The March 6, 2017 version of the Ludington City Council meeting fell just under 100 minutes. I spoke for just under five of those minutes on two separate occasions bringing up three topics each time that the city government fell flat, and spotlighted a local church and charity that often gets ignored. Because of the length of the meeting and the availability of the video, I offer a recap that chronologically covers the meeting.
The roll call, invocation, and pledge went off without a glitch and the agenda was approved with no additions. Ray Madsen (2:30 into the video) led off giving a favorable report on how small houses would work in the city; he had provided the council with some pictures to show his points. He properly noted that he was a Planning Commissioner and only speaking for himself.
Lyla McClelland went next (5:45) and offered her view to the contrary for lots under 50', saying smaller lots usually encouraged modular or mobile homes with doors on the sides of the houses. At the January 9, 2017 meeting, Lyla was once again appointed to the city's Board of Review, a public office which decides on valuations of private property. She definitely had a duty to say whether she was speaking for herself or for the Board, particularly since it seems she took a view that may have been counter to what the board would like.
The next speaker was myself, I brought up three new points to the councilors at the 7:40 mark before I was told my three minutes were up. As needed by the council's restrictive comment policy, they followed the agenda. I include some additional links and graphics that I did not use at the meeting.
XLFD: "Three minutes, three agenda items in order of appearance. Ted Gedra's application for a small wine maker license needs to be tabled until and if such time as the Salvation Army Church is notified and decides whether to allow this to go on within 300 ft. of their premises or formally object to the liquor control commission. I find it an unconscionable omission that Mr. Gedra and our city officers have not sought the approval of church leaders just down the same block on Melendy even while they instruct us with their memo that such license cannot be issued within 500 feet of a church.
Speaking of omissions, just four years ago an entrepreneur named Darrell Finstermacher approached this council pleading for the right to bid on the city's refuse contract. Since John Shay has became city manager, he has eschewed the competitive bidding process for trash removal, claiming that avoiding the competitive bidding process allows the city to save money. So Shay and this council ignored Darrell and his offer then, and four years later have decided once again to avoid the competitive bidding process even though the city charter calls for it in such situations.
The city says it wants new ways to raise revenue, I have seen tons of revenue they have squandered because they fail to seek competitive bids, and even more when they seek bids and put aside quality companies able to perform the task and use instead their usual corporate crony list. Remember Nordlund & Associates, a qualified Ludington engineering firm,submitting a bid $180,000 less, over three times less, than a Grand Rapids firm for the Washington Bridge engineering contract, and losing. How can you wonder where the taxpayer money is going when you keep repeating these mistakes over and over again?
Lastly, while the idea of developing small lots seems to have a lot of merit, I agree with Councilor Rathsack that it needs more research, diligence and public input than it has been given. This is particularly salient when the Planning Commission's self-proclaimed spokesman and brand new member Spence Riggs helped develop and vote for the text of the ordinance in the PC's Text committee, voted for the recommendation to this council at the February PC meeting, and stamped his and the PC's qualified endorsement of the ordinance at the beginning of the last meeting.
All without noting for the record that he purchased three small lots, two undeveloped, late last year when he was being groomed for the PC position. He stands to make these undeveloped lots go from worthless to worthwhile if you vote yes on this ordinance. If your code of ethical conduct has dulled over your years of public service, that has the appearance of a major conflict of interest [Here's where my time ran out, it would have finished, I hate it when my puns get cut] ... as he has never stated how his lot in life would be upgraded, by writing, voting on, and endorsing this proposal without coming clean. In our city code, this is malfeasance of office, and it has remedies for such feckless acts."
Each of these issues would be addressed insufficiently in their own way later on by officials at the meeting. Councilor Kathy Winczewski noted that the minutes reflected that three councilors who were absent were marked as present at the last meeting
Since these councilors often seem absent even when they're present, they failed to spot the error before she did. The next up was the community development director, Mrs. Nick Tykoski, who started up by telling us that she wouldn't be yelling into the microphone at 12:00 (apparently my voice was booming that night). She trumpeted the CDD's accomplishments over the year in getting grants and program money, especially the $300,000 for the West End grant 'revitalizing' that area, but very unpopular among locals and tourists. She segued over to talking of installing side
She addressed the Riggs issue while talking on the idea of small lots: "Contrary to what was presented to you tonight, Spence Riggs was not a member of the Planning Commission at the time he served on any capacity into looking into this issue." Cue up the January meeting minutes:
Not shown is where he was assigned to the Text Committee in that same meeting, and then given the task of fine tuning the wording so that he could vote to pass it the next meeting, and advocate for it as the Planning Commission spokesman at the previous city council meeting. All without disclosing the massive conflict of interest he had just brought into. Not even with her weasel-worded refutation is his conduct excusable for an ethical system. She went for several minutes talking up the small lot ordinance rather than giving her report which took a lot less than the 14 minutes to give.
