by Abbie Kaufman
1. Update on the International Village news (or lack thereof)
PREFACE: This issue is so complicated, you’ve really got to do your homework to be involved and understand the scope of this problem. Every news article, links to video of City Council meetings, and a primer on the fraud-ridden EB-5 Visa for Sale program are available all in one place at this page: Free Ypsi/Notes
Since most local news sources have been SILENT on the International Village scandal, YpsilantiNews has committed to resume coverage. You have to ask, however, WHY so many news agencies have remained QUIET. The only answer that comes to mind is that they are all hooked up with the big money players that are trying to push this development through….
Many thanks to Tom Perkins at Metro Times, Mark Maynard, DamnArbor and Michigan Radio who have kept the public informed very honestly thus far! Concentrate and MLive wrote articles because they were obligated to write articles and look involved. MLive’s article was specifically slanted pro-IV which is no surprise.
2. Let’s start with the stalling of the China Trip I: What happened?
INTRODUCTION: A large concern right now with the International Village development is that our City Council is supposed to be investigating the illegal CHINA TRIP taken by 4 of our city officials, but the investigation has strangely stalled. Even more concerning is that, despite many City Council members expressing serious concerns about this project, the City Officials continue to meet behind closed doors with the unethical developers!
Furthermore, independent research and investigation into the developers and their background has brought many more concerns to light. There is lack of experience, lack of information, lack of credentials, and a high potential of fraud with EB-5 developers as well. What’s really going on?
This article will be organized chronologically so you can have some hope of following this debacle in a sensible fashion:
10/3/17: City Council voted to hire an outside investigator to look into the unethical China Trip taken by Mayor Edmonds, Mayor Pro-Tem Brown, Police Chief DeGuisti, and City Economic Developer Ernat. This decision was based on a lot of evidence showing that the developer paid for the trip, which, according to City Attorney John Barr, would be unethical and illegal. City Council requested all email and travel documents from the 4 travellers as well as from City Manager McClary as part of the investigation.
10/7/17: The documents were turned into City Council and are available here. There are many serious concerns that arose from these documents, such as clear evidence that Mayor Edmonds received a message BEFORE the trip stating that the developer paid for it. Beth Ernat seems to have altered at least one document. There is a lot of information missing, like everything about the Shanghai part of the trip and more.
10/11/17: Local famous blogger Mark Maynard shared his five thoughts after the China Trip Hearings:
” 1. There is no way we can move forward with International Village…
2. Our elected officials need to be more transparent…
3. I’m still not clear on the timeline…
4. The City needs to do a better job of vetting those we do business with…
5. How about cider and donuts on Water Street…”
10/17/17: City Council met at their regular time. They were supposed to decide on an outside investigator to lead the investigation into the unethical China Trip. This did not happen! You can view the video of the meeting here.
There seems to be rivalry between several members of our City Council. This does not create an effective team to lead our City. Nothing gets done because they can’t agree. We need a new City Council.
10/18/17: Here is what Ward 2 Councilmember Beth Bashert said about this meeting on her facebook page:
There has been no update from her since then. Not even to tell the public that City Officials just had at least one recent meeting with the alleged developers and seem to be moving forward! (see details below).
10/19/17: Many community members were asking Pete Murdock about the stalling of the China Trip Investigation. Here is his statement on his public facebook page:
Some questions I have been asked about International Village
HEY PETE, WHY DID YOU VOTE DOWN A RESOLUTION TO HIRE PLATO LAW TO INVESTIGATE THE CHINA TRIP?
After much discussion and several proposals that did not reach the required four votes necessary, including one offered by me and supported by Councilmembers Robb and Vogt to subpoena the bank records of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, Amy Xue Foster and her corporation Global Capital Group, LLC as well as records of the travel agency, Young’s Travel. The key issue in this affair is who paid for the trip and those records would directly address that issue. I believed that those documents would shed additional light on that question added to the already existing evidence on the record. It would have been a speedier and less expensive than the outside legal firm.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE?
There isn’t enough specific information about this development and its possibilities and ramifications to have a yes or no position at this time. There is a possibility however remote we may think it is to make something out of this.”
With all the scandal, including the developer Amy Xue Foster lying to us about where the money came from, why are our City Council members still considering this deal? Something is very fishy here!
10/21/17: Ward 3 Council Member Pete Murdock released this statement on his public facebook wall:
WHAT’S UP WITH INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE – CITY COUNCIL DIRECTS MORE INFORMATION FLOW AND OPENESS
Last week we were informed that the development team was lacking a developer and was seeking to fill that void.
