Raising Chickens in Sterling Heights?

Over on the Nextdoor.com, a social media site for neighborhoods, a resident of the Cigarette sub asked whether or not it was legal to raise a few chickens on his property for the eggs.  He stated that he wouldn’t keep a rooster, and the chickens would be ‘treated as pets, housed in a coop and run, not allowed free roam of the yard.’

In Sterling Heights, part of the zoning ordinance covers this.  Here’s the relevant section:

Ordinance No. 278-NN, § 5, 1-6-09, in part, states: “SECTION 3.01. PERMITTED USES. The following uses shall be permitted, subject to the limitations of this ordinance: A. One family detached dwellings (subject to section 28.08); B. Agriculture, provided that on parcels of less than eight acres, there shall be no raising of livestock, fowl or other animals;” ….

Another poster to the site then said words to the effect that such a law was ‘ludicrous’ and mentioned the fact that people keep large dogs on their properties here, so what’s a few chickens.  He commented “If you cant keep chickens, get them working on changing the rules. It’s ludicrous that people can keep like three St. Bernard’s on a residential lot, that poop a lot more than a few chickens, can maul people when they get out, bark at all hours of the day and don’t make you breakfast but…you can’t keep a few hens for eggs?”

Well, here’s where the trouble usually begins.

Somebody wants to do X.  Someone else says “the law says you can’t do X”.  Then yet someone else says “by golly, you should have the right to do X!  It’s an injustice!  Look, there are people doing Y!  If you can do Y, then you should be able to do X!  Get the law changed!”

Although I understand where the person arguing for changing the law is  coming from, I would recommend to ANYONE wanting ANY sort of change to the law that a confrontational tone is not necessary nor will it be helpful.

Most of these laws have been in place for a very long time, and the current members of council quite frequently weren’t even in office when they were enacted. You might feel the law is ludicrous, and depending on who you ask, you might even find someone on council who agrees with you, but you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Trust me on this one: starting from the standpoint that a change to the law is your right is the wrong place to start.

In this case, this guy would be asking for a change to the zoning law.  At a minimum this is a complex process. It is not impossible, but it wouldn’t be something that happens overnight.  I am not sure how the council members would feel about changing the ordinance to allow raising fowl on lots in the city smaller than 8 acres; but he would need a majority of them (4 votes) to change the law.

With something like this, you will find that factions will quickly form within the city, and there will likely be just as many people opposed to the idea as are for it.  It is very typical for people to react negatively to changes in the rules which affect their neighborhoods, I see it as a Planning Commissioner each and every month. Council members, in general, try to serve the residents as best they can, and if there is overwhelming opposition to something, it usually (but not always) doesn’t pass.

Changing something like the zoning law is unlikely at best, but not impossible. To be successful, a person would want the support of their neighbors. They would probably also want to have formed a group of residents also interested in changing the law and willing to stand with them in public meetings to show their support. They would have to be familiar with the current law, why it exists, and have some good reasons for wanting to change it. They would need a strategy for dealing with the opposition.  I guarantee there would be opposition, and it would be powerful, so they would have to be very persuasive.

To sum up, if you want to change a law, you will need to have all of the facts at your disposal, have a plan crafted to persuade the powers that be to make the change, have a plan for dealing with (or better yet, compromising with) the opposition, and then you need to approach members of council to persuade them to make the change you want.

If, by some chance, you persuaded them to propose a change, the city attorneys would become involved in writing the ordinance change. When that was finished, there would be a minimum of two public hearings on the issue: an ordinance introduction, and a final vote, during two separate city council meetings.

If this sounds like a big project that will take a lot of time, effort, and perhaps not insignificant expense, you’re getting the right idea. This is not red tape or an unnecessary burden, by the way; this is how modern societies make peaceful decisions on how people can live among each other.  This is much, much better than the alternative.

I am in my 11th year of being involved in city politics. I have seen a lot of ideas come and go, and I’ve seen some unlikely stuff succeed, but it is rare. What I do know is that an educated resident who is reasonable, persuasive and willing to become involved in the political process has a good chance of having an influence on what goes on in this town.  It has happened for me.  I have lost as many times as I’ve won, but I have managed to make a few small differences here and there.

I encourage everyone who reads this to educate themselves, learn about their local government, its elected officials, and become involved. It is best when this is not done as part of a crusade on any one particular issue, but rather as part of a sincere effort to become involved for the good of the city as a whole.

So… if you want to raise chickens in Sterling Heights, there’s a guy over in the Cigarette sub who might be right there with you.  Go join Nextdoor.com and see if you can connect with him. I wish you luck.


Open letter to Jazmine Early on the Trip to Colorado

Some local residents have made much ado online and at a recent city council meeting regarding a trip being made to Lakewood, Colorado by members of the Planning Commission, City Council, city administration and others.  The official reason for the trip is to determine how the site made its successful transformation from a dying mall (similar to Lakeside Mall) to a thriving destination in metropolitan Denver, and to parlay that information into a PUD ordinance to be publicly heard and voted on by the Planning Commission and City Council this fall.

The PUD ordinance will lay the groundwork for developers to come in and pitch proposals for how the site might be redeveloped.  We anticipate that the current owner of the mall will work with nationally known developers to redevelop the site; having the legal framework in place for them to do so is an important step of the process.

The residents I mention have spoken out against this trip as a waste of taxpayer dollars in a technological era where distance learning is possible via remote presentations and meetings.  It is an interesting question, and one that I have been giving consideration myself.

One prominent resident, Jazmine Early, a candidate for office in the Michigan Legislature, has taken to Nextdoor.com, posing questions about the trip, implying the trip is unnecessary.  Since the Nextdoor website is inaccessible to non-members, I will reproduce her initial post here:

I would like to take the opportunity to respond to Jazmine with some questions of my own via the following open letter:

Dear Jazmine:

It appears you have convinced yourself the Partridge Creek concept is similar enough to the Belmar site that you wouldn’t need to travel to Lakewood, Colorado to get a sense of what it is like.

