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Gladstone, former commissioner still at odds

Daily Press file photo Work progreses on Gladstone’s 9th Street Project in this file photo taken in the summer of 2020, Designation of the 9th Street Special Assessment District remains a point of contention between the city and a former city commissioner.

GLADSTONE — Despite an advertisement in the U.P. Action News, the City of Gladstone will not face off against former city commissioner Mike O’Connor in Delta County Circuit Court, according to City Manager Eric Buckman.

The advertisement announcing a hearing — one of two targeting the city and its operations that were published in the June 13 Action — stated a hearing would be held before Judge John Economopoulos Friday at 2 p.m. concerning a lawsuit filed on April 27 by O’Connor and 11 other Gladstone property owners over the 9th Street Special Assessment.

While a hearing was initially planned for that day, Economopoulos recused himself on June 8 due to his friendship with City Commissioner Brad Mantela. Economopoulos had previously recused himself in 2017 for the same reason from a different series of lawsuits brought by O’Connor against the city.

Economopoulos’ recusal leaves the case in the hands of Judge Mary Barglind, who also stepped in to take over the prior cases levied against the city by O’Connor. Barglind has not yet set a date for the initial hearing, but it is expected to take place sometime in September.

Both the advertisement paid for by O’Connor and the lawsuit itself allege the city violated its charter in its designation of the 9th Street Special Assessment district.

“The City of Gladstone was in such a hurry to screw over the citizens by charging them to replace streets and sidewalks, the City of Gladstone Commission forgot to pass the required mandatory RESOLUTION to create the Special Assessment District. No Resolution, No Special Assessment District, No Special Assessment,” the advertisement reads in part.

The lawsuit itself claims on Aug. 12, 2019, the city commission failed to pass Resolution No. 2019-10-1, “Intent to Create a Special Assessment District,” instead voting to delay the vote on the resolution until a special meeting on Aug. 19 to discuss the project’s revenue sources.

While the city is adamant the resolution was passed, the confusion may stem from a single semicolon in the minutes for the Aug. 12 meeting, which read:

“Motion by Commissioner Phalen, supported by Commissioner Mantela to set a special meeting for Monday, August 19, 2019 at 5:00 PM City Hall to discuss revenue sources for the bonding and provide direction for the bond issuance; and approve Resolution No. 2019-10-01.”

However, the meeting in its entirety is also available for viewing on the city’s YouTube channel. In that video — which is an archive of the livestreamed video feed from the meeting — the commission voted to approve the resolution unanimously prior to voting on a second motion setting a special meeting on revenue sources.

While the majority of the suit hinges on whether or not the resolution was adopted on Aug. 12, 2019, a number of other claims are also made in the suit alleging legal notice requirements were not met and that some assessments were beyond thresholds set in the city’s charter.

The plaintiffs in the case seek the assessment to be invalidated, to be allowed to retroactively appeal their 2019 property taxes, automatic extensions if future assessment notice mailings are delayed, a stop to foreclosure and foreclosure proceedings arising from assessment delinquencies, and “all such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper, such as a refund of improper assessments.”

Joining O’Connor in the suit are James Rian, Lori Rian, Donald Nault, Vicky Viau, Steve Viau, Jeff Diebolt, Nancy Gunden, Dan Brown, James Nelson, John Lewandowski, and Conrad Yagodzinski.

O’Connor’s confidence in the suit was evident from his advertisement, which also took aim at the city’s use of Miller Canfield for legal services. The city has historically used Miller Canfield for all bonding and Downtown Development Related legal counsel.

“Well, I see you City Commissioners enlisted the legal services of Miller Canfield to come up with some half baked scheme to ask for the judge to dismiss this case. I know you have all the tax payers money to play with, so why not spend it all on a case you cannot win?” read a portion of the advertisement.

The advertisement announcing the canceled hearing was not the only ad purchased by O’Connor. Published directly above the hearing notice was another advertisement structured as an open letter to Mayor Joe Thompson, which claimed the city had failed to return $2.9 million to city electric customers following a settlement O’Connor reached with the city in November of 2018.

The city claims many of the statements in the advertisement are false, including O’Connor’s claim the city’s electric rate increase were not the result of a rate study the city agreed to conduct as part of a settlement with him and that the electric fund has $3.9 million in balance — Buckman said the fund had $2.5 million in it as of Monday morning and noted a series of upgrades to the electric system planned over the next few years.

However, more surprising to the city than the claims in the advertisement was the fact the advertisement existed at all.

“He has signed a release not to stir that up anymore, and so we’re going to be looking into that, for sure,” said Buckman.

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