On this page you will see personal opinions expressed that may or may not be representative of those of other individuals or groups. Some will be triggered by events, actions, observations — or perhaps pent-up frustrations. Some of you will agree — some of you will disagree — some of you will simply exit. Please remember that what you are reading here are opinions. Whatever your reaction, thank you for taking the time to at least give a look.
Note: The oldest articles are at the bottom of this page.
99. It Is Time To Vote!
98. A Bad Decision
97. Township Committee Appointments
96. Where To From Here?
95. The 6 O'clock News
94. Foxes Guarding The Henhouse
93. Down The Drain!
92. Threats, Intimidation & ...
99. It Is Time To Vote!
Although Washington nonsense has overshadowed everything for the past many months, the importance of the local scene should not fall by the wayside.
Four years ago, 5 individuals took their place around the table as Board of Trustees for our Presque Isle Township. As we go to the polls, only 2 of the original 5 will be in the picture. A third, our Treasurer, was appointed mid-term and the position is not being contested. Trustee Hart is not seeking re-election. We will see at least 2 and possibly as many as 4 new faces result from November 8.
As you prepare to cast your vote, it is important that you evaluate the past 4 years to determine what impact they should have on your decision. Consider the following:
Volunteers: Four years ago the township had a volunteer contingent that met every Monday to work on projects such as trail brushing, lighthouse and park signage, grounds cleanup, maintenance of the parks and cemetery, restoration and painting of the life boat, pavilions and other buildings. These tireless individuals received no remuneration; took great pride in making our lighthouses and parks showpieces; and expected only the appreciation of the public in return. Thanks to threats and intimidation by 1 or 2 subversive individuals and a lack of backbone in the township trustees to defend and support the volunteers, that labor force evaporated — they are no more. And for all the services that they performed, we now pay out of the treasury. Several thousands of dollars annually in labor - no longer free. Say thank you to our township officials of the past 4 years for this result.
Fire Department #2: Four years ago, the southwest corner of the township was served by a fire department as had been the case for 40 years. Within six months of the 2012 election, Presque Isle Fire Department #2 ceased operations. Why? They had lived up to the terms of their contract with the township — they had not missed a call (the other township fire department could not make that same claim). The newly elected Board of Trustees saw fit to constrict the contractual transfer of millage funds to Fire Department #2 while not treating the other township fire department in the same fashion. For personal and/or political reasons, the Board of Trustees (or perhaps only 1 or 2 key individuals) chose to "create a crisis" by choking the finances of Fire Department #2. The Board of Trustees in their naivete, thought that they could hijack or steal the privately owned fire department, but instead ended up with nothing — including no fire protection. Now, almost 3½ years later we do not have dedicated fire protection for that part of the township, but rely on neighboring departments as we attempt a very expensive rebuild. Say thank you to our township officials of the past 4 years for this situation.
Mark Devers Leave Of Absence Fiasco: In June of 2016, the Township Supervisor, Mark Devers, after 1½ years of service, announced that he had accepted new employment and would be unable to perform his duties of Supervisor. He would not be seeking election in 2016. Mr Devers was appointed (not elected) to that position in February of 2015. At the recommendation of Clerk Paavola, Mark Devers was granted a Leave of Absence. What Clerk Paavola conveniently failed to reveal was that Mr. Devers would receive supervisor's pay for the duration of his leave. Even the other trustees were not aware of this fact. Michigan law does state that elected officials are to receive their pay in such situations, but it does not state that "appointed" officials are entitled to the same. When it became generally known a couple of months later that Mr. Devers was being paid $1100 per month for doing nothing, a public outcry erupted — but Clerk Paavola held firm. The failure of the Clerk to protect the financial assets of the township struck a raw nerve in everyone. In a mid-September letter, Mark Devers "officially" resigned thus terminating the $1100 per month arrangement. But the damage was done and Clerk Paavola had shown her true colors. The question is, where were the other 3 trustees in this situation? Where was their will to protect the assets of the township? Say thank you to our township officials for looking after the financial interests of taxpayers.
