Ludington City Council Meeting, February 12, 2024: FRUIT Loops and Beach Parties

First and second ward councilors Ted May and Kathy Winczewski were off for the night, but the February 12, 2024 meeting of the Ludington City Council went ahead with a bit of action on its docket packet.  But oddly enough, the nine comments this evening were all off the agenda on a wide variety of topics.  This usually indicates that the agenda itself didn't have much of interest, but as we will see there was enough interesting stuff there.  Let's first look at what the people brought to the council.

The issue in the wings was talked about in a recent Parks & Recreation Committee meeting and touched on by Mike Shaw and Pastor Brian Ford twice each.  The new beach concessionaires are trying to sell alcoholic beverages, and plan on bringing a proposal for council consideration at the next council meeting on the 26th.  With certain limitations, alcohol is already permitted at the beach on a bring-your-own basis, the city will argue that this allows for the convenience of those who don't bring their own.  Ford and Shaw cautioned the council that the city would effectively endorse drinking at the beach and be liable for the problems that might cause.  

The council stayed clear of discussing that issue, they would also effectively ignore Terry Grams' presentation on the limitations and misconceptions of the deer 'study' by the high school for the period 2017-2019, Mayor Mark Barnett has used this to claim that Ludington houses about 400 deer or about 100 deer per square mile.  The student project never claims that, and Grams makes the case that it shows that the deer population is much lighter, and that 10 deer at any time would be an overestimate during his two comments. 

This is why the city council decided against doing a flyover census of the deer population by a vote of 6-1, they know that they wouldn't crack twenty, yet alone get forty, the maximal amount their permit allows for the deer cull.  City Manager Mitch Foster would let us know that the cull was still pressing on, but no other comments were officially made refuting Grams' analysis, which he has shared with the council by email, or defending the mayor's obvious lie.

Annette Quillan gave an update on the senior center action during the second comment, but she was the only one to not address a controversy or speak during both comment periods of a topic that was important to them-- and would be ignored by the council.  I would be no different.  Fresh off the filing of two recall petitions against our beloved mayor and our venerable sixth ward councilor, I tore into the council fabric with what future Ludington historians will call my 'FRUIT of the poisonous city hall' speech, signaling that GOLD 151 is underway:

XLFD, Sixth Ward:  "I love acronyms about as much as Kamala Harris loves Venn Diagrams.  I want to share a couple with you today with my sign and comment, one that has to do with city hall over the last year:  FRUIT, as in 'fruit of the poisonous city hall tree'.  

F stands for fraud and favoritism.  These walk hand-in-hand with the city's two attempts to make the rest of the citizens pay a nascent Grand Rapid's LLCs efforts for Foster School property development.  Over the last hundred years, the property has served only as a school and playground, but our city leaders think their assessor labeling it as commercial property will make it capable of relief from the Commercial Rehabilitation Act and OPRA.  If you read the legislative history of these acts and their definitions, they were never meant for this purpose.  According to assessor records, they have had the property for over two years and haven't yet paid a cent of taxes on either.

R stands for redistribution, as in the city takes in so much extra in taxes each year that they are able to throw a half million each to two city enterprise funds, namely the city marina and the Cartier Park Campgrounds.  These inefficiently ran city businesses compete with our private marinas and campgrounds who are forced to pay high taxes to support their main competitor.  They can't receive state grants and city handouts like these so-called enterprise funds, so guess who wins.

U stands for unethical acts, and these run deep so I will only list those found in the recent deer cull.  Our mayor cries bloody murder fanning the flames of war against a species that our tourist bureaus tout as a reason to visit Ludington.  Hearing these untruths, four councilors change their January 23 vote against the cull to October 23 votes for the cull.  The mayor would never tell us that the deer cull service worth $19,500 to the taxpayers and so valuable that he had to lie by commission to use his political capital to get it, would be held on his property in part.  The cull would also take place on the old depot property on Madison Street, a property that at the same time was approved to have taxes one-fifth of a similar arrangement made for the same property 5 years earlier.  

I stands for illegal acts.  The proposed deer cull will have the city and their agents commit multiple violations of city, state, and federal laws, but they wear their cloak of elitism that protects them from those laws.  That's why they boldly violate section 19 of the Home Rule City Act costing the city big time [this is where the first comment left off, I continued later...}  and Article 4, section 10 of the state constitution in contracting with State Senator Curt VanderWall in 2020 and in lesser degree in 2023.  Why would you be paying off a contractor before for work not performed yet and with no contract in place?

T stands for theft, as in I know what you did last summer, and it was raising our taxes by nearly $300,000 unlawfully.  The city charter section 6.8 that you are all in a big hurry to change, says under appropriation and revenue ordinances:   To implement the adopted budget, the City Council shall adopt appropriation and tax levy ordinances prior to the beginning of the ensuing fiscal year.  Those ordinances you use to raise taxes in the summer, need to be passed after a budget is created and the ensuing fiscal year which is January.  You don't do that; you pass them in July, so you won't need to justify them by showing what in the next budget is so important that you had to raise taxes. 

