Category Archives: City of New Buffalo

“That is it. It is plain and simple.”

imagesAt the end of the November 21, 2017 City Council meeting, Mayor Lou O’Donnell stated the following.

“In Mrs Gotfried’s comment she totes the fact that we did no release those videos (Tony Ashbaugh, August 2016).  We were advised by three different sets of attorneys including MMRMA, our insurance carrier, we were advised by every single one of them not to release those tapes because there was always the question of whether they were illegally obtained.  Had we released those tapes for a FOIA request, we could have opened the city to unlimited liability.  That is the only reason we did not.  We are not trying to hide anything.  That is it. It is plain and simple.”

Via a FOIA request, there was only one legal opinion given concerning the release ofuntitled.png the August 2016 Tony Ashbaugh public videos and that was by Attorney Sara Bell at the City Council’s November 2016 meeting.  There was no documented  legal opinion provided by the MMRMA or any other attorneys.  If there were conversations with other attorneys, this information was not dispersed to council members through an open meeting nor did the council members go into closed session to discuss legal opinions.  Why did Mayor O’Donnell state there were other legal opinions when there is no documentation to back him up?  FOIA request for legal opinions.

Via another FOIA request, there was no documented threats of intent of a lawsuit against the city by Tony Ashbaugh’s attorney.
FOIA request for documentation from Tony Ashaugh to sue the city

Attorney Bell’s and Mayor O’Donnell’s opinions not to release the public video due to the city facing unlimited liability appears to be based on a non legal opinion made by Street Supervisor Ashbaugh in a Request for Investigation. FOIA request for Request for Investigation   

  • On page 2, number 1, Ashbaugh stated ‘My lawyer says that electronic eavesdropping on a face to face conversation is illegal under 18 USC Sec 2511(1) and could lead to lawsuits or prosecution.’

This one non legal opinion by a city employee appears to be the entire basis for Mayor O’Donnell’s decision to violate the Freedom of Information Act, to believe the city faced unlimited liability and to spend $33,250 on attorney fees.  In his Request for Investigation, Ashbaugh went on to provide the content of the videos to defend his position that the ‘face to face’ conversations were entirely work related not private conversations thus refuting his claim to eavesdropping.
FOIA request for lawsuit expenses     Order for city to pay Ray Kirkus’ attorney

  • images (4)O’Donnell continued ‘That is all we did is what our attorneys told us to do and I had mentioned it at several council meetings over the past year plus while this was all in the court system that once a judge decides cause we can’t decide, you know, we all have our opinions and attorneys’ have their opinions but until a judge takes his gavel and says release them, we were not going to release them because we could have subjected, if they were found to be obtained illegally, the city to just unlimited liability and therefore we did not release them and it’s that plain and simple and yes it did cost us $12,500 to pay for the attorney fees for Mr. Kirkus.  But its money well spent because it could have been a lot worse because it’s not up to us to decide these and yes there was another lawsuit filed over all this so looking back I have zero regrets whatsoever on how we approached this. Because we are not to determine whether or not something was illegally obtained so therefore we couldn’t release it and it’s that plain and simple.’

The council members should not base their decision to violate the law on a non images (6)legal opinion by a city employee nor should they accept a legal opinion by Attorney Bell that is based on a city employee stating ‘my lawyer says.’ O’Donnell said he and the council members are not to determine whether or not something was illegally obtained is correct but the Freedom of Information Act’s exemptions are very specific and do not include threats of lawsuits.  Even if there had been documentation of an actual threat of a lawsuit, the council members were obligated to follow the law.  If the council continues to violate the FOIA based on the unfounded threats of a city employee, attorneys like Mike Homier will continue to find an easy avenue to $12,500 in legal fees paid by the city.

 

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down

The city council in Riviera Beach, Florida discussed among themselves how to intimidate and silence Fane Lozman, a critic of the council.   Mr. Lozman took them to court – all the way to the Supreme Court – and won.  Our city council members would most likely consider him a foe, I consider him a hero.

There is an old Japanese proverb  ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Local leadership, through humiliation, intimidation and threats, will attempt forced conformity.  But there will always be citizens who value their first amendment constitutional right of free speech and not be distracted by the animosity of council members like Mr. Robertson in New Buffalo.

Mr. Lozman stated, “What makes America beautiful is our personal freedoms.  Constitutionally protected free speech cannot be suppressed at the whim of elected officials and public servants.”

New York Times – December 5, 2017

NYT Article

Accepting Responsibility

Last month at the end of the New Buffalo City Council meeting, several council members took aim at me with self righteous indignation for what I write on this blog about the decisions they make.

At tonight’s meeting, I addressed them during the three minutes allowed to me during public input since even if I had been there when they berated me, they wouldn’t have given me an opportunity to respond.

Here is my response to them.

images.pngMark (Council member Robertson), last month I missed your comments about me writing fake news on my blog. I quoted you word for word so that was not fake and through the authorization of the council to proceed with the sidewalk project without input at a public hearing or input by a licensed tree expert, the council is solely responsible for the outcome.  You might be angry to hear it, but by allowing the mutilation of the roots of healthy mature trees, you are in fact responsible.  It might take two to three years for the trees to die but as they die, it was due to the project going forward without proper vetting, the council’s responsibility.

Lou (Mayor O’Donnell), you accused me of delaying the beginning of the sidewalk project, costing the city a great deal of more money in the process then you read a letter from the Michigan Federal Highway Commission addressed to me.  Had you asked Bryan Armstrong with the Michigan Department of Transportation, he would have told you that in the fall of 2016, City Manager Anderson had not submitted the engineering reports required for the project to begin and if he hadn’t by the end of the year, the funding would be withdrawn.  This is what held the project up, not my complaints. I don’t give myself so much credit.

I might be guilty of believing you committed fraud by not complying with the Michigan images (1).pngPlanning Enabling Act, but you actually did violate the Freedom of Information Act and it was proven through a lawsuit. Do you ever let the public know when you lose a case or when you violate the law? Why not read Judge Wiley’s ruling to the audience then post it on the city’s web-site. I have a copy here. Wiley’s ruling against the city  If Kirkus had lost, it’s a given you would try to publicly humiliate him by reading the ruling and posting it but he was right and you were wrong, time to apologize to the public and Kirkus because for over a year you denied information to the public that cost thousands of dollars in legal fees that included the city paying $12,500 to Kirkus’ attorney. Order for city to pay Ray Kirkus’ attorney16-280 Order Granting MSD

And because of your decision to block distribution of public information, I ended up in a baseless lawsuit brought by Street Supervisor Ashbaugh, costing me thousands of dollars.  As well as it costing the city thousands of dollars.  (It most likely will be dismissed in December due to the allegations by Ashbaugh not being true).

