Ludington City Council Meeting April 10, 2017: Tree Pointers

Apologies for the lateness of this summary, I postponed it until I could review what was happening this morning, which will be revealed at the end of this article.

Mayor Holman is set to make a record of issuing proclamations as a Ludington mayor, with three planned on the night of April 10, 2017, after doing many others through her first year as acting mayor/elected mayor. 

She would honor sexual assault awareness month, child abuse prevention month and the Ludington Oriole varsity boys basketball squad who made it to the state finals before finishing runner-up, at the beginning of Ludington's freshly declared Arbor Week she proclaimed in March. 

What looked to be a busy agenda otherwise was overshadowed by what wasn't on the docket, most items generating little interest from the public.  The police chief introduced a parking sticker program for downtown residents, and new designated parking for those downtown and visiting.  The council made a resolution to apply for a driving simulator, the clerk sought and received a resolution for a grant to purchase more voting equipment and they made Fourth Ward zoning more modern and permissive in their business district. 

Otherwise, they received three department reports from the recreation, senior citizen and assessing reports.  The most interesting of these reports was the city's contracted assessor, Brent Bosley, predicting that another bubble was about to burst locally in the housing market again, check him out starting at around the 50 minute mark into the meeting.

The stars tonight were the Oriole cagers, who were originally scheduled to be honored after public comment, but was wisely (for the city officials) moved before in a last minute agenda change enacted 3 minutes in.  There was a general memo out to wear orange this evening, but only every other official got it.  Starting at Brandy Henderson to the far left, every other official down the line wore orange, while others wore blue or yellow. 

Sadly, most of the regulars in the crowd, myself excepted, didn't wear orange, but they did pay homage to the boys.  When they and their parents removed themselves, the meeting was turned over to the public, I went first, and stuck to the night's theme, varying my intro, because a thunderstorm had started during the proclamations:

April 10 2017 Ludington City Council meeting from Mason County District Library on Vimeo.

XLFD: (25:15 into the video):  "I think it's rather appropriate that we have thunder and lightning on the same night we are honoring Thunder [Calvin Hackert] and Lightning [Sam LaDuke].  The spirit and teamwork the Ludington Oriole's Boy's Basketball team showed in winning against River Rouge in overtime in the semis was particularly inspiring.  What is far from inspiring is the direction our city leaders are taking us, disparaging teamwork with the citizens of this town while draining their spirit.  I offer two recent cases in point, one from each of the last meetings you are scheduled to approve the minutes of tonight. 

At the end of the last regular meeting, this council upheld a $2500 payoff of the Baby Kate disappearance police records I requested.  Ironically, kidnapping usually involves ransoms to release what is unlawfully held by another. 

I was told there was the possibility that any of the 2700 pages they claimed were part of the response could have exempt data on them and told that it was reasonable to them that a police detective would need to spend 100 hours scanning "every page, and every line, and every word of every page".  This process had to be gone through because there may be exempt data; our attorney cited two cases, about possible attorney-client privilege records and educational records which may be part of that police report.  As a purveyor of hundreds of FOIA responses, I can assure you, those two are definitely not in the records requested.

The legal standard in FOIA for the exemptions claimed is would, not could, and this public body has failed to show how the records requested would be 2700 pages or would have any exempt data beyond the addresses and other personal data stored in the "people involved" pages.  The City cannot lawfully force a citizen to pay a police detective tribute to search every word of a police report without a reason to do so in a search for what isn't there.  As the city attorney said:  "all the exemptions under FOIA for the most part, are discretionary on the part of the city",  shall the public pay for 100 hours of discretionary folly the city wants to create to find exemptions that don't exist anyways?

The meeting last Wednesday showed poor sportsmanship by our city leaders.  The public was only allowed to speak after city officials had covered what they wanted to cover.  The public then got three minutes to speak, 9 people did on various subjects, and received zero feedback of their ideas from any of the officials present.  Why include us on your team when you don't even throw us the ball?

You yourselves dropped the ball.  A quorum of all councilors were at the meeting, they deliberated and made decisions on public policy, the meeting was an open meeting by definition.  But notice of the meeting was never displayed on the city's website in a prominent place or linked to, as required by law.  [the buzzer sounded as my three minutes were up, so I couldn't finish my layup] This council and our other leaders present should know by now that they need to properly notice a meeting to get more contributions from the public and to follow the law.  How many more fouls do you get to make?"

