A temporary holding place for this blog until such a time as a new site is launched.
Welcome to The Asylum. Just as before, Josh is always right.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When City Attorneys Smell Blood

There's quite a bit that's been going on both in and outside the City of Hillsdale that I've been meaning to get to but just haven't had the time.  We can thank the multiple farces taking place at City Hall for that.
That being the case, and for the sake of organization, this is article one of two this week, and it focuses on a local issue.  The other article, covering three other topics, can be found here.
Also, here's a reminder that the Hillsdale City Council is meeting with the BPU board in the council chambers at 7:00 Thursday evening to determine what to do now that the city has voted down Rick Rose's proposed new contract.  I would highly suggest that you be there.

One of the little pains of city life is property lines.  If you own a house in the city limits, you have to deal with them every time you do something with your property, because you don't want to go over the line into your neighbor's property.

Especially when your neighbor is the city government.

I'm speaking, of course, of right-of-ways, the small strips of property in front of your house that aren't yours.

One local man who knows this all too well is Jay Easterday.  In front of his house was a tree that, for years, posed a safety hazard to just about everyone passing by.  It was located in the right-of-way, sitting at the throat of his driveway, just on the corner where it met Lumbard Street.  The placement of the tree made it dangerous and darn near impossible for anyone to turn in or out.

The tree, as shown in Google Earth.

A close-up shot of the tree as seen in Google Earth. Impact marks can clearly be seen on the lower portions of the trunk.

"We hit it on a rainy night on my stepdaughter's side, and it did $4,000 worth of damage to my truck," Easterday tells me.  "Two other people hit it in the years the tree was standing there, not to mention everybody -- I mean everybody -- almost hit this tree."

He even has confirmation of the hazard that this tree posed from an employee of none other than the United States Postal Service.

"I have a letter from a mail lady that has delivered mail in Hillsdale for 25 years, and she has hit the tree [in the winter] and had to have [her vehicle] towed," he says.  "She has said in a personal written letter that this is the worst hill tree combination in Hillsdale in her opinion.  It is so bad that, in the winter, she had to deliver mail in a special way to my house."

Easterday received this letter from his mail carrier describing her accidents with the tree and her opinion of the danger it was in the winter.

So, after incurring thousands of dollars in damages to his own vehicle -- not to mention the climbing insurance rates and who knows how much money in damages done to other vehicles -- Easterday did what any rational, intelligent, sensible person would do: he cut down the offending tree.

Now, nobody is contesting the fact that he cut down city property.  Not even Easterday himself.  At first he was unaware of the right-of-way's location, but he now concedes that the tree was within it.  He's even apologized for cutting it down.  And, as such, he made an offer to the city: $500 in cash as a fine, and he would pay to have the stump removed.  It was a perfectly reasonable offer, and given the costs that he's already faced for his troubles, it's more than the city should ask for.

City Attorney Lew Loren had a one-sentence response when Easterday called him to make this offer:

"No, sir, absolutely not," Easterday quoted the official.

Easterday then made another generous offer: he again would pay to remove the stump, and he would plant another, smaller tree at a cost of $300 in the same location.

That offer was turned down, as well.

So what is Loren demanding?  The genius mind that came up with our super-drunk former(?) BPU director's failed ADA-violating contract is insisting that Easterday pay $1,000 with $300 up front, $50 per month installments, and 6% interest, plus removal of the stump at his own expense.

But that's just the settlement offer.  In fact, there is now a court date of June 15th set for this case, and Loren plans to come after $2,008 plus court costs.

Why $2,008 and not just $2,000 flat?  Because LewLo's just that vindictive, that's why.

Some Hot Debates members jumped right on this and did a little investigating.  They found that the current interest rate for money judgments set by the state is 2.678%.  The settlement would still be a better deal than the full lawsuit, but the interest that Loren wants out of that settlement is more than double the going rate.

The offer having come from the person that it did, I honestly can't say that I'm surprised.

Additionally, they noted that most cities have standards for tree placement according to distance from various other street-side installations such as fire hydrants, utility poles, curbs at an intersection and the like, as well as the distance from the edge of the street, distance from the edge of a sidewalk, and distance from the throat of a driveway.

Hillsdale does not.

Kentwood's code was offered as an example, which sets the distance from the street based on speed limit and the distance from the throat of a driveway at 25 feet across the board.  Those standards were adopted from the desirable clear zone guidelines laid out by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Quite obviously, being the older city that we are, and not knowing what the twentieth century would bring in terms of automobiles, speed of travel and necessary safety standards -- not to mention the need for much straighter city streets and rounder intersection corners than we have here in Hillsdale -- most of our city streets predate the time that these standards were formulated.  Which doesn't excuse the fact that they're still not in place now, but nevertheless, Hillsdale does not employ such standards.

However, Easterday contends that Hillsdale does have an applicable ordinance here.

"It should fall under Section 14-114; Public nuisance," he says.

I would have to concur.  The very first paragraph of that section says this:

"Any tree or shrub or parts thereof growing upon private property but overhanging or interfering with the use of any street, park, public improvement, or public place of the city that in the opinion of the city forester endangers the life, health, safety, or property of the public shall be declared a public nuisance."

Now you might be saying to yourself, "but that says private property.  The tree was in the right-of-way, which is public property."  And you'd be correct.


For the relevant ordinance, we go back to Section 14-103, which states (emphasis mine):

"The city council shall have full power and authority over all trees, plants, and shrubs planted or hereafter planted in the streets, parks and public places of the city. The maintenance of such trees, plants and shrubs shall be subject to the provisions of this article, and such rules and regulations as the city council may from time to time hereafter adopt, and as it deems necessary to properly control and regulate the planting, maintenance, protection and removal of trees, plants and shrubs on public areas of the city."

So the city is just as responsible for obeying Section 14-114 as private property owners are.  That makes the tree in question a public nuisance, and it should therefore be the city's responsibility to remove it, not Jay Easterday's or anyone else's.

But Easterday says that his mentions of the ordinance fell on deaf ears.

"I've said it to [interim city manager] Doug Terry, the forester, [Department of Public Services Director] Keith Richard, in front of my house, and at the council meeting.  Oh, to Mr. Loren, also.  It's kinda 'act like you never even said anything.'  I have heard nothing about it.  Maybe 'cause I'm right at the end of the day, and hey, who wants that?"

One would think that taking this before the City Council might be beneficial.  Easterday went that route and got so far as to have Terry put the issue on the council's agenda for the January 5th meeting.

"The council helped very much at first," Easterday says.  He later told me that, "even at the council meeting that night, Mr. Stockford apologized to me."

Indeed he did.  After painstakingly sifting through the video (the technical problems with which the city does not seem inclined to fix, and I can't imagine why), I found that Stockford took a moment in the council comment session at the end of the night to do just that.

"I want to apologize to the Easterdays as well about that," the councilperson said, "and I really wish that something could be done about it, because I do believe you that it was an honest mistake, and if it was left up to me, I'd be inclined to give you a pass or charge you a hundred dollars to replace the tree; plant a new sproutling or something.  I'd like to see us more resident-friendly, and we appreciate you being residents here."

