Thursday, March 6, 2014

Do Sakwa's Bidding. Or Get Sued.

For the Tea Party, government corruption and incompetence is an element of faith. Government is always reckless and irresponsible, with private enterprise virtuous and successful. And when it comes to the Troy Transit Center, one Troy Tea Party leader thinks that Troy is engaged in a “government land grab from private citizens.”

But is this true? Is Gary Sakwa an innocent bystander being taken advantage of by an out-of-control government?

Perhaps looking at the actions of Gary Sakwa in other municipalities will give us the answer. So let us look to a neighboring community, Northfield Township, and their adventures with Gary Sakwa.

In 2002, Sakwa purchased 100 acres in Northfield Township for $6.56 million, intending to get the land rezoned. At the time, the property was a 100-year-old farm, zoned for agricultural use. Sakwa wanted to turn it into high-density housing, with up to four homes per acre. The township board granted Sakwa's application, and limited the development to 450 homes.

However, the citizens of Northfield Township didn't want the property rezoned to high-density housing. The people took to the streets. The residents of Northfield Township organized a successful referendum, reversed the decision of the board, and left the property zoned for agricultural use.

But the citizens weren't done. The supporters of the referendum ran for township board and won. They promptly rezoned the property to allow only one home per two acres, because they wanted to maintain the “rural” character of the land.

Now, at this point, you should be wondering how Sakwa would react. Would they follow the will of the people, and develop 50 homes? Would they recognize the sovereign will of the people to determine what kind of community they wanted?

Don't be silly. Sakwa cranked up the lawyer machine. And sued. For somewhere between $20 million to $30 million in damages.

And after seven years of litigation, the circuit court judge dismissed Sakwa's case, stating, “[Sakwa] presented no evidence that it engaged in, or made significant expenditures for, planning development or construction of the site.” In other words, after spending $10,000 per acre for land appraised at $3,500 per acre, Sakwa didn't work with the township to develop the land in a mutually beneficial way. Sakwa simply demanded a massive payout because he didn't get exactly what he wanted.

In describing his actions, a Northfield Township activist stated Sakwa was engaging in “an intimidation plan, plain and simple: 'If you don’t do what we want, then we’ll make you pay.'”

(Is any of this starting to sound like the ringing of a Transit Center shaped bell?)

Now, after seven years and a massive loss, did Sakwa finally come around and agree to work with the people of Northfield Township?

Nope. Sakwa took his case to the court of appeals. Sakwa believed that Northfield Township was engaged in an “unconstitutional governmental taking.” Sakwa argued that not rezoning the property to allow them to maximize their profits created a loss of value. Therefore, the people of Northfield Township had to pay.

Luckily, the Court of Appeals ruled that the only rights Sakwa had were those he possessed when he purchased the property, namely to use the land for agricultural development. In fact, when Northfield Township rezoned the property to low-density housing, Sakwa's rights were “substantially expand[ed],” in allowing residential development to occur.

Now, the Troy Transit Center matter is slightly different. Because Sakwa chose to sue Troy over the Transit Center after being initially for the development. Even Councilman Henderson recognizes this. On his Facebook page, in response to question about this alleged, “land grab,” Henderson writes, “[Sakwa] was allowed to manipulate that entire piece of property only because of the transit center property deal.” Acknowledging that Sakwa was initially in favor of the Transit Center, Henderson now believes that “[Sakwa] is sticking it to us” because Sakwa either “has it in for the city or sees a big pile of money.”

So the moral of the story seems to be clear: If a municipality doesn't comply with the exact wishes of Gary Sakwa, it can expect to be on the receiving end of a massive lawsuit.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Management Keeps Troy Strong

Troy's budget season is fast approaching, which means that like Canadian Geese returning from southern climes, Troy's Tea Party will soon return to honk at City Council meetings. We expect them to start shrieking about Troy's Unassigned Fund Balance and how poor city policies are destroying Troy.

So before the disinformation campaign begins, let's review Troy's bond rating, it's relationship to the Troy's unassigned fund balance, and how management policies can effect Troy's bond rating and economic prospects.

What is a Bond Rating?

At the February 03, 2014, City Council Study Session, Bobby Bendzinski of Bendzinski & Co. gave a presentation about Troy's bond rating. Troy was awarded a AAA bond rating from three independent rating agencies. (Fitch currently rates Troy as AA+.) Essentially, a bond rating determines how safe a bond issuer is for investing. The higher the bond rating, the safer the investment, because it helps investors know about your ability to pay and how well your city can handle any emergencies that may arise. Mr. Bendzinski noted that Troy currently has a higher bond rating than the United States of America, making Troy the “best of the best,” in the company of the only other Michigan cities to possess a AAA bond rating, Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham.

What about Troy's unassigned fund balance?

In a memo dated August 26, 2013, Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick explained that a fund balance is, by definition, “the difference between the entity’s assets and liabilities.” From a financial standpoint, a healthy fund balance is a “good indication of financial strength.”

