ESCANABA — It will be a night of updates and discussions Thursday, when City Council will address a variety of issues, including the retail sale of marijuana in the city, how to proceed with the assessment of City Manager Patrick Jordan, the sale and redevelopment of the former Delta County Jail, and the current status of an ongoing investigation into funds that went missing during a past attempt to redevelopment jail property.
Council will continue its discussion of the future of marijuana retail sales in Escanaba by reviewing the questionnaires that each council member received from Laura Genovich, a city attorney from Foster Swift of Grand Rapids who specializes in filing ordinances on marijuana. The city contracted Genovich earlier this month for marijuana-related services on the advice of the city’s regular municipal attorney, Lisa Vogler, who was hired in late April and felt that ordinances on marijuana were outside the scope of his practice.
The nature of marijuana ordinances means that they are highly customizable, allowing communities to decide things like the location of commercial marijuana establishments, whether or not there should be a maximum number of establishments in a city and what types of establishments are allowed. Through the questionnaires, the council hopes to focus on what they think commercial marijuana would look like in the city so information can be provided to Genovich. Genovich will then draft the necessary orders to implement legal marijuana business operations.
At this time, retail stores and other commercial marijuana establishments are illegal in the city. However, the city council voted on April 7 to authorize business operations, pending the creation and passage of the necessary ordinances. Commercial marijuana sales and services will be legal after the ordinances pass or on Sept. 19, when a sunset clause repeals the existing ordinance removing the city from state marijuana law — whichever comes first .
If the sunset clause takes effect before local ordinances pass, marijuana sales will automatically become legal in the city, with only state rules in place to regulate their operation. Genovich said she thought it was possible to get the orders in place before the September 19 deadline.
Council will be updated on the progress of the sale and redevelopment of the former Delta County Jail and Chamber of Commerce properties. Before Vogler took up her new position as city attorney, the city had attempted to work directly with developers through a request for proposals process. The process hit a snag when the city administration recommended awarding the project to a Lower Michigan developer and the remaining potential developers — all of whom are from Delta County — decided to drop their individual proposals for sites in favor of a combined development proposal. The council was unsure whether it could legally award the project to local developers as no request for proposals had been submitted for the joint project.
Instead, on Vogler’s recommendation, the city abandoned the proposal process entirely and began the process of selling properties directly, using the city’s land sales policy as a guide. This required additional steps, such as assessments. The council directed Jordan to begin implementing the process and to continue working with local developers to sell the land directly.
At the end of Thursday’s agenda is an update from Escanaba Public Safety on an ongoing investigation into funds that went missing during an unsuccessful attempt to redevelop the prison site.
About $29,000 in state grant funds went missing during the city’s relationship with Proxima Management Group, which had publicly stated plans to build a $23 million hotel development on the sites of the Old Jail and the Delta County Chamber of Commerce. The city ended its relationship with Proxima at the end of 2021 after there had been no contact from the promoter for more than eight months.
The case is being investigated by Escanaba Public Safety and the FBI. Escanaba City Manager Patrick Jordan has repeatedly said there is no evidence or implication that city personnel were involved in the incident.
ASSESSMENT OF THE MUNICIPAL MANAGER
The council will continue its discussion on the evaluation of Jordan’s performance as a city manager. At a special meeting on May 26, the council approved evaluation forms for the council to use to review Jordan’s performance, as well as forms for city department heads to review and a self-assessment. to be completed by Jordan. Forms were to be completed by Thursday and submitted to the city’s human resources department, where they would be compiled and sent to council members for review at the council meeting.
FUNDING AND SUPPORT FOR NPOs
The city budget includes funds to support three nonprofit organizations: Enhance Escanaba, the Bonifas Arts Center, and the Delta County Historical Society. Service agreements with the three entities are on Thursday’s agenda.
Enhance Escanaba — a nonprofit founded by City Council member Karen Moore, who is also the group’s president — is set to receive $5,000 to “Initiate, design, promote and finance beautification projects in public, private and historical places in the city of Escanaba.” One of these projects carried out by the group is the recent planting of hydrangeas along Ludington Street.
The municipality will also consider renewing its service agreement with the Center d’Art de Bonifas. Under the agreement, the city is contributing $5,000 for the 2022-23 fiscal year and the arts center offers six to eight exhibitions, a minimum of four plays and a minimum of 35 workshops or art classes and Creation. Also on the agenda is a resolution supporting the arts center’s 2023 grant application to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. “Musical Mondays” summer concert series. If approved, the city will serve as trustee of the funds
As part of the service agreement with the Delta County Historical Society the board is considering Thursday, the city would provide the society $2,000 for continued work and new exhibits at the museum and lighthouse.
Four public hearings are also on the program. The first hearing is about the project plan for planned water system upgrades that are necessary for the city to receive grants through the state’s Clean Water Revolving Fund. Later in the meeting, the board will consider a resolution adopting the plan. The second hearing relates to an amendment to the city’s appropriations ordinance for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022. It is necessary to balance overspending and underspending under state law. The last two public hearings deal with special assessments for alloy pavings. Both projects were requested by landowners who would be assessed.
A series of agenda items relate to the city’s public works department. Council will hear the paving schedule for the year; approve bids for ADA ramp construction, engineering services, and curb construction; and appointing Acting City Engineer Wendy Taavola as City Streets Administrator.
The council will consider renewing the city’s property and liability insurance through the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority.