At the risk of sounding like those theocrats whom I'm constantly shaming, I have to ask this question (even if I do so with tongue planted firmly in cheek):
Could it have been divine intervention, the power outage and subsequent 70,000-gallon raw sewage overflow, providing us with some damning evidence for last night's joint meeting between the BPU Board and the City Council?
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Honestly, what are the odds? Lightning takes out the entire grid and massive amounts of sewage get dumped into the St. Joe through an overflow pipe that isn't even supposed to be there. What are the odds that those things would happen on the very day of the special meeting at which the Council would draw the lines clearly for its subordinate public utility advisory committee?
Let's put this all together into the proper context, shall we? This meeting was called because the BPU Board, after being told in no uncertain terms that their beloved super drunk superintendent wasn't going to be coming back, hired an attorney to find a loophole. Don't let them lie and tell you otherwise, that's exactly what their motivation was, and they damn well know it.
Keep in mind, when Rick Rose's proposed new contract was still on the table, we were told by then-Interim City Manager Doug Terry (and the Board themselves at the Open Meetings Act violation -- ahem, sorry, "previous special joint meeting;" that's what I meant to say there) that, essentially, Rick was the BPU, that without him the entire operation would fall apart, and God forbid any major issues should arise when he isn't there to oversee things, because Rick Rose is The Man For The Job®.
Disclaimer: "The Man For The Job" is a fully registered trademark of The Hillsdale Good Ol' Boy Network and is used without permission. All rights reserved. Void where prohibited. Your mileage may vary. Member FDIC. Consult a physician before beginning a Rick Rose regimen.
Of course, pressed further -- toward the end of that very same OMA violation -- Terry and company were begrudgingly forced to admit that, well, no, the place wouldn't just fall apart the moment Rose's contract ended; that there might kinda sorta may be some people there who, you know, actually run the place from day to day, and, I dunno, maybe they might know a thing or two about what they're doing. I guess. Maybe. We'll see.
Well, hey, guess what? We got a chance to see! Sure enough, we had two massive related system failures after Rose's departure -- through no fault of the people who currently work there, mind you -- and amazingly enough, they got resolved in a timely manner! It's a miracle! Hallelujah!
Or maybe, you know, it might have been the employees doing their jobs, which in no way required Rick Rose to be the man in the office making the decisions. Could that be a plausible scenario?
Nah, let's go with the miracle explanation! It better reflects the Good Ol' Boys' narrative!
Now, some might argue that the sewage spill in particular is a sign that Terry and the Board were right; that things did fall apart without Rose's oversight.
Lose that notion right now. This is the mess that Rick Rose left behind.
Do you have any idea how many times the Department of Environmental Quality has had to step in under Rose's watch and tell the BPU to, quite literally, get its shit together? The water treatment plant has, for years, been an environmental disaster just waiting to happen. That it happened after Rose left was only a freak matter of sheer chance.
While funding was never sufficient to fix the problems that he knew existed in one fell swoop, Rose could have at least made some progressive repairs. Instead, he cut corners and let the system become a dilapidated mess that is essentially impossible to fix and needs to be entirely replaced right this very minute.
No, we don't have the money to do that, either.
And get this: the reason why the back-up generator didn't kick on? That's because there is no backup generator at the wastewater treatment plant. The following fact was made mention of several times at last night's meeting: we are the only city in the entire State of Michigan with a wastewater flow of one million gallons or more that does not have a backup generator on site at its treatment plant.
So what have we relied on all these years? Power routing. Apparently, the grid has been set up so that the treatment plant can be fed from any one of five substations in case the one it's on goes down.
The problem Tuesday morning was that, when lightning hit the main substation for the city, it ran along the lines and fried three other substations as well. The only substation that didn't go down was the Industrial Park. There was no way to shift the feed from there to anywhere else, so thus, we got the nightmare disaster scenario we just went through: the backup to the backups failed, and the river is contaminated as a result.
The impression that the current BPU employees are under is that the DEQ had been satisfied with this setup for all these years, but that satisfaction had suddenly changed back in May, when they warned Rose after there had been a two-hour power outage and possible danger of overflow.
I'm not so certain that that impression is wholly accurate. I get the feeling that the DEQ had warned Rose about it many times before, but being on his way out, this was the one that Rickie chose to actually be honest about. Because the word of Rickie J. Rose isn't so trustworthy these days (more on that later).
