Shovelgate: City Hall edition

The following post is going to be extremely uninteresting to the majority of the audience, who, I’m sure, could care less about the intricacies of snow removal policy in a small, struggling midwestern town. For those of you who fall into that category, I give you this link to an article about an asteroid the size of a 10 story building moving 12 miles per second that barely missed the earth last night as we slept. (Or, if that’s too scary for you, how about another dose of Coogan?)

The rest of you get the following.

I just got home from the City Council meeting, and I’m mad at myself for not doing a better job of conveying my main points. I’d gone with a prepared statement (see below), but something said by the City’s attorney prior to my standing up, sent me off on a tangent.

In explaining to the Mayor why they take photos of sidewalks found not to be compliant with the City’s snow removal ordinance, prior to having a contractor remove the snow, he said they didn’t legally have to. He said they just post warnings and take photos to give residents, “an extra level of comfort.” That, for some reason, really wound me up.

So, when I took my turn at the microphone, I started rambling about the dangers of a system in which a citizen is expected to just take the word of City employees, without any corroborating evidence. I don’t think anyone got what I was saying, but it seemed important to me at the time that they realize just how messed up it was that homeowners were, under this system, presumed guilty.

Essentially what we heard this evening was that the ordinance enforcement officer’s word is sacrosanct. He’s supposed to leave a written notice of abatement, warning you of the fact that a crew will be coming within 18 hours to clear your sidewalk and charge you for it, but, if you don’t receive it, there’s nothing you can do about it, so long as the ordinance enforcement officer says that he left it on your door. Fortunately, our policy does call for a photo to be taken prior to snow removal (abatement), however… but, as the attorney pointed out, they didn’t really have to do that. It’s just to give us that, “extra level of comfort.”

Are you feeling that extra level of Ypsilanti comfort? It’s nice, isn’t it?

For those of you who aren’t following along, all of this essentially means that if you get a bill telling you that you owe X amount of dollars for the cleaning of your sidewalk, that you have to pay it. You cannot argue that you weren’t warned, and you can’t argue that the work wasn’t performed. The City has no legal obligation to provide either. It’s your word against the City’s, and yours doesn’t matter.

I guess, from now on, I’ll have to make it a point to photograph my sidewalk every morning.

So, yeah, I wasted my three minutes in front of Council. Had I been focused, here’s what I had planned to say:

I would like to talk for a moment about the snow removal ordinance and its implementation. And I’d like to preface my comments by saying that I am aware that the current policies were put in place with the best of intentions. I think everyone would agree that our City needs to be both safe and walkable, and, given the budget situation, that we need to be creative in how we make that happen. With that said, however, there were serious issues in the wake of the last snowfall that give many of us reason to, at best, suspect mismanagement, and, at worst, suspect fraud. While I personally do not feel as though it’s likely that fraud occurred, I do think we need to put a system of oversight in place going forward to ensure transparency and preempt such charges in the future.

In my particular instance… I never received either a written warning or notice of impending abatement, which, as I understand it, is required by law. And, contrary to policy, no photos were taken showing the existence of a violation. And, from what I could tell, no work was done… I just received a bill for $83, and was told to pay it.

This, as you might imagine, kind of rubbed me the wrong way, seeing as how I like to think of myself as a good neighbor. I didn’t much appreciate being told that I’d let my City down, especially when I had indeed shoveled.

I understand that my situation may be an aberration, and that others may have seen A & M Services clear the walks that they billed for in their neighborhoods, but, based on my experience alone, it’s not hard to imagine how someone may wonder if, in fact, no one was warned, no cause was documented, and no work was actually done… I think that’s doubtful, but it’s possible.

Going forward, we need to remedy this. We need to do a better job of documenting violations. We need to issue written warnings. And we need to send someone out to check, after the fact, to make sure that these private vendors have done the work they are billing the City for.

As I understand it, as it now stands, the contracted company is responsible for providing photographic evidence of the violation. In my particular case, I have been told that they failed to do so. I have heard the same thing from others, who, like me, filed a formal complaint. If it hasn’t already been done, I would find out how many of the 348 properties they billed for have associated photographs. And, assuming it really is mandated in their contract that they provide photographic proof, I would only pay for those where such photos exist.

I should add that it was somewhat disconcerting as an Ypsilanti citizen to have my initial inquiries into this matter rebuffed with the automatic defense of City employees and procedures. When I said that I wasn’t warned, I was told that I had been warned, and that mine, “probably just blew away.” Then, later, once it had been established that many of us did not receive written warnings, we were told that the City legally didn’t have to provide them. And, when I first said that I had shoveled my sidewalk, I was told that the enforcement officer had been to my home and made the assessment that I hadn’t. What’s more, I was told that he took a photo that would demonstrate as much. Later, of course, when I asked to see the photo, we would find out no photo was taken. And, then, after that, I was told that it wasn’t the officer’s job to take photos after all, but the job of the contracted company. And, in my case, as I mentioned, they hadn’t… The bottom line was this – I was simply told to pay the bill, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t warned and that there was no evidence of work having been done by the company.

Lastly, I would encourage those threatening lawsuits in the audience to consider not doing so. I don’t think that doing so would be productive at this point. And I would encourage City Council to come up with a solution before our next snowfall. Toward that end, I would suggest that you begin by making contact with Ypsilanti’s neighborhood associations and engaging them in a comprehensive dialogue about ordinance enforcement. As it’s neighbors who typically know where the problems on any given street exist, I’m thinking that they are uniquely situated to make some of these calls, and, for this reason, should be included in the process.

The truly amazing thing is that, of everyone in the room, not one person had seen a single notice of abatement (the warning that the City is supposed to post 18 hours prior to snow removal). These are full-sized sheets of paper, that, according to the Assistant City Manager, were taped outside of 441 doors downtown. Leaving alone for the moment how unlikely it is that our one ordinance enforcement officer could leave 441 notices in one day, isn’t it amazing that no one, in a room of about 30 people, all of whom live in the City, had seen even one? I can accept that the wind blew mine away, but all of them?

It was kind of shocking to me, frankly, that no one on the Council seemed concerned about that. It was equally disconcerting that no one on Council seemed interested in the fact that, according to at least three reputable homeowners in the audience, the City was charged for services that were not performed. In the most striking example, a man who, as his profession, leads municipal maintenance teams, swore 1) that he shoveled his walk religiously, and 2) that no one other than him had touched his sidewalk. He even volunteered the name of his mailman, who has commended him in the past on having one of the most meticulously kept sidewalks in Ypsilanti. How the City Council could hear that story, knowing that A&M Services charged the City for having abated his sidewalk, and not found it worth probing deeper is beyond me.

It also seems odd to me that every person I know who complained, saying, like me, that they weren’t warned, and didn’t notice any work having been done by A&M, had their bills waived. The explanation in all of our cases was that the charges were waved because photos were not taken by A&M. That seems to me to be a bit too much of a coincidence. How is it that everyone who complains, saying that A&M never touched their sidewalk, is told that there’s no photographic evidence of the condition of their sidewalk prior to alleged abatement?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but something doesn’t smell right… I’m not suggesting that that there was any orchestrated attempt to rip off the City, but I am saying that, at the very least, this was handled poorly. The fact that no one so far has surfaced to say that he or she received a notice of abatement taped to their door, in spite of 441 apparently being posted, seems to me to be a huge red flag… Unfortunately, however, our City leaders – at least those who bothered to attend tonight’s meeting – didn’t seem too interested. Maybe they’ll change their opinions tomorrow, when the papers come out.

The Ann Arbor News, the Ypsi Courier, the Ypsi Citizen, and the Ypsi News were all in attendance, and, judging from the questions they were asking those of us who had come to speak on the issue, my sense is they aren’t going to just let this go… One would have hoped that the City would have taken this opportunity to announce an investigation of some kind, or at least indicate a willingness to talk with the ordinance enforcement officer. Instead, they stuck to their guns and said there wasn’t a problem. And now, unfortunately for our community, it’s going to become news.

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114 Comments

  1. Posted March 3, 2009 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Another Ypsi blogger, Lynne, was in the audience tonight. Her notes, for those of you who haven’t yet had enough Ypsi drama, can be found here.

  2. Jon L.
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    The letter you had on the last post said Councilpersons Murdock and Robb proposed this policy. I know Councilperson Bodary made the motion to pass it. Did they have any response during the meeting? I seem to remember they have been quite vocal here during elections. Is there anyway to get them to respond to these issues? This isn’t what I remember them running on. Is there anyway to determine how A&M was selected as a contractor?

  3. Oliva
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    “Let’s put it this way. Their [our elected officials] accountability is our responsibility.”
    –Tavis Smiley, just now on CNN

  4. Karl
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Mark, you’re too hard on yourself- you spoke quite well, and conveyed as much as you could in the time allowed. Give yourself credit. I attended, but was cowardly and didn’t speak truth to power at all. I regret that.

    I came away with the feeling of great disappointment that the council effectively defended this sad chapter in the life of the city. They didn’t even acknowledge that good citizens and neighbors got caught in the switches of this bungled effort at enforcement. A simple apology would have gone a long, long way.

    Honestly, it’s a breach of trust between the city and citizens, and I’ve lost all desire to stay here and try to make a difference.

  5. Oliva
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    He said “all desire”–help! He’s our neighbor whom we love. Can you imagine–he moves, and some ya-hoo moves in (I mean a different ya-hoo, Karl), and then our whole street has gone from almost great getting not as good to horrible, so we’d go too, and then what about Cat Lady and the T’s and a little baby and his big sister a block and a half away? Oh, it’d be so sad.

  6. Lurch
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    I would start by asking about the opened ended contract that A.M. seems to have with the city. A seven year contract for a municipality is unheard of. What are the contracting policies for over, say $5000/yr in services, for example. Is there a policy? When was the last time these services were bid out? Usually , for tax-exempt entity like the city it is every two years. Is there no one else that can do the job, especially in this economy? No one that can provide a reliable service and follow instructions? Can council even make sure there are clear instructions or are we we just wrap ourselves in the blanket of that “extra level of comfort” decribed. Those questions I fear will never come up. And expect something else like this in the years to come.

    Haff of council seemed asleep. And surely gave me no confidence that they could do anything if they understood the problem to begin with. Their job seem symbolic at best. A couple of coucilmen seems concerned, and almost seemed to smell that smell you describe. But I don’t see them doing anything about it.

    You talked very well.

  7. Count Ability
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    What are our council reps’ and mayor’s street adresses, out of curiosity?

  8. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    So, Government’s there theoretically to provide us recourse against bad guys screwing us over, but it’s kinda hard to get recourse against Government when it screws you over, in league with the other bad guys, isn’t it? It’d be a lot easier if it were just the snow removal company involved, so you could have recourse by not renewing your personal contract with them, taking them to court for breech of contract, or not hiring them in the first place because you already shovelled your walks! But since Government and their monopoly on force is involved, you’re fucked.

    Maybe you Ypsituckian yahoos should put down your pitchforks and torches and take it in the ass with gratitude.

  9. Bill Kilgore
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Countability:

    zabasearch.com

  10. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    My last sentance was intended to sound more solidarity rabble-rousing than hostile, sorry for the misinterpretability of it.