It seems this sentiment resulted in your making a  judgement call as to whether or not the trip to Colorado by city officials is worth the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

I find your conclusion interesting.  Since at least some people share your sentiments, I would like to ask you, as a prominent citizen and candidate for public office, for some information and advice.

First, I would like for you to provide your thoughts regarding the wording of the PUD the city will be preparing and presenting in public forums this fall.

If you have been certified as a Michigan Planner, as I have, I would be especially interested to hear your thoughts with regard to the mixed uses that are being contemplated for the PUD for the Lakeside site, and any input you might have regarding the proposed layout, building materials, setback requirements, parking requirements, building heights, traffic flow, and other design aspects to be encoded in the PUD.

Further drawing upon your planning expertise, could you please give the other readers of this site a summary of what a PUD is, including what the provision in the law seeks to do and why it is a useful in a Planner’s arsenal of strategies?

While you’re at it, I would appreciate your informed commentary on how the Partridge Creek development is doing financially and how that relates to the Lakeside site; please include sourced information regarding the revenues, targeted markets and demographics, as well as a comparative analysis between Lakeside and Partridge Creek.  (Of course, as a candidate for office and a tax paying resident, you are privy to this information, right?)

Could you please provide me with the cost of your proposed remote site tour vs. the cost of the tour that will take place next week?   Which vendor(s) might be able to put together such a remote learning presentation?  Please include the itemized costs for aerial photography, teleconferencing from multiple sites, and a narrative explanation of what we are seeing.

Can your preferred vendor also arrange for a teleconference with public officials, representatives from the Belmar site, and members of the public in Colorado during the business day for questions?  Please include the costs for that as well, if possible.

With regard to the people we would be meeting in person, and the visibility of all of the design aspects in person vs. via teleconference, would you please provide a cost/benefit analysis comparing the two approaches?

In your response, I’d also like to see a comparative analysis between the Belmar site and the Partridge Creek site with regard to their uses, local market conditions, geographic considerations including transit, accessibility to major highways, and the retailer mix.  Please then explain how this relates to the Lakeside site in particular.

And finally, could you please comment on at what point the cost of educating public officials becomes unreasonable, and where the public expenditure of $675 per official falls on the spectrum between “minimal” and “too much?”

If you do not feel that $675 is unreasonable on a per individual basis, perhaps as an alternative to a remote teleconference we could instead just send some of the officials, rather than all of them.  Could you please tell us, if we were to take this approach, which public officials who have a vote on the issue should be given the training firsthand and who should receive it secondhand from the people who attended?

To clarify, I mean to ask, should only the mayor and elected officials go?  Should it only be members of the administration?  Should it only be Planning Commissioners?  If you feel it should be a mix of these, could you identify the individuals who should receive the information firsthand vs the ones who should receive the information secondhand?  I would like to know which of the individual votes cast on the PUD will be less important than others; that should help narrow down the list of attendees.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts, information, analysis and conclusions.  I look forward to reading them in detail.


Sterling Heights CERT is Looking for Volunteers

As many readers know, I have a passion for self-reliance and public service.  This is why I am the unofficial civilian coordinator of the Sterling Heights CERT, or Community Emergency Response Team.  It is the group membership that enables you to help your fellow residents in their time of need, while at the same time building your own skills to help sustain you should disaster strike, either large scale or small.

About a month ago, CERT held a training event titled “Welcome to Houston.”  It was a search and rescue training exercise playing off of the recent hurricane strike in Texas, and it was an excellent look at the things CERT members are trained to perform should a natural disaster strike.  SHTV was kind enough to take video of the event, and it has been released for public consumption within the past 24 hours.

If you are interested in learning more about joining CERT, I would be pleased to help.  Contact me at geoff.gariepy@gmail.com.

Ready to sign up?  Even better!  You can find the form to register at https://www.sterling-heights.net/527/Community-Emergency-Response-Team-Regist


A Good Stopping Point

Today I’m writing to announce that my term of ownership of the Sterling Heights Local Politics Facebook group will be ending as of 11:59PM Tuesday, November 7, 2017. The group ownership will revert back to Michael Lombardini, more commonly known in these parts as Malcolm McEasy. Malcolm was and always has been the first guy I’d ever go to if I decided I was done owning the group, and he will be the best choice going forward for the advancement of the group.

Politics in Sterling Heights follow a two-year cycle that begins and ends with the bi-annual elections. Tomorrow night the current cycle ends, and another begins anew. There is no better time for a transfer of ownership of this group, which is so closely linked to the political cycle. I have reached a good stopping point: a chance to go out while group membership is at an all-time high, the current political cycle is coming to an end, and most of all, while I am satisfied with the job I’ve done.

Owning a group like SHLP and making it grow several times over is a much bigger task than I ever thought it would be when I first took the helm. Not only is there the job of keeping an eye on things from day to day, there is also a lot going on behind the scenes as well. Generating interest via new content and maintaining it for something like this requires ongoing effort, and everyone needs a break from ongoing efforts, myself included. Malcolm’s had some time away from owning the group now and I think he’s been reinvigorated by that break.

Although I will no longer be the group owner, I will continue to participate frequently and I will also be a moderator, which means that if Malcolm’s other responsibilities take him away from tending to the group I’ll be able to step in temporarily when necessary. But make no mistake: the change in ownership means a change in policy, and Malcolm will take the group and its rules in the direction he sees fit. If he wants to make certain discussions “on topic” where I decided otherwise, it will be his prerogative. If he wants to unwind any decisions I’ve made about who can join or who can’t, it is up to him. That’s the privilege of ownership. I will support him in any changes he deems necessary, and I wish him all the success in the world.

For my part, I’ve still got a lot of stuff I want to do, both in the Sterling Heights politics space as well in other areas, and I’m going to now have a little more time to do those things. I am thoroughly enjoying my roles as Planning Commissioner and CERT member/coordinator, and I will continue with those for the foreseeable future. I will continue with my blogging here on the PolitiBlog page when I see fit. I also have some new ventures cooking on a back burner which may or may not come to light sometime. If they do, you’ll read about them here.

