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Our recommendations for November ballot

Residents in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills are being asked to choose candidates to fill seats on their city commissions, as well as for the Baldwin Library board this election day, Tuesday, November 7. In Bloomfield Hills, there are five candidates to fill five open seats. In Birmingham, four candidates are seeking to fill four open seats. There are four candidates seeking three open seats on the Baldwin Library board.

Downtown Newsmagazine normally invites all candidates to answer questions we feel are important and relevant to the job of city commissioner to help voters and us to decide who to support. However, we do not do that for uncontested races.


In a first for us, recognizing the importance of library boards in maintaining access to communication materials, meeting places and many other services for the community, in this election we have sent out questionnaires to the four candidates seeking three seats on the Baldwin Library board. Their answers are available in this issue in our Voter Guide as well as on our website, downtownpublications.com.


In addition, we weigh in on two important issues facing Birmingham voters – the senior millage proposition and an ordinance amending the prohibition on marijuana sales. For those living in the Bloomfield Hills Schools district, voters are asked to renew a building and site sinking fund millage.


We offer our endorsements on this page, reached after thorough, thoughtful and careful deliberation with the acknowledgement that we are just one voice in the community, although one backed up by an inordinate amount of time covering local government issues.


BIRMINGHAM

Baldwin Library Board


There are three open seats on the six-member Baldwin Library board. Baldwin Public Library, while located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, adjacent to Shain Park, serves not only Birmingham but also Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Bloomfield Hills. This is a strong field seeking the board positions.


Two incumbents, board president JENNIFER WHEELER and board vice president KAREN ROCK are both running for re-election, and each warrant a return to the board. Each has been involved with the library's construction project, which has refashioned both the Youth Services and Adult Services to function in a 21st century world. Both Wheeler and Rock have been integral parts of the process as the library undergoes its third and final reconstruction, from planning and working with staff to financial management and community collaboration. They each have the skills, talent and perspective, including appreciating that a community's library should reflect the values and interests of everyone in the community and work to defeat public censorship of library materials. They also recognize that a board member's job is to support and not undercut the library director, and conduct all board decisions in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.


For the third open seat, we were most impressed with WENDY FRIEDMAN, an active community volunteer who is also involved in several notable non-profits. Her understanding and appreciation for Baldwin Library, where she has long been an active visitor, the city of Birmingham, and her experience as a board member with other organizations should allow her to hit the ground running with a clear understanding of the board's role and the importance of adhering to the Open Meetings Act.


Next Senior Services Millage


Birmingham Next, a non-profit whose goal is enriching the lives of the 50-plus population of Birmingham, Bingham Farms, Beverly Hills and Franklin since it was created in 1978, has been sharing or renting limited space from Birmingham Public Schools, until earlier this year, when after eight years of searching for a home, the city of Birmingham coordinated the purchase of the Birmingham YMCA building on E. Lincoln Street in Birmingham as a combined future site for Next and the Y. This is a huge win for both Next and the Y. The Y has been looking to expand its operations into neighboring communities, and this will allow it to reduce its footprint while allowing Next to utilize 30,000 square feet of the current 40,000 square foot building – tripling its current space. Some of that square footage will also include shared spaces. However, there is a cost to both update the infrastructure and contemporize the space, as well to support the new senior center. It's an important cost to bear.


Recent census data reveal that about half of Birmingham's population – just as in neighboring Bloomfield Township – is over 50, and will continue to grow older as residents age in place. In reality, there are many more in this demographic than in our school age population.


Birmingham is requesting a new .33-mill levy, which will collect a little over $1 million a year for a three-year term. Birmingham voters should vote YES on the senior services millage, which is long overdue.


Cannabis Dispensary Sales


Years ago the city commission voted to opt out of allowing dispensaries in Birmingham, as did a majority of communities across the state, after recreational cannabis use and sale for those over 21 years of age was approved by state voters.


Back in February of this year, Birmingham officials began discussing how to approach the question of allowing a marijuana dispensary within the city limits as a proactive move to guard against a petition effort by citizens – but more likely from outside commercial marijuana entities – wanting to anchor in the local market.


A growing number of municipalities in Michigan and in Oakland County have been subject to so-called “citizen” petition drives to put the issue on the ballot to overturn the current ban on dispensaries. In a number of cases these petitions were driven by the same outside group. Equally disconcerting is the number of local governments that have become embroiled in lawsuits when simply trying to set the approach best suited for their local community.


Birmingham officials figured it was logical to control the nature of an ordinance that would allow for a limited number (one each) of recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries and their location in the city to thwart such a petition drive where outside forces would dictate the number of sales outlets and their placement.


Made sense to us at the time. But over the past months we realize that the city could still – or more likely will – face a future petition drive that would overrule what the city had adopted. And now the city commission has decided to leave the decision up to residents with the ballot question in November.


Unfortunately, no matter what residents decide, the city could still face a petition drive, most likely from cannabis interests, who could get on some future ballot with a completely different direction for the city on this issue.


Yes, 62 percent of those voting in Birmingham favored legalizing recreational use of marijuana, which we supported on this editorial page. But that does not necessarily mean that the majority of residents want dispensaries in the community, especially when sales of cannabis are as near as 14 Mile on the city's border, a short drive to any number of neighboring communities where multiple dispensaries flourish, or you can order flower and other cannabis products online and have them delivered. Additionally, the amount of tax revenues from just two dispensaries will be negligible. Approving dispensaries holds the potential of a legal mess for the city in the years ahead, not to mention when other illegal street drugs, such as psychedelics, may be decriminalized like they have been already in Ann Arbor and Detroit, for example.


The solution? City voters need to send a strong message that there will be NO cannabis or other drug dispensaries in Birmingham by voting NO on the ballot question in this election. Present a united front to discourage anyone or any group that may want to force a future vote, no doubt funded by outside special interests. Voters need to send a clear message: Birmingham is our community, and we will determine its future.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS SCHOOLS

Renewal of sinking fund millage


Voters living in the Bloomfield Hills School district are being asked to approve a three-year, $3.38 million a year sinking fund millage, to replace the expiring current tax, enacted in 2018, at a slight decrease, .6976 mills, down from .7165 mills, for the school years 2024 through 2026, inclusive. Sinking fund millage dollars are to be used for safety, security and technology upgrades, which the district is planning to continue to use for improvements, construction or repair of school buildings, school security improvements, the acquisition or upgrading of technology, the acquisition of student transportation vehicles and equipment, and other pertinent needs.


Sinking funds cannot be used for faculty, administrator or employee salaries, nor for other operating expenses, per Michigan law. We recommend Bloomfield Hills Schools district voters vote YES to continue supporting this millage renewal.

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