Accepting responsibility for violating the law isn’t easy but trying to cover it up is even worse. But truth be told, if it wasn’t for me or my blog, the residents of New Buffalo would never know.

First segment of Tony Ashbaugh audio recording

This is the first five minutes of audio from the August 7, 2016 Tony Ashbaugh video recording.  After a year of defying the Freedom of Information Act, the city council was finally forced by a court order to release the recording.  The copies released by the city were of such poor quality, experts had to be called in to increase the volume and decrease excessive background noise.  The conversation on the recording between Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh and then contracted treasurer Debra Lambrix might be why Mayor Lou O’Donnell and the council members didn’t want it released.
In 2006, we were asked to support a 5 year restricted park millage to be used for the improvements of Oselka Park.  Those funds were mismanaged and misused, leaving the park to continued deterioration each year.
In 2011, Rusty Geisler requested a renewal of another 5 year restricted park millage stating ‘The proposed continuation of the five-year 0.5 parks millage will be used primarily to protect the Gallien River shore line which runs just west of the beach parking lot. This river bank is eroding at a very rapid rate and, if not addressed, will, in the near future result in very large maintenance costs to both the shoreline and beach parking lot. This erosion protection is a key element of the planned Riverfront Improvement Project.” letter about park millage to city council
And in 2016, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh wondered how he could misuse the restricted park cover-upmillage funds to purchase equipment for street projects while there continues to be deterioration of Oselka Park, the Gallien River shore line plus the beach dune walk and concession stand.  Are the restricted park improvement millage funds supporting equipment for general city use instead of major park improvements?  And is this why thousands of dollars were spent on legal and court fees to keep this information from the public?
download It is disturbing to hear two city employees (City Street Superintendent, Tony Ashbaugh and then contracted Treasurer, Debra Lambrix) discussing misappropriation of funds. Ashbaugh was seeking an avenue to misappropriate funds from the restricted park millage and place it into a street fund. Instead of stopping the discussion, Lambrix warns Ashbaugh to be careful. Ashbaugh wondered who would give a shit if there was an 80% -20% split of funds to be used for equipment except for a ‘Nancy Smith’ type of person.. The conversation ends with an explicative.
But what might be even more disturbing is when former Police Chief Larry Pitchford became concerned about the recorded conversation and took it to then City Manager Rob Anderson and Mayor Lou O’Donnell, he was reprimanded and the recording sealed. The city council chose to cover up the possible misappropriation of funds and then to fire the police chief.

stuff they don't want you to know

Tony Ashbaugh Recording

What’s this about?

As Chief Executive Officer of the City of New Buffalo and designated to rein above the police department per the City Charter, City Manager Dave Richards has total access to all city documentation including surveillance videos. So it is puzzling why he completed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for over 60 hours of city hall surveillance videos unless he wanted them for private use. The dates of the videos are from September 11 through September 19  just after Richards terminated former Police Chief Larry Pitchford but prior to the city council’s approval at their September 19 meeting. While all other FOIA requests are fulfilled by city employees, Richards ordered an IT expert to complete the task with total cost for the service unknown. (see copy of the FOIA request below)

When a male manager, for his private benefit, accesses 63 hours of a female imagessubordinate at work, who also happened to be the assistant to the former police chief he just terminated, it is not just puzzling but mostly worrisome but Diana Selir’s work area was targeted through Richards’ FOIA request. Remember that Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh first used a frivolous ethics complaint against Pitchford, then he targeted both Pitchford and Selir in a baseless federal wiretapping lawsuit to harass them yet Ashbaugh was never reprimanded for either of these two actions. Now it appears that Selir might be the object of personal harassment by Richards privately viewing 63 hours of her in the work environment. .

Additionally, the videos from August 2016 of Tony Ashbaugh and Pitchford’s subsequence  investigation are central to two current Michigan Civil Rights complaints, one claiming gender bias while the other race. In both cases, it appears that the decision of the city council’s cover-up of the videos led to the complaints being filed and we can only speculate on Pitchford’s swift removal from his position as police chief that eliminated any further review of the facts involving these complaints.

Besides targeting Selir’s work area for private viewing, Richards also requested the video recording of the front hallway for a half hour prior to the September 19 council meeting and the side parking lot for an hour after the meeting.  Since Richards was aware that police department employees planned to attend the meeting in support of Pitchford, his request could be another avenue of employee harassment. The loyalty of employees to their direct supervisor could seem as disloyalty to an insecure manager.

With the cooperation of the mayor and city council members, Richards got rid of Pitchford, clearing the way for him and Ashbaugh to have easy access to the police department with Richards in the position to hire a new chief leaving the employees with no buffer between them and Richards. Then at the October council meeting, the council members again cleared the way for Richards, giving him direct supervision of the surveillance videos.  He no longer needs a FOIA request to spy on city employees.

Richard's FOIA_0004

Public shaming, New Buffalo style

to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticizeAt the October council meeting, Mayor Lou O’Donnell pointed out that a letter from the Michigan Federal Highway Commission to me, a private citizen, could be viewed on the city’s web-site while claiming my concerns increased the cost of the Safe Route to School sidewalk project. The posting of my letter serves as a warning to others that it is inappropriate to challenge the authority of the council.

This is the first time the city council used the city’s web-site to try to publicly shame a resident for challenging council actions. While they are allowed to use the publicly owned web-site for their own agenda, we have no access to the outcomes of bad decisions and waste of money by them and their employees.

To promote transparency, the city council should post the following on our publicly owned city web-site.

