Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lip Service: Page 4 – EDC – Where’s The Beef?

Marian Volek of the Iron County Reporter and radio station
WIKB filed her report about the Iron County Economic
Development Corporation (EDC) January 19 meeting
including quoting board member Tom Lesandrini, “She’s
the reason why this county has been successful with
economic development.”[1] This Lesandrini opinion
alleges that Julie Melchiori’s work at the EDC has provided

As far as Iron County Doings can determine, Lesandrini’s
opinion echoed by Bruce Tusa, has no foundation and we
invoke Clara Peller’s question, “Where’s the beef?”

The only thing missing from the propaganda gambit is
music. It repeats conduct of Bagdad Bob[2] who we
laughed at during the early stages of the Iraqi police

If the EDC were a legitimate business venture, it would
be bankrupt. As I wrote several years ago, it all begins
with the mission statement that we copy from the EDC’s
web page[3]. “To implement strategies that will increase
job opportunity, tax base and quality of life within the
County of Iron.”

Despite the fact that we’ve been hearing for years what
a wonderful job the EDC has been doing, we have never
ever had a report card about their failures and successes.
Although we disagree with the propriety of the mission
statement, we can use that document to measure the
success of the corporation and its former director.

How has the EDC increased job opportunities in Iron
County? Can the EDC identify 25 positions that were filled
in 2011 as a direct result of EDC strategies. We don’t mean
a replacement for a position that was filled earlier and that
individual terminated employment, but a brand new job that
never existed before? If not 25, then how many?

How many properties can the EDC identify that experienced
an increase in tax value, and corresponding increase in taxes
collected, as a direct consequence of EDC strategies for the
paired years of 2010 and 2011?

Can the EDC identify any improvements to the quality of
life within the County of Iron during 2011 that result
directly from the implementation of EDC strategies? Your
humble correspondent has not experienced any
improvement to quality of life as a result of EDC actions
and I would be very interested to know some details about
anyone who has.

We take the stance that because the EDC has not seen fit
to report on its successes, there are none to report. That, in
turn, makes Lesandrini’s and Tusa’s opinions questionable at
best in the context in which they were offered. Taken in
absolute context, meaning words like “success” can be
assigned either a positive or a negative value, there is an
inherent truth in the opinions. Let’s reword the quote to
read, “She’s the reason why this county has been a failure
with economic development” we’d have equal validity taking
the statement in absolute terms. But people generally don’t
read in an absolute context. Tusa’s statement was, “She’s
done a great job” is an equally meaningless platitude that
has all the benchmarks of sounding good, but lacks any real
meaning that could be measured. It is very much the sort
of statement made when awarding an equal prize to all
participants, including those individuals who didn’t even
finish a task.

Are the EDC board and the county board supporting the
EDC as it is currently organized as a simple expedient
rather than taking a serious look and searching for a
meaningful solution?

In the same issue of the Reporter, on page 5, is another
article discussing Iron River Township resident complaints
about the inability of government to repave Old Beechwood
Road that the residents have been patiently waiting 30
years to have restored to pavement that has instead been
graveled over. The same article also discusses more people
scheduled for disconnection from the municipal water
system because local government cannot afford to
maintain/improve mains to serve them adequately.
Similar measures have been the way local governments
all over Iron County have been dealing with their
responsibilities. In an economically successful region,
such things could not happen, the money to make
necessary repairs would be available. Where is the
increase…to the quality of life” for those people? Or are
we to use the absolute meaning of the term once again, and
the negative experiences demonstrate the sort of economic
success that the newspaper quoted?

Where is the “successful economic development” touted by
Lesandrini and Tusa? The raw fact is that Iron County is
economically depressed and that the EDC has achieved
nothing worth the money that Iron County and the State
of Michigan have spent on it. Hiring Julie Melchiori as a
contractor economic developer will, in my opinion, only
compound past waste. As far as Revolving Loan Fund
management is concerned, the county would be much
wiser in assigning that responsibility to any bank or credit
union in the county.

The misjudgment on the part of the EDC in helping Kim’s
Restaurant on Stambaugh Hill is a classic failure on the
most elementary levels. You just don’t subsidize a business
like that in a low traffic area. The Call Center[4] was
heralded as “Phase 1” when created in 2006. Where is
Phase 2? How is employment in Phase 1 some 5 years
later? Where’s the promised growth? In fact, isn’t the Call
Center on the wane? None of this sounds like “successful
economic development” to me.

