Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Repeal ordinance 1094

On June 14, 2010, Ferndale's city council passed ordinance #1094 which transfers supervisory responsibilities of the city clerk, police, and fire departments to the city manager.  Basically, the city's charter is amended to read:
The Division of Law and Records and Division of Safety set forth in Chapter III, Section 11 of the Ferndale Charter, shall be under the supervision, direction and control of the City Manager.
In folks-like-us terms; the city clerk, fire chief, and police chief now report to the city manager.

There are at least three strong reasons this ordinance should be repealed.

First, Ferndale voters have already twice turned-down initiatives to rewrite the charter.  Apparently, many residents feel strongly about the fire and police chiefs reporting directly to someone accountable to voters rather than a city manager who is not.  Even if that someone is five someones, voters believe they have more direct control over the composition of council than they do the occupant of the city manager's office.

Second, council was both arrogant and derelict to not inform residents of their intent to change the charter.  Heck, they were even negligent about warning Councilman Mike Lennon about their intent.  Of course, Mike Lennon is less likely to ignore his neighbors or dismiss their concerns about accountability as petty, quaint, old-fashioned, or as Councilwoman Piana said, ".. embarrassing."

Third, council provided no justifications beyond the superficial for why the ordinance was necessary, or why it must be voted on immediately.  Below is a summary of their reasons:
  • Melonie Piana (2 minutes 23 seconds): 
    • It's hard to get accountability with five part-time bosses and
    • It's more stream-lined (take her word for it)
  • Kate Baker (1 minute 23 seconds): 
    • "What Melonie [Piana] said" and
    • Other cities scoff at us and her colleagues are astounded she represents so backward-thinking a city as Ferndale when she was used to representing the much-more-impressive Henry Ford Museum where she used to work (I made that last part up, but it fits).
  • Covey: Wants to get copied on press-releases (really!)
  • Galloway: No reason given.
So, with a combined three minutes and 46 seconds of anecdotes our city council was satisfied it had sufficiently plumbed a "major change to our form of government," as Lennon said, and voted 4-1 to pass the ordinance.

If Piana and Baker think it's difficult to get accountability with five part-time bosses, they should try remembering what it's like getting a satisfactory explanation why they wanted to spend millions of dollars building a new city hall or why the rush to move the clerk and two chiefs under the city manager so soon after laying off police officers and firemen.

And after what recently-elected Library Trustee Pat Dengate had to report at the June 28th council meeting about the delays, mis-communications, and bureaucratic red-tape working with city inspectors and the Community Development Services (CDS) to design and build the new library, residents are justified in doubting Covey's, Galloway's, Piana's, and Baker's confidence that our city manager will manage public safety  any better than he has CDS.

Some may argue that council didn't really modify the charter with ordinance 1094.  Even were that true, the change they made to the operation and accountability from the residents' perspective  is significant enough they may as well have.

Consider also:
  • the language of the ordinance itself reads, "... set forth in Chapter III, Section 11 of the Ferndale Charter...,"
  • in the city charter's own opinion what council wanted to do was so extraordinary it required four votes to pass the ordinance (normally, only three are required),
  • the memo from City Attorney Dan Christ (sounds like wrist) to city manager Bob Bruner reads like a Carvillian talking-points memo, calling out the city charter's own language, three court cases, sections of the Michigan Constitution, and his own rah-rah talk encouraging Bruner and council that they may proceed with impunity and little concern for the arguments and protests any accidental resident or union representative may fling at them during the ordinance's surprise hearing.
Council seems more interested in impressing their colleagues, preparing their next political steps, giving radio interviews, pre-scripted surveys, and consultants to either listen to residents or take the time to explain why council suddenly wants to be like other communities when they ordinarily try to be as different as possible.

Luckily for residents, the city charter also provides a mechanism for registered voters to repeal any ordinance council passes by presenting sufficient, qualified petition signatures within 30-days of an ordinance's publication.

That petition has already started circulating.  If you would like to sign or circulate the petition, please send an email to or, or leave a message on my Facebook page.

If 1094 is as good a thing as most members of council believes it is, they'll have plenty of time to convince us before November.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the council meeting

In case you missed the Ferndale City Council meeting of June 14th, when an ordinance passed transferring supervision and control of public safety to the city manager from council, I've written a brief play recounting the highlights.

[The stage is dark, but the lights gradually come up.]

Mayor Covey: Madame Clerk, our next item please.

Clerk Tallman: Item 8B, consideration of an ordinance dissolving the council and transferring control of our city government to the city manager.

Councilman Lennon: WTF?