  11. Paul Schreiber
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Hello All,

    Thanks to everyone who attended or spoke at last night’s Ypsilanti city council meeting. It appears that some owners did not receive a notice for snow removal taped to their door and others were billed for snow removal without photographic proof. I regret that this happened and I apologize to everyone who was upset about this. As city staff said last night, all current bills for abatement that can’t be proven with photographs will be waived.

    A number of steps were outlined at the city council meeting last night that should improve the snow ordinance process in the future:

    1. Notices will be taped to doors in locations visible to owners and neighbors

    2. Future abatement notices will have carbon copies kept by the city for proof that the notice was written

    3. Photos will be checked before abatement bills are sent.

    I will work with city staff to make sure that notices are visibly posted and that properties that deserve a notice get one.

    Please feel free to contact me with further comments.

    Best regards,
    Paul Schreiber
    mayor@cityofypsilanti.com
    734-277-5446

  12. ETD
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Are you confident, Mr. Mayor, that notices of abatement were posted, as is required by law?

  13. Paw
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It’s too bad that all of this was happening just as the snow was melting. It would be interesting to have gone to all of the properties that AMS billed for, and checked to see if the work was indeed done.

    And thank you, Mr. Mayor, for those very concrete steps. If you’re open for it, I’d like to add one more. What if, in addition to requiring AMS to photograph the property prior to abatement, we also ask them to photograph the property afterward? As they’ve already got the cameras, it seems like it would be a pretty easy thing to add, and totally reasonable given the concerns that were discussed last night.

  14. Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I missed the part about carbon copies of the notices of abatement. I think that is an excellent idea. Thank you.

  15. James T. Hart
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Mayor:

    Appreciate you communications.

    Please dig a little deeper, ask more probing questions.

    We were told A.M. Services has been doing contracted work for Ypsilanti for 7 years. We heard no talk of bid process, or contractor selection. 7 years is a ridiculous amount of time for a city contract, if one even exists. Those were questions council should ask, but unfortunatly didn’t. The two or three questions asked were lowball and irrelevant. The contractor must also abide by living wage ordinance, and Affirmative Action Contract Compliance. But who is verifying that? Is there an up-to-date contract compliance form? Bond executed by a surety company? hold harmless clause? Public liability insurance? I highly doubt it. Try and find any of these for us.

    The city ordinance online says

    10.02. Purchasing and contractual procedure.
    The Council shall provide, by ordinance based upon a national standard, for a purchasing procedure to be followed in purchasing City supplies, materials, equipment, contractual services, or other forms of personal property. Before making any such purchase or contract to purchase, competitive bids shall be obtained, except:
    (a) in the securing of professional services for the City or,
    (b) when the purchasing officer for the City is exempted by the purchasing ordinance because of value or when the City Council shall determine that no advantage to the City would result from competitive bidding.
    Purchases shall be made from the lowest responsible bidder meeting specifications, unless the Council shall determine that the public interest would be better served by accepting a higher bid or rejection of all submitted bids. All purchases shall be evidenced by a written purchase order or sales memorandum.
    The Council shall provide in the ordinance required by this Section the definition of “lowest responsible bidder,” the dollar limit within which the Purchasing Officer of the City may make purchases without the necessity of obtaining competitive bids, and the dollar limit within which purchases may be made without the necessity of Council approval.
    The Purchasing Officer shall provide the Council with all additional certifications required by law prior to Council action on the contract and shall report to the Council at an appropriate time on compliance with the terms of the contract.
    Purchasing Policy obtained from city hall:
    Sec. 2-297 Purchase of supplies, materials, equipment, services or construction work the cost of which is $25,000 or less may be made on the open market and without prior approval of the city council. Such purchases shall be where practical based on at least three competative bids and shall be awarded to the lowest qualified bidder. Bids shall be opened in public at a time and place designated in the notice requesting bids in the presense of the purchasing officer, the city clerk and one other city official. The bids shall be carefully examined and tabulated and reported to the city council. When bids are submitted to the city council and the city council shall find any of the bids to be satisfactory, it shall accept the bids.

    7 years is a long time Mayor. Enough time for shenanigans and relationships to develop. The policiy is there for a reason. Try to find the bidding process for this particualr service, I challenge you to find the bids.

    A.M. are not professional services, and the amount of any such contract would exceed the limit of “value advantage from bidding process.” Ergo, it should be bid out as more competative bids (and responsible bids and bidders) could be obtained by a selection process.

    This was not done for admittedly 7 years, Bid out the process again. Find some contractor that can follow proceedure. Attempt to show residents that policy is being followed in your current administration. That you’re not relying on contracts that were approved during the Farmer administration. Be your own Mayor (and council too) Demand accountability and transparency.

    Was it not practical to solicit three bids in your tenure?
    Why not?
    All it takes is the yellow pages and three or four phone calls.

    It looks real fishy to the informed public.

  16. Lurch
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WINDtlPXmmE&feature=related

  17. BrianR
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    A&M Services won the bid for grass, trash pick-up/clean-up, and grafitti removal on April 17, 2007. It was City Council resolution 2007-79 and can be found in the Council Packet HERE.

  18. What About Snow
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    BrianR,

    That says nothing about snow. Is snow considered trash, grass or grafitti?

  19. tommy
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Still a bit fishy. No copies kept by the city for proof that the notice was written? Are you kidding me? No documented traceability is sloppy at best. Additionally, nothing on that 17 April 2007 resolution indicates clearning sidewalks of snow. If this service became or is part of the contract, hopefully there is some language that allows for these types of ‘additional’ provisions. If not, one would think that an amended contract is in place for this ‘add on’. The city has screwed up, period. All fines should be waived, fine money returned, and any payments pending or made to A & M should be rescinded immediately.

    For fun imagine this: city contracted service for, say, snow removal to address ordinance violations proceeds. Resident notices damage to property, say, sprinkler head in corner of yard gets destroyed. No ‘actual’ proof that damage was caused by contracted service agent but resident is certain that this is the case. Resident goes to the city to complain and seek compensation for damage. How quickly does the resident get shown the door?

    Come on mayor – just because this isn’t Ann Arbor doesn’t mean your residents are a bunch of dumb sheep!

    Do right by the people who put you in office.

  20. Bill Kilgore
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Brian:

    I see no discussion on the resolution topic. Who were the other bidders? You should know if you looked at any papers except the three sentance shortest, most poorly written resolution I have ever seen.

    What is “clean-up” services exactly? Did you look at the specs. Does it say all surfaces? What about the applying of melters? Is clean up the same as snow remocal, r does it mean trash? I guess we can use them for anything we want if its vague enough.

    So we can say they do clean up services. Is that the same as snow abatement? Is that what the contract said? I’m just asking because I assume you read the actual contract and can cite the actual written specifications. How much snow before they can abate? What does the contract say about photos? What does the contract say about non-compliance?

    You can pass a poorly worded resolution, but prove your mettle on how much you really understand the process of selection and contractor compliance. No one last night had anything significant to say about that. Just more of the usual.

    Also, tell me how long the contract is for?

    If its two year, its almost up, though I would cancel for non-compliance. If its more than two years you need more public policy experiance until you understand these things better.

  21. tommy
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Better example. Snow melt product used on walkway. Young child eats some of this product and becomes very ill. Physicians determine illness caused by the substance used to melt snow from sidewalks. No record of notice can be traced down. No notice of potential use of substances that should not be ingested. City is now in deep shit. Not trying to stir anything up other than the fact that the City has a responsibility to its citizens and the response from the mayor does not seem adequate.

  22. BrianR
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    A&M Services did snow removal this year because of the timing of the ordinance. This was discussed in December when we had the first and second readings. Snow removal was never part of the original bid in April of 2007 because we never had the authority to remove snow at that time. Snow removal will be rebid before next winter.

    A&M is responsible for cutting grass that is higher than prescribed by the ordinance. A&M is also responsible for abating graffiti as well as cleaning up trash that has been strewn everywhere (i.e. litter).

    The ordinance is discretionary. The point is not to send out a snow patrol when there is one inch of snow on the ground. The point is to target habitual non-shovelers and problems such as ice build up when there is a heavy snow, no removal, and high traffic. Hopefully everyone can agree that we received a significant snowfall the week of January 23rd and there were a lot of properties that did not clear their sidewalks. That’s what led to the abatements.

    There are people who were wrongfully billed and people who weren’t. I can confidently say there are properties that received abatement that absolutely deserved it. I can also say there were properties that did not need to have snow cleared and were billed. We heard from some of them last night.

    It was obvious prior to last night’s meeting there was something in the system that was broken. We know what’s broken. The abatement should have been done better and I’m confident we’ll see City Staff taking steps to correct this.

  23. tommy
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    One final comment so as to allow someone else to beat this dead horse. The A2 News report of the council meeting indicates that the snow removal period was from January 31 to Feb 6, 2009. Just a cursory look at a couple of sites with historical weather info indicate that a sum total of 0.6″ of snow fell during this time in the area. There was a lot of snow on the ground at the time, but what does the ordinance state exactly in terms of how much snow needs to accumulate before one could be cited. If I can look up this info in 10 minutes on the web in order to call ‘bullshit’ on the city’e elected officials, anybody can. Your turn Mr. Mayor!

  24. wtf
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    What could be more fun than seeing Mr. Mayor lose re-election (other than to not run again) would be to see Mr. Robb and Murdock run as well and lose. Put pretty much anyone up against them now….an alleged religious extremists don’t look so bad now does he?

    I’m not going to move….nothing could be more fun than watching the Ypsilanti city government audtioning for a circus act. And it always provides a laugh at work with my collegues who live in competently run cities and townships. The love the part that we may soon allow farm animals in the city….sure helps support that Ypsitucky stereotype!

    Yee Haw!

  25. Oliva
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I think what made some of us upset all over again last eve was the way the matter was presented and addressed—acknowledge innocent “snafus” but ignore the weightier implications and what they might mean for taxpayers and for the quality of this city. We should be able to urge a higher standard for our city, shouldn’t we? If basic common sense and integrity get dismissed in favor of gullibility and going along, how do we make this a better place?

    Although I sincerely appreciate the mayor’s concern and wish to make things better, it remains frustrating to read the line here “It appears that some owners did not receive a notice for snow removal taped to their door and others were billed for snow removal without photographic proof”–after it must be clear to at least some people in authority that the contractor didn’t fulfill (or adequately fulfill) its part of the contract and that more than a handful of properties were targeted by someone from the city incorrectly. We heard that properties that had for months been flouting the rules were the first to be targeted, but enough empirical evidence undermines that frustrating claim, so at least it deserves greater scrutiny. (Many neglected properties weren’t included, while well-tended properties were.)

    So, it’s not the lack of notices or the lack of photographs that is the biggest problem here, though both are worth getting right. One bigger problem seems to be with a contractor that at the very least did an inadequate job and wasn’t initially candid about what it had actually done or not done. That the contractor won’t be paid for contested charges for which there’s no photographic evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t at first try to get the money (why would our invoice claim a specific service was done if the contractor hadn’t at least tried to bill for it?). And what about the people who paid or will pay because they don’t know they can appeal but for whom there is no photographic proof that any work was needed or done? Does the contractor get paid in those cases? (I’m a contractor, and I wouldn’t bill for work I didn’t do, and I certainly wouldn’t expect to be hired again if I claimed work was done that wasn’t.) We deserve and work toward improving this city, but we need to be supported in that effort—especially in difficult economic times, when some people and businesses reckon it’s okay to cheat or cut corners, and especially now, when we have a new president urging accountability and transparency at every level.

    Two quick other thoughts. One, this is an important reminder to me that when someone faces injustice, large or small, it is my duty to speak up too, whether I’m directly harmed or not. I’m so grateful to those who went to the trouble to support us even though they weren’t directly impacted.

    Two, the city employs some people of rare high quality. We’d dazzle the planet were we to have more like them in our city government. I hope they know who they are.

  26. Posted March 4, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Brian, for acknowledging that things were broken.

    For my part, the biggest reason that I would like to get a notification is that it would help me defend myself when I get a ticket. One of the most frustrating things about this whole thing is that I don’t remember the exact condition of my walk that week. I know that there was a big snow right after I got back from DC and I would have shoveled that except a kind neighbor with a snow blower did it first. But I cant remember if there was more snow after that or if it got warm enough for the snow on my lawn to melt and run over the walk and refreeze.

    I also suspect that because there is no structure or posted address on the lot next door, city employees assume that it is part of my property or my neighbors do if they call and complain. I say this because this is the second time this has happened to me and the only reason I didnt get a ticket last time was because I happened to be home when the contractors came by to mow my lawn, which was not out of compliance. And then only because I happened to have a camera ready to prove it. And btw, the contractors were VERY rude to me about it but at least they were actually doing some work.

    So I am happy to hear to that you are confident that this wont happen again. I wouldnt hurt if you could explain why you feel that way. I am less confident. I mean, I expect that the current employees will do it better next time but what about future employees? Do you think it would be productive to have some kind of process in place that might reduce these kinds of problems with ordinance enforcement?

  27. Matt
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Don’t be too sure it won’t happen again. Brain isn’t running around checking anything. My experience tells me this stuff happens every few years. I have other tales that are reserve for The Lynne Show.

  28. Matt
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I think the Mayor, and most of council are ok. There is a lot going on, and they need to reach into that whirlwind of city government and try to slow it down sometimes.

    I wouldn’t really want to do it.

    That said, I do think something very wrong or perhaps sinister happened here. And it makes me mad for everyone to circle the wagons around the accusers.

  29. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Has any reporter–or anybody–contacted the owner (or owners?) of AM Services for comment?

  30. Cluck
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Too bad it was the notices that blew away and not the invoices. Oh, except, gee, they remembered to make carbon copies of those…….

  31. Mark H.
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Mark, Lynne, Olivia, others — your observations are right on target. The problem here is far larger than the “errors” made in this shovelgate affair. There’s a systemic problem of mismanagement here, and, it seems probable, of attempted fraud by the contractor. (You cannot accidentally send out invoices for work you know you did not do….that takes some effort.

    And Mr. Mayor: The problem isn’t the misdeed itself, it’s the cover-up, as Richard Nixon famously observed a few decades ago.

    Some city officials failed in their duty to ensure that proper citations were made and notices left; the same or other officials then failed to ensure the contractor did valid work, rather than issuing bogus bills for work undone. And then, when citizens complained, the city officials basically responded by calling them liars!

    I know Mark Maynard. He may be many things — but he is not a liar! He loves Ypsilanti and has no “agenda” of negativity against city officials. Yet he and other good citizens who were wrongly billed were insulted (my word, not his) by city officials when they complained!

    And as far as I can tell, no meaningful or sincere apologies have been offered.

    And Brian Robb: If it is known to you what the underlying problem is that caused this massive problem, could you explain it please? Publicly. And no later than immediately, please, with a full disclose of all relevant facts and names.

    Frankly, I think an independent group should be charged with investigating this. The city manager, the mayor, all members of Council, and the city’s Attorney and the Assistant Attorney all have ZERO credibility on this issue. And guess what happens when public officials have zero credibility on one issue the public is paying attention to? They lose credibility on all issues, if there is a perception of a cover up.

    Each and every citation issued, abatement warning issued, and abatement action carried out (by the city’s records) — all 400 of them — should be investigated individually to find out how many of these were actually done, and how many of them were entirely made up/imagined/simple acts of fraud and abuse/mistakes, call it what you will. Furthermore, the individual city staffers who were in any way involved in this whole affair should be questioned under oath, and should already have been ordered not to discuss this matter with one another: That’s an essential part of preserving the integrity of an investigation. Without these steps, persons who may have been involved in fraud are allowed to coordinate their cover up stories.

    If the City Manager has not already issued orders to all relevant city staff that would protect relevant records from being altered or destroyed, and if he has not also ordered them to reframe from communicating with one another about the Shovelgate matter, then the City Manager should be fired for cause.

    Remember – the sum involved here run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Hence it seems, based on the known facts, that criminal intentions may well have shaped the actions.

    Citizens deserve to know the truth — and we cannot rely on the truth being made known by the same group of officials who insisted that there was no problem. They have a vested interest in ensuring that the systemic causes of this screw up are kept hidden.

    And there most certainly is a cover up underway, unless and until a full, detailed, and complete explanation is made of how this happened. God help us — this isn’t rocket science, but it does look like fraud and abuse and gross managerial incompetence at implementing simple municipal policies are all at play.

    The knee jerk reaction to defend all that’s done and to blame the citizens who complain is exactly parallel here to the idiotic choices made by city officials over the last 10 years regarding Water Street. Yes, the problems are different in scale – one involves $20 million in needless debt, the other involves numerous undeserved fines of I think $113 — but there is an unmistakeable similarity in how these problems originated.

    The cover up is well underway. Maybe fraud was not the motive for this gross violation of the city’s stated rules, but fraud is at least as plausible as the other theory, which is that the city officials just screwed up many, many times in a row, and had no idea that they had to leave citations, or notices of abatement, or take photographs, or be sure the contractor took photos, or take any action to confirm that the contractor actually did work he billed for. Heck, city officials did not even bother to be sure that their own statements were truthful! Maybe all that can be explained by sheer incompetence. I hope so. But fraudulent intent seems as likely an explanation as the only other two explanations offered: the sheer incompetence theory and the ‘everything was fine or nearly fine’ theory.

    Sorry to rant, but if you live in Ypsi and you’re not angry about this, you’re either not paying attention or you are entirely too comfortable with the status quo of Ypsi’s (mis)leadership!

  32. Eric
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Wait. So in one day…

    Well, from your post, Mark: “Leaving alone for the moment how unlikely it is that our one ordinance enforcement officer could leave 441 notices in one day…”

    Did anyone discuss this in the last Shovelgate post? (I apologize if so; I don’t want to scroll through the 5000 comments on that entry.)

    So is this true? All 441 issued in one day? One business day? Who’s the enforcement officer? A marathoner _with_ other superhuman abilities? Does s/he work more than eight-hour days? I mean, 8 hours, no break, no lunch, and you’re talking about a minute per ordinance.

    And was there any writing involved? And, AND, this is while walking on sidewalks that, of course, were poorly maintained enough to warrant a citation in the first place, so I’m assuming that the snow would hinder passage just a bit. Just a bit. I mean, it’s not as if you can walk an apartment complex hallway and issue these types of citations (or can you?).

    Has anyone corroborated that Mark’s info about the officer is correct (no offense on that Mark; just want to make sure it’s accurate). If so, this person’s is in the wrong line of work. I’d love to see some amateur filmmakers attempt to portray this amazing feat. Maybe someone suggest it to Mythbusters?

    Because, honestly, I’d gladly pay $83 if the next big snowfall I abandon snowblowing my sidewalk and instead follow–or try to follow–the enforcement officer around, if only for the fifteen minutes or so I’m able to keep up.

    There’s a graphic novel in this somewhere. The cite-and-riptape-stick then move on to the next evildoing Ypsi home is just ready for Hollywood, too.

  33. Bill Kilgore
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    And no written specifications for snow removal for the contractor to adhere to. Not that any council person can attest to.

    Hard times brings out stuff like this.

  34. tommy
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Mr Mayor – do your job. First, the contractor should be suspended from all future work until an investigation of this matter comes to resolution. Second, waive all fees for everyone due to this gross act of incompetence on the part of the city. Third, send out a letter of apology to all 441 residences cited. Finally, clearly fess up to your errors in the next council meeting. Only then, will you gain back some trust from your constituents. I think you fucked with the wrong people this time.

  35. Mark H.
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    On page 3 of today’s ANN ARBOR NEWS there’s an article, “Snow removal bills anger residents,” that describes last night’s council meeting. It quotes the always reasonable Mark Maynard and Lynne Fremont, who each got billed without any work being done on their walks and no notice of being in violation (according to them). It also quots April McGrath, director of administrative services for the city, as saying 441 notices were put on people’s doors saying the city would remove the snow if they did not. The article does not say if these were all placed on the same day, or how may city officials were involved in spreading these notices.

    Eric, i agree wholeheartedly with your post, but maybe the math is even more damning: the eight hour no break workday that you estimate would allow about one minute per notice is way too generous. 441 notices, at one per minute, would take 11 hours and 21 minutes to put up — a lot more than the eight hour work day you estimate.

    And somehow I’m thinking that putting notices up would take more than a minute. Of course, top city officials said that if you were billed and didn’t get a notice, it was because it blew away in the wind. Yeah, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll sell you.

    The fraud of shovelgate appears to have begun at the level of whatever city staff recorded the 441 addresses, or many of them, as having been in violation and having been served proper notice; the fraud was then sustained by the supervisors of the previous city staff; and then carried out further by the contractor. And then, higher up city officials stepped in to tell citizens who complained that no, everything was fine.

    And then someone has the gall to tell Mark Maynard that he should stay away from council because talking about this issue there would just be “negativism” directed at our beloved Ypsilanti!??!!

    Demanding accountability and transparency are the first requirements of good government.

  36. Lurch
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    The city manager would have to fire the contractor. And I believe he should. If they screwed this up can they be trusted at all? This was not a small mistake. But it would sure be nice to hear their side. Maybe at some point the public will. But don’t hold your breath.

    If they failed (at least that’s who the blame was on last night) why should they continue to work for the city? Trying to con one person is one too many. Don’t lump a lot of good people into the “habitual offender” category just because you need some extra dough.

    Does a city agent identify the work to be done first? Or does A.M. just send an invoice for $500 ever three days saying they did some work. Or do they purposely not follow instructions (if there are instructions) so that they can “Make work?”

    Have they ever verified work they have done? Is so, why this screw-up all of the sudden?

    There is less staff now, so who calls the shots for contractor revenue? Well, they done a good job for years we can “trust” them to do the right thing.

  37. monica
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Lord, its been something reading all of these posts.

    Makes me very grateful that Mark has a blog where people can be in touch about these things.

    Right after reading the blog, i opened an email from a neighbor writing me who was very distressed at getting one of these bills, and it was great to be able to forward this info to her so that she’d know that she wasn’t alone in dealing with fighting city hall.

    She has enough financial struggle on her plate at the moment as many of us do, without that added aggravation.
    We have all complained about the foreclosures on our block that the banks let languish in snow and neglect… so it was ironic to think she’d get cited… I hope all of the banks are getting billed as their neglect is really incredible.