  • Two correspondences to Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that informed him the city was ineligible for large state grants in 2016 but he could reapply in 2017. By not applying in 2016 and 2017, the street supervisor lost the potential of a great deal of much needed funding for the beachfront while the city council is trying to piece together $200,000 of local grants to patch the dune walk and cover up the error committed by their employee. DNR Communications
  • The court order issued by Judge Wiley that required the city to release public videos because the council had violated the Freedom of Information Act. There was no mention that the City and Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh were held responsible for all the legal fees and court costs. 16-280 Order Granting MSD
  • A public apology to Ray Kirkus for forcing him to hire an attorney to obtain videos that the public owned.
  • Judge Donahue’s findings in the city’s lawsuit against the Planning Commission last year. The city council lost the case but never told the public the total cost of their actions that  included legal fees and court costs for both suing and defending the Planning Commissioners.
  • A public apology to the Planning Commissioners, the owners of the Home Town Pharmacy, and the owners of the New Buffalo Drug Store for a baseless lawsuit.
  • The judge’s finding in a zoning violation suit against Vito and Rubia Jasinevicius that the city lost.
  • A public apology to the couple for the money they spent on attorney fees to prove the city had violated state law.
  • A letter to the city council that Shannon Swindle read at a special meeting earlier this month that pointed out numerous zoning violations made by the Planning Commission following the recommendations of City Manager Richards. Instead of a public apology to Swindle, the majority of the council supported Richards’ bad advise that violates zoning ordinances.  Ms. Swindle had no alternative but to hire an attorney to prove the various violations of zoning ordinances.   SpecialCouncilMeetingLetter10-3 (3)
  • The private lawsuit by Street Supervisor Although that could make the responsible for $840,000 in damages he is demanding.  Corrected Motion
  • At least three city violations that are being investigated through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, with one recently found in favor of the complainant.  These cases have the potential of large financial settlements by the city yet not a word is said to the public.

The power of decisions that impact all of us solely rests with the council because imagesthey routinely bypass state mandated public hearings where citizen input is supposed to be documented and considered.  Because the public hearing process is ignored, the only opportunity for input is a complaint to the state or retaining an attorney and taking the city to court.  While the council members chasten those who challenge them, it is appropriate and necessary to question their actions. They are supposed to be public servants not authoritarians. Even the downtown project was supposed to go through a public hearing process prior to beginning but as long as the council’s political base is satisfied, the council members are free to run the city in a vacuum.

The Safe Routes to School grant contained the following fabrications.

  • Inflated numbers of children within the walking boundaries of the proposed sidewalk.
  • Documentation of a public meeting that never took place.
  • The number of children who could use the Norton Street sidewalk in the 2015 grant revision.
  • Sidewalks that had no school foot traffic.
  • Public input that was never substantiated.

The Michigan Department of Transportation allowed the grant even though the city never provided the prerequisite of a public hearing with a documented public input process, violating the Michigan Planning Enabling Act. FHA Division Administrator Russell Jorgenson ruled that the falsifications and disregard of state law dd not meet his definition of fraud. But then, the Michigan EPA didn’t think there was a problem with lead in the drinking water in Flint.

 

While Tony talked

Note:  After reviewing the video recording of the June 20, 2017 Council meeting, I verified that the council approved $200,000 for improvements to the dune walk. Council woman Ennis stated that it was a shame that the stairs had been allowed to deteriorate.  Someone stated that Tony Ashbaugh had only been with the city for 18 months and the deterioration stared long before that time. Ashbaugh had a list of local Foundations to approach but he, Mayor O’Donnell, nor Council member Bobby Spirito mentioned that they had been considered ineligible for a large DNR fund the previous year but had been invited to reapply in 2017.

images (4)Much of government activity would remain behind closed doors if it wasn’t for the Freedom of Information Act. Due to a lawsuit, we know the city council violated the FOIA by keeping the public surveillance videos of Tony Ashbaugh and Debra Lambrix out of the public domain but on more than one occasion the city clerk and city manager violated it by claiming public documents didn’t exist.  Appeals to the mayor were referred back to the city manager instead of investigated. If city employees are either destroying or hiding public information, the mayor and city council members have a responsibility to safeguard public records.

In the spring of 2016, the former parks supervisor began a grant application process with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through the Land and Water Conservation Fund for a new concession stand and dune walk.  It was confirmed that the city’s need fit the criteria for the grant and with that assurance the city council authorized $4,000 for a simple drawing of a new concession stand by a local architect.  Many grants awarded in 2016 were for over well over a hundred thousand dollars and there was a good chance that with two applications the fund would cover both a new concession stand and dune walk with the help of matching grants that could be both financial and in-kind. Grant awards for 2016

There were two prerequisites for consideration of a grant request.  The City had to have a five year parks and recreation plan and provide evidence of an advance notice for a public meeting held to discuss the grant application (a public hearing notice).  Although the city had the five year plan the city council didn’t require a public hearing process prior to moving the project forward. And although required by both state and local laws, since Rusty Geisler, the new city managers no longer require public hearings prior to beginning city projects.

Instead of completing the requirement for a public hearing last year to receive the grant funding, the city council earlier this year allocated funding for repairs to the dune walk.  Remembering that the DNR had rejected the grant request due to the omission of the public hearing and that the DNR had stated ineligibility one year would not reflect badly on resubmitting the following year, I filed a FOIA request for any communications between the DNR and the city concerning the grant.  Although the city clerk sent over 40 pages of an email stream between the DNR and former park supervisor, she did not include the communications documenting the rejection of the of the grant.  Through a FOIA request to the DNR, I was provided two  correspondences addressed to Tony Ashbaugh who had taken on the duties of park supervisor with a large increase in pay.

These were two correspondences from Christie Bayus of the DNR to Ashbaugh, one dated October 17, 2016 and the other dated October 18, 2017   The correspondences noted that the information was a high priority and she mentioned that in July, Ashbaugh had spoken to a DNR representative when he was told that he needed a copy of the advance notice of a public hearing.  Ashbaugh evidently never replied because there was no documentation from him to the DNR and so the city lost out on a new concession stand and dune walk.  While the city clerk and city manager might be trying to protect Ashbaugh by not providing the correspondences the DNR provided, they can’t destroy or deny public information, it is illegal. The main reasons for the Freedom of Information Act is to provide to the public an avenue for oversight of government officials. DNR FOIA Response DNR Communications

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, the city clerk accepted a check on behalf of the city for a William J Deputy Endowment Fund donation to help repair the dune walk.  It might not have been needed had Ashbaugh followed through with the requirements of the grant last year and requested the Planning Commission hold a public hearing.  Or if time became an issue, he could have completed a new application for 2017, ensuring that a public hearing process was completed.

