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Mayor Bernero Responds To Council's Investigation Into Park

View of Ormond Park from the Groesbeck Golf Course parking lot.
Naina Rao
Council will investigate how a golf course entrance through Ormond Park got approved.

Lansing City Council adopted a resolution last night to investigate how an entrance Mayor Bernero wants to build into Groesbeck Golf Course got approved.


WKAR's Brooke Allen spoke with the mayor to get his thoughts on the entrance.



As a part of the mayor’s plan to improve Groesbeck, he wants to build a new entrance to it from Grand River, which would be right on top of Ormond Park.


"(The Ormond Park Property) was purchased ... for the express purpose of creating a driveway into Groesbeck Golf Course," Bernero said.


According to Bernero, the addition of the Ormond Park driveway will both make the course more accessible and aid with traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods.


"Nobody's talking about the neighbors on the other side who have to have hundreds of cars drive through their neighborhood daily and weekly," Bernero said. "This will be a straight-shot driveway directly through which will enhance the safety for that neighborhood."



The entrance is listed in the park board’s master plan, which gets approved the park board and by city council. But the park board and the council are saying the entrance was never vetted. Council members are saying it wasn’t discussed and they didn’t know it was in the master plan.


“The issue that we have before is not whether Groesbeck is going to make it or not, it’s not whether a road is going through or not, the issue is that as we were presented the master plan and what we had before us, Ormond Park was not part of it,” said City Council Vice president Carol Wood.


As part of the resolution, council is asking the mayor to hold off on starting the entrance until they can determine what happened.




Allen: "Now as part of that resolution, the council is asking the mayor to hold off on starting the entrance until they can determine what happened. So Mayor, I'm asking you and I know that you had said off the air before we started. So, tell us, what happened?:

Bernero: [yawns] "That's a yawn. Let me start with that. Just, Carol's [council president Carol Wood] voice puts me in that mood, of going to sleep. If the council would, you know, pull their head out of the sand and when I say the council - I'm talking about Carol, Jody and her son Adam. The three who tend to lead the council around. If they would read what's before them, and read the history instead of giving us historyonics, that would be gr8. I think you have in front of you, if not I can get it for you, how Ormond Park, quote on quote started, it was purchased by a previous city council, that included the likes of Lucille, Beeland and Alfreda Schmidt. It was approved unanimously." 

"For the expressed purpose of creating a driveway into Groesbeck golf course. Ding, ding ding, ding, ding! Can you imagine that Brooke? I mean the property was purchased for the purpose so its interesting. The very people that, usually these folks are big on history and preserving history, historical preservation, blah, blah, blah. But in this case, they've got amnesia. They don't wanna know anything about why the property was purchased, etc etc. Well, under the charter, I'm responsible for real estate for the city. And I always like to start at the beginning. I like to start with you know, what does the charter say? What can i do, what's my role, what is the council's role."

"So I'm in charge of real estate for the city, I try to manage it as best as possible. I have to develop a budget for the city, which I give my budget to the council. My budget passed nearly without a change. And there's money for this driveway in the budget. So, the parks master plan is an advisory document. The parks board is advisory. So again, I always say 'start at the beginning'. If you're gonna cover this stuff, if the council is gonna be involved in this stuff, let's start with what are the roles."

"Before we start talking about who's breaking the rules, let's get all the rules. Study them, know what we're talking about. Well under the rules, we have a strong mayor form of government. And I appoint the parks board, with council approval. We have these advisory boards and commissions. Most of the boards are advisory. And the parks board is one of them. I appreciate their advice, we work together." 

"But as Randy pointed out to them last night in my stead, there are big things that happen sometimes that aren't in the master plan. The Scott house, the much ballyhooed, talked about, debated board of water and light sub station that's being built at the former site of the Scott house on city property. That didn't go before the parks board. And the Scott house was within the preview of the parks board. It wasn't in the parks master plan. But it went ahead with under mayoral power."

"And this is going to go ahead, with mayoral power. So there's no great mystery about it. As far as the investigation, all they had to do was ask a simple question." 

Allen: "So they say they are going to do an investigation. So what do you say about that? Can you stop that?"

Bernero: "I wouldn't try to stop it. Unlike some people, unlike some executives in office Brooke I wouldn't try to stop that. But there's no need, the investigation of what? The master plan is sth we had a hand in. I don't sit at the council dais but I have a role in city government. And so there's no great mystery, I asked staff to put the driveway in the master plan and it was in the master plan and it came before the council for a vote. Here's an idea: maybe council members like Carol Wood, who have so much time on her hands, should read what's put in front of her... in the resolution that they voted for, was that new driveway for Ormond park. For Groesbeck golf course." 

"So again, the golf course is consistent with the original founders, the original framers, the reason why the property was purchased, its in the budget and its in the master plan as approved by the city council." 

Allen: "But there were residents, I think there was just a protest. Last week about this correct? So residents are pretty unhappy about this as well. Okay so let's talk about that."

