The April 24, 2017 Ludington City Council meeting lasted for two hours, but will be remembered for a terse couple of minutes that happened between two councilors about the city policy regarding when to involve the public in city decision making.
The city's controlling policy through the last dozen or so years has been to introduce their ideas the Friday or Saturday before a Monday meeting where it is either passed as a resolution or given the first reading mandated by the charter for ordinances. This is after the idea has been discussed in meetings between officials that are immune from the transparency requirements of the Open Meetings Act (OMA); this includes the council's committee meetings. Up until this year, that position has not only been the way things have been done in Ludington city government, but also uncontested by any of our elected (or unelected for that matter) officials.
But tonight, over the issue of charging for parking at the beach, there was a lone voice of hope for reform of that system which ignores the voice of the public. First, a look at what else was on the agenda that didn't elicit any controversy or capture the moment.
A road closure on Monona Drive for a Trinity Church picnic on June 24 was approved, as was an August 19 request by the United Way to use Rotary (City) Park for the "Suds on the Shore" event. A series of personnel pension and retirement agreements for city employees were passed. They extended the Chamber of Commerce's Offshore Classic Fishing Tournament use of Waterfront Park by three days, after some discussion of whether it would just be for this year.
Resolutions were adopted for providing fire-protection for some places outside the city limits, and to change the existing contract for street lighting with Consumer's Energy to reflect changes of lighting methods. They approved some minor revisions to the 2016 budget that were not reflected in the prior amendment to that budget.
DPW Superintendent Joe Stickney gave his report on the DPW, Motor Pool, Cemeteries and Parks Departments at 44:15 in and his report, with questions from the council, took 20 minutes. Earlier that day, I had published an article on how unreasonable it seems to the casual observer for the city to incur a half million dollars each year to maintain the beach, and even how I believed it could be done even better with less than a tenth of that. After hearing the report, I see nothing to change that.
The public comment started out with C. Dale Bannon going to the podium at 2:50 into the meeting and offering the opinion to charge non-residents for using public restrooms. The council never considered the idea, but he would later get up at the second comment, and refute himself by stating that the idea of doing just that was very offensive to him. Sharon Seidel followed by saying she lives outside the city limits, but donates time talent and treasure to the city, and offered suggestions to allow people to donate to the city. Isn't that what taxes and user fees are for?
I got up at the seven minute mark and gave my first public take on the parking situation, the transcript follows:
XLFD: The addition of parking charges at Stearns Park will have no effect on my current habits. Mind you, I do visit Stearns Park regularly, but for me it's an experience best suited for foot or bike pedal, and is just a longitudinal trip across the Third Ward.
My concerns, as it often is, is for how it will affect other folks from here and afar and Ludington herself. Those with the currently enviable position of living close to the beach will have to deal with a lot of people parking in their already thin streets, many without sidewalks. Every summer day will have its challenges for them, not to mention the people that park there and make a dangerous trek to Stearns Park over those thin streets without sidewalks and then across a bustling five-lane state highway fully loaded with beach gear.
I can't speak for others, but I go to parks to escape technological things like parking kiosks, and with four or more of these in conspicuous places, some of the charm of Stearns Park natural simplicity is lost. When they inevitably malfunction or a park-user stays longer than they had originally planned, there's going to be some people upset with having their vacation spoiled due to parking issues. The associated noise pollution that follows may be unpleasant for others.
And whereas I dispute the accounting which says that maintenance of Stearns Park costs just under a half of a million dollars each year, it would be folly to suggest that this change would realize a profit in its first year, and common sense to suggest that Ludington-based businesses would suffer a loss. If the goal is to gain some revenue for a projected shortfall, it doesn't seem this is the way to proceed.
I fear this change is being done not primarily to raise revenue for the City of Ludington's ever-growing budget, but as a means to filter out many of those who cannot afford the parking fees from enjoying the beach. I am inclined to believe that such fees are not equitable to our poor and disabled citizens and visitors. Please reject all consideration of parking fees at the beach, not for me, but for them and the other reasons presented to you from the public. Thank you."
