Dexter Council’s Burning Debate Over Fire Station Location Reignites


Conceptual rendering of a reconstructed fire station at 8140 Main. Credit: Partners in Architecture.

A blazing controversy has been reignited as two council members challenge the Dexter City Council's decision to keep the city's fire station at its current location, sparking a fierce petition drive to put the matter in the hands of the voters.

After a heated 4-3 vote at the February 27, 2023, meeting, Dexter City Council decided to keep the city's fire station at its present address, 8140 Main St. This decision appeared to extinguish years of fiery debates, indecisiveness, and disagreements over the ideal location for the urgently required new public safety facilities. Dexter seemed poised to forge ahead and construct the much-needed station.

But not so fast.

An initiative led by council members Griffin and Michels would put the decision for the fire station’s location in the hands of city voters. The two oppose renovating the current fire station, preferring instead for it to be constructed across the street from Mill Creek Middle School, where the large sign stood for a few years announcing the parcel as the proposed site. In the 4-3 vote keeping the station at its present location, Griffin and Michels voted against it. Councilmember Aldag was the third.

“I believe that we need to move forward, respect the opposing views, respect the decision and make sure that we have the best outcome with the path forward,” said Aldag in an email to the Sun Times.

Griffin and Michels have a strategy under the amiable banner of “Friends of Mill Creek Park” that, if successful, would bar the development of the described area for anything except recreational/parks uses, pressuring the council to reconsider the site across from the middle school or find another location.

They are collecting signatures for a petition to put a charter amendment before voters. From the “Friends of Mill Creek Park” website, the petition reads:

“We, the undersigned qualified and registered electors, residents in the City of Dexter in the County of Washtenaw, State of Michigan, respectively petition for a charter amendment that would modify Article 1 to add a new section designating that the City-owned public land bounded by Alpine Street, Main Street, Mill Creek, and the railroad be retained in public ownership, in perpetuity, and be set aside for and devoted to active recreation, passive recreation, or both.”

Should the charter amendment get on the ballot and approved by voters, it would prevent the reconstruction of the current fire station, forcing the city to construct a new one on the property across from Mill Creek Middle School.

When asked to respond to the idea that this is yet more political stalling or gamesmanship by two council members who didn't get their way, Councilmember Griffin responded in an email,

“I’ve heard from many residents who supported this past November’s public safety facilities millage who did not realize that the monies would not be spent on the proposed fire station that had been, for years, advertised at the corner of Dexter-Ann Arbor Road and Meadow View Drive. Those residents expressed their extreme disappointment at Council’s split vote on the fire station location and one explicitly asked whether residents might petition for the location to be changed. My participation in this effort is entirely consistent with the principles I campaigned on in November 2020—greater citizen participation, evidence-based decision-making, and the responsible stewardship of limited resources.”

The Councilmember continues, “The First Amendment grants citizens the right to petition their government when they think the government has erred or can be improved in some other way. City Council ultimately answers to the residents--not the other way around.”

She adds, “The merits of the proposed charter amendment should be judged on the content of the proposal and nothing else. Do residents in this community prefer the vision of expanding Mill Creek Park, preserving greenspace in the developing downtown, and more centrally locating the fire station or do they prefer something else?”

The same question was posed to Councilmember Michels.

“A lot of Dexter residents have contacted me since learning about the fire station vote by council,” replied Michels. “They ask if there is anything that can be done to change the vote, for a variety of reasons. Some feel they were tricked with the millage vote. Some feel there are much better things the city could do with that area. Some feel it is not wise to build critical infrastructure in a floodplain or the most congested section of town. Some are concerned about the intensity of the development along Mill Creek.”

“Whether it is my general nature or something engrained in urban planners or both, I feel a responsibility to help give voice to members of our community,” he continues. “Because of my working knowledge of local government, it is a lot easier for me to help organize and to take the arrows, as it were.”

“When in doubt, I believe more democracy is better than less,” he adds. “Our citizens should have an opportunity to make their will known.”

Michels refers people to the Friends of Mill Creek Park at
for more information.

Michels has been highly critical of cost escalation due to delays, but he doesn’t see this as a problem should the location change.

“With respect to a charter amendment petition causing additional delays, the group is working to get signatures turned in to get the question on the ballot for the August election,” he explains. “This should not delay any construction. The city is not in a position to put shovel to ground before spring 2024.”

Although she also voted against the 8140 Main St. site, Councilmember Aldag remains unwavering in her support for and belief in the city council process. She is critical of Griffin’s and Michels’s efforts to supersede it.

“As Councilmembers, we have a responsibility to our residents and how we conduct ourselves matters,” she says. “We have been elected to sit at the table, represent our constituents, and make those tough decisions on their behalf. Beyond obeying the Constitution, following the federal and state laws, we also have to abide by our Charter and our Council Rules. Here we have two Councilmembers (Michels and Griffin) that, against the Council Rules, are undermining the vote of the Council because the decision was not to their liking.”

She continues, “They formed the Friends of Mill Creek Park Committee 2 days after the postponement of the vote when it was clear that 8140 Main would have the majority votes for the location of the Fire Station. I believe in the Constitutional right of every citizen to criticize their government, ask questions from elected officials and hold their representative accountable. I am very saddened to see the conduct of these two Councilmembers. The unfortunate issue is that the information they have provided on their website and plan on sharing with the public, does not indicate their involvement at all. This is especially troubling as both but especially Ms. Griffin often advocates for transparency. I believe the residents of the City of Dexter should know how this petition has come about.”

Councilmember Hubbard voted to keep the new fire station at the current location and takes strong exception to the two council members’ actions to overturn the vote. In an email, Hubbard echoed the sentiments she had already expressed publicly at the April 10 council meeting.

“For the sake of transparency, I want to make sure the citizens of Dexter have the relevant information they need regarding the Mill Creek Park petition. The notion that just seven members of City Council are deciding on the future or the park is deceptive and disingenuous. This petition arose after two council members were unhappy with being in the minority on our vote to select a location for the city's new fire station. Not only is this proposed ballot language masquerading as a park issue, it is also undermining the council's decision to renovate or rebuild fire services at 8140 Main Street. That parcel is clearly not being used as part of the park, so the idea that council is threatening the park's future is simply ludicrous.”

“This is local government in a small town,” continues Hubbard. “This is not Lansing or Washington, D.C. It makes me very sad to see the disease of partisan politics trickle down to our usually supportive, inviting and caring community. These actions have broken my trust at the Council table, especially because those behind it have preached long and loud about transparency, even going so far as to say our local government has failed in that regard. As elected officials, we are held to a higher standard. We have a duty to serve the community to the best of our ability. The Friends of Mill Creek Park petition exemplifies just the opposite.”

To get the ballot question to an election, the petition needs the signatures of 5% of Dexter’s 3,598 registered voters, or 180 signatures.

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