The Bernero administration’s plan to build an entrance road to the Groesbeck Golf Course through Ormond Park may have hit a pothole bigger than even those on Michigan Avenue.
A review of public records by City Pulse shows no evidence that the Ormond Park road proposal was ever vetted in any of the dozens of hours of public meetings conducted by the city’s Park Board in the lead-up to its February 2015 vote to approve the Five Year Recreation Plan or in all the public meetings in March 2015 when the plan was before the Council.
Yet somehow the road plan is in a current version of the Five Year Plan, also known as the Parks Master Plan.
As a result, three members of the Lansing City Council are questioning the legality of the entrance plan. The Council had rejected the plan last month, but it was unable to overturn Mayor Virg Bernero’s veto.
Now, though, Council members Carol Wood, Jody Washington and Adam Hussain are calling for an investigation into how the proposal ended up in the Parks Master Plan without the knowledge of the public or the Council.
They argue that because there is no paper trail showing how the proposal ended up in the plan, including no legislative history showing a motion to include it during Council committee meetings and public hearings, the proposed entrance road has no legal standing.
“I think the City Council was misled,” said Hussain. “I think the Park Board was betrayed but, most important of all, the public. I think they deserve the investigation. I think they deserve some measure of restoration of confidence.”
City Council President Patricia Spitzley said she could support an investigation “if the Master Plan has, in fact, been altered without public input and without City Council’s knowledge.”
Hussain and Spitzley served on the Park Board in 2015 and voted to approve the Master Plan at that time. Neither could recall if the Ormond proposal was contained in the plan.
However, a copy of the Parks Master Plan adopted by the Park Board provided by the current Park Board president, Veronica Gracia-Wing, shows it was not in the document. Hussain said the Ormond plan was not discussed at any of the dozens of hours of public meetings leading up to adopting of plan.
The issue came to the forefront in the last two weeks as city leaders wrangled over a proposal by Bernero to shift management — and a substantial lump of parks millage funds — to the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority to manage Groesbeck Golf Course. The Council rejected that plan in a budget it adopted last month, but Bernero vetoed the move. The Council met last week in an attempt to override that veto, but failed. Three of the eight Council members did not attend.
During that debate, the Council learned that the city intended to spend an additional $385,000 in park millage money to create the road through Ormond Park. Neighbors of the 8-acre park rose up in opposition to the plan, as they have twice before.
Calling “change difficult for people,” Bernero told WKAR the road was going to happen.
Video from the night of the 2015 public hearing on the Parks Master Plan, combined with a review of hundreds of pages of public documents, including drafts of the plan itself, revealed no evidence that the Ormond Park road was considered. It does not appear in any publicly available drafts of the Parks Master Plan until March 23, 2015, at 12:58 p.m. when Joe Wright, landscape coordinator for the city, submitted the “current draft” to City Clerk Chris Swope for distribution at the meeting that night.
The March 23, 2015, video of the Council meeting and public hearing show Parks and Recreation Director Brett Kaschinske telling the Council of some cosmetic changes, like adding recently appointed Councilman Vincent Delgado to the City Council list and one significant change in objectives: that the city would work to make playground upgrades carried out under the five-year plan ADA compliant.
No mention is made of the Ormond Park plan in any publicly available videos of the meetings, or minutes of any of the public meetings held to develop the plan, including the public hearing to adopt the final plan.
Wood said in order for the Ormond plan to have been adopted, the Council would have adopted an amendment to the plan as part of its final resolution. City Attorney Jim Smiertka disagreed. He said there was no need for an amendment.
Swope distributed the 12:58 p.m. draft that evening as the public hearing was introduced, so the Council had two draft documents before them: one with and one without the Ormond plan.
Wood, Hussain and Washington all believe that the Council voted in March 2015 to adopt the parks plan that did not include the Ormond Park road plan.
As a result, they contend the city can’t move forward until the “inconsistencies in the public record” are addressed, and doing so without resolving those questions was, as Wood said, a “misuse” of those dollars.
The project is currently out for bids. Washington said that in her opinion because of the “deceit” the master plan “in this instance is null and void.”
For his part, Hussain said he does not know if the city can legally move forward with the plan. But he said it appeared the plan had “sidestepped democracy.”
Wood said she is not holding her breath that Bernero and his team will halt the project, but she hopes they will consider what impact moving forward could have on the three-term mayor.
“I would hope as someone who has 208 days left that he would stop and consider what legacy he as a mayor wants to leave,” Wood said. “They talked about the legacy that Hollister has left. You know how he turned GM around and all of those things. Does Virg Bernero’s legacy want to be the fact that he’s misused, misrepresented and has cared nothing about transparency?”