During my time at the helm, I’ve had my share of successes and failures, and of course supporters and detractors. As I’ve often said, I am satisfied with who my supporters are, and even more satisfied with who my detractors are. The group has grown tremendously during my time owning it, and that’s something I’m very gratified by: it really IS about the members and their participation, and not so much the person who owns the group. I look forward to checking out the group membership in a couple of years’ time to find it has doubled or even tripled in size from where it stands today. I know Malcolm has the energy, drive, and skills to make that happen. I thank him for giving me this opportunity in the first place, and I congratulate him and thank him for taking the lead role once again.

In closing, I hope all of you who are enjoying the group continue to participate. I also hope you take a moment to congratulate Malcolm on his renewed venture, which is nothing short of the best place on the Internet to discuss Sterling Heights Local Politics. Thanks for reading.

Election 2017 Coverage

Over the past few evenings I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my Election 2017 candidate information package, a continuation of a series that I began producing several years ago for the 2013 election.  I believe you can look long and hard and still not find better coverage of the local election in Sterling Heights in any of the traditional media.  I am pleased to announce that this year’s coverage is complete, subject only to revision for errata if they come up.  All of the articles are linked below, however if you’re in a hurry, click or tap on the Election 2017 menu above and you’ll find information on every candidate on the Sterling Heights ballot for November 7, 2017.

Bias Warning

Knowing the candidates as I do, both incumbents and challengers, it is difficult at best to produce information like what you will find in this package without including a certain amount of my own personal biases.  Since each year we have many new readers I think it is only fair to explain that in general, I find myself very satisfied with the direction the city is taking, and therefore my support goes toward the incumbents.  In 2015, the slate of candidates was so truly awful that I abandoned all pretense of objectivity in these pages.  My sentiments were reflected in the outcome of the vote: the residents agreed with me 100%, returning all of the incumbents to their posts.

This year, we have a number of interesting new candidates along with some retreads from 2015.  New to the ballot for 2017 will be candidates Castiglia, Cavalli, Choulagh and Radtke.  Perennial also-rans Early and Elias round out the six-candidate City Council ballot.   I feel the first four challenger candidates could be reasonable choices for reasonable people.  Mrs. Early and Ms. Elias, however, are a different story.

On the incumbent side, familiar candidates Koski, Schmidt, Shannon, and Ziarko reappear this year.  New additions are appointees Lusk and Sierawski, both seeking to retain the offices they were temporarily appointed to earlier in 2017 after the departures of councilmembers Doug Skrzyniarz and Joseph Romano.  I intend to vote for the incumbents.  That is my bias.

For the Mayoral Election, any regular reader of this blog can tell you that I am an unabashed supporter of Mayor Michael C. Taylor.  I do not feel that council gadfly Jeffrey Norgrove is worthy of your consideration for numerous reasons that I believe are objectively observable and well-founded.

After it’s all said and done, it is important to remember something: I am not a news reporter.  The reason this blog exists is for me to express my own political viewpoints which I have come by through my heavy involvement with the city.  That it falls upon a political blogger to present information that the media can hardly be bothered to is more an indictment of the local news coverage than it is a problem with blogging in general.  If they were doing a better job, I wouldn’t spend dozens of hours every election year doing it myself.   As it stands, this is currently your best source of information.

How to Use This Information

My hope is that regardless of my admitted biases, you will find the information useful no matter who you want to know more about or who you wind up voting for.  Aside from a few lines of text and a graphic image I have created, all of the information presented in these pages comes from either the candidates’ own websites, or from their appearance at the city’s Meet the Candidates event, to which I contributed a number of questions.  I have excerpted segments of the overall video from each candidate’s summation and linked to it directly on their respective pages; a couple of minutes of reviewing their video and campaign websites will serve to present their information to you exactly as they would themselves.  No, I could not resist the impulse to editorialize in my own writings, but it’s hard to argue that the candidates would not be their own best representatives, and they are given full rein to do so here.

Want to know even more?

If you’re really interested in the politics of what has become a major city in Michigan in its own right, you would do well to visit my Facebook group, Sterling Heights Local Politics.  Anyone can view the group.  Membership is only limited to people who are using their real names on their Facebook accounts.   Topics for discussion are strictly local; no national politics are permitted.  Many of our city’s politicians participate in one way or another, and you can be sure that all of them are reading it.  It is not unusual for a resident to mention a concern or problem they’re having  on the group and find out that it has been resolved within a few short hours.  Do come pay us a visit; all opinions are tolerated as long as they are expressed civilly.  Your voice will be heard directly by the politicians, and you will be treated equally alongside them as long as you observe the rules.  Disagreement with me in particular is encouraged and invited.

Politics 101: Nominating a SHPD Police Chief — Updated 5-SEP 11AM

shpdA prominent former resident of the City of Sterling Heights, Michael Lombardini, has taken to Facebook to accuse members of City Council of “creating and enshrining a permanent culture of corruption” with their anticipated vote to confirm Dale Dwojakowski as the Police Chief tomorrow night.  To bolster his argument, Mr. Lombardini has linked to a blog post of mine from when the story first broke more than five years ago claiming that it represents my “thoughts at the time.”

Mr. Lombardini is only one man who is not even in the city, and if this was just him talking about this, it wouldn’t be worth the lengthy response I’m offering here.  I would just tell him, privately, that I think he’s wrong, and leave it at that.

The fact is, this is an election year.  The confirmation of the police chief is therefore an election issue.  There is a considerable amount of mistruth circulating about this confirmation, and it is important because Mr. Lombardini is just echoing what is being whispered in back rooms and barrooms across the city.   In an election year, it’s important we get the facts straight before we vote, and so I’m going to sit down with you here and tell you what’s really going on.

A warning in advance: this is a long read.  It’s a story five years in the making, and unwinding it takes me a couple thousand words-plus.  Please don’t let that dissuade you.  Read on if you really want to know what happened.


If you are just tuning in, you need some background information on the political process here in town concerning the nomination of police chiefs in general, the time card scandal, and what it all means with regards to tomorrow night’s city council meeting.

