Area news outlets covering the October 12, 2015 Ludington City Council meeting featuring the first reading of the highly contentious Rental Inspection Program (RIP) invariably focused on the words of Councilor Castonia, berating several folks who left shortly after the public comment period (noticeable around 50 minutes in): "I have to say I'm really disappointed in how many of (the landlords) left after they have had their say and don't want to hear our say." (1:15:00 in).
It was typical of the twisted reasoning that he has used throughout the process while portraying himself as one who has misgivings about the ordinance, but indicated he is coming around to believing that the RIP is cheap, simple, and worthy of support.
"I did some homework by myself, it's $1.80 a month, if your landlords going to raise your rent because of $1.80... I don't know" and "My biggest complaint, and I was dead set against this ordinance when this first started, I had some questions and I got some answers. This is the inspection sheet; one page. It tells what's inspected, they're not going through drawers and they're not looking at their beds, they're looking at health and safety items."
Yet at the 45 minute mark, after I raised a point of order that the speaker who had just delivered a touching anecdote for the RIP was a member of the Planning Commission, and that the record should reflect that information (since speaker and PC member Ray Madsen didn't supply it himself) I was told to sit down and the point was not even considered.
Frankly, it's inconceivable to me that Mayor Cox, who appointed Madsen to the commission and should be smart enough to realize that the omission of admitting the relationship is ethically wrong, disciplined me for pointing it out within the rules of order. Worse, the seven city councilors who approved his appointment and should have been as confused as I as to whether Madsen's views reflected his personal or professional vantage point seemed content with that.
Madsen and his fellow Planning Commissioner Joe Moloney both spoke out, but Moloney who spoke earlier acknowledged (this time) at the start he was on the city Planning Committee and expressing views that were only his own, not those of the Planning Commission. Moloney believes in Big Mommy government when he states (at 23:45): "Self-governance does not work for food safety, for transportation, for medical care, it certainly doesn't work for housing. The City of Ludington is responsible to its citizens to make sure we have safe housing."
Our founding fathers of this country certainly did not set up governmental departments at any level for Joe's concerns, certainly America was self-governed in each of the categories he mentioned for most of its existence, and I believe a majority of Americans nowadays would contend with his contentions on medical care and housing in general. The basis of his claims are mired in his own degradation of everyone else's intelligence when compared to his enlightened noggin that works for the local government. Perhaps Frederic Bastiat's words from centuries past refutes it best:
For those who want a more American based refutation they can quote our third president: "The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." But I have fallen into the trap of not only delaying telling what happened at the majority of the meeting, but also featuring the minority of viewpoints expressed thereat as if they were of high importance.
For sixteen people spoke up during public comment, thirteen of those explicitly on this topic of the RIP. Ten of those were critical, two from the Planning Commission were wholeheartedly for it, and one argued that something must be done, but was not whom he said he was. Before we touch on this, however, let's see what else was at play at the meeting.
The Other Agenda Issues: Music and 'Mergencies
Ludrock sought and achieved a resolution by the council recognizing it as a non-profit group operating in the city. This allows them to apply for a charitable gaming license from the state, and has the added benefit of giving them a discount when they have events in Ludington in the future. Recall, Ludington will start charging for city services and equipment at city events next year.
The council tabled approving the 12th Annual Ludington Triathlon for next August to see whether they could find out how much they will be giving to the 'community'. This is code for saying that the city leaders want to shake them down for more money than they originally had planned.
Edgar Struble, long term musical director for Kenny Rogers plans to open a business at 102 Second Street and the council set a public hearing for the next meeting to address it's tax issues by establishing an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) District for that one property. California based Nolan Family Investments LLC has owned the property since February purchasing it for $120,000.
The sales transaction history of this parcel seems a bit weird when looked at, one hopes that Edgar Struble, who owns a house on Gaylord, has a noble purpose for this tax break he is almost certainly to receive at the next meeting, at the expense of the rest of the Ludington taxpayer.
