Ludington City Council Meeting 10-13-2014: Stacking the On-Deck Circle

Two Comments, Two Views


The October 13, 2014 meeting of the City Council was appropriately scary for the season for the councilors and their favorite X-LFD citizen.  This will be the first of three threads on this meeting concerning the drama staged for that evening only, two speeches concerning the recent revelation of the Assistant City Manager Jackie Sneigowski Steckel's involvement in what appears to be public donations to a private charity.  This has been explained about a month ago in this thread: Public $$ to Private Charity


The City Council was packed with people, including a lot of city appointees and city associates, I wondered what was the big deal when I looked over the agenda, and saw nothing to elicit such civic participation.  When the first two speakers spoke up against the proposed charter amendments, I figured it might be an organized effort against the silly seven proposals.  After I spoke next, the last public comment of the night addressed my characterization of 'Steckelgate' and it was shortly after that I figured something may be up.  I was correct.


At about 10:15 into the video below, I said the following (it was the third of four topics I brought up) about the Steckel situation:


"Last week, I uncovered the fact that our Assistant City Manager Jackie Steckel used her position of trust to utilize public funds in donating to a private charity. The records of the city and the Facebook posts of Ms. Steckel shows that she used over $1000 to purchase T-shirts in two separate orders and her Facebook posts reveal that all the proceeds of these sales went to the charity. Public funds were also used to purchase over $1000 of food and trophies for this event courtesy of the Assistant City Manager who worked on this project during regular work hours using social media to get people to come to city hall and buy her shirts paid exclusively for by the taxpayers.

As one of the people from my website asked: Do you think that the city should be able to spend our property tax dollars on whatever some department head wants that doesn't benefit the city ? Do you agree that city workers should spend time working on non-work related projects during their regular working hours? The law states that a public officer shall use funds under the officer's official control solely in accordance with prescribed constitutional, statutory, and regulatory procedures and not for personal gain or benefit. If she wants to give to charity she should use her own money, not ours. Please, have the City's Board of Ethics look into this transgression and act upon it."


 October 13, 2014 Ludington City Council from Mason County District Library on Vimeo.

Almost exactly forty minutes later at 50:15 into the meeting, check it out; John Shay gave a moving response in a previously written statement (see him read it throughout) about Steckelgate and how I am dead wrong about the facts.  Three minutes and 15 seconds later, he finished by telling the Whitman's that the City has their backs, and the audience had some 'extemporaneous' applause for his noble statements.  I was surprised this group didn't rise up and do 'the wave' given their partisanship. 


He gave me a computer printout of what he inferred were revenues for the charity.  Mayor Cox added on about it being a shame that something like this could come up, and praised the two city managers for their dedication and service to the community, Councilor Winczewski echoed the sentiments. 


Believe it or not, I wish the best for the Whitmans and for a miraculous recovery for Brian, and a careful perusal of the previous thread and its comments have no accusations from me about the Whitmans themselves or any implications of foul play on their parts.  In perhaps Shay's best oratory since the "Checkers" speech-- wait, that was Richard Nixon-- he reversed the object of scorn from City Hall to the whistleblower. 


The City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) reporter present, Kevin Brasiczewski, was a willing conduit for the message, and even though it was a one-sided piece by him portraying the city officials as saints, he didn't demonize this humble correspondent as much as usual.


The City's Claims Leave Several Things Unanswered


1)  Where is the proof of the City of Ludington being the Fiduciary Agent?


John Shay handed me a printout of revenues that was effectively meaningless.  Anybody at anytime (and this one was printed at the end of the previous week) can make dates and numbers available and assign "Donation to Whitman Fund" to it.  A more convincing proof would be to have a former city council meeting voting on being this benefit's fiduciary agent, perhaps a committee meeting voting on the same topic, or a written agreement or contract between the Whitman's (or a charity non-profit especially set up for them, which as of yet hasn't been shown) and the City (before the purchases were made) setting up such an arrangement. 


If these do not exist, we need to ask why the City of Ludington would voluntarily serve as the fiduciary agent for someone who was a former employee of the city without any such written agreement or any vote by the city council, who would ultimately make the decision when city resources are used in such ways.   As John Shay effectively admits in his example of fiduciary responsibility. 


