Category Archives: Mayor Lou O’Donnell

The curious lack of curiosity of the city council

City Manager Richards pulled the plug on recording city council meetings.  With some of the comments made at these meetings, one can’t blame him for not wanting the taxpayers to know what is being said.

curiosity 2At last night’s meeting, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh said he is down three employees so he was requesting the city council authorize him to bid out the mowing of the park and marina for $15,000 a season.  Without any curiosity or questioning, the city council approved the request.

Later in the meeting, Council member Ennis stated that there are over 60 homeless students in the school district.  And city data reveals that the mean income in New Buffalo is $43,000 with a poverty rate of 14% yet the street supervisor can’t find anyone to cut grass for $15,000 a season even though the city has the equipment needed to do the job.

The $15,000 for a part-time summer job to mow lawns is more than a third of the mean images (11)income of the taxpayers living in New Buffalo.  With all those folks living on the streets or in poverty, there must be people qualified to work part-time cutting grass.  Aren’t any of the council members curious as to why the street supervisor needs to contract with a company to provide this service?  And aren’t any of them curious as to why there is a shortage of city employees?

The city was always considered a good place to work with competitive salaries and good benefits.  Residents without transportation can walk to work.  In years past, hiring taxpayers to fulfill those jobs was always a priority.  It provided employment for residents and good employees for the city. Could the shortage be due to people no longer wanting to work for the city?

images (12).jpg When Street Supervisor Ashbaugh chose to sue two of his co-workers, a city council member and a private citizen because he didn’t like them questioning his behavior or maybe he just didn’t like them, it created a hostile work environment based on fear.

City Manager Dave Richards was quoted in the South Bend Tribune belittling the training and professionalism of the city’s lifeguards who put their lives at risk to save others.  One can’t help but understand why the lifeimages (1).pngguards would choose to work elsewhere. If Richards is willing to disparage these young professionals, one can only believe he does the same to other employees. ‘Richards questioned the strength of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project training, too, which he said was “a couple of hours and it’s not even in the water.” He also said lifeguards often didn’t focus on the job and sometimes quit before the summer season was done. “They’re just young kids that we have to direct constantly to look at the water and not at their phones,” Richards said. South Bend Tribune

At last night’s meeting, I thanked the young man who identified himself as last season’s lifeguard manager.  Although he bravely and articulately defended himself and his team to Richards and the others who don’t value their important contribution, he should never have been put in the position of having to defend the importance of first responders.

 

City Manager Richards can’t pull the plug on free speech

Although City Manager Richards would rather conduct the city council meetings in private, he can’t pull the plug on citizens choosing to share public information over Youtube.

Why did the beach revenue decline?

images (8).jpgAccording to the city’s draft budget for fiscal year 2018/19, there is a predicted $77,124 decrease in beach parking, marina, and boat launching activities from fiscal year 2015/16 to 2017/18. There is an actual decrease of $146,472 in the first ten months of fiscal year 2017/18.  The predicted 2020 budget shows an overall decrease of $42,124 in beach revenue from 2016. This four-year decrease of income is after all the clamor of increasing tourism due to the costly downtown redevelopment project and last year’s increase in the daily beach parking fee from $10 to $12 that the city employees requested.  Should we be asking if there is an actual decrease in revenue generated or is there a decrease in revenue making it to city hall? Park Budget Page

In 2013, the New Buffalo City Clerk was convicted of embezzling $92,000 of beach revenue over a two-year period from fees collected at the beach parking lot and boat launch.  After this incident, the city’s insurance provider, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) worked with Police Chief Larry Pitchford on developing policies and then funded a security surveillance system that included audio video cameras that were placed in the business offices at city hall to monitor employee activities.

Through an ethics complaint and several lawsuits centered around the surveillance cameras monitoring inappropriate employee activity, the city employees somehow convinced the city council to first disconnect the audio surveillance oversight and then to move all the equipment oversight from the police department to the employees who were supposed to be monitored.  It is anyone’s guess if the cameras are active. A change in policy earlier this year that was promoted by the employees who are supposed to be monitored, was adopted by the city council, allowing the employees to destroy video recordings after 30 days.    The changes took the city back to pre 2013 conditions.

Recently, City Manager Dave Richards pulled the plug on the  audio and video recording of city council meetings.  Since January 1, 2018, the residents are being kept in the dark. Special meetings are held the day after they are announced, with employees only providing sketchy details about the reason for these meetings.  When there is a requirement for employees to post a public notice, sometimes the announcement is sent to the Detroit Free Press for publication.  The city council was manipulated by their employees who successfully gained control of both the information leaving city hall and the monitoring of their own activities.

Why would the beach revenues be dropping after a multi million dollar downtownimages (1) revision?  Instead of being concerned about keeping the meetings short, Mayor O’Donnell and the other council members should spend some time asking the employees some hard questions.  Of course, due to City Manager Richards pulling the plug on recording the council meetings, even if the council members asked the questions, we would never hear the answers.

FYI:  In Tuesday’s council packet, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh is requesting $15,000 to contract with a lawn service to provide mowing at the parks.  The first question is why is the street supervisor instead of the park supervisor making this request?  The second question should be, why doesn’t the city provide a part-time summer job to a city resident instead?  I would mow the grass during the summer for $15,000.    Request for mowing.jpg

 

 

 

Transparency is Ethical Government

transparency.jpgIf desiring transparency, City Clerk Vander Clay would be more forthcoming in her announcement for tomorrow’s special meeting that only stated that the business to be transacted as ‘Authorization to apply for a Pokagon Grant.’  If the city leadership plans on applying for money through The Pokagon Fund to pay for lifeguards, no wonder Vander Clay is keeping it a secret.  The funding for the lifeguards should be  coming out of our taxes and if it isn’t there, we not only need to take a hard look at how they are spending money at city hall but object to a grant application for a service that should be provided through the city’s annual budget.

Voters approved a four million dollar bond five months ago for street repavement and 1124811.pngalso renewed a special park improvement fund that provides $100,000 in park revenues every year.  The city also received 1.6 million dollars from the Pokagon Fund for the downtown development project. On top of that, the city receives annually at least $300,000 from the Four Winds Local Revenue Sharing  Board. And one can’t forget that in 2016, before the city even raised the parking rate at the beach from $10  to $12 per day, $245,000 was collected.  We all thought the lifeguards were paid through the annual park fees.  Where exactly does that money go?  It has been years since any improvements have been made at the beach even though over one million dollars has been collected through the park improvement millage fund since it was originally approved through a public vote in 2008.