The process of nominating someone to the Police Chief job in Sterling Heights is politically dramatic.   The SHPD is a very highly regarded police department statewide, and it attracts career-minded cops from all over the region.  These people are high performers.  The depth of talent we have on the City Administration’s team in general, and in the police department in particular, goes far beyond the ordinary.  I daresay that the caliber of individual I have seen working for the city generally tends to be much higher than what I have observed in my personal career, and I work in a field — software development — that has its fair share of smart individuals.  For crying out loud, the guy driving the sewer truck is an intellectual who was recently invited to give a presentation on the labor movement in a college classroom.  There are a LOT of high caliber, sharp people working in this city, from top to bottom.

One of the things you get when you have a group of smart professionals is… people who are highly competitive and ambitious who aspire to the top jobs.  The Chief of Police job is a highly coveted prize that is sought by many.

When many people want the same thing, politics inevitably enters into the picture.  It’s simply human nature at work: people are willing to compete for the grand prize of being at the top of the org chart, and they will fight for the job as hard as they can.  And, of course, the politics that ensue are messy.  Here in Sterling Heights, the fur really starts to fly when it comes to the Police Chief job.

In my years of watching this process, I have observed Police Chief candidates lobbying members of council and people who are influential in town in order to better their chances of being selected.  Rifts appear between members of council.  Opposing factions form in the police department, for and against different candidates.   Sometimes people who are loyal to one candidate sometimes spread unsubstantiated rumors about the other guy as fact.  People choose sides based on who they like vs. who is the most capable.  Politically astute candidates who play the game well get tagged as being <spit> politicians (which is worse than being a lawyer in many circles). Phone calls are made from residents to members of council (I’m guilty as charged on this) lobbying for one candidate or another.  It’s pretty intense.

Ultimately, well, it all works out, but that doesn’t mean everyone goes away happy.

The Last Competition for Chief

As it happens, the last time Sterling Heights got around to appointing a Chief of Police, the drama described above was in full swing.  John Berg, the man who ultimately won the competition, got the nod, while Dale Dwojakowski didn’t.

I supported John Berg at the time because Mr. Berg had made an excellent first impression on me, and it spoke volumes about his character and fitness for the job.  In addition, people I knew at the time actually lobbied me in favor of Berg, as though I would have a hand in deciding it.  (Hot tip: I don’t.)

In fact, I am fairly sure that people are also lobbying Mr. Lombardini, both then and now, but he has not said so to me. (Note: He claims this morning that this is not the case.)

I had nothing against Mr. Dwojakowski at the time other than that Berg was my guy and Dwojakowski wasn’t — mostly because I didn’t know him.  The impression I got upon meeting then-Captain Berg was a powerful one, and I was assured by quite a number of people that he would serve us well, which, of course, he did.

The night the vote was taken, I was enormously impressed by Dwojakowski’s statement before council: he graciously conceded that Mr. Berg would make an excellent Chief of Police, and he further pledged to support him and work with him in a shared vision to the continued success of the department.  Character counts heavily for me, and this showed me a man of good character.  Thus was the genesis of my current support for Dwojakowski.

The Recent Departure of Chief Berg

One must understand that John Berg was only supposed to occupy the Chief’s post for a certain amount of time: that time being what remained before his pre-determined retirement date.  You see, he was enrolled in the DROP program, and there are hard and fast rules about retirement dates involved with that.  That retirement date was in early June of this year, but as the time approached, Chief Berg apparently decided he would like to stay on.

Legally, this is difficult to do, if not nigh on to impossible.  The rules of the DROP program are convoluted and complex to say the least.  As I understand it, a loophole was found in the case of Fire Chief Christopher Martin, but for reasons that are unclear to me, that loophole wasn’t available in the case of John Berg.  Mr. Berg had to retire according to the rules of the program, on time, as originally scheduled.  I hear he was disappointed by this, and if that’s true,  I can’t blame him for that.  For most people who rise to the top, the time there is fleeting.  Generally, they’re within a few years of retirement.  When you’ve worked hard all of your life to achieve a goal and you reach it, you would like to enjoy being there for more than a year or two.  Alas, that was not to be the case for Mr. Berg.

As I’ve said, these things are political, and the factions that form are significant both in their size and durability.  The faction that supported Berg’s original candidacy in the run-up to being named Chief still exists, and it was upset that he could not have his time in the top job extended.

A lot of what you’re seeing going on today is happening because that faction still exists.  This is responsible for some of the political tension that is playing out at this moment as Mr. Dwojakowski prepares to be confirmed in his role of Acting Police Chief to being named the permanent Police Chief.  And ultimately, this is why the time card scandal is being rehashed.

The recent departure of former Chief of Police John Berg turns out to be far more complex than the writing crossed out above.  At this point, I cannot say that I fully comprehend all of the new information that has come in to me this morning, however I now know the following things:

  • The Command Officers Association took a vote of confidence in John Berg as Police Chief some time after he became chief.  The vote tally was 24 in favor, 3 not in favor.  Mr. Berg had the support of his union — who are the other command officers — and they wanted his time as Chief extended significantly.
  • Mr. Berg was promised the position for two years, unless he “wowed council.”
  • City Manager Mark Vanderpool entered into an agreement with the Police Command Officers Association dated March 27, 2017 which provided for a way for John Berg to continue his employment with the city beyond the end date for his participation in the DROP program.  (Berg Letter of Understanding) Curiously, the city then opted to not pursue that course of action.

As I have stated in the past, I am a supporter of John Berg.  Although I believe there are most certainly factions of support for Mr. Berg and Mr. Dwojakowski, both men speak highly of each other and are personal friends.  Sometimes understanding this stuff is like taking on a plumbing project at home.  What at first looks quick and easy winds up being an exercise in tearing out walls and digging holes in the ground.  There is always more to know and understand than what first appears.  The above information doesn’t change my support for Dale Dwojakowski one iota, but it does shed some light on a political process that has many moving parts.

What do the Residents Know?

