The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society and Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary at its Stephens Road premises in Eastpointe. But MMTHS board member Wendy Richardson said she feared some city officials were trying to oust the museum from the city-owned building.
The MMTHS has been renting the building from the city since 2011 for $ 1 per year. Part of the lease states that the city, as landlord, has the right to enter the premises at any reasonable time as long as it does not interfere with the tenant’s business. The recent interest in the building by Mayor Monique Owens has raised concerns for Richardson.
“Since becoming mayor, she has been constantly harassing us and trying to get other people into the building,” said Richardson, who is a former member of Eastpointe city council. “I’m really speechless about all of this. “
Richardson said when Owens was campaigning for city council she wanted to distribute campaign materials at the museum. MMTHS staff told her that she could not do this as it is a city-owned building and also a polling station. Since then, Richardson has said museum staff feel threatened by Owens.
Owens recently requested to visit the property and has scheduled a visit for 9 a.m. October 13. A woman identified by photographs as Monika Rittner, founder and chairman of the board of directors of the Discovery Center in Mount Clemens, accompanied Owens and made a full tour of the building by the mayor, including the areas marked “employees only”.
When asked by the Macomb Daily to reveal the reason for the tour, Owens only said she was “just doing a regular tour like I would in downtown Detroit” and offered no further explanation. Richardson filmed the mayor’s visit with his cell phone, which Owens vehemently objected to, calling it discriminatory and a violation of his rights. Richardson said she was taking a video of counsel’s advice as it was a visit scheduled outside of normal museum hours, adding that the facility is home to several priceless artifacts.
“I’ve been here with my kids before and no one was taking a video,” Owens said.
“It was a normal day during the hours we were regularly open,” said RIchardson. “You are here today for an illegitimate purpose, so we were advised to have a file. “
Owens asked Rittner if she was uncomfortable with the situation and Rittner indicated that she wanted to continue the tour. Owens said Rittner Richardson opposed the visit simply because she is a former Eastpointe council member who opposes the mayor.
Owens and Rittner entered the building with large mugs of Tim Horton coffee. At that time, Richardson told them that drinks were not allowed in the museum part of the building. The museum’s policy regarding the prohibition of food and drink in the museum is clearly displayed at its entrance. Rittner set his coffee down on a ledge in the building’s lobby, but Owens took his coffee into the museum itself. When Richardson again told her that drinks were not allowed in the museum where all the artifacts are kept, Owens accused her of discrimination.
“You are rude and discriminate against me as mayor,” Owens said. “You’re not doing it right and I’m glad you filmed everything because you make my guest feel very uncomfortable. This is how we now treat the people of the town of Eastpointe.
Deputy City Manager Mariah Walton, Director of Economic Development Kim Homan and Director of Public Works Darin Paolucci were present during the mayor’s visit, but remained in the lobby and were not actively involved in his interaction with Rittner and Richardson.
Although the mayor has not revealed the reason for his visit or Rittner’s presence, Richardson maintains that it is because Owens is trying to find new tenants for the property. But other city officials say they don’t know why the mayor requested the visit, but any changes to the military museum’s lease would have to be approved by city council.
An email from Walton indicated that the administration did not intend to make recommendations regarding the property occupied by the military museum.
“We have shared this consistently with the staff at the Military Museum and also expressed our appreciation for their efforts to preserve Michigan’s contribution to the defense of democracy,” Walton said in the email. “We also expressed that we honor and support our veterans and our military.”
The administration does not have the capacity to prevent an elected official, including the mayor, from visiting city properties. In order to make changes to the current lease, Eastpointe City Council will need to approve any change to the use of the property.
“This is a topic that should be on the Council’s agenda first – which it was not,” Walton said in the email. “Council should terminate the current lease and then vote on how to move forward with the property. I cannot stress enough that this has not been a topic of conversation or even discussion of getting on an agenda that we are aware of. “
Richardson said she heard that the person who was going to visit the museum building on Wednesday was from a children’s organization in Mount Clemens that had outgrown its space. The Discovery Center, formerly known as the Macomb Children’s Hands-on Museum, is a hands-on science and technology museum for kids located in downtown Mount Clemens at 54 Cherry Street. It previously occupied 12,500 square feet of space at 70 Macomb Place; according to tax records, the military museum is 11,345 square feet. The Discovery Center signed a 10-year lease for the Macomb Place location in 2019, but Center officials were able to get an early termination of the lease and moved to the smaller space on Cherry Street. In the spring, three board members resigned over concerns about finances, mission statement, bylaws and transparency.
As they exited the building, Owens told Rittner to contact her if she was interested in seeing other buildings in the town of Eastpointe. Rittner replied that “for our purposes this building is magnificent”.
According to information from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, in addition to being mayor, Owens owns real estate company The Perfect Home Realty, LLC.