Sandusky city commission 'behind the closed-door'

Matt Westerhold
Aug 5, 2012

Great comments at the poll: What should Sandusky do with the former Surf's Up property?

Wiredmama wrote about a discussion she had with a city commissioer and the commissioner's assurances to her "that NOTHING is being kept from the citizens of this community and that everything is being discussed in the open" is interesting. 

In recent weeks I've had three different contacts from community members concerned that city commissioners during executive (closed-door) commission meetings have discussed the possibility of selling city hall. Given the nature of the contacts the Register received about this issue, it leads me to believe it was discussed during closed-door meetings, but there really is no way to verify whether or not it was a topic kept commissioners kept from public discourse.

One caller who contacted the newsroom with questions about this topic said in his private discussion with a city commissioner the commissioner told him there was concern the commissioners who support selling city hall might get "skewered in the press" if they brought the issue forward for public discussion. That does not seem like a legitimate reason to withhold any public information from the public under any circumstances, although it's understandable there would be concern about the reaction from the community given the deficit spending commissioners already have approved this year and the financial challenges the city faces with the union contracts expiring this year. 

The Register's editorial board has written in the recent past that commissioners should re-visit the topic of city hall and advocated the city have a public dialogue and reconsider the decision to keep it along the waterfront on Miegs Street. But regardless of any stand the newspaper may take on any topic, I hope city commissioners get better at taking public stands across a whole array of important decisions that will have to be made.

This city commission approved a $15.9 million deficit spending budget after about just 10 minutes of public discussion. The contention that "NOTHING is being kept from the citizens of this community and that everything is being discussed in the open" is simply not accurate.

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"Between the Lines" is the area's only public affairs talk program and all prior segments of BTL are available for on-demand viewing anytime at sanduskyregister.com/opinion/blogs/betweenthelines.

Comments

donutshopguy

 There should be no deficit spending period.

If we the taxpaying public have not allocated the funds that's the final word.

 Why have we allowed our government officials the ability to spend more than they have been allowed by taxpayers?

Stupid sheep !

The Answer Person

Sell the albatross out-dated city building and sell the abandonded useless pool. 

If you want development and you wait for locals to decide, then NOTHING will get done because they all live either in FEAR of change or operate in some fantasyland of the way it USED TO BE.  Decades will and HAVE passed with nothing completed.

I saw a great sign in a church office one day.  It read:  "The last seven words of the living church: 

"We Never Did It That Way Before."

Welcome to Sandusky.  No brainer!  SELL!

Fireside

DO NOT MOVE City Hall. With government getting smaller, why do we need more room? I understand the Judge has the money to expand and add to his facility. Let him add on to the current building for nothing more than construction costs. No land cost. When that is completed, the police can expand into any current vacated portion the judge leaves. City Hall was moved FROM downtown to it's current location  because of : Better Parking, Building was built to be expanded if needed.

Think of how you would do it if it was YOUR money....oh wait, IT IS !!

Centauri

http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780821443590?auth=0

For those who find themselves in a battle for public records, Access with Attitude: An Advocate’s Guide to Freedom of Information in Ohio is an indispensable weapon. First Amendment lawyer David Marburger and investigative journalist Karl Idsvoog have written a simply worded, practical guide on how to take full advantage of Ohio’s so-called Sunshine Laws.

Darkhorse

Here we go again.  We keep going over and over the same turf.  The Judge is ready to go with his plans and the commissioners are going to throw the last ditch effort into moving city hall.  The land grabbers can't wait to get their grubby little hands on water front property, city hall and the Pavilion.  The city runs the properties into the ground and then allow the developers to come in and take it off our hands real cheap and they profit.  It is time to knock it off!  The mover and shakers of this town continually come up with the pie in the sky ideas and leave us with a mountain of debt.   The mover and shakers are not going to dump yet another vacant building such as Adams Jr. High or that building next to the church on Columubs Ave. on us. Go take a hike folks because we are not taking on anymore vacant buildings.  This is exactly why we don't have money to fix the streets, parks, and sidewalks because we are too busy getting ourselves entangled with huge development with no staff to support the move when they have other things on their plate they have to accomplish.

wiredmama222

Mr. Westerhold.....unless you can PROVE that the comment (nothing behind closed doors) was inaccurate, then how in the world can you say that? In fact, what you are suggesting is based on innudeno and a "so called" fact finding mission of your editorial board.

