Ypsilanti Human Relations Commission asks City Council to change name of Ypsitucky music event (Update1)
The Ypsilanti Human Relations Commission met on Thursday evening to discuss the Ypsitucky Jamboree. Citizens had complained to the HRC in April that the word “ypsitucky” was a pejorative and offensive. The HRC held a special meeting on May 18 to hear both sides of the issue.
The HRC convened a second special meeting 10 days later to discuss the matter.
The second meeting held on Thursday, May 28 in City Council chambers opened with audience participation. Unlike the first meeting, during this second meeting no one spoke in favor of the Ypsitucky name.
The commission did hear from a number of citizens and business owners opposed to the name. There were 19 people in the audience including three reporters from the Ann Arbor News, Ypsilanti Citizen, and YpsiNews.
CDC Executive Director Erik Dotzauer and CDC Attorney Cameron Getto were in attendance. Neither spoke during audience participation.
After hearing from the public, the HRC discussed the matter for nearly 45 minutes.
The HRC then passed a resolution asking the City Council to meet with the Depot Town Community Development Corporation and change the name of the Ypsitucky Jamboree scheduled in September 2009. The HRC passed the resolution on a 6-0 vote. Board Chair Clifford Larkins was not at the meeting.
The HRC also said if the DTCDC rejects the name change, the City Council should exercise their oversight powers under the contract with the CDC.
Read the complete HRC resolution.
Update1: June 3, 2009 Clarified story to indicate the HRC held two special meetings on the 18th and again on the 28th. At the second meeting, no one spoke in favor of the Ypsitucky name or event.
Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority Director Brian Vosburg resigned Thursday morning after a closed door session with DDA board members. The meeting was closed at the request of Vosburg.
Under Michigan law, an employee can request that a meeting to discuss personnel matters be closed to the public.
Vosburg was coming up on his third year anniversary in June and the DDA board had scheduled their annual performance review of the director.
Calls to Vosburg and the DDA office were not returned.
No reason was given for the resignation. The Ypsilanti Citizen reported on Thursday the resignation was effective immediately.
The Human Relations Committee met this evening to hear both sides of the continuing debate over the use of the word Ypsitucky to promote a Labor Day music festival sponsored by the Depot Town Community Development Corporation. The commission decided to schedule another meeting as soon as possible to continue the discussion.
Officials from the DTCDC told the commission it was too late to change the name, they were already promoting the event.
HRC Chair Cliff Larkins talks after the meeting how the issue came before the commission.
Correction: Mr. Larkins name is misspelled in the title of the video. The error is ours and we apologize to Mr. Larkins for misspelling his name.
Some Ypsilanti residents and property owners have complained bitterly about the recent enforcement of sidewalk clearing after a snow storm. For years, numerous property owners in the city would not clear their sidewalks after a storm. Ypsilanti City Council in December 2008 toughened the Snow ordinance with fines and fees for failing to remove snow.
Most residents that spoke before City Council last week said they supported the new, tougher snow ordinance.
However the complaints were not criticisms of the new snow ordinance, but rather how it was enforced.
Most of the complaints centered around Ronnie Monroe, the City of Ypsilanti’s Ordinance Officer and concerns over how notice was given that snow and ice would be removed by the City contractor. Monroe resigned on Thursday evening.
In late January, the City Building Department began to enforce a new snow removal ordinance approved by City Council in December 2008. After a snowstorm, the City identified 441 properties where property owners had failed to clear the snow 48 hours after the storm.
According to Assistant City Attorney Karl Barr, notices must be given to each property owner 18 hours before the City or City contractor could remove the snow.
Much of the discussion on local blogs had centered around the ordinance and the use of the word “May” when it came to notification. (Full text of the snow ordinance).
However many had missed the point. The ‘may’ had to do with notifiying the property owner that they were in violation of the ordinance. The city “may” notify the property owner they are in violation of the city snow ordinance.
Barr’s interpretation of the ordinance is the City “MUST” notify the property owner before abating or removing the snow.
The city could have issued a $50 ticket for failing to remove the snow and the city is not required to warn owners before writing the ticket. The City decided to remove the snow rather than just write tickets.
Since the city planned to remove the snow and ice, according to the city attorney, the city must notify each property owner in writing 18 hours before work is to begin.
Monroe was to affix 441 Final Notices to the property notifying owners they had 18 hours to remove the snow or the City’s contractor would remove the snow and the owner will be billed.
