'cause if you can't even defend yourself, who else should bother to?  "

I love playing the black pieces in chess; white always gets the first move and that kineticism is met with the potential energies of black setting up a solid defense capable of a counterattack.  There is one problem, however, with the chess game I am playing with the City of Ludington, I start off being overwhelmed materially, and the best position I can get is a stalemate.  Let me take a look at today's City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews), the day after I made a brief statement for disclosure of some records at the City Council meeting, then went off to see the WMOM/MCP.com candidate forum.  Let me preface this by reminding the reader, that the COLDNews has never been a fan of mine, no matter who writes the story.

The Opening

Each Ludington City Council meeting, like most public meetings, start off with the pledge of allegiance to the flag.  "...United States of America, And to the REPUBLIC for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."  Do these people understand what a republic is?  I inquired about this in my 5 minute statement we are allowed at the beginning of the meeting.

"My name is Tom Rotta, I hail from 137 E Dowland Street. Tonight the City Council is going to review two other FOIA appeals it has yet to decide on. Both have been turned down by the FOIA Coordinator for being investigatory records of an open investigation and can therefore be exempted from disclosure in their minds. The City Attorney and the Prosecutor of Mason County, Paul Spaniola, have backed that decision with conclusory statements and have failed to show how disclosure would affect the stale investigations of these incidents. One 'investigation' is 13 months in and has resulted in the imprisonment of someone for 10-15 years. Yet, the Prosecutor would deny any records to be disclosed at this point in time. That is unlawful, and violates the FOIA, as has been decided in case after case. The City Council in the last two meetings have denied disclosure of such investigatory records and the copying of non-exempt material. This is also unlawful. And runs counter to what all Americans should hold dear. This country was started as a republic over 200 years ago; our forefathers were unanimous in declaring that the rule of law would prevail in this country, not the dictates of one person or a group of people. The law must affect everyone equally, and those laws must be enforced equally. But here we have Manistee lawyers and a legally-weak prosecutor saying you need to keep the public records secret, even when the law and all the court precedent says those records must be released. This is not doing their duty as public officers. The new issue tonight is the release of the records dealing with the death of Lingyan Zou at the Municipal Marina nearly two months ago. The City Manager had contended that this is an open investigation and all the records need to be kept secret. The autopsy results, the toxicology report, the death certificate, and other records have been released to me by the county coroner. The City denied me even these records until they learned that I had them, and gave me those duplicative records when they found out, but no more. It is a ridiculous game that the City Manager has used over and over again with few variations in his arbitrary and capricious way of shirking his duties as FOIA Coordinator. I have to go away for another event before this is decided on, the Candidates Forum being held in Scottville. I have given the Councilors at least seven court precedents that say what the attorneys are opining is wrong and against the law. Councilors, you can do your own research and find they must at least redact what WOULD be exempted and say why. Choose to follow the law, not to blindly obey the friendly attorneys you trust without verifying. For those who want to see those precedents and FOIA law, go to the Ludington Torch on your internet service provider and look for the thread "When Open Governments and Open Investigations Collide".

The Middle Game

The COLDNews recap of the council meeting pictured here goes like this in reviewing the night's FOIA appeaI, it is in blue-- I couldn't resist adding my green comments, as they are eco-friendly:

Also on Monday, the council denied FOIA request appeals from Tom Rotta and Toni Swiger. Rotta had requested all records relating to the death of Ling Lang Zou [Editor's note:  That's Lingyan Zou, have some respect for the dead, COLDNews] at the Ludington Municipal Marina June 2. The request was denied because the police department reported it was still an open investigation [which does not automatically make any record exempt by any lawful interpretation of the FOIA].

