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Grosse Pointe Woods Council Approves Budget

Following about 90 minutes of public comment against the 2012/13 proposed budget, the Grosse Pointe Woods city council approved it unanimously without discussion Monday.

One after another, residents of took the podium Monday to detail why they oppose the proposed budget and requested the council do more to make appropriate cuts.

Their comments took about 90 minutes in total and then in less than two minutes, the council unanimously approved the $12.2 million 2012/13 fiscal year budget. The vote did not include Vicki Granger, who was excused from the meeting after alerting the mayor earlier in the day that she would be late or not in attendance at all.

The budget calls for the as well as .

Residents young and old opposed the proposed budget for a variety of reasons but the theme of the comments is that the budget still contains a lot of unnecessary spending that should be cut before asking voters to give more money to the city.

Jim Schultz, of Holiday Road, questioned commission budgets and the lack of detail provided by the Planning Commission as well as the Beautification Commission, each of whom are given $5,000.

He also shared his irritation with the $10,000 volunteer appreciation party--. After criticism about it last year, .

Nancy Hames, of Sunningdale, said --a law forcing taxes that surpass a certain amount allowed by a council discretion be approved by the majority of voters--is simply "a Band-Aid." She continued, "Do something to dig us out of this hole instead of digging out of our checkbooks."

Former Councilwoman Lisa Pinkos Howle also spoke against it and gave the council a detailed list of where cuts could be made in the budget without impacting services to the residents. Admittedly, they would likely impact employees, she said, but they would still have their jobs and health benefits.

She provided her suggestions by department, giving specific areas to cut and rationale for each. Among them are suggestions she's made in the past, including:

  • the council giving up their salaries which amounts to a collective $28,500 annually
  • travel and entertainment budgets for nearly every department
  • the attendance of the city attorney at planning commission meetings, which amounts to $13,000 annually
  • the elimination of one city clerk, an estimated savings of about $104,000
  • the elimination of some court staff and consolidating job responsibilities to one employee, an estimated savings of about $65,000
  • removing the mayor from the city's healthcare plan
  • elimination of saving vacation days by employees, an estimated savings of about $79,000

In all, her line item suggestions totaled about $671,500. Then she suggested that the city begin looking at employee pay. While most people have taken pay cuts and city officials have emphasized that city employees have not received raises in a few years, she said it would be appropriate to cut back in pay. Doing so, she said could up the amount of savings to more than $1.3 million, she said.

, spoke again this year. She urged the council to lead by example and give up their pay. She explained how the other Pointes, with the exception of the Farms, do not compensate their council members and even the Farms pays their council and mayor a very small amount.

After council's quick approval of the budget, the chambers cleared out as Mayor Robert Novitke and the council took a break. There was much chatter among attendees of their disgust with council's vote.

The budget has a $614,532 shortfall but the gap will be partially made up through tax revenue if the Headlee Override passes in November. One mill in the 2012-13 fiscal year budget is equal to $604,872.

If approved the Headlee Override will generate more than $1 million of revenue for the city in its first year. For a property owner, a mill is equal to 1/1000th of a dollar so for every $1,000 of taxable value a property owners pays $1 in property tax.

In addition to line item budget totals, some of the residents voiced their dislike of the ballot language for the tax increase, which does not contain the words Headlee Override.

