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Madison Heights mayor resigns, takes oath for Hazel Park judgeship

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 19, 2020

 Brian Hartwell, center, is sworn in as judge of Hazel Park 43rd District Court June 9, accompanied by Judge Keith Hunt, left, and Chief Judge Joseph Longo. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Hartwell to a partial term following the resignation of the previous judge, Charles Goedert. Hartwell had to first resign as mayor of Madison Heights, which he did June 8.

Brian Hartwell, center, is sworn in as judge of Hazel Park 43rd District Court June 9, accompanied by Judge Keith Hunt, left, and Chief Judge Joseph Longo. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Hartwell to a partial term following the resignation of the previous judge, Charles Goedert. Hartwell had to first resign as mayor of Madison Heights, which he did June 8.

Photo provided by Brian Hartwell

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Brian Hartwell is no longer the mayor of Madison Heights, following his resignation in order to become the new judge of Hazel Park 43rd District Court.

A licensed attorney, Hartwell was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fill a partial term ending Jan. 1, 2021, after Judge Charles Goedert stepped down due to health reasons in March. This required Hartwell to resign as mayor, which he officially did at the City Council meeting June 8. Hartwell has already indicated that he plans to run for the full six-year judicial term in this year’s general election.

After he resigned as mayor, Hartwell was then sworn in for the judgeship the next day, June 9. Chief Judge Joseph Longo administered the oath of office in a court ceremony that was attended by Madison Heights 43rd District Court Judge Keith Hunt, as well as Hartwell’s parents, his wife Lingyu Chen and the full court staff.  

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, is now the acting mayor, a role that she will serve until a permanent mayor is selected, which can occur in one of two ways. The six council members will first try to appoint one of the council members to serve as mayor for the remainder of Hartwell’s term, which expires November 2021. This will require a majority vote. The council has 60 days from the date of Hartwell’s resignation to decide on which council member will be mayor.

At press time June 17, the next earliest opportunity for the council to decide was at the council meeting scheduled for June 22.

If they are unable to agree on which council member should be mayor within the 60 days, the decision then falls on the residents in a special election in May. In either case, once a new mayor is selected, the resulting vacancy will be filled by automatically appointing the runner-up from the most recent council election.

“In this scenario, former Councilman Robert Gettings would return to the council, a veteran leader who would bring back a much-needed focus on recreation and public health,” Hartwell said.

In his farewell address delivered June 8, Hartwell reminisced about his history on the council, starting in 2007 when he was elected to the council at 25 years old. He won the open seat left by the retirement of former City Councilwoman Toni Shad, and he said he owes her a debt of gratitude.

Hartwell recalled how he went into public service with rosy ambitions of implementing new initiatives but quickly found himself faced with the financial challenges of the Great Recession.

“My dreams of bringing new policies quickly were dashed by a focus on fiscal responsibility,” Hartwell said. “Under the leadership of then City Manager Jon Austin, City Council saved this city from bankruptcy. The cuts we made were difficult but necessary at the time to preserve our institutions. We made mistakes, come to find out, but crisis demands assertive leadership.”

Hartwell also took a moment to remember the people who helped him along the way.

“During my first year on council, Gary McGillivray, now our county commissioner, was my closest mentor. He was one of our finest councilmen and mayors because he spoke up for our residents and challenged old habits in City Hall,” Hartwell said.

“It wasn’t until Kyle Geralds was elected when I truly had a partner,” he said. “Kyle brought a positive and constructive energy that made us get on board or out of his way. With Kyle, we proposed and adopted as many policies as we could: encouraging our police to work closer with the community, tackling blight, collaborating with the schools and of course, we co-authored the original domestic hen ordinance. Kyle knew he would serve one term, and he challenged me to serve with the same sense of urgency.”

Hartwell’s second term on council, which began in 2011, was defined by the lingering effects of the recession and the catastrophic flood of 2014.

“Aug. 11, 2014, changed everything for me and our city,” Hartwell said. “Our city was too slow to respond to the emergency of the great rainstorm that year. We needed to declare a state of emergency sooner. We needed to be stronger against our neighbors who illegally dumped their waste in our backyard after the flood. That rain event galvanized my intention to seek the office of mayor a year later.”

Hartwell’s first term as mayor started in 2015 and saw the city recovering from the recession and enjoying a resurgence in property values. The council’s first action once Hartwell became mayor was to reinstate the city’s Special Investigations Unit to combat human trafficking in the city’s hotels. Hartwell also called for an investigation into the electric company to stop the constant power outages.

“Remember, it wasn’t too long ago when power would fail in our city every week,” he said.

Hartwell said he is particularly proud of the city’s work updating the plan for the downtown, adding that while the coronavirus has slowed the growth there, he is confident it will bounce back.

During his second term as mayor, which began in 2017, the council hired Melissa Marsh as the new city manager and adopted several commercial development plans, including Michigan’s first BJ’s Wholesale Club location, and two of the largest medical marijuana projects in state history. He also takes a point of pride in the city’s ethnically diverse business community.

“The secret formula to our success on City Council is that we take action when we see a problem. We are lifeguards who run towards the drowning victim. We aren’t idle,” Hartwell said. “I feel strongly that the people who run for City Council and mayor need three qualities: the awareness to identify problems in our society, the wisdom to understand the solution, and the courage and ability to execute the plan.”

He also warned against cynicism — how fear of a new approach can stunt the city’s progress.

“I beg my colleagues on council: Do not be distracted or delayed by cynics,” Hartwell said. “This isn’t to say disregard criticism. As a matter of fact, the best advice I received during my first year on City Council was to not be distracted by how someone from the public addresses City Council. They may yell, shout, use coarse language or seem ill prepared. Some people just aren’t comfortable with public speaking or might be tired from a long day of work. A councilman … Dean Eggert, told me: patiently listen to every speaker who comes before council, and don’t be swayed by their emotions or appearance, but truly listen for the heart of their message.”

On this note, he said the next mayor must demonstrate a commitment to community service, empathize with residents and be firm in their conviction to move council forward on thorny issues. They also must be trustworthy — a role model for children and someone seniors can count on, too.

“These principles have informed my career as an elected leader and will continue as I assume the bench as the next district court judge,” Hartwell said. “Service. Empathy. Leadership. Trust. Fairness. When the governor called me to appoint me as judge, she said that she selected me over the other candidates for these simple values: humility and service to others.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss wished Hartwell well on his judgeship.

“Back when I was elected seven years ago, Brian’s was the first call I received,” Bliss said. “He congratulated me and immediately asked how he could help me make ITAC (Information Technology Advisory Committee) a reality. Before I was even sworn in, he was helping me craft policy, and that continued up until his last meeting. That type of collaborative leadership is what made him a great mayor and allowed us to accomplish all that we did as a council.

“It was an absolute honor to serve our city with Mayor Hartwell,” he said. “I’m so proud of him for getting this appointment and serving us in a new way as district court judge.”

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