Category Archives: City

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

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?

 

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

Kick him when he’s down

At their September meeting, the New Buffalo City Council members appeared agitated with residents who weren’t satisfied when the council voted to force an early retirement on Police Chief Pitchford because they legally could without comment or debate, strongly suggesting they had fully discussed this in advance.  Pitchford intended to retire in November so City Manager Richards’ rush to push the Chief out now because he is ‘moving the city in a new direction’ rings hollow since this week Richards advertised for a new police chief, same position, new personnel.  Perhaps it was simply part of the City’s recent austerity measures to save the City some cash on a gold watch and retirement party for a well respected employee of over forty years but most likely it was something else entirely.

Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh appeared to have Chief Pitchford in his sights since he first submitted to City Manager Rob Anderson a Request for Investigation  on September 29, 2016 that began a $10,000 ethics investigation into Pitchford’s behavior on the job.  Ashbaugh Request for Investigation  And although Pitchford was cleared of any and all wrongdoing by Attorney Sara Bell and a vote by Council members, there are many people who believe the forced early retirement of the Chief was a byproduct of some unresolved resentment toward the Chief.

On September 2, 2017, Berrien County Judge Wiley reaffirmed his previous ruling made a month earlier that the incriminating videos of Ashbaugh were public property. But Ashbaugh always blamed the police chief for handing the damaging public surveillance videos over to City Manager Anderson as evident by filing a baseless federal lawsuit against the Chief for illegal wiretapping after the ethics complaint failed.  Knowing that lawsuit will become moot when the videos are made public on Monday, Ashbaugh used his time on TV 57 to his advantage.

downloadDuring a TV 57 news segment on September 2, 2017, while Ashbaugh held a pity party for himself, he couldn’t resist kicking Ptichford one more time.  While interviewing Ashbaugh, the reporter held up an August 26, 2016 memo from City Manager Anderson to Pitchford reprimanding him for questionable behavior in his handling of the public surveillance videos.  The interesting aspect of this memorandum was it was supposed to be expunged from Pitchford’s personnel file after the City Council accepted the results of the November 2016 investigation presented by Attorney Sara Bell clearing Pitchford of all wrongdoing.  Sara Bell’s Report (note page 6 of the report)

How was it that Ashbaugh had a copy of Larry Pitchford’s expunged reprimand?  If it had been left in Pitchford’s file, Ashbaugh would have had to complete a FOIA request for it just like any other citizen.  But as of June 20, 2017, only myself and Rusty Geisler had requested a copy through a FOIA request and although I received the document, I knew it had been legally expunged and that I shouldn’t have been given it.  After reviewing Bell’s report, the mayor ensured the document was no longer the part of a public record.

I only requested the document because I was being hounded by a man identifying himself as ‘oldsmokinman@aol. com.  He had a copy of Pitchford’s reprimand memo and was insisting that I put it on my blog.  I would not publish the memo but tried to determine this person’s identity by completing the FOIA request. How did old smokin man and Asbaugh receive a copy, and why did they want to share it with the public  since the City Council voted in November 2016 to accept that Pitchford had acted ethically and according to the standards of City policy? Ongoing grudges most likely.

Below is one of the email threads between me and oldsmokinman@aol.com. After I sent this email, I never heard from him again.

From: sgotfried@comcast.net
To: oldsmokinman
Date: July 16, 2017 at 5:41 PM
Subject: Re: Your hypocrisy is as great as your partisanship.

As I said, I need to know how you got Larry Pitchford’s reprimand before I post it.  I am not going to post a document that was illegally gained.  There are only three ways you could have gotten a copy, one being through a FOIA request; you didn’t get it that way, two; you are a city employee and took a copy out of his file’ or three; you are a friend or relative of an employee of a city employee and they took a copy out for you.  Only one of these three ways are legal.

