Ypsilanti DDA Violates Open Meetings Act, twice in one meeting

October 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

DDA Attorney Tammie Tischler, from Pear, Sperling, Daniels, and Eggan.

(October 7, 2008) During a meeting of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development, the DDA board violated not one, but two sections of the Open Meetings Act.

The Director of the Ypsilanti DDA, Brian Vosburg, called an emergency closed session meeting to be held on Friday, October 3, 2008 at 12 noon. The purpose of the meeting was to meet with DDA attorney Tammie Tischler.

The DDA Director said in the meeting notice the “Closed Session (is) to consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute – (Open Meetings Act 15.268, Section 8(h))”

However, neither the DDA Director nor the DDA attorney would cite which state or federal statute exempts the DDA from the Open Meetings Act. Failing to publicly state the reason for a closed session is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

YpsiNews called Vosburg on Thursday, before the special meeting, to ask for the specific state or federal statute that exempted the DDA from the Open Meetings Act. Vosburg said he had no comment.
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Video: Ypsilanti City Council September 16, 2008

September 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News, Video

City Council reverses decision to waive past due fees and taxes owed by Housing Commission

Ypsilanti Housing Commission continues to be a hot item of discussion at City Council. The resolution to do away with inspection fees and no longer holding the Housing Commission responsible for complying with the City’s rental inspection program was back on the table.

In August the City Council had approved by a vote of 5 to 1 to allow the Housing Commission to perform their own inspections and forgive over $25,000 in past due fees. In a stunning reversal, City Council reconsidered their resolution and in a unanimous vote, defeated the resolution to waive the rental inspection fees.

It is unclear what the City Council will do next. In addition to the over $25,000 in past due rental inspection fees owed, the Housing Commission owes the City over $45,000 in back taxes stemming from an agreement the Housing Commission signed in 2004.

In other matters, Ypsilanti City Council continues to struggle with time management and time allocation during meetings. The council approved a new contract of a over $1/2 million a year for city legal services.

The council reviewed 18 firms that responded to the City’s RFQ. Yet the contract drew just one question, “Have we benchmarked legal costs against other communities” asked by Brian Robb (Dem, Ward 3). The answer from City Manager Ed Koryzno, “No.”

With no further discussion the council voted 7 to 0 to hire the Barr Law firm as the City Attorney. Barr has had the contract for City Attorney services for over 27 years.

Voting to approve over $1/2 million a year for legal services with just one question by council, the City Council next took up the leaf ordinance. The leaf ordinance was originally proposed to prevent property owners from sweeping leaves into the street.
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Video: Ypsilanti City Council September 2, 2008

September 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News, Video

(September 4, 2008) City Council meeting went well past 11pm as a number of issues were before the council.

Brian Robb (Dem, Ward 3) surprised Mayor Paul Schreiber (Dem) by asking for a reconsideration of the ordinance waiving inspection fees and forgiving PILOT payments that have remained unpaid by the Ypsilanti Housing Commission since 2005. Schreiber had told Robb in an email last week that Robb could not bring the matter back up for reconsideration.

After Robb asked for the reconsideration, City Attorney Karl Barr told the Mayor the issue could be brought back up by Robb.

At issue is the forgiveness of nearly $25,000 in past due fees for unpaid inspections by City officials. The agreement approved last month, also waived any future fees for inspections and no longer holds the Housing Commission responsible for following City Ordinances when it comes to rental inspections. It also forgave nearly $18,000 in past due Payment in Lieu of Taxes payments the YHC agreed to pay back in 2004.

YHC had been holding back those payments since they agreed to the PILOT nearly 4 years ago. Later in the meeting, Schreiber said that while he was on Chair of the Housing Commission, he did not approve the withholding of PILOT payments. It is unclear who authorized YHC Director Walter Norris to withhold PILOT payments in violation of the agreement with the City.

There was a active discussion by all members of council who had questions about what they had actually approved at the previous meeting.

Robb’s motion survived two attempts to table the matter by Trudy Swanson (Dem, Ward 1). Swanson has been a staunch defender of the Ypsilanti Housing Commission and it’s director Walter Norris. Swanson has frequently said the Housing Commission doesn’t have the money needed to make needed repairs to comply with City inspections.

Swanson was able to table the motion on a third attempt.

