Michael Betzold is a former Free Press reporter, longtime freelance journalist and frequent contributor to Motor City Muckraker.
Who’s “disturbing the peace” on Belle Isle?
Is it a billionaire whose crew takes over half the island all spring, puts up barricades and grandstands that block the river view, and races cars at 165 m.p.h. in an ecologically sensitive public park?
No, it’s an old man passing out leaflets and speaking his mind.
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Just after noon Friday, DNR conservation officer Lt. Joe Molnar ordered me off Belle Isle, a public park, for 24 hours even though I had followed his subordinates’ instructions to stop leafleting motorists and to stop commenting aloud within earshot of Roger Penske, who was being interviewed by Channel 7 at the race site.
Molnar said I was “disturbing the peace.”
For weeks, I’ve been passing out leaflets that say, “The Grand Prix Doesn’t Belong on Belle Isle,” to motorists heading toward Sunset Point as crews set up race equipment. I’ve been repeatedly told by conservation officers I could exercise my right to do so – until today.
A few minutes after I watched part of the TV interview taking place and commented on it, six officers converged on me as I was passing out leaflets at the park entrance and told me I was “impeding traffic.” They gave contradictory instructions about where and how I could continue before Molnar finally arrived and booted me out.
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The action occurs as the DNR continues a cover-up of a public “listening session” on March 29 at which 100 park users voted to end the Grand Prix as their top priority for Belle Isle’s future. The state still has not reported the results of the meeting.
DNR director of long-term strategic planning Debbie Jensen, who ran the March 29 meeting, told me two weeks ago that staff was still evaluating the feedback to “make sure we get all the information correct.”
The DNR has been honoring the terms of the pre-existing contract between Roger Penske and the City of Detroit. That contract expires after next year’s race.
Both DNR chief Ron Olson and Belle Isle Conservancy director Michelle Hodges have indicated they want to continue the controversial relationship with Penske. Olson this week told city council he has already started negotiations on a new race contract.
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Penske’s contract allows 11 weeks for the race set-up and takedown. The race takes place the first weekend of June.
Opponents of the race are planning a May 27 protest at the entrance to the MacArthur Bridge.
Michael Betzold is a former Free Press reporter and longtime area freelance journalist. He wrote Queen of Diamonds, a history of Tiger Stadium. He lives on Detroit’s east side.