Category Archives: New Buffalo

“That is it. It is plain and simple.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down

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

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

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

New York Times – December 5, 2017

NYT Article

Accepting Responsibility

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

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

Here is my response to them.

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

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

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

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

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

First segment of Tony Ashbaugh audio recording

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

stuff they don't want you to know

Tony Ashbaugh Recording

What’s this about?

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

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

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

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

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

Richard's FOIA_0004

Public shaming, New Buffalo style

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

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

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

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

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

The Safe Routes to School grant contained the following fabrications.

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

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

 

While Tony talked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disturbing Transcripts

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

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.

Here’s to you Chief

Forty years, Where’d they go?

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

 

As Yogi Berra said, Deja Vu all over again

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

The beginning of the fateful Oselka Park

The beginning of the fateful Oselka Park

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

 

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

Facilities at Oselka Park

Facilities at Oselka Park

 

 

Invasive phragmites in Oselka Park

Invasive phragmites in Oselka Park

 

 

 

 

Oselka Park Garden

Oselka Park Garden

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

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

DSCN0289

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

New sidewalks, New Buffalo style

Mr. Burch,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Gotfried
New Buffalo, MI

 

What’s a Lou to do?

imagesIt started out as a relationship made in heaven. Mayor Lou could keep his white hat while the black one fit newly hired City Manager Dave Richards perfectly. Early on, Richards arranged a meeting, with three female residents in attendance, he dazzled Lou with a display of bullying the women with a flourish of yelling as an added bonus.  Shortly after that exhibit of macho man, Mayor Lou recommended an unprecedented five year contract for Richards.

Since then, Richards been honing his bullying techniques with unprovoked yelling, bewildering those who are the unsuspecting recipients.  While letting the locals know ‘there is a new sheriff in town’ (???), he continues to make rash decisions, bully residents, and negatively impacts business practices in a resort town.  With penny pinching precision, Richards informed the Three Oaks Spokes that he expected them to slap down $500 for the privilege of having a Apple Cider Century sag stop at Lion’s Park.  No thanks was the reply, wiping New Buffalo off the biking map for the first time in 38 years. With one rash tight fisted move, without consideration for compromise, over five thousands riders will bypass our quaint city. By not budging, the ‘my way or the highway’ approach to city management, Richards blew a huge annual promotional opportunity for the city, all for 500 dollars.

So what’s a Lou to do when his bulldog city manager rashly decides to rid the city of its longest reining employee by telling him he is no longer needed because the city is ‘moving in a new direction.’ You don’t have to be a member of AARP to understand that is code for ‘you are no longer needed because you are too old.’ Given the requirements of the City Charter, Richards couldn’t just fire Chief Larry Pitchford after his 40 years with the city, he had to allow the Chief a public review at a city council meeting with thumbs up or down by the five members.

Here’s the dilemma for Mayor Lou.  Does he recommend to the four council members to dismiss the Chief, showing support for a city manager they willingly gave a five year contract?  Support, even though Richards didn’t realize that he can’t just rid himself of someone he doesn’t like when the employee has state and federal civil rights protection?  Support, even though not the brightest bulb in the room,  Richards has no paper trail proving the Chief incapable of performing his job duties or is unable to change directions along with the city?

Or does Mayor Lou recommend that the Chief stays, bypassing the hiring and firing administrative duties of the city manager?  As the City Charter states, all administrative officers are responsible to the City Manager and shall serve at his pleasure. Will the council members and Mayor Lou diminish the duties of their executive, making him look weak and ineffective in the eyes of his employees and the residents of the city? This is the first big decision by the man they urged to serve the city, enticing him with a five year promise.  His first inability to effectively deal with big decisions will be prominently displayed at the council meeting if the support of the council is declined.

images (2)How does the council weigh-in on this?  Do they stand by their man, defy state and federal civil rights laws besides their own Title VI Non Discrimination policy whose coordinator is City Manager Dave Richards, with the potential of a justified age discrimination lawsuit by Chief Pitchford?  Do they support their main man at city hall, allowing him to do his job as he sees fit or do they overrule him? If Pitchford stays, he and the other employees will always know that Richards is just a bully with his only power coming from a council that didn’t support him.  Smirks and laughter behind his back will always follow Richards when he blows his lid and swaggers through the city.

What’s a Lou to do?  Document, document, document.  Richards’ attributes do not include youth and without documentation, the city council could find itself in another situation where ‘moving the city in a new direction’ doesn’t cut it when trying to rid itself of another older employee.  And what is the city council to do when Richards refers to himself as the head of the public body ‘in some situations.’ He is never the head of the public body – ever.  That position, according to state law and city charter, is reserved to elected officials and our elected city council should be weary when he starts proclaiming himself equal to the elected mayor.  And what do we do when we are the recipients of Richards bullying?  Contact Lou.

