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SPECIAL MEETING OF THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NOVI
Mayor Clark called the meeting to order at 6:39 PM.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
ROLL CALL: Mayor Clark, Mayor Pro Tem Bononi, Council members Capello, Csordas, DeRoche – absent/excused, Landry, Lorenzo
PURPOSE OF SPECIAL MEETING
1. Evaluation of City Clerk
Ms. Cornelius said she had sent a memo in June to Council detailing some of the things her department had accomplished in the last year. One, her department was most proud of, was the mock election held at Novi High School, which was coordinated with the Social Studies Chair, Rod Franchi. Students in grades 9-12 and the faculty generated four questions so that they would have their own special ballot. The questions included which president contributed the most to our nation, what was the best situation comedy on TV, do you approve of President Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism and should school starting and ending time be pushed back one hour? The result of the mock election was that Lincoln contributed the most to the nation, Friends was the best situation comedy, the majority approved of President Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism and no, they did not want school to start later. Ms. Cornelius said the election was held on May 30th and the students were trained to act as precinct workers and the results were announced that same day to the faculty. 16 and 17 year old students were recruited to work at our August Primary and some would also work at the November General Election. This was done in conjunction with S.W.O.C.C., they taped it and it has been shown on the local channel 13 and it is called Election Education at Novi High School. The program was to encourage voter participation.
Ms. Cornelius also represented the City of Novi along with Farmington and Farmington Hills and worked with S.W.O.C.C. to produce a short video demonstrating the voting process, called How to Vote. This demonstrates the processes of registering to vote, absentee ballots and actual voting and advised voters of pending legislation that would make access to absentee ballots easier and the future unified voting system for the entire State.
Ms. Cornelius said in the last election, Novi’s turnout was 24.6% and she wanted to challenge the residents to come out and vote and hoped that all residents felt that voting was not only a right but also an obligation. She hoped that for the November election we get a great deal more than just under 25%. That meant 23,000 of the 30,000 registered voters in the City didn’t vote. She asked everyone to think about and the privilege we have in this country to vote.
Ms. Cornelius said her department was continuing the disaster recovery plan they had started. As of June 1st about 110,000 pages had been scanned into the backup system in case there was a natural disaster. Statistics have shown that if there is a natural disaster 95% of them involve water, so the next step of planning is for facilities to dry out and preserve items.
The originals of 36 sections of Deeds and Easements for the City of Novi are maintained in the Clerk’s office. They are being put into sidwell order for easy referencing. Our goal is to have all documents scanned into our document imaging system accessible to each department. Our plans are to coordinate with our IT Manager for the best location for each additional access site. We have licenses for five and there are two in the Clerk’s office and the Building department holds one. The plan is for one to be in Finance and possibly one more in Planning.
We process Liquor Licenses and have processed 11 licenses, this year to date 70 FOIA requests have been processed and the Clerk’s office is the FOIA coordinator for the City, a log is maintained and response times are monitored to make sure we are in compliance with the law.
In addition to preparing the budget for 2002-2003 we have continued cross training of the staff and are about 75% complete of an office manual containing a description of the employee functions. If an employee is on vacation, another employee could go to that manual if there was something unfamiliar to them. There are things that might be handled ten times out of the year so one employee might be more familiar than another and the manual would prove very helpful.
1,700 applications were mailed out in June for absentee ballots and recently 30,000 voter ID cards were mailed out. State Law requires a new ID card if there are any changes in any precincts, County Commissioner District, Senate District, etc. so residents had to be notified. We did that because people living in Precincts 9 and 10 are now in County Commissioner District 8 and the remainder of all the precincts are in County Commissioner District 9. 2,000 of these cards were returned because of expired forwarding orders, temporarily away or persons had moved and left no forwarding address. Now the law requires that an additional "Notice of Cancellation or Confirmation" be mailed and if we get them back, we are expecting less than 5%, we would continue to keep them on the voter registration list. If they don’t reply, we still have to maintain their records on our voter rolls and by law wait two November General elections before they can be cancelled.
Ms. Cornelius noted she attended two sessions of the State of Michigan Election Officials Accreditation Program by State Law that is to insure that all elections are being held in accordance with State Law and we are keeping up to date with all the changes that have been put into place.
Recently, she found there was a program called Kids Vote that would involve the youth. The mock election program at the high school involved the students only in the Social Studies program in grades from 9 through 12. She would approach the Novi Community School District with this so that all students K-12 would be able to participate. They actually have a curriculum that is used with the schools so that on Election Day, students would be participating in their own election as well as the parents.
The passport group has asked the City of Novi to host a training class in November and if they are able to come through with that, then everyone in her office would complete passport training and we should be able to begin accepting passport applications by January 1, 2003.
Lastly, she attended another session about e-packets that Farmington Hills demonstrated to those in attendance and the ease of which they are able to do that. She was still hoping that Council would consider it one day in the future.
Member Csordas said he had read the packets Ms. Cornelius provided in June and he appreciated it because he doesn’t have much contact with the Clerk’s office. Also, he had never heard a complaint about Ms. Cornelius from anyone. He had had the opportunity to see Ms. Cornelius work the City through a couple of elections and he knew her and her staff worked hard and into the night on those nights and is one of her primary responsibilities. He found the packet interesting in that it gave him a concept of all the other things that she has done and was responsible for. He thanked her for her contribution to the City and her professionalism. Member Csordas said her review from him would be outstanding.
