Junk cars on city owned property

November 28, 2006 by  
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(November 28, 2006) Junk and abandoned cars parked on city owned property continue to be a problem for residents in one Ypsilanti south side neighborhood. A city-owned lot just south of the Ypsilanti Housing Commission’s Hollow Creek property at 118-124 S. Grove with a sign that says Visitor Parking is a veritable junk yard of cars and trash. (click on pictures for a larger view)

Many vehicles have expired plates, others have crashed front ends, flat tires, or broken windows. There is a thick layer of leaves on most car. Neighbors have said some cars have been there for over a year.

Trash also litters the site, especially going down the hill on the western side of the property. On our last visit before Thanksgiving, we saw trash bags, on old bed frame, and more spilling down the hill that leads to the abandoned railroad tracks and river.

Neighbors have reportedly complained about the property for some time, saying the City or Housing Commission patrols for a short while only to have problems return. The Housing Commission, in an agreement with the city, has used the parking lot for the past several years for Hollow Creek resident and visitor parking.

YpsiNews.com first learned of the parking lot in May 2006 at a monthly Ypsilanti Housing Commission Residents Council meeting when residents complained about continued problems with cars and trash. Unfortunately for residents, things continued to get worse.

Perhaps things will soon change. On Monday, the Visitor Parking sign was replaced with a new sign that says No Overnight Parking. The cars and trash, however, still remain.

See a Google map of the city-owned parking lot south of Housing Commission’s Hollow Creek Apartments on South Grove Street.

NEWS FLASH: City Council withdraws offer to hire new clerk

November 22, 2006 by  
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(November 22, 2006) Ypsilanti City council, after a lengthy closed session, has decided to not hire Lisa Johnson for City Clerk. The City Council in a brief one sentence statement said Johnson had not passed the background check.

Johnson had come under fire for having failed to disclose legal problems prior to her hiring, including an arrest in 2005 for tampering with financial records. Charges were later dismissed, however, prosecutors have indicated they intend to appeal the dismissal.

Watch Video of Ypsilanti City Council, November 21, 2006

The Dayton (OH) Daily News reported that Johnson had resigned from her post as Moraine Clerk after the Moraine Council had voted to terminate her in September 2006.

Ypsilanti City Council then passed a resolution to invite the five remaining candidates back for another round of interviews. It is unknown how many of the remaining candidates are still interested in the position. Amanda Holsinger, Interim Ypsilanti City Clerk, had already withdrawn her application.

Hope Clinic withdraws purchase of Ave Maria on Forest Ave.

November 22, 2006 by  
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(November 22, 2006) The board of directors for Hope Clinic have decided to not pursue the purchase of the Ave Maria property on Forest Avenue in Ypsilanti. Citing opposition from residents in the Riverside Neighborhood Association, Hope Clinic Executive Director Cathy Robinson said they are looking elsewhere for space.

“There was a great deal of work necessary for Hope to proceed,” said Robinson. “From rezoning the property, site plan, conditional use, and more. All of which would be an up hill battle. It would have been even more difficult starting from the negative without the support of the neighborhood.”

At a special meeting with Hope and the Riverside Neighborhood Association held on November 2, residents expressed concern over increased vehicle traffic as well as increased non-resident pedestrian traffic. Residents were also concerned about the loss of green space to new parking.

Robinson said that Hope was going to start over as they still want to look to consolidate their different operations into a single location. Currently, Hope has about 2,000sf of space for the medical clinic and 1,000sf for their Dental Clinic. They have an immediate need for 2,000sf of new space for the two clinics. Robinson estimates that they need about 10,000sf of total space for all their programs and staff.

Bruner finalist for Ferndale manager job

November 22, 2006 by  
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(November 22, 2006) Ypsilanti Assistant City Manager Robert “Bob” Bruner is one of six finalists for the city manager position in Ferndale, Michigan. In a press release from Bruner announcing he is a finalist, Bruner noted that he would be the eighth Ypsilanti department director to leave the City in the 30 months since his predecessor Shannon Stumbo Bellers left in June 2004.