Since this dialog started between us, I reviewed the video from the November 15, 2016 city council meeting when Attorney Sarah Bell stated that after her ten thousand dollar investigation, she found that Chief Pitchford had completed his job duties according to established city protocols and that she found no behavior that was considered unethical or unprofessional – after that, Rob Anderson was supposed to expunged it from Pitchford’s file.  The reprimand did not accurately reflect the Chief’s performance according to Ms. Bell.  The city council voted unanimously to support her and the contents of her report, this means they agreed that Pitchford had done nothing wrong in the way he handled the video and followed the correct protocol as established by the city since the video equipment was first installed.  There are two ways that the reprimand has continued to be in the Chief’s personnel file.  Rob Anderson never took it out as directed by the vote of the city council or an employee of the city made a copy of it when during the two and a half months it was in his file and put a new copy in his file after Anderson removed it.

I invite you to watch the video of November 15, 2016 for your own confirmation of the findings of Ms. Bell.  She was quite explicit that Pitchford did his job correctly and ethically.

The risk management company attorney representing the city in Ray Kirkus’ FOIA court case recently conceded that the videos made through the public surveillance equipment last August are public information instead of their previous position that the videos were a private conversation – now they are claiming that the refusal to release them to the public is due to the privacy clause of the Freedom of Information Act.  I have no doubt that this will be ruled against because even Ashbaugh stated in a public document that the conversation was absolutely work related – work related conversations by city employees within city hall, whether documented on a video, through an email, or even if texted are public property.  It is only time before you will be able to view Ashbaugh and Lembrix on a you tube that will be all over the internet.  And perhaps there is nothing on those videos that is bad behavior although Ashbaugh was reprimand by Anderson for his behavior on the public videos.  (By the way, Ashbaugh would have included Anderson in his lawsuit against me and the others if Anderson had used an illegally recorded conversation as the basis of a reprimand.  Ashbaugh’s omission of Anderson supports my defense).

But since the city attorneys who first maintained the videos were private conversations are now conceding that they are actually public helps me since Ashbaugh is maintaining that it is an illegally recorded conversation.

Do you really think I have an obligation to give praises on my own blog to a man who is suing me for $210.000?

On July 16, 2017 at 4:48 PM oldsmokinman wrote:

My latest “submittal” which I’m sure you’ll have a very ethical reason not to post.

 

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.

 

 

He ain’t out of here after all…

congrats-cakeCity Manager Rob Anderson has a unique position with the city thanks to the cooperation (some would call it coercion) of Mayor Lou O’Donnell.  It turns out that Anderson will not be terminated nor will he resign, he will be “released” after four to six weeks depending on how long Anderson decides to stay.  It will give him another month or so of income while preparing for his new life and selecting his replacement.  A brilliant move by Anderson who has never received a performance evaluation by the men who are more than willing to give him anything he wants.  But wait, that of course would not be enough of a good thing. Since Anderson has O’Donnell eating out of his hand, he might as well add frosting to the cake.

As you recall, Anderson resigned at the September meeting before he realized he would not be eligible for a severance package so he quickly went into action to protect his best interests. Although the city attorney is legally obligated to work for the city council, he drafted a “Severance and Release Agreement” for Anderson fashioned from the ones that were used for the termination agreements of former city managers, Geisler and Guetshow.  The contractual agreements used by the city for the city manager position requires a severance package if there is a termination but not for a volunteer resignation.  Anderson and the city attorney duped O’Donnell and fellow city councilmen into believing they were under the same obligation as was the councils that were required to provide severance packages in the past.  The councilmen foolishly wasted $25,000 plus the cost of three months of health benefits so Anderson can smoothly transition into private life (not to mention the income he will be drawing for the next month or so while he finalizes his future plans).  How dumb are they?  andersons-severance-and-release-agreement

Add a sugar flower bonus for Mr. Anderson

Add a sugar flower bonus for Mr. Anderson

It is amazing that the mayor could feed into the smooth talking Anderson so easily, making one wonder what other financial obligations will be signed by O’Donnell that will benefit Anderson as he “wraps things up.” Anderson got his cake and frosting too but maybe there are a few sugar flowers to top it off yet to come.  If Mayor O’Donnell wins the election in November, perhaps Anderson will see the benefit in staying indefinitely since O’Donnell is an easy mark making the position of city manager a win-win for Anderson.

