Former Grosse Pointe Park City Council member known for questioning status quo

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 20, 2023

 Grosse Pointe City Councilman Vikas Relan takes part in his last council meeting Oct. 16.

Grosse Pointe City Councilman Vikas Relan takes part in his last council meeting Oct. 16.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Grosse Pointe Park City Councilman Vikas Relan wasn’t always the most popular person at the council table — or with some members of the community — but that’s not why he entered the political arena.

For his supporters, Relan served as their voice, asking the questions they wanted to get answers to and demanding accountability from city leaders.

Relan, 50, didn’t run for reelection this fall, completing his four-year council term in October. He was the first person of color to serve on the council; his parents are from northern India.

“I am very proud of the level of resident engagement, advances in transparency, and safety improvements that I have worked very hard to achieve,” Relan said in an email interview. “I am also satisfied with my mission of representing our residents first and foremost. This has guided all my Council votes, as well as continuously directed my efforts to question numerous Administration and Mayoral decisions. There have been too many times our residents’ needs were passed over in favor of special projects. Transparency has always been at the front of my mind, although it is very hard to achieve if everyone is not on board.”

Relan said he was motivated to run for council after he felt city leaders didn’t do enough to help residents following basement sewage backups in 2016. He blamed “neglect from the city” for the incident.

“When half of our town flooded in 2021, I again saw the same lack of guidance needed from our mayor and administration, and pushed for quicker and better assistance to our residents in need, even going as far to help them empty their own basements of the contents and memories,” Relan said. “It was humbling and heartbreaking, but what I felt I was elected to do — help residents in need.”

He said he’s also proud of serving — with his wife, Wendy — on the Safe Routes to School advisory board and working on other initiatives to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists; establishing the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee; advocating against the demolition of homes to create parking lots; and getting a nonprofit development — the A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Center for the Performing Arts and the Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Gallery, which is now under construction — to agree to relinquish tax dollar support and pay for its own future security, maintenance, office space needs and the like.

The Schaap Center has been divisive in the community, with some championing the development, which will be the future performance home of groups like Grosse Pointe Theatre and the Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra, while others have criticized it.

“What community doesn’t wish for a $4.5 million art center?” asked Cheryl Denman, who has lived in the Park for more than 30 years.

But Relan has never been afraid to ruffle feathers.

“You have always been committed to communicating to the community,” City Councilwoman Christine Gallagher told Relan during an Oct. 16 City Council meeting. “You will be missed.”

Relan frequently questioned actions and purchases the city was planning or had made in the past, to the consternation of some residents and fellow officials.

“I will continue to encourage residents to speak out,” Relan said. “It was an initial goal of mine to help our city understand who Council is and what they do — most importantly, how they spend our money. I know a lot more now than I did on day 1 of my service to our city, and I will use that to continue (to) push for transparent processes and honorable policies.”

He faced many daunting challenges while on council, but one of the biggest hurdles was a personal one.

“In October, 2021, I went through a life-threatening health issue, keeping me in the ICU for 10 days, and the hospital for a total of 17 days,” Relan said. “I am so thankful for my wife, daughter, and family and friends that helped me get through it all. Your prayers and actions saved my life.”

During Relan’s last City Council meeting Oct. 16, a number of people addressed his tenure during public comment.

“This city was lucky to have Council member Relan,” Park resident Valarie St. John said. St. John said that Relan “always answered questions or searched for the answers.”

“Thank you for never giving up on your neighbors,” St. John told Relan from the podium.

Park resident Ron Porter thanked Relan for trying to make the city more responsive and transparent.

“Thank you for not being a rubber stamp,” Porter said. “Thanks for asking questions. … Thanks for wanting the city to do better.”

Park resident Mary Rouleau — who has herself frequently questioned city leaders about their plans and decisions — was also among those who thanked Relan.

“Vikas, you persisted through a very serious illness and shabby treatment by some members of this dais,” Rouleau said. “We would have understood had you stepped aside. But you didn’t. You continued to carry our concerns and raise our questions. You, sir, are wired for joy and empathy always. You draw people in and form us as a team.”

Relan said he plans to keep an eye on city leaders and decisions, and he encourages others to do the same. He’s planning on writing a book about his experiences as well.

“I would like to thank this wonderful city for the honor of being elected,” Relan said. “It was not an easy task getting elected, and has been even harder serving. I am also extremely honored to be the first Council member of color for GPP, and received the highest-ever election votes at that time. I had a lot of friends before being elected, but during my time, I have made hundreds more. I will forever be thankful for that and hope that I have made my city proud, advocating for honorable policies and transparent processes, along with improvement in the lives of our residents.”

At press time, Relan was slated to be honored for his service by the council during a meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at Park City Hall. City Councilman Brian Brenner, who didn’t run for reelection this fall, also will be honored for his work for the Park at that meeting.