Jane Elizabeth Brown May 23, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Send them a message at the polls. Spread the word to vote NO for any tax increases.
Chris K May 23, 2012 at 02:19 AM
The idea of a recall should be considered. There is absolutely no excuse for the impassive response to the comments made by voter after voter. I am convinced that none of the council bothered to review the budget document. I was astounded at the lack of response by the council. Either they are meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act to come to these "decisions" or they don't remember how they got to their seats. So maybe a recall is the best way to go. If Grosse Pointe Woods residents agree, please comment.
Chris K May 23, 2012 at 03:03 AM
The council is not interested in televising their meetings. Apparently that will cost money and their money is tied up in pizza parties for election workers and lavish parties for volunteers. Cutting those two items out of the budget would amount to MORE than enough money to get the equipment necessary to make the Grosse Pointe Woods government transparent. Of course, all residents would see and NEED to see is... "I move... support...is there a second... second... all in favor...."
Gloria May 23, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Chris, As you know I have been taking my own time and using my own equipment to tape the council meetings. I am in favor of transparency for all residents that can not attend the meetings in person. Articles in local papers are fine BUT... DO NOT tell the whole story as video taping does. We need to demand that the War Memorial work with ALL the Grosse Pointe's to broadcast council meetings. Maybe the Grosse Pointe Woods council can donate their pay to fund video taping and broadcasting. It would go a long way to showing they believe and support transparency ... not to mention show they can collaborate with the other Pointe's to achieve cost savings in this area. Just a thought... fat chance I am sure. However, ALL Grosse Pointe Residents should demand it! --
Jane Elizabeth Brown May 23, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Gloria, when cable T.V. was first introduced in GPW, Bob Novitke and his Council had the opportunity to put the recording equipment for Council Meetings in the contract like other cities did. Clearly he did not want the residents to see how they operate. For years they wouldn't allow public comment until the end of the meetings, which they would drag out until 11:00 p.m. or later, and then only if the majority of the Council gave approval for the resident to speak. They violated the Open Meetings Act until recently when they were finally called on it. I understand they now let residents talk at the podium. Fat Chance is right.
Kirkland Garey May 23, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Does anyone know how many of the council members plan to attend next week's Mackinac Policy Conference at taxpayers' expense?
David Hensley May 23, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I also think that travel should be looked at and approved only if needed and required. Also, again I will be voting no on the Override, and no on the road repair bonds because I feel that the roads can wait as property values rise to increase revenues to pay for them. There have been some roads in need, but another year or so will not make or break us to have them done now. I mentioned before in a previous comment that all of us have to make tough choices due to increases in costs and less income, the City should be no different and delay extra costs that are delayable and not spend on things that are over and above what is needed as well.
David Hensley May 23, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I hate to say it but it does sound like it may have already been discussed and agreed upon in a private meeting/s and that as one other person commented that it seemed like, " the public hearing is just an inconvenient legalistic formality". There should have been discussion and in my opinion changes made. This will be interesting come vote time. I hear the talk of recall, I just don't know. That process is expensive and tears at a community, but what else is an electorate left to do if they do not get the respect and representation they want from their elected officials?
David Hensley May 23, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Thank you very much for what your doing. I think you should have a fundraiser to cover your expenses. Get the word out on patch and it might help. I know your time is something you can't get back though. I agree there should be a push from the community for our meetings to be added to the government access channel so all can see. I agree with others that things would be different with that level of transparency. I can't believe that we had the chance to join in with other communities in airing the meetings and didn't. Also, I just can't get over the other comments telling of all the other open meetings act abuses and the gaul in the recent past by the various Councils and the Mayor of how they treated the public at the meetings. Boy, what a shame. More and more, I do see why people would want to make some changes.
Gloria May 23, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Jane - thanks for the background information... I guess we need to revisit this at the next council meeting to ask if Mr Novitke would like to reconsider!