Iron County Doings believes that a better approach needs
to be taken to economic development than has been. A task
force should be organized and economic developers from
nearby more successful counties should be consulted for
their successful ideas. Julie Melchiori attended a meeting
that your humble correspondent chaired and stated her
opinion that our economy is not regional. Lacking such
basic understanding of how an economy works is a clear
signal that Julie Melchiori should seek employment in
some other field. She appears to have had no formal
education and little to no comprehension of the workings
before she started as a political appointee to the EDC.

There was a radio program on National Public Radio
(NPR) last fall describing the joint efforts of at least 6
county economic developers in northern Wisconsin, a
region significantly more prosperous and successful
than Iron County. Those same developers, along with
others coordinating the efforts of 9 adjoining Wisconsin
counties, were undertaking negotiations with a railroad
that was contemplating abandonment of the regional rail
line with the intention of purchasing the right of way and
revamping the tracks in order to maintain economic
viability. It is truly a shame that our EDC, standing in
isolation by choice, didn’t undertake to purchase the
right of way, as several Wisconsin counties are doing,
before agreeing to pay for track improvement. That was
another mistake made by the Iron County and the EDC
based on inexperience and the failure of those bodies to
seek counsel from visionaries. How can we expect
economic growth when such elementary errors are
de rigeur in Iron County?

Such models, ladies and gentlemen, represent models of
vision leading to success such as Iron County presently
fails to enjoy. There’s nothing keeping us from that except
the internal political climate in Iron County that must
change if we are to achieve anything resembling the sort
of economic development we can experience if roadblocks
of personal political power are removed.

It is the opinion of Iron County Doings that repeating
past mistakes can lead only to the continuation of the
failures we have experienced, despite the “success”
that Messieurs Lesandrini and Tusa have falsely claimed.

We urge the EDC and the County of Iron to seek someone,
anyone, better suited to serve as the EDC economic
developer. We recommend the employment of a
visionary outsider to receive minimum compensation
with a bonus compensation schedule based on the number
of new (not mostly transferred, as was the case for Pine
River Hardwoods) jobs created.

In the meanwhile, we ask, “Gentlemen, where’s the beef?”
We see our EDC as a huge bun and very little by way of
protein. Improvement requires action by the Iron County
Board of Commissioners and the EDC.

Bill Vajk

Footnote [1] See Iron County Reporter, January 25, 2012,
Page 1. A Library of Congress registration ISSN, if one
exists, is not readily discernable in the referenced issue.

Footnote[2] Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, usually called
al-Sahhaf, was also known as Bagdad Bob, the Iraqi
“Information Minister” propagandist during the final
stages of the US invasion and takeover. Wikipedia writes,
“His last public appearance as Information Minister was
on April 8, 2003, when he said that the Americans ‘are
going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They
will surrender, it is they who will surrender’.”



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lip Service: Page 3 - A Bit of Chiding (Revised)

A Bit of Chiding to Prove A Point. Its "Animal Farm" all
over again, where some pigs are more equal than others.

In our article published Tuesday, January 17, 2012 we
challenged the appropriateness of certain of the Iron River
parking ordinances. Then we selected an individual who
recently proved to the world that he occasionally has a
caustic personality in a recent email attacking your
humble correspondent. We published that on October 5,

See for reference to the

Section 7.102(B)(5) prohibits parking on a grade in the way
that John Archocosky does daily while working as city
manager at Iron River's City Hall. There is a $25 fine
associated with this particular violation. Because he is
parked "on any grade" he is required to turn his wheels
in to the curb and set his parking brake.

It is clear from the photo above that he is in violation
of the ordinance because his wheels are pointing away
from the curb.

We add here that there are relatively few places on this
earth where one might park that is not on some grade. It
is a simple fact that perfectly flat and level spots are hard
to find anywhere. So in this case the ordinance is very
poorly worded.

If we say OK, so the grade isn't enough to worry about,
let's just say the vehicle is parked on a level enough spot
to escape the section cited above.

Then John Archocosky runs afoul of another section of the
parking ordinance, section 7.102(B)(2) which presents us
with a $15 violation instead for failure to turn the font
wheels parallel with the roadway.

