Franklin e-blast stirs controversy over perceived ballot endorsement

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 7, 2021

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FRANKLIN — Franklin village officials are walking back a communication about a charter amendment proposal going on a special May 4 ballot.

In an e-blast sent out to enrolled residents March 19, Village Council President Pro Tem Brian Gordon penned a letter to explain the proposed amendment, the only issue on the ballot.

Currently, the Village Charter does not allow for the construction of new sidewalks in residential areas. The amendment would make an exception to allow new sidewalks along Franklin Road, between 13 Mile and 14 Mile roads.

The village is wrapping up a major overhaul of landscaping in the Village Center, which includes, among other things, a plan for new safety paths.

“The streetscape plan was developed with input and compromises over a two-year period. Input was sought from all villagers, the Village Historic District Commission, all stakeholders and numerous designers and engineers,” Gordon wrote. “The plan was approved by your Village Council and continues to have the support of the council.”

Gordon didn’t ask for a yes vote on the charter amendment in his letter, but some readers perceived bias.

“A yes vote on the proposed charter amendment will not ever allow for new sidewalks to be constructed anywhere in Franklin other than along Franklin Road and along 13 Mile Road. A yes vote on the proposed charter amendment will not have any impact on property taxes, bonding or special assessments,” Gordon wrote. “A no vote on the proposed charter amendment will result in the inability of Franklin to complete the streetscape plan. A no vote on the proposed charter amendment prohibits the current and future councils from enhancing walkability and connectivity with the addition of sidewalks along the two major thoroughfares that bisect Franklin.”

A few days later, another e-blast went out to residents, this time apologizing for the inclusion of Gordon’s letter. Village Administrator Roger Fraser said he was unaware of the portion of Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act that prohibits communication from a public body to voters regarding local ballot questions within 60 days of an election.

“That letter should not have been included in the newsletter. I regret the error,” Fraser wrote.

A few residents reportedly called Fraser to complain about the letter. Fraser did not divulge if the complainants were residents who have expressed concerns in the past about the streetscape plan and the addition of sidewalks.

In January, Village President William Lamott told the Eagle he thinks there is “too much white concrete to keep with the rural, historic character.” He could not be reached for comment before press time. “(Infrastructure) and sidewalks will be on the 2021 Franklin agenda,” he told the Eagle just after the new year. “Both issues are emotionally charged and expensive. I want to make fact-based decisions about each.”

Gordon said he stands by the content of his letter.

“Evidently, the village blasting it in its particular venue may have been problematic concerning an obscure section of the state election laws,” Gordon said. He said the letter is “factually correct. And while I do have an opinion on the topic, I do not believe the letter was in advocacy of that or any opinion.”

Tracy Wimmer, the director of media relations for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Michigan Department of State, said that as of now, no complaints have been filed about the incident.

“Issue review or investigations can only be conducted if a complaint has been made with the Bureau of Elections, and no complaint has been made at this time,” Wimmer said in an email.

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