Managers that have left include Former Assistant City Manager Shannon Stumbo Bellers, Human Resources Director Shari Kirby, and Public Works Director Harry Hutchison. Former Police Chief George Basar retired to become Police Chief in Howell.

The chief architects behind the Water Street Project, former Downtown Development Authority Director and before that Planning Director Jennifer Goulet took a job in Chelsea while former Planning & Development Director Megan Gibb left for Portland, Oregon.

The press release failed to note that two other managers have also left the city, the former HR director Bill Johnstone parted ways before his probation period was up and City Clerk Cherry Lawson, who is currently suing the city, took a job in Sedona, Arizona. While not a manager, long time City Assessor Carole Claire, also retired this year.

Bruner noted that the pay bump would be about $30,000, over his current Ypsilanti salary of $64,000 per year, plus benefits. Bruner said earlier that he had not yet been contacted about a schedule for interviews with Ferndale. Ferndale is expected to make a decision within the next month.

Residents voice frustration over increase in crime

November 21, 2006 by  
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(November 21, 2006) At a special community meting held on Monday, Ypsilanti residents voiced their concerns over the recent increase in street crimes and burglaries. Ypsilanti Police Chief Matt Harshberger said that the majority of the crime is centered around the downtown business district and surrounding neighborhoods.

Watch Video of Police Community Meeting, November 20, 2006

Some 50 residents packed into the Senior Center to hear from Chief Harshberger about some of the problems the community and department are facing. One of the concerns raised by the Chief and several residents was the decision by Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to stop the boarding out of prisoners to other jails.

Roberta Wojcik-Andrews from Midtown told officials that she has personally been the victim of three crimes since boarding out of County prisoners had ended in August 2006. (0h:45m) Andrews said, “It seems as if the decision to end the outboarding was a knee-jerk, irresponsible action, rather than limiting or controlling (the expense) of outboarding.”

Washtenaw County Ways and Means committe heard a report from Sheriff Minzey on June 6, 2006 about the boarding out of prisoners. (see page 6)

Here is a Google search of the County’s website with more articles and links on “boarding out” of prisoners.

Mark Maynard has posted notes from Monday’s meeting.

Ed Penet from Riverside Neighborhood Association has also written up extensive notes and we have included them below. Thanks Ed for letting YpsiNews post them on the site.


The meeting came down to three actions all residents (owners & renters, alike) must take immediately to help address: A) private property crime in our area, B) ail overcrowding, which puts the same bad people back on the street, and C) the county-wide issue of needing to expand or build a new county jail.

Here are the three things to do NOW:

#1 – You know your neighborhood. Be vigilant and call the non-emergency police number when you see or hear suspicious activity day or night … people/activity that do/does not belong in your neighborhood, call: 483-9510. Remember what you saw or heard, physical descriptions, colors of clothing. DO NOT get personally involved, but rather let the police come and check it out. If you have any other Ypsilanti law enforcement questions or other issues, call the Ypsilanti Police Administration line: 483-8590. Keep both numbers handy.

ONLY if there is a true emergency, or you have become a victim of a crime and YOU NEED IMMEDIATE police and/or fire assistance, call: 911.

Also … Get into new habits, immediately: keep your doors locked, windows locked, garage locked, car in the garage and locked or locked in the drive, any and all valuables locked in the trunk and out of sight. Expensive push brooms, snow shovels, lawn furniture, anything “loose” in the yard will have legs.

Despite the additional nominal cost, keep front and side or rear porch lights on at night, or use a timer. Add alarms to your home if you can afford to do so.

