Government groups pull for city in lawsuit

BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
The Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association want to throw their two cents into a Freedom of Information lawsuit in Clarkston.
The non-profit corporations filed a motion for leave to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the City of the Village of Clarkston in its case against city resident Susan Bisio.
Bisio, represented by attorney Richard Bisio, her husband, sued the city in December 2015 for violating FOIA.
MML, MTA, and the city argue that “while FOIA requires disclosure of public records in the possession of a public body, it has been generally accepted that FOIA does not apply to an agent of a public body.”
The lawsuit stems from a FOIA request Susan sent to the city on June 7, 2015, requesting invoices billed to the city by city attorney Thomas Ryan.
Bisio is appealing an October 2016 decision by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman, which said certain records requested by Bisio were not public.
The contested records included emails from Jan. 30, 2015, to May 20, 2015, between Ryan and other attorneys and agencies related to 148 N. Main Street and a hold-harmless agreement for its development, as well as vacant property at M-15 and Waldon.
The city responded in June 2015, producing over 700 pages of documents, but declining to provide 18 records, saying they were not public records according to state law.
In the Oct. 19 ruling, the judge agreed, ruling records requested by Bisio were not public “because there is no evidence to support the claim the city used or retained them in the performance of official functions, or that Ryan shared the contested records to assist the city in making a decision.”
The city argues reversing the lower court’s decision would expand FOIA “to many different types of agents of municipalities, including consultants, contractors, and any other person or entity who might be alleged to be an ‘agent’ of the municipality. Not only would this cause an extreme expansion of FOIA, it will exponentially increase costs and will have a chilling effect on entities that might otherwise do business on behalf of a municipality.”
MML’s motion was authorized by its Legal Defense Fund’s Board of Directors. They requested filing the brief by Aug. 7.
The Michigan Press Association and Detroit Free Press previously filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Susan Bisio’s lawsuit.
Their “friend of the court” brief asks to reverse the trial court’s ruling, saying FOIA exemptions do not apply in this case, exemptions don’t apply anyway because the city failed to assert or prove them in its answer to the complaint; and order the city to produce the contested records, as well as hold a hearing for fees and costs.
The appeals court is not expected to hear the case until next year.
Richard filed a separate lawsuit against the city on June 2, 2015, for violation of the Open Meetings Act at a closed City Council session on March 9, 2015, and with email discussions in November 2015.
In a consent judgement agreement filed on March 14, 2016, the city admitted the closed session was improper. A review by the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office found Clarkston City Council probably violated the Open Meetings Act in March 2015, but declined to file charges.

One Response to "Government groups pull for city in lawsuit"

  1. Mike Fetzer   July 13, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    How absurd that an invoice received by a city government, evaluated by public officials for payment with public funds, would not constitute a public record subject to public scrutiny? The whole debacle reflects a new arrogance, elitism and contempt for constituents perpetrated by elected/public officials at all levels, from township and city officials, to state legislators, congressional representatives and senators, and, tragically, even to the White House now occupied by perhaps the most arrogant, secretive and most ethically-challenged administration in American history. These secretive public officials are the same folks who fail to avail themselves of free and open public meetings with constituents, and who deflect and spin in response to simple, straightforward questions by ignoring the question posed and instead employing the patronizing and demeaning “the real question is…”, followed by the lame scripted party talking points of the day. Many journalists fail or refuse to directly confront an evasive, deceptive or manipulative public official by insisting that the question posed be met with a straight, direct and fully responsive answer that anyone’s dad or mom would have reasonably demanded of even a child. Sadly, Americans seem increasingly resigned to this abuse from their elected leaders. Where is the public outrage at an official’s refusal to disclose an invoice presented to government? The deceit, secrecy, manipulation and abuse by public officials will only worsen if constituents fail to demand appropriate disclosure, truth and transparency…

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.