For the record, no spill happened back then, but the BPU Board was told last night that regulators essentially told Rose at that time that we either get a backup generator NOW or there was going to be hell to pay.
Taxpayers, make no mistake about it: after Tuesday morning's fiasco, you will be paying that hell.
This is also Doug Terry and the current BPU Board's legacy. Rose was their man. The proposed new contract for him contained glowing praise about his character and professionalism. Character and professionalism does not result in 70,000 gallons of human waste in one of the Midwest's most important watersheds. And yet, that's what Rose's leadership (such as it was) has led to.
Both Terry and the Board sought to be his enablers. They fought a power struggle with the City Council because they wanted the man responsible for this environmental disaster -- and make no mistake about it, this is an environmental disaster, don't let anyone try to downplay it to you -- to keep his job despite what is turning out to be decades of mismanagement and lying.
Yes, lying. Lies of omission, outright lies, lies by way of intimidation... all of that addressed in passing by Councilperson Bruce Sharp at last night's meeting. I've been hinting at it for weeks now, but there are people out there who have been keeping silent for many years about what kind of boss Rick Rose really was. You're going to be hearing stories in the time ahead that reveal a reign of terror-enforced mediocrity, and if you think it stopped at just withholding information from the BPU Board, may I remind you that he threatened to murder four councilpersons.
Oh, and on that note, the Michigan State Police kept it hush-hush and quietly decided that, well, dear old Rickie didn't really mean it, he was just venting his frustrations.
I have to question whether or not the MSP's investigation went as deep as his ex-employees who are starting to ask if it's safe to come out of hiding yet.
And then we have the driving force behind all of this within the BPU Board, Duke Anderson. You may recall my pointing that out to Board President John Waldvogel in my article last week. Anderson was the most vocal at the previous joint meeting. He's been quoted by the Daily as their go-to guy on the topic, furthering the impression that he had taken the leadership role for himself. He certainly has no compunctions about breaking the law, following the ever-popular "better to beg forgiveness" model in his federal antitrust case as Hillsdale Community Health Center's CEO.
Yet he was mostly silent last night, save for a point of contentious clarification on the director search process. In fact, he's been mysteriously quiet ever since the antitrust suit came to light.
Don't believe for a second that it's for lack of time or desire. I get the distinct impression that someone somewhere is telling him to get wise and shut the hole under his nose before he incriminates himself any further.
Are you familiar with the Leeroy Jenkins video?
Let me give you a brief description. It's a viral video of a group playing the online computer game World of Warcraft, in which these players have all teamed up to complete a difficult mission. Strategies were formed, weapons and rations were handed out according to each player's strengths and weaknesses, and the group was almost ready to set out on their task.
Then came a whooping "LEE-ROOOOOOOOOOOY JEEEEEEEEENKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINS!"
The player who unleashed the greatest battle cry of all time rushed into the room where the creatures that the group was planning to attack were located, and was promptly slaughtered. This, of course, caused all the rest of the players to completely lose their minds, rush after him in a disorganized attempt to salvage the mission, and fail miserably.
And after everyone's characters had died and they had all thoroughly condemned Leeroy for his ruinously impulsive act, Leeroy replied with a full mouth, "At least I have chicken."
It is widely considered to be one of the funniest gaming videos in the history of ever.
This has been Duke Anderson's Leeroy Jenkins moment.
Over recent months, we've seen Anderson attempt to assert his own authority within the Board itself and the Board's authority against the City Council. He made a misguided attempt to rush into battle, and he was shut down not only by the Council that he was attempting to attack, but by his corruption coming back to bite him as the hospital's antitrust case unfolded and he was clearly at the center of it.
In the last few weeks, the rest of the BPU Board attempted to take hold of the situation, and it did not go well for them at all.
As I mentioned last week, Waldvogel seemed to take the lead on the issue in Anderson's silence -- and whether that was his choice or Anderson's, only they can tell you. But don't take it any other way; there was absolutely a shift of leadership there. Waldvogel has been the board president all along, so for that shift to occur and put the responsibility back where it should have been this whole time speaks volumes.
New City Manager David Mackie, on his very first day on the job, called the Board's bluff. He and the Council agreed to review the legal analysis of the Board's authority and, just as everyone on the correct side of this literal and figurative power struggle already knew to be the case, it determined that the Board did not have any further hiring and firing authority than the immediate daily operation of the utilities, that the City Manager -- with the Board's guidance, but not the Board's decision -- had sole hiring and firing authority over the BPU Director position, and that the City Manager's decision is subject to Council approval, not the Board's.
