Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iron River Township - Township Hall Problem Resolved

It is no secret that the population of this region is declining.
With respect to the present difficulties being experienced
by Iron River Township as regards their township hall not
being in compliance with disabled Americans access
legislation, there are two simple, and relatively inexpensive,

But lets get one thing straight right up front. With a declining
population, the probability of near future consolidation(s) of
local governments is not only likely, it is a 100% predictable
future. It would be grossly irresponsible if the township board
chose the construction of a new building as a solution.

If the board decided to retain and use the existing building,
a simple ramp type entrance cut into either long side of the
building would make the basement level handicapped
accessible. Enclosing a separate room, either in the basement
or the main floor level, and moving the offices (assessor, clerk,
and treasurer) there would complete the necessary renovations.
It is a relatively inexpensive solution. Getting out of the building
would be better yet.

A less expensive solution would be to make bigger changes.
While Beechwood Hall was sold/donated to the historical
society, the building is now in a condition that the township
could rent it for the few monthly meetings that are actually
held. The actual governmental  uses of the existing township
hall are very few. Rental of Beechwood Hall for governmental
functions would constitute a significant long term savings for
taxpayers and provide a solution that is at least as permanent
as our present day municipality is. In conjunction with this
move, with as much commercial space as is vacant in the
county, there is no reason the township cannot rent commercial
space for the offices mentioned above. The “Coffee Cup,” on
US2 at Smoky Lake Road, immediately springs to mind.
Doubtless there are a number of other possibilities.

Weather proofing the plumbing at the existing township hall and
closing the facility completely would provide a significant financial
advantage. Savings by the elimination of heating costs, and other
maintenance, would offset most, if not all, rental expenses. And
while the board is looking at divesting the township of the existing
township hall, it should also consider getting rid of other
unnecessary real estate. Does Iron River Township actually have
any use for an industrial park?

We have a new township board that hopefully takes a realistic
look at the current situation as well as the future of the township,
and makes decisions based on realities rather than some delusions
of grandeur. Iron River Township has a very limited current or
future need for meeting and office space. Your humble
correspondent believes this township board is well positioned to
break with past practices and finally begin to live within our means.

Bill Vajk

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Northstar Healthcare finances

This past week I was asked about the status of Northstar's finances.
It has been some time since we reported on the topic here.

Loss from operations for 2012 was 1,235,000.

Full details can be found at:


All the reports relevant to the municipal bond are available


Bill Vajk

Is it the water, or....

As your editor began working on a lawsuit about Iron
River’s water ordinance we began to look at municipal
budgets in the county. Then I asked for a copy of the
county budget under the freedom of information act

I picked up the copy and I was presented with an
invoice that I paid based on faith that county
employees were doing the right thing, although
several elected officials were not (see recent articles
we published on the topic.) Imagine my surprise
when I got home and discovered the contents of the
invoice (below.)

So the misapplication of the FOIA statute MCL
15.234 (reported in full below) must be caused
by something in the water. Or is it perhaps the
almost universal inability of public employees
to read and comprehend (an educational problem?).

Or is it that once they become public employees, the
corporate culture of local government dictates that
they ignore the laws they swore to uphold? We
would really like to discover what, in particular,
ails these people we pay with our taxes, that has
them believing that they do not need to serve the
public that employs them.

MCL 15.234 (quoted in full below) very clearly states:

"(1) A public body may charge a fee for a public
record search, the necessary copying of a public
record for inspection, or for providing a copy of
a public record. Subject to subsections (3) and (4), the
fee shall be limited to actual mailing costs, and to the
actual incremental cost of duplication or publication
including labor, the cost of search, examination,
review, and the deletion and separation of exempt
from nonexempt information as provided in section
14. A search for a public record may be conducted
or copies of public records may be furnished without
charge or at a reduced charge if the public body
determines that a waiver or reduction of the fee is
in the public interest because searching for or
furnishing copies of the public record can be
considered as primarily benefiting the general public.
A public record search shall be made and a copy of
a public record shall be furnished without charge for
the first $20.00 of the fee for each request to an
individual who is entitled to information under this
act and who submits an affidavit stating that the
individual is then receiving public assistance or,
if not receiving public assistance, stating facts
showing inability to pay the cost because of indigency.

"(2) A public body may require at the time a request
is made a good faith deposit from the person
requesting the public record or series of public
records, if the fee authorized under this section
exceeds $50.00. The deposit shall not exceed 1/2
of the total fee.