Tallman: I mean, an ordinance transferring control of an obscure department no one every knew about as well as public safety to the city manager.

Lennon: WTF?  Do you mean Bruner will be in charge of police and fire?

Covey: Cool, isn't it?

Lennon: He's too young to buy alcohol or play with matches!  Why would we put him in charge of police and fire?

Covey: We all agreed about this.

Lennon: No one talked to me.

Councilwoman Piana: Whoops?

Covey: I meant, we talked about this before.

Lennon: Before what?

Piana: Before you showed up?

Lennon: Why didn't this go to the Ordinance Committee?  Shouldn't something like this be reviewed on by the ordinance committee or at the Elks?  I'm on the ordinance committee.  I would have remembered.  This is a major change.  Don't you need four votes?

Covey: We already have four votes.

Lennon: WTF?

Piana: Mike, I am perhaps the most qualified person on this council to speak to this item?  Besides, I was the one that went to the Mackinac Policy Conference?  And when I told them I was from Ferndale they laughed at me?  Because we haven't made our city manager the scapegoat for all our poor policy decisions?

Manager Bruner: What was that?

Piana: I mean, because we haven't made our city manager a king yet?

Bruner: Huh?

Piana: I mean, our city manager can more efficiently do.. you know.. stuff.. faster than we can?

Covey: Ms. Baker, did you have something to say?

Baker:  Has Scott said anything yet?

Covey: No.

Baker: I'll wait.

Piana:  When I went to the Mackinac Policy Conference..

Lennon: You already said that.

Piana: .. they were mean to me?  I was embarrassed being from Ferndale?

Lennon: They weren't laughing at you because the police and fire chiefs report to council...

Piana:  Everyone agrees with me, that to streamline government it's best to use our taxpayers more wisely?

Baker: Has Scott said anything yet?

Covey: No.

Baker: Then I agree with Melonie [Piana].

Covey: I need a motion.

Lennon: I've got your motion...

Covey: I mean, I need a motion we can vote on.

Lennon: We've only been discussing this 10 minutes and you want to vote?  We harassed a women for 50 minutes last year over selling flowers on Mother's Day and you want to change our form of government in 10 minutes?

Covey: Cool, eh?

Councilman T. Scott Galloway: Mike [Lennon], this was discussed at several meetings.  Everybody should have been aware this was coming.  Besides, the woman selling flowers wasn't from Blumz... I mean... we were concerned about public safety.

Baker: I agree with Scott.

Piana:  But now that'll be Bruner's problem?

Covey: Cool, eh?  [Covey looks up and notices an uncredited extra has walked onto the stage]  Did you have something to say extra #1?

[the entire council looks attentive while the extra speaks her lines]

Covey: Thank you extra #1.  You know your name won't even roll on the credits, don't you?

[Three more extras approach the microphone, speak their lines, and exit stage left.]

Covey: Did you hear something?

Baker: Did Scott say something?

Covey: No.

Galloway:  Does this actually change the charter?  I mean, really.

Bruner: The charter gives you the right to change sections by a four-to-one vote.

Galloway: So, since the charter gives us the right to change the charter through mechanisms provided in the charter and since the charter was voted on by the people we're actually changing the charter with the charter-provided mechanisms for charter-changing with voter's approval, right?

Audience: What?

Baker:  I agree.

Covey: I'm voting in favor of this because I wanted prior notice of when the Chief of Police was going to issue press releases.  When I asked him what I need to get copied on those releases he said three votes.

Lennon: What would it take for residents to get prior notice of council's changing our form of government?

Covey: At least 1700 votes.  Cool, eh?

Covey: Madame Clerk, roll call.

Tallman: Piana?

Piana: Yes?

Tallman: Baker?

Baker: Yes?

Tallman: Galloway?

Galloway: Yes.

 [Baker pumps her fist]

Tallman: Lennon?

Lennon: Not just no, but HELL NO.

Baker: Does that count as two votes?

Galloway: No.

Tallman: ..and Mayor Covey?

Covey: Yes.  The motion passes as everyone but Lennon agreed to ahead of time.  Madame clerk, our next item please.

Tallman: Consideration of an ethics rule regarding the Sunshine and Open Meetings Act...

Galloway:  WTF?

Tallman: ... just kidding.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Go ahead and boycott BP, your government, and yourself over gulf oil spill

Facebook (as much of a time-suck as it is) can be wonderfully inspirational.

A little while ago I read a ('nother) post encouraging folks to boycott BP by not buying gas at BP stations. This is shortly on the tail of news reports about a picket outside a local BP station.

Before joining the picket lines or demonizing private industry, or the oil industry in particular, it's worth asking, "Why are we drilling in 5000' of water in the first place?"