With all these additional revenue sources, it’s not crazy to think the city should provide us with the services our city taxes are supposed to be used for, especially since the majority of tax revenue comes from the higher rates of non-homestead properties.  Every week we are informed by city employees of another belt tightening budget cut that reduces our services.  Even a mere $4,000 to record public meetings had to be eliminated, now the lifeguards, perhaps with any luck certain administrative positions at city hall will be next.  The administrative team could be part-time during the winter months. And why did the city council approve an additional 14 sick days in December 2017 for City Manager Dave Richards when he was an employee for less than a year? Evidently that wasn’t a belt tightening issue and the city council members can say no to public safety at the beach but not to a new employee requesting over two weeks additional time off.

A news release in an article on the 57 News website stated that City Manager Dave Richards said that the City’s risk management insurance provider suggested that lifeguards provide a potential liability.   New Buffalo to eliminate lifeguards

Since the city street supervisor:
filed a baseless lawsuit against three other employees and a private citizen,
was the reason for a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the city lost,
filed a frivolous ethics complaint against the police chief that cost the city $10,000,
caused $5,000 in damages to a city vehicle when he ran it into another vehicle,
and is the center of at least one MI Civil Rights complaint filed against the city,
it seems that the city’s risk management insurance carrier would be concerned with the liability caused by him. At the very least, the city council members should be more concerned about the continued liability issues caused through an employee instead of a concern about a possible liability issue caused by lifeguards. The lifeguards save and protect lives and haven’t caused any liability issues.  Their funding should be a no brainer for the members of the city council.  One death due to not funding the lifeguards will be laid at their feet.

 

It’s not a blame game, it’s accountability!

accountablityWe, the people of the City of New Buffalo, Berrien County, Michigan, in order to procure the fullest benefits of local self-government under the Constitution and laws of the State of Michigan do hereby ordain and establish this Charter.’ Preamble of the New Buffalo City Charter

The City Charter is our own ‘Constitution,’ enacted over fifty years ago when the city’s leadership took the village to city status, laying oversight of the Charter’s laws in the hands of the elected city council members.   It is a grave responsibility for not only the elected council members but also the city administrative staff who are accountable for the enforcement of the Charter.

Today, City Clerk Lori Vander Clay violated the Charter.  She announced a special City Council meeting for tomorrow morning through an email blast instead of posting it on City’s website. She stated the business for the meeting as ‘New Business.’  The City Charter specifies in Section 3.6 that ‘no business shall be transacted at any special meeting of the Council unless the same has been stated in the notice of such meeting.’ Unless Vander Clay posts the new business that the council members are to vote on 18 hours prior to the special meeting, any vote taken will be void. It violates the Charter.  Charter Amendment

This appears to be a further attempt by city employees to disenfranchise the taxpayers download (3).jpgfrom city business.  First they moved public safety video equipment from police oversight to the city manager, then they changed policies that weaken surveillance of possible fraud or embellishment, and finally disconnected the live streaming of public meetings.  These were all victories by the employees to build a secretive wall between them and accountability. Why would they work so hard to accomplish public work behind closed doors?

Vander Clay is disregarding another section of the Charter.  Section 3.14 states ‘the proceedings or an abstract of the proceedings of the Council shall be published on the official website for the City of New Buffalo, once within fifteen days after each Council meeting.’ Section 3.14

This section of the Charter was fulfilled by the live stream recordings of the public meetings. Since Vander Clay and other employees took it upon themselves to discontinue the recordings, this requirement is not being met.  It is another violation of the Charter and another wall between the employees and accountability to the taxpayers.

images.jpgThe real problem appears to be that the kids at city hall have no adult supervision.  The elected city council members are shrugging off their legal duty of oversight for the Charter – our own Constitution. The continued disregard by the Council emboldens the employees to do as they wish without surveillance or oversight. When we allow this to continue, the accountability shifts from them to us.  It’s not a blame game, it’s accountability.

 

 

 

 

 

Plans and Budgets

In the fall of 2015, Becka Shipp applied for the street supervisor position in New Buffalo. Although well qualified with an engineering degree, Tony Ashbaugh was given the position after Downtown Development Authority (DDA) chairman, Robert Kemper gave him a strong recommendation.  Knowing that Shipp was a qualified catch, then City Manager Rob Anderson convinced the city council to create a part-time engineering position to lure Shipp to stay. His proposal was that a staff engineer would save the city tons of money by not having to contract with expensive contractual engineers.

During a good part of 2016, Becka Shipp was charged with developing a detailed and well researched Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that included streets, water, and sewers. She prioritized projects for a five year budgeting process based on need and condition of the infrastructure item to be improved or replaced and then assigned a price tag to each project with projected annual increases for planning purposes. The five year plan was not overly ambitious, ensuring that budgeting could become part of the annual planning and budgeting process indefinitely. Shipp’s goal was for resurfacing streets to become a routine budget line item until all the streets were resurfaced. From there, annual resurfacing and repair would continue through routine annual budgeting so the city streets would never be in the condition they are today, with all of them needing replacement all at once.  This type of long term planning and budgeting was  lauded by the city council members and this appeared to be a new direction for a new council. In March 2017, the council approved the plan, giving the city manager and Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh time to obtain street resurfacing prices for the 2017 budget. It is unclear if the proposed expenditures ever made it into the budget because the Mayhew and Merchant resurfacing planned for 2017 never took place.  Capital Improvement Project

Below is the Capital Improvement Program for 2017 – 2021 announcement that was posted on the city’s website in March 2017 (note that the plan is for five years with a number of streets to be resurfaced each year).

Below the 2017 – 2021 plan is another resurfacing plan currently posted on the city’s website, this one prepared by Abonmarche, one of the high price contractual engineering firms that was to be eliminated through the hiring of a staff engineer.  The city council, city manager, and street supervisor apparently ignored the budget plan for street resurfacing by the staff engineer. In less than a year, they authorized a new resurfacing plan that lacked the planning and budgeting aspect of the first plan.

