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. 


Susan Gotfried
New Buffalo, MI


11 thoughts on “Censorship by City Employees, New Buffalo Style

  1. Susan Gotfried Post author

    When they changed council policy to no longer video record the council meetings, they violated the Open Meeting Act because the policy was made through a vote at an open meeting and eliminated behind closed doors. Someone should accuse the council members of violating the OMA or contact the Prosecuting Attorney.

  2. Donna

    Wow, I was just at City Hall, what a treat that was. I had to go in and talk with the clerk, she would not answer my e-mail, so I had to go into the office. I wanted to know if my letter was going to be included in the packet, pretty simple question, right? So face to face, I ask the question, “is my letter going to be in the packet?” She told me, “no, we are not going to put it in the packet, you can read it during public comment.” I asked her why she just couldn’t have sent my e-mail back stating that? And she said, “because I didn’t want to.” She is a city employee. We are paying her wages. Her boss sent me an e-mail this morning stating that he was not going to include my letter in the packet, but she didn’t feel the need to. Kinda makes me miss Allison, and I thought I would never say that!

    The bigger picture though they don’t want my letter in the packet because it talks about them taking out the video equipment illegally. It doesn’t matter if I read it, there is no recording anymore, it needs to be in the packet to be part of the public record. Come to the meeting tonight, it should be pretty fun, you can say anything you want, nobody will be able to prove that you did or you didn’t.

  3. Susan Gotfried Post author

    The City Clerk didn’t respond to my emails about my letter to the council members that I requested to have included in the packet. They also drive up the cost of FOIA by not fulfilling them correctly.

  4. Donna

    Another great post Susan. City Hall is at it again, They will not put a private citizens letter in the packet, won’t answer my emails. What am I supposed to do now. Should I go talk to her boss Tony?

  5. Ray

    Nice comments! No wonder Anonymous remains anonymous and annoying, bringing nothing to the table.

  6. olddog5

    SG, Yes, I have noticed that many of my more positive comments no longer are shown on this format…. Advise me why thet is….

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