Charles Krauthammer writes:
"As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama's tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"... why have we pushed the drilling from the barren to the populated, from the remote wilderness to a center of fishing, shipping, tourism and recreation?"
In addition to environmentalist and bad energy and natural resources policy, we have ourselves to blame.
"We want gasoline to be as reliable as electricity, and we don’t want to give any thought to where it comes from."
In fact, BP is drilling in 5000' of water for the same reason we invaded Iraq, because we want them to.

For a long time law enforcement has known that the best way to stop drug violence is for people to stop using drugs. Our irrational behavior and dual dependence on both oil and spineless public policy is worthy of Lindsay Lohan reality show.

When we're ready to stop oil spills, correct our middle-east policy, and stop sprawl, we'll check-ourselves in to rehab.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Why don't we put-down the owner with the dog?

On June 4, 2010, an Oak Park girl was attacked by a pit bull and her leg was ripped to shreds.

On June 1, 2010, a 59-year old bicyclist was attacked by four (4) pit-bulls while riding along Metro-Parkway west of Mound.

Still fresh in my memory, because one of the victims was the sister-in-law of family friend, was Dianne Cockrell's dogs killing two of her Iosco Township neighbors in Livingston County.
"Cheryl Harper, 56, and Edward Gierlach, 91, were mauled to death after Cockrell's dogs crawled under a fence at her property across the road from where the attacks occurred."
I'm not necessarily in favor of banning the breed (as much as I would be in favor of banning anyone careless enough to own one), because I don't think you can punish someone, or something, for what they may do.

That's the province of insurance companies.

Rather, I would prefer more severe penalties (and insurance premiums) for people that own and breed vicious dogs.


The deadliest dogs

Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, has conducted an unusually detailed study of dog bites from 1982 to the present. (Clifton, Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to November 13, 2006; click here to read it.) The Clifton study show the number of serious canine-inflicted injuries by breed. The author's observations about the breeds and generally how to deal with the dangerous dog problem are enlightening.

According to the Clifton study, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes are responsible for 74% of attacks that were included in the study, 68% of the attacks upon children, 82% of the attacks upon adults, 65% of the deaths, and 68% of the maimings. In more than two-thirds of the cases included in the study, the life-threatening or fatal attack was apparently the first known dangerous behavior by the animal in question. Clifton states:

If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed--and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.

Clifton's opinions are as interesting as his statistics. For example, he says, "Pit bulls and Rottweilers are accordingly dogs who not only must be handled with special precautions, but also must be regulated with special requirements appropriate to the risk they may pose to the public and other animals, if they are to be kept at all."

For those of you struggling with reading comprehension on editorial pages, let me extract a few key sentences. You can right them on your palm for the test later.
According to the Clifton study, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes are responsible for 74% of attacks that were included in the study.

If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed.

"Pit bulls and Rottweilers are accordingly dogs [that] must be regulated with special requirements appropriate to the risk they may pose to the public and other animals, if they are to be kept at all."
For the sake of easier reading, when I subsequently refer to "pit-bulls" I include Rottweilers and other vicious breeds identified in the report.

If we assume, for the moment, that some breeds are genetically more dangerous and/or unpredictable than others, then we should pass immediate legislation discouraging the ownership or breeding of pit-bulls.

If as some owners insist, it's the owner and not the dog, then we should pass immediate legislation discouraging the ownership or breeding of pit-bulls.

If careless and irresponsible (read: stupid) dog owners are so easily identified by their choice in household pets then the best thing to do might be to disarm them. Take their pet away. Probably their kitchen knives and small toys, too.

If we discover a hitherto unknown constitutional amendment protecting the right to bare vicious animals for a well-regulated pack, then we should require special permits with semi-annual proofs of continuous $10 million insurance coverage so that anyone attacked by their "normally gentle and loving" family weapon is guaranteed to live prosperously off the insurance payout--and that includes the next-of-kin of the victim killed by the "docile and great with children" creature.

Being in possession of an unregistered pit-bull should carry a stiff penalty. In the end, I think euthanizing the owner with the dog may be the best deterrent to these attacks. It will certainly cut-down on repeat offenders.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Blind to the obvious

[Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2010 edition of Ferndale Friends]

It’s a good thing the DDA spent $40,000 on the Crow’s Nest sculpture.  With Ferndale’s public safety departments slashed 20%, the constable inside the tree-house on Woodward at Nine Mile may be the only officer with job security.

