Ludington City Council Meeting, April 10, 2023: Stopping the Axe Grinding

The April 10, 2023 meeting of the Ludington City Council had so little activity that the headline ran this morning by the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) featured two vanilla items that had their first readings as ordinances: Council hears two proposals for LPD.  

The article would elaborate on those two proposals as being simply a renewal of the existing school resource officer contract with the LASD for another three years and a five-year contract with AXON for providing bodycams and support of same.  Continuances of services already provided, no big deal.  Where's the axe to grind as noted in the title?

Reading further in the COLDNews, we find that a subgroup of the Shoreline Cycling Club promoting youth bicycle activities (FORCE) had a couple of items on the agenda.  One was a scavenger hunt for youths that would involve riding bicycles throughout the Lakeview Cemetery on each Sunday of May to find stuff on a list, another that would be through the city.  The other was installation of a 'pedal pad' down in Copeyon Park.  

Both proposals seemed a little sketchy.  The pedal pad would allow a safe space for the very young to learn to ride their bikes/trikes, but the pad is in a place where older kids can't get to safely on their bicycles, Copeyon Park.  So is anybody going to load up their car with their children's bikes, take it down to Copeyon and take advantage of it?  The splash pad and playground will definitely overshadow it's use; I don't see the pedal pad being a big draw especially after it's first use.

Youngsters riding a bicycle through town distracted by looking for things on a scavenger hunt seems also like a recipe for a bad outcome.  It can also learn them bad habits like distracted driving they might later exhibit as vehicle operators.  Bicycle riding is fun in itself, making these hunts strictly destination-based would seem a better idea.

Two other regular annual activities were approved:  July 3-4 activities by the Jaycees (children, pet, and Freedom Festival parades, firework show) and the Lakeshore Pyrate Heads fundraiser, the Buccaneer Bash on July 15th.  

The article was bereft of the most important act of the evening on the agenda, the final budget amendments of 2022 (see p. 16+ of packet).  It was simply an addition of about $27,000 to the police budget, caught by the city's auditor, which put the COL over half a million in the red for the year 2022.  

The lack of much content in the agenda, and the COLDNews article, was not reflected in the public comments.  Annette Quillan began the night noticing the problems city leaders have had with homeless people loitering in parks and compassionately offering her views on its origins and why it will remain a problem for awhile. 

The reference was to a recent Parks Committee meeting, where the issue was brought up and the new police chief decided that the city would be turning off the electricity to the pavilion at Waterfront Park when it wasn't being used for events.  Other decisions made by this committee at this meeting, which is supposedly an advisory standing committee only, was to approve the Oriole Giving Tree to use the beach one evening a week in July for Santa pictures and install signs in Waterfront Park.  They had also approved the pedal pad, rather than make a recommendation to the council to approve it.  The City of Ludington loves to violate the Open Meetings Act by using their committees to do acts that their council should be doing.

Then came something that seemed much like a comedy skit, though it wasn't all that funny.  I went to the podium and started my comment.  It should have been a monolog, but instead I held a dialog with Mayor Barnett (7:10 into the video):

April 10th, 2023 Ludington City Council meeting from Mason County District Library on Vimeo.

"Tom Rotta, Third Ward"

"Mr. Rotta, do you still reside at 137 East Dowland?"

"Your honor, with all due respect, I have the floor, and you are out of order...

"Your honor (laughs), I'm sorry, Mr. Rotta, boy that was, anyway, do you still live at 137 East Dowland?"

"Your honor, I will repeat again, with all due respect, I have the floor, and you are out of order.  Robert's Rules of Order..."

"Mr. Rotta (cross talk) do you live at 137 East Dowland."

"You are interrupting me once again, your honor.  You're out of order."

"Your time is due to expire.  You're using your time.  Do you live at 137 East Dowland?"

"Robert's Rules of Order, 11th edition, p. 44, although the presiding officer..." (gavel bangs repeatedly)

"Thank you, thank you Mr. Rotta.  Next.  (I remain at the podium) If anybody else wants to speak before council, please come forward.  Okay does anybody else wish to speak to council?

"Tom Rotta, Third Ward."