Barr said he saw Monroe heading out on Thursday, January 29th, with a stack of notices in hand.
Monroe had Thursday and Friday, January 29th and 30th, to post the notices on each door. Assistant City Manager April McGrath later told City Council that a City Intern also helped Monroe post the notices.
Time doesn’t add up
In testimony given to City Council by staff they said Monroe spent part of the time on the morning of Thursday, January 29th photocopying the notices, Monroe also hand wrote a expiration date and time on each notice.
Monroe is generally at City Hall from 8am to 9am and 1pm to 2pm each day to take calls. After that he goes out on patrol.
We asked the city for Monroe’s time records for this period to find out how long Monroe spent handing out notices. The City has not gotten back to us with that information.
Given that we are missing some data, lets make the best case scenario.
Lets assume that Monroe did not spend the two hours a day he spends in the office answering calls or printing notices. Lets assume Monroe worked non-stop, 8 hours a day for two days delivering notices.
The 441 properties were scattered across the city, many of them were not adjacent to each other.
Presumably, the sidewalks were not clear and free from snow and ice, that was the reason for the notice.
Monroe and the City intern would have to drive to each location, get out of the truck, traverse piles of snow and treacherous ice and place the notice on each door.
Monroe and the intern would have to post one notice every 2 minutes and 10 seconds. That is assuming no breaks and an eight hour work day.
It was hard to see how 441 notices could be posted in less than two days.
Search for notices
YpsiNews interviewed dozens of property owners over the last two weeks and found two had received the Final Notices. Neither of them received a bill from the city.
McGrath told City Council that 348 of the 441 were billed for snow removal.
We then took the list of properties provided by the city and visited many of them them to see if we could find the notices either on the door or somewhere nearby. Many of these properties were boarded up, vacant, foreclosed, or for sale. There were no notices at any of the properties we visited.
City officials had initially said that perhaps the notices had blown off. Yet it was hard to imagine that 441 notices all blew off.
While going door to door, besides the collection of pizza flyers and stacks of water soaked Ann Arbor Community News newspapers, we found campaign literature from the November 2008 General election. So while there was campaign literature on the doors and tucked behind mailboxes, we could not find a single notice posted by Monroe.
Continuing our investigation, YpsiNews asked the City for copies of the photographs taken of the properties requiring abatement. Before the City contractor was to remove or abate the snow, the City told the contractor to take a picture. McGrath said the contractor would not be paid for their service unless they provided the city a photograph prior to work beginning.
The photos were for the most part taken on Saturday, January 31st. Less than two days after Monroe posted the notice on each door.
We wanted to see the extent of the problems with the snow and ice on the sidewalks and to see if any photos showed evidence that a notice had been posted on the door. Out of 441 photos, perhaps one would show a notice posted on the door. We have not yet received those photos.
In addition, we asked the City for time records for Monroe for the week and the names and hours of any other city staff that had assisted in handing out the notices. We also asked the city to describe the manner used to affix the notices to the property.
After repeated requests for this information, on Thursday evening March 12th, McGrath told YpsiNews we would need to submit a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request. We immediately submitted our FOIA request.
YpsiNews has learned that Ronnie Monroe resigned from the City of Ypsilanti on the very same evening we were told to FOIA the records.
No reason was given for the resignation and it is not clear if his resignation is tied the snow enforcement problem or our request for documents.
YpsiNews called and emailed McGrath on Friday, March 13th, asking for comment. Besides being Assistant City Manager, McGrath is head of the HR department and she oversees the Building Department where Monroe worked. We are waiting for her response.
The City of Ypsilanti for the second year in a row, and three out of the last four years, had a budget surplus of nearly $1 million. This was on the heels of a nearly $1 million budget surplus from last year announced just days after the defeat of the City Income Tax.
The audit of the 2007-2008 fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 is available on the City’s website.
Sources at Washtenaw County have told YpsiNews that plans for an Aldi Foods grocery store, Burger King, and a 1-story strip mall on Michigan Avenue are being finalized for the struggling Water Street project.
Aldi already has stores in Canton Township and Westland.
Burger King is expected to relocate from their store on East Michigan in Ypsilanti Township. No other tenants have been discussed.
The Water Street property had been divided into several smaller parcels for sale with the hope that it could attract interest in the project. Terms of the sale and the size of the parcel purchased have not been disclosed.
