Ypsilanti caves, waives snow removal fees

The following comes from the Ypsi Citizen:

After an investigation into the snow abatements issued in January, the city of Ypsilanti will not be collecting any money from residents.

April McGrath, Ypsilanti administrative services manager, said she came to the conclusion Thursday that the city had not notified all the properties that had snow removed from their sidewalks by independent contractor A.M. Services. She said her findings were reported to City Council.

Ron Monroe, the city’s ordinance enforcer resigned from his post at the city Thursday as well. McGrath said Monroe turned in a letter, but did not give a reason for his leaving. She said Building Manager Frank Daniels and Rental Inspector Debbie Neville will be filling in on Monroe’s duties until the budget is reviewed to see if his position will be posted.

Monroe was the person in the city responsible for handing out the notices…

And, just as this news was breaking, I received the following joint statement from Councilmen Murdock and Robb.

The recent uproar over the City’s implementation of the snow removal ordinance has been embarrassing, frustrating and maddening. A policy with wide community support to make our walks safe and useable in the winter and what seemed like a fairly simple implementation process has become completely FUBAR’d. We apologize for this situation and any inconveniences or heartburn this may have caused anyone. We appreciate the patience folks had while we tried to sort fact from fiction in following up all the concerns and experiences people shared with us. The process is sometimes slower and less visible than one might like, but your concerns were not ignored.

The obvious conclusion is that the implementation and oversight of this program was horrid. The City can not vouch with any degree of certainty that notices of abatement were actually delivered or any abatement work was actually done. Consequently, all invoices for abatement have been cancelled, an employee has resigned, the contract for the snow removal service will be bid out and the City Administration has been put on notice that this lack of oversight is unacceptable.

Moving forward, the entire snow removal implementation process is under review to remove any of the shortcomings that have became evident. Many of the suggestions we received will be incorporated. Snow removal is really up to all of us and we would enlist the involvement of the community through the neighborhood, commercial and rental owners associations to publicize the rationale and the potential consequences of the snow removal ordinance. We would like to concentrate our efforts on walkways to schools, commercial areas and other areas of high pedestrian traffic coupled with an effective complaint based system, and we would like to see some changes that would target scofflaws and recidivists that consistently ignore this ordinance.

Spring is almost upon us, and we should have sufficient time to get this right for next snow season. As always, any comments or suggestions are welcome.

So, it sounds like the City conducted an investigation and found that notices of abatement were not distributed, as is required by law. It’s encouraging to see the City owning up to this. I’m tempted to drone on some more about what a pain in the ass this was, and how much I resented being told by City leaders, when I first approached them, that I should just pay my bill. As I think I made clear here, I didn’t appreciate having to prove myself innocent. I didn’t like being told that I hadn’t shoveled my walk, when I had, and I didn’t like being told that my notice of abatement probably just “blew away,” when I informed the Mayor that I didn’t receive one. But I’m willing to put all of that behind me now, and just thank the City for finally acknowledging that they were wrong, and doing the right thing. I wish they’d listened sooner, but, in the end, I’m just glad that they listened at all… It’s good to know that you can occasionally fight City Hall and win.

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28 Comments

  1. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Sounds okay. We don’t seem to get the details on what Ron Monroe did or did not do. Did he falsify reports? Or did he just not know the proper protocol? And nobody oversaw his work? I would like to know this: did Ypsilanti pay the full amount to A. M. Services? What did A. M. Services say in response to inquiries?

  2. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Citizen pwnage!!! My faith in the system is slightly less dead.

  3. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    A.M. was just as complicit in this as anyone.

    They should never be allowed to perform work for the city again.

  4. Oliva
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Here’s to this excellent blog, prize-winning blog (without the formal ceremony or actual, tangible prize–but someday . . .). This time for shining the golden light of justice on something done wrong, giving people a voice and plenty of thoughtfulness to get things fixed.

    I appreciate the note from Brian and Pete that you posted. From the lovable M-W Collegiate:

    exculpate , absolve , exonerate , acquit , vindicate mean to free from a charge. exculpate implies a clearing from blame or fault often in a matter of small importance . absolve implies a release either from an obligation that binds the conscience or from the consequences of disobeying the law or committing a sin . exonerate implies a complete clearance from an accusation or charge and from any attendant suspicion of blame or guilt . acquit implies a formal decision in one’s favor with respect to a definite charge . vindicate may refer to things as well as persons that have been subjected to critical attack or imputation of guilt, weakness, or folly, and implies a clearing effected by proving the unfairness of such criticism or blame .

