Love of trees, nuclear waste, open meetings violations and a new, city-owned water plant--the topics discussed at the meeting Monday were wide-ranging and somewhat controversial.
The less than hour long meeting started off with the city's Beautification Commission awarding its three prizes for the 28th annual Arbor Day poster contest to three fourth-graders from .
It's a rarity for the same school to win all three prizes and even rarer for all three students, Alexandria Walz, the top winner, and Logan Wiseman and Isabel Kado, runners-up, to come from the same fourth-grade class--Maire teacher Neal Gross with the help of art teacher Michael Heenan.
The meeting took a sharp turn following the awards.
Starting with Councilman Gregory Theokas, who brought up the issue of Canada storing nuclear waste deep underground about a mile from Lake Huron.
Theokas asked the council to study the proposal, which has resulted in resolutions of opposition from the the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and the City of St. Clair Shores, and to take its own position on the issue at a future meeting.
We should "make our position known to our state legislators, congressman and Canada," Theokas said.
He also asked the city attorney to review and inform the council of other cities' methods of handling similar situations.
Mayor Palmer Heenan made his feelings clear immediately.
"I can't imagine putting nuclear waste within a mile of the Great Lakes system," Heenan said. "The treasure of the world is our water system, our waterways and to jeopardize them with this kind of program it isn't appropriate. It sounds awful because of things that can happen that we don't anticipate. Even the Canadians, I would think, would be against it."
From there, a resident in the audience asked the council to make clear where the city stands on building its own water plant.
The council was asked whether, as in the past, it would appoint a citizen's committee to study the issue and complete a report, whether there would be public hearings or whether the proposal was a dead issue.
Heenan replied without committing.
"I wouldn't say it's dead. I wouldn't say it's alive either," he said. "One of the things that prompted it is constant increases of 10 to 18 percent to our water rates. The only reason to consider it would be to save money for our residents if Detroit keeps doing what it's doing" with rate increases.
Councilman Theokas said it's probably wise for Grosse Pointe Park to learn how new leadership, including a new chairman and three new suburban representatives to the board that oversees the water system, will play out.
"We need to see where it's going before doing anything," he said.
"I would agree we need some type of advisory group," he said in response to the resident's inquiry about a citizen review committee. "We should see where it goes with the new regime."
If the city does proceed with building its own water plant - a sewer treatment plant would not be part of the project - he assured the audience "it would not be something that's done in the dead of night. Absolutely not."
Then council was confronted by a Grosse Pointe Park resident and a Grosse Pointe Shores attorney about what they see as violations of Open Meetings law by local boards that hear appeals to property tax assessments in the Park and in other Pointes.
A Park resident said all decisions made at an appeals board meetings in March should be "null and void" because they were in violation of open meetings law, which require meeting dates be published in at least one newspaper, among other concerns.
The resident also told of being shut out of a the panel's meeting to hear appeals of property tax assessments in March. He said he wanted to learn the process before he appeared before the board and understand it so he could effectively argue what he saw as an overvalued home. His experience led him to the state attorney general's office, which he said told him the meetings had violated the Open Meetings Act and subsequently his request Monday that those appeals heard in March be re-heard.
Besides failing to give legal notice of the meetings, the resident accused the city of not opening meetings to the public by holding them in a small room with only two chairs for visitors. He claimed he was treated rudely and given a somber reception when he appeared before the board while an unnamed council person appearing before the panel was welcomed in a friendly manner with the board laughing and joking as the resident listened from the hallway.
Councilwoman Laurie Arora apologized. "I'm sorry your treatment was any different than anyone else's," she said.
Charles Leahy, a Grosse Pointe Shores attorney, told the council he's heard similar stories across the Pointes and he demanded the council change its procedures, starting with moving the meetings to a larger room and making it clear that visitors are welcome.
He said he has also received cold shoulder treatment, including being asked to leave meetings. He said he emailed a complaint to city officials last year warning that the meetings were not abiding by the law.
"I'm here to ask you what do you want to do with this issue…It has to be fixed," Leahy said.
City Attorney Dennis Levasseur denied that open meetings laws have been broken.
"You said you were able to attend meetings," he said. The panel, "said anybody is welcome to come in there. No one has barred you. They're not secret meetings."
Mayor Heenan said he wants to ensure rules are being followed.
"I'm sympathetic to anybody who has questions about the Open Meetings Act. If we have done something inappropriate or illegal I want to do it right," he said. However, he said he doesn't believe the board intentionally would keep its meetings closed.
"It wasn't done in any way that was intended to be secret," he said. "The general idea of it offends me."
Leahy said he will be back at the next tax appeals board in July to see how the board handles visitors the meetings and how it notifies the public.