The Dreaded Settlement Agreement
This evening, City Council will decide whether or not to accept the terms of a ‘global’ settlement agreement in the lawsuits filed against it by the Department of Justice and the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) over the issue of the proposed mosque on 15 Mile Road between Mound and Ryan Roads. As always, Council should consider the terms of the settlement agreement carefully, and then approve it if it is in the best interest of the City of Sterling Heights.
I am distressed to learn that even though the terms of the settlement have not been publicly released, an opposition movement has already been launched. People are circulating fliers calling for a large turn-out to the meeting, arguing that council should not be “rushing” to approve the settlement, and demanding that the city reject the proposal.
The people who have circulated this flier opposing the proposal have not read it. It has not been released to the public. They’ve taken the incredible, nonsensical leap from knowing nothing about what is being proposed to being opposed to it.
Look, folks, I am a Planning Commissioner. I am also a long-time political activist who knows quite a few people in the administration as well as everyone sitting on council. It is not a stretch to say that if there was anyone not on council or the city’s legal team who knew what was in this proposal it would be me! And I am relieved to tell you that I don’t know a darn thing. Nothing. Neither do the people circulating these petitions. The city’s attorneys have done their job of keeping the terms of any potential legal settlement private, so they do not damage that settlement’s chances of moving forward. I applaud them for doing so.
But this means that I couldn’t tell you if the deal is good or bad. I wouldn’t even hazard to guess what’s in that proposal. It could be almost anything, from expressly permitting the AICC to build a 70-story super-mosque without regard to the zoning law to simply paying the AICC’s legal fees and bidding them adieu. Until tonight’s meeting, there isn’t anything to be for or against. I assume that the city’s attorneys have negotiated in the city’s best interest, and we will find out what the outcome of those negotiations are tonight.
Ordinarily, I encourage people to be involved in the political process, both when important decisions are being made and when routine business is being conducted. An informed, active populace is the soul of a healthy republic, and engagement rather than apathy is the preferred condition.
At the same time, if you plan to show up to a meeting to oppose something that you know nothing about, based on hearsay spoken by people who cannot know what is being proposed, perhaps you might want to reconsider. Maybe before you become opposed to something you might want to wait a bit for the facts to come out so you can find out what you’re opposed to. Maybe you might want to think about the motivations of the people who are encouraging you to show up for a meeting to oppose something that hasn’t yet been revealed. You might want to ponder whether or not you and your fear of the unknown is being taken advantage of.
In general, I would say this: the AICC more or less has a right to build a mosque on property they own or have a contract to own as long as the plans for that mosque are in compliance with the city’s zoning ordinance and the plans pass muster with the Planning Commission. Alternatively, they can have the right granted to them as part of a consent agreement or legal judgement. In 2015, the Planning Commission rejected the AICC’s plans because of technical reasons: the mosque was too large for the plot of land the group proposed to build it upon. As I’ve noted before, in an urban area we don’t get to choose our neighbors. I find the idea that we would reject any development because of the religion of the developer to be horrifying and contrary to the principles that America was founded upon.
However, if you happen to be running for council this year in opposition to the current council and you align yourself with a certain group of challenger candidates that ran in 2015 (those being Paul Smith, Jazmine Early, Verna Babula, Jackie Ryan, Sanaa Elias and Joe Judnick), you’re not terribly concerned with the principles that America was founded upon. You’re not above using people’s fear of Muslims for your own personal gain. Your only concern is to get yourself elected to City Council. And if you can do that, in part, by playing upon people’s fears and getting them to show up to oppose something about which you haven’t got any verifiable facts, well, that’s exactly the sort of voters you’re looking for: people who don’t really understand the issues all that well and who are likely to vote based on emotions like fear. If you can leverage this mosque issue into a coalition that will help get you elected, who cares about freedom of religion, the right to pursue happiness, or the rest? It’s about getting votes!
So I will be watching this evening’s proceedings with interest. I will be fascinated to learn, like the rest of you, what the terms of the proposed settlement actually are. Thus enlightened, I will hopefully then be able to make an intelligent decision as to whether or not I agree that the settlement should move forward. (And I will trust the city council to make that decision in my absence, because I feel like they represent me and my interests pretty well, on balance.)
Godspeed to our City Council at tonight’s meeting. I sincerely hope that facing the forces of ignorance and fear is not too daunting of a task, and I feel confident that I will be able to support any decision you make.