Ferndale city council has finalized its budget.  The Kulick Center survived the cuts, but eight police officers and four firemen did not.  We have churches with spaces our community may utilize.  Affirmations does as well, as will our new library.  We have health clubs both in and very-near the city’s center for working out on state-of-the-art equipment and aerobics.  What Ferndale doesn’t have, charitable or not, is an organization that responds to 911 calls, keeps little fires from becoming big fires, will enter  big ones to save lives, and respond to the 1700+ medical calls-per-year (nearly five a day!).

Ferndale doesn’t have a fashionable special interest or advocacy group that’s prepared to police our southern border, our parks, or assist neighboring communities respond to their emergencies or manage traffic for parades and festivals.

Our city government, and by extension its public safety department, are uniquely qualified and authorized to do things no other organization, public or private, is able to do; apprehend, arrest, and detain suspected criminals.

The staff and volunteers of Affirmations, as great as they are, wouldn’t have been much good at the VFW hall after the December 19 birthday party shooting.  The members of the First Baptist Church or their new tenants, SOS, haven’t the equipment to respond to fires, strokes, heart attacks, domestic violence, reckless driving, drunk driving, or chemical spills.  Kulick-center patrons aren’t going to raid a drug-house, keep our streets safe for children on Halloween, or bring their emergency vehicles to our block parties, picnics and fairs to thrill children and introduce them to the brave men and women that protect and serve.

A lot of people want to lay all the blame on city council for the cuts.  I’m not one of them.  Ferndale’s voters hired our current city council in 2005, 2007, and 2009.  I include 2005 because there were already warnings the housing bubble artificially inflated city budgets in the mid-decade as much as it did property values.

Having learned nothing from the Savings and Loan scandal in the early 90s or the internet bubble burst in 2000, there was little sense of caution or restraint as council continued hiring and spending as though hiring, spending, and arts & crafts was the purpose of government.

OK.  Maybe for some it is.

Regardless, all our city council persons were elected by voters.  It’s up to voters to tell city council whether they agree the city should be managed by $6,000-surveys, USA Today’s at-a-glance charts, or by pop-urbanists.

In the same week Ferndale’s downtown was patting itself on the back for Mainstreet’s National  “Best In Show” award, residents on Camden (third block north of Eight Mile, west of Woodward ) alerted police to two people sawing catalytic converters off parked cars and a drug house that was subsequently raided by Ferndale Police and the Oakland County Narcotics Squad.

I applaud Camden residents’ devotion to their neighborhood and hope city council is as vigilant of all our streets as they are opportunities to promote downtown or their political careers.

But until property values return to rational levels there are no easy budget remedies.   And perhaps that’s exactly as it should be.

According to our city manager, Bob Bruner, our four-square-mile corporation would have already declared bankruptcy had it not been a government.   But like a company, tough economic times present as many opportunities as challenges.

Falling revenues provide us an opportunity to prioritize our spending--an opportunity for our city to discriminate between core and discretionary services.  A core service is one that only our government is given the authority to do, or one that if our city didn’t provide it there’s little reason to have a city at all.  Like public safety, zoning, and community development.

 A discretionary item is a service or facility that can be easily provided by another entity—either public or private.  Think meeting rooms and halls, kitchens, exercise equipment, garbage collection, leaf pick-up, and ballroom dance lessons.

Between the extremes public safety and ballroom dancing (and I rank Plante Moran Cresa’s nurturing council’s desire for a new city hall about as important as publicly-funded ballroom dancing), it is council’s job to prioritize how tax dollars are spent.

The easiest way for government to avoid prioritizing or risk upsetting the beneficiaries of discretionary spending (and their votes) is to raise taxes.

Council has already asked the city manager to prepare a buffet of tax increases they might consider for the fall ballot.  Two of them will certainly be a dedicated public safety millage (an extra tax for something the city should fully fund in the first-place) and a Headlee Override, which would allow the city to increase its millage rate to 20.0000 from 2010’s 14.5448.

According to early estimates, Mr. Bruner has indicated a Headlee Override could bring-in $3.4 million for the 2012-2013 budget.

Given the dilemma of further cuts or tax increases, and the surviving discretionary items in the 2010-2011 budget, I’m disposed to more cuts before raising taxes.

We’ll know when city budgets become critical when discretionary expenses are almost non-existent and the other local cities’ resistance and excuses for not integrating more services finally disappears.

Newsflash:  Just before going to press, I heard a rumor that city council has a plan to augment our diminished police force.  They’ve asked Bob Bruner to investigate erecting eight constable-occupied tree-house sculptures, like the one downtown, along our Eight Mile border to discourage crime.  They want to call them Scare-Crows Nests.

If you have a short story you think would make a great tag-ending to this column, write me at