To the relief of everyone who has listened to the council introduce the four ludicrous proposed charter amendments twice apiece, Councilor Winczewski spoke most approvingly of having our city manager have more latitude on spending your money during emergencies. If you remember, the city defined an emergency as repairing a sewer line two months after it is noticed that it may have problems, having the councilors agree to spend nearly $100,000 outside of an open meeting. Three regular open meetings occurred between.
Our city manager has repeatedly entered contracts and spent money without proper approval from the city council at open meetings, why would any sane individual, or even a city councilor, give him less oversight? Please put this one on the ballot so we can vote a resounding 'NO'.
The Other Citizen Issues: Asbestos and AFC Homes
Nancy Mustaikis brought forth an issue earlier this summer that the old Lyon's Supermarket Building was demolished quickly without any precautions as to what appeared to be asbestos tiles that were all over the building. The tiles were highly suspicious, being made at around the same time asbestos tiles were popular and typically made into 9" X 9" units.
Nancy sent her daughter Heather Hendrickson to the council, where she spoke second (6:00 in), with a prepared statement informing the city that the tiles were tested as asbestos and spoke of the city's culpability in the demolition after they were informed of the problems and did nothing. She made some very good points as to the proposed microbrewery and the processes involved in it so far.
Why should we expect this brewery will be a good neighbor when it has negatively affected our neighborhood's health by not being thorough before they have even started construction? Why shouldn't we be suspicious when they did not address this issue at this month's Planning Commission meeting, nor did the commission bring it up. Why have a Planning Commission when they can't even ask questions about irregularities in the demolition process?
Surprisingly, Councilor Castonia brought up the issue (1:31:00 in), and John Shay was muddling through the blame denial game slowly, so Attorney Richard Wilson chimed in: "The city has no air quality regulations, we don't have the authority to adopt air quality regulations, those are at the state and national level, so asbestos particles that get in the air are regulated by Michigan. In our code we have nothing regarding air pollution, that's by virtue of state law."
Not in the charter? What about Sec. 66-42. - Air pollution or Sec. 62-37. - Placing for disposal which talks of rubbish contributing to air pollution? Are we violating state law by having these two local law sections? Yet, this is a moot point. It appears that Nancy Mustaikis informed the city of the problem, the city shirked it's law enforcement duties-- the Ludington Police Department enforces both state and federal laws in addition to the local ones. Not knowing the full channels of this scandal, I hope that we can see how many of those who supposedly look out after our safety just looked the other way.
Another point was brought up by Robert Walker as the seventh speaker at 18:04 in. With a narrative that wasn't totally clear, he commented on a neighboring Adult Foster Care (AFC) home that has had a variety of problems. It should be noted that AFC homes will not come under the RIP, and I'm still not sure of his overall point.
The Elephant in the Room: Rental Inspection Comments
None of the following summaries and synopses should be replaced by listening to the video
(3:10) Steven Von Pfahl, landlord: lamented over the committee not including the stakeholders in the drafting of the ordinance, urged council to table the RIP and allow tenants, landlords a seat at further discussions.
(5:50) Heather Hendrickson, tenant: as already noted read a statement about asbestos from her mother who didn't make it to the meeting, but even though several blocks of Ludington would have been affected, the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) never mentioned her or her statement in Tuesday's paper. Hmm. Great proxy job.
(8:45) Debby Tyron, landlady: read her letter to the editor to the COLDNews which was never printed. To answer her questions, the committee never saw any tenant complaints this is strictly the city's baby-- the father is from Manistee.
(10:45) Randy O'Brien, tenant, offered a sad tale that had me tearing up. This 19 year tenant of a very gracious landlady fearfully looked at his future if the RIP passed, related that several other tenants were in the same boat. Courageous presentation, which is logically solid. The council seemed unmoved.
