Ludington City Council Meeting, July 22, 2019: An Impromptu Witch Trial

This meeting of the Ludington City Council looked as if it was going to go down as a typical midsummer offering of topics that evoked little notice or controversy. But a little over eighty minutes into the affair, the mayor changed all that with what he claimed was a burden imposed on him and that body which needed to be addressed.

What followed was an entry into a dark place, transforming a normal city council meeting into a tribunal, where witches are real and unsubstantiated accusations are deemed truths without question. They found amongst themselves a heretic. One who maybe didn't communicate with evil spirits, but did so with citizens on social media. One who maybe didn't issue hexes and curses towards others, but instead questioned the policies and personnel of the City in a manner unlike other councilors.

But before I get ahead of myself, there was 83 minutes of a meeting that took place before this metamorphosis occurred, in which several notable things were accomplished. The uncontroversial nature of most of the items considered reflected itself in the public comments of the night, where speakers talked of off-agenda items, expressed confusion over agenda items or spoke in support of Miss Sawyer's "Never Forget" Garden at Stearns.

Perhaps as a harbinger for what was to come, a car alarm going off outside distracted the council at the start of the meeting, and during the public comment period. Terry Grams began the public comment at 3:45 into the meeting, making an appeal for lifeguards following the recent drowning introduced by Chief Barnett during the invocation. I was pleased that he did, because that was also my topic, and now if the council does go that way, implementing a new lifeguard program, they don't have the onus of having to admit that I suggested it first at a council meeting. My comment follows the video:

July 22nd, 2019 Ludington City Council meeting from Mason County District Library on Vimeo.

XLFD: "I think it's a good time to broach the topic of beach safety once again. We have record high water levels making small waves shut the breakwater down, a couple of girls swept off that breakwall, another one dead, and budget time is fast approaching.

Do we want to spend our money on a beach patrol, primarily versed in code enforcement and crowd control, or do we want to spend that money on a lifeguard program, primarily versed in rescue and positive beach interaction? Both cost roughly the same, but I see a lot more value in what the lifeguards do. I remember back in 2009 the lifeguard program was shut down even though there had been three lives saved by them in June of that year. I also remember what happened the next year: three deaths at Stearn's Beach due to drowning. The beach patrol was budgeted for 2011, with personnel costs slightly higher than the lifeguards and have continued since.

The arguments against lifeguards made by the City in those years had to do with liability, but it was never adequately explained to the people why a city that employs police and firefighters would cringe in fear at liability and run away from the rescue of a human life, or three. Perhaps that could be explained in some detail this time around so that you have a better explanation for when the parents of a drowning victim start asking you uncomfortable questions.

Let's at least consider reinstating a lifeguard program, it can be revenue neutral if you replace the beach patrol, it can serve as an additional draw for tourism as very few places offer lifeguard service. It can turn a headline of horror, into a headline of heroism. Thank you."

Despite these early appeals, there was no further discussion on the topic. Notables Budde Reed and William Anderson spoke in support of the veteran garden and other veteran projects, and Miss Sawyer Hendrickson explained the garden in detail. Jack Stibitz went next, commending city workers in their work during the drowning incident. Kaye Holman rounded it out by talking of microphone problems.

The hearing to approve the vacation and abandonment of 801 North Rowe took place thereafter with area resident 80 year old Julia Nickelson confused about the whole issue and why the city may want to abandon the alley and whether they planned on selling their warehouse to the north of the address, having received conflicting reports from city officials. I followed up myself, first admitting that the genesis of my comment was also confusion about this transaction.

XLFD: "While I'm thrilled that somebody may be redeveloping the historic Haskellite Building at 801 N Rowe, I do have some concerns about the process thus far. This public hearing was set at the last meeting without a lot of context. We had a letter from an attorney about their client purchasing the Haskellite Building and needing the alley vacated, we have a resolution drafted in order to do that for this meeting, along with a couple of maps. But absent is any reason why it is in the public's best interest to vacate and abandon this alleyway, rather than to retain it.

I would have expected a spokesman for Lofts on Rowe LLC to have introduced this to the public, either at the last meeting or between meetings and make their case for abandonment, but that's absent too. I am suspicious that they have made deals covertly with city council and planning commission members, as Councilor Kathy has signaled for the PC's Text Committee to relax the minimum square footages of living spaces for adaptive reuse of existing buildings at the July 10th PC meeting, likely in preparation for what she has heard from the LLC.