    I know that our involved (here) city officials mean well, but I also think the response has been contradictory and confusing. I hope that I got this correctly, and that the Mayor has assured that of the ?441 folks cited, only those where photographs are produced will be charged, and refunds issued to any who paid where there is in fact no photo? – and that the city will take care of this rather than only refunding it to those who have gotten word to insist?. I also think it would be interesting to eventually hear how many photos actually do exist on ANY property documenting work for that period.

    To me requiring a carbon copy of the notice would be worthless as protection for any of us. Anyone can write notices, keep copies, and never actually serve the notice. This would be a very easy thing to do for someone who had a rough day trying to CYA. so I think the issue of notice should be
    secured as a right, and also addressed in other ways as that really is not sufficient.

    I Do hope that the mayor answers the very reasonable questions raised about this one person issuing 441 notices in one day… it also is really remarkable that given such a feat being performed, that no one is writing in to say that they saw any of these notices being posted on their home or anyone of their neighbors — this is something that most of us would certainly notice happening up and down the street as it would take some time particularly with taping involved. And, I’m sorry Mr Mayor, I don’t want to insult you, or Mr Robb, but I think anyone with common sense just doesn’t buy this. You’d get much more citizen trust if you gave an indication you understood your citizens concerns and recognized you’d be just as distressed in their shoes.

    The only thing that makes sense to protect anyone, and to actually produce something verifiable is a date stamped photo – before and after, showing that services were performed, that recognizably is the property being billed.

    I would also think that it would behoove the city given this fiasco to get the word out to Steve (Hist South side) and Mark, and other folks who have email lists…. that go to residents to advise them whenever there’s been a posting of notices — so that people can LOOK and check, and possibly ck with their neighbors.

    imho its not clear from the contradictory msgs that the mayor has actually assured folks that folks can count on the photographic evidence being required in the future as you’re saying the atty blurred this boundary. this seems like an important issue to get clear. Can the city ignore this? or will they honor their own understanding that this is essential?

    I am just lucky that I was not involved, and I find it distressing to hear that you all have had to deal with this. Had I not been committed with other things I would have gone to the council meeting as it could just as easily have been any of us getting cited. So I’m with you.

    As there’s so much left uncertain…. I would hope via marks’ blog we’d all refuse together to pay these in the future unless this is changed to something that is a clearer assurance for the homeowner and there is nothing fishy going on. Its so unnecessary.

    wish you guys the best and am sorry to hear you had such a headache to deal with.

  38. Steve
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Monica:

    It sad, but it’s highly likely that your neighbor was ripped off by some agent of the city. Be it an employee or the contractor.

    Many on the city council are completely unaware of the scale of this.

    Have her write a letter. If she shoveled her walk, state that, if no one did work at her house, state that.

    Copy council and the Mayor.

  39. KT
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    Tommy asks: “There was a lot of snow on the ground at the time, but what does the ordinance state exactly in terms of how much snow needs to accumulate before one could be cited.” The Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition has all local snow ordinances posted at http://www.wbwc.org/snow/ — doesn’t look like Ypsi ordinances address this. (In AA it has to be at least an inch, but we have only 24 hours to get to it where Ypsi gets 48.)

    Not to distract from the issue at hand, but just ran across this and it shows that other communities (in PA, I believe) have issues with snow removal ordinance enforcement: http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=127175

  40. Evers
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Time to contact Tru TV so they can turn this shit into a series.

    Got enough overblown anger here to fill four seasons.

  41. Karl
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    This is tyranny. It will not stand. Doesn’t the city government realize that this country was founded when we ripped off the shackles of an oppressor? Surely it must, or has the plaque in council’s chamber celebrating the bicentennial of this country lost all meaning? Where’s Thomas Paine when you need him? Dig him up… DIG HIM UP!!!!!

    Revolutionary rhetoric aside, I’d like to bring up something disturbing that I witnessed at the council meeting. There was quite a bit of confusion over the language of the ordinance and enforcement: Warning. Notice. Notice of abatement. Citation. Ticket. All quite confusing, and frankly a lot of time was spent clarifying the terminology throughout the discussion. My point being that the ordinance wasn’t clearly written to begin with.

    More disturbing, however, was when the Honorable Mr. Schreiber requested clarification from the city’s attorney on what “may” meant in terms of the ordinance. It seems that Hizzoner’s interpretation was that a notification was optional, and the city could abate a property without providing a notification to the owner. The attorney said that no, the “may” meant that the city could chose to notify or not, but only abate a property IF the city served notification.

    If the “may” was replaced with “shall” I understand it to mean that Ronnie the ordinance officer would have to drive around in his truck after every snow event notifying EVERY property owner (deadbeats, the lot of us) in the city if they failed to shovel, (which admittedly, he probably could do since he has shown the ability to serve over 400 notices in a single day (could he also be Santa?)) but it would be quite onerous if the city was REQUIRED to do so. So a “shall” instead of “may” in the ordinance would mean a lot more work for the city which would most certainly mean higher taxes, and I gotta tell you, I’m already tapped out.

    The point in all of this? By asking for this clarification from the city’s attorney, it’s clear that the Honorable Mr. Schreiber didn’t understand the ordinance when he voted to pass it. What other council members didn’t understand the ordinance? What other ordinances is the council passing that they don’t understand? About the only winner in this is the city’s attorney who I’m sure doesn’t mind billing for his time when council needs clarification on an ordinance that they’ve passed. Now I know why you don’t want to see how laws or sausage are made…

    Also, while it’s lost its prominent position on the front page of the city’s website, the snow removal ordinance page now states that a property owner (again, deadbeats all) has 48 hours to remove snow, revised upwards from the previous 24 hours. This is now in agreement with the text of the ordinance. But if you property owning deadbeats check the back of your property assessment statement, which includes a synopsis of key ordinances, you’ll see that it says you have 24 hours to remove snow. I swear, it’s like watching a slapstick comedy with this city where they step on a rake and get whacked in the head with the handle. They just can’t get it right.

    But the back of the assessment with the ordinances isn’t as depressing as the front with the plummeting property values… That’s a big issue for the city to solve, but we continue to be enthralled by the Keystone Council and the Shovelgate Caper!!!

  42. bob
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I know a lot of people were charged for this “service,” and a lot of people have complained, and a few have even blogged, but I wonder if this would have gone this far if Mark had not been charged and mentioned something. A few people have thanked Mark for bringing this to the front – and I thank him too, even though I did not get charged, did not shovel my walk the last snow, and nobody seemed to care and Mother Nature did it for me the next morning – I thank Mark because the city is forced to address this. I am curious what else is going on that we are not aware of? It is our duty as citizens to police our public officials and make sure they are working in our best interests. We should go to more city meetings and county meetings to be more informed of decisions that affect us.

    I work in public administration and I have never heard of a 7 year contract with one service provider. That seems a little extreme and should be reviewed. There are lot of companies that would love to bid on the work that AM Services is doing and would probably bid lower to get the work which would save the city money – that is why organizations go out for bid.

    I do feel we should accept the Mayor’s apology. I also feel we should expect more from our mayor and elected officials. We need more transparency on the business process of the city. Obviously, there have been a lot of poor decisions made by the city and yet the citizens of this city still seem to stand behind it – I really do not think we should be used as an additional revenue source to make up for the shortfalls of our city leaders.

  43. Curt Waugh
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I was at a financial seminar recently where the discussion meandered about whether the stimulus would do this or that for the country. Finally, a gentleman piped in, “This is all well and good, but what do I do now?”

    We have, through myriad contribution from the group, determined that our city made a mistake. WE made a mistake (not Brian, not Paul, us). We still are in charge here, the last time I checked. So, are left only to correct the error. We can continue to point fingers at the unknown, but it might be much more productive just to make all the unknowns known and go from there.

    Mark H has written somewhat eloquently about the crux of the real problem here. The fact remains that, if ANY fraud whatsoever exists here, we can’t just ignore it and move on. Painful as it might be, if anybody lied to us citizens — even a little bit, they need to get canned or worse.

    Did the enforcement officer lie?
    Did the city manager lie?
    Did the contractor lie?
    Does Brian know something we don’t?
    What was the timeline of snow/notice/abatement?
    Did the council understand anything it signed its name to?
    Is this ordinance even legal given its vague language? (A: No.)

    The meeting on Tuesday made it clear that the council and mayor want to take some baby steps to make the complaining go away, but it doesn’t seem reasonable to stop there. I was not personally harmed by this issue, but my city and my neighbors were. I’m not happy.

    Can we force an investigation here? Can we somehow get an impartial “special investigator” appointed to get at the truth? Does anybody have some good idea of concrete steps we can take from here? We don’t appear to have a champion on the council. We sure as heck don’t have one in the city manager’s office. We’re on our own here folks. Let’s DO something.

    I’d like to participate, but someone more familiar with our city laws and ordinances is going to have to point me in the right direction.

  44. bob
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Count me in. I am sure we can get enough people on board to look into this. Anyone interested is welcome to call me (734-478-0815) or contact me via email (bob at bobspace.org). We live in this community and it is our responsibility to make it the best it can be.

    I would also hope the city would assist by working with a group of citizens to perform an internal investigation and create standards for bid processes and enforcing ordinances.

  45. Steve
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    http://www.municode.com/resources/gateway.asp?pid=13981&sid=22

    Focus on chaper 46 “ehtics” but other chapters hold good information too.

    Seems tha Mayor can appoint an “ethics” committee, if there isn’t one already.

  46. Steve
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    There are already standards for the things you describe. They just need to be followed. Thats the hard part.

  47. bob
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    That is where the transparency (and an investigation) comes in – we apparently are victims of inefficiency

  48. Lurch
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “A&M Services did snow removal this year because of the timing of the ordinance. This was discussed in December when we had the first and second readings. Snow removal was never part of the original bid in April of 2007 because we never had the authority to remove snow at that time. Snow removal will be rebid before next winter.”

    10.03. Modification in contracts.
    When it becomes necessary in the prosecution of any work or improvement done under contract to make alterations or modifications in such contract, such alterations or modifications shall be made only upon resolution of the Council. No such order shall be effective until the price to be paid for the material and work, or both, under the altered or modified contract shall have been agreed upon in writing and signed by the contractor and the City Clerk, upon authority of the Council, and a copy of the modification documents filed in the City Clerk’s office.

  49. Lurch
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    What resolution gave A.M. authority to remove snow?

    Who gave authority for A.M. to remove snow without contract?

  50. Lurch
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    10.05. Estoppel by representation.
    No official of the City shall have power to make any representation or recital of fact in any franchise, contract, document, or agreement, contrary to any public record of the City. Any such representation shall be void and of no effect as against the City.

  51. tommy
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    No problems with the whole ‘shall’ thing on 10.03 and 10.05. Ah, the details. Still waiting for Mr. Mayor to do right by his people. Crying Uncle would be a good starting point. Karl mentioned digging up Thomas Paine. Can you image how bad of an m.f.’er he would be if he were around today and had ‘the internets’ at his disposal?

  52. tommy
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    In my consternation over this mess, I just realized that the city stood to collect over $20,000 from it’s residents in Admin fees. 4 or 5 times a year rotating areas of the city so as to keep a low profile while hauling in a bunch of dough from unsuspecting and mind-numb sheep? Again – the whole thing could have been just a poor decision and poor planning/implementation on the part of the city, or maybe not. Who know? Strike that – a few people know; they’re just not sayin’

  53. Posted March 5, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    The video is posted. Sorry it took so long.

    http://ypsiciti.com/section/News/Residents+pile+on+City+Council+over+snow+fines-article-463.html

    Also, more than 100 people have responded to our poll so far.

    http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/1419030/?view=results

  54. Barb
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Everyone, sing it with me, “we shall over come”

  55. Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    We’ve been talking about this on the site for well over a week now, and I’ve still to hear of one person in the community who received a notice of abatement. One of the reporters in the audience for the Council meeting said that he’d been asking around, and he hadn’t found anyone either. If this weren’t the case, I think I could let this go. The thing that keeps pushing me forward, as Mark Higbee alluded to earlier, isn’t so much that mistakes were made, but that, when these inconsistencies were brought to the attention of City leadership, they were brushed off. If a City leader had said, “I’m going to see the Ordinance Enforcement Officer and ask him point blank if he distributed the notices,” I think I would have been satisfied. Instead, however, we got representatives of the City, who weren’t out on the street that day with the Ordinance Enforcement Officer, assuring us that notices were left. And, then, during the City Council meeting, we got to hear the City Attorney telling us how he saw the Ordinance Enforcement Officer carrying a stack of 441 abatement notices out the door, and the Assistant City Manager explaining to us how each of them was taped up to a door, in accordance to the law. It just feels to me as though their attention is focused more on making this whole thing end, and less of finding out what really happened. And that bothers me.

    Regardless of what happens here, my hope is that, going forward, perhaps our City leaders may be more willing to listen to their constituents.

  56. Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    The Ypsi Tattler saw one and has a picture to prove it! (and, so far, the only explanation for why no one else in the city saw one)

    http://ypsitattler.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/ypsi-snow-ordinance/

  57. Oliva
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Nice follow-up, Mark. Not to be discouraging but in line with your last point about city leaders being “more willing to listen to their constituents”:

    Although he believes the city’s new snow removal amendment is good public policy, Councilmember Peter Murdock, D-Ward 3, said he had expected a larger crowd of residents lined up to complain about the city’s new snow removal ordinance.

    “There were some good suggestions tonight about how we can move forward on this issue,” Murdock said after the meeting. “But the simple fact that there is snow on the ground should be enough notice for you to shovel your sidewalk.”

    http://ypsiciti.com/section/News/Residents+pile+on+City+Council+over+snow+fines-article-463.html

    So, if not enough bodies standing up, then it’s okay to dismiss actual problems?

  58. Paul Schreiber
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Mark, Olivia, and All,

    Ypsilanti city council has acknowledged that the first enforcement of the new snow ordinance had issues. I’ve spoken with city staff multiple times since the Tuesday city council meeting and have gotten assurances that the process will be changed and improved in the future. Please be patient and give city staff a chance to make the improvements.

    Thanks,
    Paul Schreiber
    mayor@cityofypsilanti.com
    734-277-5446

  59. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Just want to say thanks to Mayor Schreiber and BrianR for commenting here.

    As much as you folks may not like everything they have to say, they could play it safe and stay silent, as others do.

  60. Kaitlyn
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Lynn, thanks for the link to the Tattler. I think it may be a joke, though. Not a terribly funny one, but a joke all the same.

  61. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Be nice if our reps would represent. Since they’re our servants and that’s their job, which we pay them for.

  62. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    BA. Since we pay them less than minimum wage for the hours they put it, I think “our servants” is accurate.

  63. Lurch
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I think some elderly or handicapped were probably fined as well. Maybe “some” justified, maybe not. Some may have no idea how to go about appealing or can’t even read the bills.

    The ordinance may have its good points, but it seems some of the policy makers would rather drool and foam at the mouth about fining people and then make policy that they do not actually enforce. Or even supervise any step of the enforcement.

    Maybe instead of the rabid fine-them attitude, they should form a neighborhood group, or find a non-profit to help those that cannot shovel.

    They may think they are doing the right thing, but they are misguided and didn’t follow policy. They also attempted to rip innocent people off to make money. If someone grabbed Pauls wallet and took $83 he would call the police. Butwhen you get this false bill (attempted rip off) good luck reporting it to anyone. I have also heard how different explanations were given at the Ordinance Enforcement office, and different ways to remedy it. That was just wrong too.

  64. Posted March 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Kaitlyn, I am *sure* it is a joke. FWIW, I thought it was funny.

  65. Posted March 6, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    There was a recent post on a consumer advocate website I read recently that reminded me of this. They were talking about a Citibank policy but what they said fits here too:

    “Classic tactic: Conduct adverse action, easily fix it for the small amount of people who complain, profit from the difference. As ever, squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

  66. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    That makes me feel better OEC, thanks. Now if only we could immediately fire them just as easy as a servant when they do a crappy job.

  67. Lurch
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    And Ypsilanti residents should not allow that to continue to happen. Because it happens too often that I personally know of. I’m tired of the building dept. letters every few years: “you built a deck without a permit” Followed by wasted hour trip to the office with survey of property. “Well, no, the deck was there when I bought the house 14 years ago, and here it is on my survey.” “Oh, sorry, just forget it.”

    Another good one: Letter stating your property taxes have gone up $2000 because you have falsely claimed 100% homestead. You have a renter living there. Another hour trip to assessment office to explain wife has different last name. I am not renting half my house to my wife. Oh, ok, sorry.

    Don’t waste your idle time figuring out ways to nickel and dime residents. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths. My house is fine, I’m a good neighbor, I watch the neighborhood, but leave me the hell alone.

  68. Lurch
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCc-RWIp7XU

  69. Posted March 6, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Though I, too, am disappointed with the problems that have resulted from Council’s attempt to make our City a better place to live, I wholeheartedly agree with Murdock when he says that all the notice anyone ought to need is snow on the sidewalk. If we want our neighborhoods to be nice and to be walkable for everyone, then we need to take personal responsibility for shoveling shortly following a snowfall. The simple fact of this situation–which doesn’t seem to be getting much acknowledgment on this blog–is that if everyone had performed their civic duty and simply shoveled their walks within a day following the snowfall, there wouldn’t be any need for the City to do anything in the first place. No need for an ordinance, no need for a contractor, no opportunity for these unfortunate mistakes to happen.

    Ypsilanti is most certainly not like living in Darfur or Cuba or North Korea. I find the victim mentality expressed in some of these and the prior comments to be ridiculously melodramatic and hyperbolic. Frankly, if getting an erroneous bill for $100 from the City of Ypsilanti is the worst thing that’s happened to you this year, well, you ought to consider yourself quite lucky. I know a number of families who are dealing with losing their jobs, their health care and their homes. I think most would switch places with you in a heartbeat, simply pay the bill, and count their blessings.

    Our current Council majority has only been in governance for a measly four months. Just as Rome was not built in a day, the culture of incompetence won’t disappear overnight. Importantly, Council has been wise to avoid micromanaging these types of things. If there is to be accountability, then it would seem that the contractor(s) and City personnel who allowed this to happen ought to be shown the door, not those that enacted an ordinance designed to make our neighborhoods more walkable. If Council wanted to be tyrannical, they could have enacted an ordinance without a notice provision. They did not. They deserve credit for that, not scorn.

    I’m much happier to see some real progress with a few bumps in the road than no progress at all. I’d rather see new ideas tried, even if there are a number of kinks to work out, rather than see nobody trying anything. I am much happier to see problems on the scale of Shovelgate, rather than on the scale of Water Street.

  70. Posted March 6, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, Mayor Schreiber’s most recent post is exactly what I wanted to hear.

    Trusty, I find your attitude disturbing.

  71. ytown
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Trusty, should I pay my bill just because I have a job? I didn’t do anything wrong and I object to being charged. It is a sad world out there, we all have our problems. I am not going to accept fraudulent activity just because I have I have fewer problems than others.
    I don’t blame the council for this problem, though their blind acceptance of the building departments explanation is cause for concern, I blame A&M and the Enforcement Officer.

  72. Matt
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Trusty Logic = an extra level of comfort.

  73. Kern
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Ha Ha Ha. They called their attorney. This really is getting good.

  74. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who’s followed this blog for years and years know that Trusty G and I seldom, if ever, agree on municipal government issues.

    That said, what I’d logged on to say was essentially exactly what Trusty said. It could be very tempting for me to use this as a reason to assail folks who weren’t my first choice on council (although they’ve all been decent second choices).

    Mistakes were made … sure looks like it. Hold the city to correct the problems and find out if there was deliberate deception … by all means. I’m not discounting the mistakes and encourage due diligence to resolve them.

    But, I remain far more antagonistic against folks (one of whom is a good friend) who fail to clear their walks than at the city for mismanaging the resolution. They are the root cause.

    City Council was responding and listening to citizen complaints when it passed this ordinance. I want it to be fixed and implemented well. I’m no fan of AM’s poor service. What I’m waiting for in all the comments from the unfairly ticketed folks is some recognition that the many property owners who do not clear their walks deserve some sort of fine.

    Frankly, Trusty’s dig at Water Street seems like a little political sidestepping, but other than that, I echo his sentiment.

  75. Mark H.
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    The Mayor says, “Ypsilanti city council has acknowledged that the first enforcement of the new snow ordinance had issues. I’ve spoken with city staff multiple times since the Tuesday city council meeting and have gotten assurances that the process will be changed and improved in the future. Please be patient and give city staff a chance to make the improvements.” Are these the same city staffers who told untruths to residents, but who now deserve our patience?

    The word “issues” in official-speak is a way of avoiding using an honest word – like “misconduct,” “screw ups,” or, more moderately, “problems.” I also say that assigning “city staff” the duty of making “the improvements” is asking those who made the problem responsible for fixing it. Mr. Mayor, the problem is far more systematic, and calls for more systemic solutions, than what your plan will permit.

    Lies were told. Lots of them. Repeatedly. To a variety of citizens.

    As for Trusty’s post — you are a friend of mine, one I respect immensely and we nearly always agree on issues local and global, but on this I think you’re seriously over stating your case here and partly arguing against a strawman. Who has said or implied that being billed for a violation one did not make of the snow ordinance is the worst thing ever? Nobody, as far as I know. But a hundred bucks is a lot of money for most Ypsi folks. And to be billed when you’re not at fault, is to add insult to injury. And then to be lied to about it is to multiply the insults and injuries. Especially for people who have a deep love of Ypsilanti. Trusty correctly notes that if everyone always shoveled their walks, there’d be no problem, but i think that’s both true and so utopian it’s meaningless for this debate. What’s more meaningful is that some people (I am persuaded) whose walks were clear were billed for abatement work that was never needed on their walks and never in fact done. Also relevant is that the city for year’s has neglected this issue despite complaints, and the staff has ignored complaints in years past with approximately the same rudeness by which city staff this year has defended the veracity of demonstrably false claims about how the new ordinance was implemented.

    I don’t recall anyone, Trusty, objecting to the intent of the ordiance, although there are questions about how competently it was written and how terribly it was implemented. Reasonable people can conclude that the implementation was mostly a shake down.

    I think the snow removal policy is not a bad policy. Over the years, I’ve phoned in complaints about snow and ice not removed from the sidewalks of several commerically owned properties along Forest Ave; the build up of snow and ice there impedes my own walk to work. But not once has city staff responded to my complaints or, as far as I can tell, done anything about the problem. After complaints made at the lower ranks were ignore, phone messages to city hall’s top dog on such matters have never been answered, in my experience.