But things took a sharp turn for the decidedly un-helpful.

"Keith Richard slammed his folder down and threatened to retire because of Stockford's remarks," Easterday told me.

If that didn't do it, Richard's out-of-order approach to the podium -- as seen in the video -- certainly revealed his feelings on the matter.

And our esteemed City Attorney's expert legal opinion?

"Mr. Loren said it didn't belong in front of council, it belonged in court," Easterday says.

It wouldn't be the first time LewLo has tried to sideline the council.  And this time, while he cited a council resolution to defer these things to the courts, he quite obviously has a monetary motivation for doing so.  After all, why should City Hall be forced to obey the law when they can just ignore it and force someone else to pay for something that the city is responsible for?

Basically, Loren believes that he and the Code Enforcement Office can get away with what amounts to legalized extortion here.  They know that the city doesn't have the resources to actually enforce the majority of what it demands of residents.  Just ask the people in the office themselves, I'm sure they'll admit as much.  So they jumped at this golden opportunity as soon as it came along, thinking that they could make Easterday an example of what happens to people who don't pay debts that the mafia claims they owe.

I'm sorry, city.  Not mafia.  City.  My mistake.

But you can understand how it's an easy mistake to make.  Honest city employees would acknowledge the ordinances that make this their responsibility.  Honest city employees would accept Easterday's counter-offer and leave it at that.  Honest city employees would present some reasonable standards for the city council to vote on so that this sort of thing doesn't happen again.

We're not dealing with honest city employees here.

Instead, Loren and his cohorts, in the name of The City of Hillsdale, are suing Jay Easterday because he did their job for free.

Don't you just love bureaucracy?

Catching Up

There's quite a bit that's been going on both in and outside the City of Hillsdale that I've been meaning to get to but just haven't had the time.  We can thank the multiple farces taking place at City Hall for that.
That being the case, and for the sake of organization, this is article two of two this week, and it focuses on a few state and social issues.  The other article, covering a local issue, can be found here.

Also, here's a reminder that the Hillsdale City Council is meeting with the BPU board in the council chambers at 7:00 Thursday evening to determine what to do now that the city has voted down Rick Rose's proposed new contract.  I would highly suggest that you be there.

It's Time For Michigan To Acknowledge Reality

For those of you just joining us since I turned my attention to City Hall, you should know this about me: I'm very much a politically conservative social liberal.  If you don't understand what that means, I'll enlighten you.

The single worst mistake the Republican Party ever made was to tie themselves to the "Moral Majority," or what we today refer to as the "religious right."  Social conservatism and political conservatism are oil and water; they do not mix.  One cannot claim that the basis of their political philosophy is small government when they're attempting to use the government as a means of enforcing their (backwards, outdated, completely incorrect on both scientific and Biblical bases) religious beliefs on others.  That makes such a person a theocrat, not a conservative.

This is exactly why I'm not a Republican.  Nor am I a Democrat.  I don't belong to any party.  I don't buy into the two-party, two-ideology lie, because that's exactly what it is: a big, fat, gigantic lie.  I'm what I refer to as a "little-L libertarian."  If you really want an accurate description along the political spectrum, I'm fairly minarchist, but not to the point of rejecting government where it has proven its worth.

I'm also a constitutionalist, which means that I find the United States Constitution and (most of) its amendments to be the best framework the world has ever seen for upholding the liberties of all people equally.  My philosophy is that government exists only to uphold the liberties of all people against threats from both inside and out.  If I were to still identify with a political party, I'd be what was once called a Goldwater Republican.

Does anyone besides me even remember what a Goldwater Republican is anymore?

Now, all that having been said...

A federal lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson for requiring gender confirmation surgery in order to change the gender marker on a person's driver's license or state identification card.

This is a good thing.

I'm not going to get into the details of the case.  You can read them for yourself in the story linked to above.  But what I do want to explain to you is why the S.O.S. will change this policy, and not long from now even if they don't change it as a result of this case.

Gender is a biological trait separate from physical sex.  It is not outwardly visible, it's rooted in the fetal development of the brain.  You can read up on all the science of that in any number of places (the APA is a good place to start), but the short story is that there are two hormone bursts in the womb: one early on which affects brain development, the other later on which affects physical development.  Depending upon a variety of factors, including their strength and, to some extent, genetics, these hormone bursts are masculinizing.  The stronger they are, the more masculine a child will be; the weaker the burst, the more feminine.

What's key here is that the two separate bursts' strength may not necessarily match up.  When they don't, the person is transgender: born with an outwardly visible physical sex that does not match their internal, mental gender.  And no two people's sex-gender connections are exactly the same.  Even cisgender people have differing levels of masculinization in their development.  It's not a disorder or a defect, it's simply the natural development that we all go through, and only when a transgender person is able to self-identify -- which can happen as early as the age of two, and possibly earlier -- will anyone know that the difference is there.

Now here's where the Secretary of State's policy runs into trouble: transgender people do not -- I repeat, do not -- always require surgery.  Statistics are very hard to come by on this topic because of privacy regulations and the fact that the openly transgender population is so small to begin with, but it has been well-documented among those who are willing to share such information that surgery comes down to a case-by-case basis.

That concurs with the recommendations of the credible psychiatric and medical bodies which research these things and set governing guidelines for care, including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Endocrine Society.  They all agree that gender confirmation surgery may be a medical necessity for some while, for others, social transition and/or medical intervention short of surgery is enough to alleviate the patient's suffering.

So for the State of Michigan to step in and say "you're not really what you say you are unless you've had surgery," that is entirely contradictory to every credible medical authority on the matter.  It is clearly discriminatory, and whether or not it's malicious in intent is irrelevant.  What matters is that it's rooted in ignorance of science and biology, and it is causing further harm to people who have a right to self-identification whether anyone agrees with them or not.

Besides, if their gender marker doesn't match their gender, how is someone looking at that little plastic card going to be able to verify that they are who they say they are?  Isn't that the whole purpose of a government-issued I.D. to begin with?

So what does all of this have to do with political conservatism and social liberalism?  I'm glad you asked.

State Attorney General Bill "The Will of the People" Schuette -- who I've proven in the past is mathematically and factually incorrect on that "will of the people" bit in regard to the unconstitutional Michigan Marriage Amendment -- and the supposed "conservatives" in the state legislature (including our own state representative here in District 58) remain on a crusade to keep all things homo-gay illegal.  Same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples, transgender rights... all of these things are being actively fought against for no valid reason whatsoever by people who have nothing on their minds other than hatred on the basis of dogma that has long been disproven and wouldn't belong in government even if it were true.

These people are not political conservatives.  They contradict the very principles they claim to hold dear.  They are big-government political liberals who simply want to use government for their own purposes.  They are no different from the big-government liberals on the other side of the aisle, they just use the same means to a different end (if you'll pardon the ironic expression).

And they're going the way of the dodo.

Yes, I mean that quite literally.  They and their rhetoric are going extinct.