It would be interesting to know if the water and sewer projects in the five year Capital Improvement Plan are making it into the plans and budgeting by the city or if they too were ignored after being approved.  It appears the city leadership might have reverted back to authorizing projects without the benefit of budgeting or long-term planning.

MARCH 2017 POSTING ON NEW BUFFALO CITY WEBSITE

Capital Improvement Program 2017-2021
On March 21, 2017 the City Council voted to proceed with obtaining prices for resurfacing various streets in New Buffalo.

The priority projects include:

East Clay Street (Kinzie to Bell) – Rehabilitation, 2018
North Eagle Street (Merchant to Water) – Resurfacing, 2019
East Indiana Street (Whittaker to Bronson) – Resurfacing, 2020
South Mayhew Street (Detroit to Michigan) – Resurfacing, 2017
West Merchant Street (Berrien to Willard) – Rehabilitation 2017
West Water Street (Berrien to Willard) – Resurfacing 2021
North Willard Street (Railroad to Water) – Resurfacing, 2021

MARCH 2018 POSTING ON NEW BUFFALO CITY WEBSITE

The City of New Buffalo will be completing street resurfacing as part of a Street Resurfacing Project for 2018. 

  • Water Street from Willard Street to west of Eagle Street
  • Eagle Street from Water Street to US-12
  • Willard Street from Water Street to Washington Street
  • Oselka Drive from Willard Street to Whittaker Street
  • Clay Street from Willard Street to Whittaker Street
  • Merchant Street from Thompson Street to Wilson Road
  • Norton Street from US-12 to Clay Street

public participation.jpgFYI: Although it appears that City Manager Richards and Street Supervisor Ashbaugh are trying to follow the requirements for a Natural Trust Fund grant to build restrooms at the beach, they just don’t get it.  The Fund’s requirement for a public hearing process is to elicit public input and support.  This would require a posting of the public hearings, not just including the hearings as part of a council meeting agenda.  The concept is that public participation adds to the development of public projects.  When the residents are invited to a public hearing by the administration, it gives the administration an opportunity to articulate how the project fits within the Recreation Plan (another requirement by the Trust Fund) and provides the public an opportunity to provide valuable input. A win, win for both the administration and the residents. Perhaps this is yet another example of the city employees trying to shut out the public and their voices.

P.A.T.I.E.N.C.E

The following video contains a message about patience from Mayor Lou O’Donnell and Mayor Pro Tem Liz Ennis to Donna Messinger.

Mayor O’Donnell and Mayor Pro Tem Ennis, Donna Messinger has patiently waited for action by both of you and the other council members ever since she viewed a city surveillance video that caught Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh speaking about a gun, a city employee, a city council meeting, and Messinger – all in the same sentence.

images (7).jpgIn December 2016, she filed an ethics complaint against Ashbaugh for his inappropriate language and one against O’Donnell and Council members Kroll and Spirito for doing nothing when she requested action by them.

In January 2017, Mayor O’Donnell told Messinger there would be no investigation of her ethics complaint until a FOIA lawsuit concerning the Ashbaugh videos was resolved.  In August 2017, the city lost that case.

In December 2017, Messinger again requested that the City Council investigate her ethics complaint, taking O’Donnell at his word.  But the Mayor wasn’t as good as his word and there was another excuse to wait, this time for Ashbaugh’s lawsuit against the city to be resolved.

March 2018, Ashbaugh dropped his suit, Messinger attended the council meeting, and no word from the Mayor or any of the Council members images (9).jpgaddressing her long awaited ethics complaint while promises were made but never kept.

Why must Messinger wait when the Council spent $10,000 so Ashbaugh’s complaint against former Police Chief Pitchford could be investigated the month he brought it to the Council?  Is it because Messinger is a woman or because her ethics complaint includes Mayor O’Donnell?

This issue is not going to die and it will be rehashed over and over until the council members take complaints made by women as seriously as the complaints made by men.

Censorship by City Employees, New Buffalo Style

Have you ever noticed that the only correspondences to the City Council that are included in their monthly meeting packet are ones that compliment the city employees?  At the February council meeting, Mayor Lou O’Donnell read two letters included in his packet out loud, one from former city council member Donna Messinger complementing Ken Anderson for work well done.

images (2).jpgBut when Messinger sent a correspondence critical of city employees to City Clerk Lori Vander Clay requesting that she add it to the Tuesday, March 20 agenda packet, it wasn’t included. The letter was critical of city employees because they disconnected the live steam video recording of council meetings.  Even if Messinger attends the meeting and reads the letter during public input, the people at home, will never hear it or see it and of course Mayor O’Donnell will not be reading it at the end of the meeting since Ms. Vander Clay did not include it into the packet. In Messinger’s letter, she reminded the City Council that it was through her vote along with others on the City Council that directed staff to begin live streaming all public meetings so it remains up to the Council to debate and vote to rescind that directive if they no longer want the public seeing or hearing what they are doing.

It is not up to the employees to rescind the policy  decisions of the elected officials.  This is yet another example of how the employees gained control after Street Supervisor  Tony Ashbaugh download.pngfirst threatened and then filed a frivolous lawsuit claiming illegal wiretapping but later dropped it when he knew he couldn’t win.

On Friday, March 9, at 10:13 am, I sent City Clerk an email.
 Ms Vander Clay,
Attached is a letter to the city council that I am requesting that you forward to the mayor and council members and include in their March 20, 2018 council packets.  Please let me know today if there is any problem with fulfilling my request.    
    Have a nice weekend.
     Susan Gotfried
     New Buffalo, MI 

This is the letter that I sent but was ignored by city employees, ensuring the councilimages (1).jpg members never received the letter addressed to them.  

March 9, 2018

TO:  Mayor O’Donnell, City Council members Ennis, Spirito, Robertson, Kroll
From:  Susan Gotfried, City of New Buffalo resident

CC:  City Council March 20, 2018 meeting packet

From the City Charter:  Section 3.1. General power. The government of the City, and all the powers thereof, except the judicial powers, shall be vested in the Council. The Council shall exercise such powers in the manner and through the agencies provided by law; shall exercise the management and control of all municipal property and the administration of the municipal government whether or not such powers be expressly enumerated in this Charter. It shall pass upon and secure the performance of any act necessary to advance the interests of the City, the good government and prosperity of the municipality and its inhabitants; and shall make all laws which may be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers granted to the City by law.