In Tuesday's COLDNews Kevin Braciszeski summed it up as: "(XLFD) said installing kiosks to collect the fees at the beach might mar the overall look of the park and said the fee might affect parking in the nearby neighborhood and said the charge might be discriminating against people who can't afford to pay." I am so glad he is not my speech writer, but that five syllable word he used which I never used was impressive for him.
I felt my speech was more than moderate in tone, as did city officials Wallace and Becky Cain behind me, and was rather taken aback by the next speaker who serves as the city's cemetery sexton, Kirk Caithamer, giving off his own negativity while decrying the negativity of the opposition, which was nowhere on display this night.
Kirk mentioned he was a crew leader in the Parks Committee for the city rather than his official job title as cemetery sexton. After that obscurement, he expressed how he thought it was a great idea to charge for parking and maintain the level of service that the public has come to expect. He said the taxpayers would get some financial relief (no tax or fee cuts have been proposed for taxpayers, Kirk).
He was the first to bring up Councilor Brandy Henderson's Facebook post: "The next thing I knew, there was a post on a social media site asking everyone, not just residents of the city: 'What do you think of a parking fee at Stearns Park?' This was done without any official proposal by the city on this topic..." He then describes a negative comment as 'we need to keep a natural creation like Stearns Beach free and available to all to see and use.' Is that really a negative comment, Kirk, unlike yours concerning Brandy's post?
The only other negative comment he offers later is that we would be gouging tourists that visit Ludington-- well, isn't that the case?. "How can there be so much negativity from the public?", he adds without any sense of irony, finishing with the positive thought of calling the program a "Park and Play Pass". That is positively splendid, Kirk, let's call that pink slip you or your seemingly overpaid and underworked co-workers receive a "passport to early retirement".
He mentions the $400,000 figure for justifying the cost of maintaining Stearns Park without justifying those costs, which he should be able to do as a Parks Committee crew leader. Brandon Fisher, another 'parks department employee', made the case immediately thereafter using many of the same points, but less negatively. Isn't it serendipitous that these city employees want more money and dedicated funds put towards their department?
At 1:10:15 in, Councilor Krauch broke the subject of beach parking fees out for the council. He mentioned it was rejected by the committee, mentioned most of what was figured out was based on assumptions by them and by the public, and finished by saying he believed it was not what they needed to do. Councilor Henderson, confirmed his observations added a couple more, which were then affirmed hers.
Commissioner Rathsack then weighed in. Rathsack has said it was unfortunate that Brandy's social media outreach was not discussed with other council members, and who intimated there was another councilor who was fully upset.
Tonight, Rathsack would come out as a future "yes" vote as he noted the issue had been abandoned to his disappointment, and stressed the need for additional city revenue (as usual, without any talk of cuts).
Councilor Winczeski started out with: "We've looked at this a little bit, quite a bit, actually; we didn't look at it at all before it kind of went viral-- I'd like to be cool and use the new term." She expressed that the idea has merit, and said nobody would avoid spending $5 a day to go to Stearns Beach. She said that other West Michigan communities that have had parking fees come to their beach have related positive experiences: "Nobody saw a decrease in parking, everybody still came to their parking centers, also they did not have any problems near the areas of the parking lots. They all made considerable amounts of money." She then segued to: "And if you don't know Mr. Shay, he is a penny-pincher to the nines, he is going to give you the worst projected budget you can get..."
All verifiable lies; this has become a trademark of Councilor Moonbeam since the lead issue in Ludington has arisen.
Sentence 1: "didn't look at it at all before it went viral" This negative view of Brandy's social media question to the public belays that it was looked at in two committee meetings and researched vigorously by Shay before it went 'viral'. Refuted.
Sentence 2: 'Nobody would avoid spending $5 a day to go to the beach'. I would, others I know would, and many commenters on social media would. Refuted.
Sentence 3: 'no decrease in parking, everybody came to their parking lots, no problems parking nearby'. I believe it when folks say they won't pay to park at Stearns, I know some folks who definitely won't, I know those folks will create parking problems nearby. No beach has raised enough through parking to pay for maintenance/overhead, according to Shay's research. Refuted.