You say that "The Register's editorial board has written in the recent past that commissioners should re-visit the topic of city hall and advocated the city have a public dialogue and reconsider the decision to keep it along the waterfront on Miegs Street. But regardless of any stand the newspaper may take on any topic, I hope city commissioners get better at taking public stands across a whole array of important decisions that will have to be made"

The city commission may have apporved a $15.9 milliion deficit spending budget after 10 minutes of public discussion but what makes you think that that leads to disussions in private???????

While I am not necessarily defending the commission altogether, I will say that Ms Ard is the final say in the budget. Have you forgotten that??? It is her say so on the budget that is the final judgement and the comission VOTES on that, but you make it sound as if they discuss it in private. They receive the paperwork from the secretary to look over prior to the meeting from Ms Ard and then vote.

Half the people in this town do not know how government works and I fear you don't either. You ASSUME to know but you do not really.

I doubt highly that they even get the chance to TALK prior to meeting times. Are you searching for ghosts here that are not there?????? I wonder?

This city better start learning to live within the budget they HAVE instead of taking a flyer on things like a pool and a new building.

Why hasn't Ms Ard and the committee reached a decision about a police chiief? Why aren't you belly aching about that, Mr. Westerhold?????

Why are you so concerned with a new building this town cannot support or afford? Like everyone else, do you wish to have this city live beyond its means??????

Nope. It cannot continue on. And I do believe the city commissioner. I believe Ms Ard is in control. I believe they are following her lead. 

Does the Register want that building and that pool more than the commission???  I wonder?  They seem to be promoting it. 

As for you contacts by members of the city, etc.  I suggest to these people that they, too, either contact a commission member or go to a council meeting.  Why are you contacting the paper?  Ask your elected officials directly if you have such questions about transparency?  You put them there, they answer to YOU.  The paper has an adgenda.  What do you expect them to tell you?

So you might want to back up a bit and see what happens

car 54

  What is the secret of of business success? Good decisions. I pray the current commission is following the city manager's direction.  Not the frolic of John Lippus.

  

Factitious

It's true that the subject of innapropriately liquidating public property gets discussed behind closed doors. Sometimes, it's perfectly legal, but that doesn't make it right.

But the Register's a bit hypocritical because much of what passed for reporting on the failed "Marina District"  project was thinly disguised cheerleading for a project that was all about closed doors and exclusion.

And now, the Register initiates a discussion about again inappropriately selling Surf's Up, AKA Sandusky Bay Pavillion?

What's really going on?

It was not a very good poll. Was there deliberate bias?

The choice of selling it is not an option for contractual reasons. And sure, there are always the unscrupulous willing to con the citizens out of their best properties, but why does the Register want to help them? Why not sell ALL parks? That of course is just a stupid as selling a prime waterfront park.

And the poll left out the obvious choices of improving the park while mothballing or removing or modifying the pool.

Due it part to making good use of public access to a beautiful bayfront, Downtown Sandusky is in the throes of a renaissance. (Thank you, Waterfront Watchdogs!) There is NO good time to sell a public waterfront park, but this would be the worst.

The SR is not doing the community a service by continuing to try to give credibilty to the absurd notion of liquidating a prime waterfront park. It would be much better to discuss how to put it to better public use; that might counter all the sabatage by private interest who covet our park and want to make it their own.

1) - The park suffers from being under-used because it's sometime closed for no good reason, and it's managed in a way to make it look like it's closed, even when it's open.

2) - The park suffers neglect and deferred maintenance. Little things like simple repairs and landscape trimming are needed that involve no capital cost at all. Roof repairs are needed NOW to prevent much more expensive repairs later.

Wake up, people! This is a great spot to enjoy! It's almost always open even when it doesn't look like it. Go take back your park!

 

Horace Mann

The SR's a very good paper compared to what you get in most small cities. I Hope they keep trying to get better and better.

On challenge is that their reporters are rather young. The haven't developed "sources,"  which take experience, time and proven trustworthyness.

That can lead to an over-reliance on public information.

Complaints about openness or lack thereof are wearing a little thin. This is a problem everywhere.