If you are an ordinary resident who doesn’t spend much time around the SHPD, you tend to believe whatever it is you happen to hear from whichever faction you happen to hear it from, and there is a danger you will form your opinions based on rumor and hearsay.  The Berg faction was and is highly popular with people of a conservative bent — yours truly included — but that is not to say that the Dwojakowski faction was or is liberal — it’s not.  It’s just a different faction that didn’t capture the imagination of the more vocal conservatives in town.

Oh, and by the way, cops tend to be conservative.  Some of them very conservative.

Chances are, if you are a conservative in Sterling Heights who is paying a normal amount of attention to city politics — which is to say, you’re not obsessed with it nor consumed by it,  involved in it, or writing twenty-seven hundred word essays about it — you’re on the Berg side, even though Mr. Berg is technically eliminated from any further consideration for the job as Chief of Police.  And you might even be nursing some sour grapes over the fact that Berg is out, and apparently Dwojakowski is on his way in, water over the bridge notwithstanding.  Loyalty is a funny thing: it tends to outlast the circumstances under which it forms.

The Time Card Scandal and its Relevance to Today

If you’re still with me after I’ve taken over a thousand words just to set the stage, then you will understand that bringing up the time card scandal some five and a half years and (almost) two chiefs of police later is police chief faction politics at work.   The time card scandal was not widely understood by people outside the police department at the time, and as it recedes further into the past, that circumstance is not improving with age.

Mr. Lombardini, in his effort to use my writings here as a device to oppose Mr. Dwojakowski’s appointment to the position of Police Chief, has apparently forgotten that I wrote quite a bit more about the scandal.

What Really Happened

In a post entitled “Time Card Scandal: What the Official Version of the Story Is Missing,” I explained how the official story was, er, a bit light on the facts.  I believe that the information contained in that post, written some time after the blog post of mine which Mr. Lombardini linked to, is largely exculpatory in nature and explains the difference between people who were out to defraud the city and people like Dale Dwojakowski, who clearly were not.

Let’s face it: the time card scandal was a black mark on a police department which is otherwise regarded very highly statewide.  A very small number of individuals — cops, all of them — conspired to steal money from the city — mostly for spite because of a contract issue that was going on at the time.

Unfortunately a bunch of good cops (indeed, the entire department) got dragged through the mud right along with the crooks by the city’s response.  The local press failed to get the complete story, and it was up to yours truly, a software developer, political activist and hobbyist writer — not a trained news reporter — to discover the truth about what happened well after the local news media had moved on and the impressions of the residents at large had already been formed.

Now be that as it may, as you read further I want you to ask yourself about how groups of highly competent, intelligent and competitive individuals behave when rotten apples are found in the group.

The Mishandling of the Scandal

The police chief at the time of the scandal, Michael Reese, gave an official version of the story before council that didn’t shed much light; in fact, it was designed to try to make the whole thing go away as quietly as possible, while assuring residents that those dirty cops who were responsible would be severely punished.   I believe this did a terrible disservice to a lot of good cops. In fact, I’m certain of it.

Actually, you don’t need to know much about what happened to see that Reese was trying to put a fire out, rather than shine the  light of truth on all of the circumstances and make the guilty pay.  All you had to do was listen carefully to what he said in his statement before council.  Here’s the most important quote: “If the command officer participated, or had knowledge that this was occurring without participating, then that individual is also in violation.  Likewise, the degree of participation does not lessen the violation.”

Reading just those two sentences alone, anyone can tell Reese sought to spread the blame around as widely as possible.   In other words, what he said was that every command officer who even knew something might have been awry was deemed just as guilty as people who were actively stealing from the city.

Every regular cop that might have slid out the door a few minutes early was just as criminal as the few command officers involved in the criminal conspiracy to steal from the city.

It didn’t matter what those cops actually did, what they knew, or when they knew it.  They got stamped with the same rubber stamp — GUILTY — regardless.

I’m a guy originally from Roseville who has deep blue-collar roots.  Over on that side of town, we called that sort of guilt-by-association thing bullshit.

A Fundamental Smear Job

For a department that prides itself on high standards, Chief Reese’s standard of guilt was pretty freaking low. The reality was there were three or four people who deserved criminal prosecution. There were 17 or 18 good cops whose names were dragged through the mud, who lost their vacations, and were hung out to dry by a police department that didn’t want to name names or create the potential for a hugely damaging lawsuit.  Dale Dwojakowski was among those good cops.

Even worse, there was an entire department that was tarnished — needlessly and wrongfully — by a police chief who was trying to spread around the blame for this incident as widely as possible.    I can’t tell you how this makes me feel.  I’ve already used up my one swear word for this blog post.

Therefore, residents have been given the false impressions that a.) a large number of dirty cops in command positions were stealing from the city, b.) those cops were given a slap on the wrist by a city that just wanted to make the whole thing go away, c.) that those dirty cops are still on the force and d.) one of those dirty cops is about to become chief.

Nice, huh?  More bovine, um, you know.

Why the Scandal Should Be Laid To Rest

I would be willing to bet you that the people who want to talk about the time card scandal in relationship to Dale Dwojakowski being appointed Chief of Police either don’t know or conveniently forgot the foregoing.  Further, I would bet you that people who want to bring this up couldn’t tell you which of the Police Command Officers who were named in the newspaper as being part of the scandal still even work for the department.

Remember how I asked you to think about how groups of highly competent, intelligent and competitive individuals behave when rotten apples are found in the group?

Here’s the answer: they push them out.  They disassociate themselves from them.  They refuse to tolerate their presence, because they understand that they will be tarnished via the guilt by association thing.

The fact is that the criminal conspirators are gone.  They have been for years.  The worst among them left in March, 2012.  The only ones named in that newspaper article who are still left on the force are the ones who got needlessly dragged through the mud.  That is a fact.

Five years later, this tired, old story is only relevant to people who either a.) didn’t know what actually happened, or b.) are part of a political faction that is using the story as the basis for an argument they cannot make with actual facts or logic.  It’s exactly like the whole Obama Birther scandal, or the 9/11 Truther scandal, or <insert –gate here>, except on a city-wide, rather than nation-wide scale.

It’s political garbage that has taken on a life of its own that has little to do with the actual facts.