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 23, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Kirkland: Probably none this year. Believe the last time anyone from GPW attended the Mackinac conference I was delegated to go because I knew more of the state and regional people who were there than any other council member. That had to be 6 years ago, maybe 7. I drove up to Mackinac City, alone, and stayed a couple of nights at the downtown Lake View Hotel - not the luxurious Grand Hotel, which is $500 a night. Lake View is more my style. Smells a bit of horse pucky, but it is kind of fitting for that conference. Schmoozed some legislators and other state, county and local public officials. Who knows if it did any good for Grosse Pointe Woods. Came home and suggested that we never do that again.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 23, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Want to welcome Jane Brown to the opposition to the Headlee Override. This really is getting interesting. A one-time assistant to Woods' City Clerk Lisa Hathway, Jane Brown wrongfully was fired by Hathaway shortly after Hathaway was appointed. Jane then sued the city and won a sizable settlement. The first time, but not the last, that non-resident Woods' Clerk Hathaway has cost the city a chunk of other peoples' money. Hey, doesn't cost her anything to write checks out of the city treasury. She lives in Macomb County someplace. Easy come, easy go.
Chris K May 23, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Jane: It may be too soon to get excited about the Woods council entertaining public comments. While it is true that they now post public comment as an agenda item along with new business which was not happening at the beginning of this year, the only reason people got to speak before the 2012/2013 budget was rubber stamped by council was because it was required by a state law. Woods residents really need to attend the committee of the whole meetings which often aren't posted on the city calendar until the moment the agenda is posted which is usually after 3:00 p.m. on the Friday preceding the meeting. What I have observed happens in the normal course is that the COW minutes are approved as one of the first orders of business at the council meeting, again, with no discussion by council members. As a specific example, the ballot language was approved through approval of the COW meeting minutes of the preceding week. BUT, there were additional e-mails pertaining to the ballot language that resulted in no discussion by any council person before approving the COW minutes. How does that happen? Seems to me that if the council really wanted public participation they would have public comment on agenda items before votes are taken even to approve COW minutes. Still not sure that would eliminate the slippery COW moves. Given you were once a Woods city clerk.. maybe you can speculate more on how this worked.
Jane Elizabeth Brown May 23, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Thank you Mr. Waldmeir. It is time to stop the Novitke lead machine from squandering any more of the taxpayers dollars. Next step is to reject the tax hikes on Election Day.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 24, 2012 at 12:24 AM
We'll work on that, Ms. Brown. Won't be a cake walk, but nothing in life that's worth having ever is easy.
bill pennysmith May 24, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Hey Jane are you the same Jane Brown who was canned by the Woods and wasn't Pete and Lisa on the council when that happened......
Joseph Sucher May 24, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Thank you for your comments Ms. Brown, very appropriate. Earlier you commented on the City Attorney contract. My remarks to Council on Monday highlighted high legal costs incurred when compared to peers. A 2009 study ranked the Woods legal expenses third highest out of 50 cities. The City of Cadillac completed the study in 2009. If interested, contact me for a copy. In the remarks section of the study, the Woods respondent commented that the City needed to cap costs. Unfortunately that request apparently fell on deaf ears, the Woods still uses the hourly fee model, a process largely abandoned by both municipalities and business in efforts to rein in costs. Flat fee contracts are now favored. Another alternative would be to hire a full time attorney at a cost far less than what the City now pays under the hourly fee basis. The job would also include being " City Clerk". The former City Administrator volunteered to also be the City Clerk when hired. The City Clerk's position in the Shores is currently handled by a volunteer, and in the Farms, the Ass't City Manager is also the Clerk. In this organizational plan, the current Deputy Clerk would be retained to do most of the work, which is now the case. Her credentials include being a City Clerk in another City. Legal fees would be slashed, and an appointed official position eliminated. The savings, about $200,000 annually. I would ask Ms Brown to comment given her experience in the City Clerk's office.
Jane Elizabeth Brown May 24, 2012 at 11:37 AM
Yes Bill that's me. Yes, Pete and Lisa were on the council at that time. Lisa was powerless against the poisoned majority. Vicky Granger admitted to me that she had "friends" watching my house. I sued her also. Bob Novitke wanted me removed. Dead flowers were delivered from a florist to my home as "Political Paybacks". Whatever than meant. Bob and Vicky were deposed and I have tapes of the depositions if you care to watch them. They will enlighten you Sir.
