With the Primary election on Tuesday, the Little Mayors are back. They are making a list and checking it twice.
by Dave Strenski
We have the final design. We have the money. We have the community support. All we need is the HDC to approve the project. Please spread the word to help convince Ypsilanti’s Historic District Commission to approve this project.
The Ypsilanti Solar Project is on the Historic District Commission agenda for this Tuesday evening October 14, 2008 at 7:00pm.
Dave Strenski will be addressing the Commission to ask for approval to install 12 solar panels on the back of the City Hall building. We need as many people as possible to attend as a show of support. The Commission is divided about whether to approve the project.
We have compiled a report of all past HDC minutes and City Council minutes pertaining to this project, plus an 1887 picture of City Hall from James Mann’s 2002 book, Ypsilanti, a History in Pictures (Arcadia publishing, Chicago).
Over the past 18 months the HDC has generally expressed support for this project, while also asking many questions about aesthetics, precedence, and impact on the building structure. Most recently the HDC requested a review of the design by a licensed structural engineer. On October 8th Fitzpatrick Structural Engineering completed this review, and we now have a final design which will not damage the old brickwork, and which may actually strengthen the building’s wall.
You can see the design on the Sustainable Ypsilanti website. (3.7MB)
You can also read about the project in an article from the Ypsilanti Courier.
There will be an opportunity at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting for public input on agenda items. Below are a few points people could mention:
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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.
(June 26, 2007) Despite a rocky start, the Ypsilanti 20/20 committee got off the ground last night at City Hall. Billed as an organizational meeting, the meeting stretched for almost two hours and was full of interesting ideas and a passion that hasn’t been seen at City Hall for some time. There was only one audience member, Brain Robb (Dem, Ward 3), who quietly sat in the back and watched.
This was was a really fun meeting. If you want to see what is good about Ypsilanti, we highly recommend you watch the video. It was great to see people excited about baseball in Ypsilanti which has been an idea in the works for some time. There were many other great ideas from independent retailers, sustainable agriculture, and green cities.
Yeah we know, the original promise was for the 20/20 to meet and come up with recommendations in the first 100 days of the new administration. It was 230 days from the election before the first meeting so they are a little slow getting started. And we know the meeting was likely a violation of the Open Meetings Act because the meeting was never properly posted at City Hall. But that wasn’t the fault of the committee members, rather city staff should shoulder the blame because staff should know the rules. It was also a little disconcerting when Gary Clark, interim Chair, called YpsiNews thirty minutes before the meeting and told us that that there was nothing going on at tonights meeting and said we didn’t need to attend.
We are glad we didn’t listen. The meeting was full of energy, great ideas, diverse backgrounds, and you could see that folks were anxious to get to work. Mayor Paul Schreiber should be complemented for the group he has put together. Lets hope that the politics and divisiveness too often seen inside City Hall, leaves these folks alone and lets them do their job of shaping a vision for our community. If the committee can focus on the vision and idea generation, and not become a rubber stamp for things like an Income Tax or Water Street, then this committee has great promise. Mr. Mayor, nice job.
(June 19, 2007) For those that endured a 5-hour long Ypsilanti School Board meeting, it was hard to see what was accomplished. At the beginning of the meeting, one audience member was shouted down by the board chair for using the ‘N’ word. (0h:44m) However, the audience member was reading a quote from a police report about an incident at the High School and was not directing the epithet at any board or staff member.
Then in a perplexing move, the board undertook the sale of land on Clark and LeForge in Superior Township. That land was designated as the location of a new bus garage and warehouse for the district. According to the superintendent James Hawkins, Hawkins said that CFO Alan Dowdy said they could sell part of the land and not affect the bus facility. However, how does a finance guy know that the land sale will not impact the site plan when no site plan exists?
There has not been a site plan or assessment of the site to determine location of buildings or traffic flows on the property. Moreover, no inquiry has been made with the state or county regarding traffic flows in and out of the site. The school board didn’t even contact the citizens committee they appointed almost two years ago to look at a location for the bus garage. It was stunning that the Board would consider the issue with so little data.
Then the board took on the granting of a contract to a current assistant principal at the high school. Mr. Macintosh is eligible for retirement so he has opted to accept the early buyout and receive $15,000 cash. The board will then turn around and sign a personal services contract paying him more than he receives now for a two year contract.