Bernero: "Some residents... And this is called reverse NIMBY Brooke. As you know, NIMBY is "Not In My Back Yard." Sometimes people don't want a certain thing in their backyard. Where sometimes, something has to go in somebody's backyard. This is reverse NIMBY. This is the concept that, people who live around a park - God bless' em - often take ownership over the park. And that can be a good thing, in terms of keeping an eye on it, looking for misdeeds, helping to clean up the park, etc. Where it can be overbearing is when people around the park begin to feel that they have a sense of entitlement about the future of the park, about the status quo. That they feel that the status quo will always remain the same. Whether that means fighting naturalization of the park, or fighting anyone changed to a park the physical characteristics, characterization, the physicality of the park. Again, its a double edged sword. Mostly good. I would say mostly good. But as mayor, being in charge of real estate for the city, I have to do the greatest good for the greatest number." 

"i don't have the luxury of saying 'nothing will ever change in city govt. no fire station will ever close. No park will ever change, its physicality.' I don't have that luxury. I have to balance the budget, I have to do the greatest good for the greatest number. And again, Ormond park was purchased for the purpose of making Groesbeck park more accessible'. And the current driveway, nobody's talking about the neighbors on the other side who have to have hundreds of cars drive thru their neighborhood daily and weekly. And the people that are endangered, the cats and the children that are endangered in that. This will be a straight shot driveway directly thru which will enhance the safety for that neighborhood. Okay? so when you talk about neighbors, yes I understand we live in a system Brooke where the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

"I don't just listen to the squeaky wheel, I have a long 12 year history and beyond of not just listening to the squeaky wheel. Yes I hear the squeaky wheel, I hear the squeaks. But I also hear those who may not come to a meeting. You know, we have to consider again - the greatest good for the greatest number. And we have a 114 parks and Groesbeck golf course is losing $600,000 a year. That is unsustainable. They're taking up almost a third of the parks mileage to maintain a gold course. I'm trying to make that golf course more sustainable on its own. So I'm doing 3 things: transferring the ownership to LEPFA which is more entrepreneurial. Building some new amenities in the park and providing easy access, better, safer access to the Groesbeck golf course. Which almost, over the years, various consultants have come in and everyone of them has said 'you can't get to it. You can see Groesbeck golf course but you can't get to it.' And so its an issue. Its a real thing. This has been an issue for years. I hear the residents and they've been successful in the past at stopping this. And so they believe they can stop it again, I understand that. Its just like bldg a sidewalk. Its sth cities do. Cities have to build sidewalks. When we do, when we have to take down a tree or a mailbox ppl get upset. I understand people will upset. I understand their physicality will change." 

"If you're used to having a backyard, where the dog can run free and you're not looking at anything, that's good. But what abt the ppl who have hundreds of cars driving thru their neighborhood all the time to get to the golf course. For them, their life is going to be improved."

"And for these folks, its not gonna be terrible either. They're still going to live next to a golf course. The alternative is that in the long run, this golf course may have to close. We've closed 2 golf courses, when I became mayor there were four golf courses hemorrhaging funds. A city cannot sustain by itself, that's how cities goes bankrupt Brooke. And cities do go bankrupt. this isn't just some boogeyman claim. Some wild wild claim, cities go bankrupt. And I'm trying prevent that from happening here in Lansing. And so tough decisions do have to be made. I know that;s something that council wouldn't know much about."

Allen: "So let me ask you this: you said that they neighborhood -- what neighborhood seems like it'll benefit from Ormond park and these improvements being made and the amenities and everything. But it sounds like the other side of the neighborhood might suffer. Is that true or no? It will benefit and balance out."

Bernero: "Well, they certainly see it as suffering..."

Allen: "Okay. So that's why the protest happened and that's why some residents are speaking out. "

Bernero: "Right, and again - any change is upsetting. If especially, when you change the physicality of something. I've been thru this for 12 years. Again, even building a sidewalk can be controversial. Even when you're allowing kids to get off the street and onto a safe sidewalk - it is still controversial because its a change in the physical environment. This is changing the physical environment. But we own that property. The fact is, the city owns the property and the fact is I'm in charge of real estate. And I invite people to go back to the charter, I am following the law, the letter of the law. And the money is there in the budget and this is been talked about for several years or over a decade. In fact, since the property was purchased okay. I didn't make this up. There's a reason why it has been there. Bc it makes perfect sense. Again i understand if your backyard is strictly a park - who wouldn't wanna preserve that? But not everything that you like is able to be preserved okay? you don't own it. The city owns it. I'm in charge of a 114 parks and alot of other properties. I have to make all of that balance out."

Allen: "So do you think that if these improvements weren't made that the park would be at risk of going bankrupt?"

Bernero: "Absolutely. Well the park is bankrupt. Clearly, I mean the city is what's at risk of going bankrupt if we allow things like this to continue. I'm telling you $600,000 deficit is unsustainable. We have to make that park somehow and that's what we're trying to do - is to try to get it in the black. Try to get it solvent and make it more accessible. And that's what we're going to do. Again its the greatest good for the greatest number. And this is not going to be terrible."

Brooke Allen served as local producer and host for Morning Edition, from June 2016-March 2018.
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