Citizen activist alleges city election violations

July 9, 2019

Birmingham activist Clinton Baller and his political action committee, Balance 4 Birmingham, filed  a campaign election complaint against the city of Birmingham on Monday, July 8, and requested an expedited review from the Michigan Secretary of State, alleging the city has crossed a line and is advocating for the passage of the parking bond proposal in August, after the city produced a printed and online piece clarifying misinformation being circulated by opponents of the parking bond proposal.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Section 169.257 states, “It is the policy of this state that a public body shall maintain strict neutrality in each election and that a public body or a person acting on behalf of a public body shall not attempt to influence the outcome of an election held in the state.”

Mike Doyle, spokesperson with the Michigan Secretary of State office, responded on Tuesday, July 9, that they had received Baller's complaint, and have five business days to determine if it warrants an investigation. If it does, Doyle explained, the Campaign Finance Act does not permit them to give preferential treatment to one case over anything else, so it would be investigated in the order it was received.

In Baller's complaint he alleges that by the city utilizing city funds to produce and mail a piece entitled “Get The Facts” in which the city states it is correcting mischaracterizations and mistruths being perpetuated by Balance 4 Birmingham and Citizens for Responsible Government, item by item, it is seeking to influence the electorate. The piece is straightforward and informational, outlining  what the newsletter calls “myths” and “facts” about the proposed new parking structure.

“The city has provided an educational piece to provide voters with factual information on the proposed project,” city manager Joe Valentine said.

In his complaint, Baller stated the “myths” are instead “opinions.”

“This (the mailer) is perfectly okay for Birmingham YES (a pro-parking bond proposal political action group) to do,” Baller said, noting “I did not send the complaint without being pretty sure that this crosses the line.”

This is not the first time Baller has tried to intercede with the bond proposal vote after Birmingham city commissioners approved a resolution to put a parking structure bond proposal in the amount of $57.4 million before voters on the August 6 election at their meeting on May 6,  in order to secure financing for demolition and rebuilding of a new parking structure to replace the N. Old Woodward structure and an extension of Bates Street, the first phase of what is known as the Woodward Bates project. On June 12, the city's ethics board heard – and unanimously dismissed – two complaints from   Baller  against city manager Joe Valentine and mayor Patty Bordman, over their involvement with winning bids and proposals for the new N. Old Woodward Bates project which will involve several mixed use buildings, including an adjacent RH (Restoration Hardware) building.

The ethics board dismissed the complaint against Valentine as a similar case is pending in federal district court, brought by Ara Darakjian and TIR Equities, the losing bidder in the project, and the board not only did not find that Bordman had acted inappropriately, but had acted “with the highest ethical standards” in her role as mayor and commissioner, but called out Baller for verbally attacking her at meetings and in social media as inappropriate actions.

The vote on August 6 is to permit the city to obtain up to $57.4 million in general obligation bonds – a municipality is required by state law to receive approval of its voters before obtaining such bonds. The bonds will be retired with city parking fund reserves and revenues from the parking system, which has been the past practice on parking structures in Birmingham.  

If the parking bond vote fails, the whole project will be dead, according to city officials, including the proposed RH building.

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