Rochester City Council objects to the banner inside library

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 20, 2015

 The Rochester City Council is not happy about a banner hung inside the Rochester Hills Public Library.

The Rochester City Council is not happy about a banner hung inside the Rochester Hills Public Library.

Photo by Mary Beth Almond

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ROCHESTER —  A banner inside the Rochester Hills Public Library touting Rochester Hills as one of the top 10 cities in the nation by Money Magazine has members of the Rochester City Council up in arms.

Mayor Jeffrey Cuthbertson said it’s not so much the display of the city’s recognition that bothers them. It’s that under the city’s logo, the banner lists the name of Mayor Bryan Barnett — who has announced that he will seek a third term in office as a write-in candidate this November due to term limitations within the city’s charter.

“A banner displaying the name of an elected official, particularly in an election year, just isn’t a politics-free, neutral-zone kind of approach,” said Cuthbertson.

Councilman Steve Sage said it’s the timing of the display that the council is against, since Rochester Hills won the award nearly a year ago, in September.

“Now, with an election upcoming, now it is political,” Sage said.

Cuthbertson said that irrespective of which candidate has a political message to offer in an election year, on public property that is a community institution, it is “in bad form.”

“I think the race for mayor in Rochester Hills ought to be confined to Rochester Hills, and the politics of it don’t belong in the city of Rochester. I don’t care who the candidate is. I don’t care what the forum is. It just belongs in Rochester Hills, not in Rochester. I hope — though I don’t think — this will be the last time this sort of thing may happen in the next few months. It was unfortunate to see that,” Cuthbertson said. “For my part, I hope we will as a part of the message say we are not comfortable with the policy of the library at present as it relates to this banner.”

On May 11, the Rochester City Council passed a resolution 4-3 urging community institutions that the cities of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township provide joint funding to — such as the Rochester Hills Public Library, the Older Persons’ Commission, the Rochester-Avon Recreation Authority, Rochester Avon Youth Assistance and others — to adopt policies against displaying elected official-sponsored political display banners.

Council members Stuart Bikson, Rob Ray, Kim Russell and Steve Sage voted in favor of the resolution, while Cuthbertson and members Ben Giovanelli and Cathy Daldin voted against the measure — because they also wanted to include language in the resolution stating that the council is uncomfortable with the library’s current opinion on the display, which Library Director Christine Hage does not plan to take down until November.

“For us to not include that and say, ‘Hey, create a policy’ — even though we may disagree with the policy — in some ways misses the mark, in terms of what we are intending to transmit,” Cuthbertson said.

Hage said the banner, which she agreed to keep up for a year, has been hanging in the stairwell leading from the library’s first floor to the second floor since last November. Originally, the banner was to be hung in the library’s entryway, but plans changed when Hage discovered that the design was vertical instead of horizontal, as she had thought it would be.

“We are proud of all three communities we serve,” she said. “We’re honored to celebrate with Rochester Hills the recognition they received from Money Magazine.”

Hage said the library contributes to the quality of life in the area, so she feels the library is part of the reason why Rochester Hills received the award, which the library is happy to celebrate.

“The library contributes to the quality of life in the area, so we feel that we helped (the city) in getting the award. We are proud to celebrate with them, and we would celebrate with either of the other two communities,” she said.

Hage said the library is apolitical and does not support one candidate over another.

“The recognition was given to the city of Rochester Hills while Bryan Barnett was mayor. ... It’s not a campaign banner. We are apolitical. He was the city mayor, (when Rochester Hills received the award),” she said. “And we didn’t pay for the banner; he paid for the banner. So it’s not like we are putting money to promote one city over another. We would be happy to celebrate with Rochester or Oakland Township if they got recognized for something that they wanted to provide the banner for.”

The Rochester Hills Public Library serves the residents of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. Hage said all three municipalities pay tax money to operate the library, but she noted that the communities of Rochester and Oakland Township do not have a vote on the library board, since they contract with the library for services.

Barnett could not be reached for comment by press time.

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