Walk like a turtle…September 11

http://chikamingopenlands.org/events/turtle-creek-site-walk

turrtle-creek

Turtle Creek Site Walk

September 11, 2016 from 1:00pm to 2:00pm

Protect Turtle Creek Campaign: Help Us Preserve 12 Acres of Woodland and Wetland in New Buffalo!

Learn more about the project here.

Come see it for yourself! Join Land Protection Specialist Ryan Postema on Sunday, September 11 at 1:00 p.m. for a guided hike through the property, located at 12255 Lubke Road, New Buffalo, MI. We’ll meet at the parking lot of the New Buffalo Elementary School on Lubke Road.

To RSVP for the walk, please contact Ryan at rpostema@chikamingopenlands.org or (269) 405-1006.

http://chikamingopenlands.org/events/turtle-creek-site-walk

Why a recall on Mayor Lou O’Donnell – trust, a five letter word

law and ethicalMayor Lou O’Donnell refuses to enforce or he ignores state laws, local ordinances, and city policies, losing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars by listening to City Manager Rob Anderson.  This is why there is a November recall election against him.

August 21, 2016

To: City of New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell

Copied to City Council Members Messinger, Spirito, Kroll
Copied to Planning Commissioners Fisher, Valiquett, Kirkus, and Hullet
Copied to Robert Kemper

At the August 16, 2016 city council meeting, City Manager Rob Anderson laid the blame for the Department of Natural Resource’s denial of a concession stand and dune walk grant on the inexperience of the park manager and volunteer grant writer because they were unaware of the need for a public hearing and site plan review.

You must know that it is the responsibility of the city manager to ensure compliance with imagesplanning laws. Both Pat Fisher and Ray Kirkus told you at council meetings that legal protocols, such as site plan reviews and public hearings were not being followed by the city leadership. Although Mr. Anderson had plenty of time to contract for a $4,950 detailed rendering of a concession stand that exceeded grant requirements, he didn’t bother with the legal planning and zoning requirements. Ultimately, it is your legal responsibility to ensure his compliance to manage our city through legal protocols. Had Mr. Anderson complied with the state and local laws prior to the grant application being submitted, we would be in line for a brand new concession stand and an accessible dune walk. Instead, you allowed Mr. Anderson to waste $4,950 on a site plan that was incomplete then you allowed him to blame two innocent individuals instead of holding him accountable.

Since Mr. Anderson doesn’t understand the state planning process, it leaves many residents puzzled as to why you are committing yourself to change the city’s planning laws based on his recommendations. Your own planning expert, John Houseal, stated at a planning commission meeting that the correct protocol is for the completion of the master plan prior to changing zoning laws, not the other way around. With Mr. Anderson’s poor track record on planning procedural advice that cost the tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars, why would you listen to him and not Mr. Houseal? Your legacy could easily end up being a tangled web of continued lawsuits due to the ambiguity in the language of the changes. Instead of rushing into following bad advice, you and the other council members should have required a planning expert review of the changes and a consult with the Michigan Association of Planners to determine if the changes follow best practices in the field.

Mr. Anderson stated at a council meeting that a detailed site plan was not required for the projects but Chip Kosloski of the DNR wrote to Pat Donnelly that an Advance Notice or public hearing was required as part of a grant request as was a Site Development Plan that details the location of the project. Lacking these, the grants requested had to be denied.

michael-polzin-quote-we-have-to-follow-the-law-we-dont-have-a-choiceThe Michigan Planning Enabling Act requires that a planning commission must hold a public hearing before acting on a proposed plat. It must give notice to the applicant and adjoining landowners, as well as publish notice by newspaper of that hearing at least 15 days beforehand.

Mr. Kosloski, Grant Coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, Finance Division wrote “the primary concern is the advance notice. We need to see the copy of the advance posting that there would be a public hearing where the public comment on the grant application PRIOR to the city approving a resolution. You indicated that there was an agenda posted prior to the 3/15 meeting. Is this the City of New Buffalo’s standard procedure for public notice? To include the information on an agenda and post it publicly prior to the meeting? We still need to see the copy of the agenda. If the agenda cannot be provided for our review then this application could become ineligible and would not move on to the next stage of the review process.”