That’s why it should be laid to rest.  It doesn’t illuminate, it obfuscates.  It’s being used as a political football long after the original game ended and the participants left.  It’s being repeated endlessly by people who either have an agenda or who don’t know what happened in the first place.

All of which is to say that we’ll still be talking about it ten years from now.

Sterling Heights Police’s CORE vs “Broken Windows” Policing

Editor’s Note: Tonight I had a Facebook exchange with a man over on the Sterling Heights Local Politics group wherein he advocated for the “Broken Windows” approach to policing the community: cracking down on minor violations in an attempt to establish an atmosphere of law and order in the hope this will reduce or eliminate crime.

I made several attempts to craft a Facebook response to him which encapsulated my thinking on the subject, but I just couldn’t do it justice in Facebook’s limited format.  Instead, I deleted that response, and decided to write my thoughts here.  In part this was because Facebook doesn’t allow you to hyperlink to more than one article in a post, but also it was because there is a much larger issue here that needs to be addressed.

Cones with CORE 4
While everyone wants to live in a safe place, there are differing opinions on how that is best achieved.   Demographics plays an important role in the perception of how the police should try to keep the community safe.

In particular, I am responding to a recent Facebook assertion that “cracking down on minor infractions” would reduce the instance of quality of life crimes in Sterling Heights such as drag racing, and aggressive driving. Instead, this approach would very likely backfire with the people it was attempting to protect.

Today In History

As it happens, today, July 28, 2017, is the 50th anniversary of the end of the 1967 Detroit riots.

The ’67 riots resulted in 43 deaths, 1,187 injuries, and the looting or burning of 2,509 stores, but perhaps more importantly, they resulted in a sharp decline of the city’s economic fortunes from which it has not fully recovered and perhaps never will.  I have vivid memories of riding around the city of Detroit as a child, fully ten years after the riots, seeing all of the burnt-out buildings and decay that remained all those years later.  Seeing that decay at such a young, impressionable age left me with a certain pessimism that arises every time someone touts the idea of Detroit “coming back.”

And what caused those riots?  Why, nothing other than Detroit Police’s use of the “broken windows” approach some 15-odd years before the term was coined.  These riots were completely avoidable, and I believe that the people who advocate for “broken windows” approaches today are none other than the ideological descendents of the people who created the conditions that sparked the riots of half a century ago.

Ideological Idiots

If you happen to be white, conservative, middle aged or older, and also authoritarian in your thinking, (WCMAOA), you might yearn for the years when the traditional law enforcement approach was taken and the cops aggressively went after every minor infraction of the law, i.e. the “broken windows” approach.   If you answer to that description, then you are without question one of the ideological descendents of which I speak.

The truth is that making the “police presence known” in this way never worked for anyone.  Instead it resulted in people feeling harassed and oppressed, didn’t really increase compliance with the law, tied up the cops and the courts with minor infractions and petty complaints, resulted in lawsuits against municipalities for police abuse, and generally resulted in an “us vs. them” sentiment between the police and the community they were supposed to be serving.

In the heyday of Detroit’s use of “broken windows” practices, elite teams of cops were isolated in their cars, driving instead of walking through neighborhoods that feared and distrusted them. I’m speaking in particular of the “Big Four” policing programs in Detroit of the 1960s, which is a perfect example of the “broken window” approach, and the one that led directly to the 1967 riots because of a violent police raid of a blind pig on what is now known as Rosa Parks Boulevard.

Today these bad ideas are still used in places like New York City, where the practice of “stop and frisk” routinely targets people of color and violates their Fourth Amendment rights.  Crime in the Big Apple and other large cities like Chicago continues nearly unabated.

Still, you can’t tell these authoritarian conservatives that their approach is wrong and has never worked.  Choosing instead to ignore the lessons of history, they advocate for even more “cracking down” — an approach that has been disproven.

What Broken Windows Approaches Really Do

The non-WCMAOA majority certainly does share a respect for law and order with the WCMAOA people, but what they don’t share is any desire to get a ticket for going three over the limit, or to otherwise be harassed by law enforcement.  And nor do I, for that matter.  Although I certainly am white, middle aged and politically conservative, I’m not an authoritarian.  I am a small-L libertarian when it comes to our Constitutional rights, and I am a big believer in the Fourth Amendment.  I don’t think harassing people engenders compliance with the law; rather, it creates the conditions necessary for violent uprisings.  In short, Broken Windows approaches cause riots.  Direct your attention south of Eight Mile Road if you want to see the ultimate result of “broken windows.”

Partnering with the People instead of Harassing Them

Non-WCMAOAs want to feel they are in a partnership with their police officers, to get to know them, to work with them, and to not be afraid their rights are going to be violated by them. Rather than being slapped for every minor infraction of the law, they would rather see police attention turned toward the more serious problems in their community, such as the ongoing opioid drug epidemic, property crimes, drunk driving, human trafficking and other such issues.  Rather than being viewed by police as potential criminals, non-WCMAOAs want to be viewed as part of the solution to crime.  The key is for the police to engage them in such a way that they can become part of the solution and let their concerns be heard.

The community-oriented model that more modern police departments are starting to implement, such as the Sterling Heights CORE initiative, recognizes the failures of “broken windows” policing approaches and tries to come up with something more in line with the “protect and serve” motto. The result is hoped to be far more effective for everyone.  It puts police officers into the community in a unique way by humanizing them, making them part of the fabric of the community, and partnering them with residents in a shared approach to reducing and eliminating crime.

Although it may no longer be financially possible for a large contingent of cops to “walk a beat” through every city, by making them available to the community in this way the hope is to strike a balance between fiscal prudence and the need for the police to fully integrate with the neighborhoods they serve.

Broken Windows is Broken Policing

The desire to control quality-of-life issues via fear and intimidation and “cracking down,” the traditional “broken windows” approach,  is exactly the wrong answer. It has been proven to be an abject failure every time it has been tried.  In the past, it has resulted in death, injury, and the permanent destruction of important American cities.  It represents a failure to learn the lessons of history and apply them to the problems of today.