Public Information Requests are an incomplete way to get the story. If you want to learn what's going on, cultivate sources, prove you can be trusted and don't embarrass them  with misquotes, indiscretion or recklessness. And they'll still jerk you around. Verify, verify, verify.

Did anyone ever say that newspaper reporting was an easy job?

 

 

Kimo

Re: alf the people in this town do not know how government works and I fear you don't either.

Might want to change that to 95% of the people and include yourself.

Re: Idoubt highly that they even get the chance to TALK prior to meeting times.

That statement proves my point.

BTW

I have 24 years of various forms of "Government", half of that in elected office.

So my opinions of "How government works" are based on experience.

Kimo

Re: Public Information Requests are an incomplete way to get the story. If you want to learn what's going on, cultivate sources, prove you can be trusted and don't embarrass them  with misquotes, indiscretion and recklessness.

If you had quit there, you would have been on the money.

:-)

Kimo

Re: indiscretion

Putting the message left for a reporter on the web. That sure as hell did not build any trust.

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

Thanks Kimo, for your comments. You make some interesting points, but you don't have the full scope here to have a thorough understanding. Please feel free to call me if you would like more information or to discuss any concerns you have. My number is (419) 609-5866. 

Centauri

@ Matt Westerhold

Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.

 

 

Kimo

@Matt

Thanks for the offer, but I will stick with my comments.

I will add, if you really are interested in how "government" works, run for office.

The upside is anyone can get on the ballot and get elected. No education required, no one will ask you if you have a high school diploma.  In Talkeetna, Alaska a cat is the Mayor.

The downside is that on your first day in office everyone will expect you to be an expert on all issues and half the voters will hang you out to dry if you don't vote the way they think you should.

Your position on one issue can get you elected, and your position on another issue can get voted out of office.

On the flip side, middle of the roaders tend to last a long time, but so do the problems they create.

But the bottom line: It does not matter how bad you screw up, once you leave office it's not your problem anymore. Someone else will clean up your mess and the taxpayers will pay the bill.

 

 

wiredmama222

@Kimo....if you want to quote me....please do so in quotes.  If you are truly that educated you would understand that quoting someone NEEDS to be in quotes, otherwise it is plaquarizing.  I should think that with your self proclamed expertise you would have known that. 

Also, if you have that much knowledge of government, why not run for commission and give this city the practical side of your vast knowledge? 

I do, unklike many people in this town, know how government works, and have practical expertise in same.  

You cannot operate on a deficit each and every year.  Since you have such vast knowledge YOU should understand that.  You should also know that the money they are spending in deficit has to come from next years budget which puts them behind for next year.  Where would YOU make the cuts or borrow the funds?   What appropriations would YOU set aside?  I would love to hear your answers to that one? 

When the commission sits down with Ms Ard for appropriations, where do they make their cuts for next year?  From which committee do they take the money?  What departments get cut to make up the deficit?  You realize that with the potential of property taxes going down the general fund will take a big hit so where will the money be coming from next year or the year after to fund all these wonderful ideas the paper wants done:  the buildning buying, the pool?  

Please advise since you have such a long experince??  tell me, where would YOU take the funds?  Police, fire, city maintenance, parks and rec?  where? 

 

Bess

So… anyone here sorry we did not pass the elected City Manager initiative?  That could have minimized the “executive sessions” and facilitated accountability.  Oh well, Ms Ard kept her position and the City negotiates in secret.  Anyone who really believes our commissioners do not discuss city matters outside the commission meetings – open or executive – is to uniformed to have credence.  Anyone who postulates the commissioners passed on a budget in such a short time frame without having reviewed and discussed it – is to uniformed to have credence.

As for the Register reporters – they cannot report what is not open to them.  If the commissioners were not embarrassed by what they are doing all would be open for public view and public discussion.  If after all these years City Hall and the surrounding land is sold to investors for a second generation Marina District residents will have got what they deserve for not paying attention.

 

wiredmama222

No, Bess, I am not sorry we did not pass the elected City Manager initative on the face of it because of a couple of points. 

ONE:  you expected the City Manager to live within the city limits which is unconstitutional under State law and you can look that up. 

TWO:   You expected the City Manager to have lived here for three years.  

THREE:  You had no qualifications for that City Manager.