The committee reports began with bill payments, and entering into two contracts with landscaping concerns dealing with fertilizing public city properties and lawn mowing for enforcement of the Tall Grass Ordinance. City Manager John Shay at 30:00 in went over the fuzzy numbers for the fire station without giving out anything more than what his memo said over the next nine minutes.
It then came time to adopt a resolution to allow Ted Gedra to get a small wine maker license, and the issue was brought up about the Salvation Army Church being within the distance by Councilor Krauch, a former attorney out of Illinois. City Attorney Richard Wilson believed that may have been deemed unconstitutional at some point but wasn't sure, and said: "That's a liquor control commission item not... the city to my knowledge does not have a separate independent requirement that liquor licenses be 500 ft. away from churches, that's a liquor control commission rule and it's up to the LCC to enforce that."
What Attorney Wilson suggests is that state law (see MCL 436.1503) does not have to be observed by local government if it is not within their own city's law. That is absurd; these councilors on finding out that the arrangement would fall outside state law should have either tabled it and seen whether Gedra could get the church to agree to waive their right, or not recommend it because it would be in future violation for not notifying this church.
"Upon determination that a church or school is within 500ft of the proposed licensed location, the Commission will contact the church/school. The church or school then has 15 days to formally object to issuance or transfer of the license.", says the State's own directives. For having that knowledge of church proximity and passing this resolution, the reckless city council makes itself liable for problems that may arise if the Salvation Army objects when they are finally contacted by the MI LLC after a concerned citizen tells them about the issue.
The Utilities & Safety Committee then continued with a traffic control order closing Plank Street in Cartier Park and adjusting Slagle Street which achieved two no votes from Councilors Johnson and Krauch. Four water and sewer contracts were agreed to unanimously, perhaps the most interesting being the Utility Financial Solutions (UFS) contract even though it was the smallest. This is the group which established our future rates of city water and sewer-- while being hired by the city attorney in what could only have been a maneuver to do this project secretly-- and outside the law.
In the several times I brought this issue unrefuted before the council perhaps I said it best on July 13, 2015 : "I have records showing City Attorney Wilson contracting with UFS via himself, then getting repaid by the city through his funnel buddy, John Shay in order to pay for a cost of service study. You councilors must know that such a deal for the use of public funds of this magnitude could only be approved by you formalizing a contract with UFS first. Not two years after the fact."
Sandwiched between those contracts was the new 5 year contract with Republic Waste Services. Surprising to me was that nobody from the public spoke in opposition at this meeting to stop the proposed change of service that would end 'spring cleaning' and allow the hauler to use an index of inflation that would be more favorable to them. I expected a defense of the "no-bid" contract by the No-Bid Kid, John Shay at 1:03:10 in:
"We received a comment that we should go out for bids because we're wasting the city's money by not doing so and in fact, on the garbage contract, I believe it was in the early 2000s, there was a call to go out for bids versus renewing with the current garbage provider, and we did go out for bids and we received one bid from the current garbage provider, which I believe turned out to be $92,000 more over the life of the contract had we just simply renewed-- so sometimes bidding works out, sometimes it doesn't work out, and in that particular case it did not...
When we last renewed the contract five years ago there was public comment if I recall correctly there was names of companies that were read from a phone book that provide garbage service. I contacted most if not all of them, and most of those contacted could not provide the curbside garbage pickup, yard waste and recycling that Republic Services provided."
In 2002, the City was coming off a five year contract with Shoreline Waste, and then soon-to-be outgoing manager Jim Miller wanted to renew without bids and accept their original offer. In the Sept. 18, 2002 COLDNews, it reports Councilor Pete Engblade saying: "To not rebid would have been a disservice to the city, a disservice to the company that called, Republic, and any other company that may have wanted to bid." Councilor Dykstra wondered why their contract had a renewal clause in the first place, that it should have been rebid automatically. The baseline renewal put out by Shoreline effectively spoiled the process.