Although Ashbaugh had time to sit around thinking of ways to get even with the police chief and bad mouth co-workers, he didn’t have time to bother with completion of a grant request that could have provided the city a new concession stand and board walk that would enhance the lakefront and protect the dune.  Instead of wasting funding to patch the deteriorating dune walk, it could have been used as leverage for the DNR funding for the completion of a new one along with a new concession stand.

The city council didn’t bother with a public hearing process prior to accepting a grant for new sidewalks, bypassing the opportunity for residents to voice their concerns about sidewalks they didn’t want or need. Yet the council members find fault with residents who complained that there was no official process for public input.  The council also didn’t bother with a public hearing process prior to beginning the downtown project bypassing the ability for state funding to help with the costs.  And just last night, a woman spoke to the council about their decision to allow a zoning variance that appeared to violate a number of zoning ordinances.  Had the Planning Commission held a public hearing process as required by both law and zoning, the Commissioners might not have recommended the variance to the council for approval.  Documented public input through a public hearing process can and should impact the decisions made by both volunteer commissioners and elected council members. We pay the bills, why not include us as required by law in the decision making?

The City Council felt it was appropriate to post on the city’s web-site a letter from a state agency to a private citizen as they did when they posted a letter from the Michigan Highway Administration addressed to me because I felt that fraud might have been committed in the Safe Route to School grant.  Since the DNR sent a letter to a city employee, Tony Ashbaugh, stating the city was no longer eligible for a concession stand and dune walk grant, why doesn’t the city council post it?  It seems much more appropriate to post a letter to a public employee than a private citizen.

Disturbing Transcripts

knowledge is powerA year ago November, the entire city council voted to keep the August 2016 public surveillance videos of  Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh and contractual treasurer Debra Lambrix away from the public due to bad advise of an attorney.  Ray Kirkus had to retain an attorney and file a lawsuit to uncover the cover-up through a court order by Judge Dennis Wiley who ruled the videos to be within the public domain.  Although the videos were ruled to be available to the public, they have only been provided to Kirkus and his attorney at this time. Yesterday I received a partial transcript that was made at the time that the videos were handed over to then City Manager Rob Anderson by then Chief Larry Pitchford.  The council members like to congratulate themselves for acting legally but they violated the Freedom of Information Act, spending thousands of dollars on legal fees and court costs apparently just to protect Ashbaugh.

A previous post detailed a trail of actions and reactions taken against Pitchford after he blew the whistle on the videos to his supervisor Anderson.  Whistleblower beware It appeared that there was an ongoing effort to damage the Chief with an end result of the council’s forcing retirement just months prior to him retiring on his own.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has issued seven decisions addressing retaliation under EEOC-enforced laws, and the filing of EEO claims that include a retaliation allegation has continued to grow. Charges of retaliation surpassed race discrimination in 2009 as the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination, accounting for 44.5 percent of all charges received by EEOC in FY 2015.”  EEO Fact Sheet

According to the transcript, it appears that Tony Ashbaugh knew where the keys were to the main workplace-harasementoffice filing cabinets. He said he noticed the keys were gone but Debra Lembrix told him they were in the drawer and he found them.  Personnel files are kept in the front office cabinets so the street supervisor had access to them.  Is it a coincidence that the reprimand of Larry Pitchford that was supposed to be expunged from his personnel file through the results of the investigation by Attorney Sara Bell showed up recently through FOIA requests? According to the transcript, Ashbaugh suggested to Lambrix (contractual treasurer) to put her ‘cranial cap out there for something about Larry (Pitchford), something that can’t be tracked to us.’ According to the transcript, Ashbaugh suggested they were looking for skeletons in the closet for “something that could be brought into public at a council meeting like they did with me and the barter thing.” “Since all of them (police)look upon me with ‘fucking distain’.’

Shouldn’t the city council be more interested in the policies and practices of the city than to work so hard to keep public documents out to the hands of the public?

 

Whistleblower beware

True or False?  Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh is the source of a $10,000 ethics complaint against the police chief and two lawsuits costing thousands of dollars due to talking nasty about fellow employees.

True for sure.  After being recorded on a public surveillance system, Police Chief Larry Pitchford reported the problematic talk to City Manager Rob Anderson.  Pitchford’s whistle blowing was rewarded with a written reprimand by Anderson, then an ethics complaint by Ashbaugh and finally termination by the City Council.

Truth be told to other city employees, if you see a fellow employee misbehaving, you might better keep your mouth shut, otherwise you could face having your name dragged through the mud ending up with a termination just months prior to your planned retirement.  The city leadership’s response to whistle blowers.

After reporting Ashbaugh’s  inappropriate conversations on the public  surveillance equipment, Ashbaugh received a reprimand but so did Pitchford, apparently for blowing the whistle.

Following the reprimand, Ashbaugh filed an ethic complaint against Pitchford, leading to animages (8) extensive investigation by Attorney Sara Bell that included a review of the reprimand to Pitchford. Bell wrote “There is no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Chief Pitchford as it relates to the recordings from August 7, 2016, or any recordings of which I am aware that were reviewed thereafter. It is important to note that this finding is based on the fact that the recordings were kept in-house (given only to the City Manager and Mayor) and not released publicly by Chief Pitchford.”

Pitchford was expunged of all wrongdoing with the council accepting Bell’s dismissal of his reprimand and four other recommendations, one being that due to Ashbaugh’s threat of a lawsuit, the videos should not be released without a court order.  Another was that city employees be banned from sharing the videos or discussing the content.

While using the excuse of fear of a wiretapping lawsuit by Ashbaugh, the council abided Bell’s advise not to release the videos. The advise was bad, the videos public, the law violated, end result being the council losing an expensive FOIA lawsuit by Ray Kirkus.  Thousands of dollars in legal fees were wasted because the council chose the street supervisor over obeying the law.

Yet Ashbaugh wasn’t through with Pitchford, using the same accusations of illegally distributing a private conversation, he included Pitchford as a defendant in a federal lawsuit.  A baseless lawsuit with inflicting pain as the only apparent purpose.

Let this be a warning to city employees, the city leadership does not appreciate disclosure of wrongdoing or transparency in government. Pitchford was used as an example for workplace expectations.  After blowing the whistle, Pitchford was forced from his job by the city council two months prior to his official retirement. No dignified finish for a man with 40 plus years of service after he reported the inappropriate behavior of a co-worker that led to a forced early retirement, costing him his reputation and the gratitude of the community.  