Don’t miss the next city council meeting when the drama continues, Tuesday, September 19 at 6:30 pm.  Will the council make a bad decision worse by supporting the city manager or hang him out to dry?

 

City Manager to Chief Pitchford – you’re out of here

Word has it that City Manager Dave Richards called Chief Larry Pitchford into his office at 4:30 pm on Friday, September 8 and told him he wanted him to sign a pre-typed letter of resignation. When the Chief refused to sign it, Richards pulled out a one pager, signed it with Clerk Lori Vander Clay as witness putting Pitchford on administrative paid leave until the September 19 council meeting when final approval of the Chief’s removal will come before the city council.  Richards told Pitchford to leave the building.  When Pitchford asked what this was about, Richards told him that they were moving the police department into a new direction.

imagesExactly how many directions can a police department be moved into? Could it be that there will be no police chief with just an administrative supervisor?  Or could there be a younger chief who could be paid much less than Chief Pitchford?

Chief Pitchford has been employed in the city’s police department for 40 years rising within the ranks to become chief.  Richards didn’t provide coaching or reprimands so the dismissal appeared to be out of the blue. But less than a year ago, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh started making trouble for the Chief when he filed an ethics complaint against him.  The ethics complaint appeared to center on two public surveillance videos from August, 2016 when Ashbaugh was caught on tape while working at city hall.  Although Pitchford followed correct protocol and turned the videos over to his supervisor, then City Manager Rob Anderson, Ashbaugh claimed that Ptichford had illegally wire tapped his private conversations, threatening to sue the city if the public videos were released to the public.

Through a $10,000 investigation paid to Attorney Sara Bell, Pitchford was cleared of all charges and Anderson was directed to rescind a written reprimand given to the Chief.  But Ashbaugh didn’t appear to forgive or forget, filing a suit in federal court against the Chief and three other individuals (including me) for illegally recording and distributing a private conversation.  An attorney hired by the city’s risk management company is representing Pitchford and two other defendants while I retained my own attorney.

The charges have been proven to be baseless since Berrien County Judge Wiley ruled that one of the videos was not protected from an exemption of the Freedom of Information Act and the city gave the other video up to the court agreeing it held no protection through the FOIA either.  The videos are rightfully back in the public domain.

Here’s the deal, who is driving the decision to put Pitchford out to pasture?  Could it be someone in city hall who continues to carry a grudge against him, who appears to have an inordinate amount of sway with City Manager Richards and whose other attempts to get rid of Pitchford failed?  Or could it be a simple case of age discrimination?

The Chief, after being with the city for 40 years, must be making a sizable income. This might just be another cost cutting measure to help fund the downtown project and the sidewalks nobody wants or needs.  We saw the police department take a budget cut, we no longer have life guards during the week, the water rescue boat appears to be permanently docked, and our already high water rates are being increased.   Instead of applying for grants for the downtown project or reapplying for a DNR grant for the dune walk, these non-budgeted expenditures get dumped into the general fund.  And of course the unwanted and unnecessary sidewalks are gobbling up another several hundred thousand dollars out of tax revenue.

images (1)Pitchford might be either the victim of a personal grudge by a person with more political power than him or a casualty of age discrimination – or maybe both.  But it is a sad way to end a 40 year career, told to leave and not come back.

 

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters

 

Whoever is careless with the
truth in small matters cannot
be trusted with important 
matters. 

Albert Einstein 

The audience at New Buffalo city council meetings lavish kudos onto the mayor and the council members for the downtown project.  But what do we really know about the project and can we trust the little that is said about it at the meetings?  Are we hearing the whole story?

imagesThe council members must know they continue to support a grant application fraught with fraud. Do they really want to cheat the federal government just to get sidewalks homeowners don’t want or need?   Wouldn’t it be better for them to concede that they were not part of the fraud when it was first written into the grant application and prefer to back out with honor?

On August 11, 2015, Bob Ford, author of the Safe Routes to School (SRTS), images (5)wrote to the state’s contact for the grant program that the city was changing the grant application approved in 2014 to include a sidewalk on the west side of Norton Street.  The letter was copied to City Manager Rob Anderson.  On August 14, 2015, in an email to Bryan Armstrong, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Mr. Ford said he had discussed the revisions with Mr. Anderson.  In the same letter, Mr. Ford said part of the revision being requested was because in his original grant application he planned sidewalks on both sides of Indiana Street between Norton and Taylor but they weren’t needed because they wouldn’t connect to any other sidewalks.  Why did Mr. Ford write into the original grant request sidewalks that led to nowhere and why did the city council and MDOT representatives approve it?