I honestly wish I had been there to see the looks on each of the BPU Board members' faces as they read that analysis yesterday morning. It had to be the political equivalent of Maury Povich saying, "You ARE the father."
Yes, my desire for schadenfreude must go unfulfilled... but for good reason.
Councilperson Adam Stockford said it best last night when he stated that mistakes were made on both sides of this tiff, and while he made it clear that he in no way regretted voting down Rose's contract, he also went out of his way to apologize for any wrongdoing beyond that point on his part.
I'll add my two cents here and say that I don't believe he has anything to apologize for, but it was a show of good faith from him -- and other members of the Council, as well -- toward the BPU Board, an acknowledgement that communication and cooperation has been lacking between the bodies. Which it has.
But that show of good faith went unanswered. Waldvogel's simple response was, and this is a complete and direct quote, "I look forward to working with you in the future." No apology for failing to take the initiative and ask around the BPU as Sharp had done. No agreement that communication had been a problem. Nothing.
The Board members should have admitted their own failures in trusting Rose's word and not asking any questions beyond his stonewalling (which they've even admitted in the past was a problem). But that didn't happen. In fact, Waldvogel found that one solitary sentence to be so appropriate to the situation that, when Stockford asked if he wanted to elaborate further, he said it again.
"I look forward to working with you in the future."
In other words: damn it, Leeroy.
Anderson, in his one moment of active participation for the whole night, attempted to correct the Council out of his own misperception. It seems he thought that the call for transparency in the hiring process was the Council's attempt to subvert the Board's advisory authority, and he defiantly asserted that that was the Board's purview in cooperation with the City Manager. Mackie reiterated that the process called for he and the BPU Board members to work on the search and bring the suggestions to the Council, who will then vote on them.
Anderson replied "That's correct, but..." and went on to put in his own words what Mackie had just said, finalizing his statement with, "Ultimately it's you who brings the information back to the City Council."
In other words: at least I've got chicken.
Even toward the end of the night, the Board members were defiant. Bob Batt refused to even acknowledge that such a problem existed!
"I'm a little surprised to hear that there's a perception that there's some kind of animosity between the City Council and the Hillsdale BPU," he said. "I don't think there is, from my perspective as a BPU member. We have some disagreements, we're working through them, I think they've been cordial if not back-slapping friendly. I think we'll continue to look forward to move forward. I don't consider there [to be] any animosity whatsoever."
He added that he wouldn't speak for everyone on the Board, but all three other present members interrupted him right then and there and whole-heartedly agreed with him. Just sweep it under the rug and forget about it, eh boys?
That's not going to happen here.
While the Council, City Manager and the Board need to make a full-faith effort to work together in the days, weeks and months ahead, I feel far more confident about the Council and Mackie's willingness to do so than I do about the BPU Board's. No one needs to be pretending that the last few months simply haven't happened, and I'm already getting the sense from several people on the Council and Administration side that they're not happy with the Board for doing just that.
And if the Good Ol' Boys think that David Mackie is going to be just as easy to push over as Doug Terry was, I'd encourage them to take a look at what has happened just in the single week he's had the job!
- He believed that the legal analysis that the BPU ordered behind the Council's back was going to go in the Council's favor, so he suggested that they reverse their decision to ignore it. He was right.
- He suggested a joint meeting to discuss that and moving forward with the BPU Director search. That's what we just had last night.
- He stood up to a wrongfully defiant Duke Anderson and essentially sent the message, "quit trying to take charge here; I know what I'm doing."
The guy is quickly proving he's not an insider and he's not going to take their crap. Quite literally, in this case.
Frankly, the next step is to remove Duke Anderson from the Board of Public Utilities. His conflicts of interest abound, not the least of which being that he's Mayor Sessions' boss at the hospital.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not charging Sessions with any sort of conspiracy there, but I'm pointing out that the connection is seriously concerning. If the City Council votes to remove Anderson -- or even to reject a Board suggestion that had been championed by Anderson -- how can we expect Sessions to contradict his employer? God forbid he cast the deciding vote!
Anderson has proven that he has no regrets about anything that he's done wrong and no qualms about continuing his behavior -- both on the BPU Board and at HCHC. One has to wonder how long he'll continue in either of those positions, but the one we have control over is his seat on the Board of Public Utilities.
It's time we remove him from it.