Get this, by trying to protect Ashbaugh, the city council was first sucked into a FOIA lawsuit that they lost and then a baseless federal lawsuit brought by team member Ashbaugh.  Instead of trying to protect the reputation of an employee who was the center of the most expensive ethics complaint in the history of the city and two lawsuits, a better idea for the City Council would have been to abide the law by releasing the videos thus resulting in Ashbaugh’s demise.

To top it off, while Ashbaugh filed suit with accusations of illegal  disclosure of the videos by employees and the city broke the law to keep the videos private, then violated a Judge’s verbal order to release the videos, Ashbaugh himself failed to comply with Bell’s directive not to discuss the videos.  On February 2, after i was denied a copy of the videos at city hall’s front desk, Ashbaugh, sitting in City Manager Dave Richards’ office, discussed the contents of the videos on TV 57 while the reporter held up Pitchford’s expunged reprimand.  The council members and their employees disregarded all the recommendations of  Sara Bell except the one to cover for Ashbaugh, leading them to violate the law. Tax dollars wasted by a council played the fool by one of their team members.

Although the threat of a lawsuit by Ashbaugh led to the council’s decision not to release public information, a new threat of a  lawsuit got this response from Council member Liz Ennis as reported in the Harbor Country News, “If it’s illegal, we’ll find that out,” after she made the motion to accept a site plan fraught with legal holes.  Instead of knowing and following the law, it was easier for Ennis to move it to the legal system.  The City will lose yet another lawsuit because the City leadership continues to support employees instead of caring about the legal and ethical rights of residents. Should private citizens continuously have to hire attorneys to defend their zoning rights?

 

Hypocritical?

download (4)

When Donna Messinger filed an ethics compliant against Tony Ashbaugh concerning remarks he made about her on a public surveillance video, she was told by the City Council members that it could not be discussed due to the ongoing FOIA court case.

After Judge Wiley ruled the public surveillance videos are within the public domain and not protected through the privacy exemption of the Freedom of Information Act, City Clerk Lori Van Clay continued to deny FOIA requests for the videos last week. Her denial included a contradiction of Wiley’s ruling, protection through the Freedom of Information Act, and they could not be released due to the ongoing FOIA court case.

download (3)Yet the City Council allowed Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh, identified as part of the city leadership, to discuss the contents of the videos on TV 57 this past Monday.  What is good for the ‘city leadership’ is not good for the general public.
http://www.abc57.com/news/only-on-judge-orders-release-of-controversial-new-buffalo-surveillance-tapes-city-employee-tells-his-side

Tony Ashbaugh loses big today!

Watch reporter Sara Rivest on TV 57 news tonight – she is the only reporter compelled to cover a Berrien County Freedom of Information Act court ruling that favored the public’s right for government transparency.

Ray Kirkus made Michigan law today.  Kirkus vs New Buffalo will be available to other Michigan citizens when municipalities illegally withhold information guaranteed through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),  Yet, even as recently as this morning, City Clerk Vander Clay continued to defy Judge Wiley’s August 7, 2017 verbal ruling that the city surveillance videos were public property, there was no exemption that protected their privacy, and ordered them released. The City’s year-long  protection of Tony Ashbaugh in a costly lawsuit came to an end today.  Perhaps the continuous defiance by the City Clerk will result in a lawsuit filed by me that will find the City attorney back in Judge Wiley’s courtroom arguing against Kirkus vs New Buffalo. Judge Wiley would have no sympathy for the City coming in front of him defending the illegal acts of the city clerk, yet today as well as last week,, City Clerk Vander Clay refused to fulfill my Freedom of Information Act request for the public videos.  Perhaps she just doesn’t respect the letter of the law or the orders from a judge.

Tony Ashbaugh

At today’s hearing, the City’s attorney appearing agitated with Ashbaugh’s attorney, addressed Judge Wiley, saying  he didn’t want to be in court today because he thought the case was finished after the last hearing and that he has no interest in Tony’s attempt to prolong the lawsuit.  He said that the City wants to be done with this case, that the City agreed at the August 7, 2017 hearing that the videos were public property and the City did not want any part in an appeal that Ashbaugh was considering.  Judge Wiley stated that on August 7, he gave a vocal order to release the videos (continuously defied by City Clerk Vander Clay) and he had expected the videos to be released upon that order.  Perhaps the Cicy Council should inform their employees that they are legally obligated to uphold judge’s orders and Michigan law even though the Council itself rejected the Freedom of Information Act requirements for over a year.

Again Judge Wiley stated the videos had to be released, this time reiterating his verbal order while signing a written one.  He also said that Ray Kirkus had requested a sanction (a penalty for disobeying a rule) against Tony Ashbaugh’s attorney because he filed an improper objection that required the hearing today.  Judge Wiley ruled in favor of the sanction, declared Ashbaugh’s objection frivolous, and ordered Ashbaugh to pay all legal fees and court costs associated with today’s hearing.

The bad news for Tony Ashbaugh is good news for the City, Donna Messinger, Larry Pitchford, Diana Selir, and me.  Ashbaugh’s private federal lawsuit against private citizens, city employees, and the City for recording and distributing a private conversation will be baseless when his videos end up on You Tube.  This civil servant has become the master of the city with everyone bowing down to him in fear of being sued.  The City Council has to put an end to this man behind the curtain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Council members win, residents lose

DSCN0344A win for the New Buffalo City Council but a loss for the quaint neighborhoods and most likely, many red oak trees.  Through poor planning and poor placement, the sidewalks line some streets with a buffer of 2 feet on one side and 10 feet on the other giving the streets a lopsided, asymmetrical appearance that takes away from the small rural neighborhood charm. Let’s face it, this expensive farce gives neighboring communities another opportunity to laugh at our city.  Obviously protecting trees or enriching neighborhoods was not the goal of this grant.  It appears that the purpose was to hurriedly divide up over half a million federal tax dollars among local contractors including Abonmarche, the project management company that made the decision to hack up the roots on healthy red oak trees and line the streets with poorly planned out sidewalks.    DSCN0303

The Michigan Division of the Federal Highway Administration ruled that the city did not commit fraud in the Safe Route to School grant even though it contained false information and the City Council disregarded the Michigan Planning Enabling Act.  Article IV, section 125.3861 of that law states, ‘Construction of certain projects in area covered by municipal master plan; approval; initiation of work on project; requirements; report and advice. Sec. 61. (1) A street; square, park, playground, public way, ground, or other open space; or public building or other structure shall not be constructed or authorized for construction in an area covered by a municipal master plan unless the location, character, and extent of the street, public way, open space, structure, or utility have been submitted to the planning commission by the legislative body or other body having jurisdiction over the authorization or financing of the project and has been approved by the planning commission.’  The decision by the City Council to bypass the requirements of State law and not refer the sidewalk project to the Planning Commission demonstrates the reason this law is so important in community planning. Had the Council involved the Planning Commission in the process, perhaps the red oaks would have been saved and the sidewalks placed correctly.  Without public oversight, a rogue project manager was left to his own agenda and the charm of little neighborhoods was destroyed.  This project is a prime example of the mismanagement of tax dollars and the destruction of neighborhoods.

