The agenda packet for the November 9th meeting of the Ludington City Council was deceptively devoid of anything that looked controversial, having only one action item. Yet two major issues came up, one from within, one from without, which made it the most contentious meeting in recent memory despite its length of less than 50 minutes. Mayor Steve Miller became involved in both situations and illustrated why many consider him lacking the skills and ethics of a good chairman.
The first came during the council's conversation over the one action item, whether to approve a preliminary sketch of a waterfront planned unit development (PUD) at 110 W Danaher presented by the owners of Hardman Construction. Some discussion ensued after it was moved and seconded to approve the sketch, but it seemed that Mayor Miller wanted to be somewhere else when he interjected himself into Councilor Angela Serna's second question about the PUD, a question she would allege was posed by one of her constituents in the Fifth Ward. Here is the video, the conversation is transcribed below that video:
Councilor Serna: (19:25 in) "And then I have one more question, if that's okay. Does anybody know what the cost... are these gonna be like the half a million dollar townhouses like those 'cottages' on Loomis Street that are $700,000?" At this point City Manager Foster didn't know and was hoping to get more info from remote participants, and asked the mayor if he could unmute Todd Schrader, one of the developers.
Mayor Steve Miller: "Is this relevant to our sketch approval? I'm just questioning if we can find out what the cost is later, but we're here to move through the agenda, and all we're looking for is sketch approval. The question could be asked and relayed a little bit later... "
Serna: "I have a question, I have a right to ask it, Steve!"
Miller: I agree... (cross talk by Serna) Council, I prefer to move on and approve this preliminary sketch plan and I will get your answer for you in a little bit, I don't think that has any effect on the sketch plan."
Serna: "I think it does, that's why I asked it."
Miller: "Then I'm willing to hear that argument... the cost of the unit has what to do with the plan itself?"
Serna: "If it's feasible for this area, that's why. If I have a question, if somebody from the Fifth Ward wanted to know and asked me if I would bring it up at the council (meeting), I have a right to answer that for someone from the Fifth Ward."
Miller: "Nobody's debating whether there's a right to ask questions, what..."
Serna: :You're stopping my right to ask a question!"
Miller: Ok, that's enough. We're not going to argue...
Serna: "Ah, fuck you." (clicks off video in disgust)
Miller: Any other questions council?
Serna (off-camera): "Fucking ass."
Miller: Could you mute that please?
The council would continue to discuss the issue and ask another question about the PUD for a couple of minutes before approving the sketch plan unanimously... with one absence.
Councilor Serna's (pictured above) comments on her departure from the meeting were definitely inappropriate for one in her position, and later on in the meeting, Councilor Kathy Winczewski (31:05 in) and two other female councilors talked about a formal censure to be applied at the next meeting, without mention of any inappropriate behavior by the mayor at all. The mayor would offer to meet with any or all councilors to coordinate the reprimand-- because talking further about it in front of the public at an open meeting wouldn't allow them to conspire as well against the councilor who dares asks questions for the people to understand city policy and projects better.
Mayor Steve Miller is actually more deserving of the reprimand. The information Ms. Serna asked for was not in the packet, not available from fellow officials, and the info could have likely been received after Schrader was unmuted. Instead of allowing that information to be given to Ms. Serna and the rest of the public, Miller actively blocked it and diminished it's importance. One could even say he was blocking her ability to get the answer to a question many of the public had an interest in.
The mayor was not only acting against transparency, he was interjecting himself in a manner that would be frowned on by Robert's Rules of Order, where chairman are not supposed to suppress discussion among members like he attempted, unless order needs to be preserved, which wasn;t the case. If this council plans on censuring Councilor Serna at the next meeting, they should be considering a second against the mayor who overstepped his authority and provoked the discord that happened at the meeting.
The second controversy of the night began with my first public comment and a councilor's decision to object to the veracity of that comment as it applied to him. The councilor succeeded in showing that he was corrupt, and likely a liar to boot.
XLFD: (2:10 in, Mitch Foster, pictured, reading) "I am going to the city council meeting tonight. Not here in Ludington, that in-person meeting was called off "to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the City of Ludington from Coronavirus". I am going down to Scottville's meeting at 5:30, where they have chosen the inclusive and responsible policy of holding an in-person meeting while allowing live-streaming of the meeting via Zoom.