(12:00) David Hankwicz, landlord(?), offered a conciliatory speech where he offered solid input about his contacts with landlords of the area while servicing furnaces and the like. Very well constructed monologue with a smart link to County Commissioner Chuck Lange, a landlord who didn't speak this night, but has made his opinion known previously against this ordinance.
(16:40) Chuck Sobanski, landlord, spoke of a hidden agenda and politics, criticized Councilor Krauch's comments on the inevitability of the RIP, finished with equating Ludington with Russia. Lenington?
(18:04) Robert Walker, homeowner, spoke of the nearby AFC home.
(23:10) Joe Moloney, Planning Commissioner, speaking of Lenington...
(24:35) Melissa Reed, Landlord, said the ordinance was expensive, time consuming, and intrusive (very well put, by subliminally quoting Reagan). Also said it was repetitive and distinguishes between tenants and homeowners as per rights (an often overlooked criticism). Yet she would support them, if they measurably would be able to improve anybody's safety. Her challenge was not accepted.
(27:15) Deb Del Zoppo, homeowner PM Twp, commented on her pet peeve project, the West End Project, and how it would be a bad thing and very costly. She also mentioned the Traverse City article in the Freep which was discussed on the LT and said the councilors would be smart to look at it. Lastly, she urged more work on the RIP and the need for their input.
(29:30) Michael Wood, he said he lives at 310 N. Robert, but the city assessor says he lives in a nice place in Fowler Michigan, as do other internet records. He said he was at ground zero for rental properties, but the two properties on either side of his house are owner occupied (306 N Robert and
312 N. Robert) as we have noted before PC member Ray Madsen brought 309 N. Robert just two months ago. This guy is not at ground zero of rentals, he does not live in Ludington, listen to the rest of his angry diatribe against rental properties in general with these facts in mind, while taking a look at his property in the past, courtesy of the city assessor, I see Tyvek and a wooden plank as a stairway-- what would the neighbors say?
(32:30) Scott Yost, homeowner (from Kentucky), wondered about accountability of both the city and other side, effect of local politics, and the importance of the records being public.
(36:10) The Great Pumpkin spoke (me), the transcript follows these summaries.
(40:50) Ray Madsen, Planning Commissioner, made clear his intents that many Ludington houses should be torn down. Should we be surprised that he came from Naples Florida back in 2012, which has the sixth highest per capita income in the US and the second highest proportion of millionaires. Probably some nicer houses there and not a lot of renters. Ray made the case, in describing his purchase of a rental property, that he had ulterior motives for doing so. Why would he buy such a house and did he evict the many people who lived there? He surely didn't mention himself fixing it up.
He also made the case that the city cannot enforce the maintenance code, the same case I made but for different reasons, and said they should repeal the code if they can't. Already have, Ray!
(45:05) Tom Tyron, landlord, spoke of the insanity of it all and how there will always exist bad landlords in his own special curt way.
(46:10) Erica Trim, landlord/broker, said the issues are often out of control of the landlord, the tenant is often negligent in upkeep as are regular homeowners.
Thus ended the public comment, my comment is transcribed below, as always, I invite any city official to dispute them with proof to the contrary. Notice that even though I asserted the invalidity of the Ludington Property Maintenance Code two weeks ago, nobody is disputing that fact, not even the usually circuitous Attorney Richard Wilson.
"At the end of the last meeting, attorney Richard Wilson addressed some concerns I raised earlier that meeting, unfortunately, his statements were legally erroneous and referenced a property maintenance code that this proposed ordinance points to which has been repealed since its adoption.
To whit, the ordinance before you for its first reading tonight references in its definitions the "Ludington Property Maintenance Code" to be the one adopted as ordinance 24-00 back in March of 2000, before any of you were on this panel.