Sentence 4: Shay may give you the worst projected budget, but he is no penny-pincher. Water tower painting, Washington Bridge engineering. 70%+ fringe benefit rates across the board for city workers. Paying the city attorney up to $340 per hour when their rate was under $200-- without catching it for over three years. There's lots more, but definitely refuted.
She wants to keep the idea open, again without expressing any notion of cutting costs. Councilor Castonia promoted the 1% administrative fee (tax) while deriding the public who attended the special meeting. Councilor Krauch noted that the tone and tenor of the public response has been mostly productive, before saying there was plenty of unpleasant and unproductive talk too.
Brandy Henderson, after having her action of putting the city's notion brought up by three other councilors at this meeting, then took full responsibility for that action, saying that the council should always look for public feedback. "We've all heard the negativity, and people have filled in the holes, but I think we have started a conversation that will lead us to greater ideas that will be explored with a better outcome."
Mayor Holman then came back with some banter to herself before uttering: "We will continue on with the discussions. This is not done." Then continued banter without explaining what three words she referred to earlier. Shay followed with some clarifications, and some obfuscations. He failed to justify the projected (assumed) revenue, and Attorney Wilson brought up a good point about there not being a car count already being done at the park. Then the fireworks began.
Councilor Les Johnson 1:39:00: "As councilors, I don't think it's fair that a fellow councilor should just put something out to the public without having some kind of an idea, and Brandy, I know that you're new on the council, but you've been around it enough to know that this has really caused some problems. I mean its really made a lot of negativity towards some of the councilors and so I would just like to say that in the future, I don't believe that a councilor should not put out on Facebook or any other social media anything that's going on, until there's something concrete to put out to the taxpayers. And you know, I'm saying that about all of us, I just don't think it is fair, and I happened to be gone that week it happened, and so I didn't get bombarded by a lot of Facebook stuff like some of the other councilors did. But I guess, hopefully in the future. that's what we can do is know what we are trying to discuss before it goes out to the public."
Councilor Henderson: Can I just respond? You know, I have been familiar with how council works, and I also know that my job here is to represent what the residents in the city of Ludington would like to see done. I think it's unfortunate that starting a conversation about a concept is being looked at as 'causing trouble' I think, as several of us have pointed out, that a lot of good ideas has been generated from the conversation. Now, there has been some negativity, and I think that's just the nature of the game, and what we do. I obviously am someone who utilizes social media, and intend to use social media, among other tools, to gather feedback and have conversation and communication with the residents. That's how I choose to communicate with my constituents. So, I absolutely respect your opinion, but we'll disagree.
Johnson: I'm not say... don't, not, not to use it, just wait until we have all the information... (interrupted by Mayor Holman, before the fists started flying).
The other local media have reported without using proper quotes from both parties the disagreement these two councilors had. The MCP even did a proper editorial of why Councilor Henderson had the winning argument. This is a no-brainer, yet everybody on the council and other officials present other than Councilor Henderson, just doesn't get it. The public is not evil, the public is not negative, they are the source of every councilor's power. They often forget that, if they ever did know it, which it seems few do.
Les Johnson, you can call me crooked and criminal for no reason as you did during this last election season at a city council meeting, but you can't publicly present city hall's actual policy of secrecy and make it (and you) look anything other than corrupt and counter-productive.
In the second public comment period, Lyla McClellan advocated for an administrative fee, before Ray Franz came to the podium to announce that he would be running for state senate. He got into his autobiography and was going pretty good until the two minute bell rang. Then I came up again.
XLFD: 1:47:00: "While walking on Sixth Street the other day, I saw a pile of unearthed piping near the intersection of Madison, less than a block away from Taylor Street, where the city's contractors have been removing very old pipes from the ground. Among this mass of rusted out galvanized piping was a sawed off piece of an old lead gooseneck pipe naturally soldered over time onto the end of another pipe.
Being that galvanized piping and lead goosenecks went together and were the standard many long years ago, the presence of a lot of galvanized piping with no other lead goosenecks has me believing that the city is advising the contractor to hide these three foot long solid lead connectors from the public so as to alleviate the public's fears from the hidden killer in our city's water distribution system.