Chikaming Township Hall, October 19, 2017

downloadWith the help of grants through The Pokagon Fund and the Michigan Department of Transportation, the New Buffalo City Council is allowing conditions that encourages the spread of Oak Wilt Disease.  To rush through sidewalks on side streets, they authorized the destruction of the root systems of mature oak trees during hot dry weather leaving these trees compromised and vulnerable to disease.

Hopefully, Mayor O’Donnell and Council members Ennis, Robertson, Knoll, and Spirito will attend the free presentation in Chikaming Township to discover the need for responsible leadership in preserving the natural beauty of our large shade trees. Although City Council member Robertson can claim their decision to destruct mature oak trees on city property is legal, it is morally wrong.  

Attend the Free Presentation on October 19, 2017

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone ….

“Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone …
They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em”
Joni Mitchell

Trees lining streets slated for sidewalks funded through grants by the Michigan Department of Transportation and The Pokagon Fund.  To appreciate the destruction by the City, take a look at the hacked up roots of big old red oak trees on Clinton, Marshall, Monroe, and Eagle off of West Detroit Street.  It is surreal.

By next year, many of these fine old trees might be dying or dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Stop the saws! Smart gardeners should not prune oak trees past April 1 to ensure their trees don’t succumb to oak wilt disease. Avoid pruning until November.”  http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/stop_pruning_oak_trees_now_to_avoid_oak_wilt_  

The destruction of native red oak trees by the City Council’s rush to
install sidewalks includes Clinton, Marshall, Monroe, and Eagle with Chicago Street next.  Without first waiting until the dormant season in November or consulting experts from the DNR, Michigan State Extension Service or a reputable arborist service, this destruction might lead to a costly community wide epidemic of oak wilt.

This disease is in areas of Michigan near New Buffalo. Once a tree is infected, it cannot be saved with the disease traveling easily from diseased trees to healthy ones. Smart municipalities interested in keeping the disease out of their communities educate homeowners to prevent trauma to the trees and prune them carefully during the cold dormant season when the beetles carrying the disease have died out. Compromised trees, such as the ones currently being molested for the Safe Route to School sidewalk grant process are infected first.

According to Roger Mech, Forest Health program specialist for the DNR Forest Resources Division, oak wilt is a serious disease of oak trees that mainly affects red oaks, including northern red oak, black oak and pin oak. Red oaks often die within a few weeks after becoming infected. White oaks are more resistant; therefore, the disease progresses more slowly.

Once an oak is infected, the fungus moves to neighboring red oaks through root grafts. Oaks within approximately 100 feet of each other – depending on the size of the trees –  have connected or grafted root systems. Left untreated, oak wilt will continue to move from tree to tree, progressively killing more red oak over an increasingly larger area. As more trees die from oak wilt, more spores are produced, and that contributes to the overland spread of oak wilt.http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10366_54559_10402-409559–,00.html

“A spreading fungal disease is threatening to wipe out tens of thousands of oak trees in the state of Michigan, prompting the formation of a new task force to curb its spread.

The Oak Wilt Coalition, led by the Arborculture Society of Michigan, is aimed at raising awareness of the destructive potential of oak wilt and methods of preventing its spread. Others in the coalition include  the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan State University, ReLeaf Michigan, and electric utilites and tree care companies.”
http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/08/23/oak-wilt-michigan-trees/594703001/

Trees

BY Joyce Kilmer

A tree killed by Oak Wilt

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

(and only fools kill trees)

Photos of Clinton, Marshall, Monroe, and Eagle taken Sunday, September 24, 2017

First they lacerated the roots on one side of this oak but that wasn’t enough, then they did the same to the roots on the other side, making sure the roots were well damaged on both sides. (I believe this is on Marshall Street) as are the ones below.

Root damage to this mature oak.

 

Below is a large oak on the corner of Monroe and Detroit.Due to the hot dry weather, many trees like this one are already stressed.  Adding to it is the chopped roots left by the destruction by the City.  All for sidewalks the majority of residents on the tree lined streets don’t want.

For the love of trees!

You don’t have to be a tree hugger to shed a few tears for the trees the City is destroying for sidewalks most homeowners don’t want nor need.  While the entire Safe Route to School grant is under investigation for possible fraud by the Michigan Division of the Federal Highway Administration, the City couldn’t wait for final ruling before destroying trees.  If the ruling is against the city, federal funds could be withdrawn.

At the September 19, 2017 city council meeting, Council member Mark Robertson stated the following during member comments at the end of the meeting. “Contrary to some people’s belief, this council does not make any decisions prior to a council meeting.  That would be illegal, and I would know because I am on it.  We don’t make decisions based on rumors and gossip. I just wanted to say that.” This is reminiscent of Mayor Migs Murray, who back in October 2013, made almost the identical statement.  While following the letter of the law, there is a slippery moral slope that Murray’s council slid down just as Mayor O’Donnell’s is doing now.  Gossip and speculation begin when the council lacks transparency but ends only when the truth finally surfaces as it always does.

Without the council holding a single public hearing prior to the Safe Routes to School grant request in 2014 or after major revisions in 2015, the sidewalks are being installed without a public input process documented with minutes accessible to the public. The lack of transparency in this process led to speculation that is now a reality. The truth is, the city council never intended to try to save beautiful mature trees or if they couldn’t save them, remove the trees and the roots in a responsible manner.  Instead the city council is allowing the roots to be so severely damaged, the trees will die leaving shadeless sidewalks.  But here’s the rub, some of these trees appear to be on private property while the roots are on the city’s easement. Council member Robertson can rest righteously assured that the City might be within it’s legal bounds to destroy the roots that rest on public property while the homeowners will be legally responsible for the expense of removing the dead trees.  Legal, yes, moral, no.