#2 – The County jail is in “lockdown” at the present, meaning no new prisoners, unless they are violent offenders or armed robbers. The crimes discussed above will not be handled by our County jail until further notice, meaning offenders are caught, processed and then released … and they offend again … and are apprehended again … etc. what’s more, the County will not pay for “outboarding” of prisoners in other county jails. As a result, over the last two months, since the lockdown began, and outboarding was stopped, Ypsilanti Police have arrested 124 persons for unarmed robberies and have processed them with 198 multiple charges, and have had to release them, pending their hearings … which means they’re back on the streets.

You can help the City, the Police, the County Jail Administrator, outspoken County Commissioners, and your neighbors by writing and/or calling the County to insist that two things happen IMMEDIATELY at the jail … #1 that Sheriff Minzey change his mind and use his statutory authority to reduce the sentences of some non-violent offenders being held at the jail. Early release will free up SOME jail space immediately to make room for “badder” people. #2 – that the County Board of Commissioners IMMEDIATELY (at their very next and their last meeting of the year in early December) reinstitute the practice of “outboarding,” where already-sentenced or otherwise eligible prisoners are boarded out to other county jails (Lenawee, Livingston, etc.), which may have space and are willing for a fee ($40 – $60/day) to take these people. It costs us $80 to house an inmate for a day … so, the price is right … for the moment.

#3 – In January 2007, the newly constituted County Board of Commissioners will be faced with many issues, among them: either adding a new pod (96 beds) to the current jail … or, as the consulting architect to the County recommended, demolishing the current structure and building a new, larger, more humane, and more efficient facility. Renovation will take two years, and by that time, the 96 beds will still be 100 or more beds short, given the population growth projected for the County and current crime level projections. An entirely new facility would make more sense and would help address the fundamental issues facing us at this time: removing criminals from the streets, treatment programs and rehab to help change habits, and longterm release strategies to deal with social problems that lead to crime.

Even a new jail won’t correct all of that … as Commissioner Peterson remarked, and Commissioner-elect Schwartz echoed, the newly elected Commission will be much more open to comprehensive activist planning, and to giving a serious look 20 to 30 years out to decide on social and financial strategies for dealing with crime prevention, family services, rehabilitation, financial support, school in-service programs, recreation and jobs. What we are seeing on our streets, for the most part, are crimes perpetrated by our own County residents, who need more comprehensive intervention. Without it … criminal activity will grow as the population grows. The law enforcement community throughout the County and generally the judicial bench agree.

So, when you write/call, also demand: AT MINIMUM a new jail pod, or more wisely, a comprehensive County services plan, that includes a NEW COUNTY JAIL. Ypsilanti City Council, COPAC, and other civic organizations will ALSO be contacting the County. What will really make a difference to the current and future commissioners will be the volume of citizen letters and calls regarding these issues.

– Ed Penet, RNA Secretary

Ypsilanti DDA struggles to complete Downtown parking lot project

November 17, 2006 by  
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(November 17, 2006) This is the first video of an Ypsilanti DDA meeting ever posted online. This was also the first DDA meeting with the new mayor, Paul Schreiber. Schreiber apologized for being late but did inform the board that he has no cavities. Two new members also join the DDA that were appointed in the last minute rush to fill board vacancies by outgoing Mayor Cheryl Farmer. They are Darryl Daniels from Jacobson Daniels, a new planning firm that took over the Phoenix building on North Washington, and Joyce Ramsey from Browerbird Mongo.

Watch Video of Ypsilanti DDA, November 16, 2006

The DDA board continues to struggle with the parking lot project which includes the new dumpster enclosures. A project that was supposed to have been finished in the summer of 2005, now appears likely to stretch into 2007. (Discussion starts at 0h:23m)

Brian Vosburg, DDA Director, said “When I got here at the end of June (2006), after meeting with Beckett and Raeder (BRI), I was under the impression that things were a little behind, but not unreasonable giving the problems with weather and the water main. The more and more I got into and looked into the specs, not only are things way behind, there are some major discrepancies between what was specified and what was built.”

