Esky takes over some housing duties

ESCANABA — The Escanaba City Council moved to take over some of the duties of the Escanaba Housing Commission Thursday, but the move was met with resistance from some on the council who felt it was unfairly stepping on the toes of the appointed board.

By state law, the city has the authority to provide oversight in setting compensation ranges and classifications for the officers and employees of the housing commission, which oversees the operation of Harbor Tower. The resolution passed by the city council Thursday grants the city this oversight and also directs the city’s human resources department develop these compensation ranges and classifications to be consistent with the city’s existing guidelines for officers and employees.

“It is part of our city, regardless of whether the city owns it or not. The perception is there and right now it needs … oversight. At least maybe we can help. I’m looking at it as us being able to help,” said Mayor Pro Tem Peggy O’Connell.

However, Council Member Tyler DuBord was quick to point out the housing commission is already appointed by the city’s mayor. He questioned the rationale behind the city taking on the additional responsibility of overseeing the commission when the council already had oversight of its members.

“The city never owned (Harbor Tower) according to deeds and talking to the clerk here. In addition to that, I guess I’m not understanding the benefit for us taking it back — or trying to take oversight of the employees and salaries and compensation. No monies are coming out of the city budget for it. It’s all paid for by HUD and the rental monies that they’re making. I don’t see the benefit but more of a burden for us,” said Council Member Tyler DuBord.

Council Member Ralph Blasier also raised concerns over the city taking more control over the commission — especially since some of the members of the commission were recent appointments.

“We have recently appointed additional persons to that commission. Let’s let them do their job. That’s what we appoint them for. You think we ought to appoint them and then take over their work? I don’t,” said Blasier.

Multiple members of the council noted the housing commission has made changes recently and been more open with the city about its financial position. However, some felt there was still more to be done.

“There has been a change but I believe there’s a long way to go, and this is a step towards making this a city operation once again and hopefully a senior housing project once again, as it once was and operated so well for so long,” said Mayor Marc Tall.

Concerns were raised that the city could be required to rehire three union positions, which were eliminated when the city gave up oversight of the commission in 1996. Those positions were not directly paid by the city, but had access to city benefit packages. Whether or not those positions would need to be reinstated was unknown.

“What do we do with the employees we deliberately struck from our roster some years ago? Do we really want them back? To have three more Teamsters? I don’t,” said Blasier.

Tall did not believe reestablishing oversight would require the employees to be rehired.

“As I understood the possibility open to us was by passing this resolution we would have oversight on the setting of the salaries and benefits, but they would not become our employees. They haven’t been before and they weren’t before 20 years ago,” he said.

When it came to a vote, the council split with Dubord and Blasier voting against the move while Tall, O’Connell, and Council Member Karen Moore voted in favor of the resolution.

In other business, the council:

– Held a public hearing on and approved the adoption of an ordinance reducing the size of the city’s planning commission from nine to seven members. Currently, three of the seats on the commission are unoccupied.

– Held a public hearing and approved an ordinance requiring foundations to be removed when buildings are demolished in the city. If for some reason the foundation cannot be removed, it may be left in the ground if deemed appropriate by the city manager and a note is added to the property’s deed indicating the foundation is still in place.

– Approved awarding the bid for paving projects in the city for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to Payne & Dolan, Inc. The company was the only bidder for the contract.

– Renewed a contract with the Delta County Prosecutor’s office for the prosecution of city misdemeanors.

– Temporarily removed the city’s sidewalk restrictions in an effort to assist bars and retail establishments that have been hard-hit by Executive Orders from Governor Gretchen Whitmer in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will allow outdoor seating and sales of merchandise on the sidewalk.

– Approved the first reading of an ordinance extending the city’s prohibition on marijuana establishments in the city till Sept. 16, 2022 and set a second reading, public hearing, and possible adoption of the ordinance for the Aug. 20, 2020 meeting.


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