The record shows that a firm called Republic Waste Services called before this contract was sent out for bids and being that Shoreline Waste transitioned into Republic somewhen around that time, it is conceivable that Republic may have gamed the system to get a better cashflow once they assimilated the company. Few companies facing competitive bids for a lucrative contract will raise their offer, unless something else is in play. It is also highly conceivable that City Manager Miller arranged this scenario to get back at the council who second-guessed him and that was letting him go.
Whatever the full case, it does not justify why our current officials headed by Shay have refused to bid out such a large contract in 2007, 2012, and 2017. And will in the future using their hare-brained logic.
At 1:13:00 in the small lot issue came up, allowing building on lots less than 60' wide. Councilor Rathsack stood by his concerns and voted against it. Spence Riggs who had shown up late to the meeting, left at this time. The Planning/Zoning report followed by Carol Ann Foot at 1:21:00 which subsumed the rental inspections. Interesting, was that she said nothing of several units that have refused inspections because the city lacked a warrant. From what I have learned, the City plans on tackling these units at the end of the three year cycle.
At the end of the meeting I started off with some amity geared towards the Salvation Army Church once again, a longstanding asset to the city since 1894, before I contrasted it with another charity that comes up at Christmas along with a couple of other older issues worked in on the attorney billing records and lead (1:27:45):
XLFD: As one who resides less than a block away from the Salvation Army, I want to commend the good acts they do around the year, and especially around the Christmas season. You'll see volunteers around town with their red kettles, see them give out toys for tots and teens at their church along with Christmas dinners and warm clothing. The charitable people of the Salvation Army help their community throughout the year with very little reward other than knowing they are helping their fellow man, but they are there particularly at Christmas, and I would suggest you consider donating to this cause if you happen to have a little extra money, time and resources at the end of the year.
At the last three meetings, I have brought to the council's and the public's attention the poor accounting practices and the theft of funds from the city's Shop with a Cop program. This is a crooked charity that refuses to be held accountable. Chief Barnett bloviated for five minutes two meetings ago, but never addressed the shortfalls in the budget, or why public officials on the public clock were putting people's donation into the general fund where thousands sit yet today, unused and drawing interest for the city's coffers. Over ten percent of it has disappeared completely, spent outside the program by some official that has refused to come forward to admit their shame. Stealing donated money meant for needy children and their families right before Christmas.
Will the city ever address this shameful episode, or just quietly say they corrected it, like they did when our city attorney was overcharging for his services for three straight years, sometimes at a rate of $150 per hour more than he was able to by the city's agreement with him. Or will they just continue to ignore the record and the problem, like they have been doing with the lead issue, even when their own utility workers admit there are quite a few lead pipes still in our city water system. Thank you."
These issues were left untouched as the mayor made a proclamation of 'Arbor Week' April 10-15 in the city of Ludington, before acknowledging my FOIA appeal of my '326th' FOIA request with somewhat less enthusiasm, and a special workshop meeting for goals on April 5, 2017 at 5:00 in the city hall basement.
So did they say something to you before the meeting started? It was cut off at the beginning. (I figured it wasn't anything good anyway as they laughed)
Did they address or vote on the Slagle and Plank road issue? (since minutes are not yet online)
And Yes...... Mrs. "T"... seems so snide most times... SMH. And you may have been "booming", figuratively and literally... especially for the councilors, CM, and CDD, as you're speaking what they don't want to hear.... But I'm fine with it. She also tried to say Riggs bought property before the small-house/small-lot idea, so that nullifies conflict of interest..?
On WES she said it was "citizens ideas, years ago before she was here"... as what citizens is she speaking of..? As in Coleman (councilor) and Henderson (mayor)... I don't recall someone outside of the government starting it or voicing approval for it. Why would she put the blame on someone else, does she know that it is actually unpopular..? huh
About 60 % down this unintentionally long article it notes that: "The Utilities & Safety Committee then continued with a traffic control order closing Plank Street in Cartier Park and adjusting Slagle Street which achieved two no votes from Councilors Johnson and Krauch." Plank will be considered a foot and mountain bike path from now on.
I think it is very appropriate that she helps run the façade program, because just beneath the surface of her own pretty and personable façade is something very unattractive and offsetting. I can see why her wife comes to council meetings looking shell-shocked half of the time-- when not absent the other half.