According to DHD #10, both cities have similar incidences of coronavirus cases, yet only Ludington has chosen to disallow participation by the poor, the homeless, and the estimated 30% of all other citizens that have no access to the internet. With very limited resources, Scottville has committed itself to engagement with the public while Ludington has embraced avoidance and expedient elitism.
I was disappointed by the city council's defense of Councilor Joe Lenius' non-disclosure of his daughter's involvement in a process which came before the council for a vote and directly led to a financial benefit for her LLC. Rather than transparently claim this involvement and monetary gain by his immediate family member, Councilor Lenius voted in his official capacity without informing the public, violating the city code in doing so.
The notes from the Finance Committee held just before the last meeting reflect that Joe Lenius, contrary to claims, did not formally announce his impropriety before making the motion and then voting to recommend approving the amendment to the Brownfield grant that allowed for additional activities to be covered by the existing grant for the new developer. These activities cost money that would have not been available without the grant extension.
Councilor Johnson led Councilor Lenius' defense at the last meeting saying effectively that there was no wrongdoing. Over the course of many years Councilor Johnson served on the DDA while owning AJ's Party Port. The various drinking events that the DDA sponsored during those years used Councilor Johnson's business exclusively for their purchase of wine, champagne, and hard liquor without Councilor Johnson ever disclosing that fact to the public at any meeting.
City Attorney Hammersley was right in saying that the city council can gauge whether their fellow councilors act ethically in their undertakings by finding nothing wrong with Councilor Lenius' non-disclosure at the two meetings he voted for financial gains for his daughter, but they paint themselves as immensely corrupt officials when they defend or remain mute when the ethical lapse is revealed. [END Comment]"
I spent my evening in Scottville enjoying their in-person meeting and viewing their streaming capacity; nothing prevents Ludington from doing the same thing as this neighboring city with 1/7 of the population.
Councilor Lenius had no defenders of his impropriety in not disclosing his family's enrichment through his votes, they should know by this time that there is no excuse for it. Councilor Les Johnson on the other hand, decided to defend his honor, and in doing so effectively admitted to his own corrupt act of benefitting personally from his public service without going through disclosure processes required by statute.
Johnson (pictured above, 25:25 in): "I guess I just want to respond to one of Mr. Rotta's comments, the one he made about AJ's Party Port supplying the DDA for their drinking events. #1: They never purchased liquor because they don't usually sell liquor at the store... at their events... and they did purchase wine and champagne from me while I was on the DDA, but it was sold to them at cost to help the profits of the event. I never sold them anything at full price and I never, I guess I never tried to get them to buy the product from me, but when they came to me, I told them that I would be happy to sell it to them at cost.
So I guess you know what bothers me about this is that he's brought this up three or four times and he doesn't know the whole story of what, of how some of these things operate and he puts out false information and that's what is causing people to accuse us, the city council or the DDA, of not being transparent and being corrupt and I guess I just feel, and I don't know if there's anything we can do, this would be under Ross' thing probably, but if he's gonna have you give false information to the council in his public speaking comments, I don't feel that we should allow it; make him come up with the truth, when he's gonna put something like that out there. I mean we have to be that way and I don't see a reason why he can do this to us like he does. That's all I have."
City Attorney Ross Hammersley agreed to look into it, but reminded Johnson of First Amendment protections, then:
Johnson: "I know that we can't do anything about what he puts on his blog, but I guess I feel that as a city council, we shouldn't have to take this abuse from him if it's false information."
Mayor Steve Miller: "If I can enter into this. I don't want to prolong this discussion any more than necessary. I don't have the same perspective of the councilmembers who have sat here for a number of years. I have observed for two years, close to three years before I came involved on city council and I saw a number of strategies used by council and city manager, previous city manager, of how to respond or deal with Mr. Rotta and any others.