    Tonight I feel vindicated. Also glad that after a disheartening slip (on a not really snowy sidewalk), we have a fresh chance to do in our hometown that thing we voted for last November for the whole country–be better, do better, look out for one another, don’t cheat or lie. (Okay, I’m making some of the dreams of last November up, but it was along those lines.)

  5. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    As someone who is hopelessly out-of-touch with the inner workings of the city … can folks give some testimony on the villain Ron Monroe (who has a name too common for Google)? Maybe he’s a real devil. If he is, can someone just spit it out? Until them, I’m more than a little disappointed at Mark’s:

    But I’m willing to put all of that behind me now, and just thank the City for finally acknowledging that they were wrong, and doing the right thing.

    Apparently, for Mark, the right thing is getting rid of a low level employee without any public explanation of why he was dismissed or acknowledgment of whom else may have been involved.

    I hope you other unfairly ticketed folk aren’t willing to put this behind you because a replaceable city worker was fired. I don’t know if Ron Monroe has a family, but if he does, I’m sure they’ll get along just fine knowing that those who were burdened with the ticket are finally sleeping well. As I commented on a previous post:

    The easiest thing for council would be to find a scapegoat and fire them.

    That was when I was proud of the council for not finding a scapegoat.

    All that has been done is Ron, whoever he is, is unemployed for mysterious reasons. AM (concurring with YC above), is still a city contractor. And, our council folk offer a somewhat belated apology to polite applause. Hoorah! Your fired a city worker! Fines are forgiven! All sins are atoned!

    All’s well that ends well, eh?

  6. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Et tu Oliva?

    I was writing my comment as you were. You feel vindicated? All it takes is for the city to fire (unless Monroe just wanted to retire to spend more time with his family) one employee to settle the matter?

    I thought there were three basic issues folks were calling for volunteer shovelers and blue ribbon investigations for:
    -no notices (Monroe?)
    -no pictures (AM)
    -no abatement (AM)

    Really? You’re happy with that?

    Look. As far as I know Monroe threw the notices in the trash and spent the rest of the day in a massage parlor. But the relative peon loses a job while the contractor accused of 2/3 of the errors remains? If I cared about this issue, I wouldn’t be popping corks and accepting belated apologies.

    I’d want more.

  7. Oliva
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    I appreciate your comments, OEC, because I have thought plenty about what might be going on in somebody’s private life that set some bad stuff in motion, and I have great sympathy. I never wished or do wish that someone would lose a job, although people say that if a “public servant” (in quotes because it’s not a beautiful term) broke the law, it’s not okay just to discipline him or her, whereas I would go for the discipline and a pledge to uphold a much higher standard, for us all.

    The vindicated comment was about our council members’ letter that Mark posted. Sorry I didn’t spell that out more clearly.

    I could imagine a man, a person, with a difficult personal time or even difficult commute, harried workday and now extra work, or having the flu or all sorts of things that would actually, in a most human way, almost justify (not ideally but probably really) someone not doing something right or well at his or her job. Most people can imagine someone having a bad day or week, but what if it were an even worse one than that, and then is it really so awful that some people got fined, etc., etc.? (I’m being a little facetious with the “etc.” part–just that, despite the whining sound I guess it makes to some people here, it wasn’t just simple to untangle things, and we weren’t just fined, but we also had a tarnished property record [even if paid, the record would remain–no thanks], like all the other people who got fined, and we put forth effort to get people to take the matter seriously and look into it.) But as for one individual whom I feel for, wonder about, don’t know, I never meant to make it a him against us, and I’m very curious, like you, about the contractor. Really, I was tired, and I wasn’t clear enough in expressing myself. I very much would like to know what really happened and be able to know that this wasn’t cheap justice using a scapegoat. To me it’s somewhat confusing, actually.

  8. Oliva
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Oh geez, just to clarify that last answering back OEC. I didn’t mean to suggest someone here has broken the law. I shouldn’t write for public consumption when I’m too tired, obviously.

  9. Curt Waugh
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    OEC, you make some good points, but perhaps a measured response is best here. We do want to know more about exactly what happened here. We do want this to go as far up the ladder as necessary to address everyone who was responsible. And we do want A.M. to feel our wrath over this issue. But we’re dealing with personnel issues here and, unless we are careful about our next steps, we risk piling yet another mistake on top of this festering pile of self governance.

