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Note: The following “Letter to the Editor” expresses the views and opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily that of The Sun Times News management or staff.

Why are we petitioning for a charter amendment requiring a public vote on sales of all public property? Haven’t we elected representatives to make these decisions on our behalf? I would like to thank Donna Lasinski, the state representative of District 52, for helping to make this point for me.

Just last week, Rep. Lasinski expressed her support for the proposed Avalon Housing development in Dexter (“We should welcome supportive housing in our community,” The Sun Times News, February 5, 2020). Although I can understand why Rep. Lasinski, a Scio Township resident and representative of northern and western Washtenaw County, would endorse the expedited and likely below-market-value sale of City of Dexter property to address the county’s housing needs, I place no more value on her input than I do on that of the numerous other special interests attempting to dominate this conversation. That is to say, the perceived quality of someone’s contribution to this discussion should not be based on their title, charitable efforts, or years of government service, but rather on the soundness of their argument. 

In fact, Rep. Lasinski’s eleventh-hour involvement is troubling for at least two reasons. First, although she indicates concern about the dissemination of misinformation in our community, she incorrectly asserts that, “[a]ny people referred to Avalon Housing/Faith in Action’s supportive housing will already have completed any rehabilitation…” That statement is in direct contradiction to those made by representatives from Avalon Housing who have stated, in no uncertain terms, that they are committed to implementing a Housing First approach in which tenancy is not conditional on being clean, sober, or agreeing to treatment. Further, Rep. Lasinski hollowly echoes the assurance of Faith In Action that “there are likely more than enough members of our community to fill all the proposed units,” and yet, when we have asked representatives from Washtenaw County, Avalon Housing, and Faith In Action how many of the 38 families across all of Washtenaw County (as of August 2019) awaiting placement in permanent supportive housing are from Dexter, we have been told that nobody knows.

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More importantly, although Rep. Lasinski has been lauded for her “commitment to accountability by passing a government transparency bill unanimously out of the House, and by hosting regular coffee hours and town halls to hear input from her constituents,” her letter is completely silent on key dysfunctions of our local government—including our city manager’s service as the president of Faith In Action’s Board of Trustees, the continued use of city resources to advance the agenda of these two non-profits (e.g., by twice advertising the community meetings hosted by Avalon and FIA via the city-wide email updates), and the refusal of our elected officials to make themselves available for an actual public dialogue in the form of a town hall meeting.

Our group consists of everyday citizens busy living our lives—working and taking care of our families—just like you. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have to balance the overall public discourse that is being diluted by several non-profits that have full-time employees and cadres of volunteers dedicated to defending their missions—some of whom hold influential positions in our local government and formal and informal local media outlets. And now our own state representative has added her voice to this din.  

It is further troubling to learn that there are residents who have concerns about the proposed development or the actions of our local government, but who will not sign the petition for the proposed charter amendment because they fear retaliation of some sort. Clearly, even our small town is not immune from the practice of shaming people into silence or submission. Even our small town is not immune from the types of institutional dysfunctions that can only persist because they start at the top.

Let me be clear: Support of the proposed charter amendment is not a vote for or against the proposed development. It is a vote for the will of the people—whatever that might be. One can be in favor of the proposed development and also be in favor of greater public input on sales of public property. Both can be true. In fact, several supporters of the proposed charter amendment have expressed just that.

So, yes, although we have elected our representatives to make many decisions on our behalf, most of which reduce to the question of how to best allocate limited resources, is this what you had in mind: To be knocking on the door of a nearly $10 million bond for a new fire station and other city facilities just one year after our local government, acting with uncharacteristic speed, sold half of a parcel purchased with $285,000 of public funds in late 2009 (with initial talks of placing a fire station there) for $187,500 to a tax-exempt entity, even as our representatives have been unsuccessful in their six-years-long battle to recover property taxes from the Dexter Wellness Center?

We can sit idly by until council members Scott Bell, Zach Michels, and Jim Smith are up for reelection this November (2020) or until council members Paul Cousins, Donna Fisher, and Sheila Knight and Mayor Shawn Keough are up for reelection in November 2022, or we can act now by exercising our right to petition. We are urging you to act now. If you would like to sign the petition, please contact us directly at info@dextercrg.org. We are going door to door to gather signatures throughout the entire month of February and would be happy to arrange a time and place to meet that is convenient for you. To learn more, visit www.dextercrg.org.

Respectfully submitted,

Jamie Griffin, Treasurer, Dexter Citizens for Responsible Government

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