The board claims they are saving money but they aren’t. They are putting Macintosh into retirement, then rehiring him for the exact same job he was already doing. That isn’t what you typically do with an early buyout. The buyout is to get the person off the payroll. Not to then rehire them the very next day. The savings is just on paper shifting costs from the local district to the state. When you look at the full cost to the taxpayers this deal will cost Michigan taxpayers well over $50,000. This doesn’t pass the smell test.
YpsiNews then asked the board secretary to send us meeting notices. Board Secretary Karen Allen said that meetings are posted on the web. We noted that special meetings are not on the website and since the Board can call a meeting in 24 hours, we miss the special meetings like the one called several weeks ago. Allen then corrected us by saying meetings could be called in 18 hours. I guess the expectation is that citizens and the media should check the website every 18 hours to insure a board meeting hasn’t been called.
We then suggested that Allen could send the meeting notice by fax or email. Allen responded, “I don’t do email.”
So lets outline the process for calling a special meeting. Allen produces the meeting notice on a computer, prints it out, and then faxes it. But she won’t do email.
Folks these are the people that are supposed to be educating our kids. They are making fiscal decisions without understanding the true costs. They grant a sweetheart deal to an assistant principal, they squash free speech, and they don’t do email. It isn’t any wonder there is a crises in our school district.
(May 26, 2007) The Doom and Gloom over city finances continues. At the Thursday budget session, Ypsilanti City Council laid out the parameters for the City Income Tax. The proposal is for a 1% tax on residents, 1/2% on non-residents, and a 4-mill roll back for all property owners. Numerous residents spoke out against the City Income Tax while only one resident spoke in favor of the city income tax. The lone supporter was former Mayor Cheryl Farmer who is likely heading up the pro-income tax group.
While the current mayor is proposing new services with the City Income Tax, Council finally learned tonight that even with a City Income Tax, by year three they won’t have enough money to pay for current services, much less any new services.
The problem is the crushing debt from the former mayor’s pet project Water Street. Debt payments balloon to over $2 million a year and the only way for the city to pay for Water Street is with the City Income Tax or a 4 to 5 mill increase in property taxes. That is the same 4 mills that is being proposed as a reduction to entice residents to vote for the City Income Tax.
For the first time, council also admitted that the promised 4 mill property roll back could be raised with a simple 4-vote majority at a later date to pay for Water Street or other emergency spending. City Attorney John Barr argues that there may be a lawsuit if the millage is raised, however he also pointed out that the bond holders of Water Street would also likely sue and force the city to increase the millage to pay for Water Street. What a mess.
(May 21, 2009) The City of Howell is considering toughening legislation to ban sexually-oriented business from their downtown. The former Ypsilanti Chief of Police George Basar, who retired and became the Chief in Howell, had suggested that Howell tighten their ordinances before adult businesses appeared in Howell. Last week, a planning consultant from Carlisle/Wortman spoke to the Howell Planning Commission about the issues and it was a discussion item on the agenda.
In a story reported in the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus, Planning Commissioner and City Council member Dawn Cooper is reported to have said during the public meeting, “All we have to do is think about what (Ypsilanti) looks like. We don’t want that here.”
It is too bad a Howell City Council member has to take a cheap shot at a neighboring community by perpetuating untrue and negative stereotypes. There were three adult business in Ypsilanti in 2000. Today, despite what was reported in the Daily Press and Argus, there is just one. The other two were closed down, not because of the City of Ypsilanti’s planning ordinance, but because they were operating illegally and were in violation of both the State health and fire codes.
One of the businesses, an adult video store, in order to avoid prosecution including possible tax evasion charges, agreed to pay the city $100,000 plus he gave his building to the City and he promised to not return. The City later sold the building for some $80,000.
According to Chief Basar when he was here in Ypsilanti, the one remaining adult business had been in the community for over 20 years and has never caused any problems and has always worked well with the local police department. Chief Basar said there were more problems at the bus station across the street then there ever was with the lone remaining adult business.
We believe it is appropriate for a community to set standards and create zoning regulations in their downtown districts. However, to demonize a neighboring community, especially when what Ms. Cooper said was untrue, is politics at it’s very worst.
We called Ms. Cooper to invite her to lunch in Ypsilanti, our treat. Perhaps after she visits Ypsilanti, when she thinks of our community, she will see Ypsilanti and our Downtown for what we truly are and not for some stereotype formed from bigotry and ignorance. We will let you know if she accepts our invitation.