Ludington City Council Meeting, October 9, 2023: Rocco's Modern Life

The Ludington Torch wasn't able to make the October 9, 2023 meeting (agenda packet) of the Ludington City Council, but we still made a sizable impact on what went on at the meeting.  And what didn't; a public hearing was originally scheduled to happen for a Commercial Rehabilitation Act (CRA) exemption certificate for the old Foster School property, but since the district was under consideration of being rejected by the county (which it was the next day), they only set the hearing for the next meeting. That public hearing no longer needs to happen.  

A CRA certificate public hearing was held for AndyS (Dr. Riemer's soon-to-be-constructed restaurant located where Michael's used to sit in the downtown) and passed without issue.  Riemer and Chris Nicholas, owner of WMOM, would also have a proposal in front of the city council to have them approve of Ludington Gus Macker 2.0, a venture by the businessmen to resurrect the franchise that was given up by the local chamber of commerce after this year.  If they meet their goals, there will be a Gus Macker tournament next year, and if that goes off without too many problems, it will likely continue under their stewardship.  

In other business, the council approved septic and leachate rates by roughly $2.50 and $2.00 respectively per 1000 gallons per year accepted by the WWTP over the next three years, or approximately 5% per year.  They looked at new changes to the short-term rental program (p. 148 of the packet) and later agreed to pass the ordinance amended to reflect more work needed on the condominium portion of the ordinance, after Planning Commissioner Melissa Boggs pointed out some self-contradictory parts of the ordinance during the first public comment.  The council approved a lot split at 1019 Beechwood.

The council would approve the reworking of Gus Macker with Councilor Cheri Stibiitz opposing, much like she did in committee.  Otherwise, everybody was keen on the new version, optimistic it could work, this included local developer Jeff White and Chris Nicholas who talked it up during the original public comment period, as well as yours truly, who had his speech read into the record by City Manager Foster (I was unable to make the meeting in person):

XLFD:  "Let me express support for the grassroots efforts by the visionary owners of WMOM and Stix in ambitiously reviving the Ludington Gus Macker and honor those who would make sacrifices and volunteer next year to continue the tradition.

One notices the absence of any information about a deer cull operation for the second straight regular meeting since the mayor introduced and this council moved to have a deer cull plan in front of them for full council effect by the end of this month.  The cull offered last year was unsupported by more than 3/4 of the population, unsafe inside the city limits, and cost-ineffective.  It was supported not by facts & statistics, but by flowery rhetoric and anecdote.   With no new idea advanced to improve on last year's plan, this effort will fail; and if it doesn't, your ward's voters might be inspired enough to conduct a grassroot effort cull on your political careers. "

Foster had a rough time with the last phrase, so I don't know whether that had any effect on what was to come at the end of the meeting's comments, which were otherwise not too substantial, with Annette Quillan and Chris Nicholas giving thanks and a little bit of history of the Gus Macker.  But the most interesting comment was the last, made by a former CEO of Ludington's biggest manufacturer, who spoke as if he was still in the game after wondering whether he was allowed to speak.  And he did speak for a while, as he went for at least a half minute longer than permitted to most folks (must be that he knows Mayor Barnett well):

Ken Rocco (59:10 in):  "I know Mark Barnett well, but I'm not a resident of the City, I am a Hamlin Township resident.  Am I allowed to speak?    OK, so basically the first thing is complimentary to this city council.  For many years I had the opportunity to come here as a part owner of Whitehall Industries and ask for tax abatements. 

And, had we not ran out of property in the City we would have continued to grow there, and all I can tell you is that we really appreciated those because we have grown into the largest industry in this county, and probably 3 or 4 around us.  We do have three plants here, we have over 650 people, we have a plant in Kentucky, we have a plant in Mexico, and we have a plant in Flagstaff, Arizona, but the initiation of this, I mean I go back 35 plus years.  

As a senior member now, like what was mentioned over here, but my heart comes out, that was my baby and I got to say it was great debate, you guys stood behind us and I really want to compliment you.

Gus Macker, I think it's a good thing, I lost a good friend Dave Betz here, in September.  He was probably, I mean I never saw the guy more delighted with the effort he put in 12 to 14 years in creating that, certainly he should be remembered for that.  

And the last thing I want to say is, I was very disappointed to hear, and I haven't been to a meeting in a long time, but Monday Night Football isn't on until later, anyway, Tom Rotta made a very threatening comment in his summary to you folks about the deer cull or whatever, which me, I'm not living in the City, but I can tell you how many people have I heard complain about the deer.

Now, you go to the DNR, you can get an unlimited amount of doe permits (timer) If you want a doe permit, my time is up but, it just seems to be an obvious issue that you need to contend with, I would support you, I'm not in the City, we have enough out in our area, but I'm really disappointed in Tom's comment, and one of the reasons I came to the meeting tonight was to meet that fella.  Because I haven't, I don't know him, but I'm tired of reading about him.   (END comment]

Rocco is correct in saying that he hasn't been to Ludington council meetings for a long time, the last time appears to be in the summer of 2007 when he was asking for a tax abatement for Whitehall. Rocco would 'retire' at the tender age of 55 from that CEO position in late 2008, following a national economic downturn that hit the local manufacturer hard.

Regardless of the fact that Monday Night Football starts over two hours after a council meeting convenes and could only interfere about 1/3 of the time being that the NFL regular season is 18 weeks long, I was shocked that he would call my comment "very threatening".  The comment recited facts until the last sentence, and the only section he could refer to was the phrase:  "... your ward's voters might be inspired enough to conduct a grassroot effort cull on your political careers."

This might seem 'very threatening' to somebody who made a career of coming before the city council wearing kneepads and bowing obsequiously so as to get another handout as a political favorite at the detriment to the rest of the community, but my words were an analytical warning at best that I have made variants of before because it's elementary:  If you make a choice as an elected public official where over 75% of your electors initially differ with you, and over 90% would differ if they were told the details, you leave yourself politically vulnerable. 

That has manifested itself in recall efforts occurring in three political subdivisions of our county.  If the City ever tells us the details of their plan to have federal agents hold a dangerous, expensive deer cull within the city limits, reasonable people can see how impractical it is and should hold their representative accountable if they vote to hold one.  

Rocco ends his own comment with something that could be taken as 'very threatening' to an individual he has never met by a person who still identifies as being a leading part of the county's biggest manufacturer:  "... I'm tired of reading about him."

But I refuse to believe that he meant it as a threat, instead I will take it as an admission of his own servility and impotency from the past in regard to civic issues that came up but failed to put money into his purse so he ignored them.  His words actually echo that from an episode of Game of Thrones:

The Ludington Torch would caution Ken Rocco to make sure that if he does try to make himself relevant at future council meetings to fully research what he is talking about, rather than rely on his past experiences of currying council favor while groveling for tax abatements. 

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Yeah! Sounds just like what Rocco was doing ... bashing Tom Rotta to brownnose Barnett and the Council who are blinded to truth by their cliche mentality.

I can see Ken Rocco looking at the front page of the COLDNews the weekend before the meeting at his Hamlin estate and catching the story that the county was possibly going to reject the CRA district on my referral.  He probably couldn't figure out why anyone would object to a tax abatement (even one received under false pretenses), so he felt obligated to come into town (at the sacrifice of missing some of the pre-game for MNF) for the purposes of salving the wounded egos of our elected officials and finding out what sort of lunatic would try to stop city hall from greasing the palms of businessmen. 

Probably close to the truth if not exactly!

Mr. Rocco, kinda, sorta, maybe made a fool of himself at the Council meeting. He not only admitted to being ignorant of what Mr. Rotta represents but seems to be completely ignorant of current and past events that caused Mr. Rotta to be out spoken about the corrupt behavior and bad politics embedded in Ludington's City Hall. Instead of being tired of reading about Mr. Rotta, he should have taken the time to read the information Mr. Rotta has meticulously gathered and laid out for all to see. Mr. Rocco is a prime example of someone who has benefited from taxpayer handouts and is only grateful to the politicians who allowed him to benefit from receiving that gift. I didn't hear him thank the public for the charity he received. Standing before the Council and publicly admitting to having a factory in Mexico and providing jobs to Mexican citizens instead of Americans is not what folks need to hear from someone receiving tax break money which probably was spent to expand his business out of the Country. I highly recommend Mr. Rocco to think before he speaks, especially at a public forum.

I hate to speculate, but two things happened about 15 years ago that may explain why Mr. Mexi-Ken Rocco retired at 55 years of age.  Coincidence, maybe, but in late 2008, Whitehall had a couple rounds of layoffs amounting to 211 jobs just in time for Christmas.  It was probably the most seriously affected company in "this county, and probably 3 or 4 around us".   Rocco "retired" in between those rounds of layoffs, never to return.

I would not have guessed before this that the company board dumped Rocco during what should have been his prime years of being a local CEO because he made some bad decisions on his watch, likely overextending and overspending even with the tax abatements he had received just a year earlier.  But his comments made at this meeting gives that speculation a lot of credence.  


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