Lowell City Council met for nearly an hour last night to discuss six agenda items during its first regular meeting for the month of June. Insurance for Lowell Showboat VI garnered the most discussion, but councilmembers also spent time considering the sale of a police department motorcycle and the use of its proceeds. Those discussions resulted in rare split votes from the council.
All councilmembers were present for the meeting which was held in person as well as on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
Lowell Pride Praised as Successful Event
However, before beginning discussion on agenda items, Lowell City Council opened the floor for citizen comments for items not on the agenda. One comment was received from those in attendance.
Nicole Lintemuth provided the council with a recap of the Lowell Pride event that she organized over the weekend. “Everyone who walked through our event on Saturday was overwhelmed by the positive energy they felt,” Lintemuth said. “It was a day of magical moments.”
Despite the heat of the day, the event went smoothly with only two ice packs and a Band-aid required for first aid. Lintemuth noted statistics show when young people receive the type of validation offered at the Lowell Pride event, they are less likely to attempt suicide. “We made that happen on Saturday with over 60 volunteers, 50 vendors, 25 sponsors and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of attendees,” she said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, during their comment period, councilmembers were effusive in their praise of the event and Lintemuth.
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in Lowell thus far,” said Councilmember Leah Groves, who attended the event as a volunteer.
“What really impressed me for a first year event was to have 60 volunteers,” Councilmember Cliff Yankovich noted.
Councilmembers Marty Chambers and Jim Salzwedel also commented on the success of the event and offered their congratulations while Mayor Mike DeVore wrapped up his comments by telling Lintemuth, “I’m very happy you’re here.”
Showboat Insurance Approved on a Split Vote
Continuing a discussion from their last meeting, councilmembers debated how to handle insurance for the new Lowell Showboat. Eventually, the boat will be owned by a 501c3 organization, but that non-profit has not been established yet. In the meantime, the City of Lowell will take possession of the boat this week, and a gala event is planned for Friday as well as a public open house on Saturday during the Expo on the Riverwalk.
At their last meeting, city councilmembers expressed support for the city to pay the nearly $34,000 annual insurance premium with the understanding that the Lowell Showboat VI committee would pay them back. However, City Manager Mike Burns said there is a wrinkle in that plan.
“I can’t create a [repayment] agreement until the non-profit is established,” Burns said. He also explained some members of the Showboat committee were interested in getting an insurance policy that would pay to remove the boat from the water should it become damaged beyond repair but would not pay to replace the boat. Burns said he had inquired into this possibility, but the only insurer willing to cover the boat wouldn’t write a policy for less than the full replacement amount.
Groves, who was appointed to Lowell City Council late last year, asked if the insurance cost is something that had not been thought about until now. DeVore replied that several things had not gone as planned, and the insurance had fallen through the cracks. Salzwedel, who is a member of the current Showboat committee, said he thought the committee had budgeted for insurance but had expected a much lower premium amount.
While current Showboat committee members seem inclined to repay the city for the insurance, some councilmembers noted the non-profit could have different membership. They wondered what would happen if the non-profit committee refused to pay back the insurance premium. Groves asked when the board for the non-profit would be determined and how members would be selected. However, no one seemed to have clear answers to those questions.
Chambers and DeVore both commented that they had been saying for years no taxpayer money would be used for the Showboat. “I don’t want to be made a fool,” Chambers said.
While Yankovich was not happy about the prospect of the non-profit board refusing to pay back the premium amount and leaving the city with the bill, he also didn’t think it was wise to have an uninsured boat in the river. With events planned for this weekend, both Yankovich and Groves indicated they didn’t feel the city had a choice but to pay for the insurance policy. “I am continually surprised that no one from the Showboat Committee comes to these meetings,” Yankovich added.
Lowell City Council voted 3-2 to approve payment for the first year’s insurance for the Lowell Showboat VI with the understanding that City Attorney Jessica Wood would draw up an agreement with the non-profit board for repayment once it was formed. Salzwedel, Yankovich and Groves voted aye while Chambers and DeVore voted nay.
Update on Main Street Traffic, Pedestrian Crossing
Two agenda items pertained to the Lowell Police Department, and the first was an update on traffic and pedestrian safety in the downtown area.
Police Chief Chris Hurst clarified his comments from the last meeting in which he noted a pedestrian may be guilty of impeding traffic if they cause an accident while trying to cross Main Street at the crosswalk by the Flat River. His comments were based on the provisions of the Michigan Vehicle Code, but after further research, he discovered the Uniform Traffic Code applies in this case.
“Basically, the Michigan Vehicle Code does not apply to mid-block crosswalks,” Hurst said. Instead, the Uniform Traffic Code calls for shared responsibility between motorists and pedestrians at these crossings. Pedestrians should not step out into the road assuming traffic will stop, but vehicles should yield to pedestrians if they see them at the crosswalk in time to safely stop.
Cones have been added to the crosswalk for increased visibility, and Hurst said those would remain there until the Michigan Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over M-21/Main Street, tells him they need to be removed. He added that repainting the crosswalk and adding lights would also improve pedestrian safety, but those changes would also need to be approved by MDOT.
Police Motorcycle and Scales Approved for Sale
The second item related to the Lowell Police Department involved the sale of a 2012 BMW motorcycle which was obtained several years ago through a federal salvage program. “The only cost to us was to drive to Washington to get it,” Hurst said.
However, Detective Gordy Lauren is the only member of the force who is currently qualified through the police motorcycle school to use the vehicle. As a full-time detective now, it isn’t practical for him to use the motorcycle, and with only one officer on duty at any given time, it’s use is limited in general. “It’s hard to take someone to jail on a motorcycle,” Hurst said.
The police department would like to sell the motorcycle, which has a Kelly Blue Book value of $8,700, and use the proceeds to pay for a portable speed sign. The department’s current speed trailer is no longer operable.
“So we got it for free,” Yankovich noted before asking: “Can we use the money to pay the Showboat insurance?”
No one on the council directly responded to the suggestion, but there was further discussion about the sale process and consensus that the department should also sell scales that are no longer used. Those have an estimated value of approximately $5,000, according to Salzwedel.
Lowell City Council voted 4-1 to approve the sale of the motorcycle and scales and use the proceeds to for a portable speed sign. Yankovich was the lone nay vote. He told Lowell’s First Look after the meeting that he was not opposed to the sale. However, he thought the proceeds should be used to pay for the Showboat insurance.
Other Agenda Items and Updates
Other action and updates from the Monday meeting include the following:
- Lowell City Council unanimously approved the closure of Avery Street west of Monroe on June 11-12 for Expo on the Riverwalk and on July 8-10 for the Riverwalk Festival.
- Lowell City Council unanimously approved an increase in the number of vacation days non-union and department director employees can accrue to bring those numbers in alignment with what is offered to unionized employees.
- A sewer project on Foreman Street will begin today with work on Jane Ellen slated to start in early July.
- Weekly water quality reports for Stoney Lakeside Beach are now available on the City of Lowell website.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, June 21, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.