Member Csordas asked how much it cost to resend cards to know incorrect addresses? Ms. Cornelius said when she came to the City she obtained "Official Election Mail Status" and that allowed postcards to be sent for 14 cents but because they went out in such bulk they went out for 8 cents each. However, the ones that were returned we have to pay the full 37 cents and now the 2,000 that were returned to us again, we will be able to send out with the official election mail and she thought she could get the 14 cent rate on those. He felt it was a complete waste of money. Ms. Cornelius said in addition to that the law requires that a postage paid reply card be sent with it. So, to accommodate that law in a frugal manner we are going to obtain a permit for what is called a "Business Reply Mail Card" that we would only have to pay for the ones that are returned rather than putting postage on them ahead of time. The permit is $150.00.
Member Csordas asked if she was still the president of her professional organization? She replied she was not but was still involved in the Council of Election Officials where they are proactive in developing legislation with those in Lansing and observing those things that would affect elections, particularly the unfunded mandates or those things that would make the voting process easier for the residents. For example, there is a possibility that legislation such as "No Reason Absentee Ballot" might pass before the end of this year if residents contact your legislators and say that’s what you wish to have. He asked if that association would be the appropriate forum to address this truly unfunded mandate. It might be only a few thousand dollars but it is a waste of money and might as well be thrown away. He suggested she address that at their next meeting. She replied she would.
Member Csordas asked how many different individuals the 70 FOIA requests came from? Ms. Cornelius said they were many different individuals and not just from the same person. He asked what the City’s policy was on wage adjustments on annual reviews excluding collective bargaining units? Ms. Cornelius said for her administrative staff they have a mid year review where the goals are reviewed and it is reviewed on an annual basis with our employees and then annually there is a percentage of increase.
Mr. Helwig said the percentage afforded to the administrative staff, the average as of July 1st was 3.63%. 5% is exceptional and lower for proficient or fair.
Member Csordas asked if these were quantitative? He asked because he thought the reviews of his ultimate senior staff level for us was wholly subjective and he thought Council should address this and come up with something quantitative in the future. He saw this as subjective,
which is OK, but again he apologized for not having much contact with her and did not have the familiarity that maybe he should have with what her job is. However, he wasn’t sure that was his responsibility because he knew that Ms. Cornelius and Mr. Helwig were charged with the operation of the City and he thought the City was moving quite smoothly under her charge and he heard nothing to change his opinion of that. Perhaps Council could come up with something that is more quantitative. He was very comfortable with the subjective review or analysis he was prepared to give because he felt she did a very good job but would like something more quantitative. He was glad to hear she had something more quantitative for her staff.
Member Csordas said the election process seemed very smooth and the minutes in the meeting packets he assumed she had responsibility for that. She said she did. He commented they come through in a timely and very, very well organized manner and he appreciated that, her time, commitment and dedication to the City and for what appeared to him to be a job very well done.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi noted she was really interested, with some reservations, in the e-packet proposal Ms. Cornelius talked about. She appreciated receiving minutes from the different organizations via e-mail, as it was a time saver for her. Mayor Pro Tem Bononi noted she receives a lot of phone calls from residents and more often than not about things that are not going well. However, she had not received one about Ms. Cornelius’s department. The only complaint she’d received about a year ago was about the long lines at the poles and the process has improved, the time it took to come in and provide the information to vote was significantly shorter. She hoped Ms. Cornelius kept going with that.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi said Council did not hear very often from Ms. Cornelius about things Council could do differently at the table that she, as the Clerk, would have every reason to suggest those improvements. She asked to hear more from the Clerk about how things could be done better, more efficient at the table and even if those things related to parliamentary procedure because Ms. Cornelius had quite a bit of experience in that, and Council was not hearing from her and Mayor Pro Tem Bononi would like to hear from her. She thought it was an improvement mode they could all use.
Secondly, regarding voter turnout, how can we do something with that to educate our voters? Could we do something in communication with our schools, our communications officer, cable TV and a newsletter? She felt that was the very least they could do. She felt Ms. Cornelius’ comments were very important because she believed that we get the government that we deserve and if only that a few of us are voting, perhaps, we have something to think about. She had no other comments about the Clerk’s performance as she thought it was exemplary.
Member Capello reiterated the same comments regarding calls from residents. The Clerk’s department has always been very responsive to his inquiries and very helpful and he hoped it was not because he was on Council but that everyone was treated the same way. He asked if she had anything she was trying to accomplish that she felt there was something that Council or the administration was preventing her from doing it? Is there someway we can help you accomplish some of your goals?
Ms. Cornelius said she would welcome dialogue with Council about the e-packets. She would like to begin, if she could have someone as a test pilot from administration, working with them
to bring packets to the Council table on a laptop. If it is shown that the money saved, in paper alone, delivery time, etc. were sufficient to warrant the purchase of laptops and education, etc. to Council that is something she would like to see all of Council eventually have.
Member Capello asked if there were any particular major goals set for next year? Ms. Cornelius said introducing the Kids Voting USA to the Novi Community School District and working with them to get K-12 involved in the voting process. She was hoping it would become a part of their curriculum by next year’s local election voting in the precincts the same time as their parents. Also, to have success at the November election, continuation of our disaster recovery plan and the next steps in making sure we have the tools to recover any documents that might be damaged and the interdepartmental access of records for our document imaging system.
Member Capello was interested in having a contest with other municipalities regarding voting and he would be happy if she followed up on that and bring it back to Council. He was frustrated at the turnout of the Primary election. Member Capello said in the local elections, results come up immediately and asked what the hold up was in the results for the Primary? Ms. Cornelius said as the results came in for individual precincts they would be reported and entered into a laptop computer so the results could be viewed in the Council Chambers and on our local Channel 13. We can’t report to the county until all 17 precincts come in. Then all the results are put on a disk and it is e-mailed to the county. All the results were here and e-mailed to the county by 11:30 PM.
