Ypsi Planning Director forced out

March 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News

(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.


One Comment on "Ypsi Planning Director forced out"

  1. rodneyn on Sat, 22nd Mar 2008 11:27 am 

    Wow. “…forced out”? I didn’t know that Mr. Koryzno knew how to fire unproductive or ineffective employees. After so many years, the quiet man awaketh!

    It really is too bad, because this action does little to improve the situation. More lost time that could’ve been avoided if the City had actually done its due diligence before hiring Ms. Hart. It’s not her lack of brownfield experience that was key, it is that the City hired a bureaucrat when they needed a self-motivated leader.

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.