VILLAGE OF KALKASKA
MINUTES OF A REGULAR COUNCIL MEETING HELD ON MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017 IN THE VILLAGE COUNCIL CHAMBERS, 200 HYDE STREET, KALKASKA, MICHIGAN, 49646.
CALL TO ORDER/ROLL CALL
President Sieting called the meeting to order at 6:00 p.m.
PRESENT: President Sieting and Trustees Dupuie, Ellis, Kelly, Needham, Sanborn and White.
STAFF PRESENT: Scott Yost, Village Manager; Angie Koon, Village Clerk; Helen Artress, Department of Public Safety Administrative Assistant.
PUBLIC PRESENT: Shannon Hurd, Tracey Peal, Ed Tobey, Diana Shafer, Russ Naasko, Juanita Coon, Earl Coon, Scotty Shafer, Randall Bissonette, Mel Hill, Doug Hicks, Stacy Hicks, David McGough, Tim Aschmann, Billie Shafer, Jerrica Temple, Jim Paris, Nancy Paris, Mary Robinson, Chip Sheahen, Dody Slyfield, Cindy Anderson, Lon Husbands, George Konvinski, Pat Konvinski, Nicole Doom, Don Doom, Mickey Miller, Kelly Ramsey, Marilyn Coville, Crystal Spencer, Joyce Golden, Megan Nothelfer, Teresa Smith, Deb Perkins, Jacob Perkins, Dawn Moses, Mike Oosterhart, Daryl Dimon, Mike Tanner, Gary Golden, Jarrad Novath, Kelly Hall, Robert Hall, Dan Johnson, Kevin Rogols, Mike Tinkle, Lisa Anderson, Clyde Johnson, Gay Kasza, John Roberts, Nathan Dupuie, Jonathon Dupuie, Krystle Nichols, Ken Berry, Tim Eagleton, Joel Wiggins, Gail Burkhart, Teresa Skrobecki, Kristen Fuller, Brandon Harvey, Fallon Harvey, Dawn Uranis, Amanda Crambell, David Hogerheide, Erik Hayes, Cindy Riddle, Elizabeth Dunham, Kaye Lafond, Timothy Grey, Whitney Amann, John Havington, Chris Sorensen, Shannon Sorenson, Comrade Jenkins, Arthur Caden, Malinda Hayden, Monica Rouleau, Emily Moe, Helen Steinhauer, Annette Goodyear, Tyler Colby, Corry Barnum, Ryan Wagner, Steve Ordiway, Marg Robinson and Dennis Mansfield.
Manager Yost started with a prayer and President Sieting led with the Pledge of Allegiance.
APPROVAL OF REGULAR AGENDA
Motion by Sanborn, second by Needham, to approve the agenda as presented. A voice vote was then taken: Ayes – Six (6); Nays – One (1); Absent – None. Motion carried.
Motion by White, second by Needham, to approve as presented. A voice vote was then taken: Ayes – Five (5); Nays – 2 (two); Absent – None. Motion carried.
PUBLIC COMMENT – None
PRESENTATIONS – None
REPORTS FROM COUNCIL COMMITTEES
Public Works Committee – Trustee White stated the committee discussed water and sewer issues from customers requesting relief on utility bills.
Motion by White, second by Ellis, to issue the following utility bill adjustments: $6.30 adjustment at 604 W. Dresden Street for water leak; $6.30 adjustment at 509 Hyde Street for a broken water pipe; $696.15 adjustment at 559 S. Cedar Street for a ruptured water line; $1,660.05 adjustment at 129 E. Kalkaska Street for a water leak with three months of penalties waived; and $532.75 refund at 209 E. Park Drive for faulty meter. A roll call vote was then taken: Ayes – President Sieting and Trustees Dupuie, Ellis, Needham, Sanborn and White; Nays – Trustee Kelly; Absent – None. Motion carried.
Parks and Recreation Committee – Trustee White stated the committee discussed damages at Chalker Park. White stated the committee also discussed ongoing projects at Chalker Park, including equipment repairs and maintenance needed. White reported that a program which will provide 50 new trees at no cost to the Village. White stated he is currently searching for a grant to assist with changing the Skateboard pad at the park into an additional pavilion.
REPORTS FROM VILLAGE OFFICERS
Manager Yost elaborated on the “Re-Leaf” Grant, which will provide funding to the Village to purchase trees, along with an “Adopt-a-Tree” program.