See, those of us who know better have had enough of this crap.  And if you don't think we're the majority, you'd better check again.  My generation, the Millennials?  We're greater in number than the Boomers, and we're nothing if not socially liberal.  To say that we will not tolerate such bigotry is an understatement.  To say that we're just lazy and won't do anything about it is foolish ignorance.  To say that the day isn't coming anytime soon is just plain stupid.  Look around you.  It's already here.

This policy will change, and Michigan will be better for it.  The change may not come as a result of this court case (though I'd bet good money, which I don't have, that it will).  But it will change.  The "religious right" may have to be dragged into the present day kicking and screaming, but nobody is going to pay attention to their little temper tantrums.

You don't get to choose whose rights are recognized and whose aren't.  The 14th Amendment says "all persons."  No person or law gets to say otherwise.

And Speaking of Acknowledging Reality...

While the Girl Scouts are again making news for some reason about their now years-old policy of accepting transgender girls into their troops (which is a good thing), Boy Scouts president Bob Gates -- yes, that Bob Gates -- is making news for begrudgingly allowing gay scout leaders and adults into their troops.  Which is... and I hate this expression, but it's appropriate here... it is what it is.

The reason given for Gates' change of... oh, shall we say, tune, is thus:

“We must deal with the world as it is,” Gates told assembled Scout leaders. “Not as we might wish it to be.”


“In open defiance,” to quote Gates’ speech, Scout Councils in Greater New York and Denver have this year accepted gay adult leaders. “While technically we have the authority to revoke their charters, such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of Scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today and vastly more in the future. I will not take that path.”

So basically, the BSA President is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.  He doesn't want to further divide the organization, which would certainly happen if he put it up for a vote by the National Board, so he's just leaving it up to the local councils, which will... well, further divide the organization.  But hey, at least they'll have the freedom to do the right thing, right?!  Right?!

You know, I'm no Albert Oinsteen, but it seems pretty obvious to me that if you do the right thing, even if you lose some members in the controversy, you're going to be rid of the forces dragging your organization back to the dark ages and you'll gain leaders who want to be there for all the right reasons.  The girls have it figured out.  Why can't the boys get it through their thick skulls?

And finally...

Get The Duggars' Out Of My Face

I'm really sick of hearing about Josh Duggar.

Yes, yes, we all know where the irony is here.  He and his family are hell-bent on keeping TEH GAYZ! (*gasp!*) from shoving their sexuality down everyone else's throat, and now we come to find out that he made a habit of forcing himself on his young relatives.  Yeah, ha-ha, ain't that always the way.

What few people who aren't pointing to the well-known pattern of virulent homophobes having skeletons in their own closet, those are the naive few who are just shocked that such a fine, upstanding young man could possibly do something so horrible.

You see, in our modern society -- divided strictly along the lines of hardcore fundamentalists on one side and practically everyone else on the other -- there is no middle ground.  Everyone picks an extreme, and if you disagree with their extreme, well then, you're just a horrible person!

Me?  I really don't care.

Not that I condone what he did, but I'm burnt out on these stories.  We all know the pattern.  We all know the people who are pretty much destined to follow it.  None of us are surprised when the news breaks.  So what's the big deal?

"But he's such a big public figure! It's such a massive public fall!" you may argue.

Hey, check your Bible there, genius: we've ALL fallen. None of us have any higher ground to stand on in that regard.

"But Jesus has forgiven him, and he's clearly moved on, so we should, too!" you may argue.

If this were a one-time instance of him inappropriately touching a young girl when he was a young teenager, I would agree with you.  But it wasn't.  This was multiple instances with multiple people, close relatives included.  That's not the type of offender who can simply admit to "mistakes" and move on.  And knowing what we do about his beliefs about women and their Biblical role in relation to men (which is dead wrong), we cannot simply accept his word that he would never do it again, because it's a systemic issue.

All that having been said, I'm sick and tired of hearing about it.  The media coverage is out of proportion.  These people are famous for being famous, much like Paris Hilton or Barack Obama.  They haven't done anything to earn their fame.  They were thrust in our faces by the media.  And like good little drones, we ate it up.  And now that the toothpick superstructure has begun its inevitable collapse, we're eating it up all the more, because we didn't want to watch it being built in the first place.  It's cathartic for us, I understand that.  But it's also sickening, and I'm done with it.

The most you and I can do, and the most you and I should care about all of this, is to simply take it for what is, pray, and move on.  He's already had to resign from his job with the so-called "Family Research Council."  TLC isn't going to cancel his family's show any more quickly than A&E canceled Duck Dynasty (which is to say not at all).  Oh, sure, they've pulled reruns for the moment, but A&E suspended the Duck Dictator for a while, only to bring him back when the morons who watch his show complained loudly enough.  We all know Josh Duggar is going to continue to find support in similar circles.

There's another problem I have with this, as well, and it might seem to contradict my underlying point, but it really doesn't.  A judge ordered the Springdale, Arkansas police department to destroy all records of these reports while others are kept indefinitely.

Must be nice to have money.

No, this has nothing to do with the statute of limitations or expunging the record of a minor or any supposed rehabilitation Duggar may have undergone.  This is protection for a price, plain and simple.

Not that it matters; the information is already out there anyway.

But why destroy those records now, especially when the records of who knows how many other people are still in existence simply because they're not famous reality TV stars?  There is no answer to that question except this: money buys a blind eye.  While I don't want to give the man or his family any attention at all, there is no excuse for those records being destroyed.  None whatsoever.  It is wrong on every level.

However, aside from suggesting that the people of Arkansas craft legislation to prevent future occurrences like that from happening, there's not much else I want to do with this story.

The less attention Duggar is given, the less influence he has.  Make him persona non grata and be done with it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shocked Into Silence


That's the only word I can make out in City Clerk Michelle Loren's conclusion of the vote, and trust me, it wasn't just because of the loud air conditioner in the council chambers.  I was in the room, I saw it all unfold.  She was literally so stunned by the turn of events at the end of Monday night's city council meeting that she seemed almost afraid to say it.

It was a come-to-Jesus moment for the good ol' boys.

You see, by a dead-even vote of four to four, the Hillsdale City Council voted down the new, ill-conceived, horrendously written contract for Rick Rose.  Councilpersons Emily Stack-Davis, Patrick Flannery, Adam Stockford and Bruce Sharp all voted against.

And the tension was palpable.

From the moment Interim City Manager Doug Terry took the podium before the vote and began to make his grand overture to the council about why we need Rose in that position and his troubles with alcohol and the law shouldn't be a factor in his employment with the city (more on that later), it was very clear that he knew this was an uphill battle.  The explanations were more pleas than anything else; the begging of a man desperate for the council to end his employment with the city on a good note rather than the downer of terminating a long-time Director of Public Utilities.

What really seemed to ruin the tone of the whole thing was that Terry appeared to be attempting to triangulate, to read the mood of the council as he went, looking for something positive that they would latch on to so that he could stick there and focus on it.  But that thing never came along, and as a result, he meandered and never really made a solid, cohesive point.  He may not be a "spring chicken" (his words, not mine), but this seemed new territory for him, and he wasn't finding his way very well.