    So i commend the new council for this new policy. It addressed a concern of mine and others that the city leadership had been silent or worse on forever.

    But that minor reform, addressing an obvious need, in no way mitigates the incompetence, dishonesty, and possible fraud by which the policy was implemented. And the way it was implemented is a huge indictment of the current city manager’s administration of the city government. The buck must stop at the top, and that’s the manager.

    Worst thing ever? Not by a long shot. A clear case of dishonesty and incompetence in our local governement? Yes, it most certainly appears to be that, and perhaps fraud as well.

    I don’t think council members should micromanage. The mayor however should investigate the facts before he makes claims about what was and was not done. He appears not to have done any investigation at all — he just echoed the line that city staffers game him. Being an echo chamber is not leadership, but in actually, there is no power on Council or in the Mayor’s office: Power resides with the city manager, and he is a do nothing official.

    Last summer I was fined for putting my garbage out too early, and it fell over and made a mess and the city’s contractor cleaned it up and we paid the fine and abatement fee without complaint. We were at fault. The difference now is that many lies were told, and people fined who were not in violation of the ordinance and for whom the contractor did no work.

    No well run organization can tolerate lying about its official duties. Our mayor, sadly, does not get this, and instead he wants us good citizens to shut up while those officials who permitted the lies in the first place to come up with a plausible cover story.

    Council should appoint a blue ribbon citizens committee to assess the actual facts. An independent group. Anything less will fail to establish what really happened and why. The Mayor is, I am sure, has genuinely good intentions and wants improvements; but he is naive as can be in thinking that city staff and or elected officials can extract themselves from the “issues” that this clear instance of mismanagement, dishonesty and cover-ups have created.

    Who was the Chicago mayor who was voted out of office thirty years ago after defending a grossly mismanged public works’ department clearing of the streets after a snow storm? Michael Balandic, I think. Sometimes it’s not the initial problem that causes the perfect storm, but rather it’s the incompetent response to the problem.

  76. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mark H.,

    I love you. Respect you. But, okay, I’ll be partisan. Do you really not understand that the mayor is just a councilperson with a special chair? What I perceive to be all your boys (Robb, Murdock, Bodary) were the authors and defenders of the ordinance. Why all the mayor hate? What’s that about with the issue at hand? The mayor and Robb have commented here. Can’t you e-mail those other council folks for an answer?

    It’s tempting to find fraud. I find it tempting when Ypsinews is still broadcasting pictures of dumpsters but hasn’t touched this. In reality, I find that every place I’ve worked makes some big mistakes but it really boils down to incompetence or miscommunication. I can recall a long ago statement by you on wages that an E Echo FOIA proved inaccurate. I don’t accredit it to fraud/deliberate deception.

    I’m glad that city council folk won’t rush to assumptions of fraud on the regular time-punching employees of the city. They may be municipal employees, but they’re real people with families and generally thankless jobs. I want my council to withhold tossing vague accusations until they know what happened. The easiest thing for council would be to find a scapegoat and fire them. Thankfully, the mayor and council is taking the heat until they can assess what happened. If there’s fraud and/or deceit, they should pursue it. But what are you suggesting? That some ordinance officer is getting kickbacks from AM? Where, specifically, do you imagine some conspiracy of fraud that leads to the mayor? Who’s head do you want and why?

    City council will come and go. If there are corrupt or hopelessly incompetent city staff, city council should root them out. But, I’d like to keep in mind that all these hundred or so angry accusations are potentially fucking with real people’s lives. Contact that the one city council person you trust. And, if there isn’t one … run.

    But you better run very far away…

    Seriously, if anyone was on city council, what would you do? Fuck over city employees without knowing if they’d done anything wrong to protect your public perception or ask for patience?

  77. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Okay. Last comment. BrianR said many comments ago:

    There are people who were wrongfully billed and people who weren’t. I can confidently say there are properties that received abatement that absolutely deserved it. I can also say there were properties that did not need to have snow cleared and were billed. We heard from some of them last night.

    It was obvious prior to last night’s meeting there was something in the system that was broken. We know what’s broken. The abatement should have been done better and I’m confident we’ll see City Staff taking steps to correct this.

    What, in that statement, does anyone find unacceptable?

  78. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    A certain contingent of council advocated, discussed and passed a new written policy. Lois Richardson was the sole dissenter saying lets just enforce the policy we have we have. A wise woman.

    Did they think of all the ramifications such as resources appropriate to fairly implement the new policy? Was it clearly written? Or just a bunch of crossed out lines from the old one?

    Council let the dogs loose. Without detailed instructions, or authorized resources to do the work. No contract for photos to be taken, inches of snow to be removed, etc..notices? No notices?

    We don’t need no stinkin notices!

    That’s why they are to blame as much as the enforcers that had no clear instructions, correct forms, procedures, or higher authority that understood what tools they needed to adequately to the job they were told to do.

  79. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Okay. So it wasn’t the last comment. I’ve been self-censoring for an hour now.

    I find the comments about shoveling old folk neighbors walks very nice, but, the neighbors I know that don’t shovel are very capable of shoveling. Frankly, although I routinely shovel the walk of an absentee landlord for the sake of walkers, I’m not willing to walk around the block shoveling for healthy, capable folks who just don’t give a hot sliced damn.

    If we can agree that this ordinance was very poorly implemented, can we also agree that healthy people who would rather watch people mangle each other on SPIKE TV than spend five minutes helping kids get to school should receive some sort of communal retribution?

    Can we make this baby better? Not bathwater?

  80. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    I think the thing is, that the not-giving-a-hot-slice-damn people are the ones that need to be ticketted, not everybody else. How hard is that? You can tell the difference by there being snow on the sidewalk. The fact that so many inocent people were ticketted strongly implies that purposeful fraud occured on somebody’s part at citizen’s expense. That’s a big fucking deal.

    If a bunch of people who never sped got speeding tickets mailed to them without evidence, which was then answered by cya behavior by government, I wouldn’t just aquit the guilt of possible government fraud in favor of blaming speeders for the need for speed limits.

  81. tommy
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    OEC – you ask ‘What, in that statement, does anyone find unacceptable?’ Answer – It’s not what’s in the statement; it’s the missing part about giving perhaps thousands of taxpayer dollars to a contractor who may or may not have performed the work. The original issues remains – the city has no idea what percentage of the 441 notices were legitimate; there is no idea whether a city contractor inappropriately billed and received (will receive) money for services that were not performed; the city appears to have little interest in making things right ‘this time’.

    The statement is a ‘trust us – we’ll do better next time’ when what is desired is ‘we screwed up, we are sorry, we are clearing all of these violations because of a gross lack of accountability, we are taking steps so that this doesn’t happen again’.

    Not that hard.

  82. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Getto says that at least it’s not as bad as Water Street? That’s a straw man in relation to this topic.

    What of the hypocrisy? In the last campaign, two things were stressed: tax is bad; and the bungling incumbents must be ousted to prevent future Water Street fiascoes. New council members won on this basic platform. But where are they now? Where is that rah-rah spirit? Where is the righteous indignation from them? The organizing? A city fining residents for fictional violations and abatements is a form of taxation, isn’t it? Where are all the SCIT people now? Apparently SCIT wasn’t so much an ideological stand; rather, it was a tactic to get elected. Once elected, those candidates put the principles behind SCIT in the closet (where so much hollow campaign rhetoric goes). Nice.

    Brian Robb intimated that he wasn’t exactly the kind of guy who supported these sort of government fiascos (a former maverick?), but what kind of line is he walking? He has shifted from offense to defense, upon gaining his role in the government. Nice.

    Bodary told me, face-to-face, that he would prevent this kind of crap from happening. Nice.

    How hard is it for our representatives to get to the bottom of this? Talk to the person in charge of putting up the warning notices, and tell us what he or she claims. Tally up how many residents claim they have been wrongly ticketed and charged for abatements. Talk to A.M. Services, and tell us what they claim. Tell us. I want to know the truth.

    And Steve Pierce, where the hell are you?

  83. Oliva
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Pete [Murdock] has a vision for the future of Ypsilanti. . . . He looks to a day where residents can pitch in and help craft this vision, but stepping into the current leadership vacuum says people “can’t get activated until they have something to get activated around.”
    –http://arborwiki.org/index.php/Peter_J._Murdock, July 2008

    If an “activated” group of trees hollers in the forest but their council member couldn’t care less, do they make a sound? (How about if the council member makes an effort to locate the people who called or went to City Hall to protest the fine early on but were told there were no notices and also no recourse? Maybe they would have wanted to show up at Tuesday’s meeting too.)

    Trusty, it’s a comfort to think that the hyperbolic, melodramatic Shovelgate victims have only one modest little bit of trouble in their secure, golden lives.

  84. Mark H.
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    OEC,

    Thanks for the compliments, and for the criticism: without criticism, there is no progress. But I don’t think I said there had been fraud; I said that, given the known facts, fraud appeared to a theory that has some plausibility, given the dishonest or inaccurate statements made by city officials. Dishonesty and fraud are closely associated with one another. Dishonest statements appear to have been made and defended by a whole chain of command in city hall. At least that seems to be the case based on the facts known, and when city officials appeal for patience so they can later better explain those facts, their credibility is lacking, if they previously defended all that was done or said. So the mayor is on the hook here.

    And yes, I am fully aware of the difference between the mayor, who’s just the first among equals on council, and the city manager. What comment of mine suggested I didn’t know this, OEC? I am hardly alone in thinking the mayor has relied too often on what city staff has told him.

    And OEC, I don’t blame the POLICY, I fault the implementation. The implementation was a Keystone Cops’ episode at best, and fraud at worst. Yet for a period of days after the bills were arriving in the mail, city leaders defended all that was done, and in making that defense, they made statements that were inaccurate. Lies? Maybe, or maybe just repeating lies or inaccuracies told to them.

    And did I call for anyone to be fired? Don’t think so. I called for accountability. For an independent investigation – a blue ribbon citizens panel. I favor a clear, transparent process by which all the relevant facts are made known. This would clear up many suspicions, and hopefully lay blame where it belongs. But city govt. in Ypsi does not behave that way, does it? No, not usually, sadly; all the more reason to use this shovelgate episode to demand accountability. At the very least, i’d like to have a mayor, city manager, and other top city administrators who would asertain actual facts before making categorical statements about matters they are ignorant of.

    Real people’s lives are involved, absolutely, OEC. On both ends of this municipal screw up, real people are involved. Thousands of dollars in fees and fines were billed for, and in some of these instances, it was for sidewalks that were neither abated nor in need of abatement. Isn’t it worth trying to find out what percentage of these 400 cases were correctly handled and what % was bogus, and why? Does anyone trust the makers of this screw up to fix it, let alone honestly explain it?

    (As for the ECOHO FOIA on wages you mention – I don’t recall the episode. Contact me off blog if you like — mhigbee at emich dot edu . Let’s have a beer.)

    I favor snow/ice removal enforcement, and all my efforts by telephone in prior years to get the city to do something about it were brushed off or worse by city hall staff. So I applaud the makers of this new municipal ordinance as much as I fault the do-nothing stance of previous Councils and administrations. The old policy permited a far more active enforcement on snow removal than the city undertook.