Neither issue was remarked about during the course of the rest of the meeting, however, Deb Luskin came to me at the end of the meeting to tell me that the meeting had been noticed on the city webpage, and offered me the next day a page that she had created according to the city website the day before the meeting, which apparently disappeared at midnight of the day of the meeting. 

I expressed that I was fairly sure I checked at least twice during that period and saw nothing, but as I have no screen shots during that time, it is something I will not pursue.  She was at least a little apologetic about not getting it out until the last minute, for the meeting had been planned for several weeks before that notice was put on the website.  If anybody gets notifications from the city, and if this was (or wasn't) in your notifications, let me know.

Deb Del Zoppo went next and offered support for the beach parking as long as it's only during the Memorial Day to Labor Day period, and offered even more ways for the city to raise money through extra room taxes and other schemes.  It seemed 180 degrees from her rhetoric of April 5th, but is consistent with her philosophy of expanding government influence and the sway John Shay has over such characters after a conference with him.

Shirley Petersen came up next to remind the councilors of Justus Stearns' intentions when he gave the City this lot for use as a park, and how the beach is currently marketed as FREE parking in many venues, she illustrated how the city's vision of beach parking is somewhat short-sighted before she was called for time.  Helen (Mike) Christman came up next and listed how many Stearns descendants she knew and how they would feel about paying for parking at the beach.

Linda Sando noted her proximity to the park, said that fees would be unkind, and unfair to the young families with limited funds, while noting that the city would not be getting as much as they hoped for.  C. Dale Bannon noted his long term links to the area and remembered when downtown had parking fees.  He thought it was unfair and inhospitable to just gouge visitors and not locals.  Vic Burwell came at the end to thank the people who did the Lake Jump. 

Bannon would once again speak at the end of the meeting about the downtown parking situation and the traffic control orders, and orienting maps on signs.  This set up my final two minute comment at 1:27:15

XLFD:  "Seventeen trees, all in the same general area were cut down on the south side of Copeyon Park on March 27th.  This was more than half of the trees planted in the southern section of the park, and has left quite a gap.  The vast majority of these trees were perfectly healthy, with no sign of disease or infestation; I checked the wood that day and the stumps since.  Why were these trees cut down?

I asked the city for records concerning why these trees would be cut down.  I received a response that indicated they were not on the original 2016 list for removal, but appeared on an amended list in December 2016.  There was no clear indication in the record of why these trees were cut down.

The records do clearly indicate there is no plan by the city or its Tree Advisory Board to replace the trees in the immediate future.  The City has refused to give any indication of why they would cut down the majority of trees in a park's wooded section and have no replacement.  A city official did transmit on social media that another official told her that the trees were all diseased and needed to come down.  That was provably false. 

Tonight, I will put the question to the city manager who has remained mum up to this point, but is the only one to have the authority to have these trees cut down in the first place.  Why were seventeen mostly healthy trees in Copeyon Park cut down?"

Surprisingly, Shay did address this topic at the end of the meeting, following one of Councilor Castonia's little laments at 1:42:30: "Your honor, a pet peeve of mine is when people come here and complain to us about things and don't bother stick around and here what our answers might be. Mr. Bannon's the only one that stuck around. I would just like to get a few people come here with suggestions for us to help us out. Instead of always complaining."

Councilor Cazzie has effectively become successful at totally shutting me out from his conscious thoughts.  Of course, this night I wasn't complaining, I was asking why city leader's ruined the wooded area of one of our prized parks, and why they failed to follow the FOIA and OMA.  If anybody always complains, it's Councilor 'Tiny Tears' Castonia at the end of these meetings.  After this bit of negativity Shay spoke, keep an eye on his body language as he speaks, and his actual words:

John Shay: (1:43:10): "Our public works superintendent had indicated that the trees in Copeyon Park that were cut down, all but one were ash trees and were diseased with emerald ash borer disease, and there was one maple tree that was cut down that was hollow in the middle.

