The Grand Rapids Press preens itself as a defender of open government. For example, on the January 31st editorial page it took Grand Rapids Mayor Heartwell to task for making changes to the City Commission’s committee structure that circumvent the Open Meetings Act.* Just yesterday, the Press editorialized against a high court dismissal of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to compel Eastern Michigan University to disclose a report to its board regarding the misappropriation of public funds to build a $6 million palace for the university’s president.
The Press yelped mightily over the EMU case, but then its ox was being gored. The FOIA complaint was filed by the Ann Arbor News, which is a sister publication to the Press. Let’s be clear. We at the Local Area Watch are in complete agreement with the Press about Heartwell’s assault upon the OMA and EMU’s disregard for FOIA. However, the Press’s sanctimony is more than galling when it has suppressed any coverage of the biggest FOIA scandal to involve the City of Grand Rapids: The deliberate destruction by the City Attorney’s Office of public records to prevent their immediate disclosure to the Kent County Circuit Court and their availability as evidence in a pending federal lawsuit and investigation.
Those documents recorded then-Mayor Logie’s statements to the City Commission, in closed sessions on March 6, 2001, and May 8, 2001. He dissuaded the commissioners from making any inquiries into the dumping of hazardous waste at the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant. The dumping had benefited the two largest clients of Logie’s law firm, and Logie had knowledge of pending state and federal examinations of what occurred there when he convinced the City Commission to not act. By quashing action by the City Commission, Logie prevented the City from producing information that might implicate his clients’ involvement in state and federal offenses.
The minutes of these meetings were evidence of Logie’s actions against the interests of the City’s residents and taxpayers in favor of his business clients. Therefore, Assistant City Attorney Daniel Ophoff arranged for the destruction of the minutes before any court order was put in place to compel their disclosure. We know of these closed-session discussions only because City Commissioner James Jendrasiak informed LAW executive director William Tingley of what happened immediately afterwards. Nevertheless, neither Jendrasiak nor anyone else in the City government has been willing to hold Ophoff accountable for his utter contempt for the laws that enforce open government.
Worse, that self-styled defender of open government, the Grand Rapids Press, has not had a single word to say about any of this, despite the pile of evidence that exists. Of course, the fact that the publisher of the Press, Danny Gaydou, also happened to be at the time the chairman of one of those big client’s of Logie’s law firm who benefited from the dumping at the Filtration Plant is surely only a coincidence.
* Thanks to Heartwell, the City Commission can now meet in three-member standing committees behind closed doors to develop policies and initiatives for the full City Commission to later vote upon. Because a meeting of three commissioners constitutes less than a quorum, that according to the City would not violate the Open Meetings Act requirement that all deliberation and decision-making by the City Commission be conducted publicly. LAW will be keeping an eye on this development under “Behind Closed Doors”.