Yost announced that the first phase of street paving began today, in conjunction with the Rural Development water and sewer project.
Yost reported that TV 9&10 showcased Officer Gray’s wife for creating teddy bears out of the Department of Public Safety’s old uniforms. These bears will be given to children in an accident scene or traumatic situation.
PRESIDENT’S REPORT – None
UNFINISHED BUSINESS – None
Consider Approval of Change Order No. 3 Rural Development Water and Sewer Project – Clyde Johnson of Gosling Czubak reviewed the various items covered by the Change Order, which must be approved before the contractor can submit its next pay draw. The Change Order must also be approved by Rural Development.
Motion by Ellis, second by White, to approve Change Order No. 3 contingent upon Rural Development approval. A roll call vote was then taken: Ayes – President Sieting and Trustees Dupuie, Ellis, Needham, Sanborn and White; Nays – Trustee Kelly; Absent – None. Motion carried.
Authorize Clerk to Cast Unanimous Ballot (Michigan Municipal League Workers’ Compensation Fund Trustees) – Motion by Needham, second by Sanborn, to authorize the Clerk to cast a unanimous ballot for the MML Workers’ Compensation Fund Trustees. A voice vote was then taken: Ayes – Five (5); Nays – Two (2); Absent – None. Motion carried.
Consider Adoption of Resolution 2017-021 Fireman’s Picnic Banner – Motion by White, second by Needham, to adopt Resolution 2017-021. A voice vote was then taken: Ayes – Six (6); Nays – One (1); Absent – None. Motion carried.
Consider Request from Kalkaska Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to Publish Vacancy on Board – Motion by Sanborn, second by Ellis, to publish Kalkaska Brownfield Redevelopment Authority vacancy. A roll call vote was then taken: Ayes – President Sieting and Trustees Ellis, Needham, Sanborn and White; Nays – Trustees Dupuie and Kelly; Absent – None. Motion carried.
CONSIDERATION OF TRIAL OR SETTLEMENT STRATEGY WITH COUNSEL REGARDING PENDING LITIGATION (Possible Closed Session per Section 152.268e of the Open Meetings Act)
Sieting reviewed the key points of the pending Village healthcare litigation.
Motion by Needham, second by White, to enter into Closed Session per Section 152.268e of the Open Meetings Act. A roll call vote was then taken: Ayes – President Sieting and Trustees Ellis, Needham, Sanborn and White; Nays – Trustees Dupuie and Kelly; Absent – None. Motion carried. Closed Session began at 6:22 p.m.
RETURN TO OPEN SESSION
Motion by White, second by Needham, to return to Open Session. A roll call vote was then taken: Ayes – President Sieting and Trustees Dupuie, Ellis, Needham, Sanborn and White; Nays – Trustee Kelly; Absent – None. Motion carried. Open Session resumed at 7:48 p.m.
Motion by Sanborn, second by White, to take a 5-minute recess. A voice vote was then taken: Ayes – Six (6); Nays – One (1); Absent – None. Motion carried.
Trustee White read the following Public Offer to Settle with the Ramseys:
“We all know that healthcare has become an extreme financial burden on small communities such as the Village of Kalkaska. Other communities in Michigan have been placed into a financial emergency, in part, by the costs of providing health care benefits. Often, like in this instance, this is a result of unwise decisions made by past administrations, compounded by a failure to address the foreseeable problems when there was still an opportunity to do so. That is what has happened in the Village.
“Melvin and Penny Hill, Richard and Lila Ramsey, Helen Chew-Artress and William Artress – claim that, in 1996, some Village employees and representatives, including the police chief and the elected Village Clerk, drafted a letter of understanding that claimed that the Village had to provide them and their spouses with premium, top level healthcare for three years. The letter also stated that after the three year period, these employees and officials would receive the same premium healthcare benefits upon their retirement for the rest of their lives. The letter, however, made it clear that these additional lifetime benefits would be paid out of a special fund created and paid for by wage concessions by the people who would be receiving the lifetime health care benefits. It is important to note that the healthcare benefits letter was never formally adopted by the Village Council as it should have been. Also, none of the current Village Council members were involved in the decision to draft that letter, or provide these health care benefits.
