(January 24, 2008) With a little help from the angels at the City’s Department of Public Works and Ypsi Solar entrepreneur Dave Strenski, Ypsilanti has outdoor ice skating. Riverside Park had flooded several weeks ago and with the cold snap, portions froze.
Dave Strenski and his daughter Irene were out skating on the ice last week. They weren’t skating on the river, they were skating in the park on the southern end by the public parking lot.
Wednesday, Strenski was back shoveling snow in Riverside park to clear off the ice when out of the blue a DPW employee showed up with a small tractor and plowed a large area clean.
Strenski said he grew up in Chicago and the fire department used to flood the parks each winter for skating.
“It’s not perfect, but very skateable”, said Strenski about Riverside Park. “We even have a picnic bench on one end to sit on and change into your skates.”
The Depot Town DDA just granted Downtown Development Authority director Brian Vosburg a 6% pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2007. We are not begrudging the raise, though in this economy and constantly hearing from the Mayor and city officials that they don’t have money and the continued threats by city officials to lay off police and fire, we wonder about the size of the raise and the timing.
The issue we have is how the raise was granted. In talking with DTDDA board members after their meeting today, they were surprised to learn that Vosburg had received a 3% pay increase just one month after starting his job in June 2006. Those board members polled after the meeting did not understand that their action and vote today granted Vosburg a pay increase from July 1, 2006.
That 3% raise in July 2006 was a clerical error made by the City’s Finance department. Vosburg was not eligible for the raise as he had only been working for the city one month.
The error wasn’t caught until a year later in the summer of 2007. Instead of the City taking back the excess pay, which is what most employers do, the DTDDA and DDA let the raise stand. Then, by their unanimous vote today, the DTDDA formally granted the DDA director a new 6% raise and then made it retroactive to July 1 of 2007. What they did not understand is that their vote granted Vosburg the 3% raise he was paid in error by making that pay increase retroactive to July 2006.
This 6% pay raise is troubling on two points. First, the idea that a department manager would receive an automatic 3% pay increase just one month after being hired is stunning. Immediately after the error was found, the excess pay should have been withheld from the employees check. Most large organizations will work out a repayment process over time so as to minimize the impact to the employee. The money was paid in error and it should have been returned to the City. Vosburg had neither earned or was entitled to this pay increase and it was never approved by either DDA board.
Secondly, the process of approving the pay increase is troubling. The DDA director receives pay from two funds, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Depot Town DDA. Yes it is true, Ypsilanti has two DDA districts.
The DTDDA contributes just 25% to the directors salary the rest comes from the DDA. However, with the DTDDA setting the compensation level by their vote today, they in effect force the Ypsilanti DDA to agree to the same salary arrangements even though the Ypsilanti DDA hasn’t yet met to discuss Vosburg’s evaluation and compensation.
Instead of playing one board against the other when it comes to deciding the compensation for the DDA director, the DDA and DTDDA should have formed a joint committee of both boards to review and evaluate the director’s performance over the past year. That joint committee would then bring the evaluation back to both boards for approval. This is how it was done in the past and frankly we are baffled why this process was not used this year. We are also shocked and so were several DTDDA members to learn after the meeting that they had approved a retroactive pay increase effectively going back to July 2006 and approved a 3% pay increase for the director just one month after he was hired.
This joint committee should also be looking at the total compensation package for the DDA Director. The DDA director makes no contribution to his health care or benefits package, which costs the Ypsilanti DDA an additional $22,000 a year. The Depot Town DDA does not contribute to the directors health and benefits package.
Both DDA’s should have been looking at the total compensation and benefits package for the DDA director and not just simply salary.
We urge both DDA’s to put the brakes on any further pay increases for the DDA director and encourage both boards to form a joint evaluation and compensation committee and bring those recommendations back to the full board. This process must be open and transparent to the constituents and taxpayers of the DDA and DTDDA districts.
In the mean time, neither DDA should agree to a 3% pay increase for the DDA director because of a clerical error. An accounting error was made. You don’t compound that error by granting a pay raise retroactive to just one month after the DDA Director started his new job in 2006.
(January 25, 2008) Ypsilanti City Planner, Nathan Voght, has resigned to take the job as director of the Howell DDA. Voght had been the City Planner since 2001 representing the City at the Planning Commission, ZBA, as well as is in court hearings.
Voght, along with his wife, started Uptown Coffee in Howell in 2002 and lives in the Howell area. Voght served on the Howell DDA board and recently resigned to apply for the job as the new DDA Director. Vought’s last day in Ypsilanti is February 15th.
Voght had been the chief architect of the massive downzoning plan in the central district of Ypsilanti bordering the downtown and EMU that irked many property owners. The downzoning plan covered some 700 properties and was one of the largest downzoning plans in the United States. Properties owners protested the plan filing a petition with over 400 signatures and offering an alternate plan. That second plan was eventually adopted by the City and changes to the Master Plan and zoning code are still under way.
Recently, Voght, along with Planning Director Karen Hart, oversaw the zoning changes at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum. The Historical Society purchased the building from the City last year. The Society then embarked on a $250,000 project to repair and upgrade the facility including adding handicap access and making needed repairs long ignored by the City.
Almost immediately the Society ran afoul of City zoning ordinances. Despite the museum being in the same location for nearly 40 years, the City had created a non-conforming use but the City was exempt from their own rules. The City then enforced the non-conforming use immediately after they sold the property to the Society.
Voght had originally administratively approved the Society’s plan but was over ruled by his boss Karen Hart who in conjunction with the City Attorney John Barr ruled that the Society’s plans had to go before the ZBA and Planning Commission.
The Zoning Board of Appeals, where Voght represents the City and makes recommendations to the board, ruled that the Society must expand their parking lot from the current 10 to 16 parking spaces.
A second city board, the Historic District Commission, indicated that they would not approve any expansion of the parking lot though no formal vote was taken as the item was only a study item.
Then Voght appeared before the Planning Commission where Planning Commission ruled that the Society must reduce parking from 10 spaces to nine and install an island, curbing, and plant screening bushes and trees.
The Historical Society is still trying to resolve the conflicting orders from the three citizen boards whose members are appointed by the Mayor and approved by City Council.
Voght is the third employee at City Hall to resign in the past month. Building Department Manager Charles Boulard resigned and so did Department of Public Works Director Bill Bohlen. Planning Director Karen Hart is the interim manager of the Building Department.
Hart said there were no immediate plans to replace Voght and will have to wait on direction from the City Council before anyone is hired. Hart’s planning department is reduced to two including herself. Richard Murphy, who staffs the Historic District commission is the lone planner in the department.
The planning department does have a new planner coming on board as a result of funding from the County and Michigan State University Extension Service. That planner will be housed at City Hall but will be limited in the number of hours they can work on city projects.
(January 11, 2008) Continuing the exodus at City Hall, Department of Public Works director Bill Bohlen announced he is resigning effective February 1, 2008.
Bohlen was hired 23 months ago to replace long time DPW and Building department manager Harry Hutchison. Bohlen said in his announcement that there have been many more highs than lows in the job. Bohlen said he is branching out on his own to start a consultancy focused on infrastructure operation and maintenance.
Bohlen is the 13th Department manager to leave the city of Ypsilanti in the last three and half years and the second to quit in the last two weeks. Charles Boulard, Building Official and Building Department manager, resigned on January 4th to take a job with the City of Novi.
Stan Kirton is expected to be the interim DPW manager. The City also announced last week that Karen Hart, the recently hired director of planning is the interim Building Department manager.
(January 6, 2008) The Smith Furniture building at 15 South Washington in Downtown Ypsilanti is the likely new home for Spark East according to sources at the County knowledgeable about the transaction.
Spark East is the start-up business incubator proposed by Ann Arbor Spark. The Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti LDFA, U-M, EMU, and Washtenaw County are all major partners in Spark. The building will likely be home to 10 to 15 start-up companies which generally would reside for up to two years before moving into a larger space.
The building was put up for sale in January 2007 for $1.6 million but received only a handful of inquiries. Spark is leasing rather than purchasing the 28,000 sf building. Details of the lease agreement have not been finalized however the “for sale” has been removed from the property.