On St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, not the day after when the downtown celebrated it with a parade and a host of other activities, the MCP printed James Street Plaza to be redesigned into Legacy Park, telling the local public of the latest renovations proposed at the James Street Plaza area. The COLDNews had mentioned this three days prior, but had no diagram of the changes.
As per most initiatives involving the Ludington citizen's tax dollars, the regular citizenry were never apprised of this suggested improvement, even though officials are saying that this reworking of the plaza has been in planning for years. This is as it has been in recent history even when pricy renovations are contemplated
Back in 2012, they ripped up pavers and stamped concrete to create a green space for the center of the plaza, as noted in this Torch post, and of course they didn't tell the public until after it started. That 2012 article noted that: "Not too long ago, the 100 block of North James was used as a street, but since then it has been ripped up more times by the DPW than the Ludington Daily News has been by discerning local readers." Since then it has been relatively stable, but often neglected and worn, like this 2014 photo shows:
The new plans as noted appears to retain the paver stones, the stamped concrete and most of the 'turf area', but introduces a fire pit with seating, a timber-framed pavilion, larger marine artifacts (like a ship propeller), and other subtle changes. The architectural designs were likely done by Kendra Thompson, our city government's go-to architect for projects that they do not want to tell us about but covertly pay thousands of your tax dollars to before deciding whether to follow through with them.
The public is ignorant about what the changes will cost, about who thought up the changes, about who drew up the changes, and how much money has already been spent. What they aren't totally ignorant about is how they planned to fundraise for and market the project, for at the Feb 6 2017 DDA Meeting it was noted that they were promoting some unnamed-at-the-time plaza work.
Reporting on Ludington government for about a decade has given me a unique amount of cynicism as to their personnel in the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) also known as the Downtown Ludington Board (DLB). There is a lot of basis for this back when I began a twelve part series dealing with the local DDA, here is a short list of transgressors of basic conflict of interest laws from this board alone:
Nick Tykoski- paid from DDA funds for wayfaring signsand other projects to his business, Tye's Inc.
Les Johnson- paid from DDA funds for wine and liquors for several DDA events to his (now-former) business AJ's Party Port.
Kathy MacLean- paid from DDA funds for many years for marketing work to the Chamber of Commerce she was president of. Later, secured funds for rental rehab, façade work for her downtown building without disclosing her position of treasurer of the DDA to the State.
This is by no means exhaustive, but effectively these notable local people used their public position in order to further the interests of their own private business without going through the proper protocols. What are those protocols that they are required by law to follow? These will be revealed after revealing the latest violator of the public trust.
As noted in the snippet, a business called "Engine Creative" received an undisclosed amount of DDA funds by vote, and the abstention of a member was noted in the minutes with no explanation as to why he abstained. Neither the Downtown Ludington website or Facebook page have anything more about "Legacy Park" other than what they put in the press release they gave to MCP and the COLDNews, and nothing about hiring "Engine Creative" at all.
But on Wednesday, March 15, there was a feature article in the local paper, COLDNews: Chris VanWyck lives for creating describing the business and the person who abstained from the vote.
VanWyck says: “Shapes, colors — I’ve always kind of had an odd way of looking at the world. Looking at shape and color, not necessarily context, it allows me to take things out of their normal realm and look at them a little differently. … I wear weird like a badge. Who wants to be normal, man?”
Being that VanWyck runs Engine Creative did he and the DDA do the proper thing, being that he abstained from voting for himself a contract? City leaders Heather Tykoski, City Manager John Shay and nine other city officials present at the February meeting appear to think so, but they have been wrong often in the past when it comes to ethical issues.
State law, section 15.322(1) (aka section 2) states: "Except as provided in sections 3 and 3a, a public servant shall not be a party, directly or indirectly, to any contract between himself or herself and the public entity of which he or she is an officer or employee." The definitions of Section 15.321 indicate he's a public servant and the DDA is a public entity.
However, reviewing section 3 (3a does not apply), subsection 1 states that as Van Wyck works less than 25 hrs. a week for the City, he is not flatly prevented from getting into a contract with them. Such contracts have their limitations noted in the next subsection :
(2) A contract as defined in and limited by section 2 involving a public entity and a public servant described in subsection (1) shall meet all of the following requirements:
(a) The public servant promptly discloses any pecuniary interest in the contract to the official body that has power to approve the contract... which disclosure shall be made a matter of record in its official proceedings. the disclosure shall be made in either of the following manners:
(i) The public servant promptly discloses in writing to the presiding officer... the pecuniary interest in the contract at least 7 days prior to the meeting at which a vote will be taken. The disclosure shall be made public in the same manner as a public meeting notice.
(ii) The public servant discloses the pecuniary interest at a public meeting of the official body. The vote shall be taken at a meeting of the official body held at least 7 days after the meeting at which the disclosure is made. If the amount of the direct benefit to the public servant is more than $5,000.00, disclosure must be made as provided under this subparagraph.
(c) The official body discloses the following summary information in its official minutes:
(i) The name of each party involved in the contract.
(ii) The terms of the contract, including duration, financial consideration between parties, facilities or services of the public entity included in the contract, and the nature and degree of assignment of employees of the public entity for fulfillment of the contract.
(iii) The nature of any pecuniary interest.
