(March 22, 2008) Ypsilanti Planning Director Karen Hart has been forced out of her job. Hart’s final day is April 1st, though as part of her employment contract, she will be on the payroll through June 30th, the end of the fiscal year. Hart was making over $78,000 a year plus another $22,000 in fringe benefits.
Hart was hired 16 months ago as Director of Planning and Economic Development. At the time of her hiring, City Manager Ed Koryzno said Hart’s top priority was moving forward on the Water Street project, a 38-acre brownfield redevelopment along the Huron River in Downtown Ypsilanti.
Less than a year after her hiring, Hart said in testimony before City Council that she did not have any brownfield experience and she and her department were having to learn on the job.
Hart had recently lost her job as head of Development for Ypsilanti, which had over sight of the struggling Water Street Project, when Hart was made interim Building Department manager in January 2008. She retained her title as Director of the Planning Department.
Because Hart was unable to secure any sort of development effort last year for Water Street, the city lost a $500,000 environmental clean-up grant. This clean-up grant is separate from the $500,000 grant that was siphoned off of Water Street to pay for a new elevator at the Riverside Arts Center.
The city is at risk of losing another $500,000 low interest loan for Water Street in 2008 if they are unable to secure a developer and begin work this summer.
Hart had come under fire recently for the handling of the aborted RFP for Water Street Broker Services. Hart had also been struggling in her new assignment as Building Department manager.
Just last week, contractors working for Hart’s Building department had entered onto private property in the Downtown area, without securing permission from the building owners, to paint over graffiti. In one case, the contractor sloppily repainted a door with a roller using a different color paint which is a violation of the Historic District regulations. Regulations Hart’s Planning Department enforces. In another case, the contractors covered up a no parking sign.
In an email to City Council, Koryzno said, “I am in the process of examining alternatives for the future management and structure of the Building Department and Planning Departments and my recommendation will be included in the proposed FY 2008-2009 budget.”
This is not the first time Hart has been forced out of a job. Hart was eased out of her job as the head of the Ann Arbor Planning Department about a year before being hired in Ypsilanti. At the time, in an eerie coincidence, the Mayor of Ann Arbor said Hart was being let go as part of a restructuring of Ann Arbor City departments.
The Ypsilanti Planning Department has been wracked by problems and employee turnover. Hart’s departure is the fourth Planning Director to leave in the last eight years since the Water Street project began in 1999. There has been a nearly 200% turn over in staff in the last four years as well.
Most recently, controversial City Planner Nathan Vought, left last month to head up the DDA in Howell. Richard Murphy was then promoted as the new City Planner and continues his work with both the Historic District Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Murphy, as well as part time-planner from the MSU Extension Service, and a part time intern are all that remain of a department that used to have five employees, two paid interns, and a budget of nearly $400,000 a year.
Assistant City Manager April McGrath, in addition to heading up the Human Resources department, has taken over Economic Development and oversight of the Water Street project. McGrath said she has begun work to re-issue the RFP for brokerage and marketing services for Water Street and it should be released within the week.
McGrath also has the unenviable task of trying to get ready for a national Brownfields Conference in Detroit in May.
According to sources inside City Hall, little had been done to get ready for this conference prior to McGrath taking over, despite knowing about the conference for nearly six months. With no staff and few resources, McGrath is now preparing to cover a booth for three days as well as schedule meetings and hoped for site visits as Brownfield developers, investors, and planners converge on Detroit.
McGrath has said that she will be working closely with the Washtenaw County Planning Department to prepare for the conference and for assistance in scheduling meetings and tours of Water Street.
Hart’s departure marks the 14th Department Manager to leave the City in the last three and half years and she is the third department manager to leave in the last three months. In January, Building manager Charles Boulard resigned to go to Novi and in February, DPW Director Bill Bohlen left to take a job with the riverfront authority in Detroit.
