Did the Mayor of Manistique Deserve to be Recalled?
A.K.A. The Online Engineering Inc. Relocation Fiasco



This article is one of a series of editorial articles that express personal opinions and views. They are written with no pretensions to be error free. I will gladly correct substantial errors of fact. My opinions can change, depending upon my awareness of changes in factual information. It is my intent to remain focussed on specific public issues, regarding the personalities involved. For all I know, all the characters are saints, concerning their private lives and other public business...

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This editorial regards my perception of the irresponsible, costly, and questionably legal manner in which the Mayor of the City of Manistique, Jack Hoag, and the Manistique City Manager, Alan Housler, chose to approach a chemical contaminated industrial site preparation process for Online Engineering Inc., ostensibly, for the purpose of encouraging Online Engineering Inc. to move their production facilities to Manistique. This editorial is not technical in nature, and required no special documentation. It did require my basic understanding of issues and details, most of which, if not all, I suspect, were covered in appropriate depth by the Manistique Pioneer Tribune newspaper.

Other than an August 12 issue of the Pioneer Tribune, I make no references to any of my notes, or other past newspaper articles, or any other third party reference material. This "story" is casual and relates my observations and understanding as I became aware of certain events. It also documents my continuing disappointment in the defensive public noise from apologists that find nothing extraordinary in what I relate, and what it implies about the competence and ethics of those public officials involved.

In the early 90's Alan Housler and I, he as Manistique City Manager, and I as "resident", were caught up in the consequences of Michigan D.N.R. and Michigan D.E.Q. environmental protection regulations, and the consequences to the City of Manistique, when prior city officials approached their public responsibilities in gross ignorance, and worse. The results of our efforts, eventually, was a public baptismal in a political firestorm and an eventual bill to city residents of some $2.5 million and legal expenses, plus whatever future environmental fallout that will result from the City of Manistique's sole responsibility for the now closed M-94 landfill. All those involved with the closing of the landfill received a great education regarding Michigan environmental regulations, procedures, and consequences; an education that could not be forgotten, without deliberate effort.

Early Summer, of 2004, from my backyard, I heard heavy equipment noise from the direction of the area designated as the Manistique "industrial park". Within a few days of first noticing the heavy machine noises, I took a stroll to visit the property. I brought my camera to record anything that I might find of interest. This image shows part of the contaminated site being removed, and another part of the site covered with clean sand.

The City of Manistique Department of Public Works equipment, on site, surprised me. I was unaware of any public policy or business decision that might have the City of Manistique involved in removing soil from a site that was, as a consequence of much public record business, known by many Manistique residents, and City Manager, Alan Housler, to have serious chemical contamination problems. Three contamination survey test wells are in open view, within approximately 100 feet of the property being cleared. (1) and (2), (3).

One test well casing is marked by the white stakes behind the bicycle spectator at the far left of the photograph. Another test well is marked by similar stakes, in full open view along the Cedar St. right- of-way, behind the light pole, from the camera point of view. A third test well, marked in a similar fashion, is behind the orange D.P.W. truck. Three more test wells, all identified in a similar manner, on the balance of the industrial site, are in full view within about 100 yards of the area being cleared.

Anyone that had visited the site, as both Mayor Hoag and City Manager Housler admitted they had, could not miss all of the 6 clearly marked test wells, each well surrounded by 3 prominent white or red stakes. The City of Manistique D.P.W. workers, clearing the site, had to be aware of two wells, at least, or they would have been destroyed during the excavation and filling activity. One is adjacent to the east boundary of the site, and the other at the northern end of the park, where the old foundation rubble from the site was piled.

I, as nothing more than "resident", had personal knowledge of some of the contamination sources. I had attended several Manistique City Council meetings at which City Manager Housler informed council members about the industrial park contamination issues, available contamination survey grant money, the application for and approval of the grant, and the contract to have an engineering business conduct the contamination survey. So there I stood, watching a City of Manistique "public works" project that I had no knowledge of and that I had every reason to believe was engaged in an illegal activity of moving soil from a contaminated site and disposing of it, elsewhere. How could that be?

Within a few days of taking the photograph, I inquired of Paul Olson, the Manistique Pioneer Tribune Managing Editor-Ace Reporter-Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, what public business, that he was aware of, had triggered the intense excavation activity. He told me that he had heard a rumor that an unidentified business had intentions of locating production facilities there, but beyond that he knew nothing factual in nature, and no one was talking. After a short discussion to verify my perception and recollection of pertinent historical events, that both of us knew of, we closed the conversation in apparent mutual ignorance.

Shortly thereafter, I inquired of Schoolcraft County Commissioner and Manistique city resident, Doug Erickson, what he knew of the background to the excavation. He knew nothing more than Paul Olsen, and I, but he did know that the soil from the contaminated site was dumped off a bluff, at the rear of the city's Fairview Cemetery, some 7 miles away.

I reached the conclusion that "they" had made an obvious conscious and private decision, concerning the development of public property, regarding the activity at the contaminated industrial site. "They" had determined it was none of my business, or anyone else's.

Rather than waste my life trying to gain information that "they" did not want to share, I decided that I would wait and watch the consequences of an obvious moronic decision by "they" that refused to learn, and chose to be outlaws, deliberately. I knew that time would tell, and I would not be disappointed by a lack of hot air.

