Scottville City Commission, April 24, 2024: Newkirk Uprooted, but Problems Still Grow

The rescheduled 1567th meeting of the Scottville City Commission will not be remembered for what was on its agenda or even it's off-site location at the Scottville  Senior Center (chosen since the commission's usual venue at city hall was just too small to accommodate those who came for the usually sparsely attended Monday meeting).  It will be remembered for the commission accepting the resignation of City Manager Jimmy Newkirk, and for the enormous attendance by the Scottville public and the comments they had at the end of the two hour meeting.

More than five dozen folks attended the meeting, whereas most meetings of the SCC over the last year have featured less than a handful, and there was nothing on the agenda to suggest why so many would show an interest at this particular point.  Odder yet, after the pledge and roll call were conducted (Commissioner Al Deering was absent) and the first public comment was held, nobody got up to speak.  

It may have not been the same had not the news broke that afternoon that Newkirk had resigned, as reported in the MCP by former-commissioner Rob Alway.  I had seen Newkirk on Monday night after the meeting had been called and learned shortly thereafter his intention to resign.  The timing of the disclosure was likely tactical in order to take the heat level down and appease the public unrest.  The gist of his reasoning was in his resignation letter:

“Effective immediately, I am resigning as the City Manager for the City of Scottville.  I am not going to engage in what essentially has become a witch hunt to force dismissal by the City Commission. Things have gotten way out of hand in my opinion, and it has become clear that the commission leadership is willing to sacrifice another city manager in favor of city staff.”

His theory is intriguing, his language is replete with imagery of others conducting witch hunts and sacrifices, and what they did with the prior city manager is a matter of record-- city staff was definitely complicit in running her out of the office.  If Jimmy Newkirk wants to substantively plead his case with the Ludington Torch at a future date he's more than welcome to, rather than with Rob Alway's Mill of Compromised Propaganda.  Let's not forget the complicity both Alway and Newkirk had with the rigging of the November 2022 'meetings' to lack a quorum when they were both city officials. 

Newkirk admitted the deceptive act in front of Ludington's city manager along with a councilor and has since been investigated for that ploy by the state's city manager professional association.  Newkirk reportedly is also under a formal investigation of misuse of the city's credit card first caught by city staff.  If that turns out not to be true, the witch hunt narrative may be more applicable.  These two problematic issues were not discussed in the MCP article, and one can make their own presumptions as to why.

Newkirk was absent so the reports consisted mainly of County Commissioner Steve Hull giving his report.  After adopting a resolution for the five year master plan for Scottville, City Attorney Mark Nettleton had them vote to go into closed session under section 8(g) of the Open Meetings Act to review his opinion made to the commission.  This is an allowable purpose, but it was actually section 8(h) of the OMA.  

The closed session would last an hour and surprisingly, the crowd stayed around and was mostly undiminished by the time the commission would reconvene.  It gave me the ability to talk with some of those present, and three of those I talked with eventually were the ones to speak at this meeting during the last public comment.  I also was able to gather that there were no other media representatives in the crowd, rather odd since the public was so interested, and a major shakeup at the top was to be officially accepted by the commission.  

A request to rezone 113 S. Blaine (known as the old Pleiness Lumber Yard, just east of the downtown) was considered with Steve Spangler, the city's new building/code enforcer giving a brief history of the property and its non-conforming past as regards zoning, with residential units around it in its block. 

The two women, who are ironically both on the city's planning commission, starting the project hope to have it up and running for daycare and other uses but have run into issues with the city as far as the process and the advice they had from city officials in doing the process.  Because of procedural issues outside of their control, they will have to start all over again, and so they have been frustrated having to go back essentially to square one.  

New business featured budget memos and amendments found in the regular packet leading up to the beginning of their next fiscal year, along with approval of a car show request to take place in back of the senior center.  Lastly, and added at the beginning of the meeting, was the official acceptance of the resignation of Jimmy Newkirk.  Notably, it was accepted without any mention of regrets.