The Charter states that the management and control of the city lies with the council, not the employees.  The council is vested to carry out laws and to make laws.  It is an enormous responsibility of power.

Recently, the city employees overturned the policy of the council to video stream all the public meetings and stopped the practice as of January 1, 2018.  This resolution was passed at an open meeting by elected representatives so employees do not have the authority to change it. This power lies with you.

One of the reasons that the council requested the voters change a section in the charter dealing with publishing the proceedings of the public meetings was because they were posting the proceedings on the city’s web-site.  The voters believed that the video streaming took care of the requirement by the charter to post the meetings proceedings within 15 days of the meetings.  This charter requirement has not been fulfilled for any of the public meetings since January 1, 2018. Ensuring that the charter is not violated lies within your power. Section 3.14. Publication of Council Proceedings. [Amended November 13, 2015]

The new policy for storage of surveillance videos contradicts state law and the city’s record retention policy that requires electronic data to be stored at least ten years.  The new policy allows for deletion of the information in thirty days.  Ensuring that local laws do not contradict state law is within your powers. 

The employees have removed or disarmed the surveillance video camera overlooking the side parking lot.  This is documented through my request twice for video recordings of the parking lot and told they do not exist although my request was within the thirty day limit stated in the new surveillance video policy.  That camera was one of the reasons that the MMRMA provided ten thousand dollars for city security.  It was to protect the lives of the police officers and provide evidence if there was any attempt to cause harm to police officers or their vehicles.  And the decision to have the surveillance equipment installed and the locations of the camera, was approved by the city council at a public meeting so any disbarment or removal would need to be through a council motion.  Changing the placement or disbarment of cameras lies within your power.

Mayor O’Donnell was video recorded telling Donna Messinger that her ethics complaint would need to wait until the FOIA suit against the city by Ray Kirkus was resolved.  After the city lost that case, she again requested that her ethics complaint be addressed by the council.  She didn’t hear back from any of you even though the council spent $10,000 on the unsuccessful ethics complaint by Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh against then City Police Chief Larry Pitchford.  Ms. Messinger, a private citizen, should receive the same right to pursue an ethics complaint as described in the ethics ordinance as an employee of the city.  Treating all citizens equally and enforcing the ordinances lies within your power.

The 2016 and 2017 city financial statements show that funds were moved from the voter restricted park improvement millage funds to the dredging fund.  The employees indicated to the auditor that an improvement to the park was accomplished by dumping the spoils of the dredging onto the beach. Since the power of overseeing the millage funding lies with you, find out if that was true. If the dredging had nothing to do with the parks and was funded by private donations, why was money moved from the restricted park millage funds and put in the dredging fund.  Where did that money go?

A 2017 article from the New Buffalo Times states the following. All clean spoils, sand, removed from the channel are delivered to the south side of the channel to replenish beaches along Dunewood and Sunset Shores, which have been negatively impacted by the 1975 construction of the harbor break wall. This requirement is part of the original contract with the USACE.  The 2017 dredging will be funded by private funds that have been voluntarily donated to the City’s Emergency Dredging Fund (EDF)

As far as audio/video recording, new technology allows you to provide quality recordings with a computer, camera and microphone.  There are people in the community that most likely could help the setup through volunteering or a small fee. 

Sincerely,

Susan Gotfried
New Buffalo, MI

 

Donna Messinger speaks about transparency

Below is a letter to the editor in the Harbor Country News from former City Council member Donna Messinger.  Donna was motivated into running due in part to decisions being made by City Council members during hurriedly scheduled meetings with few if any citizens in attendance.  The Council did not audio or video record their meetings, leaving the public uninformed for a month until the minutes were finally made available.

images (4)When Donna and the other new Council members made a commitment to sharing public information, it was greatly enhanced by video streamed meetings. This move for a more inclusive government was a public services for people who could not attend the meetings. Shut-in elderly, parents with small children, second home owners, evening shift workers or citizens who traveled all were encouraged to be included in  public discourse through the resolution Donna helped pass.  It was greatly appreciated by many of us who wish she was still on the Council. She never swayed from her commitment to transparency or representing the citizens instead of herself. 

Letter to the Editor from Donna Messinger
Harbor Country News – March 7, 2018

When I was elected to the City Council, one of my most earnest campaign pledges was for more transparency at city hall, It became a reality when I voted with the majority of the council members for a new policy to provide live video stream of all public meetings.

I received many thanks from residents who said that they usually did not have the option to attend meetings but never failed to view the proceedings on the City’s web-site. I was proud of helping to increase transparency and government participation.

 This is why I was so disappointed to read that the city employees took it upon themselves to disregard the public meeting streaming resolution passed by the elected City Council. Because we made that policy at a public meeting it cannot be changed behind closed doors by City employees.

I can only hope the majority of the City Council members understand they hold the responsibility of both making and overturning policies at public meetings and that they take this issue up at their March meeting. The public has a right to public input and to hear the debate by their elected representatives concerning this important issue of transparency. Nobody can possibly think that $4,000 a year for the upkeep of the video streaming equipment is too high a price for open government.  

 Sincerely,

Donna Messinger
New Buffalo

Lies are lies city employees

hot button issueCity Clerk Vander Clay and City Manager Richards maintain the $4,000 annual fee for video streaming the public meetings at city hall is too much to pay for government transparency. They apparently defied a council directive and decided on their own to remove our access to viewing public meetings from our homes.

City Clerk Lori Vander Clay’s legal requirements for minutes is primarily to only download.pngrecord resolutions and votes by the council, giving her a great deal of power. Informative public discourse is not recorded unless Vander Clay makes a personal decision to include it – based on her personal preferences. There are many important community issues presented at public meetings that never make it into Vander Clay’s minutes. Richards’ and Vander Clay’s decision to stop broadcasting the meetings ensure nobody but the handful of people who attend the meeting will ever hear what actually takes place at them. Lies are lies, and their decision is about retaining power because knowledge is power and has nothing to do with cost.