"Do you live at 137 East Dowland?"

"Your honor, with all due respect, I have the floor, and you're out of order."

"Mr. Rotta, at last meeting you said you lived at 602 North Lakeshore Drive and you don't, so I need to know are you still a city resident?"

"Yes, I'm still a city resident."

"Do you still live at 137 East Dowland?"

"Your honor, with all due respect, I have the floor, and you're out of order.  You said I could come up here and give my three minutes..."

"After you complied with the guidelines that states that you are required to give your home address and your mailing address.  Do you still live at 137 East Dowland?"

"Page 44 Robert's Rules of Order.  "Although presiding officers should give close attention to each speaker's remarks, he cannot interrupt the person who has the floor so long as that person does not violate any of the assembly's rules and no disorder arises."  You're the only one creating disorder, your honor."

"You're making a public comment based on guidelines, have... do you still live at 137 East Dowland?"

"And again, you're interrupting the speaker, I have the floor."

"Next speaker please. (gavel raps, I head to my seat) Thank you."

This battle lasted over two minutes, but it wasn't over.  Tom Sanders from the north side of town weighed in after leaving us his address:  "The axe-grinding here needs to stop.  I'm addressing the chair.  The axe-grinding needs to stop.  This is an old beef and it needs to stop.  That's not what this council is for.  That's not what this room is for.  it needs to stop."

"Thank you Mister Sanders.  Any other public comment?  Any other public comment?  (I raise my hand) Yes, Mr. Rotta."

"Tom Rotta, Third Ward."

"Do you live at 137 East Dowland?"

"Your honor, with all due respect, I have the floor and you're out of order."

"Mr. Rotta, if you are not going to identify as per the guidelines where you, where your residence is we'll move on."

"I have a comment to make."

"Okay."  (and then I proceeded to my comment)

XLFD:  "We have city officials taking a Christian holiday, Good Friday, off and a reintroduction of Christian invocations at the beginning of meetings, so one would think that our city was led by folks who have Christian values and moderation.  

I frankly don't see it.  Within a minute of aforesaid invocation, I routinely get interrupted by the mayor trying to enforce a nonsense rule that doesn't exist.  I see all officials tripping over themselves to claim that 304 East Foster, a playground with a swing set and basketball hoops be mischaracterized as an obsolete commercial building just so that the shady developers erecting actual buildings can avoid any taxes for twelve years and shift the burden they will put on our infrastructure to the rest of the hapless taxpayers. 

Everybody behind that dais in front of me is guilty of bearing false witness and indirectly in stealing from the community in order to proudly boast that their foolish actions led to the development of the Foster School-- just as most of you proudly did for the Lofts on Rowe project which had the community and state spend over $10 million just to get an enterprise which offers greatly overpriced apartments.  $950 a month for 386 square foot brick-walled dormitory rooms?   This project is a failure; humbly admit that and learn from it.  

Would Jesus approve of you people approving a subsidy of $2.1 million to the 106 Laura Street developers, more than tripling what the county would gift them through their own Brownfield Authority?  What part of the New Testament has Jesus wandering about seeking unprincipled rich developers to provide them with even more wealth from poor and struggling families? 

Rather than ostentatiously praying for wisdom at the head of these meetings and making unwise decisions thereafter, I would rather see your energies spent more in humbling yourself in private and praying for the Almighty's guidance before you attend these meetings, after reading and researching the issues scheduled to come before you.  Matthew 6:5-6.  Thank you. [END comment]

I appreciate Tom Sanders' intervention and the subsequent opportunity to speak once again and circumvent the roadblocks the mayor put forth once again before relenting to let me speak uninterrupted.  Sanders would lead off the second comment period with another thought provoking message.  He wondered why all the snow loaded down into the Loomis Boat Launch area is eventually reloaded using heavy equipment in spring to get the snow back in the First Street dump area.  He saw it as a huge waste of manpower and money.  The question would be left unanswered.

I went and uttered my name and the ward I lived in and was uninterrupted.  Since my prepared speech didn't cover two minutes I addressed a point made by the city manager during his report that said that Lofts on Rowe was never portrayed as affordable housing.

