Eric Haven, Continuing the Fight to Keep the “Old” in the “Old Guard”

Good grief. Once again, my personal email box was invaded by what the city manager refers to as a “message from Mayor Haven” but what I think of as more moronic meandering musings from the mind of the mayor. (Awesome alliteration there, eh?) And the city manager apparently thought “Looking Back & Looking Forward” was so nice, he had to send it to us twice. 🙄

What most people don’t realize (and Haven hopes you don’t ever figure out) is that his role as Clarkston mayor is mostly a nothingburger, which is a stark contrast to the role of the Detroit mayor, for example. The Detroit city charter creates what is referred to as a “strong mayor” form of government with two distinct branches – executive (led by the mayor) and legislative (led by the city council). The Detroit mayor has significant administrative responsibilities that include the ability to veto (reject) legislation passed by the city council, and you won’t ever find the Detroit mayor sitting at the city council table and voting at city council meetings. In contrast, the charter adopted by Clarkston voters created a “weak mayor” form of government that combines the legislative and executive responsibilities into only one branch – run by the city council – and the Clarkston charter expressly states that the mayor has absolutely no administrative role in city government. The Clarkston mayor gets one vote on legislative matters, the same as any other city council member, and he gets to chair city council meetings – so he’s more like the Detroit city council president than the Detroit mayor. To put it more succinctly, Haven can’t even order the city manager to purchase a different brand of toilet paper for the Depot Park bathrooms without the approval of the entire city council. (The mayor’s limited duties are described in Section 4.9 of the Charter, which I’ve linked to here: Clarkston Charter at page 14 of the pdf file.)

This is probably why we weren’t subjected to Haven’s uninteresting prose until the run-up to the 2021 November election, which was not-so-coincidentally at the same time that Haven was pushing his preferred two write-in candidates for city council. Only then did he start writing letters to the editor mirroring the campaign theme that he’d assigned to these two candidates, and it was also when he started abusing the weekly city manager’s email. And, as a special treat for Clarkston taxpayers, Haven prepared a letter for these two candidates to provide to voters that improperly encouraged people to contact Haven through his taxpayer-funded email and taxpayer-funded telephone number to further discuss these two candidates.

By now, it should be obvious to everyone that Haven’s recent spate of writing letters to the editor and glomming onto the city manager’s weekly email has nothing to do with any sense of concern for anyone in Clarkston. The only reason that this nonsense has continued is because Haven is in personal campaign mode. He’s up for re-election this year, so it’s important to him that you believe that he actually gives a rat’s patootie about you. Let’s be real – if Haven sincerely cared about anything beyond his own self-interest, he would have been writing letters containing helpful information during the worst parts of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. That he didn’t do so tells you all you need to know about his current motivation. As your mama wisely told you, it’s what a man does – not what he says – that counts.

So, what about the most recent bits of flotsam that floated into our email boxes – twice? I’m not sure who wrote this latest missive, but I doubt it was Haven. Not because the writing was bad – though it most certainly was – but because Haven doesn’t write in this style. Still, since Haven adopted the letter as his own, he also must own all of the justifiable criticism that comes along with it.

The first rule of presentation is to know your audience, something that no one apparently told our mayor. The 2019 American Community Survey (which is part of the United States Census Bureau) tells us that out of a total estimated population of 988 people living in Clarkston, 461 of them are under 40 years of age; 235 of them are between 40 and 59 years old; and 292 of them are 60 and older. (Source: Census – Table Results). And yet, the mayor’s letter begins with an outdated cultural reference from 1985 to “Marty McFly,” leaving half of the city residents who are under 60 (and undoubtedly many who are over 60) wondering who the heck he was talking about. (I had to look it up too.)

I wouldn’t ever believe any of Haven’s historical claims without source citations, though I do find it odd that Haven reserved his admiration for someone who was apparently one of many “squatters” in the area (Linus Jacox) instead of the first person who lawfully purchased the property he lived on (Butler Holcomb). (The Lakeview Cemetery Restoration Project’s Facebook page provides more detail if you’re interested in learning more.) I appreciated Haven’s invitation to look back to a time when the geographical area now known as the City of the Village of Clarkston was a better place, despite apparently having bigger mosquitoes than we do now (according to Haven). While it’s true that people didn’t have streets or sidewalks back then, Haven and the rest of our city government have let them fall into disrepair and there is no money in the budget to fix them. Progress?