Take a look at some of the trees the City is destroying.

News 57, said it all…and said it well…

It appeared obvious at last night’s meeting that outside an open meeting, the mayor and four council members were made aware of the direction City Manager Dave Richards is taking the police department because not one of them questioned him or the agreement he made to force ‘former’ Chief Larry Pitchford into an early retirement.  While the council members and administrative staff are in the know, residents and police department employees are left in the dark.

Below is a link and text to the story from last night’s meeting by News 57 reporter, Sara Rivest. Ms Rivest provided excellent coverage, highlighting a general public perception that due to a grudge against Pichford, it might be another city employee behind this new direction that rids the city of a well liked police chief.

Watch the 57 news video and read the text.
http://www.abc57.com/news/longtime-new-buffalo-chief-of-police-out-of-the-job-some-speculate-he-was-forced-out

NEW BUFFALO, Mi.—  It was standing room only as the New Buffalo City Council approved the separation agreement for Chief Larry Pitchford. Many are speculating, it didn’t start off as a mutual decision.

Pitchford, who worked for the department for over 40 years, wasn’t there but many others were looking for answers.

“One of the things I can say that was bothering him is that he isn’t here to watch out for his guys and it’s a family,” says Ezra Scott.

Scott is a Berrien County Commissioner and close friend of the former chief.

“He should have been able to go out on his own terms. The city manager said ‘we are going to move the police department in a different direction’ and he ‘wasn’t part of the plan,’” says Scott.

City Manager Dave Richards wouldn’t say what led to the dissolution of the partnership. He could not comment on it since it’s a personnel matter.

Some speculate it all stems from an issue regarding surveillance videos taken in August of 2016.

We first told you about this story back in October of that year.

A city employee was allegedly caught on camera making threats about other city workers. Chief Pitchford reportedly discovered the tapes and brought them to city officials. Several months ago, a judge proceeding over the case ruled Pitchford did the right thing.

“A city employee wanted some bad things to happen to a couple different people and I was one of the people that was mentioned,” says Donna Messinger.

Messinger is a former city councilmember who chose not to run for reelection after last year’s controversy. She was among the few people who were able to view the video.

“Chief Pitchford was also one of the people talked about on the video. So the city employee has never had a liking of him and wanted to have him terminated so my belief is that’s why he was terminated at tonight’s meeting, that’s why he’s gone,” says Messinger.

Ray Kirkus is a former member of the city’s Planning Commission

“I think it’s very odd. There were no issues with the chief as far as I know and he’s been here for 40 years. It’s my understanding he was trying to retire anyway. So I think it’s ironic that they would pull this kind of shenanigan put him on administrative leave and then scramble for some sort of separation agreement,” says Kirkus.

The city can’t say yet where it plans to take the department without Pitchford.

 

 

Here’s to you Chief

Forty years, Where’d they go?

So many memories, so many official duties, all ended when City Manager Dave Richards, wet behind his ears and new this year, told Chief Larry Pitchford to clean out his desk and hit the road.

Mayor Lou O’Donnell and his four city council members will decide the fate of Chief Pitchford at the Tuesday, September 19, meeting at 6:30 pm.


Neophytes Council member Ennis and Robertson, with less than a year under their belts, along with Council member Kroll with not much more, will vote to either support the rookie city manager or stand with the four decade law enforcement official veteran, putting the City at risk no matter how they vote.

Without explanation, City Manager Richards says the City is moving in a new direction that leaves the Chief hittin the highway. But whatever the direction, Richards doesn’t seem to understand risk management since firing the Chief leaves the city with great financial exposure.

The City Council is still embroiled in two baseless lawsuits, brought about because they either don’t understand or refused to follow the Freedom of Information Act, the law that requires transparency. One suit they already lost and the other will most likely be dismissed soon. The court ruled against the City because the Council denied a valid Freedom of Information Act request just to protect their recent hire, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh. In the other losing suit, the city was required to defend Pitchford, his assistant Diana Selir, and former Council member Donna Messinger due to a baseless $840,000 lawsuit brought against them by Ashbaugh. Since Ashbaugh included me in that suit, I filed a third party complaint against the City because it is responsible for Ashbaugh’s suit in the first place. A year ago, Ashbaugh brought an ethics complaint against Pichford, and after the city spent $10,000 on that case, Ashbaugh lost while clearing Pitchford’s record. Now, due to another baseless decision by Richards, the city might find it embroiled in a much larger age discrimination suit. 

Regardless of their vote tomorrow night, it is doubtful that City Manager Richards made the decision to fire the Chief without consultation. Whoever was involved in secret discussions will sit back and watch Richards fry.  He will stand alone to defend his actions and define the new direction the City is taking that requires firing the city’s longest term employee without cause, violating state and federal laws as well as the City’s own policy.  While Richards sits on the hot seat, the current city council members, who can’t be bothered with transparency, will sit on their hands, never admitting their part in the scheme.

 

 

As Yogi Berra said, Deja Vu all over again

It’s Deja Vu all over again, first the fateful Oselka Park, now the ill conceived Safe Route to School (SRTS) sidewalks.

The beginning of the fateful Oselka Park

The beginning of the fateful Oselka Park

Oselka Park was sold to us as giving local residents their own haven, SRTS was thinly veiled as giving local kids a safe path to school.  We now know that neither was true, the then city council lied to us about Oselka Park, the current council lied to us about SRTS, both projects were used to line the pockets of contractors instead of making good on promises.

 

Oselka Park, at a price tag of approximately 2.5 million dollars was completed on the cheap with cracking walkways, invasive phrogmites choked rain gardens and a pavilion that has limited use as a refuge for red wing black birds.

Facilities at Oselka Park

Facilities at Oselka Park

 

 

Invasive phragmites in Oselka Park

Invasive phragmites in Oselka Park

 

 

 

 

Oselka Park Garden

Oselka Park Garden

DSCN0281Safe Routes to Schools, at a price tag approaching 1 million dollars, is being hurriedly completed without residents collaboration or appropriate planning. Adequate street buffers would have required removing trees and landscaping, beautiful mature trees would have required analysis as to whether they could thrive or should be removed.  Instead, in the rush to get it done, roots were irresponsibly chopped, trees left to wither and die, cracking the concrete before the final fatality, leaving buckled sidewalks to eventually curve around dead tree stumps.  Aesthetics be damned, when the goal is to get it done, get the money.  While a crumbling sidewalk was left with a buffer of approximately 10 feet on the east side of Norton, a buffer on the west side measures as small as 18 inches in places.  Although residents were told the project would first be staked with time for resident input, the reality was there was no financial value in communicating with them.  Homeowners on Norton were left in the dark since 2015 about plans for their own street until the digging began.  The lack of aesthetic value might impact a home’s value but had little to do with the value of the dollars flowing to the contractors.

