The outdoor murals at Civic Center Park and Rosie’s Park are among the most vivid accomplishments of the Madison Heights Arts Board. The mural at Rosie’s Park was completed last year by artist Jennifer Ramirez. The year 2020 saw new events introduced by the Arts Board as well.

The outdoor murals at Civic Center Park and Rosie’s Park are among the most vivid accomplishments of the Madison Heights Arts Board. The mural at Rosie’s Park was completed last year by artist Jennifer Ramirez. The year 2020 saw new events introduced by the Arts Board as well.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

City officials review progress made during tumultuous year

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 22, 2021


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — For a month now, the year 2020 has been squarely in the rearview mirror, and you won’t find many people missing it.

Yet despite the double whammy of a global pandemic and a battered economy, there was still progress made locally, as communities got creative in how to make the best of a bad situation.

In a series of emails, officials in Madison Heights and Hazel Park took a look back at last year.

Mark Bliss,
Madison Heights City Council

“For me, 2020 was all about creatively moving forward as a city, despite the challenges brought forth from COVID-19. It was a rough year for our residents, and it required us to adapt quickly to serve them in new ways,” Bliss said.

“To keep our citizens and employees safe and healthy throughout the pandemic, we implemented new technology and procedures at a rapid pace. Also, with the mounting economic challenges our citizens were facing, we acted fast to make budget changes that kept taxes as low as possible for our residents, despite the newly approved millage. 

“In an effort to spotlight our small businesses, we launched Restaurant Week, encouraging residents to support local eateries. We also made policy changes geared towards helping our small businesses adjust to the pandemic.

“Finally, I’m most proud that we could keep a bit of normalcy in this ‘new normal’ by re-imagining events to fit inside the new restrictions,” Bliss said. “For example, not having a (Pre-Fourth of July) Festival in the Park this year was a letdown for our residents, but it also gave us the chance to try something new with the Trail Tunes festival that safely brought live music to our city.

“Additionally, the work of volunteers to run the Pumpkin Walk and Drive-through Tree Lighting, plus staffing the food banks at our schools and food pantry, were huge bright spots in an otherwise challenging year,” he said.

Alissa Sullivan,
Hazel Park City Council

“We faced many of the same initial challenges of cities around us — securing proper PPE for our first responders, the rollout of constantly changing safety protocols, installation of safety barriers in city buildings, shortened hours, limited capacity, limiting/canceling of programs, the closing or restrictions on our small businesses and restaurants, and the effect of all of this on our residents,” Sullivan said.

“Our community really stepped up to help each other out. We’ve had opportunities for open communication of needs, via social media groups like the ‘Hazel Park Buy Nothing’ page on Facebook, where community members can offer up items to re-home, or seek items and services they need,” she said. “Our library stepped up to create online opportunities and resources, as well as making sure books and media are still available via safe drop-off and pickup. They also continued to create child and teen events during this past year.

“The seeking out and posting of assistance programs, CARES Act opportunities and job postings on social media platforms was one easy way to get information to our community. We have had the schools seeking, securing and hosting additional food assistance programs in conjunction with  state and local agencies,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer at some of these, and they run smoothly because of the organizers’ hard work! At Thanksgiving, we had 500 turkey dinner giveaways sponsored fully by (marijuana company) Breeze.”

Sullivan also noted PPE donations from Hazel Park 43rd District Court Judge Brian Hartwell, as well as grant funding provided to small businesses through the CARES Act and separate funds raised by the new city initiative, Main Street Hazel Park.

“During this past year we’ve also witnessed some large social changes, and that fostered the recognition of opportunities for us to learn and to grow,” Sullivan said, referring to Black Lives Matter. “Our city administration has stepped up to these challenges and taken the opportunity to provide our officers, first responders and court staff with implicit bias training. Our officers have completed additional deescalation training, and with the support of our newly elected Judge Hartwell, I was able to help organize and develop a High-Risk Response Team (to assist domestic violence and sexual assault victims) in Hazel Park.