The DDA distributed a draft letter to be sent to the bond company of the contractor, ABC Paving, outlining the problems with parking lot project. There are some 50 items still remaining to be completed on the punch list. Vosburg confirmed that the Historic District Commission (HDC) required the wood doors on the enclosures to be stained which is why the panels have been removed.

DDA Board Chair Peter Rinehart said that BRI was ultimately responsible for the project. In reality it is the DDA board that is ultimately responsible.

The DDA board then went into discussion over the common dumpsters and trash pickup. Jim Nelson made an excellent suggestion when he proposed that the DDA pay for garbage pickup for the short run to get the project moving forward and to reestablish good will within the community.

The DDA, with the help of the local business owners, completed an inventory of garbage use in the area. They added up the total costs of the existing contracts with Waste Management and then asked Waste Management what would it cost to consolidate the services. Waste Management came back with a quote within pennies of their existing contracts with individual businesses. It was noted that the City will be negotiating a new garbage contract in 2007 for the entire city and the DDA hopes they can piggy back on that contract.

The DDA board also discussed hiring outside legal council (1h:22m) to assist with matters that would come up before the board. It was suggested by Rhoshebie Argo that the DDA should consider local attorneys. Nelson asked how the two firms before the board were selected.

During the discussion, one of of the firms with municipal experience, Mclain and Winters on N. Huron, DDA Director Vosburg said, “seeing at the last (DDA) meeting that folks were not in favor of working with Mclain and Winters…” Vosburg went on to list the other two firms, Bodman and Tomkiw Dalton. Vosburg later clarified by “folks” he meant the DDA board. A check of the previous board minutes had no mention of the discussion or qualifications of certain law firms or who spoke in opposition to Mclain and Winters

No action was taken and it wasn’t clear why outside council was actually needed.

The DDA has also decided to adopt the sidewalk signs pilot program recently enacted by Ann Arbor. (1h:13m) There was continued criticism leveled at Oasis Cafe’s sidewalk sign for being too large. Similar concerns over the Oasis Cafe sign were brought up at the October 19, 2006 meeting.

City Council rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

(November 14, 2006) This is the first city council meeting with the new mayor and council. Paul Schreiber and Brian Robb were newly sworn in as mayor and councilman from Ward 3. Unfortunately due to a production error, we missed the first 30 minutes of the meeting and the gavel hand-off. Lee Tooson was in rare form tonight as he welcomed the council and mayor.

Watch Video of Ypsilanti City Council, November 13, 2006

We join the meeting in progress as council is deliberating changes to audience participation. The good news is council added another three minutes at the end of the meeting for audience participation. The bad news is they moved the first audience participation until after all presentations and public hearings. So for the most part, audience participation won’t start until 8:30 or 9:00p.

Brian Robb brought up the issue of public notice in newspapers. Despite the fact that publishing notices in the Ann Arbor News is some three to four times more expensive than the Courier, the council voted to continue to use the Ann Arbor News as the paper of record.

At the end of the meeting, the new mayor brought up the seating arrangement asking Ward members to sit together. This was rejected by the council. The mayor then suggested they change the seating order and proposed that he sit on the end so that he doesn’t have to swivel his head back and forth to see the council members. All this discussion about the seating chart left some in the audience to wonder if this was like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ypsi City Council “The Gang that couldn’t shoot straight”

(November 13, 2006) The Ann Arbor News is reporting that the newly chosen Ypsilanti City Clerk, Lisa Johnson, was arrested in 2005 for tampering with records. In a story published on Sunday, the Ann Arbor News has learned that Lisa Johnson was arrested last year (2005) in Ohio on charges of tampering with the financial records of a children’s football league. Charges were later dismissed when prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to defense attorneys. According to the Ann Arbor News, the case dismissal is on appeal.