The point of this article is that the City of Iron River
ordinances are poorly written at best, and many sections
were ill conceived when enacted. This problem affects the
entire body of work, not just the traffic ordinance.

Much of that historic work needs to be revised rather
than retaining something copied from sources that never
had a real clue about governing.

If you're going to copy from someone, at least do your best
to copy from an A student rather than from a failing
student as has been done.

IronCountyDoings has no doubt that Mr. Archocosky didn't
intend to violate the ordinance. But shouldn't citizens who
have run afoul of the noxious weeds ordinance, either
through their own fault or because the public works
foreman has unbridled power in another very badly
conceived and executed section, 91.32, insist that John
Archocosky pay up for every violation just as the city
demands of property owners under 91.32?

Well that's not going to happen!

It is generally accepted that the population at large is law
abiding. But the City of Iron River seems to prefer to
presume that any violation, or apparent violation, of
section 91.32 should bring the wrath of the city down
about the ears of property owners to enrich the city
coffers while only paying lip service to:

“Our entire staff is here to serve our local taxpayers, and
you are our first priority.” – (s) Anderson and Zanon
Clerk [1] and (former) Mayor

As we offered yesterday, that's propaganda, pure and
And we demand that all local governments put
their money where their mouth is. If you're going to say
"we serve' then by gum, do it!

And if not, resign.

Bill Vajk

Footnote [1] We originally listed Anderson as City Treasurer when in fact Anderson is the Clerk. We apologize for our error.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lip Service: Page 2-Rigging the Game (Revised)

“Our entire staff is here to serve our local taxpayers, and
you are our first priority.” – (s) Anderson and Zanon
Clerk [1] and (former) Mayor

Are the parking ordinances within the city limits of Iron
River enacted in the best interests of the local taxpayers?

The ordinances may be found at:

Cities that don’t concern themselves with such nitty gritty
while unnecessarily controlling citizen behavior have a
much easier solution than banning overnight parking, let
alone banning longer than 72 hour parking. What
constitutionally permissible objective is achieved by
prohibiting parking in the ways that Iron River does? Other
cities simply plow in any cars parked where snowplowing is
necessary. It is left up to the automobile owner to dig the
car out. That’s part of the price of ownership.

But the real problem, much more than the inconvenience
afforded by such ordinances, is that the existing parking
ordinances destroy property values for certain buildings
that should, and could, become housing for low income
families or the elderly. Because of parking regulations,
year round street parking is not available to 2nd and
3rd floor apartments that exist in downtown Iron River
and they have been unused for several decades. This
essentially destroys the commercial viability of a majority
of existing upper floor downtown apartments. Most
renters need a car in order to go to work. With no public
transportation available, another area where Iron River
falls short (and more discussion in IronCountyDoings in
the future,) essential regional trips become impossible for
potential tenants who have no car because there's no
parking available.

We’re still waiting for the old Central School, a block away
from the Middle School, to be converted. Middle School
could have been easily converted to apartments as it was
and is an intact building currently in use. But no grant
money was found, so it has been repurposed in an
unsustainable way at additional public expense. And it
looks, at the moment, as though the wait for Central
school to become apartments will outlast many of our
senior citizens in need of downtown apartments. Central
School has been vacant for a long time. Perhaps the
grant money that the city, and the contractor, were
relying on dried up for that project?

There isn’t a viable plan in place for affordable downtown
housing in Iron River. IronCountyDoings asks, “Why not?”.

The city is well aware of the discussion about apartments in
the Iron River Downtown Blueprint that was created at a
public expense exceeding $100,000. A copy of the report
(printed version weights about 1.5 pounds) is available on
the Internet at:

See pages 35 and 36 for a discussion about downtown
apartments. HyettPalma unfortunately fell short by not
discussing the real reasons the apartments are not
currently viable. But then, the entire Cool Cities project
was brought about through the auspices of the Michigan
Municipal League, and criticism of cities would not have
been in HyettPalma’s best interests.

That, by the way, is the reason that further Cool Cities
projects are contraindicated in Michigan. Are you
listening, Michigan Legislature and Governor Snyder?
Such partial fixes don’t serve the public well, because
the consultants’ hands are tied by political interests. I’d
love to know what HyettPalma really thought about Iron
River. Their thoughts are probably much like mine, but
their livelihood depends on doing the best possible job
under the existing political constraints. It is hard to fault
them under such circumstances.

