The Ludington City Council welcomed back annual department reports at their February 13, 2023 meeting, a practice which was suspended during Mayor Steve Miller's term which ended at the end of 2022. Yet the main story behind this particular meeting may have been the public hearing scheduled for a 12-year tax break for a developer that was held but, due to one citizen's observation, required the council to table the objective of what the hearing was for.
The meeting started out with an invocation followed by a couple of comments, one from Alicah Gates supporting the proposed chicken ordinance and the other from me, supporting the proposed traffic control order removing redundant stop signs located near our former schools and critical of the city's policy to deliberate and decide a policy in closed session that could have been decided publicly.
After approving the consent agenda, the public hearing opened and I got up and delivered some bad news to those in the council who want to bend over backwards to break the backs of our children, I include links and pics to help relay the points:
XLFD: "Page 27 of your packets contains Nathan Gillette's Application for an OPRA exemption certificate for the old Foster School property.
Direct your attention to the bottom of that application you will see a signature by the city clerk dated as received on December 12, 2022. Section 5 of the OPRA states that: "The legislative body of the qualified local governmental unit, not more than 60 days after receipt of the application by the clerk, shall by resolution either approve or disapprove the application for an obsolete property rehabilitation exemption certificate..."
Tonight, February 13, you are set to approve the OPRA exemption certificate from an application received by Clerk Luskin on December 12, exactly 63 days ago as December and January each have 31 days. This legislative body of the qualified local government does not have statutory authority to act on this OPRA exemption certificate; in legal terms the application is stale as it was not acted upon in a timely faction by this legislative body. Time to tell Mr. Gillette he needs to fill out a new application and start the process over again if you really want to give this guy more corporate welfare than he deserves.
It's past time to finally start levying taxes on Mr. Gillette, who according to the city's assessor site hasn't paid any taxes in the year plus that he has had title to the Foster School properties after making false claims to the equally oblivious school board that his offer of less than 10% of the property's value was a great deal for us all since he was going to spend at least $340,000 to demolish that landmark. If it wasn't a courted and coddled developer making such claims, you might see people other than me throwing out words like fraud and opportunistic chicanery. Instead, he gets free rein to lie and avoid the taxes that the rest of us have to pay and you people want to extend that for 12 years. Unbelievable." [END comment]
Suffice it to say, my recent legal efforts which had some success to stop the deer cull and void the charter revision question on last May's ballot gave them pause to proceed further. They consulted the city attorney on how to proceed; he was busily looking through statute to give a qualified answer and the council gave him some time by going to the reports coming from the water plant, police department, and the city marinas.
Superintendent Jamie Hockemeyer, the water plant superintendent continues to impress as he delivered a report showing record water usage in the county thanks in part to the new market out at WSCC and strong usage by Michigan Power, including an anecdote about how they handled an emergency on Stiles Road. Interim Police Chief Steve Wietrzykowski followed by noting LPD had over 7000 calls, noted trends between the last few years, and reported they had a new field training officer and growing usage of their computer forensics department. Marina Manager Jim Christensen reported about projects done and planned for the City and Harbor View Marinas.
After about 30 minutes or so of reports, Mayor Mark Barnett then asked the city attorney for guidance on the OPRA certificate, and he reported that the council was unable to pass their resolution legitimately and administrators would have to redo some things before it came back before the council again. The councilors voted to table approving the OPRA application and approving the exemption certificate. In the initial debate, City Manager Mitch Foster would admit they didn't have a full application in the first place as they were lacking a statement from the assessor-- another deficiency I had noted but did not feel the need to mention.
The City of Ludington is so eager to not collect taxes from developers that they will throw all the responsibility for paying for the additional demands on our infrastructure on the rest of us and our kids should they decide to remain in the city limits. As Strong Towns engineer Charles Marohn would say, the Growth Ponzi scheme is not sustainable, but Ludington has invested in that scheme big time since Marohn visited and spoke with our leaders back in January 2020. Our city will be in dire straits about a decade from now due to the infrastructure demands of the multimillion-dollar TIFs for the bowling alley block, the Lofts on Rowe, 106 Laura Street will all still be active and the proposed OPRA for this property will have additional effect.
And while I upended and suspended the process, you can be assured that the City of Ludington will be effectively back to lining Mr. Gillette's pockets with the taxes from the rest of us to build more housing units in a city that lost around 5% of its population over the last decade and already has an above average vacancy rate.
In other business, the council effectively shifted ARPA funds over to the water department to cover late/unrecoverable water bills, which is as good a place as any, since the supervisor of the department is one of the city's bright spots of efficiency. With minor discussions, they adopted the two traffic control orders that effectively removed the eastbound stop sign on Foster Street SW of Foster School and the two stop signs north and south of the intersection of Haight and Lewis, SE of the old Lakeview School property. One thinks there should be a traffic study conducted to see whether the other signs at those intersections should be better controlled by yield signs, as Councilor Johnson suggested for the first.
