Bukala main topic of discussion at 6/15 city council meeting
Lowell city council had their latest regular meeting over the Internet via the “Zoom” app on Monday, June 15. The meeting was two hours and 16 minutes long, and the dismissal of former Lowell police chief Steve Bukala dominated the discourse.
Over 100 different people were logged in on Zoom. The discussion about Bukala lasted over an hour and began about four minutes into the meeting. First, city clerk Sue Ullery and Lowell mayor Michael DeVore each read multiple letters and emails from area residents. All together, just over 30 area residents expressed their opinions through various methods, and not just about Bukala. Of those participating, 14 were in favor of his resignation, 11 were against it and five talked about policing in general.
Calling into Zoom under the screen name “Brian Bode,” Bukala's attorney Katherine Henry read a letter she sent to the city with a list of conditions the city must satisfy to avoid a “huge legal battle” with Bukala.
“Bukala is willing to forgo what is rightfully owed to him if the city agrees to keep him on the payroll through Nov. 21, 2020 at 40 hours per week; this will include (and not be in addition to) his accrued vacation and personal time; such pay will continue to include the deductions for his most current personal contribution to retirement, along with the city's matching contribution; among other things, chief Bukala is willing to forgo the $400 monthly payment in lieu of insurance from June through November; the city will issue an official statement that 'the city of Lowell stands with chief Bukala in his support of the US and Michigan Constitutions. Expressing support for the rights guaranteed to individuals under those constitutions is not a personal feeling, nor is it up for political debate. It is the very thing each public official is sworn to do under Article XI Section 1 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963. While the chief was originally forced to resign, that issue has been resolved and both the chief and the city agree to a mutually beneficial separation, wherein the chief entrusts the city to continue supporting and enforcing the US and Michigan Constitutions;' this agreement will completely resolve all claims either party has against the other, including, but not limited to, chief Bukala's claims against the city for violation of due process, violations of federal and state law and violations of the US and Michigan Constitutions.”
Bukala and Henry were gathered with approximately 25 supporters, three of whom spoke. Amy Lett said that city councilor Cliff Yankovich and mayor DeVore should also resign because they have also made opinionated social media posts in the past, that Bukala should get his full pension when he turns 55 and that she plans to circulate petitions calling for the dismissals of both city manager Michael Burns and mayor DeVore.
“I plan to personally make chief Bukala my poster child for [law enforcement officers'] rights and fair treatment,” Lett said. “We have a war on cops going on, once again, in this country.”
Bukala/Henry viewing attendee Bradley Wade, owner of Wade Printing, said he was speaking “as a business owner and a citizen.” Wade said that he and his son patrolled Main St. in Lowell a month ago with firearms, an American flag and a sign that read “open up Lowell businesses and have the conversation.”
“The city council asked the chief to make a post on social media to let the community be aware of what's going on in Lowell. The chief did so,” Wade said. “Shortly thereafter, that request was submitted and he posted that. You guys nitpicked, or somebody nitpicked, and picked apart, word for word and sentence for sentence, what was said, verbatim. He did what you guys asked and then you guys turn around - council or whoever - and forced him to resign. Number one, I am a huge advocate and supporter of 2-A. What happened here in town, number one, it was a huge disappointment on the community's reaction to it. The community reacted terrible and all of the negative feedback was what was the highlight. I do not believe that he did anything wrong, he did not do anything unlawful and he supported the Second Amendment of our Constitution that's given to us as Americans, as free Americans, and he got stomped on.”
Lowell resident Rich Conrad said that he has not read any news reports about Bukala's resignation, he has only looked at social media posts and online discussions.
“Unfortunately, I've only seen he said/she said, whatever's happening, through social media,” Conrad said. “And maybe I missed it, but I have not seen an official 'this is what happened' from Mr. Burns or the rest of the city council. Maybe that is because of a legal issue, but I've only seen said issues on social media, and that is a bit of a mess. I feel like there's a lot of misinformation.”
Conrad also said he is concerned Lowell is turning into “Pot City USA next to Beer City USA.”
“My wife and I live in Lowell. We assumed it was a nice, conservative community,” Conrad said. “We like this. We're scared of what this is turning into. We're going to have three, four pot distilleries right around my house now. Do I really want my kids raised around here?”
Michele Zuidema, a resident of Ada, had to make her remarks twice because of some audio issues.
“While I'm concerned about Steve Bukala and what was done to him, I am more concerned about the city of Lowell and the property owners there,” Zuidema said. “You have at least two city council members who disregard the constitutional rights of its citizens. I think that is an issue that needs to be addressed before the next police chief is hired. I certainly don't want our city being represented by council members who don't uphold the Constitution that they were sworn to uphold.”
Vergennes Township resident Bill Bledsoe said that social media was to blame, and that the people of Lowell "are being ransacked by a handful of people who are making a lot of comments.”
“Taking the Second Amendment - now, that's what happened - to help someone's First Amendment views is wrong,” Bledsoe said. “Those boys had a right to do what they did and walk the street. [...] We need to be tolerant of others' views when they're not harming ours. Instead, we were intolerant. There were people on Facebook, me included, that got involved in things and started talking without listening [and] judging without fact.”
Lowell resident Jim Myaard said he thinks Bukala should be reinstated immediately with full pay and benefits.
“The people that are involved in this coup to get rid of him... I personally am totally in disappointed in this,” Myaard said. “He needs his job back and he needs it back now. So do the right thing, okay? Because I'll be watching.”
Richard Eric Johnson, a Lowell resident, said he's known Bukala for 10-12 years, thinks he is a “wonderful human being” and “supports him with all of his heart and soul.”
“Our forefathers came over from another country to stand up for their rights and now it seems like we don't even have rights no more,” Johnson said. “Every time we do something, we're wrong. We can't do this, we can't do that. What happened to the rights? What happened to the First Amendment? Second Amendment? What happened to the amendments? What happened to the Constitution, for that matter? It seems like every time somebody wants to walk all over it when they don't get their way like little children that take their ball and go home.”
Deborah MacDonald of Lowell said she supported the resignation because Bukala argued with residents on Facebook and dismissed their concerns, which she found unprofessional.
“I have no problem with the Second Amendment rights, but to disregard the feelings and concerns of the other citizens of the town seemed inappropriate to me,” MacDonald said.
Patty Mogor of Lowell said she supported the city giving Bukala "an ultimatum to resign or be fired.”
“Second Amendment rights are not in question,” Mogor said. “Social media, as a platform for the chief of police, supporting a group of gun-toting hooligans with Confederate flags flying in a time of great protest is the issue.”
“This is not a Second Amendment issue,” said Lowell resident Lillian Peterson. “The city issued several pages of documents explaining their decision to ask the chief to resign. He has clearly abused his power in the past, and his resignation was long overdue. There is no reason that our chief of police should be misusing police resources to stalk somebody, and the support of vigilante justice by young men who have publicly expressed interest in harming protesters is not the same as upholding the Second Amendment.”
In other business, the council voted to accept a $76,000 bid for the Lowell Light & Power “line shack” building at 115 Riverside Dr. It was purchased by the same developers as the Riverview Flats condominiums in the old Unity School, and Jerry Zansdstra and Todd Schaal plan to invest $1.5 million turning it into four residential units with enclosed parking. City councilor Cliff Yankovich was the lone “no” vote on this item.
City manager Burns said the city has made $20,000 in “marijuana fees” and a marijuana growing facility could be opening in town soon. City councilor Marty Chambers said the recreational marijuana store Meds Cafe donated a boat and a motor to the Lowell Area Fire Authority.
The council voted to raise water rates by six percent and sewer rates by two percent. Burns said the average residential customer will see a $2.67 monthly increase on their bill.
The council voted to spend $135,181 to have Suez repair "digester #3 lid" at the wastewater treatment plant.
Finally, Burns said the pieces of the new Lowell Showboat are scheduled to arrive in town on July 7 and installation will take about eight weeks.
Lowell city council's next regular meeting is scheduled to take place at city hall at 7 pm on Monday, July 16. Because of the pandemic, this date, time and location could change.
To watch city council, board and commission meetings from the past few years, look for the “City of Lowell” or the “Lowell Light and Power” channels on YouTube or visit archive.org.