However, back in April of 2004 and with help of a vote by Kaye Holman and recommendations of young city manager John Shay,ordinance 102-04 was passed, whereas section 2 of that ordinance repealed the two sections of the city code that pertained to ordinance 24-00, i.e. the adoption of the Ludington Property Maintenance Code four years previous. Our esteemed manager and senior councilor may not even remember their part in that 11 years ago, but it is in the recording of the minutes.
When we look at our on-line city code we see in Chapter 6, that article three is entitled "Property Maintenance Code" with two sections that say Ord. No. 102-04, § 2, adopted Apr. 12, 2004, repealed these sections which pertained to adoption of the International Property Maintenance Code.
Our new and arguably incompetent city manager failed at that time to replace the repealed property maintenance code with any other, leaving the city without a legitimate property maintenance code. Never was an alternative addressed in 2004 or since according to the council's records since and due to the oversight, this city has been enforcing a repealed legal instrument whenever it has referenced the Ludington Property Maintenance Code in its code enforcement actions.
The significance here today, is that the proposed ordinance in front of you becomes illegitimate pablum once one acknowledges that the Ludington Property Maintenance Code cannot be referred to as it simply doesn't exist. It's like the great pumpkin in the Peanuts cartoons that Linus would wait for on Halloween night. As a bit of trivia, the voice actor for Linus had a last name of Shea.
So when one listens to Attorney Wilson's defense of this proposed law made to address a non-existing problem, telling us it doesn't say what it clearly says and that some expired ordinance had protections for your civil rights (which it didn't), you may wonder why he is lying to save it? He has had plenty of opportunities to tell us how great rental inspections have been for his hometown of Manistee, maybe he could tell us why all those vacant and boarded up residences there are what he hopes to achieve here if he isn't too busy helping the city avoid public records requests and padding his bills as he's done for many years.
The rest of you have done little better, avoiding answering the questions of the public out of your own ignorance, allowing your fellow appointed officials of the Planning Commission to shill for this ordinance, disclosing vague and contradictory statements about what's in this proposal, deceiving us by changing the amount of money it costs for an inspection to break even.
Do not deceive yourself in thinking that only an angry mob of landlords is against this ordinance, almost all knowledgeable tenants with reasonable landlords dislike this unwarranted intrusion into their homes and lives. Other citizens not involved with rentals would be against this once they learn about the subsidization that the City of Manistee had to do from their general fund once their expenses for rental inspection were tallied. Once this program destroyed the rental situation in Manistee, they contracted the inspection business out to a private contractor and the costs continue to go up.
Ask yourself, does Ludington need this program to change a problem that doesn't exist? Does Ludington need more legal challenges to divert our money away from public services and maintenance? Are you really acting in the best interest of your constituents? Do you actually believe in the great pumpkin?
Great job on reporting this Council meeting, I especially liked your speech. Ray Madson not only is he a ringer but he also is full of crap. Everything he complained about in that house was probably tenant caused and could have been fixed in a few hours. Even though all these people showed up for the meeting, we all know the Council has already made their decision.
I really wish Ray would have told us why he bought that property, as it is there are a lot of things that make it look as if he was making an investment in the future. A whole lot of coincidences are going on, and Madsen's refusal to admit he's on the Planning Commission when advocating for the RIP show's he's not the most transparent in his actions. Consider...
1) Ray, Joe and some other LPC members have been busy discussing distressed neighborhoods, and are pursuing NEZ actions with Heather Tykoski according to the last meeting unofficial minutes.
2) Ray brought his property a couple weeks after this August LPC meeting where it was revealed:
"Commissioner Moloney said that the neighborhood enterprise was going to be a much more complicated effort. They are going to start surveying areas that might qualify as distressed. Commissioner Madsen said that they were surveying the whole city so they are not making a subjective decision and noting where there are problem areas."
3) Michael Woods spoke at this meeting and told us of the area being ground zero for poorly maintained rentals.
4) How would a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone operate? The local government (via Heather, then the city council) establishes an area containing at least 10 parcels, such as these Robert Street blocks, after they get the LPC 'study' made by Ray.