"(3) In calculating the cost of labor incurred in
duplication and mailing and the cost of
examination, review, separation, and deletion
under subsection (1), a public body may not
charge more than the hourly wage of the lowest
paid public body employee capable of retrieving
the information necessary to comply with a
request under this act. Fees shall be uniform and
not dependent upon the identity of the requesting
person. A public body shall utilize the most
economical means available for making copies
of public records. A fee shall not be charged for
the cost of search, examination, review, and the
deletion and separation of exempt from nonexempt
information as provided in section 14 unless failure
to charge a fee would result in unreasonably high
costs to the public body because of the nature of the
request in the particular instance, and the public body
specifically identifies the nature of these unreasonably
high costs. A public body shall establish and publish
procedures and guidelines to implement this subsection.

"(4) This section does not apply to public records
prepared under an act or statute specifically
authorizing the sale of those public records to the
public, or if the amount of the fee for providing a copy
of the public record is otherwise specifically provided
by an act or statute."

End MCL.

The 30 cents a page is a significant overcharge in a
world where regional copy shops charge 10 cents a copy
(including the public library in Crystal Falls.) And the
words “unreasonably high costs” are simply ignored.
Please also understand that at 10 cents a copy, the
regional commercial copy shops actually make enough
of a profit to make the effort worth their while. Where
on earth did Iron County come up with an "incremental
cost" of 30 cents per copy?

We have highlighted the pertinent sections appropriate
to the details of this event. They were written by the state
legislature for the average citizen of the state to
comprehend. In short, you don't have to be a trained
lawyer to appreciate the nuances.

We cannot understand why, if the county employees are
well intentioned, they cannot understand what the average
citizen can, and does, understand. Unless, of course, our
county employees are not well intentioned?

Perhaps the county  board of commissioners can answer
that question. Are the county employees well intentioned?
If the commissioners don’t provide the answer or take
corrective actions, the courts most certainly will provide
an opinion, that counts, on the matter.

Bill Vajk

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened

In a discussion with a local resident recently, a reference
was made to this publication as "your underground paper."

When I replied "an underground paper?" the reply was,
"well it isn't the Iron County Reporter."

I took all this to mean that there is an element in the local
population that attempts to minimize the impact of this
publication by using diminutive labeling that circulates
through the community. I would expect nothing less from
those who feel threatened  by our efforts. They're so very
used to having the local press being supportive of every burp
and utterance that they are unable to deal with a real analysis
of their actions. And to top it all off, they depend heavily on
the local rumor mill to support their agendas.

Here's what makes the comment so funny. We publish our
ISSN number (that's the number the Library of Congress
issues to serial publications) at the head of this web page.
I don't see that anywhere in the Reporter. And we openly
subscribe to the Journalism Code of Ethics. Don't see that
in the Reporter anywhere, do you? It isn't there as a promise,
and it sure isn't obvious in their work. Finally, our Associate
Editor, Ben Smith, was granted White House press
credentials for President Obama's visit to Marquette last
year. We didn't see anyone from the Reporter there either.
We know what an "underground paper" is. Those were
published in Romania under the Ceausescu regime. That 
certainly isn't the case for this publication, not by a long 
shot. But calling it an underground paper does show how 
desperate some of the people comprising the Iron County 
political machine have become of late. And that's truly 

That presents us with the next funny rumor making the 
rounds. We've heard from several sources that Judge
Schwedler intends to resign before the end of his term 
and recommend Melissa Powell, our current prosecutor, 
for the position.

If this "rumor" happens to be true, well that wouldn't be
very funny, would it.

Bill Vajk

Rumors, An Iron County Pasttime

Soon after I became a permanent resident of Iron County,
a rumor was spread that West Iron School District was in
such dire financial straits that the band was going to be
dismantled. Presently, we have a repeat of that model of
misinformation spread by rumor. Neither, in the opinion
of your humble correspondent, has validity beyond a
passing acquaintance with facts. The school district
always has need of more funds, while presently the
City of Iron River, with a collapsing population and
economy, has a budget that’s somewhat out of kilter
with realities.

For comparison to Iron River, I was able to find real
numbers for the iron workers union local 16 at Baltimore,
MD[1].  Their journeyman ratio of fringe benefits to
payroll is about 64%. The Iron River police department
is currently experiencing a ratio expressed by 106%
according to numbers I got from city hall last week.
Total payroll is $275,000 and fringe benefits (labeled
as such) are $291,460. Depending on how (I must add,
unclearly) the spread sheet is constructed, that ratio
might be even worse. In fact, the fringe benefit to
payroll ratio appears to be over 100% of all city

So the rumor being spread around the area is that
the city intends to dismantle Iron River’s police
department without a public hearing on the subject.
Letters have apparently been sent to the Reporter
and the Iron Mountain paper on these topics. It
seems that the topic of services in the context of the
next annual budget will be covered in a scheduled
public hearing in May, 2013.