Member Landry echoed all of the sentiments of his colleagues. It seemed like the City Clerk’s office was a well-oiled machine and he would give an outstanding assessment of the office. Every time he called he got all his questions answered and was quickly directed to whoever he was trying to contact. Also, he had not heard one complaint about the Clerk’s office and that spoke volumes. As an example, he read a portion of a letter from George Krieger in which he said, "you have taken personal interest in my inquiries, you have returned my phone calls, you have addressed all my questions to my complete satisfaction." For a resident of the City to say this about any City department is wonderful. This is the best praise you could ever get and you should be very proud.
Member Landry asked, regarding interdepartmental access, if our computers could talk to each other? Ms. Cornelius said we don’t have that right now. The type of access she was referring would be strictly for accessing documents that have been imaged, which would include all the board and commission minutes, every resolution, every contract and agreement. So, if the finance department needed a contract or agreement, rather than sending someone down to find it, they would have access to this document with a few key search words and access that contract or agreement without ever leaving their desk. He asked if it was her hope in the future that the software/hardware would be purchased so that there would be interdepartmental complete electronic communication? She said definitely and this was on the smallest scale that every department would have access to documents that have been imaged. She had experienced this in another community and felt that technology updates for all the departments was critical to have. Member Landry thanked Ms. Cornelius and said he thought she was doing a great job.
Member Lorenzo echoed the comments of the rest of the Council. She thought Ms. Cornelius and her staff did an outstanding job continuously. Obviously, there is a bevy of activity in the department and she had never received a complaint about the Clerk or any of her staff. She as a Council Member, appreciated all of Ms. Cornelius’ hard work and the hard work of her staff and thought the community did as well.
Mayor Clark said Ms. Cornelius did an outstanding job and it was reflected in her staff because she set the standard and example for them and they strive daily to come up to her expectations. The job that her department did was reflected in the fact that there has not been a complaint from any citizen. He felt Mr. Krieger’s letter spoke volumes because it came from those in the community that all of us are here to serve and it is the highest form of praise anyone can get. Mayor Clark said she should be commended and this community and those watching at home should be aware of the fact and appreciate the outstanding job the Clerk’s office in this community does under the direction of Mrs. Cornelius. We are truly fortunate to have her at the helm of that department and he thought she did an outstanding job.
Mayor Clark said regarding passports, he assumed that citizens would be able to come in, go through the whole process of application, pay any fees and then it would be forwarded to the Chicago office. Ms. Cornelius agreed and Mayor Clark said it would be a real plus for the citizens of the City. Ms. Cornelius said currently Northville was the closest location but we hoped to assist them with the numerous applications they receive.
2. Evaluation of City Manager
Mr. Helwig stated since the last performance review discussion December 12th the majority of his time had been focused on City finances and the Sandstone litigation settlement. The area of City finances is a very comprehensive time consuming process from December until April when they are preparing to deliver the proposed budget. During the last two years, they have introduced the department budget hearings and the program strategy categories to try to facilitate thinking beyond departmental purviews. He said establishing priorities in each of those program strategy categories is very challenging given the many needs we have and particularly since right off the top they had to focus nearly $1 million in the Judgment Trust Fund. This year they added the City Council early input policy session in January to try to better align their work with the expectations of Council. He thought they excelled in the process and from a true measurement standpoint, they could look at the recent bond ratings they received on our $2 million taxable bond issue. Not only was the City applauded for areas of fund balances, etc. but also the conclusion to the Sandstone litigation was accepted very well on Wall St. far exceeding his expectations of a year ago. He asked that Council note that Moody’s even afforded Novi an upgrade in the taxable bond rating. He thought the Action Agenda came into focus during those budget deliberations and that is the number one priority that the unfinished business is finished and the citizens are afforded some much needed day to day improvements in their lives.
Mr. Helwig said his hat was tipped to everyone who tirelessly devoted themselves to bringing that settlement across the finish line. He applauded City Council and a couple of members who were not present who stayed focused for 17 months. The City doesn’t have this in front of them anymore and he thought as a community, we are off the rocks and in a position to set sail under Council’s direction. His contribution down the home
stretch focused on the insurance proceeds and not transferring 20 more acres of land to the 75 acres to be used in the settlement. Mr. Helwig said his role in December was to call Ron Hughes, at a key point in the talks, and out of that came the breakthrough that they would accept for the first time in 10 months of negotiations a specific amount of insurance. That was the key breakthrough. Then in July in a meeting with the MML officials and that relationship had also gone on the rocks, resulted in the final dollars coming forward that were needed to settle the insurance proceeds at $7.75 million dollars and taking the entire 20 acres off the table. There is a lot to do to implement the settlement but finally there is a course of direction.
Mr. Helwig noted they had abolished 2 higher-level administrative positions. They spend more time in the community working on issues with residents and he felt they could get far better at that. He could already tell he would have more time afforded to himself, for example, since the last meeting he went out to Lot 9 on W. Lake Drive and was able to validate what he was hearing from the residents and agreed that Lot 9 shouldn’t be a part of the SAD (special assessment district).
He felt they had done a lot better job in the community in terms of winter street maintenance and this was their second year of involvement. They attended an all day staff retreat Friday and he thought this was one example people kept coming back to that administratively, there is pride developing in service level performance for the community. He noted given the opportunity to show what they could do, there is a commitment to do so. There is no question they were falling short in several areas but there was a commitment to improve and that starts with him and is shared widespread with the administrative team.
Roads were the first priority when they first met and he thought they still were. He was thankful that the voters gave them a vote of confidence two years ago for a program that would leverage $18.4 million of City tax dollars for approximately $45 million of County, State and Federal dollars. A lot of other cities are losing the opportunity now but since our funding is in place, we are moving ahead with intersection improvements and major roadway improvements as well as those areas financed privately like Twelve Mile Road.