The first part of the problems related to downtown
apartments has to do with the city rigging the game for
its own benefit instead of, as repeatedly promised, to “serve
our local taxpayers.” Propaganda, as a partial truth, is a
powerful political tool extensively used here in the United
States. That's certainly the case here in Iron County.

The second part of the problem is that the City of Iron
River appears to base its entire strategic planning
exclusively on the availability of grants.

If any sort of grant were available for permitting overnight
parking on city streets and publicly owned parking lots, the
City of Iron River would lose all reluctance to allow parking
the way that most cities in the US do. Why hasn't the City
of Iron River done that for the public good?

In the meantime, why are apartments are being wasted?
They’re wasted on the premise that it is more convenient
for city snowplows not to have to plow around cars a few
days a year.

Consider that. Just a few days a year! Tell me, Mr. and Mrs.
Citizen, how’s that working for you?

With an increase in the value of downtown properties
based on use of upper floors as apartments, we could either
be receiving more and better city services, or the taxes that
exist could be reduced. Is the small convenience to
snowplows a few days a year worth giving up all that?

How is it serving the taxpayers of Iron River?

It is obvious that more people living downtown would
also mean more consumers for the local businesses,
as well as a broader tax base for the city and the
school district. It would also create additional income
for all downtown building owners, and with higher
demand for goods and services comes more employment.
But after decades of non-use, even with an immediate
change in the parking ordinances, the other
improvements will take time, though doubtless far less
time than has been wasted on repurposing Central School.

The solution requires the city to start planning based on
service to the public. There’s a tremendous gap between
realistic public service, and governing a region based on
“well they probably won’t complain about this.”

Unfortunately it is the later paradigm that is currently
in use in Iron County and has been used here for a long
time. Could it be that public officials have been doing this
so long that they aren't even aware of their decision making

The city spent half of $100,000 (the state provided the
other half) to get the Downtown Blueprint created for us
by HyettPalma. I’m still waiting to hear about meaningful
implementation meetings involving local government,
business, and the general public. The Blueprint document
provides only direction, but it offers no solutions. That’s
the city’s job, and the city has failed to do very much. Five
years have passed since the Blueprint became available in
2006. You can count the achievements on less than one
hand, but you would soon run out of fingers enumerating
the failures. Why is the city wasting the Blueprint this way?

While I’m on the topic of the Blueprint, pages 7 and 8 list
“Concerns.” The most salient of those is a discussion
about the negativity and apathy of some of the people
interviewed. HyettPalma only interviewed prime players
in the Iron River environment. This should not be glossed
over! Of a number of other Blueprints prepared for
Michigan cities that are available on the Internet, Iron
River’s is the only one I found that has such a concern
expressed by the consultants.

It is the primary function of this publication to raise issues
depicting the failing performance of Iron County local
governments to public scrutiny. The local newspaper and
radio station serve the role of providing the equivalent of
“society pages” describing the happy moments experienced
despite local governmental oppression. It is a sad
commentary that this publication is forced to provide the
function that it does.

I attended the meetings leading to the Cool Cities
Blueprint providing ideas and enthusiasm. It didn’t take
very long for those charged with running the city to quash
them. Yet, it is in that same positive sense that I expose
shortcomings and “lip service” of those government officials.
My hope is that somewhere along the way one of these
articles becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back,
leading to a serious review on the part of Iron County local
governments along the lines of :

“Just what are we doing anyway, and how can we improve?”

Of course that brings up the important question, why aren’t
the elected and appointed officials doing that as a regular feature
of governing? Our governments need to create the incentive
necessary to have plenty of public presence at your meetings.
In fact, why doesn’t every public body in Iron County make
the above quoted initiative a regular agenda item for every

We begin by changing your “rules of order” to prohibit
adjournment and dismissal of the quorum until such time as
at least one idea for improvement has been brought to the
floor, discussed, and voted on. Every meeting would then bring
about some bit of much needed progress. Possibly the toughest
hurdle is to get elected officials to think in such terms. How
about a public “suggestion box” that has every submitted
item considered and voted on at the next meeting? Where
a delay for study is needed, vote to put the item on the next
meeting agenda for resolution, but NEVER drop that ball.