After the revisions were accepted by City and MDOT officials even though there was no public hearing or input from the residents, Mr. Anderson sent a memo to the homeowners on Norton dated August 17, 2015.  He stated that the grant required new 5′ sidewalks on both sides of the SRTS streets and that both sides of Norton from Indiana to US-12 were included.  Mr. Anderson’s memo completely contradicted the decision to only install sidewalks on one side of Norton outlined in Mr. Ford’s letter but this information was kept from the public with the city council continuing to vote in favor of the grant on August 15, 2017, two years after the deception began.  The grant request had several other deceptions including a meeting with the public that never actually happened and parent/student surveys of families who didn’t live in the city.

download (1)Trying to keep the deceptive information secret, City Clerk Lori Vander Clay did not  provide me  with the 2015 Bob Ford correspondences even though I made a request through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  I had to obtain the information through a FOIA request to the Michigan Department of Transportation.  That request was fulfilled in one day and included eight correspondences.

Although the city council refuses to acknowledge the Safe Route to Schools grant is loaded with more fraud than Swiss cheese has holes, they should accept responsibility that they are trying to commit fraud to receive federal dollars.  Yes, they already wasted several hundred thousand dollars on this project but they should accept the blame.  images (6)They knew in 2015 that the grant request was deeply flawed but they continued with it anyway declaring it was ‘free money.’ Cheaters never win and even if they get what they want, they will always know that they used fraudulent information for sidewalks the residents didn’t want or need. And the public will always wonder what else is being kept from them.

 

Burying their heads in the sand

buried in the sandThe mayor and city council members of New Buffalo are entrusted with the stewardship of the city’s natural resources. Through their leadership, priorities are established but In the critical issue of Japanese Knotweed, they are burying their heads in the sand.

Today, at a  Japanese Knotweed Symposium funded through the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program by the Departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, and Agriculture and Rural Development, five experts provided vital information concerning prevention, containment, and eradication of the extremely invasive and destructive Japanese Knotweed .  And though it was held at the New Buffalo Township Library in the heart of New Buffalo, not one city government representative bothered to attend.

 The mayor and council members might be more interested if they understood the economic impact of the weed. The United Kingdom, roughly the same size as Michigan, did not take adequate preventative measures when Knotweed first presented itself, leaving the country at the mercy of the invasion.  Due to the rapid spread of the plant, the UK is experiencing an annual cost of 915 million dollars in damage while eradicating efforts cost 2 billion dollars.  Laws prohibit the sale of property that are infested by the plant and homes quickly devalue when found with an infestation.

Cottage in New Buffalo covered with Japanese Knotweed

Cottage in New Buffalo covered with Japanese Knotweed

From the UK government web-site, “You must prevent Japanese knotweed on your land from spreading into the wild and causing a nuisance. You could be fined up to £5,000 or be sent to prison for up to 2 years if you allow contaminated soil or plant material from any waste you transfer to spread into the wild.” http://https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prevent-japanese-knotweed-from-spreading

Heeding the warnings from our friends across the pond, St Joseph is exemplary in its best practice in combating Japanese Knotweed.  Public Works Director Tom MacDonald provided an overview of the progress made in St. Joe starting in 2013.  Through a private/public collaborate of city officials and private property owners, Native Landscaping was contracted by the City to conduct an Invasive Species Survey and provide a report that included mapping of all Japanese Knotweed sites as well as a treatment plan with recommendations. In 2015, after a public hearing process, St. Joe developed a plan that included a great emphasis on public education.  Through an agreement with Native Landscaping, a chemical treatment plan was implemented that provided property owners with the same reduced fee as the municipality.  For the past three years, many private property owners along with the government, began an aggressive eradication effort (an action plan can take up to three years due to the plant’s invasive qualities).  To save money and expand the program, all of St. Joe’s Park Department employees are certified pesticide applicators, with new employees given one year to obtain the certification.

download (1)While burying their heads in the sand, the New Buffalo City Council is missing an opportunity to nip the Knotweed problem in the bud.  Volunteers, while mapping the plant locations within the city limits, are discussing the consequences of the weed with property owners in New Buffalo.  Many private citizens are interested in the volunteer task force’s help with identification and control options. There is significant interest in the private sector, with a proactive plan by the City, the cost of eradication is still very manageable.  If personnel from the City’s Park and Street Departments had attended the symposium, they too would not only be able to help create a City plan of action, they could help residents in identification and eradication.  Education and information are cheap but effective as the hallmark of a solid action plan. But the first step for action is for the council members to pull their heads out of the sand and look around at the invasion.

 

Japanese Knotweed Symposium

DSCN0261

Japanese Knotweed Symposium

Tuesday, August 29, 1 pm – 4:30 pm
New Buffalo Township Library

Japanese Knotweed Symposium Aug 29, 2017 Flyer

DSCN0262Registration:
Jared Harmon, Berrien Conservation District
269 471-9111 x3   jared.harmon@macd.org