It didn't come without its contentious moments, either, and knowing that I was sitting in the room, he made plenty of effort to justify actions, again cast "social media" in a negative light and insist that he only had the best of intentions for all of us and the City of Hillsdale... all of that in a frustrated, defensive tone.

Now, to be fair, I might feel the urge to get a little frustrated and defensive if my motivations were being called into question.

Oh, wait!  They have been!

And yes, there are certainly times when I feel frustrated.  I can get a little defensive at times, too.  But the key to dealing with those situations is A: reminding yourself that you're in this for the right reasons, and B: doing what you know is right in moving forward no matter what anyone else says.

Terry, I think, to some extent, sees what I see.  He comes at it from a different angle.  He believes that what he's doing is for the best.  Even though we're diametrically opposed in many ways, I think, based on some of his comments Monday night, that he realizes he's been tugged by the various factions at City Hall in some directions which weren't the best.  I won't fault him for that much; it's all too easy to step into an already volatile situation and be manipulated by the people who were already there.

But there's still a very major problem with how he's handled the significant backlash that's come as a result of these problems finally being called to the public's attention -- and it wasn't just him; it was a variety of people inside and outside the city government.  It is this pervasive idea among the old guard that the Internet should not be used as a place for political discourse, especially at the local level.

Amusingly, Bruce Sharp -- whom I criticized before for scolding you and I on this matter from his seat at the table -- had nothing to say about it at this meeting.

There's a larger problem at play, though.  See, we are a small town, and there's this idea that's been around for a long time that you don't go negative in small-town politics.  It's the idea that, even if you vehemently disagree, you should always cast things in a positive light, because since this is a small town, the people on the city council are residents, business owners and community leaders who just want what's best for everyone, and that's no reason to be rude.

It's time to throw that idea out the window.

I had a good talk with a few people not long ago who described the very situation that leads me to that conclusion.  One of the participants in this conversation made note of the fact that back in the days when city council meetings were still on the cable access channel (ah, the memories), they remembered that the council was truly made up of civic leaders; business owners, longtime residents well-known for their community involvement, people you knew and trusted to put the best interests of the city ahead of their own desires and ideology.

I'm not saying that the current council members don't have the right intentions, but you don't see that kind of community leadership anymore.  You don't see the owner of a downtown shop representing their ward.  You don't see a mayor who volunteers at the local charities.  You don't see a councilman who has spent years on various other boards, not because they're a career politician but because they care about the community.  And that's not to say that any of our present councilpersons are lacking in those regards, but is that how you think of them?  Is that how they present themselves?

The situation in this city has changed.

We don't have civic statesmen anymore, we have council members.  We have a mayor.  We have a city manager.  We have a city government that exists to do what we tell it to do... if and when we care so much as to tell it what to do.

The days of simply electing a council and leaving it all up to them are long gone.

Now, I'm not saying this because I want to be negative.  I don't want to be negative.  I'd love to be able to go to every city council meeting and report to you that everything is all hunky-dory and that we shouldn't have a care in the world.

But this isn't The Truman Show.

Fact is, there's a lot going on in our city government that needs, at best, closer attention, and at worst, serious housecleaning.  The council just took steps Monday night that were encouraging, but they're far from the goal.  We have to stay alert and we have to get involved.  And things aren't always going to be nice.  Things could get downright ugly.  People aren't going to like the mean tone that we'll sometimes need to take.

But that's the price we all have to pay for being this apathetic for this long.

The fallout of this council meeting could get interesting.  Rose, himself, was in the gallery (just in front and three seats to the right of me, in fact), and while I wouldn't quite call what he did "storming out," he sure left in a hurry.  Some people even brought up the question to me of whether or not he would even show up for work in the morning, because, hey, why bother, right?  Though there's another possibility I'm afraid of: that he'll call his lawyer.

Remember that little issue of legalese in his contract that violates the ADA unless it's in everyone else's contract, too?

Here's my worry: Terry made his case for Rose's continued employment based upon the argument that his problems with alcohol have not affected his job performance and that they should, therefore, not be a consideration in light of his years of service to the BPU and the city.  Emily Stack-Davis was really the only councilperson voting "no" who described her reasons for doing so, stating that she disagreed that this was the right leadership move.  Pressed further, she mentioned a few BPU issues that don't reflect particularly well on Rose, but nobody else gave those issues or anything else in their objections.  Flannery, Stockford and Sharp all used the phrase "I disagree," and what were they disagreeing with other than Terry's assessment that Rose's positives outweighed his negatives?

Where that puts us into dangerous territory is the contract language.  The entire purpose of rewriting the contract was to add these provisions based upon Rose's recent DWI.  Obviously, it's that DWI that prompted the objections, otherwise those voting "no" would likely have stated BPU-related reasons as Stack-Davis did.  Since Rose's contract was voted down on the basis of what the ADA considers his disability (alcoholism), that may well give him grounds to sue the city for employment discrimination.  I don't know that for certain -- I'm not a lawyer, despite my mother encouraging me to become one every time I got into trouble as a child -- but I've read enough on the topic that it worries me.

And the sad fact of the matter is that I can't seem to shake this feeling that it was intended that way all along.  Of course, I don't know that for a fact, either, but when I get gut feelings like this, it's very rare that I'm wrong.

We'll see about that Thursday night, the 28th at 7:00 PM.  I'll give Terry credit where it's due: he... shall we say, suggested to the council after the vote that they schedule a meeting with the BPU board to discuss how to move forward.  Because it didn't appear that the council had any ideas about where to go from here.  And while he suggested to them that a new contract could be drawn up for Rose -- which I would strongly oppose, and I get the sense that the "no" voters would, as well -- he gets points for making it clear that, hey, we just fired our BPU director.  The council didn't seem to realize that.  Or, maybe moreso, they did.

That would explain the shocked silence which filled the room.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Bloom Is Off of Rose

I have to wonder why the packet for Monday night's city council meeting wasn't posted on the city web site until Thursday evening when the city policy, by council request (and possibly resolution, though I can't confirm that at the moment), is to post it on Wednesday.

I have to wonder if it has something to do with the fact that this week's council packet includes a renewal of super-drunk BPU director Rick Rose's contract.

I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the good ol' boys are monitoring both this blog and Hillsdale's Hot Debates and took notice of the fact that I normally publish on Wednesdays.

Hey there, fellas!  Here's a little clue for you about how the Internet works: I'm not a print outlet, so I can publish at any time that I want.  I don't have to stick to my deadline.  I can publish early.  I can publish late.  I can show up to the city council meeting on Monday night and live blog the whole thing like Aimee England used to do.  Wednesdays are just the self-imposed deadline that I use to motivate myself.  But sometimes I feel moved to write more often than on a weekly basis.  Much like today, as this post demonstrates.

Now, sure, I have no doubt I'm about to hear from at least five or six people that this is all in my head, that there are perfectly rational reasons for why the packet wasn't posted at the proper time, that it has nothing to do with me, and that I really need to get over myself.