Later that Summer and Fall, I attended a few of the city council meetings, after the basic details had become public, to watch the "street theater" of those involved in the secret decisions, and those public officials that had to deal with the political and financial consequences. It was a riot of justified indignation, evasion and deceit, depending upon the actors involved, and the particular issue of interest. In early February, 2005, after all was said and done, and the mess cleaned up, the total bills to city residents, to clear a piece of contaminated ground, and fill it with city sand, was some $102,000 of cash; most of which the cash strapped city did not have.

That cost does not include the city employee abuse damage to the rented Terex excavator, as a consequence of using it to break up and move an old, large, thick concrete foundation, on the site.

The project decisions were made with the clear and conscious knowledge of Manistique Mayor Hoag and City Manager Housler. Housler's knowledge is a matter of public record, and Hoag's was a matter of infallible logic and eventual admission, after a heap of public confabulation, evasion and denial.

To add insult to injury, Mayor Hoag had the gall to exclaim, at a city council meeting, that anyone who was aware that wrong was being done should have stepped forward; after he and the City Manager had gone to great lengths to keep the business hidden from the public and fellow Manistique City Council members!

It is my fault that he and the City Manager acted like anarchists?

What makes the situation even more ridiculous is the great business deal that Online Engineering and Manistique city officials negotiated, as reported Aug 12 in the Pioneer Tribune. My hat is off to Online for their business acumen.

30 year lease

$100 a month for 15 years = $18,000 (IF Online does not purchase the property)

$1 a month last fifteen years = $180 (IF Online does not purchase the property)

tax abatement reducing their tax load by 50% for 5 years = $?

not less than 60 days or more than a year after the inception of the lease the city will put the parcel up for sale

successful bidder must pay Online Engineering for all improvements

It will be interesting to see what value Online places on their "improvements", so that they can be sole bidder for contaminated city property into which local taxpayers have, through no conscious choice of their own, poured $102,000. I suspect a great private real estate deal has acquired a recent public liability wrinkle that was not considered in a "smoke filled room". Nothing like levering private cash into public value and then peddling the whole shebang for a significant private profit - Business 101.

Will the cost of $102,000 of "improvements", paid for by Manistique taxpayers, be included in a minimum bid offer for sale?

In the spirit of fairness, it is an amateur's deal when compared to the public money, and "giveaway franchises", sucked up by Bresnan, and then sold to Charter, about which, to the best of my knowledge, the entire U.P. was silent.

For those that might make the argument that all the underhanded business, conducted in less than the spirit of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, had to be done in secret, because of confidential business considerations, consider this:

Had the name of the business and owners remained confidential, could the necessary "public" business have been considered in public, in an open and public manner?

From my perspective, there is little about the business described that can be justified in a rational and substantiated fashion. It was dirty business when I first became aware of it, and it is dirtier now. The Mayor of Manistique should be recalled, and the recently retired City Manager Housler should be pilloried. One we can do, the other is to laugh, or cry, about.

I can only hope that the new acting Manistique City Manager, Sheila Aldrich, can maintain her integrity. I hope she does not allow those with little to no credentials, and little to no justified and substantiated sound reasoning, regarding any business at hand, to influence her to do what she knows is wrong.


Around 11AM, on 02/08/05, I stopped at the office of Online Engineering Inc. to offer the opportunity for some free positive publicity. I asked if the business was up and running. The receptionist told me it was. The purpose of my offer, as I explained to the her, was to balance the bad press in an article I was working on, the bad press inherent in the political and business relationship between the City of Manistique, Online Engineering, and the manner in which Mayor Hoag and City Manager Housler represented the public interest in the site.

The receptionist stated that two "open house" tours were planned, with no commitment as to when. The receptionist offered no invitation or consideration for any positive publicity, beyond a vague offer to attend an "open house" at some undetermined date.

I told her that I did not have the time to wait for some indefinite time and date for Online to decide; as the article was related to my desire to have Mayor Hoag recalled, soon. My offer could not be construed as anything other than an offer for free positive publicity to balance an article, that, because of its content, would create a degree of bad publicity for Online.

I felt as if I was welcome as a case of the hives. I left Online Engineering's office disappointed, but not surprised.


Mayor Hoag was not recalled, and ex-City Manager Housler was not pilloried. As time progressed, more ugly public business associated with Online Engineering Inc, became obvious.

The 50% tax abatement turned into a 100% tax loss to the City of Manistique, for 5 years.

I had reason to read the lease contract while considering bidding for the site, when it was offered for sale, i.a.w. the Manistique City Charter. I found that the "lease contract terms" are a riot of legal obfuscation, with the apparent purpose of bypassing the intent of the Mansitique City Charter, regarding disposition of public property; and ensuring that no one but Online Engineering Inc. would bid for the property.

My awareness of the environmental issues has increased markedly, since I wrote the editorial. It appears that the efforts of past Mayor Hoag and City Manager Housler were more stupid than I was aware of. Without a Baseline Environmental Assessment of the site, prior to building upon and using the site, Online Engineering Inc. is liable, by the "letter of the law" for the historic contamination; according to M.D.E.Q. representative Steve Hewitt's statement at the 05/24/06 meeting of the Manistique Brownfield Authority Board meeting.

This update closes my interest in the unfortunate and unnecessary consequences of Manistique's "rule by chimps", regarding Online Engineering Inc.'s relocation to Manistique.

 © 2005-2006