(March 18, 2008) YpsiNews.com has started broadcasting Ypsilanti City Council meetings live.
We are very excited about this technology. As long time readers know, YpsiNews pioneered video recording of Ypsilanti City Council meetings in August of 2006. YpsiNews was the first to regularly post videos of government meetings using Google Video and during the past 20 months, over 30,000 people have watched our videos.
Live broadcasting is the next step in using technology to get more people involved in government.
By partnering with Ustream.TV, hundreds of people can watch a meeting at the same time. This wasn’t possible with earlier live streaming systems. In the past, as more viewers watched then video and audio quality became worse until you couldn’t even hear the broadcast.
Ustream.TV changes all this because they are the broadcast studio, and we become the remote broadcast. Everything we need to broadcast fits in a backpack. All we need to broadcast a show is a camera, a laptop, and a high speed Internet connection.
(March 18, 2008) In a surprising announcement, the Mayor of Ypsilanti said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, that Ann Arbor Spark was looking at a second location for the business incubator.
Mayor Schreiber said that Spark is looking at the Mack and Mack building at 211-215 W. Michigan Avenue. Mayor Schreiber told Council that a final decision is imminent.
(March 18, 2008) The Ypsilanti Public Library will play host to bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith is well known for his series of books called the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. McCall Smith will be speaking at 1pm, April 19, 2008 at Pease auditorium on the EMU campus.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased from the EMU Ticket office at (734) 487-2282, or online at www.emich.edu/convocation/.
(March 18, 2008) Ypsilanti Police have taken delivery of their 45 Tasers approved by City Council last year. The Tasers were delivered in late February 2008.
Police are still waiting for holsters from Taser International which are currently on back-order. YPD is expecting the holsters to arrive later in March.
YPD officers will under go training in April and Chief of Police Matt Harshberger says that officers should be carrying the Tasers in the field by the end of April.
(March 17, 2008) Students from Ypsilanti High School competed in a Mock Trial competition, March 8 at the Oakland County Courthouse in Pontiac.
Participants and coaches shown left to right: Karen Siegel, teacher/coach; Camille Jones, senior; Andre Ford, junior; Jamia Rice, senior; Justin Thomas, senior; Candise Washington, freshman; Darian Rainey, senior; Ka’nea Brooks, senior; Josh Vincent, senior; Paul Good, sophomore; Ebony Meads, junior and attorney/coach Cameron Getto of McKeen & Associates.
The students were given information presenting the facts and evidence of a fictitious case and argued their case in court, competing against other schools in southeast Michigan.
(March 13, 2008) Eastern Michigan’s Ethos Week started off with a bang on Monday morning as Paul W. Smith from WJR radio did a live 3-hour broadcast from the College of Business in downtown Ypsilanti. About 75 people watched the broadcast on the main floor of the Business School.
Off in one corner was Angel Food Cafe. Judy and Mike Maynard had heard about the broadcast and volunteered to come out at 5am and brought free food and coffee for everyone. That sort of guerrilla marketing paid off as Angel Food Cafe got four on-air mentions during the broadcast.
(March 6, 2008) YCUA has lifted the boil water advisory that had been issued on Tuesday March 4th. The area affected included River Street between Michigan Avenue and West Cross Street.
YCUA in a prepared statement said, “Drinking water samples have passed all public health standards mandated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and drinking water is now safe for human consumption.”
(March 4, 2008) Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority has issued a boil water advisory for parts of River Street in Ypsilanti. The area affected are residents and businesses near River Street between Michigan Avenue and River Street.
According to YCUA spokesman Gwen Belcher, “YCUA crews are in the process of repairing a water main break in that area.” YCUA has not said when they expect to lift the advisory.
(March 3, 2008) Washtenaw Community College received a bomb threat today claiming the attack would be Tuesday, March 4th. According to WCC spokesperson Janet Hawkins, the threat was non-specific. Classes are proceeding as scheduled on Tuesday.