought on by the carcinogenic fire retardant, with efforts like quicker and more advanced testing, and stricter state action levels.    

In July, Wylie E. Groves High School hosted a discussion with state Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills; Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel; Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Deputy Director James Clift; Clean Water Action campaign organizer Sean McBrearty; author and activist Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha; and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash.

From lead in drinking water to PFAS and even Embridge’s Line 5 that runs from Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the officials agreed on the severity of the state’s water quality crisis, but they were at odds as to who should be held financially responsible for remediation.

    
Shake-up ensues after county executive’s death
At the end of March, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced at an emotional press conference that he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020 because he had been recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Patterson wasn’t able to see the end of his term. He succumbed to the disease Aug. 3 at the age of 80.

Shortly after Patterson’s demise, county representatives began a monthslong squabble over who should replace him. Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson, a Republican, stepped in as interim executive, and Democrats later rallied to replace him with former Ferndale Mayor David Coulter to further solidify their majority on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

“I understand very well that this day is only made necessary by the passing of our county executive, Brooks Patterson,” said Coulter just after his appointment by the board. “You don’t replace Brooks Patterson, and I don’t expect to be able to. I can only be judged on my own merits, and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to do that.”

Coulter has since announced that he plans to run in November to keep his seat in the Executive’s Office.

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