    Before any of that, however, we should all be very proud of ourselves – members of government included – for getting us to this point. Council members Murdock and Robb’s statement was frank and necessary. And we got my fondest wish: a Do-Over. We citizens are still in charge. Sure, this is a semi-minor issue in practicality, but we have set a model for some of the bigger issues on the horizon (rail, Water St., regionalization, etc.)

    Everyone have a good back slap? Moving on…

    To the members of the council and the mayor: DO NOT forgot this incident when the city manager’s review comes up. This person has been getting one good review after another for years now. This happened on his watch. This is entirely his fault. Any good leader would admit as much. Any decent person would be unable to sleep knowing that he let some underling take all the blame without acknowledging his own. DO NOT give this person a good review next time. It think maybe this year is the year for ZERO raises for this person (and zeros on his review). It must be put into the official city record that he failed this year. You will hear from us again if you let this go. He has let us down horribly, far worse than our elected leaders. Be our voice. Manage him.

  10. Oliva
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Curt.
    EOC, my headline this morning could be “Olive Caves Too.” I do care if someone was scapegoated, and I do really wonder what happened–A.M., etc. But you seem mad at the idea that the people who spoke up got listened to–or at least mad that they feel relief for having been listened to–whereas I was gratified about it, and I think our efforts will make things better for many of the people who live here.

  11. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Would there be a public record of their investigation? I don’t know how to FOIA, but is there a way to do this?

    Consider this old dichotomy: “it’s better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to go to prison.” The fines have been waved. As some have noted, guilty people were likely ticketed. But we now know that innocent people were ticketed (how many? I guess we cannot know, as there were problems with the city’s records. Can we at least know how many people claimed innocence?). Still, better that the guilty go unpunished–than to have the innocent punished.

    Compare that with Monroe’s firing. Apparently the city has found him guilty. Did he get a fair “trial”? We can assume he was forced to resign? But we don’t know–perhaps he was innocent and the victim of a witch hunt. I don’t know about vindicated: we don’t know the truth.

    A. M. Services apparently was found innocent by the city (at this point, I don’t even know who that is, exactly. Who did the investigation?), but again, we don’t know. Fair trial?

    It’s damn fishy. Organizations like our government tend to withhold information in such cases, as they less they reveal, the less can be used against them in a court case or in citizen complaints (and forced resignations can include agreements to secret away the reasons for the “firing”). Fraud and conspiracy had been mentioned earlier, and I thought it possible but not likely. But the city’s secrecy only makes me wonder. What are they hiding? Are A. M. Services people cronied up with with some Ypsilanti officials and politicians?

    Can a prosecutor look into this?

  12. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Oops: “waived.”

  13. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    The city did not follow their procurement/purchasing policy for goods and services over $5000. That should be addressed.

    What other policies are not followed?

    I posted this on East-Cross:

    It takes money to make money. In the future make sure the proper resources to handle a large complex task are effectively in place. Ron was put in a situation that he (or anyone) could not effectively handle on his own. That doesn’t excuse his behavior. He should have spoken sooner that he did not deliver all (or hardly any) notices.

    “She estimated the money due to A.M. could be more than $10,000″

    Ridiculous. Especially that there is no written contract with them. No “not to exceed” amount, no prevailing wage, non-collusive affidavid, no beginning or end of contract date, no details of what the contractor does, etc.. Someone let them loose with no conditions or oversight. And knowing how A.M. “operates” one could expect the absolute power granted them to corrupt them.

    A bittersweet conclusion. But there are still unanswered questions. I still am upset that I had to spend quite a lot of time on this, or few would have. It was really upsetting to watch council and mayor march lockstep with staff and effectively help this debacle along. Perhaps you (council) learned something. I hope.

  14. Posted March 14, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    OEC, I appreciate where you’re coming from, but, given what I know about the case, I do think a lot of it falls on the Ordinance Enforcement Officer, and whoever in City government he reported to. Sure, I’m pissed that everyone in the City at first stood up for him, and accused me and my neighbors of lying in order to get out of paying the fees, but I think they’re all acknowledging that now. At least that’s the subtext I’m seeing in the notes sent to me. Maybe you’re right, and maybe they are trying to scapegoat to some extent, but I think the posting of abatements and keeping track of A&M’s work fell pretty squarely on the shoulders of the Ordinance Enforcement Officer.

