Let me preface this synopsis with my opinion that Rob Alway, editor of the Mason County Press, has several strengths in providing coverage of news events in the Mason County area and beyond with his other county ventures. But he also has some weaknesses, the biggest being the lack of ethics he illustrates by serving on the Scottville Planning Commission (SPC) and trying to present his coverage of Scottville politics as neutral when it clearly isn't.
Rob has ceded that point himself back in 2013 when he noted it in his article Alway resigns from planning commission 2-18-13. He stated: "It has become quite clear that serving on a government board is a conflict of interest... At no time should I, or any other journalist, make themselves part of the story. I have inadvertently done this through my involvement and I now I will digress."
Beyond the misuse of that term, he knew then that serving on the SPC and reporting on 'inside' information' (good or bad) and the potential appearance of skewing his writing to protect/attack fellow public employees was a definite problem for a real journalist.
At some point between 2013 and 2015, he un-resigned and became once again the chairman of the SPC, while still reporting on Scottville politics in a very favorable light. This time it was my turn to call Alway on the propriety of his two tasks with conflicting duties in the article Great for News Gathering, but Is It Ethical? July 2015.
But he stayed on as the SPC chairman as noted in this October 15, 2015 Article mentions Alway as PC Chairman, and still does as you can see the City website notes Alway is PC Chairman. And he continued reporting about Scottville politics in an alway's favorable light. A December 2015 outburst made out of order at a commissioner meeting in Scottville showed how much ill-will he had against a city commissioner (Ed Hahn, pictured left) who was disrupting the status quo, which Rob has always thought was best.
But it was clear that not all questions were being answered by the city manager, as noted in Local Media Lapdogs Bite the Hahn That Feeds Them (Dec, 2015) and like many of Rob's reporting, he decried the messenger rather than explaining the numbers himself, probably because they really do not add up. But with Ludington (Scottville's supplier) planning on raising sewer and water rates substantially, these rates will kill the poor residents of the city, likely forcing many to go outside of the city to live.
In today's article by Rob Alway, he avoids claiming it as an editorial, and titles it as: Something stinks about Scottville commission candidate’s campaign l...
While it would be easy to take City Manager Williams' and Alway's word that everything is kosher with the records, they fail to quell the concerns Hahn actually raises and what was noted in the "Local Media Lapdogs..." article. What I would notice is that Alway does not even try to present Hahn's full accounting, and fails completely to mention his position as chairman of the SPC, a position which should allow him to present some form of real justification to the numbers.
Rob does say: "During (Hahn's) tenure on the commission, he continually questioned the city’s funding of its utilities — and was continually given the accurate information." Rob fails to say how he knows for a fact that Hahn was given 'accurate information' and that it was given to him continually. Hahn has made clear to me that some of the data is inconsistent or conflicting with county records; will Rob Alway ever investigate that for 'accuracy'?
He then introduces the chief executive officer: "City Manager Amy Williams said, as she has multiple times, that Hahn is only telling a half truth." She then rattles off pedantically other costs that come into play. Hahn is not an idiot, he understands the other costs, and still finds disparities that cannot be easily explained on a one page flyer without getting into a lot of specifics, which you will notice, both Williams and Alway avoid also.
Perhaps most revealing is the telling of a refutable half-truth by the city manager: “In a regional survey comparing water and sewer expenses of city’s in west Michigan, Scottville is right in the middle,” Williams said. “The perception is that our water and sewer is expensive because it is often compared to Ludington, which has a considerably low water rate.”
As previously noted, both Ludington and Scottville will both experience major increases in their water and sewer rates over the next three years, and likely beyond due to the $30 million in repairs to the sewer infrastructure, WTP and WWTP in Ludington being done. Ignoring these recent hikes, the latest regional data for West Michigan I could find was from 2014 put out by the Engineering Firm Gosling Czubak.
Looking at these figures for cities, townships, villages, and authorities we find that Scottville is #18 in usage charges and #32 in Ready-to-serve (fixed) charges. Given that there are 89 units listed, that puts Scottville in the top 21% of usage charges and the top 36% of RTS charges.
A great question to ask the city manager is how come the City of Scottville asks for so much when the City of Ludington charges so little? Back in 2014, the COL charges the second least for RTS charges (only Cheboygan which has no RTS charge is smaller) and has the seventh smallest usage charge (among those who charge usage rates).
A Ludington resident using 5000 gallons of sewage capacity would have a monthly bill of $14.32, while the COS would ask for $51.97 back in 2014. Incredibly, Ludington sells/sold water to Scottville at a discount rate. According to the 2014 Water/Sewer Rates for Ludington, Ludington residents paid $1.55 and $1.74 (per 100 cu. ft.) for water and sewer respectively, while they sold it to Scottville for $1.33 and $1.11.
Alway can point out the difficulties the city had when they transferred from their lagoons to the City of Ludington, but that's going on ancient history, it doesn't explain away why the City of Scottville appears to be overcharging the citizens by so much just for being hooked up to the city's water system. Both Hahn and Williams should clarify their positions using the specific data in the record, rather than have Scottville Planning Commission Chairman Rob Alway unethically make a case that is devoid of salient information.
Very interesting X. Rob should stop involving himself in local politics so he can have some credibility when he reports on Government issues. Who can believe that his reporting doesn't reflect his personal biases. Alway, give up your involvement in local politics so you can assure people that the information you are giving them is not tainted with your personal conflicts.
I will post a copy of 2015 budget report showing the City Manager billed the Enterprise fund over 50% of the DPW total budget and a additional $29,000 in charges for office work.
Thanks Ed, for the truth!
Ed, make sure that when you do present it, to try and explain it in a way that clearly shows the problems with the numbers. Your buddies, Rob and Amy, both want to claim you are some sort of ignorant rube who doesn't understand the mathematics of the situation.
Well, Amy shows that she doesn't know math when she uses "right in the middle" (18th worst of 89 is not right in the middle), and Alway notes: "residents are paying for future repairs to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure" as if to illustrate your point that the city is overcharging them for speculative future costs. Every single penny should be accounted for that is being spent now, and justified in saving for reasonable future projects.
I guess the question is how many items/categories are listed in the Enterprise Fund for payout. If the majority are in the DPW then that's the reason for the high percentage. But we need more info.