And then the comment period began.  The first speaker was one of the women forced to repeat the rezoning process from the beginning, and though she was obviously frustrated in advancing her business forward, her comment was not on that topic, but rather on what she witnessed at the two March meetings of the city commission, she gave me a copy of her speech upon request:

Jenna Morrill:  "I am writing to bring to your attention an incident that occurred during my attendance at the city commission meeting on Monday, March 11th, held at Scottville City Hall. Approximately an hour into the meeting, the council entered into a closed session, requiring other public attendees, including myself, to wait in the lobby area until its conclusion.

During this waiting period, I was dismayed to overhear derogatory and unprofessional comments made by interim police chief Katrina Skinner. She referred to the city manager, Jimmy Newkirk, using inappropriate language such as "dipshit" and "Mr. Do nothing." Furthermore, it was troubling to observe other staff members, including Justin from the Department of Public Works, and Tim, a representative of the city workers' union, joining in on the laughter and mockery directed at the city manager. Additionally, Chief Skinner made inappropriate remarks, including one concerning gender, stating, “He just doesn’t like me because I have bigger balls than him.”

The atmosphere created by these exchanges was highly inappropriate, especially considering the presence of other public attendees.

Furthermore, it was troubling to witness the lack of professionalism among certain staff members, including Kelce and Ricki, who engaged in private conversations in a darkened room adjacent to the lobby.

This experience highlights significant concerns about the professionalism within the city and I strongly urge prompt action to address and rectify this.

This is the end of the summarized statement.

During the March 25th commission meeting, allegations were raised regarding Mackenna Kokx and I’s newly acquired property by a city union representative during public comment. Subsequently, several city employees, including the clerk, treasurer, and a DPW worker, followed us outside to a private balcony to monitor our movements.

Following this, the chief of police issued ordinance violations at my personal address in Scottville. Upon obtaining a copy of these violations from the city zoning official, I learned that no ordinance violations had been forwarded to him by the police chief during his seven months in office. I would like to mention that those ordinances were in fact not violated.

Additionally, the treasurer contacted one of my family members after work hours and off her personal phone yesterday morning to discuss the possibility of me withdrawing my statement to city officials, suggesting that the process might have been smoother had I followed proper procedures from the beginning.

For clarification concerning our interaction with the mayor I would like to share that Mackenna Kokx and I engaged in a discussion with Mayor Spencer after a commission meeting, with a commissioner present. During this exchange, when we raised concerns about statements made by them to the commission, we were informed that she had provided incorrect information. When the commission inquired if such statements had been made to us, both the mayor and the witnessing commissioner denied any knowledge of such statements ever being said." [END comment]

Some may claim the root cause of the city's current problems were attributable to the city manager, but it looks like to her and many other people keeping score that the problems go deeper than that one root.  There were obviously other problems that were noted by the Ludington Torch when Scottville last changed city managers in 2021 having to deal with city staff and their interactions with the commissioners.  This has much in common with that and will likely factor in during the tenure of the next city manager, if left undiagnosed and untreated.

The next comment was passionate and unscripted, made by a former city commissioner, Ryan Graham (shown above standing during his comment).  Graham has taken up a leadership position among parents at Scottville's school district (MCC) in trying to improve transparency and the direction of the coaching of their athletic programs.  This evening he got in front of the 60 plus concerned citizens of Scottville and gave a rousing speech that harkened back to 2022, when Mayor Marcy Spencer was rejected by the voters as the big loser in a field of four candidates for three seats, but then came back onto the council thanks to the efforts of friendly commissioners who had to subvert the charter to do so.  

Graham would make a strong case for laying the blame of Scottville's ongoing ills with that faction of the commission, and inspired his father Larry Graham to support him, explaining what took place during that November and December.  It was refreshing hearing the former commissioner speaking bluntly about this topic that I regularly brought to the commission's attention in 2023, as Ryan's focus has been elsewhere over the last year since he resigned in disgust in early 2023. 

Over five dozen people heard his review, and many clapped when his points were finally concluded, as they did for his father.  To many, this may have been their first real exposure to the ugly truths of that time and may have helped them better understand why I had filed suit to challenge Ms. Spencer's legitimacy and why Eric Thue took out and got enough signatures on a recall petition for her (before they were all rejected due to a copier issue). 

Pulling a flawed city manager out won't stop the weeds from coming back, but it is a good start for what needs to be done in order for Scottville to grow and flower.  But will they without the roots of their problems being detoxified?

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