Ludington City Council July 26, 2021: Reserved for Seven Years

The agenda packet for the July 26, 2021 meeting of the Ludington City Council didn't offer a lot in terms of controversial issues or exciting actions to be taken.  Maybe it did if you like to grind your skateboard on the stage of the $2.4 million Legacy Park, because they did introduce and pass a traffic control order that banned skateboards, bikes and coaster toys from that area.  

The other actions the council would take were about as intriguing.  They adopted a resolution in support of a Federal Railway Grant in order to get aging local railroad infrastructure used primarily by a couple of local corporations replaced and upgraded.  A couple of mundane actions came from the finance committee, one to designate Clerk Luskin and Asst. City Manager Steckel as the City's representatives to the MERS annual meeting (if you don't know what MERS is, you would probably care even less if you knew what it was an acronym for).  The other to adopt an agreement with engineers Prein & Newhof for their work on the commercial charter boat dock at the 'public' city marina.  

The only other actions the city council took were to have the first readings of two ordinances, one of which that would redefine the meaning of what an 'inoperable vehicle' is.  The definition does not currently include an unregistered vehicle, meaning that you may currently have an otherwise operable vehicle without an updated license plate on your property without an issue.  The new rule won't allow that and I see two problems with this.  

First off, it comes at a bad time; many people that have been trying to follow the rules find that the SOS offices are not allowing you to get your tags when you need them due to their customer-unfriendly Covid-19 policies that required appointments and excused some of these service lapses.  Some now, and in the future when the next virus or variant hits, will not be up to date, but insure and use their vehicles.  

Second, it encourages less scrupulous code enforcement officers and police to go up your driveway and potentially your backyard when they shouldn't have a need to.  Let's recall that Lee Milks was shot up in Manistee for having a bus in his backyard that the City took issue with, and which endorsed sending an armed police officer into Milks' backyard to check on that bus when he was warned repeatedly not to.  Former MPD Chief Kozal wants to introduce that policy to Ludington.

This ordinance should not be passed, lapsed registrations should be caught on the road, not in a person's yard when they might have a totally valid reason not to have a vehicle's registration up-to-date.  The other ordinance should definitely be passed, but it is controversial.  

The controversy though does not arise because some would not currently want to see this measure pass, but because the city council was lined up against such an ordinance seven years ago, and has shown no interest in it until the State of Michigan has made it a legal requirement for certifying our police department.  At the first reading Monday night, nobody thought this ordinance which would officially acknowledge that LPD has a reserve police officer force and that these reservists would abide by certain training, standards, powers, and restrictions common to regular officers.

This seems like self-evident legislation, for why would a police department have a force within it that doesn't follow any kind of standards or rules?  But back in 2014, Chief Barnett and the Ludington City Council were defending reserves that acted strictly under the whims of the chief without any established by-laws or standards.  I pointed this out at the meeting in both comments, my first starting 1:50 into the meeting, I offer some links to give a more complete picture of the controversy then:

July 26th, 2021 Ludington City Council meeting from Mason County District Library on Vimeo.

XLFD:  "The city council is prepared to pass an ordinance tonight after making the finding that it's "in the public interest to provide for the establishment of a volunteer reserve police force",  Two of the four councilors present at the July 15th public safety/Ludington City Council meeting, were also present back in 2014 when I made the following observation on March 10thin part:

"There are no provisions for reserve police officers in the city charter, nor in the city code of ordinances, which can easily be determined from looking at those bodies of law in its entirety. Thus when I learned of the reserve officers having the ability to wear the uniform of a Ludington Police Officer, assume the powers of that office, and wield a firearm in the course of their duties, without having any legally established authority, no minimal training requirements, and no clear chain of command I became alarmed... The public is not able to see the job description, the reserve's by-laws, or any ideas to the limitations of their powers and the extent of their duties, and whether these duties are to the public or to the police chief."

I augmented that position at the next meeting on March 24th: "Because there is no accord in the charter for reserve police officers of any type, the dominating authority is expressed in section 10.8 which says "The positions and duties of Administrative Officers for which provision is not made herein, shall be established by ordinance."

As there has never been any ordinance codification of the reserved police officers of Ludington, and exactly no public records that the City will share regarding this group, they are an illegal, opaque, organization which should be repugnant to this public body. A vigilante is defined as an individual that undertakes law enforcement without legal authority. The Ludington Police reserve officers are vigilantes. If I organize a group of uniformed and armed officers and send them out into the community to enforce the laws of this nation, state, and locality, without any sort of legislative authority lawfully behind them, I don't think this community would tolerate them for long. It would likely be called a ‘gang’... Having secret, unaccountable-for vigilantes being controlled by our police is not a good thing.