Water Street is 38 acres along US-12/Michigan Avenue and the Huron River in Downtown Ypsilanti. The City owes nearly $18 million on the project and has spent some $30 million of taxpayer money to acquire the property. The City has estimated they would need $80 million in development to payback the bonds used to purchase and clean-up Water Street.
Sunday night was not a good night to be out on the street in Ypsilanti as one woman was robbed and a man was assaulted in two separate events.
8:50p : The Ypsilanti Police Department is investigating an unarmed robbery that occurred at approximately 8:50 p.m. October 19 on the bridge located on Leforge Rd. Ypsilanti Police reported that two male suspects approached a female EMU student walking north on the bridge and demanded her purse. The suspects took her purse and a binder. The suspects then fled south on foot toward the Peninsular Apartment Complex. The purse and binder were the only items reported as stolen. The victim was uninjured.
The victim described the two suspects as African American males. The victim described one suspect as wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt with a tee shirt or bandana pulled up over his face and possibly wearing khaki pants. The victim described the second suspect as wearing a larger dark hooded sweatshirt, but was unable to provide anything further.
11:50p : The Ypsilanti Police Department is investigating an attempted unarmed robbery that occurred at approximately 11:50 p.m. on October 19, at the intersection of St. Johns and Ann St. Ypsilanti Police reported that three male suspects approached a male EMU student walking across the intersection when one suspect punched the victim in the head and demanded money. The suspects then fled on foot in an unknown direction. Nothing was reported stolen. The victim was treated at the scene for minor injuries.
The victim described the three suspects as African American males. The victim described the suspect that punched him as having a light skin complexion, light facial hair, 6’ – 6’1”, 175 lbs., wearing a dark coat and black doo rag. The victim was unable to provide any physical description of the other two suspects.
(October 16, 2008) Ypsilanti Police are reporting that a resident on Gregory street on Ypsilanti’s Westside was bound and robbed at gun point in his apartment. The incident happened about 1:30a on Wednesday.
Police said the resident, an EMU student, reported that two black men were wearing bandannas over their faces and carrying handguns. The suspects took money and other items from the apartment.
Update 1 (1:12p October 16, 2008): YpsiNews received an email at 11:21a from Ypsilanti Police Chief Harshberger with additional information and a correction to the information originally released by Eastern Michigan. Harshberger said the robbery occurred at 1:30a and the victim did not report the robbery until some 12.5 hours to 2pm. Ypsinews originally reported the robbery occurred at 1:30p as that was the time stated in the release for Eastern Michigan. Harshberger also said the victim was involved in growing marijuana at the apartment and this appears to be a planned robbery of an illicit drug operation and not a random robbery. Harshberger says the investigation continues.
(October 15, 2008) On Tuesday night, the Ypsilanti Historic District Commission took up the issue of solar panels on City Hall. Over 20 solar supporters came to encourage approval. After an hour long discussion, the HDC approved solar panels on City Hall with Christian Overland the lone dissenting vote.
Related Story: Opinion: HDC should support Solar project at City Hall
(October 9, 2008) Watch the meeting where the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority violated not one, but two sections of the Open Meetings Act. The DDA called an emergency meeting with 24 hours notice to meet with the DDA Attorney Tammie Tischler.
The DDA can receive a written opinion from the DDA Attorney in closed session and the written opinion is exempt from the Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA).
During the open portion of the meeting, Mayor Schreiber says the purpose of this closed session is to discuss the legal opinion from Attorney Tischler. DDA Attorney Tischler responds, “Correct.”
The Michigan Attorney General has ruled that the discussion of a written brief as well the presentation of any oral opinion from the board attorney may not be held in closed session. According to the Attorney General, discussing the written legal opinion in closed session is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The Michigan Court of Appeals wrote in 1998, “It would be illogical to construe the attorney-client privilege exemption as authorizing a public body to evade the open meeting requirements of the OMA merely by involving a written opinion from an attorney in the substantive discussion of a matter of public policy for which no other exemption in the OMA would allow a closed meeting.”
The DDA committed a second violation the Open Meetings Act by not allowing the public to address the board.
At the end of the recording Mayor Schreiber, who was acting as interim chair for the meeting said, “After returning for closed session the meeting will be adjourned.”
The Open Meetings Act requires all boards and commissions to permit the public to address the board.
The DDA did not permit the public to address the board before going into closed session. Scheirber said the meeting would be adjourned after the board returned from closed session, so there was no opportunity for the public to address the board after the closed session.