Nothing is perfect, and not every law enforcement problem can be easily and satisfactorily resolved.  Not every quality of life issue has a simple solution.  The CORE program may not reduce drag racing on the streets, littering, or people failing to signal when changing lanes.  Hopefully, though, it represents a solid attempt to learn the lessons of history and avoid the pitfalls of bad practices like “broken windows” policing.

Sterling Heights deserves better than the broken policy of “Broken Windows.”

A Naked Boy, Some Bystanders, and The Warren Police

Today, while I was on my way to an appointment, I found myself sitting in the left turn lane on southbound Ryan where it intersects with 14 Mile Road at the Sterling Heights/Warren border.

Further south of me, in the southbound lanes, I heard the screech of brakes , drawing my attention over to my right. I observed a young boy, perhaps 9 or 10 years of age, wearing nothing below the waist, barefoot, running across five lanes of Ryan’s traffic from west to east.

I was in a position to head the boy off by quickly turning into the parking lot of the BP gas station on the southeast corner of the intersection. I jumped out of my truck to run toward the child just as another passer-by coming from the other direction was doing the same thing.  The two of us grabbed the boy, and after each of us realizing the other was not the boy’s father, commenced to deciding what to do next.

The boy was entirely non-verbal. I’m not an expert, but his behavior matched with what I’ve seen before in severe cases of autism. At any rate, he was clearly a special needs child.  As I mentioned, he was naked except for a short t-shirt,  extremely agitated, and did not appreciate being restrained. It was plain to see that he would have run back out into traffic had we let him go, so the other guy restrained him while I called 911.

You probably realize that calling 911 in this area from a cellphone results in the call being routed first through the Macomb County Emergency Operations Center. At that point, when I stated I was in Warren, they transferred the call to the Warren Police Dispatch.

Warren Police Dispatch seemed far more concerned about establishing whether or not I was in Warren then they were in dealing with the actual emergency. I was asked several times where I was, and was I sure I was in Warren? In the meantime, the extremely agitated boy was struggling with the man who was restraining him, shrieking and trying to get away while I made my phone call. After they had to repeat the question to me three times as to whether the boy was black or white, I was finally able to answer what few questions they had, and then, supposedly the police were on their way, so I disconnected the call.

Next up was trying to get the boy covered. I keep a small plastic tarp in my truck, so we wrapped it around the boy, who was still struggling, but calmed a bit when someone handed him a bottle of water. We tried to speak soothingly to the boy, me in English, the other man in Arabic, as it seemed the boy was likely of Middle Eastern descent.  The boy wasn’t too fond of the tarp, but this incident was drawing a crowd and it seemed to be the right thing to do.

Ten minutes went by with no police car. It wasn’t a long period of time, but it seemed like an eternity while we were trying to keep this poor kid from getting himself killed in traffic.

Then, a black GMC Terrain pulled into the gas station, and a man in his 40s jumped out speaking rapidly in Arabic. The other man helping me restrain the boy translated for me that he was the boy’s father, and the man led the boy into the back seat of the SUV.

I was terribly conflicted by this. The police still hadn’t shown up and things were happening just a bit too quickly. Who knows who this man claiming to be the father really was? The boy was agitated, the ‘father’ upset, the other man helping me restrain the boy was willing to turn the boy over seemingly without question, and I didn’t want to make a chaotic situation worse by demanding that everyone just stay put until the police arrived.  Mind you, I was going to be late for my appointment, but that seemed to be pretty far down on my list of concerns.

So I wrote down the vehicle’s license plate and description, and called 911 back. The county routed me to Warren PD; the dispatcher answered the call and I gave them the update that the boy was being taken away.

The dispatcher said “So, did the boy’s father arrive? He called us and said he was coming to get his son.” Evidently, the police were not on their way.  They somewhat reluctantly took down the information I had for them, seeming a bit skeptical that anything could be amiss, but willing to do so just to get me off the phone.

I may be making some unfair assumptions here, but it seems like the Warren PD was willing to accept, sight unseen, that the man in the SUV was indeed the boy’s father, just on the strength of a phone call. Again, I’m sure a few 911 calls all transpired at the same time because of this, and I have no idea what all was said, but from my point of view it didn’t look like there was any way to be sure what was going on.

When it was all said and done, the boy was gone. The Warren Police were done with the case without having even sent out a squad car. The other bystanders concluded that everything was fine and went on their way. I remained behind, the only one, apparently, wondering if what had just happened was the right thing, calling 911 just to be sure.

I don’t know what the police protocol is for cases such as this, so I don’t actually know if this is what they would normally do. I don’t know if all the underlying assumptions apparently made here by Warren PD were made safely. What I do know is that I had hoped for and expected more than what the Warren PD did in handling this.   It just seems like there were a lot of cracks in the process this boy could have fallen through. I sincerely hope that it would have been handled a bit differently if it had happened in Sterling Heights instead of where it did.

Maybe I’m a bit paranoid. Perhaps there was no other reasonable explanation for the man who showed up other than that he was actually the father. I am reminded of the dictum that when you are involved in a defensive gun use, you had better make sure that you’re the first one on the phone to 911, because they assume the first caller is, in fact the victim. Is that a safe assumption? I don’t know, but I am skeptical.

Is it a safe assumption that the boy has been reunited with his father and all is well? I certainly hope so, but I’ll probably never know.

Why Deporting Criminal Immigrants Is Justified

Mayor Michael C. Taylor, in response to news stories about the round-up of Chaldean immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement this past weekend, posted this to his personal Facebook page:

I’m going to disagree with the mayor here. Although I too find the notion of families being separated, perhaps due in some cases to decades-old minor criminal offenses, heart-wrenching, it is important to get beyond the emotions the videos invoke and think clearly about what is going on here.

When you are an immigrant to this country, you are responsible to maintain your legal immigration status. You are responsible for your behavior. Therefore, you are responsible for making sure that your behavior does not do harm to your immigration status. Personal responsibility is the bedrock of American law, and it is paramount this informs your conduct when you are not legally entitled to remain here.

