What would you say if a proposal was brought up in order to make money for the Ludington city government, and it was researched only to be found that it was not a money maker but a money loser?  What would you say if that same proposal was nearly 100% unpopular with the public, and could only lead to making visitors and citizens alike upset enough to keep them away from the city's most popular attraction?  Would you believe that city leaders are still seriously considering such a proposal and putting a lot of time and money into further research?  Read on.

The Origin of the Public Discussion

In the LT article It's time to close Stearn's Park, the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) was sourced to relate the news that city leaders were conducting discussions to put in parking meters or kiosks at Stearn's beach to genereate revenue.  The first actual discussion took place on Facebook at Councilor Brandy Henderson's 'official' site:

It should be noted that she posted the request for opinions about 8 hours before the meeting held that night, and it did generate quite a lot of discussion on her site, the Concerned Ludington Facebook group, and beyond, with almost all replies not being thrilled by the idea.

It is instructive to note that Brandy's announcement via social media is rather different than the city's usual method for getting out such controversial information for public feedback (i.e. announcing it via the  COLDNews on the weekend before the Monday meeting it gets voted on).  Although there were other issues that came up at that night's meeting, it did get front page treatment by the COLDNews the next day, and much discussion at the Ludington Torch before that.  But Brandy Henderson's break of the 'usual' protocols did not go unnoticed; she alerted the city manager that she had talked with reporters on the topic and let him know that she would be using social media for more of the same in the future for feedback:

This E-mail was part of the FOIA response I received.pdf which asked for discussions over parking fees or meters at the beach since the year of 2011 (this was the year the beach patrol came into existence, they would be natural enforcers of such a policy).  Shay sent an E-mail back just after noon that day telling Brandy he wanted to talk by phone with her at around 3:00 PM that day.  Phone calls between officials cannot be FOIAed, this is the usual tact by Shay (and other officials opposed to transparency) to skirt public accountability. 

We therefore will likely not know what transpired in that phone call; however, we can gauge some of the topics discussed because Brandy sent out an E-mail to Councilor Rathsack later that evening to address some issues that he had apparently related to Shay.  It was carbon-copied to Mayor Holman:

Brandy's actions and intentions seem honorable and admirable in my metrics, but little of what I have chronicled over the years of city hall and their actions have seen these traits be rewarded by the council or the other administrative officers.  To his credit, Councilor Rathsack replies via an E-mail (also sent to Shay) saying Shay had confused him with another councilor but mildly upbraided her for not discussing her new 'approach' with other officials.

He then relates the budget crisis that Ludington and other cities face, and cites some meaningful examples over a few paragraphs, finishing with:  "It may be well if the council and city explores what opportunities may best fit Ludington's needs before soliciting comments on isolated opportunities."  If I translate that correctly, he seems to be advocating for keeping the public out of these decisions they make rather than inform and represent the public.  In other words, the status quo our city has adopted over a period of many years.

A citizen by the name of Mark Bajek wrote a letter to the city with his thoughts on the idea, with Shay sharing it with other officials.  It makes a fairly strong case against the idea (see p. 16-19 of the FOIA response)

The Origin of the Private Discussion

It should be noted that my FOIA request was sent February 15 and required a response by the 23rd.  In preparation of some of the revelations therein that would indicate the idea should definitely be turned down, the city manager issued a news release that provided a history of the idea.  He left out some of the pertinent details, but that often happens when a city issues something like this to 'release' them of even more scorn. 

That press release notes the issue had been brought up at the December 19,2016 city council meeting (see page 5), where it didn't receive much public outcry, primarily because it didn't rate a mention on any of the local media, who probably thought of it as a fancy that came and passed.  They noted it was mentioned in a Finance Committee meeting, and then it came up later at a January Parks Committee meeting, where research on the issue was completed and submitted without any recommendation other than that it be further researched and later reviewed at a workshop.