City Manager Foster (25:45 in) "At no point in the discussion of that project was the words "affordable housing" used because there is a difference between affordable housing and attainable housing..."

When the project was originally introduced to the community by an entity that later withdrew, we were given their promise that they would be using only an OPRA and historic tax credits and they suggested these would be market-based apartments.  Their successor never held to those promises, but I addressed Mr. Foster's inaccurate reportage before I started my speech (special thanks to my smart phone for doing quick research).  I also laid out my plan for making the school and city accountable for their neglect as concerns the Oriole Field renovation away from natural grass to fake turf.  

XLFD (49:15 in)  "To address the city manager, there have been several sources that actually have called Lofts on Rowe "affordable housing".  Monica Schuyler, Ron Sarto, the president of PNC West Shore Bank, I forget his name, and various news sources, so they may be in error, but they did say it.

Ludington schools are scheduled to install artificial turf at Oriole Field later this spring and I've addressed the school board, the superintendent, City Manager Foster and even the Planning Commission in order to get them to do their duties in regard to making sure that harmful hazards are not introduced into our community.  Layers of infill made of recycled tires contains known carcinogens and metals that can not only leach into our watersheds but expose our kids to serious health problems.  Neither the school nor the city shows any indication that they want to investigate what is going to be put on about 1.5 acres of school property within the city limits, just a block away and uphill from the mayor's house.

Since no official wants to do the listed duties of their jobs and look out for the health and safety of the people, I am offering public notice through this comment that I will be taking my own action once this toxic garden is planted.  I will have the infill and the turf itself chemically tested by experts and you will see a class action lawsuit filed against the school and this city for their negligence of duties should it come back with anything that is hazardous to our children or our environment and also seek injunctive relief to keep our precious children from playing on poisonous grounds.  So go ahead and do nothing, it will only prove the point I made earlier this meeting [END Comment].

The school has done a good job of not doing their duty to figure out whether their turf or infill contains hazardous materials by putting their head in the sand ground up tires and not questioning at all what's being put on Oriole Field.  I think this has been done on purpose to stymie potential injunction actions, the kind I used to fight against the deer cull in the school's backyard, as a local judge would likely throw out a case filed on just speculation that the infill was made of biohazards.  What a pathetic school board we have that would do such a thing just to avoid litigation.

So, instead of giving notice that I would file an injunction almost guaranteed to fail before the turf is laid, I gave notice that I would be taking action after they spent all that money to the detriment of our kids, that is if an independent laboratory conducts tests and finds that what they laid down on our school and city grounds is hazardous to our health.  Our public school and our city has specific duties in their bylaws and codes respectively that would have prevented this self-inflicted poisoning had those responsibilities actually been taken up rather than actively ignored when shoved in their faces at their board, commission, and council meetings by some joker who called the sitting mayor out of order not once, not twice, but five times at a meeting.  And was correct each time.

So shortly after Tom Sanders suggested to have the axe-grinding to stop, it did.  Then I took that sharpened axe and wielded it with surgical precision in making short work of Mayor Barnett's obstructions to my speaking.  I used it to then cut down the city council's bad habit of taking from the poor to give to the rich.  And when their smooth tongue city manager tried to deceive the public by making false claims, I figuratively split that member in twain to make it into a forked tongue, worthy of a cold-blooded slithering reptile. 

Lastly, I shook the axe at them, telling all that they would face a much larger and much sharper axe should they decide to act knavish and neglect their duties to the community by willingly filling pits with carcinogens and toxins to kill our children.  But that and more was missed by the COLDNews, who were more excited about the first readings of continuing contractual ordinances.

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Wow! What a weird challenge by Barnett on the address. Thanks, X, for the courage to stand up for all those too intimidated and then to have to expose their privacy. Shame again on you, Mark Barnett and thanks also to Tom Sanders for calling the bully out on it. Nice axe swinger!

My hope is that someone, maybe his pastor, will have a talk with the mayor and let him know that mindless authoritarianism isn't a very good or Godly look for someone in his position.  My hope is also that someday our city leaders will wisely pursue growth, City Manager Foster totally ignores Chuck Marohn's advice in regard to the growth Ponzi Scheme he's plunging headlong into.   