Mr. Helwig said for the first time in 28 months, he felt he finally has the opportunity to look ahead. He has a higher set of expectations on his performance and the only thing that helped him through the Sandstone situation was his marathon training and the ability to focus on a finish line far, far away and being obsessed with getting to that finish line. Now, he wants to apply that same passion and dedication working with Council in so many other areas of our day-to-day work in areas that are falling behind. Our Plan Review Center is not meeting expectations and the bottom line is that he would be spending more time in that area. He knew there were other areas of frustration with their administrative performance and he would be providing more oversight in those areas. One of the major items talked about in the retreat Friday, in addition to trying to report to Council on a more periodic basis on individual items of importance to Council, is a comprehensive quarterly financial and performance report and the first would be before Council by Oct 15th. He expected this to be a very thorough, complete and factual analysis of many things discussed during the budget
policy work session as well as those things that should be routinely reported to Council and the community.
In the area of communications he felt they began to set a higher standard with the summer issue of the community newsletter that went into each home. They are very committed to providing a high quality piece of timely information and there are other ways to be doing this and he felt the capacity to do it was now in the organization. He
spends more and more of his time making sure they are getting that information out.
Member Csordas felt Mr. Helwig was the right person at the right time for this city and felt that he had, quite effectively, surrounded himself with qualified individuals. The Department Heads that have been added appear to be quite capable and dedicated people that meet the needs of the citizens and are taking the City in a continued correct direction. Their level of professionalism is needed and their hard work is appreciated. Member Csordas said there were about 15 issues they had worked on together and in every case, Mr. Helwig has assigned the appropriate people that responded and Mr. Helwig followed up on all of them. He thought they were all handled to completion very well except for one. He was disappointed in the way Mr. Leavitt’s case was presented. He thought Council did not have the opportunity to get the full impact of what his challenge and desire was and that the City Engineer did a poor job of presenting that case before Council. Member Csordas said 99% of the time, things are handled very well and residents have called him to express that.
He felt the budget process Mr. Helwig put in place was excellent. He liked the budget sessions Mr. Helwig refined and added to the process and it helps everyone on Council to produce a much better product in the end. He appreciated the 2 year focus on Sandstone and thought it came to the best solution possible and he realized Mr. Helwig was possessed by that process for a long time and a less qualified person would have had a lot more trouble with that; he kept Council advised and his hard work was much appreciated.
Member Csordas spoke about the customer service card and felt that it has evolved into something that was not what it really was intended to be. It has turned into a love fest where all we ever hear are positive comments and he didn’t understand how an organization this large could go through two years without a negative customer service card. He didn’t think there was a cover up but did think something was wrong and asked Mr. Helwig to look into it. In the years he had been involved he found there was concern, especially in the small business community, that they are afraid to upset the apple cart because they believe the bureaucrats in the City might use their authority to their advantage. He thought there would be some interesting reply cards if they thought they had the ability to be forthright about the way processes happen in the City. He commented he would get with Mr. Helwig on that and give him some direction, as some people felt intimidated. This evolved from Member Csordas’ listening to people and it seemed to be peaking lately. Member Csordas thought Mr. Helwig has done a great job and he appreciated the time and effort he had put in, the professionalism, honesty and dedication has helped the City continue in a very good direction.
Member Capello thanked Mr. Helwig for his perseverance in getting Sandstone settled. Member Capello said he had turned over several complaints to Mr. Helwig, Mr. Pearson
and Mr. Klaver and they’ve been extremely responsive and he is doing a good job with that.
Member Capello had a concern with the Plan Review Center and how it was progressing but understood that Sandstone put him behind in a lot of the programs he wanted to initiate. He asked Mr. Helwig if he had some specific problems that he wanted to address immediately.
Mr. Helwig stated there were several goals. In terms of processing time, they have a goal of being in and out in 20 workdays. The Site Plan Manual referred to 25 workdays and he thought they were at 30 workdays now. They have about 50 plans in process and there is a possibility, this year, it could be the highest total in the last 10 years.
Member Capello said when Mr. Helwig arrived he did away with the EDC person and he asked if he had time to devote some time to economic development. Mr. Helwig said he had whether it was an existing business that he could steer them to the people who could help them or new business such as Owens Corning. Magna, which just took occupancy, was a multi year situation and he had spent time at their facility in Livonia working with the leadership and staff through various issues. He thought people in the community felt that he was approachable to bring those matters to their attention and he felt they were staying abreast of those matters. Member Capello said it was refreshing to hear Mr. Helwig’s response start with helping existing businesses. He knew he had worked with the Chamber of Commerce and that they were very glad to have the administration pay attention to some of their issues and concerns.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi stated she was a little frustrated that when Council did evaluations there was no form to do them with. Not that they had to be locked into them ,but she didn’t believe they should have to try to find ways to measure performance so that the person being evaluated had a fair chance to respond and make proposals in order to address that performance. She said what she has done is she has given a copy of an interesting graphic that came from the Oz Principles, and the Oz Principles is getting results through individual and organizational accountability. She is interested in results and in all of us being readily accountable for what we do. This consists of a line or continuum and above the line we have three items. We have a "see it" line, which means we see and recognize and acknowledge the reality of our situation, we have an "own" it line, which means we take charge of that responsibility and we have a "solve it" line, which encourages us to be creative about addressing the challenges before us and we have a "do it" line, which means we plan our work and we work our plan. Below the line are six items. They are: 1) Wait and see, 2) Cover your tail, 3) Finger pointing, 4) Ignore/deny, 5) It’s not my job and the 6) Confusion and tell me what to do. She said she wanted to stay above the line because that is what we need to do to progress as a City and to help each other even when we do not agree with performance standard or performance outcome. She had four questions to ask Mr. Helwig and had addressed her concerns with Mr. Helwig many times in the past and thought he would understand where she was coming from.
