SWARTZ CREEK — City officials are in a bit of a quandary over park maintenance in the shadow of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order prohibiting contract lawn care services as part of the ongoing effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.
“We have an obligation to provide accessible outdoor recreation,” said City Manager Adam Zettel.
The problem is in determining whether the executive order also prohibits the city’s lawn care contractors to maintain the park properties.
“By all accounts, the stance of the prosecutor is the sheriff or state police can still cite contractors and their office will prosecute,” Zettel said.
The prosecutor might take a different stance, however, were the city council to declare that mowing parks is essential for public safety, he said.
“We’re kind of painted into a corner,” Zettel said.
Metro Police Authority Chief Matthew Bade said it appears that public parks maintenance is exempt from the executive order prohibition.
City attorney Chris Stritmatter agreed with the chief, but added, “One problem right now is this is completely new. There is no way to look back and see what was done prior.”
Stritmatter advised the board to be cautious.
Zettel said city officials will advise contractors to begin mowing at the parks as scheduled this week.
“We consider that to be essential based on our interpretation of all of the executive orders,” he said. “Stay home, stay safe leans heavily on … public recreation.”
The City Council also will send a letter to the governor requesting clarification.
The contract work will be limited to park maintenance, which means the city will not be able to enforce its noxious weed ordinance for the time being. The ordinance allows the city’s contractors to cut down overgrown grass and brush. The city then bills the property owners.
“As a community, we found noxious weeds to be against public safety,” Zettel said. “We don’t want everything going to pollen or seed and aggravating respiratory problems … pollen is a safety issue under the best of circumstances.”
Guidance received from the states indicates that such enforcement action is “not in line with the intent of the executive order,” and the resulting rodents, insects and pollens are not valid public safety issues in the current situation, he said.
“So, I believe our community will be looking at (tall grasses) for a while,” Zettel said.