On November 8, you have your opportunity to influence the direction of our township for the next 4 years. Take a look at the events of the past 4 years — did the efforts of our previous elected officials earn your vote this time around? The previous election netted some unfortunate and expensive outcomes. Do you want the same for the future or would you like something better? When you have your say, make sure it reflects where you really wish to go.
98. A Bad Decision
*** Note: See update below***
If you look back over the content of this website, you will notice ongoing pleas for members of this community to pay attention to how our township is being managed. You have been encouraged to attend township meetings and get involved. I am pleased to note that community members have responded.
At the Board of Trustees meeting on August 8th, sharp-eyed audience members detected something questionable in the financial sheets provided — a paycheck for our 'leave-of-absence' supervisor, Mark Devers. The explanation given by the Clerk was that the supervisor was entitled to his regular pay while on his leave. When the leave was discussed and approved at the June 2nd meeting, there was no reference to pay. The issuing of the paycheck apparently was a unilateral decision by the clerk. She stood by that opinion.
Do you know of anybody who has been granted a paid leave when they voluntarily step aside from that position to take on a very lucrative job somewhere else? But here is the burning question — why did the Clerk assume that paid leave was appropriate, responsible or even legal? At best, it was simply a bad move. It turns out that some other trustees did not know about the payment, nor had they even discussed the topic. And what role did the Treasurer play? Did she not know about it — or did she endorse it? Considering that the Treasurer and Clerk duties intermingle, she must have been a part of the process.
How could such a blunder have occurred? It does not appear to have been a simple mistake. Was it a gross lack of knowledge of what is reasonable in the workplace? Was it an attempt to look after a friend? Was it just the public trough ripe for plucking? Common sense says that this was not a situation where paid leave was appropriate. The granting of pay was just plain wrong. The Clerk and Treasurer are public servants with a responsibility to look after the interests (including financial) of the township — not to plunder it.
The good news — Mark Devers is now on an 'unpaid' leave. It is hoped (expected) that the 1 paycheck issued will be returned. We are all appreciative that the members of the public who noticed the financial entry, spoke up and took a stand. You have served your community well. Going forward, we must continue to diligently scrutinize our township government. Elections are on the horizon. A major duty of our citizens falls on November 8th — but much preparatory work must be done between now and then. Do not overlook our trustees' past actions in your deliberations in the coming weeks.
Update -- Sept 5, 2016
After some initial indicators that the Supervisor's leave was to become 'unpaid', it appears that the Clerk and Treasurer are determined to continue providing the monthly gift to their friend — at taxpayers expense. While we have citizens who are unable to pay their taxes and must forego medications and health care, a township official is receiving 2 salaries when doing only 1 job. Not just unfair, but WRONG!
On Monday September 12 at 7 pm, you are encouraged to attend the Presque Isle Township Board of Trustrees' monthly meeting and voice your opinion.
97. Township Committee Appointments
Within our township, there are four formal committees appointed by the Board of Trustees:
- Planning Commission
- Parks and Recreation
- Zoning Board of Appeals
- Board of Review
Before many months go by, there will probably be a fifth committee to oversee our local fire and emergency services.
All of these committees are "at the Township's pleasure" — meaning that the township can appoint, direct, and dismiss at their disgression. Members are "appointed", not hired — there is no contract of service in place — they are not considered as employees. Although these committees and the positions they encompass are frequently referred to as "volunteer", they really do not fit that definition since remuneration is involved — most consider "volunteer" as being unpaid.
In years gone by, the appointment process may have not been in the best interest of the local taxpayers. "Friends", individuals with agendas, and those eager to feed from the trough have taken positions. Often, the lack of willing candidates has been a contributing factor in an inappropriate appointment process. If you are breathing, you are in. This is not to imply that we do not have some high quality individuals in place. It is the process that has left us vulnerable, and it is this vulnerability that gives an opportunity for those with less than honorable intentions.
If you wish to view first-hand a reason why things do not get better, then just attend the end-of-year meetings for the Board of Trustees and the various committees. What you see will be the same at all meetings. In the dying minutes (possibly as an after-thought), someone will bring forward that certain members' terms are expiring. Without hesitation, a motion will be made that those terms be renewed. No evaluations, no discussions, just automatic renewal. "Let's get this done and get out of here!" An opportunity to review, revise, improve — missed. And another year of the same.
Occasionally, committees will have a resignation or vacancy. Sometimes, there will be advertising done to solicit applicants; sometimes the vacancy will be quietly filled without a competition process. At the moment, applications are being accepted for positions on the Planning Commission. What is very peculiar is that the Planning Commission members will actually be interviewing candidates. Do you ever see this in business? When a company is hiring Bus Drivers, are new applicants interviewed by fellow bus drivers? I don't think so. Only those in supervisory or managerial positions will conduct the interviews. The selection process for our new Planning Commission members should be handled the same way — in the hands of at least 2 trustees with possibly the PC Chair participating. Other PC members should not have a say. To do otherwise potentially stacks the committee, tarnishes the image of that committee, and destroys the transparency of this most important role within our township.
*** Update January 6, 2016*** — The Board of Trustees have seen the light -- sort of. Due to citizen complaints and the determination that the Planning Commission Interviews conducted on December 1, 2015 contravened the Michigan Open Meetings Act, a "re-interview" meeting was held January 5, 2016 — by the full Board of Trustees this time. A small step forward for our township.
How can committee appointments be handled in order to get an appropriate cross-section with the highest quality members? Here are some suggestions.
- Design a policy for filling committee appointments and publically post it — on township website and township office bulletin board, etc. — and then follow it.
- Annually advertise (and maintain a file) for "Letters of Interest" for all committee vacancies that may occur in the next 24 months — and draw upon that to fill vacancies.
- Establish term limits for committee appointments — 2 consecutive terms of 3 years each seems appropriate
- Alter the mindset of bringing your friends, relatives, neighbors into the fold. Place a priority on geographic diversity for appointments so as to fairly represent the various areas of the township.
Committees are essential in the operations of this township. Most of the leg-work guiding the direction and operation of the township originates in these committees. The Board of Trustees depends on their advice and recommendations, and for that reason, the various committees must consist of individuals capable of bias-free community focussed direction. If we wish those qualities to be so, then we must put those same qualities into the creation of those committees. We can only reap what we sow.
96. Where To From Here?
With the rejection of the Lafarge rezoning application by the Township, there are now a lot of questions regarding the future. You can be sure of one thing however, "It ain't over!"
First of all, what about Lafarge — what are their options. They could just ignore the 19 acres and move into other untapped areas of their holdings — and continue operations much as they have being doing. However, you can probably make book on them looking for another avenue to get access to the rock under that 19 acres. One option is to simply make another request for rezoning, but this time not under the assumption that it would be a cake-walk. That was where they got blindsided the last time around. Another route is to appeal the decision to the county or state. I would place my wager on that square. There is also the possibility that they could initiate litigation knowing that they have the ability to "out-lawyer" the Township.
Lafarge is a very large company with a focus on their financial bottom line. It is easy to understand that the Presque Isle quarry operations are only a tiny spec on the Lafarge balance sheet. Should local operations not live up to expectations, it would not be very painful to simply cut them loose. This could mean mothballing or perhaps hanging out a For Sale sign. A worst case scenario would be to abandon all operations and simply walk away. There are numerous options open to them.
Regardless of Lafarge's future actions, what lies ahead for our community? The emergence of the "Alliance" brought together those concerned about the quarry impact on the local environment and way of life. Together they mustered resources and spoke in unison. Our citizens learned that you can fight for what you believe and defend what is yours. You can expect this group to speak with a strong voice and continue to work for the benefit of the community in the months/years to come.
Will there be fallout from the exercise of the past 8 months? The answer there must be "yes". Positions were taken, words were spoken, emotions ran high. Accusations of conflict of interest, bias, personal agendas, faulty reasoning, narrow viewpoints, and more were tossed around. There are relationships and egos now supporting bruises. Certain members of the Planning Commission are facing criticism for their actions. As with any battle, and it was a battle, there will be wounds and casualties of some sort. Some of this will fester right into the next election and probably beyond.
As for direct benefits that should spawn from all of this — we anticipate actions pertaining to the future of the quarry footprint. There is already talk of moving forward with the Master Plan recommendation of developing a site Reclamation Blueprint in partnership with Lafarge, the Township and local citizens. Our community is strong; it is resourceful; and the Phoenix will most assuredly rise.
95. The 6 O'clock News
On the 6 o'clock news tonight, you will see a headline story about some unfortunate event -- a fire, an airplane/bus/train accident, a tornado, a flood, an earthquake, a mass shooting, a war, a refugee crisis, a building/bridge collapse -- you know the stories. News coverage is predictable -- they interview victims and those close to the event -- they interview authorities about what took place, and their roles -- and they project as to the future for those involved. Inevitably, an official is interviewed and gives the following statement: "We will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that this never happens again". It is at that moment that your stomach will get the urge to relocate its contents.
In almost every case, the magnitude of the unfortunate toll can be directly attributed to the very opposite of the above statement. The severity of the disaster or loss goes back to human actions and/or inactions. Greed, laziness, inattention, stupidity, bad decisions, poor planning, procrastination, outright incompetence, and yes, even counting on the roulette wheel of life being in your favor -- all enhance the extent of the resulting pain. If the officials in charge were on the ball, those "whatever steps" would have taken place prior to the event. Perhaps that is why such incidents often result in criminal charges, lawsuits, firings, and the like.
Here in Presque Isle Township, we don't see ourselves as a headline on the 6 o'clock news. That happens to those in Bangladesh, Sandy Hook, Lansing or even Alpena -- but not Presque Isle. If you ask those featured in national headline stories, they never expected that to be in that position -- "this type of thing never happens here." The roulette wheel of life doesn't always pick on somebody else. Sometimes we are learning disabled when it comes to reality.
In our township, we are currently looking at a Lotus Pond that is fast approaching being not even a pond. We are looking at Grand Lake with a dropping water level even though lawns are relatively green in our area. We are looking at a Lake Esau that depends upon pumping to maintain its water level. Why are these issues with us? The loss of local watershed is, at a minimum, a factor. In years gone by, we have witnessed the disappearance of Lake of the Woods -- and, the significant wetlands east of Grand Lake are no more. Where is this going to end?
It is not impossible, if things continue as they have in recent years, that Lotus pond could become a play area for ATV's. If you extrapolate a bit, it is conceivable that we could be planting vegetables or grazing livestock on the floor of Grand Lake in the years to come. Just think of how our local economy could boom with that possibility.
How do you wish your Presque Isle Township to look in the coming years? We have already seen indicators of what could be happening. The longer that Lafarge continues to plunder our acres and encroach on our local bodies of water, the greater the risk of an unfortunate event. Do we want to be the 6 o'clock news headline as our lakes drain? Perhaps we should take the "whatever steps" (we do have that opportunity now) and not have to state the entire quote in front of the cameras in the future. The re-zoning request from Lafarge should be rejected. Being a news headline is not where we want to be.
94. Have We Left The Foxes Guarding The Henhouse?
I do not know whether I am angry or simply disappointed in myself and my fellow man. However, as I pen this editorial, a state of utter disbelief does envelope me — "Have we left the foxes to guard the henhouse?"
Our citizens — this community, has entrusted 5 individuals (the Board of Trustees) to handle the affairs of Presque Isle Township. Through formal and open elections we have authorized them to act on our behalf and in the best interest of this community.
Past history, common sense, and a good read of the news of the day quickly tells you that functioning with a blind trust of those that serve is not always a good thing. As local citizens and taxpayers, mechanisms are built into the system that allow us to observe, oversee and to alter (if necessary) the actions of those who govern — if we choose to do so.
Do you approve of the way our Township spends your tax dollars? How closely do you follow the actions of our local elected officials? How frequently do you attend Township meetings? When was the last time that you read the minutes of a Township meeting? Do you actually care how your local tax dollars are spent?
This is where I get to the point. Read carefully the minutes of the 2015-2016 Budget meetings held this past April — April 17 and April 29. Did you notice anything of concern? You should have! According to the minutes, there were no members of the public present at either meeting. It was at these 2 meetings where the budget for the coming year was publicly discussed and approved. No member of the public showed any interest in how our Township Trustees plan to handle our money. We have allowed the foxes be in charge of the henhouse!