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 24, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Mr. "pennysmith": The fact that you can remember who was on council in 2005-2006 is astonishing. That being said, you would also know that Jane was "canned" by Hathaway because Jane was a vocal citizen (she lives in the Woods) against the City Administrator on March 11, 2004. This is her right in America as far as I know. Mr. Waldmeir and Dr. Sucher weren’t on council in 2004 as you know and had nothing to do with the events leading up to Jane’s wrongful termination. As veteran council members, Mr. Walmeir, Dr. Sucher and I, together with dozens of other resident-taxpayers, are fighting for the people to promote truth and transparency for better government. Our group grows by the day because it’s the right thing to do. Join us.
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 24, 2012 at 01:37 PM
"Waldmeir" excuse me.
Robert Lee May 24, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Gloria: Your city council is already paying the GP War Memorial by virtue of assigning to them the "PEG fees" the Woods gets from giving Comcast their cable franchise. That money is supposed to be used for public, educational and governmental programming. In the Shores, I believe the PEG fees amounted to about 13K a year, so I am sure for the Woods, those fees are proportionately and significantly higher. The Woods citizens should demand that your council meetings be televised, as taxpayers have already sent a nice chunk of revenue to the War Memorial with your PEG Fees. If citizens don't demand anything in terms of governmental programing in return for your PEG fees, you are not really getting what those dollars are supposed to provide! In the Shores we were not getting much in return from the War Memorial untill Councilman Schulte asked to revisit the contract sending them the PEG fees, now they have apparently agreed to provide the Shores with a higher level of technical support.
Gloria May 25, 2012 at 11:19 AM
Bob, I appreciate the Kudo but it wasn't better technical support that we got but a check from the War Memorial for $3500 to reimburse us for our costs of equipment and the cost of automating our council meeting broadcasts. Dan S
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 29, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Mr."Pennysmith": You do, indeed, have a remarkable memory. Need a little work on your grammar, but don't we all? As to Ms. Brown being fired, none of the council members had anything to do with her dismissal. We interviewed candidates to replace the old city clerk, who had "retired" years before but just never quit. Jane Brown was a candidate and we - myself included - chose Lisa Hathaway instead, not realizing at the time what a power-hungry tyrant she was destined to become, with Mayor Novitke's assistance. Her first official act was to fire Jane Brown. It was a fait accompli like most things in Grosse Pointe Woods under Novitke by the time the council found out about it. Not even our high-priced staff of part-time "city attorneys," the Berschback brothers (Don and Chippy), were warned in advance. In her haste to waste Brown, Hathaway ignored several major rules and precedents. Jane Brown got a smart attorney (Lou Gordon's kid, Debbie) who rightfully took the city to the cleaners. I can recall Berschback rationalizing the city's exposure by telling the council that the city's exposure was covered by an insurance deductible of $10,000 and that Ms. Brown "wouldn't end up with much after she paid Gordon one-third and a third in federal taxes." Hey, for non-resident city appointees like Berschback, $10 grand is the kind of money that the mayor lights his cigarettes with. Neither of the Berchbacks pay a dime in taxes here, you understand.
B.Smith May 29, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Mr. Waldmeir Ms. Howle said that you were not on the council when this happened!
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 30, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Mr. Smith, Ms. Howle is correct. Sucher and I weren't on the council during the 2004 events leading up to Jane Brown's termination by new clerk Hathaway in 2005. I was elected in November 2004. But I was on the council in 2005 when she applied for the clerk's job that we eventually gave to Ms. Hathaway after interviewing Ms. Brown and declining to hire her. Hathaway then fired her without consulting anyone, including the city's two attorneys.
Sam Hill May 30, 2012 at 01:28 PM
So you were not on the council for the "events" but voted to hire the "tyrant" over Ms. Brown who was fired by the "tyrant" without talking to the non tax paying high priced Berschbacks. Well your grammar is just o.k. but your story needs some work. Still got that John Kerry bumper sticker on your car
Nancy Hames May 30, 2012 at 01:51 PM
How ridiculous for our city attorney to scoff at a lawsuit against the city by declaring the plaintiff won’t end up with much? Perhaps our generously compensated attorney should have been more disturbed that an employee exposed the city to a lawsuit due to her ignorance of human resource processes. It is no wonder the clerk is not allowed to blow her nose without incurring legal costs for direction.
Jim Schultz May 30, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Pseudo names and e-mail addresses only work once on Patch. So, you probably won't see the "Hill's" and "Smith's" show up anymore.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 30, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Hey, what the Sam Hill! Thank God I'm not the only person around who still remembers that old canard! Nice try but you're dealing with an guy who doesn't buy green bananas. Whoever you are, "Sam," your story needs a little work, too. Have a nice (double) life...
One Shot May 30, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Hey jim not to worry no one reads this stuff anyway...

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