Nope.  Sorry.  Don't buy it.

Don't think for a second that I don't know what's going on here.  I know scared tyrants when I see them, and I'm looking at a few in our city government right now.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly) enough, it's not only the delay of the packet's release that begs questions.  Thanks to my crack team of researchers -- not to be confused with a team of crack researchers, which would serve an entirely different purpose -- we've come across some rather telling pieces of text in that BPU Director's contract which give us all kinds of material for Monday night's public comment sessions.  We're going to work through a lot of legalese here, but stick with me, because this is important.

  1. From the Preamble (packet pg. 121): "Hillsdale's current Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has found and determined Rickie J. Rose (Rose) of Hillsdale, Michigan, Hillsdale's Director of Public Utilities (referred to in the Hillsdale City Charter as Superintendent) to be highly competent, eminently qualified, with the skills, education, character and job experience to efficiently and expertly operate and oversee Hillsdale's electric, water and sanitary sewer facilities and services.

Let's forget the fact that Rickie (and I just love calling him that, don't you?) has been known to shout down his employers at city council meetings in the past.  Let's instead focus on the fact that, just last month, he spent 24 days in the Hillsdale County Jail for driving into a tree with a blood alcohol content of .23, which is just shy of three times the legal limit and considered "super drunk" under Michigan law.  Let's also recall that Judge Sara Lisznyai, in her sentencing of Rickie, said directly to him, and I quote, "You do have a drinking problem."  Let's keep in mind that, in crafting the sentence, Judge Lisznyai took into consideration the fact that Rickie had three prior run-ins (if you'll pardon the expression) with the law: a DWI in 2003, reckless driving in 2005, and disorderly conduct in 2014.

With all of these things taken into consideration, is this really the kind of "character" that the BPU board considers suitable for a man who runs a power and waterworks company?

A man who oversees the electrical distribution for the entire city of Hillsdale and several surrounding townships and villages?

A man who oversees the operation of highly powerful and potentially deadly machinery?

A man in charge of making safety-related judgment calls on a daily basis?

This is the kind of man you choose to entrust the lives of your employees to?

In the private sector, Rickie here would have already been fired, and any talk of negotiating a new contract with him would have been laughed right out of the boardroom.  But this is all perfectly acceptable to the good ol' boys in Hillsdale's city government.

  1. Also from the Preamble (packet pgs. 121 & 122): "Rose is desirous of continuing in the position of Hillsdale's Director of Public Utilities on the terms and conditions hereinafter provided.  Rose represents himself to Hillsdale and its BPU as having, possessing, and fully utilizing the necessary skills, education, character and job experience necessary to assume, continue and faithfully discharge the duties of the Director of Public Utilities for Hillsdale in a professional and competent manner for Hillsdale's and its BPU's benefit and for the benefit of the general public in Hillsdale and the greater Hillsdale area., all as demonstrated by and through his past service to Hillsdale and its BPU."

Oh, well then!  I suppose that just erases all that's gone on in the past couple of months!  He promises to be good, you guys!  We should just forgive and forget!

(For those of you who are unable to detect snark, the above paragraph was drenched in it.)

Also, just because I can be a real jerk sometimes, "having" and "possessing" are the same thing in this sense.  In fact, merriam-webster.com defines the word "have" as "to hold or maintain as a possession, privilege, or entitlement."  See?  It even uses the word "possession" right in the definition.  And the definition of "possess" is "to have as an attribute, knowledge, or skill."  See?  It even uses the word "have" right in the definition.  Using both "have" and "possess" consecutively in a sentence to make what you're writing sound official is both repetitive and redundant.

(There was also some snark in that last sentence, too, as well.)

(And in that one.)

Oh, and there's a period prior to a comma after "greater Hillsdale area."  That was no typo in my transcription; it's in the actual contract that way.  You might say I'm just nitpicking to be vindictive now.  You'd be right, and I really don't care.  Like I said, I can be a real jerk sometimes.

  1. From Section 2, subparagraph A (packet pg. 123): "The Board agrees to employ Rose as Director of Public Utilities for the term of three (3) years from July 1, 2015, to and including July 30, 2018."
    And from Section 3, subparagraph A (packet pg. 124): "During the continuance of this agreement, Hillsdale's Board shall pay Rose a basic salary in such amount as it, from time to time, determines to be commensurate with Rose's skill, training and experience after survey of pay levels for like work at similar utilities in the State of Michigan, as well as those providing utility services in or near the BPU service area."

That's very interesting, because according to this Hillsdale Daily News article from August 17th, 2013, Rickie made himself a deal with the BPU board two years ago that was to freeze his salary at $85,000 per year for a period of five years with a one-time bonus of $15,000 in lieu of any future raises, and because that was merely an extension of his three-year contract from 2010, it's stated in the article that the matter didn't need to go before the Hillsdale City Council.

Now, I'm no math whiz; I'll be the first to tell you that.  But I am proficient enough with basic addition and subtraction to know that 2013 plus five is 2018.  If that 2013 extension to the 2010 contract is still in place, why is his contract coming before the city council?  Did they request this of the BPU board to give themselves an opportunity to let him go?

Good question, and it brings us to point number...

  1. From Section 2, subparagraph C (packet pg. 123): "[...] it is specifically agreed and understood between the parties that Rose's employment with Hillsdale is 'at will' and, in addition to the termination procedure provided in the preceeding subparagraph A of this section 2, may also be terminated by either party, with or without cause, for any reason not prohibited by law or for no reason at all [...]"
    And from Section 3, subparagraph A (packet pg. 124): "The compensation rate shall not be less than is in effect at the date this agreement is signed and shall be certified to Hillsdale's Treasurer and shall be paid in equal bi-weekly payments." [emphasis theirs]

Ah!  Very interesting!  But also stupid!  Just to make sure we've got this right, let's read Section 3, subparagraph A in whole, shall we?

"During the continuance of this agreement, Hillsdale's Board shall pay Rose a basic salary in such amount as it, from time to time, determines to be commensurate with Rose's skill, training and experience after survey of pay levels for like work at similar utilities in the State of Michigan, as well as those providing utility services in or near the BPU service area.  The compensation rate shall not be less than is in effect at the date this agreement is signed and shall be certified to Hillsdale's Treasurer and shall be paid in equal bi-weekly payments."

You notice how that section says absolutely nothing about what his compensation is to be?  If you hadn't read the Daily News article I linked to above, how would you know that the starting point is $85,000?  And what will that compensation be if it goes above $85,000?  The contract doesn't spell that out at all.

All of which says to me that the city council just tipped their hand.  They're going to wipe Rickie's 2010 contract with the 2013 extension right off the books and give him this contract, which could well include a pay raise.  Or additional bonuses.  Or perhaps both!

Hey, we don't have the money to pave the streets, but a belligerent employee who drives drunk, drives recklessly when he's sober, and conducts himself in a criminal, disorderly manner?  By God, give that man a raise!

Oh, and speaking of driving recklessly, be it while sober or super-drunk...