2)  Why was fiduciary responsibility assumed by the City Hall for this event?


ACM Steckel and/or the Recreation Director could have acted as the fiduciary agent on their own time without involving City resources.  Why would they subject the City of Ludington to all the liability associated with assuming that duty, when the City cannot legally profit from the association and only lose money and other resources? 


There are conflicts of interest issues since the beneficiary is a former employee and likely receiving benefits already by that association.  The use of public resources for private benefit comes into question.  If other legal issues come into play, the City becomes a responsible party.  One appointed official, acting under unlawful authority agreed to by another appointed official, should not be able to make this decision under the public radar while making the public ultimately accountable.


3)  Why Would Asst. City Manager Jackie Steckel Lie About the Proceeds?


In a shot from that disappearing benefit Facebook page, we have Steckel telling everyone that all T-shirt sale proceeds will go to Brian and Nicole Whitman.  What's that mean?

According to Wiktionary under "proceeds" it tells us exactly what that means:


"Donate all proceeds" means that the entire amount collected goes to the beneficiary, not just the net proceeds; the Assistant City Manager Steckel cannot subtract the amount it takes to make the (in this case) T-shirts from the equation, and be truthful with what she said on the Facebook post.


ACM Steckel (left) thus makes herself liable for being sued for the amount she withheld from the Whitman's by effectively promising them all of the proceeds.  The up-to-date records show that this money went back to the City of Ludington.   Steckel may reduce her culpability for misusing public funds by this, but in the alternative, she has told the Whitmans and everyone else a boldface lie in her post. 


She is damned if she did, or if she didn't.


4)  Why would the Facebook page for the event be removed, if the City Claims Everything is Kosher?


The Facebook page either helps prove that the City used public funds for a private charity and/or shows that Jackie Steckel lied to the donors, the recipients and everyone else.  Plus we loses a host of supporting evidence for the timeline and motives of those involved.  To an untrained eye, it looks as if the public servants are acting against transparency and are trying to hide evidence of their guilt.

5)  Why doesn't the T-shirt invoice fit the timeline? 

In the Sept. 8th 2014 packet shown below on the paying of the bills shows:

However, this packet was published on September 5, 2014, the Friday before the meeting, and before that weekend's event, the tournament.  The council okayed these expenditures for that period, however the actual second billing from B&M Screen Printing which matches the last entry above, and was supposedly a last minute order placed after the tournament for those who weren't able to get a shirt, which the dates on that corresponding invoice shows below.  The invoice was made on 9-9-2014 and delivered on 9-16.  How did that expenditure wind up in the councilors packets before it even existed?

6)  Why was the first purchase made before there was any money from donations in 'fiduciary trust' the City claims there was?

It appears the City extended a line of credit to the charity benefit even before anybody had donated a dime.  The revenue stream on the city manager's printout showed that the first entry fee came to the city officials (Steckel and Van Sickle) on August 18, and yet Rec Director Van Sickle made a charge on the City's card for the event's softballs before that (August 14, see below). 

7)  Why doesn't the City extend this free fiduciary service for other charity benefits and non-profits?


The obvious answer is supplied within the State FOIA law where it says (remove the bracketed part):  "A public body may make reasonable rules necessary [to protect its public records and] to prevent excessive and unreasonable interference with the discharge of its functions." 


Every call the city received, every visitor that went to City Hall to pick up a shirt or donate otherwise, every time a city official used social media on publicly-paid internet access to communicate issues with this benefit taxed the resources of this public body.  And Councilor Holman takes this personally-- at least where FOIA is concerned (see the video above at the 40:15 mark where she crazily rants about the costs of FOIA to the people.  Yet this benefit consumed substantially more resources of the City than dozens of my FOIAs). 


As she says:  "A whole lot of money coming from your pockets.  A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY COMING FROM YOUR POCKETS."  It describes another answer to this question.


I say these are seven questions that should be answered; yet few, if any, have any reasonable answers that would absolve the city management of wrongdoing in this case, even if the result was for a good cause. 


But rest assured, they all have each other's backs.