5) Ray is not impressed with the architectural qualities of the building he brought or its rental status, yet he brought it knowing it was in a distressed community.
6) If a NEZ contains Ray's property, any developer who comes in will get incredible tax breaks if they rehabilitate the buildings in the zone. If they decide to tear down and rebuild Ray's house, Ray could get a lot of money for his $40,000 investment from the developer and state.
Ingenious plan. But you're right, Willy. There are too many officials that are pulling the strings in the background who are salivating over the prospect of State money and rich developers they see in their future for passing the RIP and then making these NEZs and other schemes.
I for one would like to thank all the cogent comments coming from friends, neighbors, and locals in general, that are "FINALLY" starting to wake up to the "shenanigans and ordinance freaks at city hall these days". Cudos for your intelligence, integrity, and courage to come forward for a better and more legal Ludington. As for comments by a CC named Castonia, still don't like your arrogance, your cowardly attacks against the public comments, and your continued obedience to stupidity and voting against your own constituent base, sickening! "Anyone else want my job"? Yes, when you run unopposed for any type of election, you pretty much don't have to think and act with integrity, now do ya? I hope his terms are at an end! If not, then some good local soul in the 5th Ward should take the reigns up to help save us from further damage by this Buffoon! The "ONLY" explanation for you changing your birdbrain on this RIP ordinance, is that you want to go along with the gang mentality, the "fixed agenda", and not think on your own like an individual, which is exactly why you were even elected to begin with, but that's certainly over your head these days. Then we have to patiently listen to the typical and repeated "whinings" of the ladies, both Holman and Wincheski, both with so much knowledge and intelligence, that it has to be noticed and good for the LDN audience, or so they think! Another great comment XLFD, going the distance on the behind the scenes shills, back-door deals, CA Wilson's errant legal opinions, and Shyster Shay's incompetence for over 10 years now. And last but not least, let's make sure "Mike Krauch's absence" is excused. Okay, so is he a coward to show under this type of situation, or some kind of jerk? If you get appointed to run the 4th Ward as a city councilor, Hell man, do your job and quit hiding when it suits your disgusting Illinois crooked background, and mentality.
Castonia's term doesn't come up until 2018, and he represents the Sixth Ward, even though he often sounds like he has downed a fifth before the meeting. Cazzy is going to be termed out, just like Holmey is next year.
One would think Krauch wouldn't miss the first reading of the ordinance he's worked so hard on. Perhaps he got a sickness caused by his conscience. Krauch isn't dumb; the conscience of Krauch must realize that the ordinance he crafted will have negative consequences far outweighing any benefits. If the vote is held on Oct. 26, he will be around, so I hope the landlords and tenants give him what he missed this time.
Thanks to you and Willy for your approval of my comments, don't forget I also respectfully critiqued the council as being ignorant of what they plan on passing.
Well XLFD, that goes without saying at this juncture in 7 years of uncovering the illegalities of the Ludington City Council! Sorry I missed the 5th ward vs. the 6th ward, but, it doesn't matter which ward, what does matter is this Castonia character lost his marbles to think a loooong time ago. That's a fact, given his repeated ignoramous statements all recorded for many years now. Oh, I know, he's ex-LPD, so he's without fault, above suspicion, and always on cue from the heart. Yeah, right, he's one of the serious problems at city hall, not even close to a realistic solution. Since he "hates the public" so much, why should anyone in their right mind ever vote for him again? I guess he's so synical and gestapo-like by now, and with LPD retirement now, that he must not EVER be Questioned, let alone be asked for his reasons for why he votes inline with all the majority. He's a sick puppy, and so is the rest of that clowncil right now, it's just unbelievable that they ask for the public to come forward and voice their concerns about anything they pass, and then when they finally do, they are also put-down for that too. Very convenient way to run a city, and always win!