We also were advised that it was highly unlikely that the deadline of December 31 to complete a development agreement would be met. A mutually agreeable extension would have to be negotiated and approved by City Council to proceed beyond that time.
City Council being frustrated with the lack of information flow and openness of a flawed process passed a resolution (below) that directed that staff provide weekly written reports, Status presentations at each City Council meeting, a public hearing and discussion of the Development Agreement at a meeting that no vote would be taken, a public hearing and discussion of the granting of any Brownfield or other City incentive at a meeting that no vote would be taken and a full review of the background and experience of the International Village team as well as status of the investments and investors.
Whereas: The International Village is the largest development the city has considered in our history
Whereas: The International Village potential is significant to both help or harm our city, depending on the outcomes of negotiations
Whereas: There have been only 2 meetings and/or updates regarding this development since it was first presented to Council
Whereas: Council represents the voice of the citizens of Ypsilanti, their values, hopes, and concerns
Whereas: Council will be held responsible for the outcomes of the International Village process, negotiation, and outcomes
Whereas: Council needs more information about the ongoing process of negotiation to properly represent our constituents
Whereas: Staff has not responded to requests for updates and news regarding the process with the developer
Therefore, be it resolved that a written report on the progress of the negotiations with the International Village be issued weekly, and
Therefore, be it further resolved that a place on the City Council agenda under presentations, either in open or closed session if permissible, be dedicated to a discussion, and questions and answers about the International Village proposal and
Therefore, be it further resolved: Council requests a full report be presented giving a background of the developer of International Village LLC that will include history of other developments and a to date status of their investment and investor status, and
Therefore, be it further resolved that any proposed development agreement with International Village be scheduled for a City Council meeting with a public hearing at which no vote will be taken, and
Therefore, be it further resolved that any Brownfield Plan or other financial incentive that the City may grant be scheduled for a City Council meeting with a public hearing at which no vote will be taken.”
What does this mean? It sounds good, but Council now has a track record of not following through on what they resolve to do, so does this new resolution mean anything? It’s great that they are showing concern, but this deal needs to be ended and they are making plans to go forward! City Council, you are ignoring the citizens of Ypsi and going forward with the purchase agreement. This is unprofessional and disrespectful. End this deal now!
Are City Officials at odds with City Council and there is more infighting than we realize? Is City Council unable to communicate well amongst themselves and with the City Manager and Economic Developer?
Why aren’t ALL meetings with the development team open to the public? Why are City Officials (that are under investigation!) even meeting with the developers after they have been untruthful and have no background in developments this large? Council and City Officials have failed to research this project and the development team.
Our City Council members only make a few thousand dollars per YEAR. This is essentially a volunteer position. Why are we allowing unqualified volunteers to make HUGE decisions for our city?? This is truly ludicrous.
If there is no developer and the project needs to be postponed (cancelled!), when is this happening? The citizens demand a permanent halting of this project NOW! Our Sustainability Commission recently recommended to postpone this development, and you can read below how this item was removed from the City Council agenda!
10/21/17: The public is speaking out about their concerns in the comments section of Pete’s posts:
INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE UPDATE REPORT – October 23, 2017
from Beth Ernat – Economic Development Director
Week of October 16-20
Monday October 16th –
Development department staff met to discuss research necessary for creation of Community Benefits Ordinance.
Staff from Finance, Economic Development, Police, Fire, and Assessing met to discuss a request for analysis of the International Village project. In order to provide key analysis and financial figures all departments need more information. The information specifically lacking at this point, is number of units, number of bedrooms, cost of infrastructure, cost of building, number of stories for each building, and hard construction costs. As the plan is only in a conceptual phase and no public working sessions for design have been completed, true costs are impossible to project. However, an important fact was cleared up by Assessing, new taxable value does not impact the Headlee roll-back calculations.
Wednesday October 18th –
The City Manager and Economic Development staff met with three leaders of the International Village Advisory, LLC, Amy, Hal and Bob. We discussed the public process going forward, the need to identify and add to the development team, the need to begin the public participation process with design charrettes, and the EB-5 regional center.
Two key people have been identified by IV for discussion on the Regional Center. Representatives can be available for a work session on October 30th or November 13th. We will need to select a time for the presentation as soon as possible.