Below is the sidewalk framing on the west side of
Norton Street – approximately 18 inches to two feet
from the street.
DSCN0288

DSCN0289

This is the existing sidewalk on the east side of Norton Street – approximately 10 feet from the street.

City officials always look after the contractors while we pay the bills. Revisions to the Safe Route to School program were made two years ago, yet none of the city’s residents were invited to a meeting to learn about them, only finding out what was happening when they wake up to the sound of heavy equipment digging up their front yards. Are Mayor Lou O’Donnell and City Council members Liz Ennis, Mark Robertson, Mark Knoll, and Bobby Spirito so out of touch with the residents in the community that they were clueless about how shabby they treated them?  Are their constituents so devalued by these five people that they can’t comprehend what it feels like to be completely powerless in decisions impacting their yards and street? Or don’t they care because most of the people on Norton are either non voting second homeowners or long term locals, people the council members rarely encounter at the yacht club. Perhaps the five had a chuckle over the fact that they are the only ones that matter, making all the decisions. Local officials come and go but their interest in feeding the contractors stays consistent.  Oselka Park then, Safe Route to Schools now. Deja Vu all over again or as Yogi Berra also said, we made too many wrong mistakes.

Now it is the time, don’t just complain, do something…

Michigan Division Federal Highway Administration  https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/midiv/midivstaff.cfmDSCN0271
Theodore Burch: Theodore.Burch@dot.gov
(517) 702-1835
Kurt Zachary: Kurt.Zachary@dot.gov
Michigan Department of Transportation
Bryan Armstrong: Armstrongb@michigan.gov

 

DSCN0266The mayor and city council members appear to only care about the quality of the work in the downtown project but could care less about our neighborhoods. For those of you who do care about the appearance of our neighborhoods and do not approve of the shoddy workmanship of the new sidewalks, contact the Michigan Division of the Federal Highway Administration and Michigan Department of Transportation.  We ended up spending over two million dollars for the shoddy work at Oselka Park, we don’t have to submit willingly to the shoddy work of these sidewalks that will cost nearly one million dollars.  Tell the state officials that the citizens of New Buffalo do not find this acceptable.  The sidewalks are too close to the street, the roots of mature trees are being chopped up, routes around trees will end up with cracked and buckled sidewalks. Add that the citizens were unaware of what was happening with the project with no communication from the city since 2015, before all the revisions were accepted by the city council and MDOT.

We do deserve better. Mr. Burch promised me an investigation yet he is allowing this shoddy work to continue.

 

New sidewalks, New Buffalo style

Mr. Burch,

In 2015, then Planning Commission Chairman Pat Fisher requested to then City Manager Rob Anderson that the SRTS grant be brought in front of the Planning Commission to provide a public hearing and discuss impact to the master plan.  Anderson would not allow the Planning Commission review, leaving out a public hearing and master plan review as required by the Michigan Planning Enabling Act.   Perhaps if there had been a public hearing, the residents on Norton Street would be aware that new sidewalks will not be replacing their buckled, crack and crumbling sidewalks  There has been no communications with the public since 2015.

Below are pictures of sidewalks that are being installed on Bronson Street between Detroit and Clay.  We were told in 2015 that it was unsafe to put the sidewalks too close to the streets.  As there are no curb and gutter in New Buffalo, there is no barrier between cars and sidewalks with sidewalk framing being placed anywhere from less than 12 inches to 24 inches from the street.

The sidewalks (above) between Detroit and Clay are not needed for children to walk to school because they don’t lead to any schools. They must be in the plan just to line the pockets of contractors.  The sidewalk in the picture below runs along side the park on Bronson between Indiana and Detroit, curving around to the left onto Detroit, leading right to the school yard. The sidewalk that veers to the right leads to the sidewalk that is being install on Bronson between Detroit and Clay, leading to nowhere.   Note that the sidewalk that swings left around onto Detroit is extra wide and not too close to the street.  If there were any children walking to school from Norton to Indiana, to Bronson, they would automatically turn left on Detroit to go to school because it is safer and quicker.  No children will use the sidewalks above because they take the kids away from the school not towards it.

We were told in 2015 by April Morrison-Harke, that the sidewalks would not be placed around mature trees, that the trees would have to be taken down and the sidewalks placed in straight paths.  Below is the framing of a sidewalk on Bronson between Indiana and Detroit across from the park.  In the picture, you can just see the sidewalk in the park across the street, note it is at least 10 feet from the street.. In the picture below, the framing for the sidewalk butts up against mature trees, cutting through roots and going around the trees   with less than a foot between the street and the framing in some places.  The mature trees will buckle or crack the sidewalks trying to get moisture and air then eventually die. This is extremely cheap, sloppy work.

Below is a picture of the framed in sidewalk alongside a city owned lot right next to Indiana between Norton and Jameson, with only inches between the framing and the street.  Last year I let the city know that Japanese Knotweed was growing there. It is illegal in Michigan to introduce it yet this past summer, the city cleared the lot so many of the invasive rhizomes were most likely buried and could easily break through concrete.  It is also unknown where they hauled the dirt today from the lot. .  https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/knotweed_BCP_372280_7.pdf                                              

 The grant request was sloppy, with many streets included that led to nowhere.  So many revisions were made without public input or discussion that it was a surprise when we found out about the sidewalk on Norton being only on one side of the street and the sidewalk on Bronson between Detroit and Clay.  I am sure that if the Planning Commission had reviewed this project, they would have questioned the validity of both decisions.  The poor workmanship continues with the framing of the sidewalks, too close to the street, butting up against mature trees, chopping up root systems of mature trees, and plans to install a sidewalk on property that was identified to have invasive Japanese Knotweed.

I still hope to hear from you.  This project should be shut down immediately before more tax dollars are wasted.

Susan Gotfried
New Buffalo, MI