Haven has mentioned the “balanced budget” several times now. I think he likes to throw that phrase into his letters because he’s hoping that you will be fooled into thinking that this has something to do with the city’s leadership over financial matters – and perhaps he even wants you to believe that he had something to do with it personally. 😂

Alas, that’s not why we have a balanced budget at all. The only reason that Clarkston government has a balanced budget is because Michigan law forces them to have one. Section 141.435(2) of the Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act does not allow the city to create a budget where expenses exceed the estimated amount of money coming in, and MCL 141.436(7) specifically forbids the city from creating (or modifying) the budget in a way that would cause expenses to exceed income. If at any point during the city’s fiscal year it becomes clear that the city is spending more than it’s taking in, MCL 141.437(2) demands that the city revise the budget so that overspending cannot occur. And if the city doesn’t do that, that would be a ground for initiating the process for the state to take the city’s financial management authority into the state’s hands and possibly appointing an emergency financial manager, as provided by MCL 141.1544(1)(j) of Michigan’s Local Financial Stability and Choice Act. (You can read the Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act for yourself by going here: mcl-act-2-of-1968.pdf), and you can read MCL 141.1544(j) by going here: mcl-141-1544.pdf). When the money the government takes in is at least equal to the amount that it spends, the budget is “balanced.” If the city were to take in more money than it spends, then we would have a surplus. Surpluses are a good thing, but since our city government likes to spend every single available penny, I don’t think that we’ll ever see a budget surplus.

So, that’s the real reason why we have a “balanced budget.” Honestly, did you ever seriously believe that the same people who voted to spend tens of thousands of dollars on cutesy little street signs rather than on necessary street and sidewalk repair would ever behave in a fiscally responsible way if they weren’t forced to do so by law? I think the answer is obvious – no, they wouldn’t. So, the next time that Haven brags about a “balanced budget” in any of his letters, you now know that he’s playing you for a fool – because he’s banking on you not knowing anything about Michigan’s budgeting law.

I also found it amusing that Haven mashed all of the government and non-government organizations together into one paragraph. I’ve honestly not seen them all listed together like this before, but it further emphasizes a major criticism that many have about why Clarkston never had any business becoming a city thirty years ago.

As Haven unwittingly makes crystal clear, Clarkston runs on volunteer power. Why? Because we can’t afford a government that can provide adequate services to the people who are paying to support it without this legion of volunteers – nor was the city ever capable of doing so. Remember, we had to disband our local police department because we couldn’t afford to pay them. We can’t buy equipment for our DPW department without the use of federal grants. The city council “borrowed” hundreds of thousands of dollars from the taxpayer-funded water and sewer funds so they could build a new city hall for themselves that included a private office for the city manager. (The taxpayers were never given the chance to decide whether or not we wanted over $400,000 of our money spent this way, and when an actual emergency arose, our sewer bills were increased because the money for repair had been used to pay for city hall.) If it weren’t for grant money and paid parking revenue, we wouldn’t even be able to do the limited street repair that the city manages to get done (and paid parking was former Mayor Percival’s idea, not Haven’s). We pay almost the maximum amount of property tax (it would be the maximum amount if we weren’t getting a small credit for the library millage). In exchange for all of that tax money, taxpayers receive very few city services, and the services that are provided are mostly performed through contracts with private entities or Independence Township.

If all of this weren’t bad enough, Haven closes his letter with the insane suggestion that every individual Clarkston resident should adopt “Clarkston’s birthday” as a theme for our private events. Our private events! But, after thinking about this some more, and giving such a ridiculous request all of the consideration that it’s due, I have some ideas about how we could each personally incorporate a “Clarkston’s birthday” theme throughout the coming year. Instead of pinning the tail on the donkey at your kid’s next birthday party, perhaps the children could pin a clown nose on an image of the mayor. (Seems a fitting response to such a clownish request.) Maybe your dinner guests could guess the number of marbles in a jar, which could be symbolic of all of the times Clarkston government will hide information from you or violate the law during Clarkston’s upcoming birthday year. Or perhaps we could have a public birthday celebration in Depot Park that includes the mayor sitting on a dunk tank chair, and all of the money raised from that could be put toward badly needed (and unbudgeted) sidewalk and road repair. I’d be happy to donate for the chance to throw a ball or two (or ten or twenty).

The possibilities are endless, aren’t they? Happy birthday, Clarkston!