Robb said after the meeting the issue was not about the money owed by the Housing Commission. It is about providing safe housing for the residents. Robb pointed to a 43 page report prepared by the City that listed numerous code and safety violations. Less than 15% of all units at the Housing Commission have current Certificates of Compliance from the City Building Inspectors.

Robb said, “We have an obligation to insure safe housing for all residents in the City. This resolution put forth by the Mayor to exempt the Housing Commission from any penalties from failing City rental inspections creates a second class of citizens for the residents of Public Housing. The City is saying it is OK for the most vulnerable in our community to live in substandard housing.”

“I want all residents to live in quality housing that has passed the City inspections for safe housing”, said Robb “Any new agreement with the Housing Commission should insure that the Ypsilanti Housing Commission have a plan to bring their properties up to minimum standards. An 87% failure rate is not acceptable.”

A number of other topics were discussed including implementing new fines and fees for residents that rake leaves into the margin or street. After a 35 minute debate, the Council tabled the motion. Council had previously said that they intended to stop leaf pickup next year as a cost cutting measure.

Next was the controversial agreement with Adams outdoor to install a new double-sided LED flashing billboard on city property at I-94 and South Huron St. City Council approved the ordinance to enter into a long term agreement with Adams Outdoor. Despite objections by Steve Pierce, representing the Historic Southside Neighborhood, the measure passed unanimously. Pierce said that Schreiber had gone back on his promise nearly a year ago to have representatives from EMU, Convention and Visitors Bureau and City staff come to a neighborhood meeting to discuss their plan.

Swanson and Lois Richardson (Dem, Ward 1) both apologized for not meeting with neighbors from the Historic Southside and pointed out that EMU and city staff had me with the other two neighborhood associations that border the sign.

Then Council voted to approve a rate increase of 3.5% for sewage services. Larry Thomas, Director of Ypsilanti Communities Utilities Authority, said that they were not asking for a rate increase for water service. Thomas also said the 80% water surcharge that pays for a variety of debts and bonds including the water main work that was done during the road rebuilding would be reduced by 2%.

The beloved Freighthouse was also on the agenda. The Friends of the Freighthouse were asking the city to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the repair and operation of the Freighthouse. No one on Council asked why the group that is responsible for the sustainability of a publicly owned building, is not bound by the Open Meetings or Freedom of Information Act. The council unanimously approved the MOU and as such, gave up any public oversight of how public money is spent and how the public building is maintained or used.

Spark Business Incubator to locate on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Ypsilanti

September 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

Mack and Mack Building in Downtown Ypsilanti is site for Ann Arbor Spark Business Incubator.

(September 4, 2008) Sources from Washtenaw County and Eastern Michigan University have told YpsiNews.com that an agreement has been signed for the Ann Arbor Spark Business incubator. The business incubator will be located at the Mack and Mack building at 211 to 215 West Michigan Avenue in Downtown Ypsilanti.

According to sources that asked to remain anonymous, an agreement was executed by Maurer Management and Spark for the Mack and Mack building within the last week. Officials from Maurer Management would not comment for this story and officials from Spark did not return our call.

The Mayor of Ypsilanti, Paul Schreiber, announced last March that Spark was looking at a second location after negotiations with James Pate, owner of Smith Furniture building had stalled.

Smith Furniture, located on South Washington, was Sparks preferred location. However, folks close to the negotiations said Pate was difficult to work with and kept changing his requirements.

Yet their were strong proponents that kept advocating for the Smith building including County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson (Dem, District 6 Ypsilanti) and David Behen at the County. At one point, Behen camped out in front of Pate’s house in Ypsilanti for nearly a day to find Pate after Pate didn’t return phone calls for almost a month.

Mike Finney, president of Ann Arbor Spark, told both the Spark and LDFA boards that he would accept an alternate location such as the Mack and Mack building if it would mean Spark could meet their fall time frame for opening.

According to the sources at the County, negotiations for Smith Furniture broke off in late July after failing to come to an agreement with Pate.

Spark announced in August that they were looking at two new locations in Ypsilanti. One building was Mack and Mack. Spark did not disclose the second location.

Terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

Spark officials had previously said that they expected to be able to open the business incubator within four months of signing a lease.

The incubator space will be used for start-up companies working with Spark. There will also be classroom space to be used by EMU Business School.