I do not intend by my comments to insinuate that our monies are not being appropriately handled. What I am saying is that in this world of checks and balances, the citizens of this community, by their absence from those 2 budget meetings, waived a very important safeguard in local government spending. Perhaps what is more concerning is the message delivered to those in office currently and in the future — that this community is not paying attention — giving a golden opportunity for the misguided or unscrupulous.
Going further — have you studied the Budget approved on April 29th? Did you notice that projected expenses increased over 81% compared to 2 years ago? Did you notice that current projected expenses exceed projected revenues by 49%? Did you notice that projected expenses in the category of "Township Board" more than doubled over 2 years ago? I'm sorry, but if you now have questions, you're too late. That opportunity was in April at publicized and open meetings.
Again, I am not saying that anything untoward has occurred. The Budget, in all likelihood, is appropriate and valid — but sure does have some red flags waving. I am, however, very critical of the Board as a whole, and Supervisor Devers in particular, for not including some explanatory notes with the published Budget. Such large changes do need to have some notes attached. If such significant changes are justified, then a few words of explanation are all that is required. Without those notes, large changes in budget numbers will (and should) be viewed with skepticism — indicators that perhaps the foxes are hungry. Appropriate communication is simply being proactive. It sure beats damage control.
The Budget has been set. Mistakes have been made in the process. Hopefully lessons have been learned. Although the opportunity to voice your budgetary concerns has passed, it is not too late to request clarification and express legitimate concerns. We all have a role to play. Let us not forsake those obligations.
93. Down The Drain!
Do you remember as a young child, having a bath in the "big" bathtub? Were you in fear that your mother might pull the plug and you be sucked down that drain? Well, many of us still have that fear, but that bathtub is now a bit larger — Lotus Pond, Lake Esau, and Grand Lake.
You do not have to search very long to find lots of events where bodies of water have suddenly disappeared. Some of those events have been quite dramatic — even to the point of sucking machines (and even people) down the drain within minutes. Most, however, occur over a longer timespan of a few days to a few weeks or months. Could an occurrence of this type happen in our community? Only naivety will generate an answer other than: "yes it could".
How have these events occurred? Some causes are simply unexplained. Others are chalked up to natural phenomenons. After thorough investigations, many of the remaining have clear-cut reasoning of their cause. For this group, the human factor is present in nearly every case — human in the form of commercial operations that have been altering surface and subterranean composition in the vicinity. Human actions and the natural processes that occur underground combine for the net result.
Let us look at some simple science — at a level that even children can understand. At the earliest grades, children learn about the water cycle. Soon that expands to include underground water behavior — the presence of subterranean streams; the movement of water through porous materials under the surface and water transit through rock formations. Before the student leaves high school, the simple science expands to encompass physical and chemical erosion of water passing over and through materials. That lime scale in your tea kettle and humidifier, and even the white film on your car after it is washed — all this was picked up as your water traversed the subterranean courses.
Now, let's look at some kid logic. Give him/her a garden hose and watch him chase rocks, sand, and the occasional pet or sibling with the stream. Moving water can alter the position of objects — we call that erosion. The same logic tells him (and us) that water moving underground can also erode what it comes in contact with — and will do so even to a greater degree if we can vibrate things a bit. In time, subterranean materials will undergo physical changes.
Let us now put all of this into perspective as it pertains to Lafarge quarrying operations. We have water underground, and it does move through various materials as it flows to find its lowest level. We also have sinkholes — to the south, west and north of the quarry with some being not too distant. These sinkholes are caused by underground water movement that over time has caused major erosion that ultimately results in the collapse of supporting materials. We know from historical evidence that water is eroding materials under our feet and that erosion is ongoing. Give it a shake once a day, and kid chemistry will tell you that the process is being accelerated. Professional science does not know exactly where our water travels underground, nor how large or small the subterranean streams are. All they have is "educated guesses" — nothing is 100%.