Secure date for first working session
Continue research on CBO
Meet with Attorney from Miller Canfield to bring up to date (week of 10/23)”
Why are our City Officials that are under investigation meeting with developers that have very uncertain pasts with little credentials? Why is any of our City Staff meeting with developers that have directly lied to them/switched up info/refused to follow our ethics? Has any member of City Council met with or talked to the developers recently? Why is our city condoning and endorsing a Visa For Sale program that marginalizes most refugees and goes directly against our ethics as a Sanctuary City?
OUR CITY OFFICIALS AND STAFF HAVE NOT BEEN TRANSPARENT WITH THE PEOPLE! Open these unethical meetings to the public! Open all correspondence made by our City Officials and International Village reps to the public!
And what does this statement below from Beth Ernat’s weekly summary above mean? What Regional Center is Beth referring to here? Is the work session going to be open to the public?
3. Now, let’s look at how unethical the Purchase Agreement vote was and how it is NOT A VALID VOTE. Also, most City Council members seem are not informed enough to be entering into any agreement at all.
Many Ypsilantians were very concerned when both Ward 3 City Council Members ABSTAINED from the Purchase Agreement vote on 9/19. You can see the video here (it is in 2 parts). The developers threatened our City Council in that 9/19 meeting, saying that if they did not vote YES on the purchase agreement right then and there, they were backing out! Essentially, they bullied council into voting ‘yes’.
9/19/17: Ward 3 City Council Member Brian Robb accused the developers of pulling a “Bait and switch” since they were presenting information very different about tax credits and brownfield credits than they originally had. Why didn’t Brian Robb vote ‘NO’ on the Purchase Agreement if his concerns were so grave? Councilmember Robb voiced his thoughts at a later town hall meeting, stating that capitalism is generally corrupt, and this is just a fact. He called Lois Richardson and others ‘naive‘ to think that developers should be honest.
Council members who “abstained” from this vote knew there were enough ‘yes’ votes to pass the agreement, so they chose a safer route and remained apparently NEUTRAL, so they could appeal to voters on both sides of the argument. Based on what Pete says below (10/19/17), he should have been BRAVE ENOUGH to vote “no” on this agreement. Also, the Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem had a trip to China riding on their votes, so their votes were a CONFLICT OF INTEREST and done under DURESS. Their votes should be thrown out.
The only City Council member brave enough to vote “No” on the Purchase Agreement was Lois Richardson! Thanks for truly caring about the people, Lois!
10/19/17: Council Member Pete Murdock explains why he ‘abstained’ from the vote:
“WHY DID YOU ABSTAIN FROM VOTING ON THE PURCHASE AGREEMENT ON SEPTEMBER 19?
Here is my post following that meeting.
I abstained from voting simply because this purchase agreement was not ready to be voted on. There were conditions such as the purchase price and Brownfield reimbursement that were not in the original presentation. There also were clarifying suggestions by City Councilmembers that needed to be added. There was no clawback provisions. The attorneys were discussing these changes at the meeting, but obviously that wasn’t the place for those discussions to take place. We needed to stop, have the revisions made and bring it back. A motion to table was defeated so I abstained from voting on agreement as presented. I am not against the project. In fact I think if done properly could be a great benefit to Ypsi. But I didn’t like the misrepresentations and I wanted to make sure we do our due diligence and don’t get mesmerized by the pretty pictures. Failure to do that by the original Water Street proponents led us this nightmare called Water Street that has nearly bankrupted the City.”
Why would our City Council allow this purchase agreement to move forward when there is so much confusion and when terms previously agreed upon had been switched at the last minute? Multiple questions were asked by citizens and City Council and neither the developers nor Council had the answers! Why is our City Council selling out our City out from under its citizens?? Are they “mesmerized by the pretty pictures”?
Our City Council does not have the time or the experience to do due diligence researching all aspects of this program. Our Economic Developer and City Manager are also obviously not qualified/skilled enough to do this either.
4. Finally, let’s take a look at what is happening in some of our various City Commissions. These are groups made up of Ypsilantians appointed by Council. These groups advise City Council on a variety of issues important to our City and make decisions about the future of our City.
10/2/17: The City of Ypsilanti Sustainability Commission met and decided to put forth a recommendation that City Council postpone the development agreement with International Village. This recommendation was placed on the City Council agenda for the 10/17/17 meeting. This recommendation was then mysteriously removed from the City Council agenda for 10/17/17! Defend Affordable Ypsi posted about this removal:
Doesn’t it seem shockingly coincidental that items related to International Village keep disappearing from the City Council agenda? No, its not just coincidence. It’s sabotage. Who is the culprit this time?