    And while council may be the appropriate venue for making criticisms heard, I fully understand, OEC, that implementation of policy is in the hands of city staff, not council. The implementation had huge problems, but their exact nature and origin are not known to the public. So theories run wild: There has been no accountability and no transparency.

    Hence my call for an independent investigation by an unbiased body of citizens. Right now, the makers of the screw ups in implementing the policy are still in charge of explaining the source and nature of their screw ups. Wanna bet that they will disclose everything? Even if they did disclose everything, do you think all citizens will believe what they say? The makers of the screw up are a bit lacking in credibility right now, and I favor a process that will help restore credibility to city govt.

  85. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Unless it snows again this year it’s too late now, but one helpful solution in future winters (in addition to Mark’s lightning rod blogging), might be for us citizens to actually photograph unshovelled sidewalks in our neighborhoods with the house in the background, and keep a running, updated list on Mark’s blog (if he’s willing) with photographic evidence. The pressure of exposure and public shame could have a strong motivating effect on offending homeowners AND unjust law enforcement, in my opinion. It wouldn’t take much effort for a concerned citizen to walk his/her block/beat with a camera 48 hours after a snowfall. Just an idea.

  86. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    … maybe with today’s newspaper in one hand and a snow-shovel in the other, a la Lee Harvy Oswald, to verify the date.

  87. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m serious.

  88. Posted March 7, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Uh, trusty g…I don’t follow your first paragraph. Folks are saying they DID have their walks done in a reasonably timely manner and yet got the fee. If you read mark’s posts he asks how could a & m have done my walk when I had already done it? I don’t hear anyone here arguing that there shouldn’t be an expectation that folks do their walks responsibly, nor that there shouldn’t be a consequence if they are neglecting this responsibility.

    Most folks try to stay on top of it… we all make mistakes or get overwhelmed at times. Everyone here has generally agreed that folks who regularly aren’t doing this should have a consequence. I think you missed the point.

    When places are completely left untended (like the banks properties) and no one does anything, but folks who have been doing it get ticketted and billed for services that weren’t performed — then there’s a PROBLEM! And any city council person, or mayor who doesn’t think that’s a problem, ought to get another job. The fact is that many people are swamped with bills and busy-ness, and they don’t have time to spend time on correcting someone’s silliness. Particularly when there appears to be an absence of truthfulness involved.

    What people are saying is that there has been sufficient #’s of folks saying 1). they did their walks within a reasonable time and 2) they clearly didn’t get a notice, (and yet we have a city employee who says they didn’t do the walk and that notices were delivered) that this is beyond a tiny oops!. That is a problem. They aren’t both true.

    And additionally, pretty upstanding citizens are saying that they did their walks, no one around has witnessed A & M doing theirs or neighbors walks, and yet people are getting billed for services that likely were not done. These aren’t small problems, this is fraud.

    Maybe you have money and time to burn on these things, but my neighbors don’t. And as for all of this stuff about how little $ our civil servants are paid – we’re all adults here, and they knew and wanted this position of serving the citizenry. I believe for most of these positions there was actually COMPETITION and people ran for them. So, for example, if Mr Schreiber et alia felt that they were being harassed by the citizens & its a big bother to be expected to account for the fishiness involved, then, by all means… you know, apparently Steve wanted Mr Schreiber’s job sooooooooo.

    I love Brachinald’s idea that those who are regular scofflaw’s about their sidewalks get documented by the citizenry who is generally the group inconvenienced and harmed by this so that the correct people who are consistent problems and doing nothing to maintain their properties get penalized, not joe neighbor who generally stays on top of it, but who gets sick and misses or who is overwhelmed and misses UPON OCCASION.
    big difference.

    By the way — while I love Pete and Grace, but Pete has the tiniest sidewalk in the city in front of his place, and mostly the cats shovel it before Pete even has a chance to take a look at it.

  89. John on Forest
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    On the ordinance:

    I agree in part with those who believe it’s a good thing. I’ve walked the sidewalks for years and had to trudge through unshoveled snow, long after the snow fell. It is dangerous and very inconvenient.

    HOWEVER, the ordinance as written and implemented is in fault IMHO. First off, ever single person who has commented on this blog could find themselves paying an abatement fine for snow removal. Go out of town for a weekend. Find yourself in an automobile accident or in the hospital for appendicitis. Then have it snow eight inches on that day/weekend. That is all it would take to get fined.

    Having walked the sidewalks for many years, it’s not the occasional homeowner who, this time, didn’t get his sidewalk shoveled right away, that is problematic to me. This ordinance should have been targeted to the property owner who habitually doesn’t shovel his walks. There should be a system of documentation to show that a certain property front is never shoveled. That person should then be abated.

    18 hours isn’t enough time EVERY TIME for everyone to get their walks shoveled (see above paragraph about automobile accidents, etc.).

    Others have commented on questions of how deep does the snow have to be to trigger abatement, and other questions of being able to measure/document a violation.

    I think the ordinance is flawed.

    On Implementation: I’m not jumping to the conclusion that fraud exists; but, it smells like fraud to me. The city definitely needs to investigate A&M to ascertain whether anyone was fraudulently billed for services not actually rendered.

  90. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 8, 2009 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    At the council meeting it was stated that there were ten appeals waived because they were not on the abatement list at all. (The rest were waived for no photos)

    So someone screwed up somewhere. Either clerks, or the actual shovelers, or the someone from the contracting company.

    But I still think over 30 waived, and ten waived because they weren’t even on any abatement list to begin with, statistically shows something very wrong. Someone was trying to squeeze more juice out.

    The are lots of companies, I wouldn’t use that one anymore.

  91. Posted March 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    As most people who read this blog are aware, I’ve been a substantial critic of various city personnel, various elected officials, and yes, I’ve even sued the City. Despite having every reason in the world to ignore my phone calls and emails or otherwise treat me like I have leprosy, I can say that every single time I have raised an issue as a citizen/resident, it has been addressed one way or the other, respectfully and honestly.

    From what I’ve seen on this blog and elsewhere, it would appear that Shovelgate has been acknowledged as a problem by all those in charge and that action is underway to address it. Aside from that, I’m not sure what else is to be done until an investigation is complete and a remedy is proposed. Should Councilmembers by placed in stockades? Should we shout epithets at them as they walk past our houses? Should their fingernails be pulled out with pliers? Maybe I shouldn’t be giving anyone any ideas . . . ;)

    So, I’m all for the great ideas about how to address this and move on, and ultimately make Ypsi a more walkable place to live. However, I don’t favor throwing around what are essentially second- and third-hand allegations of lies and fraud, with an unhealthy mix of hyperbole. I think all of our public officials (yes, even those I’ve heavily criticized in the past) deserve better than from their constituents.

    Mark H and I do agree on most everything. The gravamen of my complaint here is that I don’t think Shovelgate is a big enough deal to appoint a panel to investigate. It stands to reason that Council thought this wasn’t exactly rocket science (reasonably so), that the ordinance would be implemented accurately and smoothly, and that the only complaints would come from chronic scofflaws. I would also imagine that Council was as surprised as the rest of us to learn how badly this was screwed up. Once this is looked into, one or more people may end up being disciplined or fired, and the contractor may be replaced by one that is sufficiently competent to get it right next time.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Only time will tell.

  92. Posted March 8, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think anyone needs to lose a job over this unless the city manager finds that something fraudulent actually occurred. I am comfortable leaving such things to the city manager although hopefully he gets it that this incident might be a sign of some trouble in City Hall.

    I do think that in the interest of making this right, the city should refund the money of those who paid and should send a formal letter of apology to everyone who received an invoice. There are too many people who had clean walks and/or werent notified for the city to assume that just because people havent complained, it means they’re guilty. I am sure that some people who had clean walks and/or weren’t notified probably just paid the fine. Failing that, the city should at least have the staff do an audit and issue refunds to anyone whose walk AM didnt photograph or who aren’t on the log of people to whom notices were issued.

    When I first got my invoice, I was so upset that I lost the better part of a night’s sleep. The next day, I decided that a hundred bucks wasnt worth losing sleep over so I was planning to pay it. That is because I know myself and I know that once I paid the fine, I would get over it fairly quickly and that would be that. The only reason I didnt is because a friend pointed me to the discussion here and then persuaded me that it was my responsibility as a citizen to fight the ticket if for no other reason to help the city improve its process for ordinance enforcement.

    But even the three hours I spent at one city council meeting is an amount of time that is worth more to me than the original fine. Add to that the time I spent composing and delivering a letter of appeal. In situations where only the squeaky wheels get greased, everyone issued an invoice wrongly has to pay one way or another. While I am sure that some guilty parties were given tickets, it is far better to let guilty people off the hook than it is to force those who didn’t receive notices or had clear walks to pay.

    I know that what I am suggesting is an expensive proposition but I also think that the rewards in good will would be very valuable to the city. Having a city government that is not only trusted by the citizens but is admired for their excellent service is a soft benefit to be sure and not easily quantifiable but a case can be made that such things improve property values and that feelings of good will towards the city government can make things easier down the road for the city.

    I know that I have made this suggestion before but I really think that the Zingerman’s guide to good customer service should be required reading for all city employees and elected officials.

    http://www.amazon.com/Zingermans-Guide-Giving-Great-Service/dp/1401301436

    I mean, the food there is good an all but they get away with charging $14-$15 dollars for *sandwiches* for goodness sakes! A big part of why they are so successful as a business is that they have the best reputation for customer service in the area. People appreciate being treated well. Be it by a sandwich shop or by city government.

    (on a bit of an unrelated note: Cafe Luwak has much cheaper sandwiches and just as good customer service and it’s closer to boot)

  93. Posted March 8, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect, Cameron, your comment the other day was absolutely ridiculous – from the false premise that those who complained didn’t want the City’s sidewalks cleared, to the laughable notion that you wouldn’t have complained had you been billed by the City for work that hadn’t been done. I thought of moving your note up to the front page, where it could attract the jeers of bright Ypsilantians everywhere, but I like you too much. And, all hyperbole aside, I agree with you on the most basic level – I don’t think anyone in the City government was out to rip people off.

    And I think I’ve been clear on that fact… As I’ve said many times, I don’t disagree that we need an ordinance, and I don’t disagree that, given our options, it makes sense to use a private contractor. My concern is that the system isn’t being run well, and that’s why I went to City Hall the other day. I didn’t go to blame Pete and Brian, or, for that matter, the Mayor. I went to say, “Hey, the City got billed for cleaning my sidewalk when my sidewalk wasn’t cleaned – and no one, at least in my neighborhood, was delivered a notice of abatement, which is required by law.” As an attorney, I thought that perhaps you’d appreciate that this is a problem.

    But, as I said, on a higher level, I’m with you. I’m not looking for a torch or a pitchfork. I think, as I’ve said from the start, that the ordinance was well intentioned. I just wanted someone in the City government to stop accusing me of not shoveling my walk and telling me that my notice of abatement had probably blown away, and start asking questions of A&M and the Ordinance Enforcement Officer. Finally, I think that’s happening. And, not to overestimate my ability to bring about change by way of this blog, but I don’t think anything would have been done if a few of us had just called the Building Department and had our charges waived. I hope I’m wrong about that. I hope that our City leaders would have dug in and looked for answers based on the complaints of a dozen random citizens, but somehow I doubt it.

