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Marine City Commissioners respond to criticism

Photo by Barb Pert Templeton for Blue Water Healthy Living The Marine City Commission meets on the first and third Thursdays of the month at 7 p.m.

Former Commissioner Hilferink questions transparency 

By Barb Pert Templeton

Normally, when citizens step to the podium at Marine City Commission meetings to offer public comments, whether they are compliments, complaints or criticism, officials simply let them be heard and don’t directly respond.

At a on June 20 meeting officials veered from that policy when the city manager and a number of commissioners spoke out to refute things claimed by former Marine City Commissioner Michael Hilferink during public comments.

“There is nothing nefarious going on, we’ve done the people’s business the way we should, open to the public and we continue to do that,” Marine City Manager Scott Adkins said.

During public comments Hilferink said “as always” he wanted to talk about ‘transparency and accountability.’  He said it seems at every single meeting, towards the end, those seated at the board table are patting each other on the back and acting like things are perfect, when that’s not necessarily the case.

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television
Marine City resident Michael Hilferink spoke during the public comments portion of a June 20 city commission meeting to express concerns about a lack of transparency related to city business.

He then listed a number of things as problems including vandalism at the city beach bathrooms and overgrowth of weeds at the local cemetery. There were discussions in the past about contracting the services out for the cemetery and then it was never brought up at a commission meeting, instead the commission just decided to hire another person for the DPW, Hilferink said.  

“These conversations should not be happening behind the scenes in emails, on texts, these conversations need to happen at this table,” Hilferink said. “These are the things you guys discuss at this table not in emails, that’s not transparent.”

Next Hilferink said he wanted to know when city officials were going to explain when residents’ water bills were going to go up by $15 a month. 

“When can the average senior on a fixed income expect their water bills to go up 35 percent,” Hilferink said. “That’s asking a senior to choose between water and medication, that’s not right.”

City Manager defends process

During his report to the commission Adkins said he wanted to briefly address an accusation that was thrown out during public comments stating there was a lack of transparency in city business. 

“There certainly has not been and will not be a flurry of activities of emails and texts and phone calls or smoke signals sent out to any of you to conduct any business,” Adkins said. 

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television
Marine City Commissioner Brian Ross said he wanted to refute a couple of things stated by Michael Hilferink during the public comments portion of the June 20 commission meeting.

He said it’s clearly outlined in the open meetings act and it’s not the way that he’s ever practiced nor to his knowledge had anyone else on the commission.

“I do take that personally when you have that thrown out,” Adkins said. “The reason why my reports tend to be so lengthy is because I give you and the residents a ton of information, sometimes more that you want to hear or deal with, but that’s part of doing the people’s business.”

In fact, those discussions are what prompt items for the meeting agendas especially when the commission wants more information. 

“And the early comments made by a former commissioner are way off base when it comes to the safe drinking water project and I need to say what needs to be said, this was not done under the cover of darkness,” Adkins said, noting it has been a very public process since early 2023 that included a detailed presentation by the engineers. 

The entire plan was put up on the website along with a PowerPoint for nearly a year, he added.

“We do have antiquated facilities, our water plant is our oldest operating infrastructure facility,” Adkins said. “We as a city had been placed under administrative consent order by the state with about 30 items or so that needed to be addressed.”

The order stated that the city must do a list of things to come into compliance. Next the city had to find a way to come up with $29 million dollars to do the fixes required. 

The first step was seeking $13 million dollars in grant monies and another $13 million dollar state loan through the safe water drinking program.

Commissioners refute criticism 

Commissioner Brian Ross said he also wanted to refute two things stated by Hilferink at the podium. One was that seniors will have to pick between paying their water bill or buying food. Ross said there are programs that can help them and he hopes that anyone who might have to make that decision would take advantage of them.

The other statement was a suggestion that the city “get creative with our money” but they are in fact investing in things and so the person who claimed otherwise ‘wasn’t paying attention,’ Ross said.

 “We don’t like to hear about things on the street or read it on Facebook that is bashing and damming the city, we want to make the city better, none of us are perfect but we all care about this community,” Adkins said. 

“Come with an idea, not a critique,” Ross added.

Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Hendrick said that Adkins does constantly supply the commission with information and she’s very appreciative of his work. 

“He gets the information out to us and for all the time I’ve been on here, this is a first, we’ve never gotten this volume of information,” she said. “I appreciate it because it keeps us up to date on stuff so when someone comes up to me, I can answer them based on all the information you’re providing.” 

Commissioner Sean O’Brien complimented the city staff and said at some point via retirement or moving on to other places of employment, there will be open positions in Marine City that will need to be filled. 

“We cannot do that by attacking our city employee’s week after week, whether it’s online or in person up here, it’s wrong, especially when someone says they are for the working man and then they attack the working man,” O’Brien said. “It’s inappropriate, it’s hypocritical and insulting to the hard work that we do. This is not something anyone in the city should be doing or anyone in the city should stand for. “

In addition, O’Brien said they are not making decisions in emails or via text and in fact that means sometimes things don’t get done as fast as they’d like because they have to do things within the open meetings act at the commission table.”

He said the water project is being addressed and has been laid out by the city manager. 

“There may be up to a $15 increase down the road but we’re looking at that coming in far under,” O’Brien said. 

He encouraged residents with questions and concerns to go to the city offices or better yet come to the commission meetings and share their concerns. 

“You’re not getting the best information on Facebook,” O’Brien said. “It’s not that we don’t want you discussing the town online, that’s great, please continue to do that but when you are having these pressing questions like tonight, please come here.”

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