Dexter City Council Debates Public Nuisance Ordinance Targeting Hilltop View Apts
During their September 11, 2023, Dexter City Council Councilperson Jamie Griffin introduced a discussion item suggesting a public nuisance ordinance aimed primarily at Hilltop View Apartments in Dexter.
According to a memo from Councilperson Griffin to the City Council included in the meeting packet, she hoped, “...Council will consider ways to abate criminal and nuisance activities, particularly those that are both disproportionately originating form (sic) a single source and disproportionately affecting certain city residents and business owners.” Griffin is referring to a reported increase in service calls made to the Dexter Area Fire Department and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office from Hilltop View apartments since its opening.
Griffin’s memo detailed her attempts to reach out to representatives from Avalon and Faith in Action (FIA), organizations that share responsibility for the property and its leasing, in response to concerns brought to her by area residents. During the council meeting, Griffin suggested that it was Avalon’s and FIA’s insufficient response to her inquiries that forced her to bring the topic to the council, in an attempt to hold Avalon and FIA accountable for their agreements with the city.
Councilperson Joe Semifero opened the discussion with a motion to suspend any inquiry or consideration of chronic nuisance law unless a majority of the council votes to consider it in the future. Councilperson Sanam Aldag seconded the motion.
Semifero read from a lengthy prepared statement that summarized his reasons for the motion. Referring to the part of Griffin’s memo that suggests Avalon and FIA have been unresponsive, Semifero said, “We…are elected representatives of the city…we respond to our constituent’s requests and they communicate with us at their discretion. I do not believe that any resident or business owner is required to respond to a request from an individual council member….No council member is empowered… to mandate responses from any resident or business owner and not responding to a request does not reflect badly upon them.”
Semifero then referred to conversations he’s had with Avalon Executive Director Aubrey Patiño saying, “I told her she had no obligation to respond to requests she didn’t feel comfortable answering and that any official request from Council could and should be made by the city manager.” He went on to specify a number of ways Avalon, together with FIA, is addressing the challenges that have arisen in the time since Hilltop opened, one of which is by hiring two additional full-time social workers.
Aldag also provided lengthy comments in support of the motion. “I see a danger in putting forward a [nuisance ordinance] like this,” she said. “Where is the stop here if we start something like this? Who is next? Who is picking and choosing? In our December 2022 meetings, it was brought up that First Street Park has been a place for drug dealers and drug users for decades. Nothing like this has come up to make THAT park a nuisance. Where is the stop from here? Are we giving a message that people should be afraid to call for help because they’ll become statistics that then, what, we evict them from the city?”
During her comments, Griffin clarified that she did not suggest that this discussion item end in any sort of a decision, rather she just wanted to have the conversation. “I reached out to reps from Avalon and Faith in Action, like I said in my memo. You’re right, they had no obligation to respond to me but maybe had they responded to me this whole ‘bringing this conversation to this public setting’ maybe could have been avoided.” Griffin is best known for organizing and leading the opposition to Avalon’s housing presence in Dexter.
When asked about Griffin’s claim that Avalon’s response to her inquiries was insufficient, Avalon responded via a statement that read in part, “Avalon stands ready to engage in conversations with elected officials in any area where our properties are located, provided those conversations advance the wellbeing and rights of all citizens in the community, regardless of their race or economic status.” Ms. Patiño added, “As a responsible property owner, Avalon will continue to have active, open communication with the City of Dexter as needed. We hope that all citizens, including those at Hilltop View, can feel a sense of belonging in Dexter and are able to just live their lives.”
Mayor Keough also challenged Griffin’s suggestion that Avalon and FIA are unresponsive to inquiries. He recounted several conversations between the organizations and members of the council regarding how they are addressing the increase in service calls. He then implied it could be Griffin’s poor working relationship with the organizations that prevented her from obtaining the answers she sought.
The council passed Semifero’s motion 5-2. Yes: Semifero, Aldag, Schlaff, Hubbard, Keough. No: Griffin, Michels.
A link to the entire council discussion can be found on the city’s website at https://www.dextermi.gov/government/cc.php. The discussion begins approximately one hour and two minutes into the meeting.