In the same memo, Mr. Kischnick explained that unassigned Fund Balance is approximately $23,454,866, making the unassigned Fund Balance 43.5% of the total budget. (The Fund Balance is “unassigned” because it's money not yet been assigned to important projects, like alleviating debt or investing in infrastructure.)

Troy has a sizable unassigned Fund Balance because there have been a reduction in General Fund Expenditures. The reduction in those expenditures have come primarily from “employee concessions, layoffs and early retirements.” In other words, Troy has a large savings account because we have lost a great deal of our workforce. We've lost police officers, entire departments, and lots of other employees.

How do management policies affect Troy's AAA bond rating?

So when Troy's management adopted a policy of cutting staff and departments to the bone, it resulted in a sizable unassigned fund balance. And as you can probably guess, a healthy fund balance is one important factor in obtaining an excellent bond rating. Other major factors in ensuring an excellent bond rate can be summed up in one word: Flexibility. The more flexiblity in management polices, the higher the bond rate. Other policies that contribute to the economic health of Troy include the three-year budget plan, maintaining a healthy fund balance, carefully investing a percentage of the unassigned fund balance, and using millages to support city assets.

So to summarize Mr. Bendzinski's advice, he recommended several policies to keep Troy strong. First, keep the unassigned fund balance at 20% of the total budget, miminum. Keeping it closer to 30% would be ideal. Next, carefully invest a percentage of the unassigned fund balance in projects that bring revenue into the general fund. Finally, ensure the library continues to be funded through it's own millage. According to Mr. Bendzinski, if Troy were to end the library millage, it would not only hurt Troy's bond rating, it would be the equivalent to “not charging for water and would be a very bad thing.”

Good management practices have helped Troy maintain a AAA bond rating. Remember that when Troy's Tea Party appears before council and starts making unsubstantiated accusations.

Cross posted at Troy Patch.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dan Brake tells the Tea Party Tale of Troy

Read all about it here.

And if it's been too long since you've seen Danny in action, you can refresh your memory here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Follow Janny on Twitter


Some sample posts:

Will she or won't she?

Will Janice Daniels, our disgraced recalled mayor, show up for the League of Women voters "debate" at Walsh College tonight?
Won't it be fun to see?
Besides that trainwreck, however, tonight will be a great opportunity to see how the candidates measure up.

Here's the info. from Troy Patch:
The League of Women Voters of Troy Area will hold its Candidates' Night for Troy City Council onWednesday, October 9, 2013 from 7-8pm at Walsh College Auditorium, 3838 Livernois, Troy 48083.
There are 9 candidates running for 3 city council seats. Due to the number of candidates, we have altered our procedures somewhat. Not all candidates will answer every question and it will go in a rotation that will be explained before the program begins. We ask you be in your seats by 6:40 pm so we can explain this and the candidates can be mic'd for videotaping.
In addition, League will also take questions a little differently. You are welcome to submit
questions in writing in advance by sending them and click on "contact us". If you do not have computer/internet access, you may send the questions to us at our Post Office box which is LWV TA, P.O. Box 99322, Troy, MI 48099. Or you may write questions and submit them when you come to the event. Candidates will not
see the questions in advance.
This program is nonpartisan and will be shown as many times as possible on CMN public access TV channel and video on demand thru your computers via the CMN website.
Also available to voters will be a written Voter Guide obtainable at the Troy Library and Community Center and City Hall and also on

Thursday, October 3, 2013

There She Goes Again

Oh, Janice Daniels...will you never learn?

Nearly a year ago, Ms. Daniels was successfully recalled from her position as Mayor of Troy.  No small feat, the recall seemed to have nearly silenced the most divisive politician Troy had seen in a while -- or ever.  Yet like scum on a pond, Daniels rises to the surface periodically to speak on conservative talk radio to proclaim her patriotic beliefs.

You see, Janice stands for "regulatory law."  She desires to "strengthen and empower" families. She wants to "protect retirement income for seniors."

That's right...she stands for empty campaign statements, fluffy and meaningless phrases, and scare-tactic sound bites targeting seniors.

What Daniels also seems to stand for is misrepresentation couched in over-blown verbosity.  Now attempting a run for city council, she is up to the same old tricks. In the space of a slick, glossy, two-sided (and might I add EXPENSIVE) mailer, she dizzingly arrays text and image, ignoring standard grammar and punctuation rules and -- seemingly -- originality.  As explained here, she all but directly plagiarized the mailer Councilman Dave Henderson used in his campaign.  Not only does this beg the question of who, exactly, is behind Daniels (and perhaps who WAS behind Henderson, a man who has since distanced himself from the worst of the political vermin in this city), it leads us to wonder how this woman thinks she even has a prayer of gaining a seat on council.

Sent to us by a reader, here is her most recent campaign mailer, fact-checked and corrected for your viewing pleasure.

Read for yourself.  And then tell Ms. Daniels we don't want her brand of government here.