    With all of that said, I agree with you, Cameron. In the whole scheme of things, it’s not like one of our cops shot an unarmed drug dealer in the back while he was running away and killed him, or something like that. There’s probably not need of special prosecutor. This isn’t Watergate. And, as far as I know, A & M Services never flew our City Council members to Cancun. This is just bad management and oversight. These things can be fixed. What pissed a lot of us off, however, wasn’t so much that, but the seeming unwillingness of our elected officials to really listen to them and act on their behalf. Instead, we were handed the ridiculous story of hundreds of abatement notices blown away.

  94. Oliva
    Posted March 8, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been wishing I’d left out what must’ve seemed like snottiness when I replied to trusty g recently. I think you could say I took your melodrama and raised it to forlorn/woebegone, so I apologize for that–though I don’t agree that we should stay quiet when something fishy’s going on and count our blessings that things aren’t worse (I do that too). Partly, I was frustrated after reading our council member’s quote in the paper, which followed Tuesday’s meeting and sounded dismissive, when we’d already had a bout of dismissive. Words don’t always come across like a person meant them, though–I know that. For me to say he “couldn’t care less” wasn’t helpful, and how would I even really know that? But greater interest and curiosity would’ve been . . . great. I realize I didn’t do such a good job talking to council, having set aside my notes and trying to fill in a stray thought or two. I could’ve given a better overall picture as I saw it. We’d done so much of that here already, so I think I assumed everybody there already knew a certain amount, though it’s not wise to assume!

    I wish council had been struck, as some of us were, when we heard the city’s version that the ordinance enforcement officer had “constantly spot-checked” “dangerous properties with snow and ice.” If someone on council had politely interrupted there or come back to it, questioned it (“But now we know that that’s not correct”), that would have done a lot toward figuring out what happened so it doesn’t happen again and giving us a sense that we’re being heard when we point out something’s not right. The part about the contractor might have raised an eyebrow too.

    Does anyone here know that something almost identical just happened in St. Clair Shores? I would say it’s weird (their fines were $85), but I also saw a 4 Feb. 1909 NYT piece about a similar set of circumstances. It’s actually completely fascinating. Two years earlier, in 1907, NYC’s street commissioner was named Craven, no joke, and he could not deal with the difficulties between residents, scoundrels who worked for the city (I am not calling anyone here a scoundrel!), and the company hired to remove snow, which was letting Mother Nature do a lot of the work but billing the city, among other things. Craven was at a loss and said so. Soon he was replaced by a guy named Edwards, and apparently things got better. So it goes . . .

  95. Posted March 8, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I want to talk about a time in the past when city staff made a mistake that I consider to be far worse than whatever mistakes were made in this incident and the response I got from the city. Mostly because I think the way it was handled afterwards was so good.

    A few years ago, the fire department made a mistake that greatly upset me. Unlike this snow business where the mistake resulted in just a fine, this was a mistake that I believed at the time put my safety in danger (although I have since done some research and found that I was in less danger than I thought). I can’t remember if I wrote a letter to the city or if I just blogged about it and someone at the fire dept read that. What I do remember is that the fire dept not only responded to my complaint right away, they sent a higher up in the dept over to my house to personally apologize and to tell me that in the very unlikely event that a similar situation were to occur, they would handle things differently. That meant a lot to me and I can honestly say that ever since that time, I have had nothing but complete confidence and trust in Ypsilanti’s Fire Dept.

    I have found that people can be very forgiving of honest mistakes. But how a situation is handled after the fact is very important.

  96. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Mark H,

    You did say “potential” fraud. You also said:

    but it does look like fraud and abuse and gross managerial incompetence

    There’s a systemic problem of mismanagement here, and, it seems probable, of attempted fraud by the contractor. (You cannot accidentally send out invoices for work you know you did not do….that takes some effort.

    And Mr. Mayor: The problem isn’t the misdeed itself, it’s the cover-up, as Richard Nixon famously observed a few decades ago.

    The fraud of shovelgate appears to have begun at the level of whatever city staff recorded the 441 addresses, or many of them, as having been in violation and having been served proper notice; the fraud was then sustained by the supervisors of the previous city staff; and then carried out further by the contractor. And then, higher up city officials stepped in to tell citizens who complained that no, everything was fine.

    Fraud “began” and “sustained” sounded to me like you were calling it fraud. And, maybe you didn’t intend to create this association, but going from “Mr. Mayor” to “cover-up” to “Richard Nixon” seemed to me like innuendo.

    JoF,

    I think it’s 48 hours. The 18 hours is after the notice is given. So, if done properly (and if warnings are deemed necessary), that’s a minimum of 66 hours after a snowfall. You wouldn’t get ticketed over the weekend.

    Everyone of us could also get unfairly fined for parking ticket (have a heart attack on the way back to the car).

    How’s this for a compromise. I think the old ordinance was pretty good. What is it, a $45 ticket? Not pleasant, but better than $83 and up. Of course, the problem was the old ordinance still left dangerous walks unshoveled. What if $45 tickets with no abatement is the standard, and abatement only kicks in for repeat offenders in the same season?

  97. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I don’t really care if the fine was one penny. I don’t pay people for work that was not done at all. Understand? I shoveled my walk, always do. But I received a bill.

    We keep going around aboput the ordinance which I have no problem with. I do have a problem with being billed by mistake. I have a problem when I see many others billed by mistake. Like Mark, it smelled fishy. It was fishy, and we still don’t know and probably will never know what really happened.

  98. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Seems like every ordinance is leaving dangerous walks unshovelled, OEC.

    Perhaps it would be more efficient if we just shovel the dangerous walks ourselves (if they haven’t by 48 hours after snowfall) and pile the snow in front of the assholes’ doors. In addition to the picture-taking idea and public shame, problem solved, no money wasted.

  99. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    BA. Give it a try and let me know how it works out. I look forward to hearing about your interaction with folks as they see you on their property piling up snow in front of their doors. I also look forward to hearing about how many folks you successfully recruit to walk around with cameras in 15 degree whether and spend their evening posting pictures. And, I look forward seeing how successful you are in “shaming” owners like Kircher who find no shame in letting roofs cave in in.

    You’re offering a “solution” that you know, full-well, will never happen. But, as always, you’re welcome to prove me wrong.

  100. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Okay.

  101. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Seeing as how legislation has set the standard of success pretty low, I’m not too worried that trying it ourselves would be any worse.

  102. Posted March 9, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    BA forgot to mention that he’s unemployed and living on welfare.

  103. Posted March 9, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    TG: Should Councilmembers by placed in stockades? Should we shout epithets at them as they walk past our houses? Should their fingernails be pulled out with pliers? Maybe I shouldn’t be giving anyone any ideas . . . ;)

    chicken: I believe no one has suggested anything of this sort. Just some honesty, acknowledgment of ‘a problem’ existing… and appropriate efforts to correct it.

    TG: I would also imagine that Council was as surprised as the rest of us to learn how badly this was screwed up. (Chicken: it would have been fine then, had this simply been acknowleged…)

    TG: Once this is looked into, one or more people may end up being disciplined or fired, and the contractor may be replaced by one that is sufficiently competent to get it right next time.
    Chicken: This would be highly appropriate.

  104. Paw
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Can we all agree on one point? Can we agree that Dude is a douchebag, and that none of his comments have been the least bit productive?

  105. Babe
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Paw,

    It’s been an internet trend for sometime now, hasn’t it? Look for the headline “Dude a Useless Douchebag” in next week’s NY Times…

  106. Posted March 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m waiting for the checks to roll in.

  107. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Are douche bags really useless? If a douche bag is useless, then doesn’t that take away some of the bite of labeling someone a douche bag?

  108. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Nice editorial in the Ann Arbor News today. Can’t find it online yet.

  109. Posted March 10, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    http://www.mlive.com/opinion/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2009/03/editorial_snow_enforcement_get.html

  110. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted March 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Editorial: Snow enforcement gets chilly response
    by The Ann Arbor News
    Tuesday March 10, 2009, 1:09 PM
    Ypsilanti’s new sidewalk snow-removal program did not get off to a good start. And while the city is taking sensible steps to improve the program, some lingering questions deserve more attention.

    This all started with perfectly good intentions. Reacting to spotty snow shoveling in the city, the council in December approved an ordinance amendment with new enforcement power. Properties with snow on the sidewalk would get a warning notice, and if the snow was not removed, the city could have a private contractor clear the walks and bill the property owners. The contractor would take a photo just before clearing to prove the violation.

    The first big test came in late January. The city says it issued 441 warning notices, with follow-up clearing being done Jan. 30-Feb. 6 and bills, for $83 or more, sent out Feb. 20.

    The city says it will check photos and make sure property owners are warned. But that won’t explain the recent missteps.
    Yet at last week’s City Council meeting, several residents told council they never received the warning notices. And several said they actually did clear their walks themselves – but they got bills charging that a contractor had done it. As of the meeting, 30 people had filed formal appeals of their fines, with 18 being rescinded (and just one appeal denied).

    City officials have acknowledged that this initial implementation was flawed. If warning notices were issued for every property, then apparently many of them were lost. And the contractor did not provide photos for every property it said it cleared. The city has now decided that all fines without supporting photos will be waived.

    In the future, the city says it will check for a photo before sending a bill. And it’s looking at ways to better ensure that the warning notices are received.

    Those measures make sense, but they don’t really explain what went wrong the first time. The complaints about lack of notification are troubling; particularly for this first broad application of a new program, making sure people were properly notified was important.

    Yet more worrisome are the cases where people insist they were not in violation – and where they took the trouble to point this out to the city even when they were no longer facing the fine. The city seems to be assuming the issue is just a lack of documentation, but the residents are essentially saying they were billed for work they actually did themselves. If there’s a chance that happened, shouldn’t it be cause for concern by the council? Or at least some further discussion?

  111. Posted March 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    City Waives Snow Removal Fees

    http://ypsiciti.com/section/News/City+waives+snow+removal+fees-article-504.html

    I am really happy that the city did the right thing here. And by *really* happy, I mean REALLY REALLY happy.

  112. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Pwnt.

  113. Posted March 13, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Lynne. I posted the link on the front page, along with a letter I received from Pete Murdock and Brian Robb on the subject.

  114. Shovelgate Update
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Due to all of this, a new snow removal policy is being considered by City Council. Here’s part of the story from the Ypsi Citizen.

    The procedure started with a complaint issued, or a property to be found in violation of the ordinance. The ordinance states snow and ice must be removed from sidewalks within 48 hours of the last snowfall.

    “Following each snowfall, staff will begin patrolling the city for properties that have not properly removed snow/ice from public sidewalks,” Daniels said in his letter to City Council.

    He said properties found in violation of the ordinance will be given a notice, stating the property will be re-inspected after 18 hours. If the snow or ice is not removed within that time, the city will schedule the property for abatement.

    He said the contractor will take photos before and after work has been completed at a property and city staff will inspect work once it has been completed. It was discussed at the meeting that the civil infraction fines would be issued at the time of abatement.

    The rest of the story can be found here.

    http://ypsiciti.com/section/News/Council+eyes+snow+ordinance-article-1279.html

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