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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Council Asserted Their Authority, And It Was Glorious

I'm speechless.

Okay, yeah, you and I both know that's a lie.

But I am left sitting here trying to rack my brain for anything left to say that wasn't said by the Hillsdale City Council at Monday night's meeting.  Several of the council members -- particularly Adam Stockford, Patrick Flannery, Emily Stack-Davis and Bruce Sharp -- not only stood up for what was right, they put the city administration back in their places for the first time in... well, probably as long as any of us can remember.

See, here's the thing: Hillsdale's city government is a council-manager setup with a weak mayor.  That's not an insult to Scott Sessions, that's the actual terminology.  It means that the mayor -- while being the president of the council and an elected, at-large voting member of the council -- is not the chief executive officer of the city.  That duty falls to the city manager, an appointed position, hired by the council to perform his job at their direction.

Such council authority is also in place over the city attorney and, aside from the fact that they're elected positions (for now), the city clerk and treasurer, as well.

Collectively, these offices are referred to as "the city administration."  They are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the city's government, but they do so under the directives and oversight of the City Council... at least within the scope of their office as according to the city charter, city code and state law.  If the scope of the office and the law -- or additionally, as in this case, advice from the state -- contradicts what the council wants them to do, it is their responsibility to clearly explain the situation to the city council.

That has not been happening.  Certainly not recently, and perhaps for quite a long time that we're only marginally aware of.

Let's start with the issue of soon-to-be-former (and I'm relieved that we can now officially say that) BPU Director Rick Rose and the rush to resubmit an adjusted version of his proposed contract renewal.

We knew it was coming.  Interim City Manager Doug Terry had at the very least implied his intent just seconds after the first vote shot the original version down, and he later made it explicitly clear that he wanted a new version that might sway the "no"-voting councilpersons.  This was not exactly a surprise.

However, it hadn't been on the agenda for Monday night's meeting, and consequently, not even Rose himself, by Terry's own admission, had been informed that it had even been written.  Terry wrote the new language to alter the contract just that day, as he told the council, and that being the case, only City Attorney Lew Loren and unnamed employees at the BPU were aware of its existence.

This did not please City Council.

Since none of them had any time to actually review it -- and it certainly wasn't presented to the public for review -- even those who were in favor of continuing Rose's employment found reasons to object.  Councilperson Brian Watkins and Mayor Sessions both weren't happy about the fact that it still, essentially, amounted to a three-year contract, which was the stated reason for the alteration.

Terry clarified that, yes, it was still three years, but it could be terminated at any time; an explanation which seemed to satisfy Sessions and Watkins.

Flannery, however, was on the freakin' ball.  He brought everything with him: the city charter, the council rules, and the calm but stern attitude necessary to enforce them both.  When he told Terry that this matter could not be moved to a vote unless the motion was made by a proponent of the prevailing side, Terry took every approach he could think of to weasel his will through anyway, but Flannery metaphorically slapped him across the face like a parent would an insolent child.

When the councilperson said he wished we'd had a school teacher there to explain the meanings of words, Terry's face was just about three shades lighter than "tomato," and on a personal note, I probably looked like I was having a seizure right there in the gallery, because I was trying that hard to hold in an outburst of uproarious laughter!

Stockford's stand on the August election issue was just as impressive.  He had the same necessary stern and authoritative attitude in the face of LewLo's protestations.  There was no excuse for him not to have brought any of this to the council's attention.  None at all.  And Stockford made that absolutely clear.  The only thing that wasn't said but was blatantly obvious was that, once again, this was not an accidental omission on Loren's part, it was obviously intentional.

Loren, for his part, didn't appear to be as shaken about it as Terry was about the contract vote, but he should have been.  He snuck one past council this time.  In the future... well, let's just say, there'd better not be such a future occurrence.

Tying this back in to Thursday night's illegal special meeting: Doug Terry wants to talk about the spirit of the law?  Let's talk about our current city clerk and city attorney's relationship and Section 5.13 of the Hillsdale City Charter.

Because, again, you cannot ignore the fact that Michelle Loren is Lew Loren's daughter.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: he was the city attorney first, therefore she never should have gotten that appointment when Robilyn Swisher resigned.  That never should have happened.

And yet, here's the situation as it stands:

  1. We just had a special meeting between the BPU and the City Council on Thursday night that was made illegal and invalid under the Open Meetings Act because Michelle Loren (I allege) willfully and maliciously refrained from posting the proper public notice on the city web site by the required deadline, then fraudulently backdated it when she did post it well after the deadline had passed.
  2. Lew Loren was conveniently on vacation Thursday, so not only was he not present for the meeting, he failed to inform anyone of the violation and crime that his daughter (again, allegedly) committed.
  3. Lew Loren, claiming the advice of an assistant attorney general as his basis, unilaterally changed the date of ballot language that would change the city clerk (and treasurer) from being an elected office to an appointed position, and did so without informing the city council ahead of their vote that the date had been changed when the specific directive given to him by the council was that this language was to go on the November ballot.
  4. The August election date is set aside as a primary under a combination of language from both the city charter, city code, and state election law.  That being the case, as Stockford pointed out Monday night, according to city charter Section 3.12:

"If, upon the expiration of the time for filing nomination petitions for any elective City office, valid petitions have been filed for no more than twice the number of candidates for the respective offices to be elected at the following regular City elections, then no primary shall be held with respect to such offices."

We have only one candidate on the ballot for the seven seats needing to be filled. That is not enough to trigger a primary, which means that there SHOULD NOT be an August election at all.

  1. Lew Loren, despite having this fact pointed out to him by Adam Stockford at Monday night's meeting, actually took the Hillary Clinton route and, quite literally, said "What difference does it make?"
  2. Conventional wisdom says that August is typically a very low-turnout election, especially in an off-year like this, so it can only be assumed that the proponents of these ballot proposals are counting on that low turnout for success.
  3. It stands to reason that if the office becomes appointed, the most logical choice of person to occupy it would be the person who does so now.

Given all of this information combined, the idea that there is a conspiracy here between father and daughter to perpetuate at least Michelle's power is becoming harder and harder to deny.  In fact, the case to be made is really rather damning.

But the good news is that they know we're on to them.  There are quite a few people involved here who have been watching both this blog and the conversation at Hillsdale's Hot Debates.

Emily Stack-Davis, in discussing this situation Monday night, made a point to her fellow councilpersons that seemed the opposite of the conventional wisdom I mentioned above, but really, it wasn't.  What she was trying to tell the proponents (and yes, I know the definition of the word) of these ballot initiatives is that yes, the citizens ARE paying attention, and this is going to fail if you keep it in the low-turnout August election, because they will come out just to tell you "no" for the second time.

The way I see it, there were two reasons why the council didn't take any further action on it that night.

One, they realized that they were partially responsible on the grounds that all of them failed to read through the entire language and, thus, voted to approve a date that they had never intended to approve.  They know they screwed up, and they're taking their lumps.  I don't particularly like that mentality or the fact that they've adopted it, but that's what I believe is happening right now.

Two, they realize that Stack-Davis was right: we are going to show up in August, and we are going to roundly reject this bunkum.  Or at least that's what I'm hoping for.  You need to help make that hope a reality.

That said, the fact that Stockford and Flannery stood firm and boldly against a city administration that's been used to getting its way says to me that the City Council isn't going to be so lax in the future, and the administration is going to have to shape up, as well, because they will be held accountable.

This is what happens when you get involved.  You and I, we set this ball in motion by paying attention, informing the public and getting people motivated to act.  I believe that the council has taken our discussions here and on Hot Debates as a sign that they have the public support necessary to take the control of the situation that they never should have given up in the first place.

And that means we're not done yet.  The race has just begun.  We're not here to harp on a couple of city employees.  We're here to set the course straight.  We're here to ensure that the law is obeyed, and that those who circumvent or outright disobey it -- especially those who do so intentionally -- will face the consequences.  There is no other way to keep this city's government or any government honest and properly functional.

Like I've said before, I don't want to be the leader of this army.  I'm more of a trumpeter at the front line.  But sometimes the trumpeter plays back to the troops to boost morale, and this is one of those times.  What happened Monday night was amazing.  It is absolutely something to take pride in, because YOU helped make it happen.  So let's rally ourselves, refresh our spirits in the knowledge that we are making the difference we sought out to make, and let's march on.

When all is said and done, the world must know that we here in Hillsdale take our city motto very seriously.

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