So whereas twelve City of Ludington officers, all sworn to uphold the Constitutions of Michigan and the country (except for John Shay in his capacity as city manager) attended an open public meeting in February and saw nothing wrong with the way they granted fellow public servant Chris VanWyck's business a contract of unknown size, or with how Community Development Director Heather Tykoski wrote the minutes (which were approved as written at their March meeting) there were the following violations of state law (minimally, presuming the contract is between $250 and $5000):
1) They refused to notify the public by posting on the website and their bulletin board before the meeting the fact that they were contracting with one of their own public servants.
2) They failed to disclose the pecuniary interest of VanWyck and the nature of that interest in their official minutes of the meeting.
3) They failed to put in the specific terms of the contract in the official minutes.
The fallout. Section 15.327 says clearly that "Any person violating the provisions of this act is guilty of a misdemeanor."
But as we have seen with the other DDA criminals that violated the public trust by selling/contracting their goods and services (even big 'contracts' without a written contract like Nick Tykoski did with his potentially $150,000 wayfaring sign deal), Chris VanWyck and his 11 public servant co-conspirators will proceed unhindered by profiting themselves and their family with public funds.
And wear corruption like a badge; who wants to be ethical, man?
Thanks for this information X. Why do these people continue to do as they please while disregarding the laws? I can see some ignorance involved for newer members and those not familiar with meeting criteria but the experienced people who have been around for a while have no excuse as to why they continue to thumb their noses at the citizens of Ludington while pretending to be acting in the best interests of the public. What an experience it would be if all of these people who profess to care about the voters would actually do the right thing.
Willy, if you me or most of our general readership were in positions of public service, I think we would be cautious of getting into a contract with the public body we work for. I think we would mention that we just brought three small lots right before we drew up zoning law allowing these lots to increase in value. I think we would think more than twice about getting grants for our buildings and businesses from the state administered by the DDA when we served as the treasurer of that organization and had the respectable position as the president of the local chamber of commerce.
But the minimal ethical standards required by law is not being followed in this and other cases with the City of Ludington, and I can only believe that some of these otherwise respectable people that get caught in these debacles is because they are being told by our city manager and community development director that everything is cool-- nobody will notice, and if they do, we'll cover for you.
If the top of the chain is corrupt, it filters down and corrupts the full system. A deeply corrupted system defends itself and attacks those who wish to correct it, it becomes almost impossible to uproot even when the sickness is pointed out, and cures suggested.
There are those among us who live the "low life" and have no integrity nor respect. They will get what the reap....and their lives.... behind the scenes are not good, happy nor valued. Some feed on the host....as I've commented before....and they know not their value nor their ability to contribute to the true and honorable and good of this world. It takes true passion/love/respect to continue to stand for what is right. Money buys some people, connection to those who are perceived as powerful buys others....and some people just sell out for nothing just to go along. They have no clue....it isn't about money, power or being right....it is about living and learning and growing up and be responsible, respectable and accountable for ourselves and our behavior, our choices and leaving a mark that was worthy of leaving on this world.
Chris VanWyck: age 48, not a local, aka Engine Creative LLC in GR, and before, Lansing. Also was a dissolved or bankrupt Engine Creative in Charlotte NC as of 2011, related? Just set up bus. in Lud. Feb. 2016. A swirling rapids of corruption, fraud, and unethical behaviors combines with Shay, and almost anyone he comes in contact with that doesn't question his motives, just goes along. Going to be more fun for X to get more FOIA information I can imagine, why, how much, how long this been going on, what is their relationship? Did find that Kathy McLean had her new bicycle shop sign named and made by VanWyck too recently, Spindrift I think.
Been there, seen that in communities, especially those with good tax base (even if they cry they don't), the government pads to their budget year after year (and increase their voting base). Few educated or involved enough to notice. Btw, some communities are beginning to recognize DDAs have done their job and time to put the money elsewhere. Youthful governments and DDA cheerleaders can be good, but also lack experience to set aside a budget for infrastructure and are like kids spending out of Daddy's new found open wallet. Looking at comparable city budgets in the state for similar size populations, yours is padding the top pretty well and seems to lump "Infrastructure Improvement savings" into immediate spending as needed. Need a local grass roots movement to get on the board to sway your City Council. Perhaps Shay is not funding the DDA as much as the City Council allowing it. City Managers present budgets that the City proposes and they pad each other if the Council allows. Having DDA sit on your Council is not good and is as Mr. X or X says--unappropriately unethical, but obviously going no where but causing the monster to rear its ugly head. Perhaps one can find at least one ethical Board of Review member and a couple of Councilors to agree. Keep it up ... a hard race but once the ball starts rolling it rolls and those apathetic sometimes really rage.
Early on, back in 2010, way back when I had done less than a dozen FOIA requests, I had seen that the local DDA was full of corrupt practices and conflicts of interests. Reporting on these was what led to my being banned from the city hall back then by a cadre of corrupt officials that still serve to this day. A federal lawsuit filed by me, and settled profitably in my favor, had them change this bizarre policy, but the corruption continues unabated, if not often done more secretively.
I think that the DDA (and even the local chamber of commerce under its current leadership) suppresses the downtown of Ludington from reaching its full potential, and has lived beyond its usefulness. The nearly $200,000 it 'captures' from TIFs and its own millage could be better spent by those it takes from.
They disagree, and consider themselves indispensable-- primarily because they engage in inequitable activities that are more garnered for getting themselves or their members more money. This leads to more honest businesses that go out of business because of the DDA's existence, which leads to other entrepreneurs staying away, unless they are willing to kiss the ring of the DDA/City capos. It leads to an unhealthy business climate.