“We still have work to do, across the board, but as a small town, we’re very good at helping each other out in times of need,” she said. “And we will continue to do that moving forward.”

Robert Corbett,
Madison Heights City Council

“2020 is a year unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I doubt few others living have seen. I suppose to my parents’ generation the one-two punch of the Great Depression followed a decade later by World War II might serve as a historical touchpoint,” Corbett said. “Death and illness, though, on this scale are unknown on a global scale in over 100 years.”

Despite financial hardships, local government continued to provide essential services, he said.

“As the year went on, we began to expand the palette of entertainment and recreational diversions for the community to enjoy. The popup music fair, the Art in the Park displays, and aggressive offerings by the library and its staff were well received.

“But I think what really spoke to the essence of the community was the overnight creation and development of the Madison Heights Food Pantry,” Corbett said. “Hundreds of our neighbors and their families have been adversely affected by dislocations in the economy, especially the service and entertainment sectors. With the uneven distribution of governmental assistance, food provisions being offered locally were desperately needed, and profoundly appreciated.”

Andy LeCureaux,
Hazel Park City Council

“The old saying about ‘2020 vision’ will forever take on new meaning,” LeCureaux said. “At the time of everything closing in March 2020, I had already made plans and reservations to attend the annual legislative conference of the Michigan Municipal League in Lansing. It was canceled and subsequent conferences have been attended virtually. City Council meetings are supposed to be open to the public, but now no one was allowed to gather (in person). So even new laws had to be passed by the state legislature to allow public meetings to be held in places not open to the public.

“I had never heard of, let alone used, Zoom,” he continued. “Now it’s a word embedded in our everyday language. Shelter in place? The industry in which I make a living is residential construction, and it was completely shut down! I’ve never seen anything like this.

“One of the toughest-to-witness results of the shutdown is all the small businesses not being able to survive,” LeCureaux said. “The hospitality and restaurant workers are the ones that I see struggling to make ends meet. Some people have seen their life’s work wiped out by the economic shutdown. On the surface, most city operations might seem unaffected by the shutdown, but to make it look that way takes a lot of behind-the-scenes planning and effort.

“On the other hand, one silver lining is that more individuals watch the City Council meetings via Zoom and live-streaming on Facebook,” he said. “These formats look like they’ll continue to give residents an alternate way of participating in the public forum, even after the restrictions are lifted.”

Roslyn Grafstein,
Madison Heights City Council

“When the shutdown happened in March, all of our departments stepped up to adjust and make sure they were still accessible. Our DPS and emergency services continued answering calls and maintaining our facilities. The Active Adult Center began online programing, and the library offered new online programs, hotspots and curbside material pickup. In the midst of the pandemic, our city clerk held both primary and regular elections, without incident. Our buildings may have been less accessible, but the city never shut down,” the mayor said.

“The economic fallout of the pandemic is yet to be seen,” Grafstein continued. “While housing prices increased and many residents were able to lower expenses by working from home, others found themselves struggling to pay rent. At the same time, our businesses confronted a different set of challenges. We are fortunate that many Madison Heights businesses were considered essential, allowing them to stay open, expand and hire new employees.

“Other businesses were able to adjust and continue operating, but some were drastically impacted and found themselves relying on government grants, reducing hours, laying off workers and even shutting down,” she said. “While the pandemic affected everyone in the city, not everyone was affected in the same way.

“As we move forward, the city needs to focus on supporting our existing businesses and bringing in new businesses to increase our tax revenues, and to provide more jobs and economic opportunities,” Grafstein said. “While property values have rebounded from the last recession, property tax revenues have not. We have to be cognizant of the cash flow risks we now face, and ensure more than ever that our resources are being used as intended — to fulfill our obligations at the local level.

“The community coming together to create the Food Pantry in the spring, and a little later to stand in solidarity against hate after the horrific death of George Floyd were silver linings,” she said. “Now we need to focus on that positive momentum and keep moving the city forward. Let’s get past the crises of 2020, and spend 2021 promoting our community.”