Ypsi Ordinance Officer resigns after snow debacle

March 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Breaking News, News

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.