With new technology, live dysfunctial-teamstreaming is cheap and City Manager Richards and City Clerk Vander Clay should be trying to increase transparency not eliminate it. Below are comments from two blog readers that debunk the misinformation by city employees.

images.jpgNew Buffalo Blog reader John stated. ‘As a going on 4 year resident in NB, I really appreciate your blog. and FYI, you can easily record city council meeting with a webcam and laptop, a decent microphone and a cheap USB audio interface will give you very detailed audio. If i was doing it ( I have been a professional audio engineer for over 20 years) I use 2 different pieces of software to record it so the audio and video are saved separately, the only catch is to do it right someone would need to physically operate it , the hardware and software costs not including the laptop could be had for $1000.00 the majority cost being a decent microphone. not sure on the human cost, but you could probably find some good taxpaying Samaritan who owns all this stuff who’d do it for free……’. (As a public service, John might be very helpful)

New Buffalo Blog reader Greg stated. ‘Susan, How-live-streaming-works
they wouldn’t need media level equipment, the mics and soundboard are your biggest costs, mid-tier hardware will last years as long as it’s taken care of and the cost would not be outlandish, maybe $1000 if they shop around. The cameras shouldn’t cost more than $100 to $150 each. People are putting out HD quality content using Logitech webcams, tablets and phones. Domain registration if needed is $12 a year, hosting/storage services can be found for as low as $10 a month, cheaper if you pay annually, or Youtube or Facebook Live for basically nothing.

Below is the Youtube presentation of the Dearborn Heights Council meeting.  Note that the content of the discussions, presentations, comments, and debate would not make it to Vander Clay’s official minutes in New Buffalo.  This democracy in action allows Dearborn Heights’ citizens to view the meeting live or store it for future viewing and share on Facebook. We deserve the same amount of respect for our right to transparency. The New Buffalo City Council should gather up their courage and overrule the staff.  Do the right thing for the public.

Dirty Tricks at City Hall

images (1).jpgFirst City Manager Dave Richards and City Clerk Lori Vander Clay took it upon themselves to violate a City Council directive to video stream all public meetings due to their apparent concern that $4,000 a year of your tax dollars was too high a price for government transparency.  This is after, thanks to the taxpayers, the entire city staff received an end of the year bonus and Richards was provided 12 extra sick days even though he hadn’t even completed a year of service to the city.  While using our money to eliminate our access to government transparency, they also violated the City Charter requirement to post Council proceedings within 15 days of the meeting.

The two of them also use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in an another attempt togpvernment secrecy obstruct government access while wasting taxpayers money. Without a policy or directive from the City Council , Richards and Vander Clay decided on their own to publish on the City’s website the names of citizens requesting public information while at the same time eliminating  public meetings from the website.

New Buffalo City Vehicle

The following is an example of how they waste their time and tax dollars in an attempt to hinder access to public information.  Here’s the background. On a sunny day in April 2017, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh plowed a city truck into a vehicle in downtown New Buffalo.  Although he admitted to Sheriff Deputy Richard Edgerle that he wasn’t paying attention while driving, ran a stop sign and caused over $6,000 of damage to the city vehicle, Ashbaugh wasn’t issued a ticket nor was he required to take a drug test. Ashbaugh did not get a reprimand and it was kept top secret by Richards and Vander Clay.  This is what led to an enquiry as to whether the city manager followed city policy and required a drug test since the sheriff deputy let Ashbaugh skate. Sheriff Report 

February 2, 2018, I completed a FOIA request ‘Please forward me a copy of proof that Tony Ashbaugh was screened for a controlled substance and/or alcohol on April 19, 2017 after having an accident with a city owned vehicle.’ 

February 8, 2018, City Clerk Vander Clay responded that the City had followed policy. FOIA Response 1

February 8, 2018, I completed another FOIA request stating that I had requested proof that Ashbaugh completed a drug test and again requesting the proof.

February 13, 2018, Vander Clay provided me with a copy of Ashaugh’s visit for medical attention due to the accident and worker’s compensation. FOIA Response 2

February 14, 2018, I appealed to Richards that I received the incorrect documentation from Vander Clay.

February 21, 2018, in a certified letter, Richards stated that my request was completed through the FOIA response from Vander Clay. FOIA Appeal Response

February 26, 2018, through a FOIA request I wrote the following to Vander Clay ‘Please forward me the results of Tony Ashbaugh’s drug test dated April 19, 2017. Include the invoice or bill for the procedure’

March 2, 2018, one month from my original request, Vander Clay finally provided me proof that Ashbaugh completed a city policy mandated drug test.  FOIA Response 3

download.jpgThese dirty tricks at city hall by City Manager Richards and City Clerk Vander Clay to deny our access to public information increases cost to taxpayers and are allowed, maybe even encouraged,  by the City Council.

Saving Taxpayers Money, New Buffalo Style

In December 2017, City Manager Dave Richards proposed to the City Council members download (9)that the city employees receive a taxpayer funded year end bonus.  Always eager to please the employees, the Council members rushed their approval. You can view it on the last city council live stream video allowed by the city employees.  By the way, Richards also requested additional paid sick time even though he had not even served a year yet,  Again, the council had no problem spending taxpayers money to support the employees.

images (5)Now the city employees are claiming a budget constraint that could only be eased by eliminating the live streaming of public meetings to save a measly $4,000 annually.  This time the employees didn’t bother with the Council’s approval.  They changed the policy on their own, perhaps in anticipation of a self-imposed Easter bonus.  Administrative staff continues to establish just who is in charge at city hall and it isn’t the people elected to represent us.

The way to have power is to take it

images (5)As reported in the Harbor Country News, when City Clerk Lori Vander Clay was asked  why the city was discontinue live streaming of public meetings, she replied “Because it’s a cost to us, $4,000 a year. It was a staff decision; we didn’t renew the contract.” Regarding why the City Council didn’t make this decision in an open meeting, she said, “We weren’t required to…..”

 

According to the Michigan Municipal League, the Council-Manager form of government requires that all legislative and policy powers are vested in the city council and the download (7)council employs a professional administrator to carry out the policies it develops. At a Council meeting in 2014, the Council voted through a new policy to video stream every public meeting and authorized the budget to support it.  It was left up to the City employees to carry out the directive. As far as legally overruling a policy set by a council, that duty is vested in the City Council who are required by law to make their decision at a public meeting.

