Well, friends, I regret to report that on January 27, 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court denied us a hearing of our Freedom of Information Act complaint against the City of Grand Rapids. Only Justices Cavanaugh and Kelly voted to hear our appeal. That leaves standing the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that acknowledged that we partly prevailed in our complaint but upheld the City's refusal to disclose the minutes of illicit closed sessions of the City Commission.
Worst of all, it puts the court's imprimatur on Assistant City Attorney Daniel Ophoff's deliberate destruction of the minutes in May 2002 during the original litigation of this matter. We had requested the minutes in discovery, and Ophoff, as the City's legal counsel, did not turn them over to either us or the trial court when the deadline for their production came. Instead, Ophoff repeatedly asked for and received from us extensions of the deadline.
We agreed to the extensions because Ophoff told us he needed the time to work out the details of showing us the minutes. In fact he had conned us. By promising to cooperate with us, he persuaded us to not go to the trial court to get an order for the production of the minutes. In the absence of such an order, Ophoff used the delay to destroy the minutes. With their destruction, Ophoff prevented the trial court from seeing the minutes. More seriously, he prevented them from becoming evidence in a pending lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
So what's the big deal about the minutes? Twice the Grand Rapids City Commission met in closed session (euphemistically called "executive sessions" by the commissioners) on March 6, 2001, and May 8, 2001, to discuss investigation of the dumping of the Berkey & Gay's contaminated soil into the abandoned concrete water tanks of the defunct Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant. The sessions were illicit for this purpose, because the City Commission never publicly announced that this topic would be on its closed-door agenda.
What in fact happened in those closed meetings, according to Commissioner James Jendrasiak, was that then-Mayor John Logie persuaded the commissioners to NOT open an inquiry into the matter. It's no small thing that at the same time the two biggest clients of Logie's law firm, Old Kent Bank (now Fifth Third Bank) and Spectrum Health, were beneficiaries of the removal of the contaminated soil from the Berkey & Gay project site to the Filtration Plant.
So much for the Freedom of Information Act being a tool to make government officials accountable for their decisions. Furthermore, we can take no comfort that Boss Logie, notorious for his backroom arm-twisting has passed from the scene. The supposedly saintly Mayor George Heartwell now wants to circumvent the principles of open government by institutionalizing sub-quorum meetings of City Commissioners to make policy decisions behind closed doors. (Yeah, yeah, the mayor says no actual decisions would be made. [Roll your eyes here.])
Fellow citizens, take this as an alert of the ongoing assault by City staffers and (at the least) acquiescent City Commissioners upon the principles of open government. You do have right to know what they are doing. Moreover, they are required to make this easy for you by doing most everything in full public view. But not only corners are being cut, rotten deals are being made to benefit the connected at the expense of the unconnected -- i.e., the ordinary taxpayer.
This story will continue ...