Centennial Commons, a 2.2-square-mile downtown park, is currently under construction. On Nov. 2, voters will be asked whether or not to move the veterans memorial back to the site where it was located before the city moved it as part of the design of the downtown park in May.

Centennial Commons, a 2.2-square-mile downtown park, is currently under construction. On Nov. 2, voters will be asked whether or not to move the veterans memorial back to the site where it was located before the city moved it as part of the design of the downtown park in May.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Royal Oak places veterans memorial move on ballot following court order

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 25, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — During a special meeting Aug. 4, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to place a Preserving and Protecting the Royal Oak Veterans War Memorial ordinance proposed via petition on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The vote took place after the commission adjourned into closed session for attorney-client privilege to discuss pending litigation in the Oakland County Circuit Court.

On July 9, the Oakland County Circuit Court upheld a petition that gained enough signatures to be placed on the ballot despite the city’s attempt to appeal. The court order mandated that the city take action to adopt the ordinance or place it on the ballot by Aug. 6.

Voters will be asked whether or not to move the veterans memorial back to the site where it was located before the city moved it as part of the design of a new downtown park in May. The ordinance also calls on the city to reimburse those who contributed to the memorial between 2005 and 2007.

“The petition is designed to challenge a decision that was made after about two and a half years of public input with a final design in 2019 and final approval of contracts signed in 2020,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said. “There are a lot of legal problems with the sloppy language.”

He added that the proposed ordinance would give citizens the right of action to sue the city if they felt the ordinance was not being appropriately followed.

“In no way do I think this is in the interest of the citizens of Royal Oak or the city of Royal Oak. I think it’s fundamentally flawed. I’m confident the voters are going to reject it,” DuBuc said. “(It is) chock full of contradictions with state law and our charter. It would be nearly impossible for the city to enact it in its entirety.”

Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Paruch said the contracts and downtown park construction are currently underway and on track to be complete by Nov. 1. The election will take place on Nov. 2.

“We awarded contracts in March and were not even informed the petition drive was a possibility until, like, two weeks later,” Paruch said. “We weren’t just going to stop the contractors and put them on hold to see whether or not the petition would get enough signatures.”

Doing so, she said, would have resulted in time-sensitive contract breaches and delaying the opening of the downtown park.

“Although this is the fifth move of the monument, it’s the first time in its 100-plus-year history that it’s actually got a purposefully built spot,” Commissioner Brandon Kolo said. “This is the first time we’ve said this is a space dedicated for veterans.”

He said the location of the memorial as approved by the Downtown Park Task Force is “absolutely beautiful and made to be accessible,” citing the steps at the prior location as an impediment to anyone in a wheelchair.

City Manager Paul Brake said the construction manager indicated that the cost of restoring the veterans memorial to its previous position less than 100 feet away would cost a minimum of $400,000.

“(The high cost is) because we’re not just moving the monument, but removing what’s being placed in that area,” Brake said. “The park around that has to be redesigned. … It’s not just a simple lift by crane and setting it down. We would have to (bid contracts to) remove concrete that’s there as intended walkways.”

More than 1,500 people weighed in on the look and the feel of the park during public visioning sessions facilitated by MKSK, the park architect. Local veterans groups said the city did not reach out to them specifically.

During the public comment portion of the meeting following the vote, some residents expressed concerns that a survey soliciting input for the park was flawed and did not represent the wishes of the community.

Carol Hennessey, of the Royal Oak Memorial Society, said she was upset by the commission’s decision to move the memorial as part of the design of the 2.2-acre downtown park.

“Just because you want to put it in a park doesn’t mean you get to move that monument,” she said. “You only care about yourselves. You don’t care about the citizens of Royal Oak.”

Charles Semchena, one of three attorneys arguing the case on the side of the plaintiffs — veterans groups and other individuals known collectively as Save the Veterans Memorial — pro bono, said the prior location of the memorial behind the Royal Oak Public Library was ideal.

The veterans memorial was last moved to the location behind the library in 2006 from an alley that was not conducive to large gatherings and ceremonies. The Royal Oak Memorial Society worked for three years to raise funds and find the best place.

In 2007, voters approved the dedication of the Barbara A. Hallman Memorial Plaza, which includes the area between City Hall, the library, Troy Street and the monument.

Former City Attorney David Gillam, who drafted the ordinance for the ballot, maintained that the memorial would still be within the dedicated area if moved. Those against the move of the memorial contended that it could not be moved out of the plaza without a vote.

Semchena said the uses permitted around the memorial, if returned to its prior location, would remain the same. The commission holds concerns that the ordinance language would limit recreational activities near the monument.

“The decision to move the memorial and to actually implement the moving happened right after the petitions were filed. They knew this was happening, and the rest of the park wasn’t built,” he said. “They could have worked on the park area until after the litigation was completed.”

Concerns from those against moving the memorial include lack of space, lack of privacy, lack of visibility, noise and traffic.

Those in favor of the move believe the relocation will help protect the monument with gardens and trees and station it in a less congested area.

Commissioner Melanie Macey was absent from the Aug. 4 special meeting due to a planned family vacation out of state.

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