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This has to reign supreme over any other "trick-shot choreographed episodes" in Ludington's formerly proud history of fair and factual council meetings that I have witnessed in my lifetime, anyhow! I'll just start out with the Chief's invocation: unusually long, thanking GOD for city employment, protection of city employees, repeated mentions of charity functions, and more mush that he hasn't said before.  And ALL these New Ones dovetail with the future coming events of Shyster Shay defending the curious and possibly illegal expenditures of public funds. Anyone else find this a coincidence? I have a long list of other rehearsed and suspicious behaviors, but I'd rather see the rest of the forum's members voice any they may have. But, my list is quite exhaustive, as was this special meeting to again crucify messengers of truth, and loyalty to the local citizenry. Oh yeah, when you employ about 300 people in city gov't. I guess you can get at least 10-15 cronies to attend in the audience, to hail your dictatorial intentions, and still make it look so good, that you can't be curious, nor questionable, toward their very own agenda of unlimited power over this small town of good folks. This entire meeting was a "circus and big show", to say who's in real power, and how they handle anyone that disagrees with their methods! 

Special tip of the hat to real patriots and concerned taxpayers like: Jan Fallis, and Bill Summerfield, for standing up for locals' voting rights. Thank GOD for THEIR INPUT! Even though we, as Shay and Kathy stated, don't have to worry about these charter change proposals until 2016. Then tell me this: isn't there anything more important and worthy to discuss and look at today, 2014? I mean really? Two years away and setting the table for more disaster? If they, the council are so bored, let them pay attention to the current state of affairs with our infrastructure, for example. Broken water mains on Lud. Ave. during a big event on Friday night in the middle of summer! Carved out logs serving as sewer lines on Dowland St. last year when work ensued all summer long? A $3Million bridge too far on S. Washington Ave. that wasn't needed, nor desired, by locals in that locale? Talk about putting your "ducks in a row" beforehand, I guess I don't know the meaning of such a statement!!!!

What really crushes me in this scenario was Mayor Ryan Cox.  Cox plays along with the other dramatis personae by fully supporting the city's involvement in the private event and the two city managers actions and character.  Maybe he helps coordinate school plays. 

But where it really hits home is that before the city council on this Monday afternoon, my 6th grade child came home from school and told me that afternoon that Ludington middle school teacher Ryan Cox, who does not have any classes with my kid in them, carried on a conversation with her that went something like this, mind you I am paraphrasing  what I was told: 

Cox:  "I haven't seen you coming around the council meetings lately."

Kid:  "No, no offense but they're too boring." 

Cox:  "Well, me and the rest of the council have missed you.  You should start coming to the meetings."

Kid:  "Maybe." (a polite 'maybe')

Is it a coincidence that the meeting where they had this skit rehearsed, with a cast, script, and an audience ready and willing to skewer her dad for having the audacity to question their authority to do crazy and unethical stuff with public resources, that teacher Ryan Cox would engage in such an invitation? 

Wouldn't it be great to attempt to publicly humiliate her dad right in front of her, seeing almost all of the people in attendance clapping after Shay's excoriation of the whistleblower?  Psychological warfare on an 11 year old girl seems to be a pretty low tactic, but also seems to be about the right height for this regime. 

Cox should be brought before the school board for harassment because that's exactly what he has done. To engage a young student especially the daughter of a person who is the target of belittling and degrading by himself, the Council, The manager, Police Chief and any other City officials is beyond poor behavior, it should be considered child abuse. I wouldn't trust that fool with any child. He should be reprimanded or fired. To think that Cox is being entrusted with instructing kids while acting contrary to the Constitution, laws and ordinances while holding an office that requires him to uphold the Constitution under oath. Cox is a sleazebag.

Well said Willy. After I digested the entire video, and then read what Cox did to a young girl at school, I was sick to my stomach all day long. What Cox did is a severe hit below the waist, in boxing terms. It's a foul that causes the individual to be disqualified, which is exactly what I believe he is concerning teaching, and holding the esteemed office of Mayor. This is a new low for any local politician in my lifetime! I'm appalled and disgusted, he needs to be recalled for this imho. 

I agree Aquaman.