But now that the realities have come to the
forefront, we question how the excessively high
rates have been approved by past city councils. We
need to bear in mind that those are the same bodies
politic that approved retaining the entire excess work
force in the public works department after
consolidation. The results of that decision are still
being paid for by the taxpayers. While before
consolidation, the work forces for the individual
entities were likely attuned to the amount of work to
be performed, once consolidation took hold, there was
a much larger work force than was effectively usable.
A new corporate culture took hold in public works
that had time to be wasted, and it was. As the work
force shrank through attrition, the corporate culture
did not keep pace, leaving the city with a public works
that has failed to keep pace with the workload all year

The city’s correct solution would be to provide
supervision that did not rise through the ranks (in
other words, real supervision rather than a “pal” as
the boss) and to reduce the work force by
outsourcing work at peak periods. Unlike John
Archocosky's approach to supervision, the city manager
works for the people of the city, not as a defender of
the employees.

I was already a property owner in the county when
Genesee Street was improved in the 1980’s about 30
years ago. Today’s complaints about freezing pipes
and non-functioning valves have no excuse. The
elements of good design and maintenance were
already well established. Water system valves will
significantly outlast the water mains if they are 
exercised as the manufacturer recommends.

Who failed to exercise the valves? Who hasn’t
flushed the water system and exercised the fire
hydrants? This publication isn’t in a position to
second guess all the other stuff that the city hasn’t
maintained as is necessary to keep it working. Rest
assured, given the track record we know about,
there are bound to be plenty of others.

The union contracts for city employees are supposed
to be in negotiation for the police and public works
departments. The city council, if they were actually
doing their job, would have already given instructions
to roll back fringe benefits. The next budget will give
us the answer to that measure of their competence.
That’s where the buck stops in Iron River. And as
was pointed out to me by a reader today, at least the
quorum of the city council will have to stand for
election in November 2013. This publication, and a
number of interested individuals, will make sure that
the voters will be well aware, and remember at election
time, the decisions that are made at the Iron River City
budget meeting next month.

Bill Vajk

[1] http://tinyurl.com/c7a23hs

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Turning A Corner

Our title for this edition comes from the lead story
about the resignation of Al Perlongo from the Iron
River city council and city council member Bernie
Sacheck from the West Iron school board. Both of
these men had a conflict of interest between their
city council positions and outside interests. Sacheck
was a voting member of two boards that contract
with one another. Perlongo, whose service on
the Fire Department conflictd with his service on
the city council, was advised of his conflict much

We complained, in this publication, about
Perlongo and because of his conflict and his
reticence to voluntarily do the right thing we
cited him with our lump of coal award. We clearly
spelled out the infraction in our issue of October
8, 2012, so even after attention was called to this
problem here, as well as during an earlier city
council meeting, it took till March 20 of this
year for Mr. Perlongo to accede to external

The question this raises is whether or not any
individual who knowingly thwarts the law can
legitimately and honestly serve the public that
elected him. And what of the other city council
members? Shouldn't they have moved to expell
Perlongo as soon as he refused to relinquish his
fire department position? The mindset that
permitted the situation to continue for well over
a year cannot have concurrently served the public
as promised.

The county may have turned a corner to start
heading in the right direction because it was
pressure applied by the prosecutor, Melissa
Powell, that convinced the above named
gentlemen to finally take action. Of course
we had been pressuring in our publication,
and compalined to the Michigan Governor,
before our county prosecutor acted.

What we're hopeful of is that county officials
will now realize that there will be no negative
repercussions for doing the right thing, even
when that right thing doesn't make all
members of "the in group" (also called the
political machine) happy.

We hope that attention to misdeeds of local
politicians remains on the prosecutor's front
burner. This county would be a far better place
if action were swift and regular whenever
necessary. And once begun, it might even
spread to adjoining jurisdictions.

Our second story is about the Indian Lake plan to
maintain the water level. Even before Larry
Mellstrom wrote his guest editorial and a followup
letter a week later, there was a very elementary
discrepancy in the plans.

It does not require a second well to monitor the
water level. Only where the well driller's financial
interest prevails over common sense does such a
thing happen. The standard method of monitoring
water table level in an active well is to send
fractional inch tubing to the bottom of the well,
and connect a pressure gauge and a snifter valve
(just like the valve used to inflate car tires) to the
top end of the tubing. The after inflation, air pressure
gauge indication correlates to the height of the water
above the bottom end of the tubing. Every 1 psi on
the pressure gauge indicates 2 feet of water above
the bottom end of the tubing.

We have not undertaken any analysis of the realities
that Mr. Mellstrom has brought to light, but we trust
his analysis and suggest that much more engineering
work should have been undertaken before money was
spent on this poject.

Bill Vajk

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