  1. From Section 3, subparagraph I, subsection i (packet pg. 127): "Rose shall, at his sole expense, own and maintain in a good and safe working order, an appropriate automobile for his personal use in the discharge of his duties as Hillsdale's Director of Public Utilities."
    And from Section 3, subparagraph I, subsection iv (packet pg. 127): "Rose shall not operate or use any motor vehicle or other motorized equipment after the consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance within the 10-hour period that immediately precedes any act within the scope of his employment or while within the scope of his employment." [emphasis theirs]
    And from Section 6 (packet pg. 129): "'Cause' as used herein shall include, by way of example, but not limitation, the consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance within the 10-hour period immediately preceding or while within the scope of his employment, acts of dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation and acts involving moral turpitude." [emphasis theirs]

Wow!  That takes some cojones!  "Yeah, sure, we'll continue to employ you.  We trust your character.  We might even give you a raise!  But if you so much as think of going near a bottle..."

Is Rickie's license even active right now?

But beyond the obvious, there's another underlying problem plaguing subsection iv: it's wholly illegal due to the fact that it's an inconsistent application of employment requirements, which is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Wait... alcoholism is a disability?" you might well ask.  Yes, it is.  According to the government's own ADA web site, about two-thirds of the way down the page,

"While a current illegal user of drugs is not protected by the ADA if an employer acts on the basis of such use, a person who currently uses alcohol is not automatically denied protection. An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic. However, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol."

Of course, we know from the BPU board's glowing praise of Rickie that he's "eminently qualified," so even though he does, as Judge Lisznyai put it, "have a drinking problem," he's protected by the ADA.

But why does that make this requirement illegal?

Well, to answer that question, let's go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who give us not one but two paragraphs to explain that if you're going to make something an employment requirement, it has to be a requirement for all employees.

The first comes from their "Prohibited Practices" page, which states that:

"The law makes it illegal for an employer to make any employment decision because of a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. That means an employer may not discriminate when it comes to such things as hiring, firing, promotions, and pay. It also means an employer may not discriminate, for example, when granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment - however small."

The second comes from their page entitled "The Americans With Disabilities Act: Applying Performance And Conduct Standards To Employees With Disabilities."  It goes into even more specific detail about exactly this kind of situation, to wit:

"Whether rules are written or not, employers should be careful that all conduct rules are applied consistently and should not single out an employee with a disability for harsher treatment. In addition, because ad hoc rules are just that, ad hoc, an employer may have more difficulty demonstrating that they are job-related and consistent with business necessity."

And in addition to that, the Society for Human Resource Management sums it up this way:

"Enforce a policy for one employee, but not for another—and guess what? Your company will lose the court case every time. Inconsistent enforcement opens the door for the employee’s attorney to allege discrimination, Zandy said."

So in case you haven't gotten the point yet, because City Hall wants to apply this policy to one Rickie J. Rose -- and only Rickie J. Rose -- it is in violation of the ADA, the EEOC would easily win a lawsuit against the city, and guess who'd be paying for it with their tax dollars?  That's right: you and I.

That's even more money that Joe Taxpayer doesn't have, going to yet another unnecessary expense, all thanks to the city's reckless attempt to keep employing a man who has proven he is in no way, shape or form fit for the job.

That's what they were trying to hide from you.

That's why the packet wasn't released on time.

The good ol' boys are nothing more than frightened little dictators, and we're starting to put them in their place.  That's why they're trying to keep you in the dark.

Here's the packet.  And here's another copy of it just in case, for some odd reason, it happens to disappear from the city's own web site at any given time.

Inform yourself.

Take it to the meeting Monday night.

Make your voice heard in the public comment sessions.

Don't back down.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Issue of Ballot Issues

I've caught a bit of flak recently.

No, not that flak, and not from the people you're thinking of, either.  That was to be expected.

This was from a reader who took issue with the fact that I didn't mention the other significant matter at the last Hillsdale City Council meeting: the approval of November ballot language that asks if we should make the city clerk and city treasurer positions appointed rather than elected.

Let me explain my editorial decision: I didn't cover those two council votes because of the time-sensitivity of the city manager search debacle.  The information about the two publicly-named candidates had only just recently been discovered, and I even jumped ahead of my own promised publishing date to make sure that that information was shared here the day of the city council meeting in the hopes that you might take it and run with it that night.  The piece that I published instead that Wednesday was the follow-up, addressing both the arrogant attitude of resentment that the council displayed while voting to offer David Mackie the job anyway, as well as addressing some of the uproar that Monday's piece had instigated.

By the way, in the time since, Mackie has withdrawn his name from contention in Farmington, so providing that the contract gets worked out to his and the council's satisfaction, the man is now our city manager.  Doesn't that just fill you with hope for our future?

Now, sure, I could have covered the ballot measures, too.  I could have given you a whole boatload of issues to take to that meeting.  But there are two primary reasons why I didn't.

The first is that, on that particular Monday night, we needed to be focused on the most pressing issue, because the council was guaranteed to try to ram this through -- definitely unethically, and quite likely illegally -- whether we liked it or not.  If anyone was going to show up to oppose them, there had to be a united front, not a handful of people all talking about different subjects during the public comment periods.

The second reason is that the ballot language is just that: ballot language.  What the council voted to do that night was approve the language for two ballot measures; one for the city clerk position, the other for the city treasurer position.  This language asks the voters if the mayor should appoint their chosen candidate to those positions to be approved by the city council, who will then establish the terms of employment (length of time, salary, and conditions).

That's what they voted on.  Just the language.  The ball is now in our court.  In order to make either position appointed, the city charter has to be amended, which means that we have to approve it.  The city council can't just vote on it and make it so, this is our choice to make, and we won't be making it until November.  That's why it wasn't such a pressing issue at the last city council meeting.

The person who brought this concern to me rightly pointed out that the ballot measures could have been stopped at the council meeting if we had convinced them to vote the language down, and that the fact that the language was even presented to begin with is just yet another sign that the good ol' boys want to consolidate their own power and take it away from you.  All of that is true.

However, that being said, they were going to do it anyway.  The city manager vote proved that.  If something that important was something they didn't bother listening to our objections over, ballot language for an issue that we're going to have to vote on anyway isn't going to be held up by our objections, either.

Not to mention the fact that several people had already filed as write-in candidates for the city clerk election before the council voted on the ballot issue. They knew that there are people who wish to fill the void, they just didn’t care.

Well, I shouldn't say that they all didn't care.  It should be noted that there were three votes against the clerk measure's approval, which is a good sign that we do at least have some city council members who are listening to their constituents, or at least have the sense themselves that this is not the right thing to do.  So thanks to councilpersons Emily Stack-Davis, Bruce Sharp (who still needs to learn how to deal with the Internet) and Adam Stockford for their "no" votes.

But as Dame Shirley Bassey sings, "this is all just a little bit of history repeating." City Hall has attempted this before.  They waited the two years required by state law and are now putting it on the ballot yet again, despite the fact that they were told "no" the last time.  Which means that they're wasting your tax dollars and mine by repeatedly putting a question they've already had answered on the ballot.  Elections ain't cheap.