She began with zoning compliance and had a draft of the Special Meeting of the City Council meeting on January 27, 2000 where she asked Mr. Helwig, as a potential City Manager, what he thought about the selective enforcement of City Ordinances when the
ordinance language is clear. Mr. Helwig said he would enforce the law and selective law enforcement wouldn’t be tolerated. She had expressed to Mr. Helwig and members of the administration on many occasions from her observations and from complaints from residents, business people, and developers about the fact that zoning compliance was not being enforced. Two areas she would use as examples were erosion and sedimentation control and sign permitting. She asked Mr. Helwig to tell them his philosophy on zoning compliance, is it appropriate to be involved with the permitting structure from his standpoint of a City Manager, has he looked at the costs associated with erosion and sedimentation control that would end up being placed on the citizens of Novi with regard to several things such as soil washing down drains and costing the residents of this City a lot of money not to mention the harm that it does to wildlife. She asked if he had downgraded zoning compliance? If he has how would he justify that and if not what would he do about it.
Mr. Helwig stated his philosophy is the same as it has been throughout his career and that is that the law is the law and zoning compliance is there to be enforced. Erosion and sedimentation control - he had recent experience with when he visited Lot 9 and it was raining and the new development just up from the lake homes was a sea of mud on the streets. He called it in right away; it was unacceptable. He understood what it meant to Walled Lake and other tributaries in the community and perhaps he hasn’t exhibited it as much as he believed it and practiced it in his life, but he is every bit an environmentalist. In terms of permitting, it was not his role to be involved in permitting. He mentioned one situation that got him in hot water. Antiques Design and Pines is a business on Grand River west of Novi Road and the businessman called a year ago saying the intersection backs up. No one can see his business, nobody could get in and out, etc. Mr. Helwig said he took the Chief of Police and Mr. Nowicki out several times and contacted the Road Commission, etc. and they just kept hitting one brick wall after another. There might be some relief when the intersection is improved but that won’t be until next year. He has an OPEN sign and his entrance is on the east side of the building. Mr. Helwig said he told this businessman that he and his staff had been out there now for four months trying to figure out something for him and told him to put the OPEN sign at the front door. He said the best day he had was when he had sneaked his sign out so people would know he was open. There is so much traffic and so much going on that the neon open sign in the front window wasn’t accomplishing anything. He is now having a going out of business sale because he just couldn’t make it at that location. Mr. Helwig said he has heard second and third hand that he should have been jailed for that but he felt that was one of the few situations where we were being unmerciful towards someone. They went on to abuse that by putting this huge lettering in their glass window and they were ticketed for that. Mr. Helwig said he refuses to get involved with permitting and as far as he was concerned he was not making any changes and he was sure there needed to be greater enforcement because there is so much development in the community.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi asked about soil erosion and sedimentation control limitation, which Mr. Helwig has acknowledged. She understood that an ordinance review officer had been removed from that duty and placed elsewhere. If we are having instances of erosion and sedimentation control that are not being addressed, then was Mr. Helwig saying there was a resource problem with regard to that position and why was that person taken out of that area? Mr. Helwig said this was a decision he
supported because there needed to be field verification that the woodland orange fences were up. It was a function that was moved over. Maureen Underhill was doing that and is still doing that part of the time. There is a resource issue there and certainly when the woodland support is resolved, we are implementing the direction approved in the budget, which is to find another firm. He commented that he goes out with Cindy Uglow to see the City’s underbelly areas. She shows him the properties that are in complete neglect and need to be torn down. He was sure she could use more resources and the more urban we become, the more this function would need additional resources. Mayor Pro Tem Bononi was looking for his plan to "own it, solve it and do it" and a time frame. One of her greatest concerns and her greatest received complaints was that many residents feel they are acting as compliance officers. One of the goals that has been reiterated in the last two January Council goals was the importance of zoning enforcement and compliance. The community we see is shaped by that or not and she was looking to him for a commitment to change that.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi asked about the Village Oaks paving project. There was a great cost overrun for several different reasons; not the least of which is lack of construction control, lack of information and lack of understanding of the scope of the project and delivery of a quality product. She looked for accountability for the initial overrun of $800,000 and then a $27,000 addition on to that. She asked what we learned from that, what happened to the staff persons who were involved and responsible for what she saw as a lack of duty. She felt over $800,000 that could have been used for another project was wasted. Mr. Helwig stated that was an embarrassment to everyone and a matter that just can’t be tolerated. There should have been appropriate diligence that would tell us that that street was asphalt put on top of dirt 30 years ago and someone should have known that. Mr. Helwig said he was accountable for all of this and accepted the full area of responsibility. The project should have been completed last fall and never in his experience has a neighborhood street resurfacing project rolled over to the next year. Proper planning and contract monitoring should have insured that it was done. Consultant Review Committee is reviewing engineering services and the fact that there is competition would help go a long way to preventing a reoccurrence. He thought contracts were more and more not being assumed and taking for granted in this government. The lead individual has moved on to another community and another job. This matter was discussed and he didn’t know to what extent that played a role but it was clear that he was not satisfied with the accountability shown on this project. She wanted to know if coaching or mentoring was offered to those folks involved so there was a learning experience with regard to Mr. Helwig’s expectation and expectation of every dollar of taxpayer money. Mr. Helwig said yes, there was coaching and he was sad that it came to what it did.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi asked about his mention of a reporting system and asked if she was to presume that this was a business plan or was he talking about a financial reporting document? Mr. Helwig considered it both. The budget action plan was the business plan. He said the departmental objectives portion was the weakest part of the document and needed greater emphasis. He said he and Mayor Pro Tem Bononi had talked about a departmental business plan as well as an overall business plan for the community. Mr. Helwig said they would report to Council on the City’s finances as well as those key results that Council sought that have come out of budget discussions and Council meetings and are represented on the cover of the budget document. He would
also be anxious to receive feedback as to how inclusive it is and how it can be improved. Mayor Pro Tem Bononi stated although the budget document has the goals that Council has set forth and expected to be accomplished; it doesn’t reflect his administration or departmental results and improvements within departments are not reflected and neither are they for the administration. She would look for a business plan for administration and for each department, as she believed it would be very helpful in reaching department and personal goals and would be a way to measure those goals.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi asked about customer service in general. She asked for a commitment for a turnaround time with regard to answering phone calls. She receives a lot of complaints from citizens that their calls are not being answered and realized that the perception of many people is not necessarily reality but every organization that has a customer service point of view and dedication does have guidelines that they use. She noted she had concerns that the people who work in administration might not feel empowered to be authoritative communicators in areas of their expertise and she asked how he empowered them? Mr. Helwig spoke about specific guidelines with regard to something as simple as returning a phone call and felt it was something they could even develop a passion for and have some fun with in terms of did you get back to this person, etc. In terms of empowering people, he thought Sandstone had been the best empowerment element because he had been relying on staff for a long time to do a lot of things with very little involvement from him. At Friday’s retreat, the speaker focused on that topic and Mr. Helwig thought by far this was a quantum leap over a year ago. A larger group was involved, which says something about empowerment and their interest in teamwork. Mayor Pro Tem Bononi asked for a timeline for a start of a communication plan to be in place. Mr. Helwig said within 30 days we can begin with where we are now and go from there.