Everything from arguing from the dais here back to him at that point of a contentious statement, to literally saying nothing. And that's the course we have generally taken and if it's called the high road, someone else can name it; I don't know if we have to defend ourselves each and every time someone makes a... even a repeated statement that we understand is not true. I don't think anything more than just letting him have his say, and just move on. To this point, it's worked well, but whatever council wants, however they would like to address this, is fine with me, but I would like to hear more from the city attorney and perhaps more input from other councilors separately to find out how they think this should be handled."
First off, Councilor Johnson admits to selling hundreds of dollars of alcoholic beverages at cost, but the retail receipts I have received containing itemized lists and prices of Moscato, Brut, and Wine purchased from AJ's do not appear to be 'at cost' (no profit), nor has Les Johnson in the eight years I've been making the claim introduce any evidence on his behalf to show such an altruistic deal on his part.
In all those years he was selling those and other drinks, there is not one DDA meeting showing they decided on Johnson's business because he was offering such a great deal. It's required by statute to disclose and have that disclosure and vote abstention (if applicable) entered into the minutes. I can and have gotten receipts from the DDA showing how much they spent at AJ's for several of their drinking events, he has not shown anything showing the elevated prices noted on these invoices are 'at cost'. I will be asking Councilor Johnson for his exculpatory receipts showing he made no profits on his sales, I don't expect he will validate his claim.
Councilor Johnson was calling me a purveyor of untruth, Mayor Miller continued that line without any specifics, saying I repeated untruths. These liars have not explained why the City of Ludington continues to back DDA voting member Jason Adam and his unlicensed buddy contractor who have defrauded the Rental Rehab program with complicity from the DDA and Community Development Director Heather Tykoski. The latter has committed multiple frauds and cheats on grant applications and has most recently lied about the splash pad having a discharge permit to dump untreated water directly into PM Lake.
I have repeated these uncontroverted claims repetitively at meetings, their silence to all of us is violence to all of us. Why aren't our councilors speaking of censure to people who violate the laws of our state, rather than one who was persecuted unfairly at this meeting by the pompous fucking ass who would not allow her to get a timely answer to her question?
Thank you X for the revealing expose here that really defines some of serious problems of our current city council and Mayor that go on here forever. Councilor Serna didn't deserve the treatment she was given, and can't blame her for withdrawing from the meeting. Some council members have very high conflicts of interest with city events, and will continue into the future if left unchecked, sad and very dismaying for us locals.
Good point, Aquaman. In your opinion, with whom, or under which administration in the city of Ludington did these problems begin? And why do they continue?
X, I listened repeated times to Councilor Johnson's statement and Attorney Hammersley's reply about your giving repeated false information (A.J.s Party Store, owner Les Johnson selling liquor to DDA events at a profit) and it seems that Johnson is emphasizing to Mitch Foster not to read your statements if they contain false information. I did not see that on first viewing. ATTORNEY replies that he will look into it. Johnson misses all together (as does Hammersley initially here or maybe he just didn't want to reply) that DISCLOSURE is a part of the issue. Which bottles of intoxicating liquid and at what cost (liquor at 28 proof or beer at 3.1% seems to be Johnson's concern). They simply don't get that allegedly they (DDA and the CC) have been one big drunken party giving their sitting members unbid contracts behind secret doors. Althought this particular issue has been long in the past, still a Councilor sits, having possibly been benefitted by undisclosed interest. I hope Hammersley has the backbone to stand up to it, and that Mitch Foster reads your statements as written the same as you could do if you could appear in person. I believe a citizen has a right to question what has gone on, and this request by Johnson, with nodding heads in other squares, is, imo, another attempt to squash the LAW of disclosure, and continue to bash anyone with the audacity to stand up for truth.
Further, Johnson may be sending a signal to Foster while his review is imminent that he (Johnson) doesn't like his (Foster) interaction with you. Thus the discussion by Steve Miller on the option to ignore you as being a good action.
I have confidence that CA Hammersley will have the jurisprudence to realize that 'fact-checking' and selectively editing my public comment (violating my First Amendment rights) will only make any federal lawsuit I file against the City of Ludington that much stronger.
According to the city code, Councilor Johnson had a duty to deliver a written statement to the city clerk and city council declaring the conflict of interest and explaining why, despite the potential conflict, he or she was able to make or participate in making the decision fairly, objectively, and in the public interest. This would be mandated by sec. 2-72(a)(1) of the city code and would apply if he sold the beverages at cost or at 400% profit. This has never been produced via my previous FOIA requests.