“Between 1996 and the mid-2000s, health care costs increased enormously, and the special fund to pay for the lifetime health care benefits was depleted. By the mid-2000s, it was obvious that the special fund would run out of money. By 2014, the Village could no longer afford the costs of providing those benefits without either cutting funds devoted to Village services, or considering the imposition of additional taxes on Village residents. So the Village council stopped paying for the benefits after notifying the people who were to be receiving them. Before doing so, the Village tried to negotiate with several of these individuals, but they refused to meet.
“In 2015, Melvin and Penny Hill, Richard and Lila Ramsey, Helen Chew-Artress and William Artress filed lawsuits against the Village of Kalkaska, claiming that the Village must pay for their health benefits, throughout their retirement. These lawsuits are a complex and costly problem. The Council has been doing its best to address these lawsuits, and has fought hard to make sure that the Village and all of its residents are not saddled with the costs of providing very expensive, lifetime healthcare benefits to a select few.
“Melvin and Penny Hill, Richard and Lila Ramsey, Helen Chew-Artress and William Artress are demanding significant sums of money and it is conceivable that, if the Village loses all of these lawsuits, it could be required to pay millions of dollars to these individuals and their lawyers. If that were the outcome, the Village would be placed into a very difficult financial position, and it may have no choice but to place such a judgment on the tax rolls, which would increase taxes on Village residents, and could impact the Village’s ability to deliver services to its residents.
“Unlike some prior Village Councils, this Council understands that it has a duty to make decisions in the best interests of Village residents, and to do so in a way that will minimize or eliminate any financial harm to the Village and its residents. For this reason, and to encourage a resolution of all claims against the Village, the Village has decided to make a public settlement offer to Richard and Lila Ramsey. The Village makes the following very monetary settlement offer to them:
“A Lump Sum Payment of $80,000.00.
“The Village Council agrees to pay this amount in exchange for the Ramsey’s written agreement to dismiss their lawsuit with prejudice and waive any and all other known or unknown claims. We are under the impression that the Ramseys probably believe they are entitled to substantially more, maybe double this offer. The size of the settlement offer is directly caused by the types of claims the Ramseys are bringing, and the relief they are asking the Court to award them. This is an offer that we are making to put an end to this claim, and to help avoid a result that could negatively impact Village finances on an ongoing basis. And the Village Council is doing it in a transparent fashion so the public can see the efforts we are undertaking to avoid financial burdens on Village residents.
“The Village council sincerely hopes that the Ramseys accept this fair and reasonable offer. If they do, we expect that the attorneys will formalize a settlement agreement. If they do not, the Village Council will continue to do everything it can to avoid financial harm to the Village and its residents.
Copies of this document will be available for your reference.”
Motion by White, second by Ellis, to make the above Public Offer to Settle with the Ramseys in the amount of an $80,000.00 lump sum payment, per the statement read by Trustee White above. A roll call vote was then taken: Ayes – President Sieting and Trustees Dupuie, Ellis, Needham, Sanborn and White; Nays – Trustee Kelly; Absent – None. Motion carried.
Before Public Comment began, President Sieting read a statement stating anyone who wishes to speak will be given the opportunity to do so. Sieting requested that those wishing to speak wait until they are acknowledged to do so. Sieting also requested the public to direct comments to the Chair, in an orderly and civil fashion, as well as a polite and respectful manner.
Trustee Kelly added that she hopes all wishing to speak can be civil. Kelly states she would like to see the Village develop a business plan to move forward.
Elizabeth Dunham issued an apology to President Sieting, stating she is sorry for what he and his family are going through due to the negative media attention. Dunham stated she has been the loudest voice against the Trump sign which hangs at the Sieting Hotel. Dunham further stated she does not know who shared the screen shots of Sieting’s Facebook posts, and acknowledged this was not an appropriate action as it did catch Sieting off-guard by generating this type of attention. Dunham stated that, although the posts were shared on Sieting’s personal Facebook page, Sieting is primarily known as the Village President causing the Village to be put at the center of this issue. Dunham stated she feels Sieting’s behavior and judgment reflect poorly on the Village and, because of the negative press attention brought to Kalkaska, she understands that some people are no longer going to patronize the Village. Dunham states she disagrees with this; however, it is the outcome of the posts. Dunham stated she was impressed with Sieting’s apology to a Virginia blogger, but stated she feels Sieting’s follow-up comment that it “does not change the issue” only brings more negative attention. Dunham cited various groups which come into Kalkaska, who are affected by the negative attention brought to the Village. Sieting stated he appreciates Dunham’s statements.