10/18/17: Our Planning Commission had its regular meeting with an important topic on the agenda: affordability and accessibility of housing!
This meeting was spectacular. If this Commission was running our City in place of City Council, it would be a much healthier and safer place for all! This commission wants Ypsi to adhere to the Master Plan, which states that everyone, no matter their age or income, can find a home in Ypsilanti. An excellent discussion of problems securing housing in Ypsi ensued at this meeting.
This commission encouraged audience participation and asked questions to the citizens, engaging in a dialogue with the community members who attended. The Commissioners shared a lot of the audience’s concerns and made a resolution to form a Citizens Advisory Committee on Affordability and Accessibility. Contact them somehow if you want to participate. (Currently our Commissioners do not have an email address with the City, but they are working to fix this. SOON, I hope).
10/23/17: In the City of Ypsilanti Human Relations Commission (HRC) meeting, the Commission Chair John Shuler wrongly accused other members of the HRC of misleading the public when speaking about International Village at town hall and City Council meetings. Strangely, Chair Shuler wasn’t at these meetings and hadn’t seemed to have watched the video recordings of the meetings either. He seemed to be basing his concern solely on gossip he had heard in the community! This is extremely unprofessional and unproductive.
He went on, trying to silence members of the HRC in future public forums, stating that they shouldn’t be sharing opinions in public if they say that they are on the HRC. However, none of the HRC members that spoke publicly said they were speaking for the HRC. It was very clear that they weren’t representing every member of the HRC. Chair Shuler held this conversation up for an hour, despite all other members of the HRC asking repeatedly to move on, It was clear Mr. Shuler had some sort of personal agenda and lacked skills to facilitate the conversation.
In a shocking turn of events at the end of the HRC meeting, Vice Chair Sam Jones-Darling initiated a motion to vacate John Shuler from the Chair position. The motion passed with 4 voting yes and 2 abstaining. Thus, John Shuler is no longer the Chair of the Human Relations Commission. In the interim, the Vice Chair will act as chair and the commission will vote in a new Chair. John Shuler is still on the commission, but will no longer be able to guide the meetings for his own subjective purposes!
The HRC also resolved at the 10/23/17 meeting to schedule a joint meeting with both the Planning Commission and the Human Relations Commission to discuss affordable housing and other issues. There is discussion of creating a Steering Committee, formed of the Chair and Vice Chairs of all three commissions.
CONCLUSIONS: City Council needs to end the purchase agreement now and stop this development completely. City Council needs to impose sanctions on City Officials who violated the City Code of Ethics. Some of these officials are doing such a poor job that they clearly need to be removed from their positions.
Frankly, most of the people running our City are not doing due diligence nor are they listening to the people of Ypsi. Do we need a complete overhaul of our government? Do we need to start paying our City Council and Mayor living salaries so they have TIME to do their job?
CREDITS and RFPs: Many thanks to the work that Tom Perkins has done at the Metro Times covering this scandal. *He is technically a food writer there, so he isn’t able to write as regularly as Ypsi needs. We wish we could give Tom a free groovy tiny house and an annual salary so he could just live here and cover our news. He deserves many Pulitzer Prizes for the controversial content he brings to light.
Tom is for the people, not the money. If everything goes as planned, Tom, we want to have a tiny house for you and every Ypsilantian in the near future. You can read Tom’s articles on #WaterStreetGate from 10/11 here, from 10/7 here, from 10/6 here and 10/5 here. See the article about the China Trip Investigation here, and the beginning of the confusion about the funding here. There are at least 2 more articles and you can find them on this comprehensive IV list here.
We are hoping that Mark Maynard will give us his take on the latest developments in this scandal soon as well. Michigan Radio has been helpful in getting the word out, but usually only comes to big City Council Meetings (and we didn’t see them at the last one). MLive finally covered this issue ONCE just a couple weeks ago, and they CLEARLY took a pro-IV stance, which is not surprising since they are on the side of MONEY, not the people.
Many thanks to Defend Affordable Ypsi and all of the many Ypsilantians that have spoken up about this ill-fated proposed development! One great thing about all of this is that it has really brought us together and started the REAL Revolution.
Thanks for caring about our City enough to read this whole article. Please comment below. What do you make of this disaster, lack of transparency, ethics violations, and complete confusion?
And here are a some pretty pictures of our Ypsi, because all of this is really stressful, and we love our town: