Mayor 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 planning 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.
The 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 public 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
The 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.
The public’s inability to trust you or Mr. Anderson to be responsible for upholding and 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.