This is the unfortunately ongoing essay about how one cannot simultaneously serve as a chairman of a major public commission and as a news reporter and retain any sort of credibility for their journalistic coverage of that public body. Once again, Rob Alway, chairman of the Scottville Planning Commission (SPC) and the founder and chief editor of the Mason County Press, illustrates why this does not serve the public well, rather it destroys the public's confidence in both their press and their government.
It was noted in Something Always Stinks... that Rob knew in 2013 that " serving on a government board is a conflict of interest", which is why he resigned from the SPC, but then he decided without fanfare or any kind of public notice to go back to heading the SPC while reporting on a host of Scottville government topics with a detectable editorial bias (as noted here: Great for News Gathering, but Is It Ethical? July 2015.)
The latest loss of journalistic integrity comes with a recent article airing after the latest convention of his Planning Commission, and their recommendation given to the Scottville City Commission. You will notice in the article that follows no hint as to who wrote it, perhaps that's because he mentions and quotes himself several times in the piece as the chair of the SPC. Not mentioning yourself in the byline as you quote yourself expressing opinions in the body of the story is equally as unethical and deplorable as writing stories with yourself in the byline praising the SPC without mentioning you head it. Here is the story that went up before this last weekend and is there still.
Scottville Planning Commission recommending rental inspection ordinance
SCOTTVILLE — The Scottville Planning Commission, during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, recommended the City Commission adopt a residential rental inspection ordinance. The proposed ordinance, as presented by the Planning Commission, would be identical to the City of Ludington’s residential rental ordinance, which has been in effect there for just over a year.
“We wanted to maintain a level of continuity between the two communities so there wasn’t confusion among the property owners,” said Rob Alway, Planning Commission chairman. “We have heard positive feedback from the City of Ludington about its program and we believe this is in the best interest of the citizens of Scottville.
“The Planning Commission has been discussing a rental inspection ordinance for the past year. We’ve wanted to wait and see how it worked out in Ludington before we proceeded.”
The proposed ordinance would require landlords to register properties that are being used for residential rentals. Those failing to do so would face fines. The ordinance would also allow the city to conduct inspections of rental units to determine that the units are safe for residents.
City Manager Amy Williams said a fee structure would have to be worked out. It is likely the fee structure would mirror Ludington’s.
“The fees would cover the costs of the inspector and inspections,” Williams said. “It is likely that the city will break even on this program.”
The city already has an ordinance that allows it to require negligent property owners to maintain the exterior of their properties. Over the past three or four years, cleaning up blight has been the top goal of the City Commission. However, the city is unable to inspect the interiors of rented properties.
“Ordinances such as this are becoming common place among municipalities,” Alway said. “In addition to Ludington, we also know that the cities of Manistee and Hart also have rental inspection ordinances. We believe that this ordinance will protect Scottville from negligent landlords who have decided to leave those cities that already have ordinances in place and then turn around an buy property in Scottville because it’s not regulated. We also believe this will make our community a safer place to live, which is the most important part of this ordinance.”
The proposed ordinance will be presented to City Commission during its March 20 regular meeting. Williams said at that time city commissioners may choose to hold a first reading of the ordinance as presented, to reject the proposal, or to send it to the city’s ordinance committee for further review.
Some notes about style before we discuss substance. Alway writes as if he is interviewing himself; can you envision Rob sitting in front of his computer monitor wondering what sort of questions to ask to best present this issue? This is a bit disturbing, particularly when he strongly advocates for passage of his proposed ordinance.
He presents two viewpoints of Scottville officials, neither of who touch on any of the underlying controversy that follows such ordinances, just the so-called bonuses of the program. We hear of continuity between communities, positive feedback, best interests of the citizens, protecting Scottville from negligent landlords from within and without, and make Scottville safer. Reading through you find zero problems with such law.
And of course, that's far from the case, but even when Ludington was deciding their own Rental Inspection Ordinance (RIO), Mr. Alway had a noticeable bias for this program. I offer his article Ludington council approves rental ordinance authored on October 26, 2015.
He explained the opposition: "Several people, including landlords, contractors, a tenant and real estate agents, addressed the council and spoke in opposition of the ordinance. During public comment the council members were called arrogant and were called liars. They were also accused of violating the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure."
The 14 people that night who spoke in opposition of the RIO, and the dozens of others who did so at other meetings, were mostly well behaved, and never said the councilors were violating the Fourth Amendment, and only one of those speakers called them arrogant and liars, and while this was not very civil, it was more correct than not.
He explained the two proponents thusly: "The council also heard from property owners who are in favor of the ordinance." He then allowed the City Manager to spin the legal issues and ended with “It is time that the city of Ludington go forward with this ordinance,” Councilor Kathy Winczewski said.
Had Rob Alway researched those who spoke up for the ordinance, he would have found out that they were rather arrogant liars. According to the minutes of that meeting, the first who spoke for the ordinance was Heather Catron, a Ludington Jaycee officer, talking about a RIO that was passed in the city she used to landlady in, which she thought was no big deal. Heather neglected to tell us she was living miles out of the city limits of Ludington up on Tamarack Drive in Hamlin Township.
Nickie Heimann told us she recently purchased a house on Fifth Street and told the council that the RIO wasn't perfect but something had to be done to help beautify the city. A review of the city records shows that Nickie Heimann never purchased a house on Fifth Street. Peggy and Otto Heimann of Illinois purchased a house on 5th Street in 2014.
So Nickie lied outright, and Heather arrogantly left off the fact she would not be affected by the RIO. Neither of the two are property owners, in Mason County at least, so Rob told an arrogant lie by saying they were, with proof to the contrary at his fingertips. Can you envision Rob in front of his monitor arguing to himself over whether to check his assumptions?
One thing is certain: I saw over two dozen people arise and speak out against the RIO at the first committee meeting back in a nice early summer evening in 2015, and 14 speak out again at the two meetings in October 2015 and all the times in between where they brought up why it was a bad idea. These speakers covered most of what is wrong with this type of ordinance, and whether they were landlords, tenants, homeowners, or none of the above, they spoke with passion and concern for everyone involved.
I could rehash the arguments, but I hope the citizens of Scottville, whatever their housing status, comes forth and regales the city commission with all of the arguments used and more to strike down the insanity. I hope the city commissioners can understand that they have enough problems to deal with in Scottville's solvency and rather than create more government expense and breadth without creating new revenue (for then it would be a tax, not a fee), they should concentrate their resources on making the difficult decisions for the difficult situations just down the road.
A decision to adopt this will only serve to make the citizens more likely to emigrate away from the city limits, and aggravate the hopes of making Scottville viable once again.
A town the size of Scottville should not have a rental inspection ordinance. Major cities with blight problems will usually benefit from a rio but small towns like Ludington and Scottville will find out that a rio will have them drowning in red ink when it comes to enforcing such intrusive laws. I hope the citizens of Scottville will band together and put an end to this nonsense.
Yesterday's COLDNews article on the proposed Scottville RIO hasn't generated any kind of public discourse on their Facebook page other than a sad and angry reaction. Only one or two responded to the MCP article/propaganda too, so hopefully they are just biding their time.
I hope to see some of the Scottville regulars voice their displeasure with this starting at tomorrow's meeting. If the City of Scottville sees a lot of people speak up that aren't landlords and voice concerns that hit every citizen, maybe some commissioners will get the idea that a RIO will just make their overall plight worse.