Now, all that being said, this is a good test for us.  Are we truly committed to this city and making it function to everyone's benefit?  Or are we -- as I've put myself on the line to accuse us all, myself included, of being -- simply apathetic and complacent?

Do we want to keep these two elected positions in our control as a check on corruption?

Or do we just not care?

These votes will prove whether or not we're actually motivated to self-govern.

You're going to hear the pro-appointment side go nuts with their campaign.  Especially now that the city clerk section on the very same ballot is going to be empty.  They're going to point at that empty row and say "see?!  Nobody wants to do this!  That's why we have to have this power, because nobody wants to run an election campaign for these positions!"

And you know what?  I'm not going to lie: that's a rather compelling argument.

But here's the thing: if nobody runs for the position, the city council has to appoint someone to it anyway.  They won't tell you that little factoid.  Those are positions that, by state law, have to be filled.  That's why that fallback is there.  The ONLY purpose for making them appointed positions rather than elected ones is to consolidate power in the hands of a select few and usurp it from the voters.

That is the ONLY reason.  Do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

You see, a pattern has very clearly emerged at 97 N. Broad.  Do you recognize it?

  • City employee, BPU director and habitual drunk driver Rick Rose yells at and berates the city council to their faces.
  • City employee, legal counsel and alliterative name-haver Lew Loren rejects street repair plans citing lack of precedent simply because he doesn't like them.
  • Soon-to-be-former city employee, former interim city manager and displeased political cartoon character Doug Terry sits on a committee to choose his own replacement when the position would fall to him if nobody is chosen (and he gets to keep his $50-an-hour job with this city as long as the search continues).

And what gets done about it?  Nothing.  Nobody even bats an eye.  Council just sits there and takes it.  Council is complicit by virtue of their failure to take control of these situations.  Council even participates in these situations at times.

This is why it is imperative that we reject these ballot proposals just as soundly as we rejected Proposal 1 last Tuesday (which, by the way, well done on that one, Michigan; that was absolutely the right call).  We cannot let a small cadre of city employees, who the council should be exerting their authority over, continue to ram their personal ambitions down our throats.

The good ol' boys have to be held accountable.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

...And So They Did It Anyway.

Apparently we've hit a nerve.

References to "the Internet" and "Facebook" were made at the city council meeting Monday night, quite obviously referring to this blog and the Facebook group Hillsdale's Hot Debates... and not exactly with glee or in a pleasant tone.

They don't like that we're holding them accountable, and that's why we can't stop.

Despite the obvious municipal code violations -- and I challenge city attorney Lew Loren to explain why the obvious violations are perfectly okay ("because I say so" is not a valid answer) -- the city council went ahead and approved David Mackie as the new city manager by all but one vote, the lone dissent coming from Mayor Scott Sessions (whom I thank for his decision).

So now, as long as he accepts the job -- I understand he's still waiting to hear back from Farmington -- David Mackie is our new city manager.  You know, the guy who filed for bankruptcy and had to defend highly questionable financial practices in a court of law?  Yeah... he's set to become our city manager now.

Does that not demonstrate outright contempt for you, the people of the City of Hillsdale?

We cannot stop.

I'm encouraged... and not only because I woke up to see that my last post had over 500 page views by Tuesday morning (though I do thank you for the ego boost... as if I needed it, right?).

I'm encouraged because you are motivated.

Whether or not you agreed with what I said about civic apathy in this city, it motivated you to prove me wrong, and that was exactly the goal.  I said so at the very end of the post in question.

But this isn't about me, despite the fact that they're trying to make it about me.  Have you noticed how they've been attacking me and my credibility?

It's not about me.  I know it and they know it.  If it were about me, they would have been attacking me before I ever said word one.

No, this is about them and their disdain for you.

See, the good ol' boys, they don't like that you've been informed.  They don't like that you're getting the information that they're withholding from you.  They don't like that you're learning what they've been doing behind your back this whole time.  And they're attacking me -- and the people at Hot Debates who dug up the information in the first place -- for bringing it to your attention.  Make no mistake about it: if it had been John Doe who had written that post, they'd be saying exactly the same things about John Doe.

It's not personal to them, it's just business.  Business being guided by the current city manager and the city attorney into a cesspool.

And you need to be the ones to put an end to it.

Oh, don't worry, I'm not trying to be the commander of the forces here.  That's the last thing I want.  Besides, as we all know, you are not my personal army.

No, all I can ask of you is that you think critically and participate actively.  We can disagree on any given issue.  You can dislike my style.  And hey, feel free to think that I'm just some arrogant jerk who spouts off when he shouldn't.  You wouldn't be alone, and that's okay, because none of that matters.

All that matters here is that you care enough about this city to participate in making it a better place.

Because that's what's been lacking.  That's why we have four city council seats and a city clerk position open with no one filed to run for them.  That's why this city manager search was able to be conducted for so long with no one to ask any questions about why we're not getting any details about it or any of the candidates.  That's why the council chamber is usually pretty empty during meetings.

We haven't been paying attention, and we were apathetic.

For most of the residents, it's because they just plain didn't care.  And let's face it: the majority of any population is politically inactive.  That's never going to change.

For the rest of us, it's frustration.  We've been so beaten by the system for so long that we simply gave up thinking that there was ever going to be anything we could do about it.

Like I said in my last post, I include myself in this.  I'm just as guilty as you are, and I readily and ashamedly apologize to you for not doing more than I could have.  I will do better.

I can only ask that you do better, as well.

Beat the damn doors in.  Don't give up.  It's not over until you make it right, and even then, it'll be a constant battle just to keep things right.  That's the nature of politics, no matter what the scale.  Don't relent.  Keep fighting.

The best way to do that is to start attending city council meetings.  You can download the packets for all regular meetings and watch live and archived video of those meetings by following this link.

Let's once again prove Hillsdale's motto true: It's The People.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Apathy and Corruption in the City of Hillsdale

NOTE: This post is coming a couple of days early due to its time sensitivity.  The Hillsdale City Council meeting at which a city manager hiring is expected to be approved is tonight, Monday, May 4th, at 7:00 PM.

If I told you to go to 97 North Broad, would you know where that is?

Chances are dangerously high that you wouldn't.  Because nobody in the City of Hillsdale seems to know that we even have a City Hall anymore, let alone know where it is, what's going on there right now, or who's seeking to represent their ward in the November election.

Do you even know that there is a November election?

Do you even know that there are vacancies on the city council right now?

Are you paying attention to local politics at all?

Are you even alive right now?

I shouldn't be too terribly harsh.  We have no real press in this city.  We have no newspaper outside of a lone reporter, a lone sportswriter, and whoever Gatehouse can dupe into writing for them for a pittance this week.  We have a radio station that rips and reads the police blotter, and that's about it.  Sometimes the Jackson Citizen Patriot covers a few stories from the county, but their audience is Jackson County, not us.  And getting the Lansing TV stations to cover anything going on here?  Ha!  Good luck!

It's no wonder you're so woefully uninformed.  There's barely any journalism going on in this town at all.