Coaster toys (such as skateboards, in-line skates) were officially banned from the Legacy Park area, since prior limitations only had them not allowed on downtown sidewalks. They authorized applying 12% (110,000) of the expected costs of a renovation of the Copeyon Park restroom facilities. Since it's 'free money' nobody questioned the price tag of nearly a million dollars for that project, but that seems to be an incredibly inflated price when compared to similar projects done near the beach and when compared with the costs in the capital improvement plan originally set for this project.
Two ordinances were given their first reading, regarding nuisance animals and chickens. The latter would allow up to four chickens to reside in the backyards of single family residential lots that are 'big enough'. The price for a renewable annual permit has yet to be unveiled and Councilor Terzano urged this to be available for the next meeting. My only concern about this ordinance, which allows neighbors veto power if they are not on board with a permit, is that any renewing fee should be nominal if not free and the original fee should not be prohibitive to modest income folks that want to raise chickens to offset their egg budget. Unfortunately, I see them looking for a new annual source of money for nothing like Scottville did with their last ordinance.
The animal nuisance ordinance appears to be crafted to prevent people from intentionally feeding deer, but it seems to have a much larger scope. As written, it explicitly bans food attractive to wildlife from being placed less than 5 feet off the ground, and then offers 9 exemptions, several of which are based on the intentions of the placer. Why can't they just craft an ordinance that makes intentional feeding of the deer illegal and then only go after those that intentionally do so and continue after being warned?
As written, even with the exemptions, the currently permissible actions will be deemed unlawful: outdoor dining in the downtown including all those ice cream cones you see outside of the House of Flavors, or picnicking in any of the city parks, or in your backyard for that matter, or having your kids eat watermelon outside, children who would get a second ticket if they spat the seeds on the ground. As deer eat grains and hops, social districts will need to be reconsidered also. The point: why can't councilors be a friend to the citizens and code enforcers and craft better laws?
Their last action of the night, ironically, was to approve Suds on the Shore Craft Beer and Wine Festival around the Rotary Park area. If the Animal Nuisance Ordinance passes, the vendors won't be able to place any wine glasses or steins on tables without running afoul (unintended chicken pun) of the law.
Other highlights of the meeting included City Manager Foster mentioned that 500 Ludington sesquicentennial coins will be minted and given primarily to schoolchildren and a total takedown of the LPD's new vehicle procurement policy by Fourth Ward spokesman Chuck Sobanski that has given us a couple dark-colored, ghost-lettered, police vehicles that to him look ugly and aren't in the best interests of the police force. The interim chief earlier on had trumpeted those ugly, unpolicelike vehicles as what officers in his department want in the future.
The Fourth Ward sage recognizes that one of the important parts of reducing crime and community policing is the police's visibility to the general public and if the police are not worried about their visibility, how can the public be sure they are doing the job they were hired for and not just goofing off somewhere, becoming nuisances and chickens.
I could warn (as I am now) the City to mind their P's and Q's before their next attempt at giving Gillette tax exempt status for a dozen years for a block and a half of commercial property, but I doubt it would do much good. Our city leaders believe it's their birthright to give out public money to developers in the promise of growth that will make them look good and in junk pet projects that only promise deeper infrastructure pain in the future. When the bills come due and these projects are still paying little, nothing, or negative values the wherewithal to bounce back will not be there, unless they start digging deeper graves for our posterity and go for this astroturf growth. For our city leaders, astroturf, unlike grass, doesn't grow over time.
Chuck and I don't always see eye-to-eye over everything, but when we are both on the same page, you can bet that's going to be the common sensical way to go. In a tourist destination especially, you don't want to hide your law enforcement vehicles.
Thanks for the Report X. It seems that the City's legal advisor needs to give a refresher course to the Council on municipal law. Maybe you should send the City a bill for your legal advice X, since they obviously had no idea how OPRA should be dealt with. These people!
When I've brought information like this up before the council in the past, they've usually took the path of ignoring me and giving away the community chest to developers or dumb pet projects (Lunacy Park, West End Slab, etc.). I would then go to state agencies to point out the issues of rule and law and they inevitably would give them a pass, because I've found that's what state bureaucrats do.
Over the last year, I've gotten a little wiser. Being that the city and state don't give a flick about diligently following the statutes and administrative rules, the way to get results, costly though it can be, is to go through the courts and challenge them to decide that statutes don't matter. The courts then find themselves in a dilemma, as somewhere along the line they have to interpret the action as a violation of statute and rule for me, or make decisions obviously flying against the face of statute. City leaders have figured that I now have that additional resource and will challenge their lawbreaking in the courts if they go off the reservation as they have here.
Speaking of dilemmas, the City of Ludington Daily News (aka COLDNews) must have been recently reminded to keep my name out of the paper when it comes to anything where I give the City leaders a setback, like they decided to do when I prevailed in Judge Wicken's court in December. In the article ran in Tuesday's paper pictured above, they failed to name the citizen who claimed the council was dealing with a stale application, which temporarily halted the $10.5 million project, pending reapplication and approval. I guess if my goal was to get my name in the paper, I would have to lose some time, but I'm fine with having my name suppressed. That's one reason I have a pseudonym here and at the Ludington Pitchfork, after all.
Yeah! Excellent, Willy! So real looking I thought it was real until I read X's comment.