This then is the FRUIT of the poisonous city hall tree, that you have all taken a bite out of and have kicked the rest of us out of a better place to call home.  That's why I have created a movement called Grassroots Operation: Ludington Democracy for year 151, or GOLD 151.  It's goal is to put all seven councilors up for reelection at the end fo the year and put awareness out in the community that a change in city government is needed so that we no longer have this bitter FRUIT working against our digestive tracts.

We need ethical, law-abiding leaders that are more responsive to the needs of the citizens and our infrastructure, we don't need ones that kowtow to and elevate out-of-town developers and run our private businesses out of business just so they can have better looking enterprise zones that can't otherwise make it on their own without more infusions of public capital.  We need change [END comment].

I resisted the urge to do a crazy Kamala cackle after my first sentence was uttered, but I did have the above sign in front of me; I had made a small mistake with the "U", putting 'unlawful' on the sign when I meant 'unethical'.  I hope the symbolism wasn't lost on this religious hypocrite mayor, being that it was the eating of the forbidden fruit that cast Adam and Eve out of the first city hall in Eden.  

Have you ever noticed that chief rhymes with thief?  LPD Chief Chris Jones would give an otherwise non-exceptional annual department report for 2023 where service calls dropped and nothing too newsworthy went down in the city but would try to up those rookie numbers of his first year by taking part in public extortion the next day.  Sorry, chief, but other agencies need to conduct their investigation into this, not yours, and they are.

Two ordinances were passed this evening.  One 'simplified' lot splits by having them only go through Planning Commission for approval rather than have them go through the PC for review and then the council.  While taking out a step in the process of what to do with your land is a good thing, it would have been an even better law and process if it allowed for an appeal to the city council for the case when a lot split is denied by the PC.  The other ordinance passed without effort was to make all rental units endure rental inspections, as we looked at here.

Two ordinances were introduced to establish multiyear contracts with elevator services (for city hall and the water plant) and fire alarm/security services and maintenance work (worth about $10K).  Another was introduced to rezone 705 S Madison to allow for more residential units on the proposed depot development (mentioned in my comment under 'U').  

Several resolutions went forth.  The first was to support a Federal Railway Grant, as the city has done before for the local rail system to maintain/improve its Fourth Ward property.  The next also had to do with that ward, changing "Clayton Court" and extension of Second Street west of Washington Avenue, to be 2nd Street.  Another resolution was to put Blue Heron Drive, winding through a small subdivision just off the northernmost part of Washington Avenue into the local street system.  

They did some routine approvals, allowing for DDA events in the downtown area, including two new events, a Love Ludington Street Party on June 7th and Live in the Alley Thursdays to occur thoughout the summer.  They approved the signatories for road construction of Tinkham from William to Lakeshore Drive (without nobody noticing that this modest effort repaves the street in front of Mayor Barnett's and Clerk Luskin's house in a convenient coincidence).  They recognized retiring officer Sue Maltbie with a plaque and proclamation, but she was not present to receive it from her past boss for nearly two decades in another coincidence.

The council would also select a consultant for creating a strategic plan for Ludington, Allyson Brunette Consulting.  Although Foster would state that the city sought RFPs for the position and received quotes for services between $15,000 and $160,000, he would go with this Wisconsin company who submitted a bid slightly under $20K and neglect showing the council or the public the other bids to craft a strategic plan for Ludington.  While it may be valuable in some instances to have a strategic plan crafted by outside consultants for a city, that case has not been made to the public or council, so I am currently researching this topic for a future article.

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Thanks for the post X. Love the idea of the fruit of the poisonous tree. There sure seems to be a lot of poison out there. A lot of venom also. I'll bet the Councilors and Mayor were gritting their teeth having to look at that sign while you again pointed out what where the poison came from and who was responsible for it.Great job. The poison fruit and Gold 151 are both very creative ideas. I tip my hat to you.

I have found that signs are a great way to get the point across for the full meeting to irresponsive public bodies.  Rather than having the public body segregate your thoughts into a few minutes at each meeting and then be forgotten forever, they are continually reminded of your point.  And while they may at first ignore or ridicule the signs expressing the truthful point for over the course of a meeting, it does get under their skin when they can't silence the words and/or pictures thereon while they're approving their latest corporate giveaway or legal infraction.  Get used to the signs as they will be used often during GOLD 151, some will have a FRUIT flavor, others will address agenda items.

The deer cull controversy falls fully under the five types of FRUIT of the poisonous city hall tree.  Consider:

Fraud: public/council is told of city deer overpopulation, deer attacks, car/deer crashes, diseases, etc. as reasons to kill deer in town, but none of them is ever supported by the record.  Public/council led to believe $20K is good value for the service.

Redistribution:  $20K is taken from the general fund set aside for the public good and put into deer cull service for benefit of a few private individuals.

Unethical Acts:  Mayor Barnett kept quiet about deer cull service for his own property while shouting for the need of a deer cull for everyone's benefit.  After it's passed, he signs a work initiation form for himself to derive personal benefit from the service valued at $19.5K.

Illegal Acts:  Several lots being considered are within school zones, making shooting rifles therein illegal without express school district approval.  Many local laws are being ignored to make this cull possible in the city.

Taxation/theft:  The taxes of the majority of folks who disapprove of the cull are being used to finance the cull, which has never been recognized as a public purpose, and is being held on the private lands of those in support of the cull.


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