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There are at least three strong reasons this ordinance should be repealed.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


  1. Excellent letter Tom. You have a way of presenting the problem with Council's ideas so well. It further shows why we have the wrong people on Council with the exception of one.
    Watching their dastardly act of balancing the Budget would make everyone question their idea of consolidating power to one who has shown no better judgment they themselves.

  2. This was very enlightening for me, Tom. What recourse do citizens have if the city manager does something the residents are unhappy about? According to this ordinance, the city manager will be having a lot more power. If I'm correct, the c.m. is not elected but hired. Who will he be accountable to? Does he have to at least fulfill a residency requirement, so that he will have some real vested interest in how he "rules" the police chief, fire chief and city clerk?

    Marcia Alther

  3. I'm not sure what recourse citizens have against a city manager, except to petition their council persons.

    Our city manager, Bob Bruner, is a Ferndale resident, and except for experience he is as qualified as any city manager may be.

    I'm much less worried about Bob Bruner, personally, than I am city council. Too many of them seem to put their personal agendas before the city's, and voters need to get their attention else they'll continue ignoring residents.

  4. The Daily Tribune ran two pieces on the petition drive in today's edition.

    The first was a well-done article by Mike McConnell. It includes some valuable quotes from our Mayor and County Commissioner Candidate Craig Covey.

    The second is an editorial suggesting council should have sought residents' input before considering the ordinance.

  5. The danger is putting too much power in one persons hands no matter who they are.
    While the CM answers to Council, we've seen how Council cares little if any as to what the residents want.
    This is a Change we do not want or need. Learning after the fact is what we want to avoid!

  6. Today, Tiffani Gagne filed 400 petition signatures with the Ferndale City Clerk.

    A big thanks to Tiffani and everyone that put their money where their mouth is.