City Clerk Vander Clay is incorrect, she is required by her legal duty to follow policy set by the City Council and does not possess any legal grounds to change policy on her own. But since the Council didn’t object to the rogue takeover by an employee of a City Charter power vested in them, the violation lies with them.   Vander Clay’s power play was a violation of the City Charter and the Open Meetings Act.

download (2).pngThe City Council’s decision to spend approximately $10,000 on audio/video equipment to provide live stream of all public meetings was to fulfill a campaign promise of more transparency.  The elected officials voted through the policy at a public meeting making it imperative that the only individuals who can change that policy are the council members who are accountable to the citizens who elected them.  And although City Clerk Vander Clay would like to do away with the democratic process, Abraham Lincoln addressed this in the Gettysburg Address when he stated democratic government is of the people, by the people, for the people.  What was good for President Lincoln and the last 155 years should be good enough for City Clerk Vander Clay and the elected officials who are actually in charge of the democracy in the City.

While the City employees are violating the city council policy to post the live stream meetings on the City’s website, they are also violating Section 3.14 of the City Charter thatimages (14) states that proceedings of the Council must be posted within fifteen days after each Council meeting. Let’s face it, the employees do not want to be accountable for their actions.  Too often, a private citizen will make reference to an archived meeting video that contradicts the current actions of both the Council and their employees that can be awkward and embarrassing for them.  Or a private citizens will rely on an archived video to support their claims against the City or its employees that can cause a reprimand or dismissal of an employee.  The employees might feel no remorse in violating State laws, the City Charter and local policies but they are no fools, if they can work without public scrutiny, they are accountable to nobody leaving the City ripe for abuse.

 

 

“I would recommend snow melt in every capital project involving sidewalks in a snowy area.”

It only makes sense for the leadership of New Buffalo to install a snowmelt system while they replace the sidewalks and streets downtown.  As Albert Camus said, “We can’t possibly change the circumstances of our future if we are fully satisfied with the circumstances of the present.’

Photos of downtown New Buffalo after the February snowstorm.

Photos of the downtowns with snowmelt systems, Holland sidewalks and streets, South Haven sidewalks only, and Grand Rapids, sidewalks only.

Take it from architect, and Sustainability Director of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, Jodi Smits Anderson, “I would recommend snow melt in every capital project involving sidewalks in a snowy area.”

1. Long-term Cost Savings
When compared to the costs associated with manual snow removal, snow melting can actually cost less in the long run. A 3,000 ft2 sidewalk snowmelt system cost the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) $50,000 to install and $2,500 a year to operate. Prior costs to manually maintain snow and ice were $8,500 for overtime labor, salt and chemicals, and interior cleaning. Using these numbers, this system begins to save the DASNY $6,000 per year after just 8 years. Payback periods can be significantly shortened if the system is also used to harness solar energy from the pavement.

2. Environmental Savings
Snowmelt systems eliminate the need for salts and harsh chemicals intended to remove and prevent ice. When the snow and ice melts and turns to water, this water transfers the salt and chemicals into the surrounding environment. This can lead to dead plants and salt laden runoff into streams and rivers. Reducing the use of chemicals not only saves money, but it helps the environment as well.

3. Preservation of Aesthetics
The use of erosive materials, abrasive snow removal methods, and thermal shock has harsh consequences on the aesthetics and lifespan of pavements. Furthermore, salt and chemicals are brought indoors via pedestrian traffic and can deteriorate interior flooring made of granite, carpeting, and hardwoods.

4. Safety
By not having to manually remove snow, you reduce injury liability for both staff and pedestrians. “Snow and ice removal is one of the most physically damaging aspects of facility management.” Liability can bear a huge cost when it comes to slip-and-fall accidents. Snowmelt systems can help reduce the liability risk for owners. This is a huge factor when one lawsuit could cost thousands of dollars.

The cost of a snowmelt system depends on many variables, meaning the payback period will be different for any specific system. It is important to look beyond the basic financial analysis of a snowmelt system and realize that there are many benefits that can drastically shorten the ROI.

 

Who wrote this policy anyway?

images (3)Although we all have the legal right to public information, on the city’s website, the city council posts a list of names of citizens who have made Freedom of information (FOIA) requests.  It is an attempt to create animosity toward the people who are seeking public information and an attempt to shame those making the requests to stop.  What the council members don’t realize is that if they were transparent in their actions and followed the law, there would be no need to attack citizens who seek the truth. If it wasn’t for the Freedom of Information Act, we would not know the following violations.

At the October 17, 2017 city council meeting, City Manager Dave Richards recommended that the council adopt a video surveillance policy that he said was written by Lock Master Security and the city’s IT providers.  There was no discussion and the only dissenting vote was Council member Ennis. The new policy became local law and the audio/video surveillance equipment was moved from the police department to City Manager Richards office.  There is no documentation to support Richards contention that anyone else but him was involved in writing the policy.  FOIA Video Surveillance Policy

At the city council’s November 15, 2016 meeting, Attorney Sara Bell told the city council “The Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the City is the logical person to watch or review these recordings if there is a concern, threat, or an alleged issue, particularly if criminal activity or inappropriate behavior is alleged.”  At the same meeting, the council voted unanimously to hire Bell to write a video surveillance policy for the city.  It appears that City Manager Richards ignored their directive and instead wrote a new policy that put him in charge and overruled the recommendation of Attorney Bell.

The saga of the surveillance equipment began in 2013, when then Police Chief Pitchford wrote a grant proposal to the city’s risk management insurance company, Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA)  for audio/video surveillance equipment. The grant request was awarded after Pitchford stated ‘The New Buffalo Police Department experienced a fire bomb attack on our department which is housed within the New Buffalo City Hall.  The fire bomb fell just short of the Police Department striking one of the department’s patrol vehicles then igniting under the rear of the vehicle then spreading to the parking lot,.  Minutes before this attack one of our officers had just cleared the station and resumed his patrol duties.  If this attack had been successful the officer would have had no idea the attack had just occurred and would have had no idea the Police Department and city hall was on fire.  A suspect was in fact arrested for this event and convicted in Circuit Court for Berrien County Michigan.”   MMRMA granted funds to provide the police department with both video and audio surveillance equipment to ensure the safety of the police force and the protection of city assets and to lessen expensive risk exposure.  City Manager Dave Richard’s new video surveillance policy violates the terms of the grant agreement, giving himself oversight authority instead of the police department, eliminates the audio equipment and compromises the risk exposure that was a requirement in the grant.