Following these two comments, Chief Barnett launched a gaslighting four minute personal attack against me, Fire Chief Funk continued in the same vein for two more minutes.  This city council unanimously supported these two out of line statements, some punctuating them with their own support of the reserves and contempt for me.  Seven years later, this council in their findings and vote will totally vindicate my position rather than lose their police department's accreditation by the state.  Who will be the first among you to say that you were wrong back then and apologize for the treatment I was given?" {END comment]

Verily, back in 2014 the city council trumpeted their full unadulterated trust in Chief Barnett over the attempt by an uppity citizen to get some sort of codification behind a rogue force, more akin to a gang rather than a legitimate police force by dint of its total lack of rules, accountability, and standards.  "How dare you try to make us lawmakers actually create rules for a group in this city government that carry tremendous amounts of power and subsequently tremendous amounts of responsibility!"

All seven councilors, including two who were vehemently against the policy now before them back in 2014 (Winczewski and Johnson), were supportive of this proposed ordinance this day, none expressed any issue with it, at any rate.  None offered up any contrition about how I was treated back in 2014 either, which was the trigger for my second comment, which I did an admittedly poor impersonation of Chief Barnett:

XLFD (46:30 in):  "I heard no formal apologies for my 2014 treatment, so allow me to recount some of what Chief Barnett said then about my concerns with the legitimacy of the police reserves, he was allowed four minutes so I have to condense it down to two.  

"What I don't think that [our forefathers] envisioned is to create a verbal club, somebody could bring out at will and bludgeon people indiscriminately.  My concern with Mr. Rotta is the random use of the ability to say whatever he wants about whomever he chooses and to create a forum to routinely bludgeon people.

And it's upsetting to me.  You know I'm supposed to protect and serve people, but I look around here on this council, I look around in the audience, I look in the mirror and I see people that have been bludgeoned by this constitutionally-protected speech, and it just doesn't seem right to me.  It just doesn't seem right-- if you ask Mr. Rotta if someone were to do that to him, would he consider that to be right?  I don't consider he would, but then he randomly and arbitrarily does that to other folks.

You should be ashamed of yourself... and I want to say to those people that have volunteered their time, reserve police officers.   Those folks are here to provide a service, free of charge, to the citizens of this city, because they want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  I would suggest for you, Mr. Rotta, if you want to be part of the solution you better act appropriately.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  I would like to apologize on Mr. Rotta's behalf to those men and women who have served as volunteer police officers, and I would say to you that I reject your notion that you just indiscriminately bash these people, and beat out of them the volunteer spirit.  Shame on you Mr. Rotta; Shame on you."  

The man who carried the bludgeoning verbal club also carried a gun."

Shamefully, the city council probably still endorses having no rules and is only adopting the ordinance solely because they cannot allow the police reserves to continue unabated without them.  The city council has approved operating outside reasonable guidelines meant to protect the city corporate and the citizens from the liabilities involved with having an extra-legal agency operate without any guidance or regulations for seven years.  Had these folks been intelligent, instead of mindless pablum consumers, they would have realized the issue was important back then and every year since. 

Now they have to deal with the fact that I told them so, and that I won once again in the arena of ideas for our city.  One of these days I just may get tired of winning.

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Well it's about time that the Police Reserves are codified and may have to go through some oversight and certification. As far as contrition from former councilors or Mark Barnett who publicly shamed you ... that would be the noble thing to do. I recently heard on the radio a tribute to Carl Levin who was bemoaning the fact that public servants should be more humble and less arrogant in all levels of public service. At least this new administration is not as bad a gang, it seems in ganging up on you, Tom Rotta, as the last, led by Johns Henderson and Shay. I hope someday they are ashamed and humbled. Their arrogance was at the top of the scale, overflowing, in my observation, and it poisoned many of the council and city staff.

Thanks for those kind words of commiseration and understanding.  The hardest part for me to understand back in 2014 was why no official seemed to understand the issues of accountability, liability, and transparency inherent when you have a force operating outside of the law being used to enforce the law with the full options available to a licensed police officer.  Rather than address those issues, Chief Barnett, and to a lesser extent, Fire Chief Funk, reconstructed my arguments in dishonest manner and attacked directly the person making an impersonal observation on the flaws of local public policy.  

Rather than looking objectively on the merits of what was said, the COLDNews, edited by  Patti Klevorn at the time, totally Begnoched it and sensationalized the feeding frenzy on me.  Rob Alway of the MCP did the exact same thing, made a video of Chief Barnett from a different vantage point.  Both were manipulated and choreographed by Chief Barnett before that meeting to take a video of his already pre-written statement on March 24, 2014.

