Sunday, January 17, 2016

2015 Government Awards

The selection for awards wasn't easy this time
around. We sought out positive things done by
Iron County local governments and couldn't
find any that exemplified excellence. We
did mull over the shortcomings and were
surprised to discover that it wasn't a city or
village this time, but the Iron County Board
of Commissioners that deserves this year's
Lump of Coal Award.

Almost a year ago I brought the issue of
inadequate, at times, ambulance service here
in Iron County. That was based on a personal
experience. But then, how many times does
it take for inadequate ambulance service
to be deemed a problem?

Actually, just once. This is one of those
essential services that's supposed to be seen
to by local government without failure!

And last year it failed to be timely in our case.

So I wrote a letter published by the Iron County
Reporter. Then I posted an article here. I met
with the responsible Hospital personnel on the
topic, and I met with an Iron County official,
and exchanged email on this topic with a
member of the County Board.

Yet here we are approximately a year later with
absolutely no visible progress. In the United
States, "police power" is defined as, "capacity of
the states to regulate behavior and enforce order
within their territory for the betterment of the
health,  safety, morals, and general welfare of
their inhabitants."

While there are no minimum legal
requirements that states, and their local
municipal extensions, provide any particular
service, there are ethical and moral,
requirements that services be provided. When
I moved here in 2003, the hospital at Iron River
was called the "Iron County Community
Hospital" having been established by the Iron
County Board of Commissioners. Eventually
the county board divested itself of the
responsibility, including the embedded
ambulance service.

But with the failure of the hospital to provide
reliable 24/7/365 service at all times and under
all conditions, the time arrived no later than a
year ago that the Iron County Board needed to
reassert responsibility for managing the
ambulance service. And that is specifically
authorized under state law

In a similar vein, in the past few years it came
to be recognized that the county's nursing
home needed a new pharmacy. With the
number of municipal employees with medical
insurance here in Iron County, it made sense
to remove the drug aspects of the insurance
that the county provides, and to establish a
non-profit pharmacy to provide for all the
municipal employees in Iron County. It sure
would help stretch our tax dollars if
medications were provided at cost with no
profit to outside parties

But the laziness of the members of the Board
of Commissioners to do anything beyond
the bare essentials, for a very nice annual
stipend I hastily add, has prevented any real
progress from being made in Iron County.
In fact, I'd be willing to wager that Board
members, for relatively few hours a month,
earn well above the median wage for full
time employees in Iron County. And for

I have reason to believe that if any member
of the County Board had taken an essential
personal interest in establishing the
management of an adequate and reliable
ambulance service in Iron County, that could
easily have been achieved in 3 months, and
positively within 6 months without anyone
having to break a sweat.

I think it is time to start naming names:
  • Timothy Aho, Chair
  • James Brennan, Vice-Chair
  • Patti Peretto, Finance Chair
  • Ray Coates, Commissioner
  • Sharon Leonoff, Commissioner
So county board, enjoy your lump of coal award,
and let's see if you decide to make it 2 for 2 by
doing nothing to improve government services
for the people once again in 2016.

The above are the opinions of:

Bill Vajk

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year, Same Old Story

One of our experiences as parents (most of us
anyway) is the discovery that children don’t
give much thought to the difference between
“want” and “ought to.” Children are children
mostly because they lack the judgment
required to make rational decisions. Addicts
are adults who never lose that childlike
propensity to decide what they do based on
want while they abandon any semblance of
common sense in arriving at decisions.

A former friend of mine purchased 25
pounds of lobster a while back and ate
nothing but lobster till it was all gone. That
was an addict’s whim with no permanent
detrimental consequences. On the other hand,
we read from time to time of parents whose
children are taken away by the state because
they spent their entire income on their
personal pleasures like alcohol, drugs,
tobacco, and gambling while providing all
too meager rations to their children to the
point where damage is obvious enough for
intervention. So some people never seem to
grow into adulthood, with personal “wants”
getting in the way of rational decision making.

I started moving to Iron County in September
of 2003. In looking at the decisions made by
those charged with managing the City of Iron
River and Iron County I hate to admit that the
two political entities have generally been run
as though by children, or even worse, by
addicts who put their personal wants before
the needs of those they have promised, by
oath of office, to serve.

A few months ago in an Iron River city
council meeting there was some discussion
by unnamed (in the newspaper) citizens
condemning the city council’s propensity to
donate public funds to private not for profit
initiatives. The public had every expectation
that the issue was resolved and that the
practice would stop, until the December 16,
2015 meeting. Here, once again, a decision was
made to donate $3750 to the IronLine sled dog
and fatbike races, The recently hired city
manager was quick enough to display his “yes
man” colors in stating that the races “have
created a community event that preserves our
heritage and promotes our culture for many
generations to come.”  To me, an ordinary
citizen and Iron River taxpayer, that not only
rings false by sounds more like a preacher
man than it sounds like someone charged
with looking after the city’s money and
interests on behalf of the taxpayers.

