Amid loud opposition to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, officials in some Metro Detroit communities are refusing to enforce the governor’s ban on commercial lawn services and insisting that local police not be forced to obey orders, that they say would harm their residents.
The ban on the commercial lawn service will create rats, mosquitoes, epidemics and other problems. Officials in at least four metro Detroit communities have argued since Whitmer extended her stay at home policy on April 9, adding new restrictions on March 23, including a ban on lawn service.
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said the ban could do more harm than good.
“I will not support giving quotes,” said Fouts. “We have large numbers of seniors, and many of them have special needs. They don’t own lawnmowers; they rely on commercial services.
“I called the governor’s office last week and thought I made a pretty good point. I said, ‘If you do this we will get weeds instead of grass, and tall weeds will bring rats and mice. I said for it’s a bad idea and they’ve been asked to rethink the policy, but it looks like they won’t. “
Fouts said he supported the governor’s order to stay in place, “but I cannot support the ban on commercial landscaping. That’s the kind of work that can be easily done while maintaining social distance.”
Officials in St. Clair Shores and Clinton Township sent notices to citizens stating that they would not enforce the commercial ban on lawn services, even though the Clinton Township board of directors voted Monday to overturn the township chief’s notice .
Prior to Whitmer’s renewal, Roseville officials had posted a notice telling commercial landscapers they could operate, but the city lifted this after the new state restrictions were imposed.
One of the Frequently Asked Questions posted on the government website is, “Can Landscaping, Lawn Maintenance, Arboriculture, Irrigation, and allied outdoor maintenance companies operate under this regulation?”
The answer: “No, unless the service is required to maintain and improve the safety, hygiene, and essential operation of a residence.”
“My interpretation is that I didn’t have to enforce this because you are talking about safety,” said Fouts. “It’s not safe to have rodents. It’s not safe to have disease, which leads to crime.”
St. Clair Shores city administrator Matthew Coppler posted a notice on the city’s website Tuesday making the same argument.
The St. Clair Shores City attorney concluded that commercial and non-commercial landscapers are allowed to provide services “required to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operation of residential buildings,” the statement said.
“While a cursory review of the Executive Ordinance and the City Attorney’s opinion may lead the reader to ask if the two agree, they do so when the PO and City Attorney’s views of their cooperation are viewed through the lens of common sense.” the letter said.
“For example, it’s easy to say that an arborist company shouldn’t be doing business during this time. However, in the recent storm that hit St. Clair Shores, there may be trees on an owner’s property that have sustained a limb dangling dangerously over the house.
“What should the homeowner do? Can you call an arborist to take it down before it falls and damages your home? The PO doesn’t specifically say they can,” the letter said.
“However, this is clearly a situation that affects a resident’s safety, hygiene, and essential operations. If the branch is hanging dangerously over the roof of a house, a tree company must be called to remove the branch before it causes will damage the house and possible injury to the owner. “
Before Whitmer banned the home commercial lawn service in its extension, a notice to local residents was posted on the Roseville Police Department Facebook page and on the city website that residents could hire lawn care services without fear of reprisals.
But the city reversed that after the extension went into effect, city attorney Timothy Tomlinson said.
“We felt legally compelled to withdraw our opinion,” he said. “I think we have to obey the governor’s orders.”
Clinton Township supervisor Robert Cannon disagrees.
“I had our lawyer examine it … and nowhere does it say that the local police must enforce this order,” he said. “It’s not there.”
When asked whether municipalities are being forced to enforce the governor’s order, Whitmer’s spokeswoman Tiffany Brown referred questions to Michigan Attorney General Spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.
Rossman-McKinney forwarded a memo on April 9 that was circulated in her office stating, “Local law enforcement and district attorneys are authorized to issue civil citations and otherwise enforce the emergency order.”
While the memo states that the police have the authority to enforce the order, it doesn’t mean they are forced to uphold it, although Rossman-McKinney said in an email, “A violation of the executive order is a criminal offense.”
“Every day we rely on our local law enforcement officers to use good judgment to enforce state law,” she said. “An executive order is no different. The governor’s instructions are based on advice from health officials advising that these are important measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We are confident that local law enforcement agencies, along with their resources and other police requirements, will consider this when making enforcement decisions.”
As of Wednesday, Michigan had 28,059 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 1,921 deaths.
The Clinton Township Cannon wrote a letter last week informing residents: “After reviewing the governor’s emergency orders … Clinton Township has determined that it will not seek enforcement of offenses through grass-cutting operations, provided social distancing requirements of six Feet distance and other conditions are met.
“The community notes that cutting grass in compliance with the social distancing set out in the implementing regulations fulfills the goal of protecting life by reducing the health effects of allergies and asthma, as well as the health effects of rodents.”
On Monday, the local government voted 4-3 to override Cannon’s letter and “clarify that Clinton Township would enforce the governor’s order but leave it to the professionals to enforce,” said Trustee Mike Keys, who voted against Cannon.
“The community does not have the power to say that an individual order is unenforceable,” he said. “When we voted, the board said it recognized the governor’s power to set rules and then we would leave it to the police to enforce those rules.
“We can’t let individual politicians decide what orders their community will obey. What if one day an officer wakes up and says, ‘I don’t want social distancing to continue?’ It’s unacceptable, and we’re not going to publish it in Clinton Township. “
Despite the vote, trustee Joe Aragona, who had voted with Cannon, and town clerk Kim Meltzer sent a letter to Police Chief Fred Posavetz on Wednesday urging police to ignore the governor’s “petty tyrannical order”.
“The decision is yours,” they wrote. “We ask you not to impose $ 1,000 fines on lawn maintenance companies.”
Aragona told The Detroit News, “I think the governor’s order went way too far. These companies can operate safely when people take personal responsibility and stay six feet apart. People are smart enough to find out. These companies have to do it. ” back to work.”
Clinton Township police spokesman Captain Richard Maierle said his officers would follow instructions from the board of directors.
“The board says we have to enforce the governor’s orders, but we have to use discretion,” he said. “So when we receive complaints, we will make our own judgment as to whether or not to try to ensure compliance.”
Jenifer “Joie” West, Clinton Township trustee who voted to maintain Whitmer’s command, said many of the opposition’s fears, such as rats and tall grass, were not immediate concerns.
“I was driving around town the other day and there isn’t any tall grass yet,” she said. “We don’t have April like last year, when it rained a lot and the grass grew quickly. And rats wouldn’t be a problem until much later.”
“But the most important thing is that we have to follow the governor’s orders. She said this was part of the mandate and we have to follow it,” West said. “I don’t see a church having the authority to override what the governor says.”
Larry Dubin, professor of law at the University of Detroit-Mercy, said there was a significant difference between communities that use discretion in enforcing government edicts and utterly refuse to uphold them.
“In general, state law governs the municipalities of a state, and state law is paramount,” he said.
“But I don’t think (Whitmer’s order) means that local authorities do not have reasonable discretion. If there are legitimate concerns about the health or safety of a resident in a given situation, I believe there is a justification for that to act accordingly.
“That is different from saying: ‘We will not follow the instruction’ as a blanket statement.”
Cannon said despite the officials’ public statements, he doesn’t believe the police will enforce the governor’s ban.
“The (Clinton Township Board) voted to uphold the governor’s order, but that was really, ‘Wink, we know we really can’t get it through, but we really don’t want to say it,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous to ask us to enforce something like this. We’re not the grass police.”