What the Next Ypsilanti DDA Director Needs to Know to Avoid Leaving $900,000 on the Table


NEW DDA DIRECTOR SEARCH UPDATE:

The City of Ypsilanti has started its search for a new permanent director for the DDA.  For our new readers who may be considering this post, the Designated Conservative would like to offer one piece of advice:

Before tackling the Water Street mess or taking on anything else, the next DDA Director must be prepared to (finally) move the DDA away from physical improvements (i.e. the endless string of less than effective streetscape and parking lot projects), and towards funding public safety and business retention/growth initiatives.

The MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITY of the next DDA Director must be…

…to reverse the recent spate of high profile, late-night robberies in the DDA districts.  Nothing will kill the momentum we have happening among downtown businesses than the perception that downtown Ypsi is unsafe.

This can be accomplished by targeting DDA funds towards funding additional police officers for high crime periods (such as Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 3:00 a.m.).  Keeping drunk college students safe will keep the regular march of “police blotter” stories from damaging the downtown’s business climate.

Nothing is more important than this – and no one in City Hall or in the DDA offices has any clue right now that this needs to be done.

BRIAN VOSBURG UPDATE:

BVos, the Designated Conservative’s new E-critic, makes his debut. Click here to learn more!

UPDATE 3:

The following comment (excerpt below) was posted by “Mark H.” on Mark Maynard‘s blog.  “Mark H.” has gotten right to the heart of the problem with Ypsilanti’s past economic development efforts.  It is interesting to note that it appears Brian Vosburg is the last of the principal players in local economic development hired by the City of Ypsilanti during Mayor Farmer’s tenure or by those she directly influenced – other than our “wishful=thinker-in-chief” (as Mark H. says):

Two public entities that are dear and near to my heart — EMU and the municipal government of the city of Ypsilanti — have both suffered from clinging too long to, being too reluctant to dismiss, top level managerial personnel whose actual job performances were demonstrably sub-standard.  Both EMU and the city government are small enough that officials in both are well known around campus and around town; they cultivate friends; they are liked because of their friends, and their social ties and family situations often become important factors in how they are evaluated.  Sometimes those unofficial ties of officials can unduly insulate officials from poor performance.

It’s not what you know or what you can do, it’s who you know and who owes you. Sub-standard performance continues, and often they are evaluated by sub-standard supervisors. Such situations are an affront to good government and a waste of the taxpayers’ money….

Ypsi and my university have both needlessly suffered due to long habits of tolerance of poor decision-makers being retained in decision making positions….   (F)or the city of Ypsilanti there’s that $20 million debt incurred to acquire a vacant lot of 38 acres, the disaster called Water Street (which was a disaster that a bunch of very nice people who engaged in years of wishful thinking but no hard-headed realistic analysis created for the city.  The wishful thinker in chief who lead Ypsi into the Water Street disaster is of course still the City Manager).

So I am in favor of hard-headed decision makers making the painful choices that protect the public interest.  I am in favor of rigorous performance reviews, and in favor of on going informal assessments of performance by supervising boards.  I am against keeping anyone on a public payroll whose performance fails to meet rigorous standards….

Sadly, most American workers can be dismissed by their employers for any reason whatsoever: a union contract or discriminatory intent by the employer as a motivation for firing someone are among the very few restrictions on dismissing a worker.  Writing grant applications is no doubt complex; but failure to do so in a timely and effective way is not an unprecedented basis for dismissal, to say the least.  Grant writers do lose jobs for failure to win grants – and failure to meet a deadline has at least one predictable consequence: Failure to get the grant.

UPDATE 2: Ypsilanti DDA Director Brian Vosburg resigns.

Ypsilanti DDA Director misses facade grant submission deadline by 10 minutes

A $900,000 mistake

The following is an excerpt from a recent Ypsilanti Citizen article (click here to read the entire piece):

Façade grant submissions by the Downtown Development Authority and the Depot Town Downtown Development Authority were automatically rejected due to late submissions.

The applications totaling approximately $900,000 worth of improvements to five buildings in Depot Town and one in Downtown were submitted electronically approximately 10 minutes late making them ineligible for review according to Brian Vosburg, Director for both Authorities.

“I will be doing what I am able to do to rectify the situation,” Vosburg said this afternoon. “It was late on a technicality due to the size of the document.”