You should know our rules governing public hearings but if you don’t, you should be able to depend on the city manager to know them and follow them. Had you required Mr. Anderson to send the project review process to the planning commission, Pat Fisher, Ray Kirkus, and Ralph Hullet are all trained in laws that govern planning procedures and know a site review must be accompanied by a public hearing. Mr. Anderson will be hard pressed to provide a copy of an advance notice for the parking plan on Whittaker Street because there isn’t any. There was a request by Pat Fisher to hold a public hearing but he was rebuffed by Mr. Anderson while you again deviated from law by allowing a vote prior to a public hearing. The state will see this as a red flag for eligibility.

Street plans are currently being developed by the DDA but without a site plan review and publicworking by the rules hearing procedure, any type of public funding including TIF or bond issuance could be vulnerable due to lack of following legal state and local processes. The DDA is bound to the same legal planning requirements as the city.

There were at least five times since Mr. Anderson was hired that the city did not follow the correct legal process concerning site reviews and public hearings.

  • Safe Routes to School sidewalk program
  • Sidewalk variance request by a couple on Mayhew Street
  • Merchant Street Cottages site plan changes
  • Concession stand and dune walk grant request
  • Whittaker Street parking plan 

laws due to populationThe taxpayers have a right to know if you plan to continue to disregard laws and policies and if your intentions are to continue to change local planning laws each time Mr. Anderson prefers to change them instead of following them. Through example, Mr. Anderson is training new employees, volunteers, DDA members, and even council members to disregard state laws, local ordinances, and city policies. Besides not following planning laws, there are three civil rights complaints filed with the state because either you or Mr. Anderson did not follow the city’s nondiscrimination policy. These will add to legal fees for the city and could also impact the city’s ability to receive state and federal funding. Hiring a full time attorney to defend Mr. Anderson’s reckless behavior is not a prudent response to a city manager who disrespects due process. politician-recall-illo-chris-whetzel-940x540

The public’s inability to trust you or Mr. Anderson to be responsible for upholding andmt complying to laws and policies has led to the bond referendum in November. We cannot be sure that you will require compliance of the law or the stated purpose of the funding since your own track record for the past 19 months as a council member is weak in law and policy compliance. At the September meeting, please reassure the public by first putting a moratorium on any zoning changes until the master plan is completed and the changes can be reviewed by a planning professional then publicly acknowledge that you intend to require Mr. Anderson to comply with all laws and policies. It is the only way you might be able to regain public trust and put our city back on track for funding that will be essential for the improvements needed in the city.

Sincerely,
Susan Gotfried

 

There isn’t going to be funding for beach improvement

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informed City Manager Rob Anderson that his grant request for a new beach concession stand was denied because he and the city council did not follow proper protocol.  follow the process

State and local laws require that the city must have a current master plan before applying for government grants.  The laws require that every city site plan be reviewed through a public hearing process by the Planning Commission to assess compliance with the master plan.

master planLou O’Donnell, Bobby Spirito, and John Peterson violated state law when they authorized Anderson’s grant request for a beach concession stand.  Had they bothered to read state and local laws, they would have known Anderson was misdirecting them when he did not first require the master plan completion and review by the Planning Commission.

For a year and a half, the men on the council have allowed Anderson the blah blah blahfreedom to sue the Planning Commission, harass local residents, block the drug store drive up window, waste tax dollars, hold an illegal tribunal, focus attention on a downtown plan, and obsess about changing ordinances instead of focusing his attention on helping the Planning Commission complete a master plan.  Since the council members will be completing a performance evaluation on Anderson next Tuesday, this should be the council’s number one priority.

Instead of focusing their attention on getting the city back on a master planning process, Anderson is recommending that the council members waste more time on Anderson’s obsession to change zoning ordinances prior to completing a planning process. As the council’s  own planning consultant advised them, they need to complete a master plan prior to changing zoning ordinances. Since Anderson badly misled them on the state’s requirement for municipal planning,, to be accountable, the council members should read the laws themselves prior to moving to support his recommendations.

gobbledygookState law requires that any projects funded through government funding complete a bid process for work completed.  DNR frowned on the city council contracting with Bill McCullum to provide a concession stand rendering without due process.  They wasted $5,000 in tax dollars on the rendering that will have to be scrapped if the city reapplies for government funding – the rendering was completed through a non-bid process. The appearance of quid pro quo is a nonstarter for government funding.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) presented parking plans to the Planning Commission but without a master plan, there was no way the members could assess compliance.  That certainly didn’t bother most of the members of the commission, council, or city manager.  They disregarded all processes laid out in state law that includes a master plan, public hearing, or findings of fact.  If they seek government funding for the parking site plan, they will again be denied funding due to not following laws.   Other municipalities conform to state laws but for some reason Anderson and the men on the council do not believe the laws are meant for them.

The solution for the city council is that at their Tuesday, August 16 nomeeting they disregard Anderson’s distraction to change zoning ordinances and direct him to ensure the completion of a master plan in six months.  They should authorize the Planning Commission to immediately hire a planning professional of their choice to help them complete the master plan then following proper protocol, the DDA can resubmit their proposal for parking and the Park Committee can submit a concession stand plan to to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and review of the plans against the requirements of the master plan.  During these processes, the commission’s planning professional can provide them with a professional report that includes findings of facts for the city projects with recommendation to the city council.  With the proper procedures followed, New Buffalo has a good chance to be competitive for government funding.

We must hold the men on the council accountable for allowing the city manager to waste a year and a half on gobbledygook.  His distractions, double talk, and misinterpretations of laws must stop or our city will never move forward.  There were those who tried to talk turkey with the council and credit should be given to City Council member Donna Messinger and Planning Commissioners Pat Fisher, Ray Kirkus, and Ralph Hullet.  Had the councilmen listened to them, we might have the funding for a concession stand and our parking plan would be ready for a competitive grant process.

 

 

Stuff they don’t want you to know

do you know what open government isWhether it is intentional or due to a lack of knowledge, City Manager Rob Anderson continues to disregard the law when making important decisions for our city.  His current indifference is to the Open Meeting Act (OMA).  Maybe he doesn’t understand the importance of transparency in government or maybe he would rather do business through emails and in secret. He certainly did not reveal that he had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Victor Ciardelli until a Freedom of Information Act request was filed. Truth

When several Planning Commissioners violated the Open Meeting Act by voting through emails instead of at an open meeting, Anderson did not address it until another member of the Commission complained.  

After reprimanding the Planning Commissioners for violating the law by voting on-line, Anderson solicited votes on-line from the City Council members requesting a decision of  how to proceed with the Planning Commissioners violation.  transparency is respectCity Council member Donna Messinger had to remind him that he too was violating the law and that no council member should respond on-line or they too would be violating the law.

While the concept of open, transparent business should not be elusive, Messinger seems to be the only council member who  understands the law.  Perhaps it isn’t that they don’t understand the law but that they value the ease and comfort of conducting business like usual through emails or behind closed doors as more efficient and less confrontational.    

At the July council meeting, Messinger tried to discuss the issue openly while Anderson tried to shut her up by telling her the emails were “hush hush”. But she “pooh poohed” that and stuff they don't want you to knowcontinued to try to enlist the men on the council into a discussion of the issue.  Evidently that conversation falls within the “Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know” category because none of them had much to say allowing Anderson to bury himself in an attempt to maintain control. First, his excuse was that Mayor O’Donnell had decided prior to the public meeting not to pursue the matter making it a moot subject for his buddies on the council, a City Charter violation by O’Donnell.      

Then Anderson said that he sent out an email to members of both the commission and council offering an on-line Open Meeting Act tutorial.  Although a very casual way to address repeated Michigan law violations, that wasn’t even the truth. None of the members of either the commission or council received any such email prior to the meeting. 

government-cloak-of-secrecy-open-governmentAfter the do nothing council had an opportunity to conduct city business through an open meeting, County Prosecutor Mike Sepic had no choice but to step in and have an adult conversation with City Attorney Matt Derby through a letter sent to him a week after the men of the council sat on their hands.  Sepic is requiring the city to produce a written corrective action plan that includes real Open Meeting Act education with a subtle threat that no action might result in criminal charges. Normally a letter of this type would be addressed to the city council but with the no action council, Sepic had no choice but to take it to the one person in our city government who might take breaking the law seriously. The men on the city council refuse to hold City Manager Anderson accountable for his actions leaving him to become more egregious in his disregard of laws.

open local governmentWithout compliance to the Open Meeting Act, we must rely on one or two elected or appointed officials to be the squeaky wheel or we would be unaware that voting is being conducted through emails or behind closed doors. Relying on those individuals or the oversight of county or state officials is not the way to run city hall.  We are being cheated out of our right to open transparent government and instead of getting angry at the people committing this breakdown of good government, fingers are pointed at those reporting it.  The dysfunction and casual disregard of laws at city hall becomes our dysfunction while the only avenue for people to seek justice is to file complaints to county or state officials. If only Anderson and the men on the council followed the law and city policies, we would eliminate the need for an annual legal budget of a half a million dollars just to defend the misconduct by our local leaders.  It should be embarrassing to Anderson and the men on the council to be reprimanded by Sepic through a letter to the city attorney. But Sepic couldn’t trust that Anderson or the council would seriously consider real education of the city volunteers as a priority on their to do list. In fact, after the July meeting, it was erased from any list by offering an on-line session to those who wished to comply. 

What is more troubling is that noncompliance to local and state laws has become a pattern for both the men on the council and their hired manager. Eventually, the other violations will catch up with them with reprimands or fines from other government officials.  Some violations could jeopardize state and federal funding since many grants are tied to law compliance.

transparency, openNow the men on the council want to disrupt the check and balance provided through zoning laws by taking over all land use decisions even though their disinterest in reading and understanding the ordinances lead to continued misuse of city resources. 

When they were elected, it was all about transparency and inclusiveness but their propensity for secrecy and power leaves us only to wonder what their election was really about.   On Tuesday, August 16, they will  have the first reading of a zoning ordinance change that will consolidate all city decision making under them and City Manager Anderson.  Being that the majority of the council is made up of members of the New Buffalo Yacht Club, could their hurry to take over land use decisions have something to do with the Club’s best interests?  Our only hope is that the few city officials who value and respect laws will continue to grease the wheel. 

Outdoor Movies at Oselka Park?

Bay City, Michigan

Bay City, Michigan

We spent last week-end in Bay City, Michigan where a local theater provides outdoor movies every Tuesday and Friday evening with an inflatable screen along side a hill at a riverside park.  It was a great place to meet and greet friends and neighbors while munching on popcorn then dancing  and singing along with the songs ingrease Grease.

Wouldn’t watching, munching, laughing, singing, and dancing be a great repurposing of the sledding hill at Oselka Park during the long hot summer?

 

dancingdancing two

Donna Messinger, your presence will be missed…

hometown herosIt isn’t often that we elect a person who truly reflects democratic representation for the residents of New Buffalo, someone like Donna Messinger.  After November, the residents will miss her sense of fairness.  She is the only city council member who votes according to principled decision-making instead of friendships.  And she is the only one who takes on the city manager when she catches him in a lie or skirting laws.

It is obvious that Donna is the only member of the council who reads the monthly agenda packet from front to back, attending meetings prepared with questions and concerns directed at the city manager or fellow council members.  In response to her thoroughness, the city  manager becomes defensive while the council members rebuke her.  Wading through these distractions, Donna maintains her composure and continues her direct line of questioning causing the men to wonder why she can’t be more like them. Fortunately for us, it just isn’t in her DNA.

When residents email complaints or concerns to the city manager or council members, Donna requests a resolve to the issue. She believes all complaints or concerns should be treated equally, deserving investigation and/or resolution.  Donna  is the only council member who treats all residents equally, not based on friendship or status in the city. Recently she was chastised by the mayor when he suggested that she was losing her friends because she was representing the people the mayor referred to as troublemakers.  Troublemakers or not, Donna represents all of us.

Donna’s sense of values will not allow her to disregard laws, ordinances, or city policies and she is the only council member who routinely questions the business practices of the city manager. Had her fellow councilmen followed her lead instead of listening to the questionable practices of the city manager, they would have saved $230,000 by not suing the Planning Commission and they would have saved $20,000 instead of pursuing a baseless lawsuit against a private citizen.  If the council members had questioned the city manager as did Donna, a Planned Unit Development (PUD) would have complied to zoning laws and  civil rights of citizens would have been respected.  There would be a master plan in place and the city manager wouldn’t have been allowed to direct new members of the Planning Commission to violate their own policies.  And while Donna continues to catch the city manager in one lie after another, the other council members are not interested in his reckless use of money on vendettas, lies to the council, or violations of laws.

We can only hope there will be someone elected in November with the same principled beliefs as Donna.  Someone who does not allow friendships to take the place of reasoned decision making.  Someone who seriously prepares for meetings instead of attending with the goal of cutting them short. Someone who is not fooled by the well educated but fast talking City Manager Rob Anderson.  We need more elected officials like Donna who bring with them the capacity to see beyond friendships and manipulations, who understand the future of the city has to be vested in following laws and not in a developer’s dream or pocketbook. We need value packed leadership because our city’s future depends on it.

 

As went Detroit, so might go New Buffalo – community planning gone awry

When City Manager Rob Anderson was Planning and Development Director in Detroit, the City Council, not the Planning Commission  had final say in land use deals.  He would like the same in New Buffalo and has set a vote for the City Council to change the zoning ordinances at the Tuesday, July 19 Council meeting prior to any public hearing on the issue.

Hantz WoodlandsWhen millionaire Investor John Hantz wanted to purchase 180 lots of public land in Detroit near the developing riverfront and next door to prestigious Indian Village for $300 a lot, Anderson was his go to man. The plan was pushed by Governor Snyder and his emergency manager. Detroit residents pushed back, labeling the deal a “land grab”.  An alternative was to utilize HUD funds so the land could be used for urban farming by low income residents.   This community based use of the land was supported by Detroit’s Planning Commission but their protest was pushed aside by Anderson while he wooed the City Council into compliance. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shea-howell/hantz-land-deal-detroit_b_2278718.html

For Anderson, it was easier to convince a majority of the City Council than the Planning Commission and with barely enough votes, the deal was sealed.  Hantz has acres of once public property that he planted with hardwood saplings.  As the trees mature, Hantz will be able to profit from the sale of the hardwood while leaving nicely shaded lots that will enhance resale value.  And it couldn’t have happened without the millionaire’s good friend, Planning and Development Director, Rob Anderson.

Now it is millionaire investor Victor Ciardelli’s turn to benefit from Anderson’s control of landVictor use as the two put their heads together and Anderson signed a nondisclosure agreement with him.  With the goal of complete control of land use deals coming as soon as the vote at Tuesday’s council meeting, it opens the door for Ciardelli to begin benefiting from Anderson coming to town.  Any land grab or large variations for building requirements for the Fountain Square property will be controlled by the Council, not the Planning Commission.  Since the Council is putty in Anderson’s hands, it is a win, win situation with Ciardelli’s go to man accomplishing sweeping changes in New Buffalo’s local laws in the short 15 months since he touched down in our small but gullible community. Without requiring an in-depth impact analysis, public hearings or a findings of fact by Anderson, it is an irresponsible of the Council to make a move that will change the entire planning structure of our city.

A better plan is for the Council to allocate funding to the Planning Commission to hire a planning professional who can help them make ethical, legal and community supported decisions concerning land use decisions.  The relationship between Anderson and millionaire Hantz in Detroit is well documented yet he appears to be on the cusp of doing the same here with millionaire Ciardelli.  Since actions speak louder than words, why not look at his history instead of his promises?   As went Detroit, so could New Buffalo go – and very soon.