Judge: Petition mandating a city-run library not valid

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 16, 2011


A judge has closed the book on a citizen-initiated petition that directed the city to run a library at least 55 hours a week.

Ed Kempen initiated and circulated the petition, which stated: “In order to assure access to quality local library service, the City of Troy shall operate and maintain a public library open to the public for not less than 55 hours each week.”

On Feb. 7, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris issued a ruling on the lawsuit the city filed against Kempen in December in order to obtain clarification on the mandate. According to the city charter, after a citizen-initiated petition is presented to the council, council members have 30 days to either approve or reject the measure; the lawsuit extended the time the Troy City Council had to respond to the petition.

In the ruling, Langford states, “Voter initiative does not apply to those instances where the proposed ordinances affect the fiscal affairs of the city without regard to the budget or to the overall fiscal program. … This Court finds that the proposed initiative would impair the efficient administration of the municipality and therefore concludes it is not legislative.”

“There is no action necessary for council to take,” City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said to the City Council at its Feb. 7 meeting.

Kempen told the council that he was surprised the city had filed a lawsuit against him and was thankful that it’s over.

“It was a good experience for me,” he said. “The petition is gone. What lives on is the will of the people.”

He told the council to “make a decision that is right,” and said the library is something “worth protecting and saving.”

The library is slated to close April 30. The three-year budget the council approved last spring does not include funding for the library, nature center, museum or community center in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The library issue sparked comment from more than 20 residents at the meeting. Some urged the council to support a resolution proposed by Councilman Martin Howrylak that directed the council to amend the budget to fund the library with unallocated reserve funds and investment gains from the city employee retirement system. Some said they would support a tax hike to fund an independent library.

At a special meeting following the regular meeting Feb. 7, during which the council discussed revising budget priorities, John Lamerato, assistant city manager, finance and administration, said that the unallocated fund reserves and pension investment gains Howrylak cited in his resolution are needed to offset revenue reductions, to keep the pension fund solvent and to maintain fund reserves over the next five years.

The council voted to postpone consideration of Howrylak’s resolution until the Feb. 21 meeting, which Howrylak opposed.

Howrylak cited city guidelines employed when the council approved the three-year budget that said the budget would evolve year-round and that the council would make modifications as needed. He said he wants to see up-to-date budget revenue and expenditure numbers regularly, and to have those numbers incorporated into the present budget.

“It’s not just a library issue,” he said.