Tim Aschmann stated that, having 23 years in the military, he has seen many of his friends dying for freedom. Aschmann expressed his disbelief that this much excitement was generated by a sign asking others to pray for our U.S. President. Aschmann stated that everyone should have the freedom to be able to speak their mind, and referred to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Aschmann stated he trusts officials who say what they believe and rejects those who do not. Regarding those who are thought to be boycotting the Village, Aschmann asked whether we want people here who will try to take away First Amendment rights. Aschmann pointed out that the posts in question were posted second-hand on Sieting’s Facebook page.
David Hogerheide acknowledged the Council’s option to hold a Closed Session during its regular meeting, but encouraged them to do so at the end of the meeting as a courtesy to the public who have been waiting to speak. Hogerheide questioned the restriction that Village Council members be Village residents, and asked whether a Village property owner would be permitted on the Council. Manager Yost and President Sieting stated they believe this is dictated by the General Law Village Act, but would do further research.
Annette Goodyear introduced herself as a concerned Village resident, therapist and single mother. Goodyear stated she is now embarrassed that she moved to Kalkaska a few years ago. Goodyear stated she does not support President Sieting. Goodyear pointed out she does not see the Trump sign at the Sieting Hotel or the U.S. President as the issue. Sieting stated she feels that, as a leader, President Sieting showed a lack of judgment. Goodyear further stated she believes Sieting may need a psychological evaluation.
Dawn Moses, a 40-year resident of Kalkaska, stated she feels the voices of those wanting to remain neutral are not being heard. Moses stated she feels the Council needs to be responsible and contain the situation, which she believes they have the power to do, as it has created poor publicity. Moses stated she too feels that people are avoiding the community as a result of this issue. Moses stated she wants to be proud of Kalkaska, and encouraged Sieting to separate his personal business from Village business.
Cindy Anderson introduced herself as a Kalkaska property owner and long-time vacationer to the Village. Anderson read a statement regarding the need to focus on positive actions and come together as both a community and as a nation. Anderson used Traverse City as an example stating that, despite their differences, people have come together here to form a thriving community. Anderson stated she would like to meet with President Sieting to discuss how this can be accomplished in Kalkaska. Anderson discussed the Michigan Alliance for Kalkaska Redevelopment, which she has founded to bring businesses to Kalkaska. Anderson stated she feels she has to forgive the statements made by Sieting to move past this. Anderson stated that specific religious groups, such as Muslims, are not the problem; rather, hate and terrorism are the problem.
Kenneth Berry asked whether we are teaching our children that we can say whatever we want without consequences. Berry asked Sieting if he feels it is appropriate to lie, slander and harass women. Sieting stated he does not. Berry asked whether Sieting obtained a permit for the Trump sign at the Sieting Hotel. Sieting stated that he did obtain a permit.
Krystle Nichols stated that her 10-year-old son recognized the comments made on Facebook as “hate speech”, and stated he knows he would get into trouble if he made those comments. Nichols further stated her son observed Sieting and his supporters bullying her on the internet regarding the Facebook posts. Nichols stated that, not only has this situation had a negative impact on the town, it has hurt her business as well. Nichols advised that she is on the road for her business, and she recently lost business sales as a result of the Facebook posts. Nichols stated she does not care about the Trump sign on the Sieting Hotel, and advised Sieting to clean up his act.
President Sieting stated he feels this meeting would not be taking place if he had removed the sign at the Sieting Hotel. Sieting stated that whoever violated his personal Facebook page by sharing these posts got the outcome they desired, which was to create damage and hysteria. Sieting pointed out that the original posts were made approximately seven or eight months ago, and stated the individual acted with malicious intent to see how much damage could be created by sharing these posts.
Amanda Crambell stated her Facebook profile was marked private when originally created, but she opened up the privacy settings at a later date. Crambell recognized that opening up privacy settings makes the page a public domain and, since there was an option to share Sieting’s post, it was open for anyone to retrieve. Crambell stated she feels that, as a public official, Sieting’s statements do not jive with those in the community. Crambell further stated she does not believe sharing such posts was appropriate for a representative of the community to do. Crambell pointed out that employers are able to look at employee candidates’ Facebook pages, and recognized an elected official as an employee.
Jonathon Dupuie stated he read posts Sieting made on-line naming individuals who he feels are intending to do him harm. Dupuie stated he feels this behavior is inappropriate for the Village President. Dupuie stated he feels that Sieting is spreading lies about and attacking Trustee Dupuie on-line.