What wasn't revealed was a scheduled February 3rd meeting (see page 5 of the FOIA response) with Tom Neff of Traffic & Control Systems.  The discreet meeting was envisioned by Shay after the January 24 meeting, as was a counting of the number of parking spaces at Stearn's and Copeyon Park.  The meeting was postponed until February 24, tomorrow, at 1:30 PM as of this writing at city hall.  If you have some questions or opinions to share, be sure and attend, noting that if they really wanted the public to attend, they would have invited you.

The January 24th Parks Committee meeting delved into the issue with more than a passing consideration.  John Shay had reviewed seven other Lake Michigan shoreline communities who have looked into charging people for parking, I offer it here with the mention that the highlights are my addition:

Despite the consensus that none of the programs generated enough revenue to support the expenses of the parking programs in each venue it's been tried, the Parks Committee reviewed the information you see above and moved forth towards expending even more resources into exploring this potential source of revenue-- which seems to only generate deficits wherever it's tried.  The secretary of that meeting ironically labelled it "Generating Revenue"

The meeting's participants seemed to have different ideas about it, according to the minutes.  Councilor Henderson wondered whether it would negatively affect the beach's popularity, Shay and Krauch appear to be for it.  Nowhere is there any concern as to why they would implement such a program if the expenses will most assuredly eclipse the revenues as all other beaches have experienced. 

The hundreds of people who have responded to this idea on Facebook, here, and elsewhere preponderantly think that it's a bad idea, and it most assuredly is.  These folks and others may go to the wealth of other free beaches in the area, taking money away from all those businesses who count on these people driving through and back through the downtown of Ludington to get to this beach at the end of the avenue. 

And if there is no real revenue generated from this, we all wind up paying more, particularly the $30,000 immediate cost it would take to set the kiosks up, and all those hidden costs of city officials and police officers writing up and trying to collect these fines.  Fines which will spoil vacations and infuriate both our visitors and locals alike. 

Since there is basically no chance to realize a positive revenue flow, and only other negative consequences besides, this is an option that any person with any common sense would dismiss.  Freshman Councilor Brandy Henderson shows she has at least some common sense by trying to step in front of a juggernaut composed of a colossal joke, put together by John Shay and marketed by his foolish acolyte Councilor Krauch.

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Good for Brandy. Se did the right thing. She asked for and received feed back regarding an important issue the Council the  Mayor and Shay are trying to ram down the throats of Ludington's citizens. It's business as usual for Shay and the other shafters.  The trouble with a small town Council is that they have to much time on their hands because being a small town there really isn't a lot for them to do regarding City business. Brandy has just experienced some of the frustration X has endured for these last years. I hope Brandy stays independent and does her own thinking. Brandy, don't let them push you around. They may even try to contact your dad to put pressure on you trying to make you tow the line. Your co-councilors and Shay cannot be trusted, at least not by the public.

Well said Willy, and kudos to Brandy right now, at least on this issue. I'll just bet she also has others trying to tell her NOT to take ANY issues to any public forum. Remember Mayor Ryan and pro-tem Holman, both were strongly against any public forum posting of issues recently about certain new programs and ordinances. So, I'll just bet she got an ear full of resistance on doing this into the future. Any way you look at it, it's a loser, both financially, and for any public support. X, can or did you already ask for a copy of the Stearns family deed to the city for the park? Sure would like to read that, and also heard over on FB that one was also made for Copeyan Park, both were to make visiting and usage free to the public, forever. Copeyan also charges for boat launching, and isn't supposed to I heard.

The original Stearn's agreement is included with each application and whereas it does suggest the park is to be used by the public, it doesn't specifically preclude the city from charging parking fees.  Nor has the practice been challenged at the Loomis Boat Launch for their daily and seasonal parking they have levied over the last many years. 

As one may reasonably infer, the current beach patrol with ten 8 hour shifts each week will likely have to be not only supplemented with more hours and additional support from the regular LPD, but they will also shift almost totally away from any sort of meaningful 'beach safety' into more of a shoreline meter maid service.  "Somebody's drowning?  Let me check their parking status first, after I finish up with writing this ticket."

I'm sure in 1909Justice Stearns didn't think the city would ever charge people at his donated land, since parking meters weren't invented till 1935.