When water sits overnight in one of the city's own obsolete lead pipes, chlorine added to their water will cause some lead ions to dissolver; it only takes a flush of a toilet and a washing of your hands to get the tainted lead ion filled water to your tap. If you prepare formula for your baby or make Kool-Aid for your toddler, you may be doing them irreparable harm.
Scientific research shows that even the most minute amounts of lead, under five ppb, can cause significant neurobehavioral damage, especially in children. There is no threshold where lead does not cause injury to the brain and other biological systems, including the immune, cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Much of this damage is considered irreversible and untreatable.
Officials of this city show indifference to this, they won't even alert us to these lead injectors when they are finally replacing them with good piping. That secrecy and thinking must change for the safety of the public. Thank you."
The most amazing thing from the meeting other than the fact that I never went over time in my two comments but experienced state politician Ray Franz got gonged, was the discussion on how open the government should be to public comment and how well they should listen to the public. Those policies are important when issues, like lead in our water and the effects on us, come up and need to be addressed by a responsive public body, rather than ignored. Our officials may find it easier to raise revenues if they don't alert us beforehand, but why do they need any revenue if they are not doing their public service at the will and for the common good of the people?
Mayor KK can't remember where she is or what's next but, she sure seems to know all the names of the people who come up to speak at the podium 3 minutes later in support for parking fees at Stearns Park. Shyster Shay states his priorities to the budget are the workers,not the roads. Now, Shay predicts 9100.00 gain for 2017 so, why parking fees? Why did he earlier state a quarter million dollar loss to scare people into this Parking Scam? Stupid Shay changes everything he says to make himself look good from every angle he hides in. What a crook!
Well said John, crony city workers are the only ones supporting this idea online and at cc mtgs.. Everyone else is strongly against it, and they know it. See Shyster smirk and put his hand over his mouth when the city workers gave their public comment. He told them to attend. I don't think they should be allowed public comment because they have a very strong conflict of interest. Then, Les Johnson had to make his snide comment to Brandy, unprofessional and condescending imho. He needs to go. Then, when Brandy tried to defend herself, look at Holman and Moonbeam, staring her strongly and at length for her great comeback. Same with Rathsack, probably can't even turn a computer on and off, let alone run one. I just wish X in his final comment had a goose-neck pipe with him, and dropped it in front of Moonbeam Kathy W. to take home, lol. Make her hook it up to her own waterline and drink from it.
According to page 3 of this document, it's a 40 year debt. Thanks.
Shay's top priority is city employees rather than his actual duties, for that's where the source of his power is coming from-- if his fellow officials remaining happily compensated, they won't listen to the laundry list of legitimate complaints from the public. That's why each employee official gets a great annual salary and 71% fringe benefits to boot, and why the city contracts with the county prosecutor for his services.
If our streets, our water pipes, and our sidewalks were treated like city employees, we'd have such an amazing city on the lake. But they're not, so we deal with the poorly patched roads, the 100 year old lead and galvanized pipes in our water system, and woefully incomplete sidewalks in areas where they are needed the most.
No, that was primarily an FYI I have to believe-- check it out here (go to the last two pages)
Excellent report X. Brandy is doing exactly what she was elected to do and I applaud her for that. She told Less thanaJohsnon what being a Councilor is all about and like all flat headed people it skipped right off his noggin and sailed into space. If we had a Council full of Brandy Henerson's I think Ludington would be a much better place to live.
Well said again guys, and as a common denominator, what is it that Brandy is doing so wrong? Well, she's letting the public know what's been going on behind secret closed back doors for months in the Parks Cmte., and with Shay. And she's using social media to let it be known, and for comment. Social media is how the modern world works nowadays for the most part. Most people get their news, views, alerts, and social interaction online, not by attending every mtg. all over to find out what the case may be. That's what the other outdated moronic council members don't want to participate in, and knock her for. If we had the other Mayoral candidate get a recount and win over Holman, can you imagine the positive changes we would have now?
And if the bully Les was defeated by the candidate that REALLY cares!
I had a very worthwhile summit myself for a couple of hours this Friday on issues of concern about the current policies and leadership of the city, hopefully it will translate to having additional help and initiative in our ongoing quest for an ethical and empathetic local government.