I also see that she and Councilor Joe have already set a mid August meeting to introduce the future of the building even before this abandonment is passed. I would love to see this building rehabilitated into residences but the company and the city, to borrow a common phrase from when this building was constructed in 1892, seems to be putting the cart before the horse in that process."

Councilor Winczewski explained that the alleys Julia was worried about were not likely the ones in dispute, these were ones covered up by the Wolverine (Haskellite) Building. But in looking over historical maps and the one supplied, the alley in question refers to one where a railway used to go through (in yellow on the map) and this actually falls under the City's warehouse to the north, which stores road salt, barrels picnic tables. etc., for the City.

It seems strange that the City is making light of their interest in this vacation, even without a sale of the property, which seems imminent. City assessing records do not record a sale, and the sale is likely going to be contingent with this alley issue settled and a change of zoning. The history behind this building is impressive, however, and it would be great if somebody could rehabilitate the building. I will have an article in the near future on this building's background.

Other items of business were contractual. The City agreed to hire engineering firm Prein & Newhof for two different projects: floating marina installation at the city marina and upgrading the lighting on Loomis Street while the street is worked on in 2020. They okayed an ordinance for a three year contract with EPS at the water plant for communication services. They considered and passed the last likely amendment for 2018 water utility improvements.

The most lasting item on board was approving a 40 year water supply deal with West Shore Community College, wherein the college will pay to connect to the City's water line adding their own water infrastructure in the process. The college has already okayed this deal at their last meeting, so this will start in earnest shortly.

A couple items were good for our kids. Miss Sawyer's garden was passed with praise, as was a request to put substance-free playground signs around various city parks. Cartier Park's season was extended to last until the Haunted Campground time in late October, with concerns raised by Councilor Serna as to liability issues. A road closure for a block party on Court Street between Washington and Emily was approved. Building permits were raised nominally to adjust to the extra work the inspector needs to do, and a lot split was approved for a vacant lot behind Edgar Struble's properties on Second Street, with the west part looking to be used as a parking facility, the east side as a backyard for an apartment house.

City councilors followed patting other city officials on the back for doing their jobs over the recent flooding, pulling barberry weeds at Cartier Park, hemlocks at other places. The city manager went over developing an orientation manual for city officials, the Growth Alliance's future, priority based budgeting and the upcoming visit by Manitowoc officials. The mayor reviewed the Marijuana Committee's progress after talking a bit about process and how it sometimes takes time.

He then covered the first of two serious issues, describing his experience at going down to the beach during the night of the drowning at Stearns and how it affected him. Then came the twist which surprised a lot of people that have seen the council moving in a positive direction lately at 1:23:00 in.

"The last item I bring no pleasure in bringing towards you but I'm going to read something." He read this: Sanction.pdf. Then asked "Do I have a motion", to which Councilor Winczewski moved, Councilor Lenius seconded, Serna's peers in the Building & Licenses Committee. He moved it into the record and asked for comments.

Councilor Winczewski: "Ive been on council for 5 years. This council is a team. We don't agree lots of times. We don't agree, and Mayor Miller and I disagree very vehemently about something. But I respect his opinions and I feel he respects mine. We need to as a council and as a working body, empower that. We need to respect each other, we need to discuss with each other with respect, but not put out things that are not true and not be rude and disrespectful. So I feel that this reprimand is appropriate, and it was proper to put it forward. So thank you."

Of course, the height of respect and teamwork in Councilor Kathy's perspective is branding somebody a rude, disrespectful liar in public with zero proof behind your words. Councilor Serna waited until the mayor asked for more comments before hitting back in measured tones.

Councilor Serna: "If we're supposed to work as a team then we shouldn't keep stuff from each other. It's all I gotta say." Yet she continued: "We're supposed to let the community know about things, we're supposed to be involved together. We're not supposed to be doing stuff behind each other's back. So let's make it a team then instead of doing things behind other people's backs."

Winczewski asked for an example, Serna replied: "Well, if I could know exactly which comment you were referring to, I can respond to it, but Mayor Miller refuses to tell me exactly what comment he is referring to. I make lots of comments on social media, using my own personal social media page in regards to stuff going on in the city, there are a lot of people in the city feeling the same way, but they're just afraid to say anything. I'm not afraid to say anything. I didn't cuss anybody out, I didn't call anybody a bad word, bad name or anything.

