Frustration in Cass City reached a boiling point Monday, as area residents fed up with everything from high water bills and blight to feeling ignored flooded into the village council meeting.
Roughly 100 people attended, spilling out into the lobby of the Cass City Municipal Building all the way to the entrance. A speaker had to be placed in the lobby so everyone could hear what was being said at the council table.
But in the end, it won’t mean much, said Carl Palmateer, village president, who said many of the outspoken had nothing more than “an ax to grind.”
“I used to be the chief of police here, and I was the deputy sheriff, and I’ve been through this a million times” Palmateer said. “And it’s just so idiotic — grown men who have brains. I think.”
Palmateer said the meeting seemed like a “waste of time” to him.
“But in a way, they got some of the stuff off their chest, and said what they wanted to say,” Palmateer told The Advertiser after the meeting. “I don’t know. What do you do with people like that?” (Story continues below photo)
“I’ve dealt with people like this my whole life and it’s not going to affect me,” Palmateer said. “I’m still going to my job the way I feel it should be done.”
The meeting went for more than two hours (many Cass City village council meetings have been a total of 30 minutes or less).
The majority of that time was spent with citizens providing comment – driven to do so in large part by Tom Herron, a newly elected village council member who has been outspoken recently about his fellow elected officials and the former village manager, Peter Cristiano (who retired Monday). Herron called for as many people as possible to attend Monday’s meeting and either speak up or attend to show support for change.
When Palmateer introduced the first period of citizen comment, Herron stood from his seat at the council table to grab the microphone from Palmateer, who accused Herron of being “a little out of order.”
Among other things, Herron would go on to suggest his fellow council members put too much faith in Cristiano and that he “led them down muddy waters.”
The Advertiser was the first to report on Herron’s frustrations on Jan. 18, when he said Cass City has “got so many issues over there right now. Everybody’s mad.”
“I received the most votes because I said I would work for change,” he said at the time. “This is a start…and I’m not stopping.”
Herron didn’t back down Monday.
“We’ve got a lot to do in this town, I don’t think they (fellow council members) realize how many challenges we have ahead of us,” Herron said. “Something has to get done. We have to keep the people informed. We have to spend more time at council meetings. Discuss things openly so people know what’s going on.
“This can’t keep running like this or we’re going to be in very serious trouble,” Herron said. “I ask my fellow council members, do they have the time, do they have the experience? If they can’t answer that question ‘yes’ it would be nice if someone stepped aside so we can get somebody in who can.”
Herron identified the previously announced expansion of the Dairy Farmers of America plant as “very, very important for this town” and said that at least one DFA official told him it was one step closer to reality with Cristiano gone. (Story continues below photo)
After Herron spoke, what followed was nearly an hour of citizen input, with almost all of it questioning the leaders of Cass City.
Only Nancy Barrios – a former village council member – defended Cristiano and accused Herron and Steve Erickson, also a council member, of colluding to get Cristiano out of his position of village manager.
“Mr. Herron has literally tried and condemned to death the future of Cass City’s business environment,” Barrios said. “Despite any well-meaning, or self-serving intentions he may have thought he was promoting.
“It was irresponsible, in my opinion, for him to present arguments and accusations against the village without getting the other side of the story before he crucified the village in the paper,” she said.
Many residents had questions about water bills in Cass City.
Citizen John Hall asked council members to figure it out.
“If we were in the black last year, why are we not in the black this year?” Hall said. “I’m not asking for answers to these questions tonight, I will come back.”
Giuseppe Buscaglia, owner of Gainy’s Grill in Cass City, had overall concerns about leadership in the village.
“This is about leadership, something that we are going to expect from each and every one of you,” he said. “It’s about accountability. We’ve all seen what’s happened at the federal level – this isn’t about Mr. Trump. This is about a movement of people that want change.
“We need new ideas. We need fresh ideas. We need leadership – young, middle-aged, or old – whatever it may be, but it needs to be new ideas,” Buscaglia. “We own a small business, we hear from a lot of people that may not have the courage to stand here in front of you, and tell you what’s wrong with this town.”
Others expressed frustration at feeling as if officials were not listening.
“Usually a crowd comes together like this because they’re not happy,” said Karen Leo, a Cass City resident, who indicated she felt as if the citizens were being ignored. “(Cass City) is going down…it’s going down like the suburbs of St. Clair Shores, or Warren, where they let all these renters in. You’re city is going to go to hell, just like the suburbs. And it is going to hell.”
Cass City village council members approved a motion to hold a special meeting on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org