It is important to realize that the folks being deported knew what they were in for, or at the very least SHOULD have known. This is not happening at random: due process has been exercised in each and every individual deportation case.  All of these folks have had their day in court before a judge.  Every single one remained here on borrowed time until a deportation agreement could be worked out with the Iraqi government.  Although some of the crimes people are being deported for are minor, some are very much not: rape and murder are in the list of offenses according to the news reports.  I have no sadness in my heart for people who have committed rape or murder and are being deported as a result.

Everyone who lives in the United States is responsible for knowing the law, and in the special case of immigrants, how the laws of immigration apply specifically to them. Ignorance is no excuse.  Neither is any language barrier: plenty of people are bilingual between immigrant tongues and English who could serve as translators. Knowing that you came here under a status that could be revoked should make you want to know what the rules are. That should be simple common sense.  And knowing the rules is just as simple as asking the question.

I am not against giving immigrants with only minor criminal offenses a second chance if they go through a process and demonstrate they deserve one.   It is my understanding, however, that in these cases we’ve gone way beyond that point.  Again, we must understand that every deportee had their day in court,  and the judge concluded that deportation was the only path that could be followed for them under the law.  We have had due process.  It should be respected.

Know that the law is being applied equally here, not only to Chaldeans and Assyrians, but also to Mexicans, Albanians, Muslims of various nationalities, and people from other nations. Americans sent the message rather convincingly in the last national election that they want their laws enforced, and immigration laws in particular, and so that is happening.  People have been bemoaning Trump’s immigration policy, but the law is not new, and the enforcement of this part of it is not different.  That there is a renewed emphasis on following it after nearly a decade of neglect is the only real change.

In the end, if you do not have a green card or citizenship status, you face deportation for committing a crime while here essentially as a guest of the United States. That may seem draconian given the circumstances Christian immigrants from Iraq are under, but the circumstances of fleeing a dangerous country are not unique.  These immigrants should have known that being sent back to Iraq was a fate too terrible to allow to happen to themselves.

I am not at all convinced that shipping these few dozen people back to their native country is a bad thing.  First, it gets some truly bad people off our streets. Second, it should help the ones who remain to understand the idea that if you come here you need to follow our laws, and that if you screw up, there may be no undoing it.  As an immigrant without green card or citizen status, you are not entitled to remain here.

In the end, everyone should know this: being allowed to immigrate to the United States of America is a gift of freedom given to you by the descendents of past immigrants. Living here is not a right until you either obtain a green card or go through the process of becoming a citizen.  Do not take the gift of freedom for granted:  If you choose to behave criminally, the gift can be revoked.  Unfortunately for those who were rounded up this past weekend, they now know this firsthand.

Dale Dwojakowski For Chief of Police

With the impending retirement of Police Chief John Berg, the city finds itself once again going through the process of selecting a new police chief.  The best choice for the job has already been vetted and is ready to go to work: Captain Dale Dwojakowski.

I do not recommend anyone for anything, be it for city business or in my own personal life, unless I know the person and have spent time working with them.  In my role as a coordinator for the Sterling Heights CERT, I have been fortunate to get to know Mr. Dwojakowski over the past several months, and my impression of him has been a very good one.  Dwojakowski is a skilled leader who has a good relationship with the people who he works with.  He is personable, articulate and a capable navigator around City Hall.  He is a tech aficionado, holds a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice, and teaches University-level courses in the discipline.  He’s also a booster of community programs like COPS and CERT, and a pretty nice guy.

Avid followers of city politics will recall that last year a professional testing firm was brought in by the city to evaluate the two candidates who were vying for the Chief’s job.  A considerable amount of money — about $7,000 — was spent testing the two men and having them evaluated by three different Chiefs of Police with whom they weren’t acquainted.  Although last year I recommended John Berg for the post based on my personal knowledge of him, the man who scored highest in the evaluation was Dale Dwojakowski.  He is fully capable and ready to do the job.

Around town I have heard a couple of objections to Dwojakowski’s candidacy: one, he was named in the Police time card scandal from 2012, and two, he suffered a serious injury years ago which left him with greatly reduced grip strength in his right hand.  People allege that Dwojakowski is somehow a dirty cop for his so-called “involvement” in the scandal, and they also say he doesn’t have the strength to do police work.

In a word, these objections are nonsense.  I thoroughly investigated and documented my findings on the 2012 time card scandal back when memories were still fresh and the stories were still in the news every night.  The time card scandal was more of a political exercise in damage control and spreading the blame around to protect friends of the chief than it was an uncovering of widespread fraud in the department.  Of the 21 command officers who ultimately shouldered the blame for that situation, only three or four actually committed fraud against the city.  As you know, in political damage control the truth gets distorted and reputations can be smeared undeservingly.  I have clear recollections of what took place back in 2012, and although I will forever keep them confidential, I know names of the bad actors who defrauded the city.  Mr. Dwojakowski wasn’t one of them.  Dale Dwojakowski paid the same high price that all of the command officers who were named were forced to, and that should be the end of it.

As to the Captain’s grip strength in his right hand: yeah, he’s got a minor disability there.   I wouldn’t want to be standing down range from him when he’s got his service pistol in his left hand, however: he regularly qualifies with nice, tight groups shooting southpaw.  And if he needs to push or shove with that right arm he is completely uninhibited; the only inability he has is in curling his fingers.   A criminal perp betting against Dale Dwojakowski is going to end up on the ground in cuffs.

At age 46, Dwojakowski never entered the DROP program, and has as many as seven years to go before retirement.  His elevation to the Chief’s post will do several things for the city.  One, it will provide continuity of leadership that is sorely needed during a time of a massive turnover in the department due to retirements.  Two, it will place into the job somebody who not only has the right personality and skills to do it, but also someone who has been professionally vetted and evaluated for the job and passed with flying colors.  Finally, it puts someone at the top of the department who has the respect of both his subordinates as well as City Council, and who demonstrates that the residents come first via his support for civilian programs like the aforementioned COPS, CERT, and the forthcoming return of the Civilian Police Academy program.

I support Dale Dwojakowski for Chief of Police.