A disagreement took place over the sign prohibiting firearms inside the Village Office (public vs. employees), and whether this applies to President Sieting.
Jarrad Novath, a Kalkaska County resident, stated he does not feel Kalkaska has a thriving downtown business district. Novath also stated he does not feel this issue is beneficial to the existing businesses. Novath requested that the businesses be left alone, and issues be addressed with only those involved.
Jerrica Temple commended President Sieting for standing up for his freedom of speech, stating that he is entitled to express his opinions.
Shawn McGuiness stated he did some research on the situation after driving past the Village Office and seeing protesters outside the building. McGuiness stated he did not see anything hateful in, and agreed with, the posts on Sieting’s Facebook page. McGuiness discussed illegal immigrants, and stated he does not believe it is hateful to not want terrorists entering the country.
Nicole Doom introduced herself as a Kalkaska business owner, and stated that she is losing business as a result of this matter. Doom stated she has been hearing about white supremacist groups coming into Kalkaska. Doom advised that her background is made up of multiple nationalities, and stated she does not feel safe in town. Doom further stated she feels she is in danger and must hide her heritage. Doom asked Council to put Kalkaska residents first. Doom asked for an apology from President Sieting, whom she believes works for the residents, and stated she does not think he acted in the best interest of the residents.
Billie Jo Shafer stated that she supports President Sieting, and believes that the statements he made on Facebook referred to the Muslim ideology rather than the religion as a whole. Shafer stated she does not see a direct effect on local businesses, and feels there is no hate in Kalkaska.
Pat Konvinski stated that she moved to the area five years ago, and admitted that this is the first Council meeting she has ever attended. Konvinski expressed frustrations with “Facebookers and bloggers” whom she feels have nothing better to do with their time, and encouraged them to get a life.
Jacob Perkins stated that he supports the First Amendment, and asked for proof that businesses are failing as a result of the Facebook posts. Perkins further stated he does not believe the reaction to this issue is appropriate.
President Sieting advised that he has received numerous death threats over this issue. Don Doom asked for proof of this. Sieting stated that he could provide Doom with copies of these threats.
Gail Burkhart stated she is a long-time resident of Kalkaska, and has seen the Council move forward with positive actions. Burkhart stated she feels that, if the Village can get past this issue, the town and businesses will continue to grow.
Stacy Hicks stated she agrees that social media is not the appropriate venue to handle this situation. Hicks stated that, as a Village business owner who does not reside within the Village, she feels held hostage by Council’s decisions. Hicks encouraged citizens to take positive actions, beyond social media postings, and get behind these actions.
Debbie Perkins agreed that the Village needs to get past this issue. Perkins stated she believes President Sieting is not going to apologize, and feels that citizens need to move forward for the betterment of the community. Perkins encouraged residents to put trust in the elected officials, and gave Council credit for the positive things they have done. Perkins also stated she feels that this is what President Sieting will be remembered for, and feels it will be a black cloud hanging over his head.
Ryan Wagner stated he believes Sieting stood up for First Amendment rights, as a supporter of freedom of speech and the Constitution. Wagner discussed terrorist attacks that have taken place in America, and stated he feels leftist thinking is not welcome in Kalkaska. Wagner sated that those involved in the Facebook campaign “Kalkaska for Peace”, who he believes are largely individuals from out of town, are trying to bully President Sieting with boycotting tactics. Wagner stated he believes this issue began over the Trump sign hanging at the Sieting Hotel, and encouraged the “Kalkaska for Peace” group to sit down with Sieting to discuss peace. Wagner referenced a post where he stated Cindy Anderson intentionally and repeatedly mispronounced Trustee Needham’s name in a derogatory manner. Wagner also referenced a post regarding an unnamed female Council member. Trustee Dupuie asked Wagner to re-read this statement as she thought it named the Council member. Wagner reiterated that the Council member was not named.
Cindy Anderson stated she does not know to which post Wagner was referring. Anderson also stated she was previously unaware of how to pronounce Trustee Needham’s name.
President Sieting stated that there is a historical reason for his sharing of the Facebook post in question. Sieting further stated that it was not his intent for innocent individuals to suffer as a result of the post. Sieting invited those who seek a resolution to contact him personally and make an appointment to speak with him regarding this issue.
With no further business coming before this Council, President Sieting adjourned the meeting at 9:05 p.m.
Recorded By: Angie Koon, Village Clerk