The state’s record retention law is the basis of the city’s record retention policy.  FOIA Record Retention Policy  The city’s Record Retention Policy requires electronic records todownload (4).jpg be retained for at least 10 years.  It also requires that documents not be destroyed if requested through the Freedom of Information Act until the request is resolved.  But Richards new video policy only requires the videos to be retained 30 days and does not address the FOIA requirements. Richards violated his own policy in January 2018 when he allowed the destruction of a surveillance video prior to 30 days when a FOIA request was made thus also violating state and local requirements for record retention. video request

Up until August 2016, the police monitored health and safety through the use of the surveillance equipment without a hitch.  But in August of 2016 Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh was recorded on the audio equipment using questionable language while working at city hall.  Since then he appeared to have a burning desire to impact the usage of the surveillance equipment. Through the actions of City Manager Richards and the men on the council, he succeeded.  The equipment is no longer there for the safety of the men/women in blue or the protection of city assets.  The equipment’s viability has been made impotent to ensure that no embarrassing or potentially illegal acts committed by city employees are audibly recorded and that any compromising videos can easily disappear without the protective legal enforcement by the police department.  This was the case of the video I requested in January 2018 of Ashbaugh harassing me in the parking lot next to city hall, Richards either made it disappear or else the surveillance equipment overseeing city hall’s parking lot was disabled. In either case, the city council should be concerned.  

download.pngIn October 2016, then City Council member Donna Messinger requested the men on the council do something about Street Supervisor Ashbaugh due to his statement caught on an audio/video surveillance camera ‘Hey Donna, when you’re bitching at council meetings, do you ever worry about Diana (Selir) shooting you?  It’s okay, she’s sane!’  (Laughter)  Although there was an expensive attempt by both the city and Ashbaugh to keep the audio/video out of the hands of the public, through Kirkus v City of New Buffalo, the public  recording had to be released.  Messinger again brought this issue back to the city council in December 2017 with no response although the city council and the city manager are violating the city’s Workplace Violence Policy by not addressing the issue. Perhaps the reason the council is so loathsome to those who seek public information is to continue their laissez-faire attitude concerning law compliance. Note that all the law and policy violations are due to one city employee. 

Workplace Violence Policy  ‘The City of New Buffalo recognizes the need to provide for the safety and security of all employees, contractors, customers and visitors. In doing so, the City is complying with Section 5(a), the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Therefore, the City will not tolerate threats, threatening behavior. or acts of violence (or any other intimidating or disruptive behavior) against employees, visitors, guests, or other individuals by anyone on the City’s property.  This includes ….. verbal or physical threats …’ 

While downtown New Buffalo sits in snow

While everyone on the DDA is focusing on the style of lighting for downtown New Buffalo, they are ignoring one of the most important upgrade that could increase the viability of the business community.  Other cities along the Lake Michigan coast realized years ago that installing a snow melt system, when making improvements, was a wise and profitable move, why not New Buffalo?

Grand Haven

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Democracy, New Buffalo Style

images (11)Mayor Lou O’Donnell and Council members Liz Ennis, Mark Kroll, Robert Spirito, and Mark Robertson allow a two tier system of government.  One tier is for city employees and the other is for the general public. City employees control the information and treat themselves differently than the general residents. If it wasn’t for the Freedom of Information Act, we would never know.

When City Manager Dave Richards completed a Freedom of Information Act request on September 20, 2017 for a surveillance video of the parking lot next to city hall because he thought some citizens might be making harassing statements about him, his employee, City Clerk Lori Vander Clay fulfilled it on October 4, 2017. This is when the police department had responsibility for health and safety at city hall.

Richards FOIA Request

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City Manager Dave Richards vs Citizen Susan Gotfried

When I made a Freedom of Information Act request four months later for a surveillance video for the same location as Richards’ request that would visually document Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh’s harassment of me, I was told by City Clerk Vander Clay that the video did not exist. This is after the city council gave City Manager Dave Richards sole responsibility for health and safety at city hall.

The City Council allows the city employees to engage in disregarding or violating laws to protect themselves and disenfranchise the public – the people who pay the bills.

My FOIA Request

Record Retention, New Buffalo Style

imagesAfter Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh harassed me in the city hall side parking lot on December 19, 2017 during a city council meeting, I made a report to the mayor and city council members the next day, December 20, 2017.  When I did not get a response, I made a police report on December 21, 2017 and Ashbaugh was warned to stay away from me.

I didn’t receive a copy of the police report until January 10, 2018.  Six days later, after discussing the continued harassment with my attorney,  I made a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the surveillance video from the side parking lot for a visual record of the harassment.   images (1)

On January 23, 2018, I received a reply from City Clerk Lori Vander Clay that the video surveillance recording of Street Supervisor Ashbaugh’s aggressive behavior toward me did not exist.  She sent me a copy of the city council’s newly adopted video surveillance policy that  states recorded videos are retained for thirty days. But the new policy also states that a video recording will not be destroyed when there is a safety or security issue warranting the retention of it.
video request

Through this new policy, the city council took safety and security authority of city property away from the police department and gave it to the city manager. Isn’t this ridiculous?  The new police chief if walking into a position with a devalued status by the city council members. One can only imagine the diminished morale of the police officers.

download (1)The police oversaw the report I filed and were aware of the email I sent to the city council members.  Had the police continued in their oversight responsibility for our safety when we are on city property, they would have retained a copy of the surveillance recording because it was important documentation of a potential law violation.  The police officers have a duty to protect the citizens while the city administration appears to have a duty to protect Tony Ashbaugh. It is interesting that the city council paid $900 for a new video surveillance policy that protects Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh while they previously paid approximately $50,000 in an attempt to keep a public video of him from the residents. This must be the only small town with boss rule by a street supervisor.