Lets take the statement one piece at a time.
Iron River’s heritage has no connection to
sled dogs. Railroads were built in the UP early
on. The first railroad in the UP, the Iron
Mountain Railroad, preceded the land grants
and was built by private funds between 1851
and 1857. With the land grant act of 1856,
railroad building took off at an unprecedented
pace. And of course this region was settled in
order to take advantage of the plentiful iron ore
that was discovered in 1846.

You just cannot transport iron ore or timber in
commercial quantities by dog sled, so that
important part of the city manager’s statement
was an abject lie, now committed to history by
the Iron County Reporter’s cover page article
of December 30, 2015 and this publication.

Iron County’s heritage is in iron ore and timber.
This presents us with lie number 2 in the short
statement. And there has been nothing in the
Iron County “culture” since 1846 that has lasted
for generations. This community has never seen
devotion to a “way of life” for more than a
generation or two and just doesn’t carry on
that way.

So with the support of the city manager, the
Iron River city council, in the presence of the
auditor (who knows better) voted as addicts
or children would to enable their “want” as
opposed to doing what is best for the
taxpayers of the city by simply saying “no.”

Here we have a city that within the last few
years was deciding which street lights to shut
off in order to save money. Are those lights
off now so that the money saved can be
misspent on recreational endeavors?

Are you guys completely insane?

You can’t even repair streets that are
beginning to fail in large numbers. Does
Blossom Street ring a bell? I’ve written
before about the alley behind my house at
413 Plum Street, similarly failing. How
many more are right behind these failures?
Have you performed and audit of failing
pavements? Where was that audit during
the meeting of December 16 when you
made the decision to spend money on
entertainment rather than fixing our
essential infrastructure? Is the City
Council's short term memory failing at
something on the order of 15 years old?

So the one adult in the room stood up
and objected. Marilynn Peterson spoke
for all of us who do not attend these
meetings. For her trouble she was
lectured by the city attorney. Is it any
wonder that the citizenry steers clear of
attending the meetings? I suppose that
plays into the hands of these
addicts/children who have been elected a
nd appointed to the positions of trust that
they shortchange, but it is not in the best
interest of the community.

I no can no longer trust statements like
“it is legal” from any aspect of Iron River
 City government. If it were legal, it
would be legal in the same context that
parents can legally spend most of their
income on alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and
gambling, so long as any injury to their
children, their charges, their responsibility,
isn’t obvious.

But it is NOT legal, and the city attorney
knows it isn’t, because the City of Iron River
charter is invalid. Michigan’s Constitution,
article 7 § 22 governs the authority of a city
to enact a charter:

“Under general laws the electors of each city
and village shall have the power and authority
to frame, adopt and amend its charter…”

As it actually happened, the electors of the
new City of Iron River in the year 2000 did
not have the opportunity to vote whether or
not to adopt the city charter. No approval by
the electorate, no legally enacted charter.
I will not argue the case here, but suffice to
say that all laws, including the Michigan
Constitution, must be read as written without
adding anything like unwritten provisions to

In the same article in the Iron County
Reporter cover story in the December 30,
2015 issue, the auditor announced a surplus
(positive balance) of $280, 759 in the
Genesee street improvements fund. Clearly
this over funding of that project is a
classical modus operandi for the city.  

The city council doubtless sees this as
money that can be spent at will on all sorts
of nonsense that suits their “wants.” But what
about the $150,000 that was illegally
transferred from water savings accounts
just a few years ago in order to fund the
under payments to the employee pension
fund?  That should be reimbursed. And what
about the present shortfall to the pension
funding, with the last correction made within
the past few years? Excess funds acquired for
one purpose but used to supplement shortfalls
in revenue that is limited by the Headlee
Amendment are an end run around constitutional
mandates that the City of Iron River has been
playing fiscal Russian Roulette with for some
time. The consolidation of 2000 was designed
to correct fiscal shortfalls, but the “corporate
culture”, that is the mindset of local politicians
who are children/addicts after all, has killed
any possible advantage that the consolidation

Citizens and taxpayers of the City of Iron
River, do you have any idea what you’ve done
in permitting these children/addicts to manage
your city and money without adult supervision?

If this behavior continues unabated, the city will
completely fail financially. Tearing down buildings
is not a solution. The problems are much larger
than anyone related to city government admits.

Welcome to your New Year! This publication is
only a messenger. We don't make the facts, but
it appears we are the only one willing to publish

The above is the opinion of:

Bill Vajk

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