Mayor Pro Tem Bononi wanted to mention the strong points of Mr. Helwig’s performance, which were the financials with regard to the lawsuit culmination, a strength regarding public safety issues and he had done a very exemplary job of dealing with both of those things of which we are aware and many of those things of which we are not. Also, being proactive with regard to providing a necessary evacuation plan for this community, which up until now had not existed.
Member Landry felt it wasn’t complete to evaluate Mr. Helwig or administration without keeping in mind the environment and situation he inherited. The City had been managed for over 25 years in a certain style and direction and at the end of that there was a massive judgment against the City. Resident frustration was at an all time high and Mr. Helwig inherited a situation which was challenging.
Member Landry believed that Mr. Helwig has instilled an era of professionalism, accountability and a demand for constant improvement in the City staff and for that Mr. Helwig is to be commended. Member Landry thought he was doing an excellent job and noted he had not felt for one minute that Mr. Helwig ever had the interest of anyone other than the residents of this City as first and foremost. There are going to be and have been bumps in the road and there have been during Mr. Helwig’s administration and he would expect that to occur. Member Landry noted Mr. Helwig does step forward and take responsibility for things and that is impressive and a manager who does that
should lead the City. He thought Mr. Helwig should be commended because the entire City staff takes responsibility as well.
Regarding basic municipal services such as snow plowing, Mr. Helwig said if the County can’t do it, give it to us and we’ll do it and he took it over from the County and it was much better. Mr. Helwig and Mr. Pearson handle complaints by citizens and Member Landry thought that citizen frustration had decreased. Regarding personnel changes, Mr. Helwig eliminated the Director of Public Service and the Economic Development Coordinator. He added Mr. Auler and Ms. Walsh. They are excellent and are doing a fine job. The people that weren’t doing their job are gone as it should be. Regarding emergencies, water main break, and the way it was handled was wonderful and there was a lot of constant communication with the public. Fire Station #4 and the default of the general contractor was a nightmare. It is being handled as best as can be. Then there was the allegation levied against the City that we should be included in a list of racially unfriendly Cities. Member Landry said his first reaction to that was anger but that is not the correct response. The correct response is professionalism, let’s talk and let us show you why you are wrong and the City did that and they retracted the allegation. The biggest emergency of all time and hopefully ever was Sandstone and Mr. Helwig and the negotiating team did an excellent job and he felt the residents would never understand the effort that was put in to settle that case. Mr. Helwig, Mr. Fisher and Mayor Clark, who led the negotiations, labored in anonymity because they were secret negotiations and they had to. Nobody negotiates a lawsuit in public. Member Landry thought Mr. Helwig did a wonderful job on Sandstone, considered it a Herculean effort and he was very proud of the way Mr. Helwig handled this City and negotiations and he did a wonderful job. The internal departmental changes include the Plan Review Center. It would be under the microscope for the next year. Mr. Helwig made some big promises and made some big requests of Council and he hoped that his staff realized how much he had backed them on this and hoped that they back him on the representations that he has made and he is confident they would. He felt Mr. Helwig was doing a fine job.
Member Lorenzo echoed the positive achievements highlighted by previous Council members. She thought Mr. Helwig had shown great skill in his negotiations with Sandstone and she realized that had been a very large part of his daily existence for the past year and a half or so. She said he had done a very admirable job considering that and considering the past administration and the changes that were made. However, by the same token she thought that because of Sandstone, it had taken him away from his job. When they hired Mr. Helwig, they hired a City Manager because that was what the City really needed to manage and oversee the various departments, department heads and other administrators within the community so that not only was Ms. Cornelius’ department a well oiled machine, but this entire organization was a well oiled machine. That is where her frustrations come in. When they met in December, she stated she tried to take the approach of accentuating the positive. She stated this time around she felt the necessity to highlight those areas that she thought still needed major improvements.
Member Lorenzo’s stated the first heading was lack of administrative awareness/oversight. When she spoke of awareness, she had gotten the feeling when speaking to Mr. Helwig on one of several occasions about things that come through
either in the packet or the attorneys’ billings that come in monthly, she didn’t think that he spent a lot time reading through all the materials and preparing as she does. She stated she expected Mr. Helwig to read through all the material and Mr. Helwig and other administrators should catch the things that she is catching before she had to catch them. For example, the Greystone default. A letter came to Council in December from the architectural firm that was overseeing the project and it seemed that at least another staff member, from the point of the letter saying, "as you know", had already known there were problems with regard to non-payments. She assumed that happened in November. There didn’t seem to be a lot of oversight between when those initial problems were recognized, perhaps by other staff members and the architectural firm through when, possibly, the administration got involved in this case. She thought this was serious.
