By Megan Kelley
LAKE ORION — Lake Orion’s village council rejected two requests regarding the Downtown Development Authority during their meeting on Monday.
Both requests were presented to the council by Councilmember Michael Lamb who has been outspoken about his concerns with the DDA and its tax capture for more than a year now.
The first request was for the council to consider submitting petitions from resident Harry Stephen to electors of the village.
The petition in question is one from last year that circulated among village residents to repeal the ordinance that funds the DDA, but not fully disband it.
Stephen ran into several issues when submitting the petitions, wherein his first attempt did not have enough valid signatures and on his second attempt, failed to meet the filing deadline, the village officials claimed.
Because of this, the measure did not appear on the November ballot.
Lamb and Stephen however, have continued to bang the proverbial drum on the issue as it has been a regular topic of conversation at council meetings.
This is not the first request to have council take action on the issue with Stephen making a request in October 2022 for the council to either take action or hold a special election.
Should the measure go to a special election, village taxpayers would foot the bill.
Both of those requests ultimately failed with the council deciding not to take any action on the issue.
This time around, however, Lamb argued that the opinion given to council in October by attorney Niccolas Grochowski of Beier Howlett was in violation of village charter.
Lamb claimed that by village charter, the council either must repeal the ordinance referred to in the petition or send it to the electors; not taking action is a violation of charter.
With that, Lamb moved to send the petitions to village electors.
Several council members — President Jerry Narsh, President Pro-Tem Teresa Rutt and Councilmembers Carl Cyrowski and Ken Van Portfliet — spoke, recalling the conversation that occurred over the topic in October with some citing “stale signatures.”
To this, Lamb said he had done a good amount of research and had not found anything that stated signatures could even go stale.
With village attorney Mary Kucharek of Beier Howlett present, council was advised that in order for the action to be voted on a second time, new information would have to be available and the prevailing side from the vote in October would have to repeal their previous motions.
From there, Lamb withdrew his previous motion and made another motion to direct their attorney to clarify the issue of signature staleness and the issue of the repeal deadline, both of which Lamb says the council has never received a clear answer.
“Since it’s a local issue and not a big issue, our charter unfortunately doesn’t have any of the details of any of this information so the citizens are at a loss as to what to do,” Lamb said. “I would really like to get a little more guidance from the village attorney.”
Kucharek then spoke to give council her opinion on the motion, asking if the village wants to set the precedent of using their own funds to pay their attorney to give advice to a private citizen.
With this advice, Lamb immediately withdrew his motion.
The council then voted unanimously to receive and file the information.
Lamb’s next request was for the village council to adopt a resolution informing the DDA that the proposed bond sale by the village council is in violation of the village charter.
In recent months, the DDA has ventured on a new path toward fixing the issue of parking in the downtown with plans to purchase the lumber yard for $2.4 million and re-develop the property.
The DDA is also in the process of seeking a $5 million bond to pay for the project.
While the plan is still in the early stages of development, it has become a contentious issue that seems to run parallel to the petitions filed by Stephen months prior.
“The selling of bonds, supporting the sale of bonds, guaranteeing the sale of bonds to the DDA to buy and sell real estate; the DDA is a business activity. Under the state law, the DDA is allowed to conduct business activities, own businesses, purchase businesses, buy and sell property and pretty much do whatever they want. However, the village charter does not allow the village, which is a separate entity, to invest money in business enterprise in excess of $2,500 without going to a vote,” Lamb said.
Lamb also said that the DDA was planning on building a mixed-use development on the lot, and that the DDA was a separate entity that did not need the village in order to sell bonds.
Lamb’s motion to adopt a resolution to inform the DDA that the proposed bond sale by the village was in violation of the village charter was seconded by Councilmember Nancy Moshier.
Village Manger Darwin McClary clarified his opinion on the matter, stating that he did not believe that the DDA was a business enterprise.
Councilmember Sarah Luchsinger disagreed that buying and leasing properties did not equate to a business enterprise: however, she was relatively confident in her understanding that the bond could not be used to build a mixed-use development anyway.
A couple of residents rose to speak during public comment urging the council to have the DDA send the proposed bond sale to the voters.
Despite that, the council voted 5-2 against the motion.
By Megan Kelley