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.



13 thoughts on “The way to have power is to take it

  1. Susan Gotfried Post author

    John, so glad to hear you appreciate my blog. Perhaps you would be willing to help out if it takes a village of volunteers to do what your tax dollars should pay for in the first place. I will reach out to the community in another blog post and a letter to the editor. It is unfortunate that our city council is too weak to challenge the employees who are paid through our taxes.

  2. John

    As a going on 4 year resident in NB, I really appreciate your blog.
    and FYI, you 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 to 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…….

  3. Greg

    Susan, 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 arround. 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 registraion 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.

  4. Susan Gotfried Post author

    You are right Larry about the surveillance audio/video equipment. I was just speaking about live streaming the public meetings. I wonder if the local radio station would provide audio streaming of the council meetings and play them on their station and then they could be played on my blog.

  5. Larry

    Good idea Susan, record the meetings, the audio is all you really need. I do recall that Ray Kirkus was recording some of the planning commission meetings, you should try and get in touch with him. I prefer to watch the meetings at home as I know a lot of my friends do also. You must be mistaken about the video equipment though, wasn’t that put into place because of that incident that happened years ago in the police parking lot? Anything could happen outside of city hall, and there would be no record of it, that doesn’t make sense? What if someone decided to vandalize a police car? Or mug an employee going to their car when it is dark in the winter? With all the crazy things going on in the world, I would think the last thing they would do is remove video surveillance? Have you tried talking with any of the council members or Dave Richards about this?

  6. Susan Gotfried Post author

    Larry, both the city council and employees figured out that they can break laws, violate their charter, or ignore ordinances/policies because the only way a citizen can lodge a complaint is to sue them. I hold the view that it was Tony Ashbaugh’s goal to have all the video equipment disabled or in the control of his buddy, City Manager Richards (did you know Richards borrowed Tony’s vehicle for a while?) There are numerous blurred relationships at city hall between employees and employees/council members. The video equipment was disabled in the parking lot, what’s that about? And now ‘staff’ decided to stop video taping meetings. As you said, there is no way of knowing what goes on at the meeting because the city clerk is allowed to document the minimum amount of information allowed by law. There is no audio recording of the meetings – a requirement in many other municipalities. I am actually thinking of having a go fund site to get money from the public to purchase our own audio/video equipment and we can force democracy at city hall. We can video tape the meetings ourselves, post them on Youtube and I can post them on my blog. Since between this blog and the FB page connected with it there are over 600 followers, the meetings could get more exposure than on their website.

  7. Larry

    Exactly right Susan, now you need to physically come to a meeting. But it really won’t matter if you are there, nothing will be recorded. They can say, or not say anything they want. The minutes can reflect anything they want them to say. Decisions are made well before the meeting anyway, why hold the meeting at this point. Transparency at it’s very finest. How bold to just remove the video equipment, they are breaking all the laws and no one does a thing.

  8. Susan Gotfried Post author

    Well said Ray. It is odd that they post the names of people who apply for freedom of information requests but won’t post the meetings. If we had more open government, we would have no need of FOIA requests. By the way, Ashbaugh’s self inflicted accident cost over six grand.

  9. Ray

    $4000.00/yr is far less than the raise Ashbaugh got and less than the damage he caused to city vehicles. Also far less than paying attorneys for defending against his baseless lawsuits and a minute fraction of the costs associated in suing the Planning Commission or attempting to remove Planning Commissioners for no reason. Yes indeed what a frugal step by a cost cutting administration in reigning in expenses to the people this is!
    So this is the New Buffalo transparency we voted for and deserve and this is the Council the people elected to represent them.
    This group was financed endorsed and supported by people who wanted exactly this type of government. Looks like the rest of the people got screwed pretty well. The kind of Council who cares only about their close knit business associates and little about anyone else. Maybe secretive and corrupt government is the new norm and accepted style.. nothing to see here folks, just move along and mind your own…

  10. Susan Gotfried Post author

    Good point Greg. But open government is well worth 4 thousand dollars a year. We are not stupid, it isn’t about the cost, it is about trying to keep the work at city hall out of eyes and ears of the public.

  11. Greg

    What are they doing that streaming costs them $4K a year? I podcast and livestream professionally, it can be done for less than $150 a year, outside of your equipment and internet costs.

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