    So, yeah, I think we can keep digging. I’d be particularly interested to see more of an inquiry into A&M. I’m also interested to know if the City Attorney was bending the truth when he said in front of City Council that he saw the Ordinance Enforcement Officer printing copies of the abatement notice and heading out of City Hall to post them. I have to watch the tape again, but he and the Assistant City Manager sure made it sound like they had seen the Ordinance Enforcement Officer taping up the abatement notices. April, as I recall, even explained how each notice had been taped up with a long strip of tape across the top.

    But, like I said, I’m willing to let it go. I don’t want to hurt the City. That’s not what this was ever about for me. I realize, now that we’ve “won,” it would be easy to really kick the City. I could call the press, demand a full-scale investigation, and really stir up some shit. I don’t, at this point, think that would do much good. The City’s already stuck with a $10K bill to pay…. And, maybe I’m naive, but I think they’re really taking this seriously now.

  15. Suzie
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I am probably a geology geek if my first feeling when reading the headline was the heady excitement of wondering where the caves were.

  16. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Oliva/all,

    I can see how my comments could be read as angry, but I’m not. I meant a tone of “befuddled.” It is very likely that an examination by the city indicated the ordinance officer was at fault. And there’s much to be pleased with in how the city responded. I just want to be a little cautious in situations like this, to make sure loss of a job is deserved and not simply expedient or political.

    And IF Ypsi Comfort is correct that:

    Ron was put in a situation that he (or anyone) could not effectively handle on his own.

    Then I’d like to make sure other city employees aren’t given workloads that doom them to failure. Again, I’m not angry about this, I don’t want a blue ribbon investigation. I just want to make sure our municipal employees get a fair shake. From what I’ve heard recently, it sounds like in this case, they did.

  17. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    On second thought, my faith in the system is totally dead again.

    The city has a 10k bill to pay? Who’s the city but us? That’s not coming out of any city employees’ 401k or a bake sale or anything. They get their money from us.

    Essentially, the system gave us the exact same results that no system at all would have given us, but with the additional headaches of making the injured parties have to defend themselves and costing us 10k collectively. The sidewalks that would have been shovelled anyway were shovelled anyway, the sidewalks that wouldn’t have been shovelled anyway weren’t shovelled. Compared to no city involvement at all, we’ve gained nothing but a headache.

  18. Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    BA, I like to think that the city gained some valuable experience from this. Sure, 10k is a lot of money. But if it means long term improvements in the ordinance enforcement process, it might be worth it.

    Also, it was my understanding that the city was not going to pay the contractor for work that wasnt properly documented. The 10k very well may have been for services actually rendered. If not, then I hope the city considers that when selecting a contractor for next year.

  19. Mark H.
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    It certainly is good that city leaders have backed away, entirely, from their previous claim that all was done right in the snow removal/fines/abatement. Now they admit there was a huge screw up, and one person’s been canned. I have to accept that, when some is forced to resign, that there were reasons for that; if not, that person would have recourse.

    What I don’t accept is that one resignation makes everything better. Mark M. is far more forgiving than me, and I wasn’t even lied to myself!

    How far removed was the Enforcement Officer from the City Manager, in terms of intermediate supervisors? Two persons removed? Three? Four? I don’t know, but I doubt that the City Manager was more than 3 or 4 persons removed, in the organizational structure, from the person who was forced to resign. What written directives were created by the managers between the time the new ordinance was passed and it was effective? What, if any, supervision was provided?

    In other words: I think the cover up is still afoot. Until all relevant facts are made known, I have to think so, given all I know about the history of cover ups and their usual dynamics. I don’t think Council Members Robb and Murdock are part of any cover up – they pushed the policy thru and want it enforced and want these screw ups fixed. I know that’s true about them.

    But as for the City Manager — well, he’s operated for years without leaving his own finger prints on the screw ups he has presided over. He is a poor supervisor, at the very least.

    Is there a clear paper trail establishing that the City Manager vigorously took steps to ensue that the new policy would be sensibly and effectively enforced by his subordinates, and to ensure that all dealings with the contractor would be carefully documented and no false billings permitted? If that documentation exists, fine. If not, the City Manager should be fired for cause. It’s his job to ensure that city policies are correctly implemented. He failed to do that. No evidence is yet known to the public that indicates he did anything whatsoever to make the policy effectively implemented, or that he took any appropriate supervisory steps to ensure that the policy was corrected handiled.