First of all why in the World would the City become a fiduciary agent for a private charity and is it legal for the City to do so? If the City was in fact acting as an "agent" would they not be responsible for any mishaps, accidents or illegal activity that might take place during the fund raising? Was the City responsible for providing insurance or any type of bonding for the event? What City office would be held responsible for the function? Even though the act of trying to help a fellow employee was noble they City officials went about it in the wrong way. No City funds should have been used. No employees should have worked on any portion of the function during working hours. City equipment should not have used in support of the function.

What is not surprising is the arrogance displayed by those involved by thinking they had the right to do as they wish and use City resources as they pleased. The City did a disservice to the Whitmans by acting in an unethical manner.

When Ludington City Manager John Shay says that he has your back the question to ask is 'does he have the knife already in and twisted or just pointing sharply and threateningly behind your heart'.

Any ethical public officer would have to answer your questions thusly, Willy:

"There is no reason why the City should become a fiduciary for a private charity or an individual couple as appears in this case, I can't see it being legal without proper authorization from the council.  The city would assume some liability for all aspects of the event, which is not in the public's best interest, and should not have been approved without public knowledge and input. 

No insurance or bonding was apparent or brought by the fiduciary, so the liability of the city is broader yet.  I agree with John Shay that the city office ultimately responsible was his; he admitted full knowledge and let city resources be used this way, though his assistant should also be held accountable for her actions.  The arrogance displayed in Mr. Shay's defense of the series of events here, and the city council's and mayor's glowing approval of that official display should make any citizen wonder what else is being done with their money in other cases."

No answers yet from on high about the complaint I lodged with the City to have the Board of Ethics looking into this and the City Attorney's overbilling, either the informal plea at the council or a more formal plea on Tuesday, with a re-filing of it today.  Seemingly they think that John Shay's speech was a cure-all for the problem, but he is actually at the forefront of both controversies... and with some others that are coming up from other angles. 

Teflon John should have a long winter ahead of him, with glibness and calumny as the weapons of choice in his defense, unless the city council somehow becomes wise and drops the lying liability.

There's a Board of Ethics for the city of Ludington government? LOL Who is on that Holman?

No, by its setup the Board of Ethics can't have duplicates of other boards or city officials, and includes Thom Hawley (of WSCC), Jim Carey, Marilyn Dila Strickland, and Chuck Hagerman.  These guys have been on this board forever, and the last time they were used was in 2009, to my knowledge.

If the 2009 actions of the board are any indication, they will find no problems, because they take the advice of the city attorney without any question.  It's pretty much a useless board unless the mayor choosing the representatives really wants ethics in government. 

I tried to watch the entire video tonight and the same cast of characters stand out as being arrogant and self serving.  Holman not only displays her bias and lack of civility but she also demonstrated her ignorance. What's new? Then Cox gives us a lesson in civics while he sits with a bunch of anti Constitutional goons while denying yet another FOIA request for public information. And still no Council member told the audience WHY they want the Clerk and Treasurer appointed by the City Manager. How insulting. The City attorney tries to justify the obvious conflict of interests that exists in his firm by trying to convince the Council that it's OK for the same firm to represent 2 separate clients [city of Ludington and city of Scottville] in a contract negotiation and the Council mindlessly goes along with it. What Shay said does not explain  under what authorization the City used to justify using City funds for a private charity. And again the Council tried to whip the messenger without allowing a rebuttal. What a bunch of shameless characters. The new lady councilor revealed that she lets Shay make all the decisions and she mindlessly goes along with them. She forgets that she must make the decisions and Shay must go along with them. She works for the citizens not the City Manager. It doesn't seem possible that these people could be getting more arrogant but it appears to be so. It was so blatently obvious that they had planned to blind side X and put on a show for the cameras so they could try and look good to the couch potatoes in the stands and in TV land.

And another thing, if the newly appointed Councilor was so civic minded he would have agreed with X regarding the need for a vote to fill the vacancy he now occupies. He is representing the Councilors who voted for him not the people in his district. It's amazing how badly people want to be in a position of power and are only to willing to ignore the people who pay the bills. The City could have easily put that Council opening on the ballot no matter how they interpreted "regular election". They had a chance to hand pick someone and that's what they did. Which is why they want to eliminate the voters from choosing the Clerk and Treasurer.


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