This afternoon at 5 PM , the Ludington City Council held a special meeting with all members present to interview two candidates for the seat formerly occupied by Wanda Marrison before she resigned for personal reasons at the end of last month.
I was surprised about the attendance at the meeting-- not that all councilors were present, along with City Attorney Richard Wilson, City Manager John Shay, Mayor Ryan Cox, the treasurer, the clerk, and even Assistant City Manager Jackie Steckel-- but that other than the two candidates, there was no other attendee other than my humble self.
This struck me as incredibly odd that at this properly noticed special meeting, nobody else from the Fourth Ward (or anywhere else) showed up to find out who would represent them next. The candidates surely have not been vetted by any of our media as to this date about anything other than their names and addresses.
The City Council may have their own interpretation, but it seems to me like an apathy that is based on the way this council has dissed the will of the people by molding Wanda's successor to campaign only towards the City Council, not the people of the fourth ward. After they dispensed with the regular order of business, I gave a 3-4 minute prepared statement that I reproduce here:
"Today you are holding a special meeting of this council to interview candidates for the Fourth Ward councilor position vacated by retiring Councilor Wanda Marrison. I welcome the candidates that have applied for this position, and hope that the best candidate is chosen either today or at a later date by our city council, none of whom live in the Fourth Ward themselves.
In a similar situation, the council appointed a Third Ward city councilor back in 2011, and I had applied for that position along with three other candidates. Even then, I thought it was a rather foolish thing to be doing for this city council, to appoint a city councilor within months of a scheduled city election when the people of the Third Ward in 2011, and the people of the Fourth Ward here in 2014, could democratically elect their next representative.
The citizens of the Fourth Ward will thus get a representative that curries the favor of six people from other wards who want the interests and their own wards to be better represented by the choice they will make. This in itself is alien to representative democracy, otherwise known as a republic, to have such a system as we have it here now in Ludington, and back in 2011.
When I was interviewed back in 2011, I spoke of how I would represent the people of my ward and respect the rights and property of all citizens of Ludington. Candidates, that kind of thinking in this interview will not get you the job. Instead of concentrating on the livelihood and prosperity of the people of the Fourth Ward, who have systematically had their interests placed on the back burner to other areas, you need to devote yourself to subsidizing the downtown area and all those businesses lying outside your ward that receive tax abatements. Many of those are in my ward.
You must also devote your praise to the Ludington Municipal Marina and actively seek all the state grants and gifts you can get for them and look the other way when they allow charter boats to anchor therein, while all those private marinas around and near the PM Bayou in your ward go belly up because they cannot compete on such an uneven playing field where they must put their own money and money received from their customers into their business, not taken from the taxpayers of the state and the community.
You, as a fourth warder yourself, must devote even more public money and attention to the downtown area, because tax increment financing and two mills in taxes guarantee that they will get more money at the expense of our citizens and other taxing authorities in the coming years. Your constituents, the residents of the Fourth Ward, get to help out paying while they see the husks of their old business district and other anchors of the community disintegrate away into only memories of your once vibrant area.
So my advice to you is to play smart and play to your audience--your six electors who live elsewhere and rarely step foot in the Fourth Ward-- and not to the people you supposedly represent. Those 1000 plus people that call the Fourth Ward their home. Such is the republic that these half dozen aristocrats stand and pledge allegiance to each meeting with their hands on their hearts, which I noticed we didn't do today. Thank you."
The last addendum was an impromptu addition. The order of business was to interview Jess Stubbs, who lives on Jefferson Street, across the bridge, while the other candidate, Michael Krauch, living on Danaher Street at the northern part of the ward, left the room.
Jess Stubbs- Willing to Learn and Work Hard for the City
Jess Stubbs had semi-formal attire on a casual two-toned blazer and a nice pair of jeans as he took the hot seat. Jess was pleasant, but very curt in his answers, answering most of the questions posed to him in one or two brief sentences. But even though he indicated some ignorance about how the council and public policy works, he did indicate he had plenty of time to devote to the job, and said a lot of things that I think in retrospect, the council liked hearing.
Jess was asked early on to describe himself, and he offered his name and his address. Later on he was questioned more about his background, and he replied he had grown up in Ludington worked at Eberhards, spent about eight years in Mt. Pleasant, and came back and is now working at Whitehall Industries. He has three kids, only his oldest boy is still living at home and should be out in a year, and is divorced. He also puts a lot of effort in LudRock and co-hosts a music show on K-ROK.
Stubbs likes the 'vibe' in the City over the last 10 years, and indicated that he has worked for Gus Macker and Suds on the Shore, and can offer a lot of volunteered free time to the council. He said that his integrity was his best asset, and even though he was asked a couple of different times, he couldn't think of anything the city is not doing well or could do better. This stroke the councilor's egos.
When asked for city priorities he mentioned redeveloping the City Park and the West End of Ludington, but later answered a question on financial priorities as being anything concerning the city's infrastructure at the top, and said these were the top thing that city government should be working on. I think those two are conflicting, but the councilors I believe liked hearing it.
