GPWoods Truth: Anatomy of a Headlee Override defeat

Citizens committee spent less than $5,000 to defeat $20 million in tax increases.

By Pete Waldmeir

      A number of malicious rumors have circulated at the Grosse Pointe Woods city hall since our "No new taxes, No blank check" campaign succeeded in defeating by a wide margin the administration's $20 million Headlee Override tax increase attempt on Nov. 6.

     Contrary to city hall grumbling that ours' was a professional "hit job" by hired outside mercenaries, however, this victory was one of the finest textbook team efforts I've witnessed in more than 60 years of covering, running and observing local political campaigns.

     And for an uphill battle against the powers and persuasions of City Hall leadership, it may just go down in history as the most frugal in terms of money raised and spent: Less than $5,000 to save $20 million!

      It all started back in mid-summer 2012 when the Woods' council floated a trial balloon to test residents' potential support for raising their property taxes, reportedly to fix crumbling roads and other city infrastructure.

       Within weeks, however, tax proposal project had blossomed into not only asking for several million dollars in added taxes to fix roads, but also into requesting several millions more to replenish the "General Fund," i.e. money that the mayor and council can spend any way they choose to spend it - and usually do.

       I have no recollection of who got the idea to oppose it first, but soon three of us former council members - myself, Lisa Pinkos Howle and Joe Sucher - got together with former Planning Commission member Nancy Hames and decided to form a committee called Citizens for Better Government to combat the city hall tax grab.

       Admittedly an odd collection of former adversaries, the four of us anted up the original seed money to get the anti-tax movement off the ground. We did an initial mailing to all Woods' residents to warn them of the impending disaster.   

       What happened next was just short of amazing. The response was huge. A few major individual taxpayer contributors came forward and we were on our way.

        Normally in political campaigns, candidates must ask - nay, beg - residents to take lawn signs supporting them. But once our business was "on the street," our phones started to ring with people requesting - some even demanding - "NO-NO" lawn signs.

         Within days we ran out of the first 125 signs and ordered another 125. And as our lawn list grew, so did our support base. We did just one fund-raising mailing and it brought in about $2,500 from roughly 30 volunteer contributors.

         No arms were twisted, no vendors, suppliers, appointees were bullied for our donations. People came forward freely to help, support, advise and work with us. It was their money - like it was our money - and they weren't going to yield it without good reason and a modicum of trust that their elected officials would spend it wisely.

         In a nutshell, what the defeat of the two tax increase proposals came down to - as any prudent investor will tell you - was a matter of trust.

          The majority trusted us more than they trusted them. And for a politician, that's a pretty sad commentary.

         Citizens for Better Government's final financial report is a public record on file with the Michigan Secretary of State.



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