About an hour ago the Grand Rapids City FOIA appeals committee rubberstamped "Shredder" Ophoff's denial of our requests for public records related to the valuation and subsequent tax assessment of the Boardwalk property located north of downtown on Monroe Avenue. So those records, for now, remain under lock and key (assuming the Shredder hasn't come up with a pretext for destroying them yet).
From our readers we learned of the existence of a letter from the Boardwalk developers to the City stating that they had invested only $20 million in the property. Apparently this figure was used to justify a low tax assessment of the Boardwalk. However, that figure contradicts the $30-35 million the Boardwalk developers had told its lenders they had invested in order to support a $26.5 million in loans against the property. On the one hand the Boardwalk developers gave the City a low-ball figure to get a cheap assessment and on the other they gave the banks a big figure to maximize the amount they could borrow.
If the Boardwalk developers lied to the City, then they cheated to get a 50% reduction in their tax assessment. If they lied to the banks, then that would appear to be bank fraud. If, if, if ... we needed the facts. So we made requests of the City to get the relevant public records. On behalf of the City, "Shredder" Ophoff refused. We made appeals to the City Commission. Today the City Commission subcommittee in charge of FOIA appeals met and told us to take a hike.
General George, a.k.a. Mayor Heartwell, took command of the situation even though Commissioner Jendrasiak was nominally the committee chairman. The General gave voice only to the Shredder's arguments for denial and invited him to speak to that end. Of course, the Shredder made all the necessary noises, and I, as one of the appellants, was not permitted to address the committee to counter his nonsense. The General then struck a deliberative pose and declared, by gosh, we need to deny the release of these documents. Jendrasiak and Commissioner Dean, the third member of the committee, fell into line and agreed. In short, the City's FOIA appeals process is a joke.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly and completely our elected officials forget that they do not represent the City, they represent us. Even if Heartwell, Jendrasiak, and Dean sincerely thought Ophoff had the legal basis to deny disclosure of the requested documents, they had the authority to release in the name of the public good. But no. They closed ranks to protect the City staff and the stink emanating from the conflicting values placed upon the Boardwalk property by its owners.
So the herd instinct of the Grand Rapids City Commission is alive and well, which explains the mooing you thought you heard at City Hall.