The folks who want this and the grant money that comes with it aren't concerned with one hundred and eight year old intentions. 

I think the Stearns family would consider this a travesty and I believe they would be like me and others who look at any sort of 'improvement' that takes away from the natural splendor of the beach as a negative.  Adding lights, walkways, canoe racks, seasonal pavilions, etc. is a detraction of the beach's charms, perhaps more so than the poorly maintained avenue end used for parking that's currently there.

Yes, I commend Brandy for coming forward with revealing this with social media. Hopefully she hasn't been forced to suspend her good idea. It brings transparency to a brick wall.

I'd also like to note the city was to keep the citizens updated thru social media on the Stearns Park recreational Area improvement, including the West End.

I went to the city hall at 1:15 this afternoon to inspect a FOIA response and secondarily to see whether I could attend or just get an earful of the meeting with Tom Neff, the representative who is 'striking while the iron is hot' in order to sell the city some expensive kiosks and/or parking meters. 

Even though numerous city officials who were invited to the meeting walked by me (not including Councilor  Brandy), the meeting with Neff occurred beyond two closed doors to the public.  When I had finished with my inspection of records at 2:15, they were still back in their meeting.  Don't let them tell you otherwise, the city is beyond the research phase, and still unwilling to involve the unwashed public into the process. 

From the DNR...

"The park is encumbered under a Trust Fund grant already.  Per the project agreement non-residents fees shall not exceed twice what they charge residents. Nonresident fees shall not exceed the rate charged residents at other comparable state and local public recreation facilities. I have contacted the City to make sure they are aware of this."

Thanks for being a stand up guy who's ready to go face-to-face with the imposing city leadership, Brad. 

You know, X and other members of this forum have been watching somewhat closely what the city mgr., council, and attorney do and say the last 7-8 years. We've been told hundreds of times, along with John Q. Public, that in order to have accurate info., comments, and statements, we have to attend all these committee mtgs. and council mtgs.. And here X points out again, a committee and councilor attended mtg. " Behind Closed Doors". The public attendance and any input is "NOT WANTED"! Fine transparency being shown again and again for serious decisions and expenditures that must remain secretive. Until such time the decisions have already been made in advance, then, present it to the public, and vote unanimously for the new idea. That's what gets under the publics' skins, not that it matters to them anyhow.

I have no problem charging the fudgies for utilizing  Stearns Park.

Like airport parking you could grab a ticket when you enter and pay the man when you  leave.

This way your charge would be based on actual time spent in the park. Drive through's like short term parking would have a minimal charge. Those who stay all day can pay a maximum tariff.

Rather than a sticker on your windshield it would be better to issue a debit type of card to local taxpayers. Those who don't utilize the park would be allowed to sell the card on the open market. 

That 10am-6pm time limit has got to go. Otherwise the park will be jammed before 10am. And why stop at 6pm?  It makes no sense save for the City run firepit. Screw that

To those who say it would hurt tourism, you could issue a day pass with each room rental and those arriving via the Badger. These passes should also be allowed to be openly sold. 

Ban parking on side streets except for residents. Window stickers maybe?

I would not mind if other county parks had a similar set up. Then there could be a county wide pass.

I know my opinion goes against the popular trend but I have no issue sticking it to the fudgies where ever I can.

I always appreciate your way of looking at things, Shinblind, even when I think your on the wrong track, because you do go outside the box. 

The problem with your airport grab-a-ticket pay-as-you-leave system is that it would seriously hamper the old tradition of 'cruising G park'.  You know, the summer pastime of youths and grown-ups of inching down Stearn's Drive looking at what the beach has to offer, only to come out the other end and try back later.  You know how bad traffic on Stearn's Dr. backs up onto Lakeshore Dr. without a ticket kiosk, just you wait until we got these at both ends. 

If this was a money maker that pleased everyone and served a useful purpose I could be for it.  But it's assuredly a money loser, will please few, and doesn't serve any purpose other than quell the positive experiences our visitors have with Ludington.  The city gets to spend more money and hire extra enforcers, that ain't good.

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