Once you subtract $10 million (the public's investment) from the $14 million for the Loftys on Rowe, the developers had at most $4 million to bring 67 apartments online, or less than $70,000 per apartment.  This means that they will recover their costs (if indeed it was $4 million) before 6 years have passed on rents alone, even with 10-20% vacancy.  Public subsidization at such levels puts undue burdens on the masses to support the wealthy, that's patently unAmerican and will lead our country to ruin.

Barnett is such a bonehead. What's worse is all the silence coming from the Council. Nobody stood up to his nonsense. When you stood up to Barnetts stupidity, that was a proud moment for all citizens of Ludington. This Council should be absolutely ashamed for their cowardice. A mass resignation sounds good to me. Congratulations X. There should be a written apology issued by the Council and Barnett to you for their bad behavior and it should be printed in the shameless LDN as well. Great job X. Hats off to Tom Sanders as well.

No information should be forced from anyone speaking before the Council. How arrogant of Government officials to withhold Constitutional rights forcing folks to reveal personal information. Disgusting!

I hope to send the powers-that-be a polite letter of demand for a sensible resolution for this minor problem this weekend, we have already seen their original response (the Draconian unconstitutional rules that even a couple counselor-councilors couldn't consider).   I don't expect them to be able to figure out a smart resolution themselves, but then again, I don't expect them to listen to my reasonable entreaties.  

I like your quote in the bottom left corner, an improvement over Alan Greenspan's words of wisdom, and very applicable to the people's republic of Ludington: 

Great depiction, Willy! Sadly, not comic.
Now that the shock and drama have somewhat settled, X, could you tell me what the status of the "rules" is? Why does Barnett insist there are rules for public speaking, and you can call him out of order? If the Michigan law allows cities to set their own public engagement rules, and if Ludington has a rule that a speaker must give his physical address, WHY are you not in jail for civil disodedience? Were you dressed warmly to spend time in the concrete slammer?

Regarding the expense of the Loftys ... surely could have been spent so more wisely. Thanks for showing those numbers.

You are right. WWJD? Ludington and America is, imo, on a negative vortex of a mess going down the drain. Those who sell their soul for greed in this life will have a rough time gaining Eternal life.

Foster must have sold his soul for the lofty and cushy salary in Ludington, (which most anyone would do to maintain that salary and it goes right to their head that they are better than others and deserve it).

These "elected of the people" meet before the city council meeting takes place in order to discuss what positions they are going to take in order to "group think" to do "the city business" rather than "the people's business." That is the nature of man's government and until God straightens this out, we will be subject to more and greater corruption on a local level ... only with an occasional breath of fresh air (in a less corrupted official, imo, not in Ludington now). Barnett, imo, is a christian in sheep's clothing-- his bitter "axe grinding" displays that (thanks Tom Snyder for calling it out with such impact).

Thanks for your analysis and relevant questions from your first paragraph, thoughtfully provided a few hours after you saw the episode go down.  Without going into too much detail, and without annotating the full mess, here's the answers for you and for those who may have just happened upon this controversy.

I've said my Christian name and street (Dowland) to introduce myself at LCC' public comments since 2012, at the January meetings, the mayor would interrupt me and ask for my street number.  I would relent, but I thought it was improper of him to do so.  It was not only an invasion of my privacy, but it was also a governmental seizure of about 5-10 seconds of content ("one-thir-ty-sev-en east" X 2) I could otherwise use in my 3 minutes and 2 minutes of allowed public comment.  Frankly, the latter was more important to me, but the former is important to a lot of people who might want to speak, but are adverse to giving out their full address for a variety of possible reasons.

So I made a FOIA request and found out that rules for public comment were never officially established by the city council beyond the time requirements.  This motivated the city attorney (under direction by whom, I do not know) to introduce rules for public comment in February, where I roundly panned it, as did the city council (especially Councilors Terzano and Bulger).  It was sent back to the drawing board and hasn't been seen since.  

Thus, Barnett has no rules to fall back on, and so when he introduces public comment:  "I request that anybody addressing the council, please step to the lectern, speak directly into the microphone, after stating your name, street address, and city of residence...", these are best qualified as guidelines-- to his credit he makes that point later on, but then he adds one has to use both home and mailing address.