Swiger had requested all written records, recordings and transcripts related to interviews with Ariel Courtland during the investigation into the 2011 disappearance of Courtland's daughter Katherine Phillips, also known as "Baby Kate." Swiger's request was very similar to a Rotta request and appeal that were denied because the police are investigating the disappearance as a murder. [which is a totally irrelevant point, once you think of it] Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett said he hopes to conclude his investigation in the marina case within the next 60 days.  [after all the tourists go home and then quietly released on page 6] Councilor Gary Castonia told the council he's tired of Rotta being "snotty" to the councilors and city officials.  He also said the amount of time and effort city officials spend to answer Rotta's requests is ridiculous.  [I agree; the efforts I see by Shay are often ridiculous] "I am just getting tired of it," he said. "The thing that gets me most is the name-calling."  ["Snotty" Rotta generally abstains from name-calling, Honorable Councilor Castonia.  In my presentation, I just don't see any blatant name calling.]

Kaye Ferguson Holman said she agrees. She resents Rotta's actions and said she will wait to explain her feelings until a time when Rotta can stay to listen.  [during last fall's city council campaign where I ran against Kaye, I made the true statement that Toni and I had sent 30 letters and E-mails to Kaye without one reply from her, this was during the same time she was hypocritically saying she responds promptly to everyone.  She amended that to not include me or Toni as 'anyone'] He had been at the meeting but left before the decisions [as I explained, I was going to the candidate's forum in Scottville, I didn't even mention it was being held by WMOM and Mason County Press, as I might have hurt the COLDNews' feelings].

The Endgame

But the COLDNews wasn't content bashing me in the news column, they also wanted to set up a fianchettoed ex COLDNews publisher and 12 year City Councilor Paul S. Peterson to attack along the diagonal in the "From Our Readers" column.  Is he standing up for the proper implementation of the FOIA and for more disclosure?  Are you kidding?  Here's the article, followed by Paul's letter wrote out in blue, and my interactive, environmentally-conscious green comments in reusable brackets.

In Defense of City Officials

The law is quite clear: All units of government are subject to the Freedom of lnformation Act (FOIA) [incorrect, Section 2(d)(v) the judiciary branch is not a public body under FOIA definition], which allows for full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by federal, state, and local boards. The law is specific about which records can remain shielded.- such as personnel, medical, and discussions involving client (the city) - attorney [personnel records are available through FOIA, except for Law enforcement agencies, medical records also are mainly available unless specially protected or if they would lead to the identity of one individual, and most writings by City Attorneys are available, only those shielded by privilege between them and their public official client are exempt.] During the last two years of my term on the city council, city officials were, and are, constantly bombarded byTom Rotta and his friend Toni Swiger with requests for records, minutes of meetings, committee meeting minutes, emails, copies of ordinances and even privileged information [making less than one request a week is a bombardment?] [Each of the examples Paul includes are easy enough to locate and send, privileged material would never be sent.] It all  started because of the placement of a traffic stop sign that Mr. Rotta claimed was a few feet in the wrong direction [It was 25 ft. from where it should have been and without a traffic control order, according to my initial FOIA request, but he's wrong:  It all started with a sly look from my papa at my mama.] Mr. Rotta has gone so far as to take pictures of the homes of the city manager, the mayor and, for heaven's sake, even the community development director.  [This is spurious, defamatory and untrue.  The best I have taken is a picture of the "$200" privacy fence on the south side of the CDD's right of way which blatantly violates the City zoning code.  I have taken a picture of Paul's frontyard, and three other councilor's frontyards back in 2009, to show the hypocrisy they were involved with by forcing  people to redo their sidewalks (some in very good condition) when they were so neglectful themselves to put in any sidewalk at their own property.] This may sound like "so what's the big deal? Give him the stuff." The city does grant his requests, but it is a "big deal" And the city has gone to extremes to fulfill their endless requests, which conservatively measure into the hundreds of pages [gee, furnishing public records to the public so they can see what their government is doing is such a bother...] . Obviously, those requests are not at the fingertips of city personnel. They must be located, a determination made to assure that the request does not in itself violate the law [a FOIA request can violate the law?!  On what planet, Paul?  This is the mindset of these people.], and the material copied and mailed [I never ask for copies or ask to have it mailed to me.  I always ask to inspect, failing that, to have scanned images sent electronically.  This cuts cost, effort for all concerned]. The city has spent countless hours complying with the Rotta-Swiger requests, and for what purpose [Have you read the Ludington Torch lately Paul?  They are showcased here whether they be no-bid contracts, misuse of public funds, misuse of public office, etc.  But those things aren't important to you or the COLDNews, is it?]? The city has previously handled dozens of FOIA requests, and there has never been an issue, until now.  [We've been appealing these all along, Paul.  Not all to the administrative level, however.] To me it is all too clear that Mr. Rotta and Ms. Swiger have only one thing in mind - harass the city [City harassers?!]by making these unreasonable and frivolous demands on city time (which translates into tax money), resources and lobbing city employees of time they could well spend on worthwhile projects [Like cat-feeding ordinances and new beach rules, not to mention unconstitutional searches by City personnel for water connections, and letters of trespass for public areas.  Time well spent.] Mayor John Henderson was correct during the recent city council meeting when he praised City Manager John Shay for his ethics and integrity [And he said it without giggling like a schoolgirl]. In all the years I served with Shay, I have never known him to be anything but open, completely ethical with an unblemished record of integrity [then defend his actions at the Torch, Paul, you're not bound by your public service now.] I sincerely believe Tom Rotta is going to these extremes because in the beginning he felt he had been wronged. But nothing has come of this [In the beginning, the middle and the end, especially the end, ouch.] I am sure this letter won't lessen Mr. Rotta's determination [it actually charges my battery, Paul] to continue his harassment of city officials [Again this is a loaded and defamatory charge. Paul, please note, harassment does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.  I contend the only people being harassed are the two people you are slandering here.]