Now back to kid logic. You have a water supply (or 2 or 3 of them) at an elevation around 590 ft. Within a 1000 foot distance, you have a large empty hole with the bottom being 160 ft below your water supply. Question to kid: "What is going to happen?" Kid answer: "The water from the water supply will flow into the hole." Why are kids so smart and adults so dumb?
Now back to the adult world. Nothing is for certain, but you can try on some common sense. We have porous ground materials with embedded water courses of unknown characteristics. We have daily shaking of the ground that will have some long term effect on subterranean structures. We have a company digging a deep hole next to our most treasured aquatic resources, and constantly reducing the separation distances. Nobody knows (not the Lafarge, not their "hired" experts, not our community) when the combination of geological interference and nature's natural actions will breech the barriers with a non-recoverable outcome.
This is not a Chicken Little scenario. Surprises are everywhere. How often has the "unthinkable" occurred in recent years. Everything cannot be fixed by money. Should the unthinkable come to pass with our lakes, a billion dollars would not put Humpty Dumpty together again. Our lakes will be gone and Lafarge likewise. For years, the quarry operations have been a game of environmental roulette. If this rezoning application is approved, then by our hand, the name of the game expands to include "Russian".
92. Threats, Intimidation & Consequences
Consider the following quotes:
"Eat your vegetables or there will be no dessert."
"If you hit your sister, you`ll get a spanking."
"Santa does not visit bad children."
"Wait 'til your father gets home"
"Your nose will grow if you tell a lie"
"Do as I say or else!"
"You will get a zero for plagiarism"
"No shoes, no shirt, no service"
"You must pay your taxes."
"Look — there is police radar"
"You must live by God's standard to get into heaven"
For most of us, these are very familiar. In fact, these are representative of our entire life — from cradle to grave. As children, we heard some of them; as we entered adulthood, we experienced more; and as the years tick on, more still. In fact, we have a lifetime full of these quotes and their impacts on our lives.
The common factor in all of the above is that they are all threats, intimidation and consequences in varying degrees. In fact, everything that goes on in our life is based on that. We work and earn a living to both obtain and avoid a variety of consequences. Being unable to earn our way is a threat to our individual welfare. Society constantly threatens and intimidates us into performing to societal standards. Consequences abound. Our total life (and beyond) is completely governed by such actions and circumstances.
Since threats, intimidation and consequences have been with us since our youngest years, is it not surprising that they become part of our daily routine. We are threatened or intimidated into paying our taxes. We are threatened or intimidated into obeying the speed limit. We are threatened and intimidated into adhering to the "norms" of the community or to the norms of the few who think they are the community.
Our society has developed a social acceptance of the threats, intimidation and consequences of our life. Certain aspects are just normal, while others cross the line into the inappropriate and unjust. The problem is that this line varies from person to person, and is often extremely blurred. The position of that line changes with the circumstances of the day. Frequently, bribes and bullying become part of the picture and some believe this to be perfectly acceptable to meet their objectives. It is all in the spin that is put on it.
At the April Board of Trustees meeting, Clerk Paavola, as well Supervisor Devers made reference to citizen encounters that they felt crossed the fuzzy line. The issue of the Lafarge rezoning is highly emotional and could severely impact the community. In this circumstance, citizens will and have become more aggressive and are challenging the position of that line.
Our trustees, and particularly the two referenced above, should realize that they are in the business of politics -- one that encompasses threatening and intimidating rhetoric and associated actions, with a few lies thrown in for good measure. Politics is a lifestyle that thrives on the nastiness. Since these individuals have chosen their role, they should understand what goes with the territory, and be more tolerant of public reactions to emotional issues. They believe that it is better to give than receive — and obviously did not appreciate the "receive" experience. Perhaps they should have a bit thicker skin and develop few more skills in people handling.
For Clerk Paavola specifically (who has expesssed her distaste for a particular word), and the trustees in general, the citizens of this community "DEMAND" that you honestly and honorably represent every taxpayer of Presque Isle Township. To put it in the reality of the day, consider this "demand" as a threat (or intimidation, if you wish -- or perhaps even a bribe), with the consequences determined by your actions and the next election.
Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.
... Sydney Smith