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:

Amanda St. Hillaire- paid from DDA funds for specialty glassware to her business Red Door Gallery.  Later, receives $50,000 property for $5000 from the City. 

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?

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