Saturday, December 31, 2011

The New Year

Happy New Year to one and all. For Gloria and me this
is a double celebration. We were married 40 years ago
tonight. That was the best decision we ever made.

2012 holds a promise of being a banner year for this
publication. There are many irons in the fire but the
one holding the most promise at the moment is a
series entitled "Lip Service," a term I first learned
in the early 1960's under the tutelage of a Jamaican
business man in New York City. When I expressed
shock on first hearing the term, he had the patience
to sit down with me and explain the words and provide
examples rather than provide a hand-waving harangue
that is the usual case when the emotionally charged
words enter a conversation.

I grew up in the academic environment and community
where such realities were not in evidence, let alone talked
about. So I never heard about such matters until I was
in early adulthood.

A side note to those readers who would prefer that
this publication focus on the positive things about
Iron County I am called to remind you that that is
the obvious purpose of the our local radio station and
the publication that calls itself, "The Reporter." The
premise and purpose of this publication is to call
attention to all those matters that the other two
news reporters in Iron County purposely avoid. Trust
me when I say that what you generally hear and read
there is the nice front end that local governments show
to everyone.

It is my function to lift the carpet and to clearly what
dirt has been swept there. Please bear in mind that
hidden contagion will damage you more surely that
those you know about and can avoid.

Bill Vajk

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all.

This is a celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ.
Please keep His teachings in mind all year long.

Bill Vajk

Monday, December 12, 2011

Back in my youth I joined with a small group of “self-starter”
kids and went to a set of caves in North Georgia to receive
my introduction to spelunking. We had a fun day clambering
through caves that had features one could equally well enjoy
above the ground. There were waterfalls, cliffs to repel down,
small dimension passages to squeeze through with gear, and
huge galleries with beautiful walls, stalactites and stalagmites.
It was an experience to cherish, especially for someone like
me who was uncomfortable with the confinement (I dealt
with it at the time) and who would never similarly explore
natural underground formations again. But the draw of such
adventures was obvious.

A few years later, a group of boy scouts undertook exploring
the same caves with somewhat different results. Several
miles away from these caves was a gas station with leaking
underground storage tanks. The owners of that gas station
had known their tanks were leaking, but as the lost gasoline
was inexpensive (the retail price for regular gas was, in
those days, still 19.9 cents per gallon,) and since the tanks
weren’t leaking very fast, the decision had been made to
simply absorb the cost of the losses rather than to expend
cash in order to replace the tanks. Besides, at that time the
environmental protection laws that later prevented that
practice had not yet been thought about let alone enacted.

It turned out that that the leaking gasoline had been
accumulating in the caves and had achieved a level where
fumes were able to ignite and to sustain a fire. Standard
gear for spelunkers of the day was a carbide lamp:

that used an exposed flame, and set the gasoline fumes on fire.
While “explosion proof” versions were available, they usually
weren’t used in natural caves. Such lamps are well known to
the mining community in Iron County. If memory serves
correctly, only two of the scout group survived to emerge

In the 1960’s and 70’s, the EPA gained strength and
eliminated a lot of pollution from the air, ground, and water.
No longer would rivers catch fire and burn for long periods.
Pittsburgh, one of the most environmentally vile places on
earth became a clear and friendly place to live, even while
steel mills remained in operation.

If one looks at public health as an indicator of pollution,
one needs to go no further than a Wikipedia web page
discussing cancer clusters.

This is, naturally, only a partial listing, and other illness
clusters brought on by pollutants is not discussed. Such
information is broadly spread out around the world.
Many nations, aware of their pollution problems, elect
to keep the information a state secret.

To bring this discussion home to Iron County, we look at
the November 23, 2011, issue of the Iron County Reporter.
The City of Iron River, the paper headlines, “Goes for EPA

The State of Michigan has been riding herd on pollution,
within the state, for some time through the DEQ. Thus
either the city is looking for pollutants concealed by
previous governments, or pollution that is older than
DEQ activities. In either case, none of the proposed
possible pollutants have showed up in drinking water to
date. Because no specifics are given in the newspaper
article, we cannot know what the process for these
particular grants is.