So how can I call him out of order if there is no rules?  I can do so because the city council has adopted and readopted Robert's Rules of Order in the past, albeit, not in this century yet and their meeting structure is predicated on RRO whether they care to declare it or not.  One of the concepts is that one has the floor when the chair has recognized them and they are allowed to talk within established rules of the body.  I have the floor when recognized for public comment for either three minutes, until I yield it because I'm finished, or because I am interrupted for the limited purposes established in RRO.  I have the talking stick, dammit.

Again to his credit, the mayor has tried to use the latter at this meeting and previous ones to ask the question "Do you still live at 137 East Dowland?", but he failed to ask me whether I wanted to yield the floor for a question (best shown in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).  Interrupting a speaker without proper authority is generally a bad thing for a meeting, and it makes the mayor's actions on Monday out of order.  

But, as Willy notes, the silence of the city council when their meeting is hijacked by their chairman for over two minutes is rather telling of their competence as a unit.  Fortunately, neither Barnett or any other official present decided to overstep their authority and put me in irons for this lawful act of civil disobedience.  I expect they will try another heavy-handed tactic at the next meeting to try and show their dominance, rather than show any humility.  

It's too bad they can't spend all the energy wasted in such efforts to put towards their sesquicentennial celebration or at least do something for once that benefits those that pay their taxes, rather than invent new ways to give other people's money away for their own glory.

Thanks, X, for the historical and informative answer. I'm glad you stood up to Barnett (who has no official rules). Now I see it as more harrassment and invasion of privacy and violation of First Amendment by Barnett. There are lots of things to sue over here ... (unfortunately) and should go to the Supreme Court to set the privacy rights for all speakers.

One could even make the case for other Constitutional violations, were one to try and seek them out.  Of course, these aren't as evident as the First Amendment violations but these would be:

Fourth Amendment:  Unlawful government seizure of my intangible personal property (that is, 5-10 minutes of the time granted for me to speak at council meetings)

Fifth Amendment:  Barnett's actions amount to a regulatory 'taking' of my speaking time without just compensation

Fourteenth Amendment:  a) the due process clause:  the deprivation of my liberty without due process and b) the equal protection clause:  in January meetings, I was forced to state my street address while Lyla McClellan and Connie Vlahos (during second comment period) failed to identify themselves and spoke without interruption. 

Yet when I look over these issues, they seem minimal when compared to the various injustices I have seen against innocent citizens captured in LPD's body cams over the last three years, that is, when the officer actually activates the device.  

Seems like "inequitable harrassment" at the January meetings wherein McClellan and Vlahos weren't harassed to identify themselves would have more pull than "seizure of time."

Attached is an article in reverse about various issues of harrasment, but interesting still. 

https://canons.sog.unc.edu/2022/07/dealing-with-harassment-and-thre...

The 4th and 5th Amendment claims are more of a legal 'wish list' but such claims are basically untested in the courts to my knowledge (and likely not to be considered in a comprehensive claim), and the 14A claims have more of a concrete basis.  You once again impress me with your legal acumen and perspective.  

Likewise, it's always instructive to adopt the perspective of the other side and your article, even though it's from North Carolina, is prudent.  I would advise any citizen wishing to make a difference in their local government to do their research and be creatively maladjusted enough to get your voice heard without being perceived as threatening to a reasonable person. 

You will note that for all the times I called the mayor out of order, I also said aforehand:  "Your honor, with all due respect, I have the floor."  This paralyzed other officials into inaction, I believe, because they know they are being recorded and couldn't formulate a reasonable response that could simultaneously make the city look good and be within the rules of order (and law).

Interesting. 

Sort of a Jim Crow authorization by the mayor.

If you are homeless but have something to offer would the mayor continually eat up your 3 minutes by repeatedly demanding an address? 

Should the council board be required to wear white robes and pointy hats?

Ludington's mayor

Disenfranchise the homeless

Who wish to be heard.

U.S.Education And The New Jim Crow » KKK Rides Again (cuny.edu)

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