Other things that were less serious were that there was non-enforcement of the Memorial Day Parade rules, poor planning for parking at the Jaguar soccer tournament and the Galway Drive neighborhood road resurfacing areas in terms of what was going to be accomplished. There was also the Asbury Park stockpiling permit where Mr. Helwig’s department and the administration was unaware of a policy by the Building Department. She thought the administrators needed to be aware of how other departments are handling situations and perhaps coaching them. For example, if the City Manager’s office was aware of the Jaguar soccer tournament and if administration was more involved and had more oversight, they would have asked about the parking issues. A lot of these issues are coming forward that she had to bring forward or others had to bring forward and she did not want the burden of doing her job on Council and his job.
Regarding attorney’s assignments and fees Mr. Helwig had stated he needed to have control over this and it was his responsibility to control legal costs but she felt if he didn’t review the monthly statements then, how could he possibly be accomplishing that.
The next subject was lack of timely facilitation of implementing Council actions and other items. Ordering or lack of ordering the snow plow in a timely manner and EMS services had to be brought back to the table to find out what was going on with that issue. The Ice Arena management contract was brought to the attention of administration on January 26th and Council has yet to see a contract. She specifically tried to bring that forward in a timely manner because she understood there were some serious morale issues at the arena because people were not being retained because of their concern about the future of their jobs. They were outright leaving or concerned about coming on board.
Member Lorenzo felt there was too much lag time regarding Maybury RUD. It was directed to administration on February 25th and came back to Council in August. She thought there was too much lag time between Council actions and things they need to implement and the time that they are brought back for exact implementation.
She said one thing that had gone on regarding communication issues was apparently when either Mr. Helwig or other administrators are not clear of a Council action or
directive, it didn’t seem that they were asking Council for clarification. She thought Maybury was one of those issues. Communication issues existed during the Sandstone
issue that she thought were serious and she did speak with Mr. Helwig about them. There were a lot of communications between Mr. Fisher and Mr. Helwig and a lot of them were copied to Mayor Clark but were not copied to Council in a timely manner. It is important that administration understand that they work for the entire Council not just for Mayor Clark. If a communication goes to Mayor Clark, then it should go to all of them at the same time.
Also, it didn’t seem to be common for Council to receive citizen or developer complaints or administrative responses. From this point on, she wanted to be copied on any letter that any person of the administration sends to a developer, a citizen, the City attorney and staff. One example of this issue is the Harvey driveway. On October 5, 2001, Mr. Helwig sent a letter to Mr. Harvey and it wasn’t until months later that the Council was even aware of the whole issue and that point until Ms. Brown and the neighbors started calling her. If she had received the letter, she would have known immediately that something was up in that part of the town and would have been questioning it. She also felt the tone of the letter was inappropriate. Member Lorenzo said they had discussed issues in neighborhoods and it appeared to her that sometimes he was taking sides and not looking at things objectively.
Budget Preparation – Member Lorenzo said in her opinion she didn’t feel that the City Manager prepared a fiscally prudent budget considering the Sandstone elements and the national and local economic climate. There was way too much spending, no provisions for any real contingencies or rainy day funds as prepared. The Council had to ask far too many questions in order to clarify budget items. Far too much time and effort by Council had to be spent cutting spending in order to achieve a minimum contingency.
Agenda Preparations – Member Lorenzo thought there were too many instances of loaded agendas. Her expectation, in conjunction with Mayor Clark, was that the City Manager prepare a reasonable agenda that would allow Council to conclude business prior to midnight. She expected Mr. Helwig to look at the agenda items, review them and limit them if necessary as she did on the Planning Commission.
Member Lorenzo felt a couple of times Mr. Helwig exceeded the boundaries of position and examples of that would be the negotiated amendment to SAD 155 without Council’s prior knowledge or direction and the decision to allow Greystone an additional 30 days before officially defaulting without Council knowledge or direction. She thought that 30 days cost us. She said Mr. Helwig mentioned at the last Council meeting that every week and every day counts and that was 30 days that we lost because Mr. Helwig gave them another chance. She would not have given them another chance.
She took exception to the City Manager calling for another Council meeting per month because that is a Council issue and not a City Manager issue and she felt offended by anyone interfering in that. She felt she spent more than enough time preparing and sitting at this Council table and providing administrative oversight as well on a lot of
occasions. She would not agree to an additional meeting per month and thought a lot of this accountability went back to the administration on those issues.
Member Lorenzo said in the last several months there have been several occasions where she felt the City Manager had been defensive, particularly at Council meetings. She thought they should all be able to agree to disagree without getting on the defensive. She stated that while it is never anything personal, these are professional relationships and from Council to Manager and Manager to Council, there are expectations. She stated Mr. Helwig works for the Council and as a member of Council, he worked for her and they were allowed to disagree with each other. She said regarding the issue with the budget, she felt Mr. Helwig’s behavior bordered on being insubordinate and asked him to keep in mind the relationship Council has with him. She stated she would appreciate it if it wouldn’t get to that level.
Member Lorenzo asked Mr. Helwig how he would accomplish having more oversight with regard to those items and implementation of items.
Mr. Helwig said the main way he would provide more oversight was simply by having the time to do it now that it could rise to a higher level of priority. He said certainly her dissatisfaction had registered with him and it was his obligation to earn her trust and confidence. Realizing that of all the things she said, the thing he was most proud of was the budget document. If the dollar differences are documented after review by Council they are very, very small. Mr. Helwig said he was very, very proud of his professional reputation particularly as it related to financial management and a very objective analysis beyond any of us was just conducted by the bond rating agencies and he was very proud of that. He knew he had a lot of work to do to re-earn her trust in a lot of categories and was dedicated to doing that.