    Unless he can show that his best and concerted efforts to carry out this duty were somehow thwarted by others, he is plainly unfit to remain in his current position. One of the duties of a city manager is to supervise — and if he’d really been engaged in carrying out his duty of supervision, it seems unlikely that any city official, whether city staff or elected mayor, would have been encouraged to claim that all was well with how the snow policy had been implemented. Failed supervisors should not be retained in supervisory positions. This is not rocket science.

  20. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t think Council Members Robb and Murdock are part of any cover up – they pushed the policy thru and want it enforced and want these screw ups fixed. I know that’s true about them.”

    Why would you assume that? Partisan bias?

  21. Mark H.
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I have talked extensively with Brian and Pete — and I am convinced by all they said to me privately, Not that they said anything ‘secret’ to me. This is one reason why I think they are not part of a cover up.

    More importantly, Dirtgrain, Pete & Brian are NOT in charge of city administration. They are on Council. They are not staff, they are not supervisors. They were elected as critics of the status quo, and I see no reason why they would have somehow secretly become defenders of the status quo…. They were and are for the new snow removal policy (so am I), and they defend that policy. As far as I know, none of their statements were in the ‘absolutely everything done was correctly done, and critics should just shut up’ category of the Mayor and the City Manager. (This is my perspective, but I wasn’t at any of those conversations.) I know Pete & Brian did push for an explanation, and I guess the explanation provided to them and the actions taken are sufficient for Mark M. and many others. I do wish Pete & Brian had been more immediately critical of how the policy was implemented — but heck, the full story wasn’t known right away? The persons who were supposed to make sure that the policy was correctly implemented are full time City administrators — and none of them were on Council. Council is just supposed to make policy. These two guys, unlike the Mayor, have no knee-jerk defense of all that the City Manager and his subordinates do; hence I don’t see any reason to think they are part of a cover up. Is this clear Dirtgrain?

    I should add that there are lots of very dedicated, capable city staff.

  22. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Mark H.

    Did Robb or Murdock give you any hint that the city manager was involved, or is that your own speculation?

    For what it’s worth, I’ve had dialogue with someone far more well connected to the city’s inner workings then myself, and I’m now entirely satisfied with outcome.

    Good on everyone, from city workers to council to citizens who pressed the issue.

  23. nammeroo
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    It appears to this observer that the problem at City Hall is that the CITY MANAGER WASN’T INVOLVED. Ed Koryzno is a nice guy who has been our city manager for a very long time. It appears that he has totally taken his eye off the ball.

    If the city actually owes $10,000 for this fiasco, the responsibility goes right to the top. Perhaps Mr. Koryzno would be willing to return $10K of that big raise and retirement boost he got from (former) Mayor Farmer and her (now out of office) Council colleagues Gawlas and Filipiak a few years back.

  24. Oliva
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Thank you, OEC. I am curious about what you learned.

  25. Mark H.
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    OEC, I agree with Nammeroo, “the problem at City Hall is that the CITY MANAGER WASN’T INVOLVED.”. We have an extraordinarily inactive city manager. And no, OEC, no elected official told me that the manager was “involved”. The problem appears to be that he wasn’t involved — and as the city manager, the buck stops at his desk. Yet he plainly tolerated the situation that produced the problem, and he failed to take decisive steps to see that it was solved when the first complaints were voiced. It should not have taken more than an hour to find out that the required documentation for citations, fines, and abatements were lacking in many instances. Instead, it took what, 2 weeks? The stakes are small, but the mismanagement seems extensive — positively Rumsfieldian in audacity, in denial of plain facts, in a slowness to recognize valid complaints, a tendency to blame the messenger, in sub-par performance, and in a record of NOT taking the required active steps to ensure that a sharp change in city policy was implemented with care, accuracy, and integrity.

    I don’t much rely on secrete sources, OEC, but i’d be curious about what yours has told you that convinces you that spending weeks of city time to sort out Shovelgate, to the point it is now sorted out, is sufficient explanation for you. Or is it classified information your unnamed source has provided?

    I am for accountability and high standards , in public as well as private institutions. Democracy requires nothing less.

  26. John Gawlas
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Did someone just mention my name?

  27. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Mark H.,

    I know Pete & Brian did push for an explanation, and I guess the explanation provided to them and the actions taken are sufficient for Mark M. and many others.

    I don’t know anything you don’t know; I’m just one of the many others.

    I have to ask, was “secrete sources” a typo or an intentional reference to my methods of gathering information?

  28. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Second try on the “my methods” link.

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