(and perhaps a need for that heady adrenaline rush that comes from rushing to just beat a deadline?)

Fifty-fifty matching funds were offered through a competitive state-wide façade grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, with a $100,000 cap on matching funds. Business owners are expected to pay for the the rest of the projects.

The projects on the DTDDA’a list totaled $797,563, requesting a $100,000 match from the state. Projects included repair and replacement of upper-story windows at Sidetrack and Standard printing as well as improvements to landscaping, lighting, signage and windows at the Ypsilanti Food Co-op.

Other projects submitted in Depot Town were tuck-pointing and masonry work and improvements to the old loading dock at the Thompson Block, as well as new awnings and signage at Wild Willy’s, formally known as Cady’s Bar and Grill.

The YDDA application consisted of work to the lofts at 128 and 130 West Michigan Ave., above the What is That gallery of fine art & craft. Vosburg said that application was a $102,000 project, requesting $51,000 in matching funds.

Submissions were due electronically to the MECD at 5:00 p.m. April 3. Vosburg said he received submissions from all applicants for the façade grants April 1 and spent most of the day April 3 “putting the final pieces together.”

(of course, April 1 being a recognized local holiday and falling on a weekday this year, the City of Ypsilanti DDA must have a policy of giving its employees the following day off as well, forcing Mr. Vosburg to delay compiling the application until the 3rd)

Vosburg said he hit send on the email with both applications attached before the 5:00 p.m. deadline. But, due to the size of the email, it took more than 10 minutes for it to process according to Vosburg.

This Designated Conservative would like to express shock and disbelief that any appointed economic development official of our fine City of Ypsilanti would make such a pedestrian mistake.  After all, this sort of thing has never happened before….

Nope, we’ve never had a DDA or Planning and Development Director goof on a development project and leave us with a huge bill for which it will take a miracle to repay – or perhaps a deal with the devil?

More importantly, this must be the first time that our DDA Director has erred in managing an important downtown project, right?

For instant response, perhaps Mr. Vosburg would be more comfortable if the state would’ve allowed the grant applications to be submitted via Facebook… …or maybe via Twitter, 140 characters at a time.  Dude, email is so yesterday.

Hopefully, our City Manager and elected officials will finally learn a valuable lesson about relying on on-the-job training for employee success.  We cannot afford to pay for any more of these economic development ‘successes’ from our City Administration.

(right now Brian, Ed, and Paul are feverishly burning up the phone lines to Congressman Dingell’s office and the White House, seeking to fix this latest mess by tucking the home of the Orphan Car Show into Chrysler’s bailout funding package)

UPDATE:

(hat tip to the Ypsilanti Citizen)

After more than 25 years of visiting, living, working, or owning property in the City of Ypsilanti, the one aspect of this town that still amazes me is the odd dynamic of having elected officials run interference for, defend, and make excuses for less than stellar results or conduct by prominent city employees.

This dynamic has been most common in the relationship between our City Council and very-long-time-serving City Manager, Ed Koryzno.  No matter how much of a mess is made of the Water Street redevelopment project by folks working under his supervision, no matter how often they are surprised by ugly circumstances that Mr. Koryzno should have anticipated, the City Council has consistently given “their City Manager” high marks and praise.

The latest example of this odd dynamic comes from a recent Ypsilanti Citizen article (excerpt below – click here for the whole thing).  Here is Mayor Schreiber actually managing to make excuses for our DDA Director’s $900,000 mistake.

Mayor Paul Schreiber said the DTDDA should be considering a part-time position and finding help for Vosburg who may be “falling behind” on things.  “Really it’s the job of the executive director and I think we need to take this into account,” Schreiber said. “We have to ensure these things don’t happen.”  However, Schreiber also pointed out the fact that in addition to putting the grant applications through, Vosburg has been preparing budgets for both DDAs.

It appears to this reader that the DDA Director did not plan his time well to

  • ensure that the budgets were done early, and to
  • require that the grant applications were in early enough for him to do what he needed to do to get the applications to Lansing days (instead of seconds) before the deadline.

Mr. Mayor, it’s time to remember and apply that old adage:  “Poor planning on your part (Mr. Vosburg) does not constitute an emergency on our part!” Why make excuses?

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