Mayor Clark stated he will join in with the positive comments as he has more contact with the City Manager than anyone else and it put him in a unique position to judge his performance. When he thought of Mr. Helwig’s performance, several words came to mind: professionalism, honesty, commitment, dedication, perseverance, responsibility and integrity. If you have all those qualities in an administrator, you can’t ask for more. He said having spent innumerable hours with him in meetings getting the Sandstone litigation resolved, he knew his timbre. As Member Landry said, these are negotiations that can’t be conducted in public, they have to be done privately. The citizens in this community, from the newest to the oldest, owe a debt of gratitude to Rick Helwig that we can never repay. If we would have ended up with a $70 plus million dollar judgment against this City, this community would have been ruined for years to come and the burden placed on individual homeowners would have been unconscionable. None of that took place because this man had the dedication, fortitude and commitment to see the task through to the end. It was accomplished in large measure due to his efforts and Mr. Fisher’s.
Mayor Clark said regarding the negative comments, he disagreed. He remember the Greystone project coming before the Council and us discussing sending out a communication saying that Greystone had 30 days to comply. That is not unreasonable. You don’t want to go to the expense and trouble of saying they're in default and have to start from square one unless it is absolutely necessary. So we gave them the opportunity to try and get back on track within 30 days and we have been moving forward expeditiously to see that that situation is rectified and Fire Station #4 is completed and it will be early next year.
As far as the Memorial Day Parade and those not in compliance, once a parade is started and you find out people aren’t in compliance, there isn’t much that can be done with that particular parade. However, if you’re aware of the problem, you are certainly forewarned for the next year and he was sure that would happen.
The Jaguar Soccer tournament was the first of its kind that we sponsored in this City and no one knew how many people would show up. We have sponsored events of all sizes, but the response to this was outstanding and this was an object lesson for the future and would be dealt with accordingly.
Mayor Clark thought there was timely facilitation of Council actions and timely response to citizen complaints and concerns. He didn’t know how many times someone had called the City Clerk’s office and they had been forwarded to his office in Detroit because they want him to know how much they appreciate the resolution, by the City Manager, of a problem that they had. It usually was an outgrowth of someone seeing him on Saturday during Mayor’s hours, he would then talk to Mr. Helwig on Monday and often the problem was resolved by Tuesday and that’s taking care of business.
Mayor Clark said with regard to budget document, it was outstanding. In fact for the last several years this City has been recognized for an outstanding budget that far exceeds standards. He thought it was both realistic and was fiscally prudent.
Mayor Clark said the agenda is prepared in conjunction and consultation with himself and the City Manager. On the one hand, we can’t say we’re not taking care of business and we are not moving problems through the system in a timely fashion and then complain about meetings being too long. You can’t have it both ways. It does make for long meetings and we all spend a lot of time on behalf of the City. He said it was something he chose and he didn’t look for a pat on the back for it either, but it goes with the territory. Mayor Clark brought it up a long time ago that if shorter agendas were what Council wanted, then they needed to schedule one more meeting but no one wanted more meetings. If you don’t want more meetings with shorter agendas and you want things to get through the system as expeditiously as possible, then you’re going to have longer meetings. He thought Mr. Helwig had done an outstanding job trying to balance all of these competing interests to see that the needs of this community are dealt with as expeditiously as possible. Mayor Clark said he had been in this community since 1979 and could honestly say that he had not seen as much positive movement in a community as he has since Rick Helwig became City Manager. Everyone on this Council could be proud of that fact because they all had a hand in his selection and/or support of him since he arrived. The community is fortunate and there will be bumps in the road and Mr. Helwig is the first to admit that nobody is perfect including himself. He has done an outstanding job and Mayor Clark challenged anyone to take on the multiple tasks that this gentleman has taken hold of in the time that he has been in this community and effectuate as many positive changes as he has and solve as many problems as he has. Mayor Clark didn’t think anyone, or any
administrator in any community could match his record and we are extremely fortunate to have him with us. Mayor Clark would have to say that he is extremely satisfied with his performance and in the future, Council would expect and he would deliver even better things to come.
Bill Rice, 22872 Ennishore, congratulated Council on the Sandstone settlement. He
felt the administration had been upgraded since Mr. Helwig had been hired. He spoke
about his objection to the $437,000 it would cost for the Nine Mile Road bike path and
thought it was unrealistic and didn’t believe a ¾ mile bike path would be a priority of the
citizens. He said he read in the Free Press that MDOT would spend $650,000 to pave
two miles of Woodward from 14 to 16 Mile. He said for $437,000 5 ½ miles of City
streets in Novi could have been paved and would have been a better use of the money.
He felt it wouldn’t get much use and had walked the path and didn’t see anyone else
and it wasn’t very scenic. He hoped that his comments would slow down spending on
this type of bike path. He also heard that JCK didn’t recommend the bike path so he
called JCK. He said he was told that if Mr. Rice called he was to be referred to Clay
Pearson, the Assistant City Manager and Mr. Rice asked her if that meant he could not
talk to one of the engineers about the bike path and she repeated the same thing. All
that did was make him very suspicious and if it is true that JCK didn’t think it was a good
idea, then why are we spending the money? The 1999 road bond was turned down
partly because of bike paths so why now are we doing this again? If you want to put
bicycle paths on the ballot with a map and a dollar figure and the citizens vote, that it is
a great idea he would go away.
There being no further business to come before Council, the meeting was adjourned at
Richard J. Clark, Mayor Maryanne Cornelius, City Clerk
Transcribed by: ________________________
Date approved: September 9, 2002