But let's face it: that's no excuse.  Those of us living here at the spring of the St. Joe just don't give a damn.  City politics?  We can't be bothered.  It's not important to us.  We've got bigger fish to fry.  We're more concerned with... well, anything but city politics.

Remember that big hullabaloo about the streets last year?  City Hall wanted to unnecessarily raise taxes to pay an outrageously overestimated amount of money for street repair, and we collectively -- correctly -- replied, "are you kidding me?"  But beyond rejecting that ballot proposal, what else did you do?  Oh, sure, a few people showed up at city council meetings to present alternatives... which, of course, the council simply rejected out of hand, saying "I don't wanna!" in their best three-year-old voices.  But were you there to see it?  Were you even aware that it had happened?

Again, the chances are dangerously high that the answer is "no."

I keep saying "dangerously" because you're most likely unaware of the latest news to be coming from the pentagonal structure sitting between Broad, Hillsdale and Carleton.

(Did you even know that City Hall is a pentagon?)

In case you missed it -- and you did, because literally everybody did -- April 21st was the deadline to file petitions to run for the vacant city council seats in Wards 1, 2 and 4.

(Do you even know what ward you live in?)

Nobody filed.  Absolutely nobody.

Well, okay, one person did.  Bruce Sharp.  But he's an incumbent.  Everyone else is either term-limited or leaving for their own reasons.

That means that there are currently four council seats that will go unfilled barring write-in campaigns, and Ward 2 (which happens to be where I live) will have no representation on the council at all.  Additionally, no one filed to run for city clerk, either, so after this election, council is going to have to appoint someone to that position.

Now, before you say "well, then, maybe YOU should run, Josh," I'll disabuse you of that notion immediately.  That's not my calling.  I can barely manage my own life let alone the governance of a city.  Even if it were my calling, I'm not familiar with the inner workings of city government enough to simply jump in and expect to be an effective legislator.  Because, unlike our current state representative, I actually take the time to learn about my jobs before I bother applying for them.  I don't belong in that seat right now, if ever.

There's another seat that I don't belong in, an equally important seat, and none of the people currently up for the job belong in it either.  I'm referring, of course, to that of the city manager.

Last week, in the Facebook group Hillsdale's Hot Debates (the "social media" that WCSR credited with unearthing this story), a couple of members did some digging into the history of the top two candidates that the search committee is considering, and they came up with some rather interesting facts.  Among them being that one candidate, William Cooper, bankrupted the last city he ran.  The other candidate, David Mackie, bankrupted himself and faced a bit of legal trouble for ripping off his investors in an apartment complex renovation deal.  Oh, and the guy heading up the search committee?  That would be Doug Terry, the interim city manager... who, it has been rumored, will get the job if no one else is hired.

Conflict of interest?  Nahhhhhhhhhh.

Of course, knowing that the heat was on, the city put together a hastily-scheduled public meeting to introduce the two candidates.  How hastily?  They announced it to the media on April 30th, and it was scheduled for May 2nd.  That's right: a Saturday afternoon meeting announced on Thursday, when most people already had plans for the weekend lined up well before then.

Intentional flight under the radar?  Nahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now, Linda Brown resigned as city manager all the way back on February 2nd.  You might be asking yourself right now: isn't there some sort of time limit as to when the city council has to hire a new one?

Why, indeed there is!

According to the municipal code, "The Council shall, within 90 days after any vacancy exists in the position of City Manager, appoint a City Manager for a period of not less than one year nor more than five years and shall fix his compensation."  The period of 90 days after Linda Brown's resignation?  Guess when that ended?  Yep.  May 3rd.  The day after the hastily-scheduled public meeting.  A Sunday, no less.  A Sunday that has come and gone, and we still have no city manager.

Additionally, the code also states that [emphasis mine] "The Council may appoint or designate an acting City Manager for a period not to exceed sixty days during the period of a vacancy in the office or during the absence of the City Manager from the City and shall have all the responsibilities, duties, functions and authority of the City Manager."  Which means that Terry's appointment has actually been longer than allowed by law for more than a month's time now.

One Hot Debates group member who was at Saturday's meeting reported to me that Terry was rather irate at the fact that his actions and motivations were being called into question -- on the Internet, no less; the nerve of those people! -- and after arguing against allowing public comment, he had to be taken out of the room and shown that the law requires it.  That fight then continued in front of the city council, which led to a vote to essentially tell him to sit down and shut up, and public comment was, in fact, allowed.  Because, you know, the law requires it.

Needless to say, Doug Terry is not a happy camper right now.

Much of the problem is the "good ol' boy" situation in this town.  Some of it just comes with the territory of small town politics: everyone knows everyone else.  But that being the case, and everyone being well aware that conflicts of interest are to be avoided, there should be a lot less of it going on, and it's just business as usual around here.  As the late, great, George Carlin famously said, "it's a big club, and you ain't in it."

Yet even if it weren't for that club, what it really comes down to is the fact that there has been no transparency in this search at all.  That fact is merely exacerbated by the "good ol' boy" situation.  The city council ostensibly conducted the search internally in order to save money -- instead of hiring an independent firm to do it, as is done by every other city that even half-assedly tries to make it look like they're not as corrupt as Hell itself.  I mean, hey, it's a fairly decent excuse.  Begging poor is relatively easy to pull off when roughly half of your streets make Kabul look like a motorist's paradise.

But it gives those in charge of the internally-conducted search far too great an opportunity to dupe not only the council, but the entire city as a whole.  There was supposedly a wide field of potentials to choose from, and we're only hearing about two of them.  We have no other names, we have no information about how these two were picked, we would know absolutely nothing about even THESE two candidates if it hadn't been for a couple of people outside the process -- and not even in the media -- doing a simple friggin' Google search!

Did the city council even bother to do that much?  Apparently not, because councilman Patrick Flannery told the Daily News, and this is a direct quote, "We are happy to present these two candidates.  I see both candidates moving the city forward, to help us with the goals we have before us."

Bankruptcy and fraud are goals of the government of the City of Hillsdale?  Well, to quote Spock, "It would explain a great many things."

That same Hot Debates member tells me that only one other person from the group was there Saturday afternoon, and while disappointment isn't quite appropriate in this case given the short notice, it's not as if the third floor is packed to standing room at any given city council meeting.  This is the norm in this town.  Everybody bitches about the legitimate problems, but when it comes time to actually take action, nobody shows up.  It's like we're living in an M. Night Shyamalan movie called "The Non-Event."  All this buildup, and then... just totally flatlines.

Actually, that pretty much describes every M. Night Shyamalan movie, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is, we need to get off of our fat backsides and do something.  And I'm yelling at myself here just as much as I'm yelling at you.  I'm guilty of this, too.  We all are.  Civic involvement in this city has just hit what is most likely an all-time low.  Certainly the lowest it's been in any of our lifetimes.

And when we all find out what the result of that apathy is, complaining about the streets is going to be the least of our worries.

Correction: In the initial version of this post, I accidentally flipped the names of the city manager candidates in relation to their respective issues.  The post has been updated to correct the error.