The City in general does not just simply cut down healthy trees just for the heck of it, but if we have to cut down a healthy tree usually it's for reasons such as it's interfering with a sewer line or maybe upheaved a sidewalk, for example.

We do get calls from residents on a pretty regular basis, that they want the city to cut down a tree in the right-of-way because, among other reasons, they don't want to rake leaves, or it drops little buds and so forth, and in general, we reject those requests. So, I just wanted to give you that update.

Councilor Johnson: "John, will those trees be replaced... in Copeyon Park eventually or...

Shay: "I have to talk to Joe [Stickney] to see exactly what the replacement plan is. If we do, they most likely won't be ash trees, just because we can't get ash trees to stay healthy."

Does he sound like he's being frank?  Shady Copeyon Park had its canopy of trees decimated by the DPW, and he's trying to foist this off on the DPW Superintendent when he has the ultimate authority in each and every city park by our charter.  Section 38-68:  "No person shall in any city park do or cause to be done any of the following without first obtaining a permit from the director:  Willfully pick, saw, chop, cut, carve, remove or injure any flowers, seeds, blooms, bark, branches, twigs or leaves of any tree, plant, shrub, vine, bush or any other vegetation."  The director is the city manager

Today, according to Brandy Henderson's release the day after this meeting, the Tree Advisory Board was planting lilacs at Copeyon Park.  This is why I postponed this article, to find out the extent of this planting without otherwise affecting it.  It turns out they planted 21 lilac bushes in a line directly to the west of the electric substation, apparently hoping to use it as a visual shield to block the electrical structure. 

The stumps of trees, three with signs of deterioration or infestation, fourteen without such indications, are further to the south.  These fourteen stumps and the questions of why they exist there still remain while city officials keep pointing away from themselves to explain them.

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2500 dollars for public information....really?  How much is it for the second person who requests the FOIA if you are the first and they have already removed the "private" information?  Do they sell their records over again for an additional 2500 dollars?  It is time all of the public records be put on a website for the public to of charge....since it is information that is public information to begin with....they can toss in a few ads to pay for the "free" information if they feel they need to cover their costs.  I see it as nothing more than just another road block to transparency.

I really am sorry to hear about perfectly healthy trees being taken down.  I do understand the one's with the disease but not perfectly healthy trees.

Given the city counsel only lets people who elect them speak for 3 minutes and don't have the decency to respond to their citizens concerns (honestly and completely)....I'd say the audience look at their watch and at the 3 minute mark in the meeting the people turn their chairs around and give them your backs.  I won't go into what I would be putting on the back of the shirt I would wear....perhaps the two fingers for a peace sign...ROFL.

Considering that the police report has been supplied to the Sean Phillips defense team for two separate criminal trials in 2012 and 2016, including several LPD officers on the stand in each trial reviewing their own reports (which, by the way, is very enlightening; the police reports-- which are treated as hearsay by the court--of the LPD and other agencies have never been entered into the court as exhibits, only their testimony and amazingly muted cross examinations by Phillips' public defenders), these records have already been released with privacy exemptions deleted. 

There is a potential wealth of information in these records that may change the whole character of this case, for it was clear to me that the defense's intent in both trials was to steer additional guilt for the disappearance of the baby away from the mother, which was significant considering the efforts by the original public defender in the original preliminary hearing to show the mother's testimony was counter to what she originally told the police on the night of the disappearance.  I can see why the LPD would effectively set these barriers into getting these records, they can claim the case is solved because they helped put somebody behind bars, when it's far from solved.

As normal, the city council via the curmudgeonly Councilor Castonia decided to attack those who took the time out of their schedules to attend the meeting to express their opinions about the beach parking, just because they couldn't stay the two hours to get feedback that never came.  He and his fellow councilors can bloviate about a topic for over three minutes, but they rarely because it only gives the public a better insight into what their real objectives are.

 I was out in the family woods/swamp for a few hours yesterday, cutting and gathering firewood for the future winter.  We have a lot of ash trees, and a very significant portion of my wood is from these types of trees.  I have seen the damage the EAB does, and I have seen healthy ash trees with no sign of them yet.  You can tell from the look and feel of the bark how healthy an ash tree is. 

