At the February 27, 2023 meeting of the Ludington City Council a relatively minor issue of meeting protocols took place during the initial public comment period.  After a polite lady from the Fourth Ward delivered her grateful approval of the chicken ordinance under consideration (and approved later), I got up and started my comment with the four words I have routinely started my comments with over the last decade... before I was chided for doing so.

XLFD:  Tom Rotta, Dowland Street...

Mayor Mark Barnett:  Your address on Dowland Street please.   (cross talk) Your address on Dowland Street?

XLFD:  That's confidential information

Barnett:  I'd like your full address on Dowland,

XLFD:  Whenever I get a police report through FOIA, do I get full addresses then?

Barnett:  I'm not going to argue with you; I ask each speaker to identify themselves by entering their complete address.

XLFD:  Alright.  Tom Rotta, Dowland Street. (I deliver the first sentence of my comment)

Barnett:  Mr. Rotta, you're out of order and I asked you to supply your full address, please.  I'll start your time over.  

At which time I gave my full address, reasoning that it was more important to give my comment (which would lead to the council tabling and reassessing the contract they had with State Representative Curt VanderWall) than to be thrown out of the meeting for asserting a recognized civil right and having one more legal battle to fight.  After the meeting, I sent a FOIA request to Ludington City Manager Mitch Foster (copied to Mayor Barnett) seeking to figure out what rule I broke by leaving out my house number, and why I felt the issue was relevant:

"Section 3(5) of the Open Meetings Act says:  "A person must be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body."  I was called out of order by Mayor Mark Barnett at the 2-27-23 meeting for not giving my house number when I introduced myself.  I expect an apology at the next meeting unless you can provide me with the following FOIA request:  

Any rule established and recorded by the LCC that demands that a public commenter at LCC meetings need to provide their full address to the council and the viewing public.  

I have no issue with providing my full address at these meetings, but the insistence of the new mayor, the lack of such a dictum in the past, and the diligent recording of the LCC meetings by the videographer and the city clerk has me concerned with others who do not want the intimate details of their address given out to everyone who views the videos or reads the minutes.  It may suppress some folks from speaking up at meetings knowing that their home address, considered an invasion of a person's privacy in the FOIA and exempt from disclosure, is available to all."

To his credit, Foster is often on the rivet when responding to such 'simple' FOIA requests, getting the records back within a day or two.  But either he was unduly busy or searching through a lot of records without success, as I finally got a response almost a week after it was sent:

As you can see, Mayor Barnett has also received the information that there are no city records recognizing that the city council requires those who comment to give their full address.  This is significant, because the city council would have to pass such a rule as an order of business and that rule would need to be recorded in the minutes of any meeting that it was approved.  As seen in their archived minutes website, city council meeting minutes go all the way back to 1912, Foster likely could go even further back in time.  

But he would not need to, the Open Meetings Act was passed in 1976 and required public bodies to allow for public comment periods; one will note that many pre-1976 meetings had zero public participation.  I will not be giving my full address at future meetings and encourage the city council to remind Mayor Barnett of the rules they have for their meetings which do not require a commenter to state their full address.  If I am thrown out for failing to say a meaningless house number, at least I have some place to go.

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I always wondered why you didn't give your house number before commenting, now I know your reason. It really doesn't matter I suppose, because Barnett already knows it I assume, furthermore, he can easily find out. Why is this now such a big deal for the new Mayor? There are many more important things going on for everyone to know anyhow, so???? Petty/ante compared to much more important matters as far as the CC mtgs. and business there to know......

To be honest, I wasn't averse to giving out my house number back when I started this journey with Mayor Henderson's council meetings back in 2012, I just realized back then that saying five extra syllables ("one thirty-seven") robbed me of about 4 seconds of content I could otherwise use in making my points for the night.  BTW, Henderson's intro to public comment was to give your name and address, and neither I nor others were ever stopped for abbreviating their address, nor has any mayor since-- until this year.

In the future, pending on what the council does after this light dust-up, I plan on using "Third Ward" rather than "Dowland Street" because it will save me about a second and it's truly more meaningful to the council, who are chosen on the basis of wards.  Did you know that someone living on Melendy Street has about an equal chance of being in the 3rd, 4th or 6th Ward?

LCC has no business asking for any speakers address. Barnett is just being an A-hole. he knows he should not be asking for that information but as I said before he wants everyone to know that he's in charge. 

I agree, Willy ... Barnett needs to chill. He was wrong 10 years ago with overbearing authority forcing X to make a choice on whether to fight his bicycle ticket or get off the fire dept. (If my memory is right). It's just a continuation of using his authority in a stupid way violating personal privacy.

A close friend recently related that they voted for Barnett over Miller at the last election, because they thought the added conflict would be good theater, good for me, and keep me more focused on Ludington City Hall.  Gee thanks, friend.

The XLPD v. XLFD dynamic is real and goes back all the way to 2008, when he as police chief was the person that forced LFD officers and me to make a hard choice that we never would have had to make without his improper intervention.  Since that time, our relationship hasn't gotten any better; if it appears it has, then we both are getting better at hiding our true feelings about each other.


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