Michigan issues retention schedule #24 to city clerks.  The retention schedule requires adownload city clerk to immediately cease the destruction of relevant records when a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is made and that electronic records must be retained for over ten years. Since I submitted my FOIA request within the thirty day city ‘retention’ policy plus the State requires a 10 year retention period, it was a violation of the law that City Clerk Lori Vander Clay did not stop the destruction of the records I requested and penalties should be imposed.  At the very least, the city council should investigate this issue and give the safety and security of our public buildings back to the police officers.  Although the city council members don’t appear to understand this, the police are people trained and duty bound to care for our safety and security.

Below is from an introduction of the Michigan’s Retention Schedule #24 for City Clerks

Government agencies are responsible for ensuring that all of their records (regardless of format) are properly retained and remain accessible during this entire retention period. All records need to be stored in a secure and stable environment that will protect them from tampering, damage and degradation.  As a result, government agencies should work with their information technology staff to develop preservation plans for retaining electronic records with long-term (more than 10 years) retention requirements. Various laws (including the Records Reproduction Act, MCL 24.401-24.406) identify acceptable formats for retaining public records; agencies are responsible for understanding and complying with these laws.

Government agencies must immediately cease the destruction of all relevant records (even if destruction is authorized by an approved Retention and Disposal Schedule) if they receive a FOIA request, if they believe that an investigation or litigation is imminent, or if they are notified that an audit, investigation or litigation has commenced. If relevant records exist in electronic formats (such as e-mail, digital images, word processed documents, databases, backup tapes, etc.), the agency may need to notify its information technology staff. Failure to cease the destruction of relevant records could result in penalties.

No reply

At the December 19, 2017 City Council meeting, former City Council member, Donna Messinger requested the City Council investigate the ethics complaint she filed a year before on December 23, 2016 against Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh, Mayor O’Donnell and City Council members Spirito and Kroll.  When she first requested an investigation at the January 17, 2017 council meeting, Mayor O’Donnell told her due to a legal opinion by the city attorney, the complaint could not be addressed  until the Ray Kirkus Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) lawsuit was resolved. O’Donnell went on to publicly state that he believed the ethics complaint against him was “frivolous” although he authorized $10,000 for an investigation of a truly baseless and frivolous ethics complaint filed by Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh against then Police Chief Larry Pitchford.

Although Ashbaugh didn’t want two public surveillance videos to become public, one images (18)that revealed that he spoke about a co-worker shooting Messinger at a council meeting, the videos were made public in October 2017.  Based on O’Donnell’s promise to address her ethics complaint once the FOIA lawsuit was settled, Messinger in good faith again requested an investigation a year after the infraction took place. She heard nothing from the mayor or any of the four council members who didn’t bother to discuss the issue or contact Messinger.  This is truly disrespectful after stringing her on for a year, leading her on to believe they would investigate it.  It appears that a street supervisor’s concern about public videos becoming public is more important to the mayor and council members than a woman worried about violence against her. Let’s face it, the mayor and council members have realized they can ignore the concerns and issues of the public, protect the inappropriate behavior of employees and only focus on the issues their supporters care about.  Although Section D of the Code of Ethics ordinance states a public official shall treat all members of the public with professional courtesy, impartiality, fairness and equality, it appears none of the council members worry about their own ethics as long as their base supports them.

Below is the request made by former City Council member Donna Messinger.  Attached is her original ethics complaint.  Donna Messinger’s Ethics Complaint

December 19, 2017
TO:  Mayor Lou O’Donnell, Council members Ennis, Robertson, Spirito, and Kroll

At the January 17, 2017 New Buffalo City Council meeting, I requested my December 23, 2016 ethics complaint be addressed. Mayor Lou O’Donnell stated that the Council was advised by its attorneys not to comment on this complaint until Mr. Kirkus’ Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was resolved.  Mayor O’Donnell further stated that he believed my complaint to be ‘frivolous’. Because the Mayor’s opinion led to the Council not seriously considering a violent threat voiced by a male employee against the only female council member, it is now being investigated by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Although Mayor O’Donnell assured Council member Ennis that I was told that city attorneys had advised the Mayor not to address my complaint until Mr. Kirkus’ lawsuit was resolved, I never received any such communication. I request copies of that communication and copies of the opinions from the attorneys that advised the Council not to address my complaint until after the lawsuit was resolved. I don’t believe they exist. 

The Council members are ethically obligated to review the statement made by Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh concerning me. This statement can be found on the Sunday, August 7, 2016 public audio surveillance recording in city hall at 9:55 am when Mr. Ashbaugh used the key to the file cabinet in the front office to access a psychological evaluation in the personnel file of Diana (Selir), a female employee.  Then he stated ‘Hey Donna, when you’re bitching at council meetings, do you ever worry about Diana shooting you?  It’s okay, she’s sane!’  (Laughter)  At 14:27:26, Mr. Ashaugh said to Debra Lambrix who was also working in the office, ‘So they can listen in on us huh?’ and she replied, ‘uh-huh.’ Mr. Ashbaugh responded ‘if you’re listening, kiss my ass.’ Given that Mr. Ashbaugh understood that city officials could listen to the recorded conversation through electronic recording, I continue to contend that instead of trying to cover for a male employee’s inappropriate language concerning a female official, the Council had an obligation to address it at the time. My attached complaint still stands and I request it be resolved through the termination of the male employee because I don’t think it was frivolous nor was it innocent ‘locker talk.’

Donna Messinger

Sustainability

In 2015, Traverse City officials took their cue from the success of the heated sidewalks and streets in Holland, MI and in 2016 began plans for ripping out old sidewalks, replacing them with new snowmelt systems.  Much of the concern for cities bordering Lake Michigan is not only that a snowmelt system increases the economic viability of a city but also increases fresh waterway sustainability.  Pollution caused by salt runoff from deicing roads and streets harms water quality while increasing health issues for humans, animals and vegetation.

As a blog contributor stated on another post. “One would HOPE local officials would have been smart enough to seek out best practices, to emulate successful municipalities, to attend advanced MSU workshops on city planning, and/or to garner specific information to do the project well, using 21st century concepts, especially considering how much moolah they are expending. Does anyone on that council know how to replicate proven concepts? Has anyone on that city council conducted a site visit at Grand Haven, etc. to learn about such “advanced” municipal systems, to better an idea of how to improve their city? Or, do the NB council members just go about projects with their own limited, unskilled perspective, thinking they are grand because there is casino money at hand to throw at a project? Shameful ignorance of what COULD be (and I thought at least one of them had a degree).”