We Can Just Watch Ourselves Sink

Michigan was the 26th State of the Union 

Form of government: Villages
Of the 260 villages in Michigan, 48 have home rule charters, and 212 are governed under the General Law Village Act (1895 PA 3). Under that act all of the then existing villages
in Michigan were reincorporated and standards were set for future incorporations. The general law village, still the most common by far, has the typical Weak Mayor-Council form of government.

Village presidents in the 212 general law villages are elected at-large, villagewide. The statewide act governing general law villages, Act 3 of 1895, was amended in 1973 to
provide for two-year terms for the president and made the village president a full voting member of the village council. In 1974 the act was amended to provide for four-year terms for the six trustees – three of whom are elected biennially, unless a village exempted itself prior to January 1, 1974. GLV elections are held on the second Monday in March, in even-numbered years.

The most recent amendments to the GLV Act passed in 1998. These included the ability to reduce council from seven to five members, allowed for the appointment of a clerk and treasurer and allowed for nonpartisan elections.

Michigan has:
83 Counties

1,115 General law townships
127 Charter townships
265 Home rule cities
7 Fourth class cities
1 Special charter city
212 General law villages
48 Home rule villages

Blissfield is a General Law Village with a “Council – Manager” form of government. Of the 48 home rule villages only 22 have a village manager position. Generally a “Weak Mayor-Council” form of government divides the workload among its councilmembers and relies on competent, long-term staff (Clerk, Treasurer, etc.) members for its day-to-day operations.

From the Handbook for General Law Village Officials – Chapter 1, officials are given the following information as advise for selecting appointments to boards. 

Appoint citizen boards and commissions 

It is important to select the best possible people to serve on village boards and commissions.

  • Select people who will have the interest, time and energy to devote to the responsibilities assigned to that board.
  • Look for citizens interested in the welfare of the entire community rather than those with a narrow interest or an axe to grind.
  • Choose people, not on the basis of their particular point of view, but based on whether they have an open mind, are willing to listen and are not afraid to express themselves.
  • Try to reflect the diversity of the community on each board.
  • Don’t select appointees simply to payback someone who has done you, or the village, a favor.

And Ethics, Why Ethics?

To foster and build public trust – to support and promote business ownership in our area, it would be prudent and responsible for our local government to adopt ordinances and practices requiring transparency, open government and ethical standards. Having our own code of ethics would beneficially give our lawmakers concrete guidelines for conduct. It would create more transparency and an overall sense of fairness.

We would broadcast that we take ethics seriously and it’s safe to do business here  (that sounds like a great selling point from where I sit, but so does a small town feel with small town taxes).

“If Michigan is to restore its reputation as a quality place to live and create jobs, we must send a clear signal that Michigan is a national leader when it comes to government ethics,” said Attorney General Mike Cox.

Louisiana, for example, recently overhauled its ethics laws and shot up from 44th to 1st place nationally. See this at PublicIntegrity.org.

“Michigan is at the bottom of far too many lists,” said Rep. Opsommer.  “Of all the challenges we face, increasing governmental transparency should be one of the easiest and quickest things we can do.  There is no reason to wait.”

This written by Robert Wechsler (Directer of Research, City Ethics) on CityEthics.org as the conclusion to his article about how local corruption is not just a local issue by taking a look into an Indian matter,

“This could be put into equation form:  nepotism + patronage + loyalty + opportunity = paybacks + kickbacks + cost to taxpayers. Or local corruption + regional corruption = very big national corruption.

When even a trusted leader fails to investigate, it’s clear that the ethics environment is very bad. It’s also clear that national leaders refuse to deal with regional corruption.

Just like in the U.S., this situation shows that leading by example is not enough. If there is nepotism and patronage and other sorts of unethical conduct, they must be investigated and penalized before anyone will follow an honest leader’s example. But first, it must be made clear that these are unacceptable, that the ethics environment has changed. Without action and clear guidelines, a leader’s integrity is just for show.”

Here’s a couple of legal circumstances why a spouse should not be hired in a particular situation. For example, if one spouse would have the authority or power to supervise, hire, remove or discipline the other or where one spouse would be responsible for financially auditing the work of another.

We’ve got a few Council members and DDA members that need ethics training, which may or may not do any good, they refuse to acknowledge nepotism as an ethics issue. At a council meeting Monday night, Darlene Southward tendered her letter of resignation from the DDA board. Michigan Main Street advised the DDA board that a husband and wife serving on the same board at the same time, was in fact a conflict of interest (hmm, where did I hear that before?)

Again, we heard jokes on council about a husband and wife never agreeing about anything. Trustee Weeber repeated the same joke trustee Brown used to laugh off the issue when she was appointed, and Trustee Jones agreed. Darlene was approved to serve as a DDA board member under her husband Lynn Southward (Chair). If you have a yes vote from every member on a board for just about everything they decide to put on the agenda, the community has a problem. Until just recently, we had Jae Guetschow married to Debra Royal and Chair Lynn Southward, married to Darlene Southward serving on the same board. Nobody even blinked an eye about ethics issues.