But I feel that someone, other than city officials, should come to their defense [A city official who served twelve years, who had to put up with me for two, steps up.  Thank you Citizen Peterson].

Obviously, the other side is running out of ideas on how to play civilly.  Will they tip the table over at some point in frustration?  Check.

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The goal is to be a proponent for truth, justice, and the American way-- to borrow from Kentian philosophy.  The goal is to bring awareness that many of our officials are not operating under these same goals and to confront them, and to encourage the few that actually do things right. 

Individuals like Socrates, Thoreau, Gandhi, etc. did not need to organize others to make their similar points.  Endurance in holding to their ideals despite hardships is what sets them above the rest of humanity, not their organizational capability.  In an often false, unjust world, the hearing of truth and justice should be enough of a clarion call to fight for what's right. 

If the goal is to make similar points as Socrates, Thoreau, or Gandhi, well, that's a goal.  If the goal is to be set above the rest of humanity, well, that's a goal too.  Although I'm not convinced we live in a society that cares all that much to set anyone above anyone unless the person's an entertainer, maybe, but, look how that's going. If the goal is to bring awareness to corrupt and egotistical leaders, that's been done already.  And whether or not "hearing of truth in an unjust world" should be enough, well.. how's that working so far?   On the other hand, if change is what you're after, then, yes - all societal changes have taken a handful of people to start.  It is what it is.  It's about what you really want.

Making people aware of corrupt and negative leadership never ends. It is a continuing process because no matter how many politicians have good intentions when the begin their public life, the temptations and power public office holds can be an aphrodisiac to many public officials. They become full of themselves and become aloof to the common citizen. This has been demonstrated over and over again with Government officials at all levels as well as the Ludington City Council. Ex-Mayor Henderson and his followers were so intoxicated with the power and influence they wielded they tried to convince the voters to extend the term limits for the office of Mayor. That pipe dream was overwhelmingly defeated.

In the end, it's ideas that are bulletproof.  Ideas survive, not people or groups that change over time and lose their focus, lose their soul.  If I can be the temporary steward of a grand set of universal ideas that have been tarnished by the corruption of our age, and am able to pass them along to enough good people in order to help the ideas get closer to their true, ideal form for the future, I will be content. 

Of course, everyone has the capacity to achieve this, but in reality few actually make the effort, and end up accepting the status quo without question, even when they believe it's basis is faulty.


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