Enthusiasm is catching, just like the negativity and apathy
that persist in the region at present. Who provides the
leadership that drives this paradigm and can change it?
Elected officials? Chamber of Commerce? Churches? Library?
The Caspian progressive group?

IronCountyDoings suggests that all of the above, and any
other interested person or group, cooperate in a concerted
effort to undo what currently ails Iron County.

In the “if I had my wish” category, any elected official not
bringing at least two good ideas for improvement to a
meeting every year should be prohibited from standing for
re-election. Heaven knows there are plenty of things in Iron
County that can be improved. Elected officials are supposed
to represent the interests of the electorate. Voting solely on
proposals made by others pays only lip service to that

Bill Vajk

Footnote [1] We previously listed Anderson as treasurer when Anderson is actuyally the Clerk. We apologize for this error.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lip Service, Page 1

The premise of a representative government is that elected
and appointed officials have as a solitary mission the altruistic
service of the public they are entrusted to serve. And some
governmental units attempt to live up to that promise better
than others. When I had dealings with the Village of Skokie,
Illinois, they offered themselves as “The Village that Cares.”
And in all my dealings with them, they followed through.

Iron River has an undated welcome letter signed by treasurer
Anderson and (former) mayor Zanon on their web page. A
sentence stands out. “Our entire staff is here to serve our local
taxpayers, and you are our first priority.” The attachment that
accompanies the letter explains how tax dollars are spent. It
closes with, “If you have a concern with your property tax bill,
utility bill, or another concern the City may be able to help with,
our office is open to help you solve your concerns.”

This reminds me of the time, when as a young man, I went
Christmas shopping with my father. When we left a store I
mentioned to him that he had been given too much change
by the clerk that rang up his purchase. He insisted on going
back in to set things right. I warned him it wouldn't work.
As soon as he mentioned to the clerk that there was an
error ion his transaction the clerk adamantly denied any
error and refused to listen.

Generally speaking, the City of Iron River elected officials,
appointed officials, and employees, listen. But the ratio of
disappointed public to resolved issues is pathetic, and that's
what has led to this series of articles.

At the November 11, 2007 city council meeting, Nancy
Timbrook of St. John's Church asked the city council to
consider lowering the current penalty structure on water
bills and that 60 days in arrears is too long a time to incur
delinquency, leading to difficulty in receiving assistance from
charitable organizations , as well as the “service charges”
when water is shut off.


for the results. Mrs. Timbrook's “solution” is typical of how
the city responds to citizen concerns. Mrs. Timbrook asked
the city council to “consider” changes. They flat out refused
because to do so might reduce income in one of the few
methods that the city can do with minimal to no state
oversight. And besides, why wreck a perfect record by actually
accommodating a request?

Fast forward to the 9/21/2011 city council meeting. The
council approved the transfer of an excess amount of money,
in the amount of $150,000, from the “water savings account”
to improve the city's required funding of the MERS (state)
pension fund for city employees.

Three things are salient in this action. First, why was tax
money carelessly spent by the city instead of being paid into
the pension fund as required? I have to wonder how long the
city would have continued avoiding payment of pension funds
if the penalty were 10% per month compounded as the city
charges for delinquent water bills. And second, why did the
city have such an excess amount (actually more then the
$150,000) of money in the water fund while people are
suffering shutoffs because they cannot afford the rates
being charged?

Third, and very very important, why is it that the periodic
auditor's reports that depict a clean slate for the City of Iron
River do not also report excess savings account monies as
well as shortfalls in the funding of employee pensions? The
auditor's report is supposed to be the public's safeguard
against fiscal mismanagement of the city, and clearly what
the public has received as a report has not been thorough
enough to qualify as truthful. The way things are set up, the
auditor can only report on the information received from the
city. It should also be noted that according to the official
record of the 9/21/2011 meeting, the auditor provided
information to the city's legal counsel regarding the legality
of the $150,000 transfer.

Lip service? The dearth of really pertinent information is
clearly designed to lull the taxpaying public into believing
that all is well. However we have some small windows into
the inner workings that say otherwise. What we are getting
is merely lip service. Those who have made the promise to
serve the public haven't been, in my opinion, doing a very
good job of it. What do you think?

So, is the City of Iron River really serving you?

IronCountyDoings would appreciate your feedback. Our
email address is at the top of the page.

Bill Vajk

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