Copper thieves strip Water Street buildings

September 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

(September 4, 2008) Tens of thousands of dollars of copper and other scrap metal have been stripped out of the buildings at Water Street in Downtown Ypsilanti. Unfortunately, the taxpayers of Ypsilanti did not get a single penny for the scrap metal.

City officials admitted in a May report to City Council that scrap thieves had stripped the buildings of copper and other valuable metals making all of the buildings uninhabitable.

In a letter sent to City Council, City Manager Ed Koryzno said, “Persons seeking scrap metal removed all of the copper from every building including electrical panels, heating and air conditioning, alarm panels, and in some cases the conduit. All of the roofs leak and/or are failing and the sprinkler system in the Flea Market did not receive winterization allowing the water to freeze breaking the pipes. The former Wireless Toys/Seafood Market has enough growth on the walls and floor that it resembles sod.”

Source: Ypsilanti City Council Information Letter, May 22, 2008

Hubert violates rules on use of military pictures and logos in campaign ads

July 31, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

Campaign ads from Edison Hubert running for 54th State Rep violates military rules on political advertising.

(July 31, 2008) Campaign literature and website from Edison Hubert who is running for State House in the 54th District runs afoul of military prohibitions of political campaigning. According to Department of Defense Public Affairs office, official military photos may not be used in in political advertising or campaigns.

Hubert has sent out a number of campaign pieces with his official Marine Corps photo where he served for four years in the early 90’s.

Additionally, Hubert used a copyrighted Marine Corps medallion on his website and in his print advertising which is also a violation of military rules and regualtions. Prohibitions of the use of military images in political campaigning has been a long standing policy of the military. Rules governing the use of military images and uniforms were updated in June 2006.

Hubert is also in violation of a more recent directive issued in 2008 which states candidates must use a disclosure statement when using photos of themselves in uniform or talking about their military service. The statement should say, “Military Images and Information Do Not Imply Endorsement by DoD or Service Branch.” Hubert has not used the disclosure statement on his print ads or website.

YpsiNews tried to reach Mr. Hubert’s campaign for comment, but the telephone number on his campaign website is not working.

Ypsilanti Township Debate

(July 24, 2008) YpsiNews.com was proud to broadcast live the YTownCan.com debate. Over 160 people were in attendance for the 2.5 hour event held at the Ypsilanti District Library. There were candidates for County Sheriff, County Commission District 4, Ypsilanti Township Supervisor, Clerk and Trustee.

See the on-line discussion during the debate.

YpsiNews sponsors Ypsilanti Township Candidates forum

July 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

(July 18, 2008) YpsiNews.com is sponsoring a candidate forum for Ypsilanti Township candidates, County Sheriff, and County Commission from District 4.

The debate is Thursday, July 24 from 6:30p to 9:00p and will be held at the Ypsilanti Public Library, 5577 Whittaker Road in Ypsilanti.

YpsiNews.com will record the debate and post the video on the Internet that evening. If we can secure a high speed connection, we plan to broadcast the debate live via the Internet.

The debate is being organized by Derrick Jackson and Jessica (Decky) Alexander.

A website has been created www.ytowncan.com where citizens can post questions and discuss the upcoming debate. Questions from the forums will selected and asked of all candidates. Residents will also be able to submit questions during the debate.

Then after the debate, return to the website to discuss the debate and candidates.

For more information please contact the organizers

Derrick Jackson
email: derrick@ytowncan.com

Jessica (Decky) Alexander
email: decky@ytowncan.com

Website: www.ytowncan.com

Ypsi City to hike property taxes by another 1.02 mills

May 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

(May 27, 2008) Ypsilanti City Manager Ed Koryzno in his budget presentation that was presented to the City Council at a May 8th special meeting told council the City property millage will go up by additional 1.02 mills.

This millage increase is above the general operating millage, which is capped by state law, thus this increase is not subject to a voter approval. The City’s portion of the millage rate will increase from 29.6 to 30.6. Ypsilanti has the highest property taxes in the County.

Ypsi Co-Op and City Hall gets $35,000 grant for solar projects

(May 16, 2008) The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) announced the Ypsilanti Food Co-op has received a grant of $35,980 for two solar energy projects. The grant is to install solar photo-voltaic panels on the Co-op as well as on City Hall.

The grants are part of the MPSC’s Low-Income and Energy Efficiency Fund, which provides energy bill assistance for low-income customers and promotes the efficient use of energy by all customer classes.

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