[Note: This is the third article in our "River of Corruption" series highlighting the failure of various public officials and institutions to respond to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste at the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant and elsewhere.]
Our first entrant into the Hall of Shame for its role in the Toxic Towers dumping scandal is the Grand Rapids City Commission. The commissioners distinguished themselves in their submissiveness to then-Mayor John Logie's agenda in support of the Boardwalk project (a.k.a. Toxic Towers). The two largest clients of Logie's law firm had interests in the project (Fifth Third Bank -- then known as Old Kent Bank -- who is one of the Boardwalk developers, and Spectrum Health, whose training consortium is the Boardwalk's anchor tenant), and never once did the commissioners challenge Logie on this glaring conflict of interest between his public duty and his private business affairs. Instead they rolled over for him each and every time the project needed help from the City.
Let's review the City Commission's record.
CITY TAX SUBSIDY: City staffers looked hard and long to find a tax-subsidy for the developers of the Boardwalk project. They found none. No problem. Logie was sitting on the board of the City's Monroe North Tax Increment Financing Authority (MNTIFA), and so they invented a subsidy funded by that agency to the tune of $2.5 million. The City Commission rubberstamped the deal in September 1999 on the vague promise that the developers would include lots of low-income housing in the project.
When the Boardwalk developers inevitably reneged on the low-income housing to make room for high-rent apartments and commercial office space, Logie had the MNTIFA's attorney draft an amendment to preserve the tax subsidy deal. The fact that this attorney, Dick Wendt of Dickinson Wright P.L.L.C., worked for the same firm representing the Boardwalk developers alerted none of the commissioners to question the propriety of the amendment. The City Commission again rubberstamped it in June 2001.
However, to get the tax subsidy the Boardwalk developers had to show the City invoices recording at least $25 million of improvements they had put into the project. The developers refused to do this. Instead lead developer Thomas Beckering submitted to the City a building permit claiming that there were $150 million in improvements. When that didn't work, the City interpreted the permit to mean only $15 million in improvements were made, allowing the City Assessor to value the completed Broadwalk project at less than half of the $31 million that Beckering had stated in a letter to the Assistant City Manager Eric DeLonge that his group had invested in the project!
Thus, the Boardwalk developers got their tax subsidy from the City through a low-ball assessment, and the City Commission has done nothing to date to correct this.
SALE OF THE FILTRATION PLANT: James Czanko, the Boardwalk's project manager, complained to City officials that remediation of the project's hazardous waste was going to be very expensive. (No kidding. Everything along Monroe Avenue north of downtown is built atop contaminated urban fill.) He needed a solution. Fortunately, then-Mayor Logie was there to provide the Boardwalk developers with what they wanted: A cheap nearby landfill.
In February 1999 Logie persuaded the City Commission to reject a $600,000 offer to purchase the defunct Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant and to accept instead a $400,000 offer from Dykema Excavators Inc. for the purpose of "storing dirt" there. As it happened Dykema Excavators was one of the lead contractors for the Boardwalk project and its owner was also one of the project's developers. The Filtration Plant was located only a few blocks north of the Boardwalk project site, and its grounds contained large empty concrete water tanks -- ready-made to be filled with dirt, such as the Boardwalk's contaminated soil (see "Poison" ).
Commissioner James Jendrasiak and some of his fellow commissioners were suspicious enough of Dykema Excavators' plan to use the Filtration Plant for the odd purpose of dirt storage. They were concerned that Dykema Excavators would dump "toxic dirt", as Jendrasiak phrased it, into the plant's water tanks. So they added to the purchase agreement a provision that required Dykema Excavators to have all dirt to be used as fill at the Filtration Plant inspected at its source by the City Engineer to ensure that it was free of contamination.
Enforcement of this provision was immediately dropped by the City Engineer after the sale of the Filtration Plant to Dykema Excavators was closed in May 1999. Thereafter, the City's Environmental Protection Department refused to take any complaints that contaminated soil was being dumped at the Filtration Plant. When the City Commission was informed of the City's failure to protect the surrounding Creston Heights neighborhood from Dykema Excavators turning the Filtration Plant into an illegal hazardous waste dump, it did nothing under the direction of then-Mayor Logie.
DESTRUCTION OF CITY RECORDS: Logie and the City Commissioners discussed the illegal dumping at the Filtration Plant at least twice. Once on March 6, 2001, and again on May 8, 2001, in executive sessions closed to the public. At the March closed meeting Logie browbeat the commissioners into subsmission. According to Commissioner Jendrasiak who attended the meeting, Logie said that the allegations of dumping at the Filtration Plant were lies and that there was no conflict of interest between his political involvement in this matter and his business ties. The City Commission acquiesced to Logie.
At the May closed meeting Logie learned that the commissioners had requested a report from the City's Environmental Protection Department about the problem at the Filtration Plant. He leaned on the commissioners to scrub the report. Again according to Commissioner Jendrasiak, Logie told them that they would be embarrass by an inquiry that would turn up nothing improper about Dykema Excavators' use of the Filtration Plant. Again the City Commission caved in to Logie. (Scientific analysis of soil tests taken three years later prove that Logie misled the City Commission.)
Consequently, the Local Area Watch asked Logie to disclosed to the public the minutes of these closed sessions. He refused. In January 2002 we then sued for their disclosure under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act. In March 2002 Logie learned that these closed session minutes might become evidence in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Therefore, the City Attorney's Office destroyed the minutes to forever prevent their disclosure.
To date City Commissioners have not only refused to investigate this arrogant disregard for the rights of citizens under the Freedom of Information Act (or, even worse, the possibility that City staffers were involved in the destruction of evidence subject to a federal inquiry), they have taken orders from the City Attorney's Office to not even discuss the matter with the public.
Folks, this is only just the start of the City Commission's misfeasance in looking out for your interests. They have let themselves be cowed at every turn by those who have a stake in keeping the Toxic Towers dumping scandal under wraps. Click here for e-mail links to your City Commissioners and let them know it's well past time for them to start working for you and not the private agendas of Boss Logie and his ilk.
Next: The City Attorney's Office.