I asked Art Weeber as he was leaving the meeting monday evening, “Do you not think a husband and wife serving on the same board is a conflict of interest?” “I don’t care,” he replied.

Undoubtedly, I think he should care, he’s in government.

Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it should be – it doesn’t mean it’s morally acceptable or right either. A husband whose a serial cheater on his wife isn’t breaking the law but proves he is morally corrupt. If you cheat your husband, you’ll cheat in business. Con games are operating all the time that are just inside the boundaries of the legal system. Here’s some unethical but legal sales pitches from the Better Business Bureau.

Another last place blow for Michigan;

More than 600 CEOs rated states on a wide range of criteria from taxation and regulation to workforce quality and living environment, in their sixth annual special report for 2010. Michigan ranked 49 as the third worst State for business, unchanged from 2009. (the chart includes DC)

J.P. Donlon, Editor-in-Chief says; “The real ticking time bomb for states is the swelling pension liability owed to government employees. According to the Pew Research Center, $3.35 trillion has been promised to employees for retirement, but only $2.35 trillion is there. Even as roads and bridges fall into disrepair, politicians divert tax money to pay for salary and pension increases for government workers. In California, unfunded pension and health care liabilities for state workers topped $100 billion. In Michigan it’s $50 billion. New Jersey owes a staggering $90 billion.”

The penalty for landing at the bottom causes people and business to vote with their feet in search of a better environment to call home. A deeper look into why Michigan is afflicted is revealed as  a mixture of not being ‘a right to work state’ and poor fiscal accountability and  non-business friendly regulations.

The questions remain; Where do you want to be? Do you want to be at the top or the bottom? If you don’t care, or care enough to get a little more involved, congratulations you’re exactly where you asked to be.

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6 Responses to We Can Just Watch Ourselves Sink

  1. Pingback: We Can Just Watch Ourselves Sink » Legal News Talk

  2. Robin says:

    For those that think chasing the almighty grant for our perspective back yards, is good for us, you might want to re-think the actual costs associated with that favorite pastime (this is for you George and Kay Brown). State and Local governments – another looming financial crisis. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nP3b0_fnPxQ if you watch 60 Minutes, you may have seen this already. Although questions and statements by Mr. Kroft are framed in liberal jargon, pay special attention to Meredith Whitney and Chris Christie. The day of reckoning is when they no longer have the capacity to paper over the debt. Today is that day!

    We’re going to lose more federal funding and representation, this means a greater hardship for any recovery efforts. The census data just came in and our population is 1% above the year 2000, Michigan is the only state in the union that lost population.

  3. Thrilled says:

    I’m glad someone has the desire and need of knowledge to actually research where the government lays all around us. Most people feel government stays in the white house; they never look at the government in their back yard. Maybe there is a way to list the funds that come into the villages and how much of it is spent based on individual decision making…maybe it will bring light on the subject so that people who want to make decisions in this and other communities will have an easier understanding when it comes to whom to ask or talk to.

    It’s crazy to hear husbands bitch about a pot hole they have to drive over on the way home every day, or a broken mail box they struggle with, or fast drivers on their grandchildren’s street, having Halloween celebrated on the wrong day year after year…how great would it be to have a quick phone number to pass to them, and be able to say “do something about it honey”. Thanks for being there for us Robin.

    • Robin says:

      Thrilled,

      I assumed that since I was learning the lay of the land regarding community politics, others might want the opportunity to learn/teach along with me. We have no shortage of government officials that truly think they know better than the average person. The truth is that arrogance has got us into a heap of trouble. If anything is going to get fixed, those that don’t normally get involved, really need to. We all need to educate ourselves and get involved, I can’t seem to stress this point enough.

      “Maybe there is a way to list the funds that come into the villages and how much of it is spent based on individual decision making” – Something’s got to be done, not just in our community either. It’s too easy to spend someone else’s money, likewise it’s too easy to justify the money being spent. Too often people look at what their government can do for them instead of what they can do for their government. What they can do is monitor. People making the connection of spending and the rise in their taxes are either going to take a closer look at government spending or, they’re going to think they can’t affect the system and hunker down and take it. If government offices were inundated with phone calls about unnecessary spending and the spending continued, chances are real good that politician wouldn’t survive another election.

      Everything our DDA spends is superfluous and unnecessary.

  4. rstrawser says:

    “Maybe there is a way to list the funds that come into the villages and how much of it is spent based on individual decision making” –
    There is. It’s called the budget (whether your village budget or DDA budget or any board that has a separate budget) and the minutes and any/all associated project records. ALL such record requests (thanks to less than transparent officials) are obtainable via a WRITTEN FOIA request (you used to be able to verbally request) to the clerk/FOIA officer (they are no longer always the same person) and you must receive a response to your request in 5 business days.If your village has a WRITTEN “resolution” re: FOIA fees, you may be charged for photocopies, etc. but the charges must be based on the lowest pay rate capable for that information retrieval. (I point that out because some local governments are charging rates above that legal limit.)

    [Learn the basics of FOIA =Freedom of Information Act- at: Summary of Michigan’s FOIA http://www.michigan.gov.]

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