I said that people need to be doing their job. They need to be doing their job. Just like if you were to go somewhere and get service at a restaurant, and the restaurant was horrible, you would have every right to go on-line and say I had horrible service at so-and-so place. Are they going to call you out in public? They might, but you have every right to call them out in public. So why can't I, as a taxpaying citizen call somebody out in public for not doing their job? Or doing stuff behind people's backs? In reference to yours and Joe's meeting with the thing that's going on."

Some back and forth ensued about whether the coincidence of the developer meeting with two of the B&L Committee members but not her was made, before she finished with: "That's my comment. The truth hurts sometimes. And yet you reprimanded me." The motion passed with nobody voting against. We have since FOIA'ed the 'offensive' posts. See them here.

Since the meeting, I have communicated with both parties, sat with Mayor Miller for over two hours primarily discussing this one issue, looked over the records and have concluded that the charges against Councilor Serna are poorly founded, poorly communicated to the public, and that her posts did not merit such retributive action as this tribunal imposed.

Had Councilor Serna been an employee in a private firm saying critical things about the company and other employees, I could see disciplinary action being warranted after giving her a fair hearing to explain herself. But she is not. She is an elected official of the public body known as the "City of Ludington" reporting other employees/officials as either not doing their jobs or keeping secrets from the public, adding that the police chief will not accept the state's definition of a 'vehicle'.  Her charges have not been debunked.

Hers is not empty criticism, it is in the line of whistleblowing, and there are Michigan laws that protect whistleblowers from the corrupted government they may work for. The last time I saw a quasi-legal hearing like this was the last time I saw "Monty Python and the Holy Grail":

I was half tempted to defend the councilor and attack the process, but thought better of it when the second public comment followed.  Due to the process, I was in the dark as to whether there was a case to be made against her, just like everybody else who wasn't privy to be a city official. 

Yet, there was still a little fireworks left in the crowd who were still a bit stunned from what they saw.  Miss Sawyer thanked the council with her usual grace. Nancy Mustaikis talked in favor of short term rentals and advocated for the people living on the flooded corner of Rath and Melendy. Anna Nixon would later talk of her own problems living on that corner (1:39:10) which were substantial. Heather Hendrickson, Sawyer's mother, also spoke up about the street lake, and the health hazards-- and how coincidentally that the pumps start running when the water reaches Councilor Johnson's property. The councilor would deny this.

Lyla McClellan brought up the city's deer population, and wondered about sex offenders living at short term rentals. Larry Hathaway had more concerns about the alleys near the Wolverine building, and the prospect of many people living there. A few from the neighborhood were also in the audience.

The council ended on a light note, talking about Sawyer and her experiences, but the meeting adjourned, and contrary to what you may have heard, Councilor Serna did not fly home on a broomstick.

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The City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) printed a long story about Councilor Serna's verbal impeachment in today's newspaper.  It's surprisingly a bit more balanced than any story I can remember dealing with me over the years, and they even actually talked with both sides.  Wow, remember that next time I'm being chastised by the council and their unassailable pals:

pt. 2 of 3

pt. 3 of 3

Thanks for providing the article XLFD. It was nice to see a little of both sides of the story. It looks like a lot of stuff is going on behind open doors. It seems the Mayor and city council came to a consensus in private and how did councilor Wincewski get involved in a real estate meeting outside an announced city meeting? I hope Angela Serna holds them accountable. It looks like Serna did nothing wrong but want answers to a life-threatening issue. Now possibly three drownings in less than a week. Two missing. And Serna gets reprimanded for suggesting that the police need to do their job to close the breakwater. Unreal. I saw no personal attack on the chief in what was provided. Sometimes people get complacent in their jobs. Maybe this will wake a lot of people up. Thanks Serna for taking the blow. Mayor Miller should have told her which comments she was guilty of. That was not handled well and does look like a witch hunt. The bottom line, I think the council does not like anyone rocking the boat, even if it has already capsized and there have been multiple drownings.

  Along with the whistleblowers act she should also do the Democrat thing  Their being racist!!!!!!!!!  Go for it Serna. Keep up the good work. 

I saw nothing in her posts that even comes close to a comment that woul call for council action. When Brandi Henderson first started on the council she used social media to communicate with the public and she was quickly put in her place and was told to stop. This will be the fate of any new councilor who tries to inform the public through social media. This is a bad deal and I'm not surprised that this happened. What else can one expect from  back stabbing politicians and their cronies. I'm very disappointed that this happened but not surprised. I want councilor serna too know that I support her 100 per cent and that any sane person would find nothing wrong with what she did. The current council and mayor act just like the corrupt politicians whose footsteps they are following. If this was not the mayors idea then I would like to know how he was so easily talked into this. He also needs to explain who initiated this fiasco. Let's have the whole story mr mayor. Keep up the good work councilor serna. Another excellent article X.

So this fiasco is getting even crazier. Mayor put an "explanation of reprimand" editorial on MCP, but there is more consensus about taking away freedom of speech on MCP Facebook and LDN comments than clarification. And it seems there is more confusion gone way out of context. Most people are confused as to what Serna even said, and the fact that the Mayor wouldn't tell her, probably at the last minute brought this reprimand on Serna. And the Mayor still never states Serna's fault or what she should have done.

Two statements/issue seem to be involved in one reprimand and both, imo, are valid. Wincewski should not be meeting with property developers outside of open meeting and without notification to all committee members and all public notification. Whose idea was it to selectively go door to door with notification? Is this how the open meeting act works? This is just wrong. And Serna gets called out on this? What is Wincewski doing meeting with real estate developers? Sounds like possible conflict of interest on a couple of fronts, for her own benefit or someone else? .. this should be included in a code of conduct.

And the other issue:. So Serna maybe didn't do it in perfect timing and protocol and everyone is alarmed over the drownings, but some(one) should have been monitoring the breakwater before others were swept off. Now it's monitored since July 23 and written in the paper. Serna may have stepped on toes. But the job is being done NOW. Serna's was doing her job, voted by the people to whom the police should serve. So whose feelings were hurt?

The MCP article you refer to is here.  Mayor Miller has also posted it on his official mayor page on Facebook.  

It's unfortunate that the COLDNews and MCP do not allow me to comment or even 'like' comments on their pages.  Both consider themselves 'the press' but they don't allow somebody like me to disturb their corporate propaganda with any kind of alternate viewpoint.  It's analogous to what's being done with Angela by her peers in the council, however, they cannot refuse her participation due to her elected position, they can only try to marginalize her into irrelevancy, and this is precisely what the mayor is trying to do.  I applaud all of those people who are able to question this move in the comments, you risk banishment from future conversations by the local media in doing so, as well as other repercussions from those who benefit greatly from the status quo.

There is no good witch trial without the generating of mass hysteria among the population.  People are coming out of the woodwork saying they have seen or heard of Angela Serna posting terrible things, but when they are asked to show their proofs, they are at a loss to introduce anything or say others told them or that the other councilors can't be wrong.  This is how you keep the pyres burning, the dunking stools utilized.  

I wrote a response on the mayor's webpage.  To his credit, he has not banned me from commenting thereon.  Perhaps he allows it out of fear, because federal courts have prohibited bans from government websites unless and until the poster has committed some violation of the platform's policies.  They cannot ban you in any way because you have a different opinion.  Here's how I replied:  

"Your honor, with all due respect, I think you may be missing the point. The 'offensive' posts that you refer to are her views of the actions/policy of the LPD, the chief and the transparency of a city council that has a well-documented history of not complying with the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Act. Being critical of the public acts and policies of public officials and agencies is within her rights as an American and not in violation of the city's code of conduct section three, which only alludes to attacks 'upon the character or motives' of others. Conversely, Councilor Winczewski said at Monday's impromptu tribunal that Serna should "not put out things that are not true and not be rude and disrespectful." Winczewski's statement attaching those attributes to Serna was a direct attack on the character of her fellow councilor, and there has yet to be put in the record anything posted by Serna that is patently untrue, rude, or disrespectful. It is blatantly hypocritical of your honor and the rest of the council to allow Winczewski's character assassination of Serna on that night while you all strapped Serna in the pillory for the public humiliation you all desired. You cannot wash your collective hands of this shameful episode with marketing it otherwise."

Another poignant point was made as a comment to the COLDNews article by Dave Golder, who attended this and other meetings this year.  He said:

"We are all missing the real issue here. This is not how our City government should act. Mayor Miller and the CC had private judge and jury conversations without any input from Angie and then passed sentence publicly at the CC meeting. Not so transparent and last I knew we are all entitled to our day in court. Is there minutes from those conversations ? Just went to Coffee with the Council and I was told it was ALL Steve Miller by a CC member. So it wasn't even a CC member who initiated the action. This frankly is nothing short of a kangaroo court executed by our elected city officials and we should all be very concerned about what's going on over at City Hall. Regardless of your opinion on the social media comments the resulting process is much more alarming."

this "policy" reminds me of a scientology "knowledge report".  

If you are insinuating the Ludington City Council is acting like a cult of greed and power... that might not be a bad comparison.


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