FOUR:   Ruth Haag wanted to be the City Manager and it was all for her. 

Those were my complaints before and they still are.  Had those been changed, I would have voted for it hands down. 

Can I say I am happy with Ms Ard.....no, I am not. 

Do I think she is a good City Manager....no, I do not.  I don't think she really knows what is going on. 

Do I think she needs to be replaced....that wouldn't hurt my feelings. 

Do I think it should be with Ruth Haag?  NO WAY.  I still do not think that is the person to lead this town out of this mess.  I just don't think she can do it.  I am not personally attacking her, I just don't thnk she is qualified to do it. 

Does that mean I think the commission is doing any thing behind closed doors....no.

The Sandusky Register Reporters are ghost hunting.  They want to be in on an executive session which isn't allowed and they know that.  Executive sessions are NOT EVER open to the press.  I don't know why they think they should be. 

But I will tell you that for a reporter to try and change the laws of executive session and expect to be allowed inside one is not only wishful thinking, its ludiicuris. 

And to charge something that they are not sure of is not only bordering on silly, its rather childish as they have NO idea what is discussed.  You don't make things up as you go. 

They do not know WHAT is being discussed in ES and they can't stand it, so they are assuming and that isn't right.

As for Ms. Ard and you and your group AGAIN going after this elected postiion.  If you do it again, Ms Haag will be challanged by someone WITH the know-how and with a great deal of knowledge and common sense and credentials.  We have been through this before.  We can go through it again. 

Kimo

 

This is turning into a pissing contest, and that is not good.

Given that......

Re: why not run for commission and give this city the practical side of your vast knowledge? 

1. It's a mistake to assume I live in Erie County just because I comment on the SR.

2. It's a mistake to assume that just because an elected body only takes ten minutes of public comments that they did anything immoral or illegal. An elected body can prepare for and be aware of the potential outcome of the final vote without doing anything immoral or illegal.

BTW

thanx for the quotess leson  but it's hard for an old dog like me to learn any new tricks.

:-))

 

 

wiredmama222

@ Kimo....."pissing" contests are not my thing, but they seem to be yours....until you begin losing. 

 First of all you are the one who said you had such a "vast knowledge of the government system" (paraphrasing) and that I should include myself in the percentage that you named in your posting. 

You have NO idea how much I know about or have experience with when it comes to politics. Nor do you know much about me at all, but you think you do other than rumor and innuendo. 

I make NO assumption on where you live or what you do.  If you do not live in EC, then why take such an active participation in what goes on here?  In short, why do you care what goes on here?  Why the comments then?  Why care what the city commission does or for that matter what is posted in the SR?  Is it just because you like to see what twists in the wind? 

Since you say you don't live in EC then you must not live in Sandusky either, so how can you possibly have the faintest idea of what is going on here or have the foggiest of notions of what happens to the people here or what concerns they have about what is affecting their lives?  Yet you post quite regularly like you know what is going on?  Do you think that fair to the citizens of this community? 

While what you comment about illegal verses immoral may be true, don't assume any more than the SR that what the commission is doing is wrong.  That is what I said to begin with.  They get the old business just ahead of the meeting and know what is going on when they get there.  Why is it so hard to figure that perhaps it WILL only take a few minutes to decide what they already know will be decided?  

Ms Ard had given them the budget.  She made the decision on that.....as I understand it, that is part of her job is it not?   So why the big upset? 

And as for the lesson.....it always bothers me that ANYONE who doesn't respect another's words enough to use quotes: whether an old dog or not, should at least try to use them.   Sorry to have pointed it out. 

End of "p" contest.   If you can call it that. 

And for what it is worth, if you were living here, it is a shame that with your expertise, you didn't run.  Heaven knows the council could use it.  Some of them should NOT be on there.  

Kelly

More silliness

Cityslicker

In my opinion, the SR and its managing editor have burnt one to many bridges with the Commission, and the PD. Therefore, they will make it as hard as possible for the SR to get anything. I have never seen so many public records requests as I have in the last two years or so. They have to cost money to obtain, so keep that wallet open .As Taxpayer would say: HA-HA.

wiredmama222

My statement IS ACCURATE.  I have no reason to lie to anyone.  I believe the commissioner and believe he has no reason to lie to me.  I do think the SR has every  reason to sell newpapers and does not understand the inner workings of a government at all.  I think they have an adgenda at this point.  Mr. Westerhold, I object deeply to your inferences.  I believe you have a motive here. The suggestions of buying that building came from the SR, not the commission and the pool was the idea of Sharon Johnson. 