However, we need to look at the resources available to the
city directly from the DEQ.

Reading this form and taking the information it provides
at face value, we can see that:

“The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
(MDEQ) conducts Site Specific Assessments (SSAs) at
brownfield properties at no cost to communities through
a 128(a) grant from the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).”

But the problem with this form of serving the public is
that the engineering firm GEI would play no role and
achieve no income. After all, the principals at GEI are
personal friends of Iron River’s City Manager who
previously worked with those same people back when
the now local firm was part of STS.

And too, the City Manager is up for his annual review in
January with nothing “new” having happened in Iron River
during 2011. But the promise of an influx of up to
$400,000 should be enough to trigger approval for a 6%
raise for the coming year atop the already outrageous
salary he is being overpaid.

This is “business as usual” for Iron River. But what will
this proposed EPA grant yield the citizens of Iron River?
At best it will trigger additional engineering work for
GEI and perhaps the cleanup of low contamination sites on
private property, contamination that has been known for
decades. Like the spent motor oil that was allegedly spread
on the dirt roads on the Proksch Construction property at
the south edge of downtown Iron River (from John
Archocosky’s lips to my ears….) They knew they were
polluting the property at the time! But it was a convenient
way to get rid of all that spent motor oil, and to keep the
dust down at the same time. Now the property owners are
to benefit from federal grants for their misdeeds? If the
soil is tested, they will eventually receive a clean bill of
health for the property, thereby increasing the marketable
property value without increasing the property taxes.

I saw no evidence of oil on the roads there, but then it has
been decades since the alleged acts. Is there enough
petroleum product concentrated in the soil to show up on
tests? What other properties within the borders of the City
of Iron River will be tested? Who owns those properties?

The political slight of hand in such matters is simply amazing.

In short, there’s no advantage to the citizens at all. This is
just another pig with lipstick, the transfer of public money
to the pockets of a few friends of the City Manager and the
double whammy of a justification for another raise for the
City Manager. Are we on the pay rate schedule outlined by
the contract? 2011 rate at $111,235, and 2012 rate at
$117,909 for the City Manager. We ask once again, can
the citizens of Iron River actually afford this?

“In 2009, average compensation, salary and benefits, for
state employees, totaled $85,076. For teachers, $75,137,
and for local government workers, $57,333. The average
private sector benefit package was $39,986.”

If we were to include those seeking employment in
Michigan, these numbers would be even further askew.

The Iron County Reporter dedicated almost a quarter of
a page to the story about the EPA grants, and never thought
to ask the first question on behalf of the public they claim to
serve. It is most unfortunate that IronCountyDoings is the
only vehicle asking difficult questions and doing
investigative journalism at this time. I wish it weren’t so.
If others were doing the job they’re being paid to do,
IronCountyDoings could fold up our tent and this editor
could retire as I would prefer.

We remind our readers that information in this article is
based on things we were told by public employees, that is,
city officials. Because we take public officials at their word
that they are telling the truth, and for dearth of any
mechanism by which we can actually verify the things they
tell us, we report what they have said. On the other hand,
the City Manager has recently accused another municipal
employee of lying without providing any proof, so we are
left to wonder who to believe. Since we have a right to the
truth from every public employee, we take as true what is
told to us by the public employee providing information, as
much as possible. Still, the public has a right to know what
has been said, and so we report about these issues with the
caveat that the information is the best available to us, and
there is no way to verify any of it at this time. Verifiable
corrections, if any, will be published as they become

On December 7, 2011, former Illinois governor Rod
Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years incarceration in
federal prison. To the citizen, this demonstrates the
culture of corruption that surrounds the Illinois
governor’s office. Other recent prior governors also
sentenced on federal corruption charges were Dan
Walker, Jim Edgar, and George Ryan. I moved to Illinois
from the east coast during Walker’s reign. The only
former Illinois governor not charged and convicted since
then was Jim Thompson. That means 4 of the 5 recent
former Illinois governors were convicted of federal
crimes. The cluster of miscreants in the Illinois
governor’s office gives us a unique view of how a
culture of corruption becomes ensconced.