I saw the wood cut on the day they pillaged the Copeyon tree canopy.  The wood was primarily healthy, the only diseased/infested/hollowed out wood I saw was from the wider trees.  I have reviewed the stumps since and even though they are beginning the process of rotting after three weeks of being cut, the vast majority of the trees show no sign of illness.  There are treatments that can be used to control EAB even after detected in trees, and it has been irresponsible of the city to not document their removal of these park trees. 

Whether it was against protocol or the law, I await your response showing your proofs of what the city should have done to be compliant with state regulations.

Just took the time to watch the City Council Meeting video.  For some reason, I personally can not get over the fact they start their meeting with prayer.  What purpose does that serve exactly?  If anyone honestly knows, I'm interested because I truthfully don't understand the purpose of the prayer.

Additionally, I am not sure why they permit people their 3 minutes to speak.  What is the point of being able to speak if there is no reply or response to the citizens concerns.  I have watched several of these meetings and it appears to me that this particular group of people are just going through the motions and not passionately concerned about what is best for their city.  The only passion I see comes from the citizens of the community, with the exception of the council passionately attacking X, the council needs to be replaced with people who are passionate about doing something other than covering their rears with bogus information. 

Is it possible that Mr. Shay never personally went out to see those trees and signed some piece of paper that came across his desk without really examining what was happening?  The city belongs to the entire citizenship not just those few elected (why I'll never know) officials who seem to do what every they want without accountability or decency to share openly their processes.

I've got my fingers crossed that people took photos and samples from the wood so they can be published so as to enlighten Mr. Shay about what is really going on in his city.  (I think Mr. Shay needs a name change....Mr. Shadeless or Shameless would be more fitting.)

I personally am willing to pay the $2500 dollars for the FOIA for baby Kate as long as I can sit in the room with the detective for the same 100 hours they are saying it will take for them to scan each word on every page.  I am willing to remove my eye glasses and provide a letter from my eye doctor that indicates I would not be able to read the words from across the room so as not to violate anyone's privacy.  If they are not comfortable with my presence in the room, I'm more than happy to provide my own recording equipment to document the detective actually doing what they say they will be doing.  I have zero trust without proof. I am not willing to allow these people to take my money without first hand proof that they actually spent that time doing what they say they are doing.  Pardon my mistrust however I have learned from personal experience there are those in positions of authority who are more than willing to take advantage of their positions.  My time and my is up for the taking.  X will you let me know who your contact is in Ludington and I'll put forth my proposal?

I'm be embarrassed to say a prayer and evoke the idea of God or some higher consciousness and then lie, be evasive or ignore the concerns of the people I was hired to serve.  They don't have to like or agree with their citizens, but they do need to do their job to the best of their ability with integrity and transparency and actually engage the people they serve with respect.

Keep in mind, these same people who would sit and pray are the same ones that verbally attacked X and supported the attack with applause.  The prayer I would say for them:  "Dear God, lead them out of the darkness and into the light where their minds can embrace other humans civilly and with the same respect that they would want to be treated with. Amen"

With this said, I understand people are fallible and make mistakes....I also understand we can make amends for those trespasses and only after doing that can real lasting progress be made. 

Regarding the 3 minute allotment for speaking. I believe it was first enacted by the Flint city council when people jammed the  meetings voicing their displeasure with city supplied water.

Shay was quick to jump on this band wagon limiting the public's time to speak. Anything that would limit thin-skinned Johnny's exposure to being made the fool in public.

If you were limited to 3 or 4 minutes per agenda topic,that might be proper. Sometimes their are 3 or 4 topics that X you might wish to speak about, the body of incompetent work by the city and its officials certainly knows no bounds, and 3 minutes in total is too short of  a time to adequately remind them of all of their shortcomings.

Then again since they don't listen to what you are saying [unless you are one of their toadies praising them in which case you are given all the time you want] perhaps it is a mute point.

Since the council doesn't listen anyway maybe citizens standing at the podium and saying nothing for 3 minutes would be just as effective, sort of a reverse filibuster.

As for praying at the beginning of council, perhaps they would be better served waiting until the close of the meeting and then  begging forgivnous praying for absolution for the previous debacle that they call a council meeting. 

Amen Shinblind


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