They may have helped their own perception war by getting a false narrative out about me to the public, remember, I had won three finalized court cases against the COL in late 2013, but their total disregard for doing what was right (codifying the reserves, etc.) and effectively arguing against it, should have only fortified the misgivings of their local government of those paying attention to what was actually happening then.  I know that this stunt fortified my resolve, making it clear that we still had a long way to go before city hall could be fixed.

Yes, that is hard to understand, the lack of understanding and accountability by the City Council and those who orchestrated the attack upon you. I can only compartmentalize (and understand) the long ordeal of a gangbash upon you, which involved the media also, by saying that arrogance and pride do strange things to people and angels. You pointed out something that wasn't right (lack of codification of police Reserves and potential for corruption thereby) and instead of being humble to understand and consider, the small minds that can't think for themselves, ganged up with Barnett and Funk and were on a prideful mission to crush you, it seems. It became a battle of epic egos. Pride rejects wisdom and without humility there is little understanding.

I'm not sure when the battle started but it seems it gained recognition when you defied the bicycle (stop) ticket. Whether Shay was in the pocket of Henderson (who was by marriage related to Funk, your boss) or Barnett was guiding the show with his arrogance is confusing to me. Arrogant people in high positions don't like to be proven wrong. Or maybe said another way, people in high positions who are not humble (especially when corrected) become arrogant and and act unwisely.

And again what the video witnessed is the usual passage of votes unanimously in a room of 7 council ppl. from differing backgrounds all agreeing to continue in vain what some would agree is not right. How can this go on and on in unanimous fashion? You could not get 7 ppl. in any room to all agree on any subject matter unanimously on a continuing basis, regardless the subject. But, here they are again doing it anyhow.

While that definitely happens at this meeting, Aquaman, there wasn't anything controversial to vote on that would suggest anything other than a 'yes' vote.  Once you get past the consent agenda and adjournment, you have a resolution to appoint delegates already selected, a PSA with an engineering firm for an already confirmed project, a Legacy Park TCO, and a resolution to support a railway grant.  Chances are that neither Councilor Serna or I (if I had been a councilor) would have voted no on either of these issues.

However, I would have definitely been bringing up the F dock 'charter boat' issue again, likely chiding fellow councilor Cheri Stibitz for her seconding the motion at this meeting and turning a deaf ear towards her constituents.  I would have likely brought up my impressions on the two ordinances under first reading, chiding my fellow councilors for their failure to fix the reserve problem for seven years and offering up a better definition for inoperable vehicles. 

BTW, Chief Kozal and the rest of the Public Safety Committee, just because a vehicle lacks a current registration (as millions of MI cars have had over the last year due to the SOS) it should not be considered inoperable if its otherwise visible from the property line and someone subjectively considers it as a potential threat to public health and safety.  Golf carts, riding lawn mowers, and a host of other motor vehicles that don't require license plates could fall under this category and still be running like they were brand new.  The better idea is to define 'junk vehicle' as a subset and act upon them, using the lack of registration in the definition of that, as this city code does.

Congratulations X on your vindication. I hope your other projects won't take this long to be proven correct. Of course you are not dealing with people who are using a full deck. They also are trying try to figure out the best way to cheat at the game.

On the inoperable vehicle code, I agree with you. Saying a vehicle is inoperable because the legal paper work to drive it on the road is not valid is like changing  Friday Night Live into a Friday Night drunk-a-thon and claiming it will improve Ludington's wholesome family image.I don't think so. I can see it now when a violator of the inoperable vehicle code says to the Judge, "yes sir, I started my inoperable vehicle and drove thru an inoperable traffic signal to the inoperable store. If I had known before hand that it was inoperable I would have had my inoperable mechanic fix the inoperable problem. By the way Judge how is it possible to operate an inoperable vehicle?" Either the City officials are suffering from an inoperable brain malfunction or they are just plain stupid. If anything the City should be issued a citation for operating an inoperable City Hall.

Thanks for the affirmation and the political cartoon, Willy.  The City of Ludington has had a host of blind spots over the years in their way of addressing issues of public policy.  I and other citizens, as an individual, also have blind spots, but we also have innovations, and we can come to conclusions without having to take into account the politics of groupthink which sometimes give some ridiculous results.  

A poorly ran city is one that allows committees to do all of the thinking.  A better ran city has other officials contributing individually to the overall thinking.  The best ran city will additionally seek out and consider the knowledge and experiences of the consumers of the city services, rather than dismiss them outright. 

Funny, cartoon Willy, again! And judge- speak on the inoperable vehicle. It's too bad that a city has to thrown the draconian book at everyone for a very few probable problematic code violators.

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