He noted that the Fourth Ward's biggest problem would likely be urban blight, and believes he can handle tough budget decisions that may negatively affect his neighbors by explaining why those decisions had to be made. His interview lasted about 15 minutes.
Michael Krauch- Knowledgeable, Professional, and Pragmatic
Michael Krauch gave each of the councilors his resume and introduced himself as an executive working for MSU Extension out of Scottville, who originally came from Illinois. He told a pleasant story about how he would periodically visited the area, and how on one of our summer evenings, a while ago he and his family made the decision to relocate to the area. Back in Illinois he was an attorney specializing in real estate issues for 12 years. Here's more about a recent promotion.
Krauch with a rather small stature, sported a nice grey suit for the interview, and spoke with an assured but relaxed authority; he apologized to the councilors beforehand for needing to use a cough drop in his mouth to counter a seasonal illness common in the area.
Krauch also had infrastructure at the top of his priorities, also mentioning the need for quality health and safety services. Issuewise, he listed correcting derelict properties as a priority, referencing some homes within the Fourth Ward that were in great need of help in interior renovations of electricity and plumbing that he encountered while working with Habitat for Humanity.
He often spoke in great detail often being asked out of interest by Councilor Winczewski and John Shay about how to craft policy to attack such problems. His remedy to control the problem was to consider a full home inspection whenever alienation (change of owner) of a property takes place through a typical mortgage or land contract. He noted correctly the City's current policy of sidewalk inspections that do the same purpose.
The large percentage of non-owner occupied houses in the area is a concern for him, but he noted that many of these may be correctable through changing attitudes. For vacation rentals, an issue brought up by Nancy Mustaikis at the last meeting, he said that transient properties may not be an issue if standards are enforced.
As far as economic development, he mentioned he has talked with his staff and the local CVB and determined that the background infrastructure for tech jobs is basically here, but the main job would be to communicate that fact and to show the area can be a great place to raise a family.
As for explaining tough budget decisions that negatively affect his neighbors, he stated that in any agency, there is a finite amount of money, and so you can't please everyone. You need to be capable of explaining negative impacts to the City, and know that not everyone will be happy.
He even gave me some credit for noting that the decision they will make would be similar to Gerald Ford assuming the presidency after Nixon's resignation, because Ford was never in a national election, and democracy was effectively blocked in many people's perception.
Of course, City Manager John Shay said that the city charter says that the city council must fill a vacated seat within thirty days after the seat is vacated, and so the council's actions were necessary. The same section of law also says: "No vacancy need be filled if it occurs within sixty (60) days preceding a City election." This indicates that the election using the votes of the people (if two or more candidates apply) would democratically choose the successor. This is what a clear-thinking council should want, so the people of the Fourth Ward can have their say.
The next citywide election is on November 4th, so if our city leaders and Wanda Marrison were interested in getting a popularly elected councilor, they could have shelved her resignation to September 6, and in the time between when she 'officially resigned' (August 15) and this month they could have gotten people to submit their petitions and get those names on the ballot.
But then the people might make the wrong choice; right councilors? Here, the choice between candidates to me seemed fairly clear after the two interviews. Mr. Krauch had a lot of knowledge about issues, a balance of ideas, and the capacity to make his own decisions based on logic. Mr. Stubbs had a bit to learn, but a willingness to learn, and didn't see anything wrong with the city, its past, and its current direction. I couldn't see Jess disagreeing or questioning much of what the rest of the council might send his way, whereas I could see Mr. Krauch having his own opinion and basing it on multiple factors.
So even though I think Krauch has the better capacity to serve the Fourth Ward, I worry because Stubbs has the characteristics I believe the city council wants from a councilor from the Fourth Ward, which is obedience and silence. These six councilors will make that decision at the September 22 meeting next Monday.
Congratulations to Mr. Krauch. Mr. Stubbs will be able to take another crack at the job when it comes up on the ballot.
Doesn't the Clerk and Treasurer have any say in this process? After all they are, as of now, independent of those that are trying to gain control of their offices? This sounds like a real coup in the making. I sure would like to be a fly on the wall and find out why this sudden desire to eliminate the independence of these very important positions. It seems to me that this proposal to strip the Treasurer and Clerk of their power needs to be approved by the voters, not a City Council that's trying to build an empire. If I were the Clerk or Treasurer I would get an independent legal opinion regarding this matter. I also hope people wake up and realize how those in charge are trying to condense the power structure of the City.
Ultimately, this power cannot be stripped from them unless a majority of the voters okay it. Frankly, I think this would go down by bigger numbers than the mayor term limit attempt went down by in 2013, but nobody on the city haller panel said anything neutral or negative about the idea.
The council can put this on the ballot if 3/5 or better of them approve it, then they only get one vote at the election (one would hope).
I didn't make it to the council meeting and don't get the cold news paper, what happened with the fourth ward councilor pick ?
Look on the bottom of page 1 of this thread; even quicker, Krauch wins in a split 'vote' 4-2.