Councilor Johnson is invited to show his receipts of those transactions with the DDA and the receipts he had with his suppliers during those same years showing him buying the Moscato, Brut, wine, etc. at the same price to avoid me calling him a liar in the future. I'm asking him today to do just that.
Thanks for following up with this, X, in asking Councilor Johnson to provide the receipts. Why haven't they provided them in the FOIA all these past years? Or was that part of their "just ignore you" strategy? Well guess what Mayor, that doesn't work well for the transparency to the public.
If the receipts are received and show no profit, I'm sure you are ethical enough to make a public admission of that. However that does not answer to the city not answering FOIA which may have cleared Johnson of this allegation, nor does it clear him of not disclosing his interest and not voting on the action, or in the DDA of not providing public bidding process.
Your right X this was a very contentious meeting and a good lesson on how not to follow, laws due process and the Constitution. Miller asked the Council if they had any questions and then addressed all of them expect Serna's. As far as Serna is concerned, she was doing her job by asking questions.If Miller did not know the answers to her inquiry then he should have said so instead of showing his bias toward her and shutting her down. When she swore she probably thought she could not be heard when she turned off her connection. Miller started this mess and is responsible for how things got out of hand. Then the Council wanted to silence X because they claim he is not telling the truth. The Council could easily prove X wrong by showing proof they did things above board but we all know that is not going to happen because they do most of their business under the table and pressing the issue they would only reveal just how crooked they have been. Sorry Council but the First Amendment trumps your desire to silence X who is an honest advocate for the citizens of Ludington.
So, to summarize what I gathered from this meeting, Miller refused to answer an important question put forth by Serna, who, out of frustration, opted out of the meeting, then the Council wants to silence X by denying his Constitutional protection for airing the Council's dirty laundry and prevent the public from hearing the truth and finally the Council wants to censure Serna because they are Ludington's elected holier than thou.
I also noticed the nodding heads in approval to go after X and punish Serna.
So funny Willy, the Bobbleheads video. In Ludington, you can't stop the Bobbleheads if there is an earthquake about to erupt because they are hollow and rubberish!
Well said in synopsis. I think behind the scenes some are plotting to silence X, and by her own admission of talking to Mitch that day (probably planning out the bobblehead responses), K. Winczewski may be the bandleader. But that's just a hunch I have from things she said in the past, "we all need to speak the same thing." KW seems to confuse city administration, public votes and opinions with corporate dictaorship.
This council meeting sure was a shit show. The only person that should be reprimanded is Steve Miller. Just answer the question . [ I don't know at this time but I'll get that info to you ] X, if you have the proof of the sale of alcoholic beverages sold at above cost for these events then I would submit them to the City Manager and the City Attorney . That would blow Mr. Johnson's statement out of the water and show who was spreading false statements.
Very creative Titanic, Willy, being that Mitch Foster used some zoom backdrop of the Badger, it appears! I hope it's not true for Mitch Foster that he might have to jump off this Titanic, like other seem to have done, but I feel the crew may see an iceberg up ahead and are firing up all engines. X's persistence over the years is really pissing off the "let's all speak the same" crew or maybe certain recent stabs at Councilor Lenius' ethical gaps have determined him to cry uncle before he leaves. Maybe X has shown some structural cracks or missing bolts that will reveal even greater and more involved complicity and the crew is deciding if they should jump. Who knows? Will there be resolution? Whatever, it seems the captain is not happy, if we can call the mayor a captain. He may be like the Titanic captain who has confidence in his unsinkable ship.
Meanwhile, I'm sure they think that if they get rid of Councilor Serna, they can go back to more peaceful hidden agendas.
Some very interesting analogies FS. There were a lot of things that were wrong about the Titanic's demise that relate to Ludington's politics. From it's financial problems to being unsinkable to not enough lifeboats to why did it hit an iceburg? Also the biggest question of all is that the "The Shocking Truth states that it was not the Titanic that sank, but was switched out for her sister ship the Olympic. Like the Titanic there was/is a lot going on behind the scenes including what really takes place outside of the public's view.