I think the SR is asking for something the doesn't exist and that is the problem.  They cannot accept it.  Like I have said......searching for a ghost.  When you ask for something that does not exist you will not get it.

It could be that the ES was nothing more than to talk about the Police chief finalist which was released to the public straight away and that did not set well with the SR.  They thought that the budget needs were begin discussed when they were not. 

Despite what they thought the commission wasn't discussing the budget behind closed doors and had the info in their hands from Ms Ard and made the decision to vote withint the 15 min after they got it and voted.

I don't think the SR understand how government works that much.  Ms Ard is the person on which the money rests SHE makes the budget decision and the commission votes them into play.  How do I know this???  I was on a commission  I know from practical experience.  IT was a real eye opener.  People get a misconception about how things work.  They think the commissioners are responsible for everything when in fact they are not.  They are the checks and balances of the city manager.  I wish the SR would realize that and stop the blame game. 

But unfortunately they don't get that part.  Any more than they get that there is NO MONEY for that pool or that building they want to buyl  While they are nice dreams for the future, this city is BROKE.  Sharon Johnson and crew needs to face facts.  Would they run their households like this?????   I doubt it. 

Darkhorse

You can request public records but whether or not you receive them is a different thing.  The government doesn't have the choice to withhold them. Unless it falls in a particular category, you are to receive those records. If it is the function of the department, it is a public record.

Julie R.

Erie County as a whole certainly does have a problem when it comes to public records. Even the probate court is getting away with sealing records that are suppose to be a matter of public record.  

wiredmama222

@ Julie.....I know you have personal problems with the county, sealed records, etc.  I suggest you find an attorney and go after them.  You need a shark.   I know one. 

There is a NEW person at the helm of the county court records.  No one else can help you with it.  You seem to have a real problem with which only a REAL attorney can help.

I know enough law to know that if that attorney finds something your statue of limitations begins with the NEW findings.  Good luck. 

Julie R.

@ wiredmama: The clowns didn't seal any records in my case ---- it was an unknown case so why would they?  They know they can do any illegal thing they want in those cases.  I'm talking about the cases of their public official buddies that they get away with illegally sealing the records on.

As for the statute of limitations ---- there is no statute of limitations on fraud.

wiredmama222

@ Julie, then go after them.....get a lawyer and go after them.  Why are you waiting.  Any good lawyer would be willing to take this on consignment if you have documentation. 

Fireside

WOW....Hey wiredmama, PLEASE read the City Charter.

If you were a commissioner, you should already know this.

The commission is NOT a check and ballance for the manager. The commission  answers only  to the residence/voters.  The budget (read buck) stops with the commission, not the manager.

The manager is equal to the finance director. The finance director uses the finance commitee to form the budget framework and works with department heads to add their yearly numbers, then the budget comes to commission to finalize (ballanced or deficit spend).

The manager is charged to run day to day operations WITHIN the approved budget. There is no differance between job duties of the city manager and the county administrator. Both can/should work with the respective  Finance directors to get a ballanced budget and a working understanding of the budget. 

Sorry ,but if you were on commission, it must have been before the current city charter was enacted.....   

wiredmama222

@ fireside....I was not on THIS commission.  I was on A commission.  I will read you charter.  But from what I have seen, YOUR manager did the budget.  From what I have seen, your commission ok,d it and had an OPEN meeting at the library to go over it.  It was on a Saturday morning to review it and go over the appropriations on what they wanted to do.

I believe you have a financial director in your system.  We did not have such a person.  It was a small commission but I will tell you this....we worked together to get things done and we didn't have this sort of thing going on.

I have never seen such a thing where people try to deep six their commissioners at every time like this community. You elect them and then you don't trust their judgement.  Why is that? 

As for what is going on now, let me ask YOU, do you believe they are doing things behind closed doors such as this budget items or do you believe they are working in the open?  

And if your commissoners are NOT the checks and balances, who is????

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