These EPA grants being sought clearly demonstrate
a form of “crony capitalism” that is corrupt when
government becomes one arm of an economic
octopus that strangles the economic viability of a
community. Wouldn’t Iron River, indeed the entire
county, be better served if the people spending time
on this EPA grant that does nothing for the population
at large were to put their minds to bringing more
business, and jobs, into the community?

Many of the elected officials in this community have become
tethered to grants from higher levels of government. That’s
probably a good temporary fix, but here it has become a
way of life. And what good have the large grants done for the
people living in this community? Cool Cities has achieved
what? The EPA grants discussed here will achieve what?

Sorry about those rhetorical questions. All that the Cool
Cities initiative and these EPA grants seem to have achieved
is a self-congratulatory buzz around Iron River’s City Hall
and some unpopular roadway enhancements in the
former Stambaugh business district. We’re still losing
businesses in the county. The population continues to
decline. The children are still moving away. The roads and
infrastructure are deteriorating. In exchange for over
$111,000 in salary to Iron River’s city manager you’d think
we’d be seeing some sort of economic growth, wouldn’t you?
So why aren’t we? Since the City of Iron River has decided
that sort of pay scale is acceptable, why haven’t the
requirements for some sort of communal economic success
been attached to continuing that salary? After all, we could
get perfectly acceptable performance from a caretaker city
manager for $50,000 a year, or even less.

While no one objects to paying for value received,
IronCountyDoings says we’ve paid and asks, “Where’s
the value”? Municipal resources expended for private profit
of friends, without any measurable benefit to the public at
large, just doesn’t cut it. It is past time for this to have ended.

Bill Vajk

Saturday, December 3, 2011

About Christmas in Iron River

Enough is enough!

The first year that Iron River celebrated the Christmas
Season with a parade, it was called Christmas in Lights.
Julie Melchiori was out of town when the decisions were
made and the name worked out just fine.

From the second year forward, Julie claimed that because
some aspects of the event were funded by the Downtown
Development Authority, that is government, the religious
word Christmas could not be used.

I went along with her despite my misgivings. In year 3
I offered (see letter to the editor in the Iron County
Reporter during that period) to donate the first $100 in
order to get government out of the celebration. But it
seems that the DDA doesn't have all that much going
on (perhaps part of the reason for the TIF lawsuit
between cities and Iron County?) and needed to spend
money for downtown "improvements" and the idea
never took root.

What remains, however, is that the federal holiday is
called Christmas, not Holiday. And US Postage stamps
are issued with Christmas and Hanukkah emblazoned
on them.

There is only one U.S. Constitution. The federal, all state, and
all local governments must abide by it. Special rules made up
by Julie Melchiori don't apply. They sure aren't applying over
in Florence, Wisconsin, a community nearby, just east of Iron
County on US2, where there is a Christmas parade today.
They're not hiding behind naming it "Holiday." Holiday is the
name of a petroleum distributor. Are we sure the parade isn't
free advertizing for them? If the gas station were funding the
parade I could see that name for the celebration.

We need to get this fixed for next year. Whether the name
came came about because of ignorance or secular progressive
ideology it doesn't reflect community values and it needs
to go.

And while on that "needs to go" topic, where's there any
report of original work or creative work performed on
behalf the people by Julie Melchiori? I'd like to know
about any original ideas she's brought to the table that
have improved the Iron County or the regional economy.

The people of this county cannot afford to support dead
weight that's doing us no good. When people invest money
with the promise of a return we deserve a report showing
what that return is. Skating along doing clerical work to
promote ideas from others isn't worth our investment. If
the EDC can be run by a clerk, then lets hire a clerk! With
the EDC's track record (or lack of,) as far as we can discern
without a formal report to the contrary, perhaps we don't
need an EDC at all. Is the Iron County EDC just another
useless money pit? Should I hold my breath while I wait
for an answer?

Bill Vajk

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