This isn’t the first hiring that was bungled by the city in the past year. There was the sudden resignation of the interim DDA director after she was dumped from the interview process. There was the botched police chief interviews that resulted in the hiring of an outside consultant to address concerns raised by the community. Now the city clerk interview process and hiring has been thrown into turmoil. All three hirings were supervised by Assistant City Manager and Human Resources Director Bob Bruner.

It is not clear why someone that would be entrusted with voter records, hiring election workers, maintaining city records, and posting legal notices, would not have been asked during the interview process, “have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime?”

According to the Ann Arbor News, Bruner said that Ypsilanti conducts background checks only after a candidate is chosen for the job.

The city has spent thousands of dollars trying to hire a new city clerk. They have also expended enormous resources conducting interviews and then holding two public meetings with the entire city council to interview the six finalists.

Perhaps the city’s interview process needs to be changed.

Many organizations, before making the final hiring announcement, conduct a brief background check on the final two or three candidates. That way if a problem arises, the city can still move quickly to select the best candidate. By announcing publicly that the Council has made a final selection before doing background checks, it tells the rest of the candidates they are not wanted. It then puts the city at a disadvantage if the city comes back later to the second candidate and asks the candidate to reconsider.

The second candidate knows the city is now in trouble, needs to quickly get a hire, or risks having to redo the entire hiring process. So the candidate can extract a higher salary or other concessions. It also puts the candidate in a difficult position coming into the new job with everyone knowing they were the second or third choice.

In the Ann Arbor News article, Bruner said “You cannot judge a book by its cover. Just because you lost a job somewhere else, it does not mean that you cannot do a good job here.” Bruner is not saying that simply because someone was fired, they aren’t capable of doing a good job.

However, in this case, Lisa Johnson was not fired. Johnson resigned her current post in September. What has been called into question is her ethics and integrity. Johnson should have disclosed her current legal problems during the interview process and the city should have asked more questions and conducted a background check before making a public announcement on a new hire.

Given the past problems with recruiting new employees to the city, it is hard to see how the current city administration is doing a good job.

Mayor Farmer, immediately following the vote to hire Lisa Johnson on October 31 said, “Now in the unlikely event that the background check turns up something outrageous that we heretofore missed… it sounds like we should look at second choices.”

Rebecca Bintz was the Council’s second choice according to their vote taken by council after interviewing all six candidates. Bintz was the first choice of Councilwoman Lois Richardson. Richardson was the only council member to vote against hiring Johnson.

241 Students make honor roll at West Middle School

November 13, 2006 by  
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(November 13, 2006) West Middle School Principal Monica Merritt, shown in red turtleneck, presents the largest honor roll student assembly since she became principal in 2003. The 241 students were treated to breakfast Nov. 13 and then awarded a t-shirt and certificate to mark their academic accomplishment.

City Council gives manager retroactive 3% raise, orders new flags flown at Water Tower

November 8, 2006 by  
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This was the last meeting of the Council before the new mayor takes over next week. This was one of the most jam packed council meetings in while. Council approved a 3% pay raise for the city manager retroactive to July 1, 2006. While at the same meeting, Council talked about layoffs in the police department. One council member said the manager deserves a bonus.

Watch Video of Ypsilanti City Council, November 8, 2006

Council approved refinancing water bonds to pay for more water mains. The police chief gave a presentation on police services.

Most interesting was the lease for College Place was tabled. The Mayor said she asked the clerk to pull out the minutes from two years ago and commented that no one spoke in favor of the transfer of College Place to EMU two years ago. Not too surprisingly, no one spoke in favor again.

Council also exempted parking tickets for contractors and trades working in residential parking permit areas. There was a page and half of new appointees to citizen boards and finally a new member was appointed to the Smartzone board, a position that had been open for almost two years with no action by the mayor. Then the council agreed with the mayor to put up two new flags at the Water Tower. A city flag and an EMU flag.

I don’t think council remembers the city didn’t pay for the installation of the flag poles, nor does the city pay for any maintenance, or the flags. The council ended the meeting by going into closed session.

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