Our office manager Mary Hines informed me yesterday that her appeal of Shredder Ophoff's denial of her FOIA request is scheduled to be heard by the City's Committee on FOIA Appeals.*
As you may recall, a few weeks ago Ms. Hines had requested that the City of Grand Rapids disclose to her, as is her right under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act, documents in the City's possession about the value of the Boardwalk property on Monroe Avenue north of downtown (a.k.a. Toxic Towers). Those documents are of interest because they appear to contain statements from the Boardwalk developers to city officials that they had invested only $20 million in the project, which contradicts prior statements by the developers that they had invested as much as $40 million. Ms. Hines made her request so that we could determine whether or not the Boardwalk developers had made false statements to the City of Grand Rapids to obtain a low-ball assessment of their property.
Assistant City Attorney Daniel Ophoff (pictured to the right as one of the River Rats of local legal legend and lore) blocked Ms. Hines's request on the basis that she is associated with yours truly, the executive director of the Local Area Watch. Ophoff had earlier refused to disclose the documents to me and has made it plain that no one associated with me with be allowed to get them either. Obviously Ophoff, who has been allied with the Boardwalk developers in litigation alleging that they used a City property as an unlicensed landfill for the Boardwalk's hazardous waste, has gone off the deep end on this one.
We hope that sanity will reign at the City's FOIA appeals committee and they will order the release of the documents to Ms. Hines. Presumably this committee is one of the new bodies General George, a.k.a. Mayor Heartwell, fashioned out the City Commission's Committee of the Whole to obviate the quorum rules that would invoke the Open Meetings Act. So at this time it would appear that our appeal will be decided outside of public view by a committee whose members are presently unknown. Thus, my hope is not also confidence.
The committee decides the appeal on June 21st. We'll keep you posted.
* Separately I made the same FOIA request as Ms. Hines and was denied. I also appealed. However, I have received no notice yet that my appeal will be heard. If Attorney Ophoff and the City continue to run roughshod over the clearly defined FOIA rules, this whole thing may end up in court. The right of a citizen to obtain the disclosure of public records is a mainstay of the open government policy of the State of Michigan, and it must be defended. More on this as it develops.