Transparency an issue as Freedom of Information lawsuits go on

Dear Editor,
My husband, Richard, and I have lived in Clarkston for 15 years, and we both strongly believe in open government.
Eric Haven, David Marsh, Al Avery, and Sharron Catallo have demonstrated that they are the anti-transparency candidates. I have a lot to say about why I believe that, but I write today only about city council’s violations of the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”).
In 2014, Curt Catallo entered into a conditional zoning contract with the City of the Village of Clarkston that allowed him to build a drive-through coffee shop on his property at 148 N. Main Street.
On March 9, 2015, the city council closed part of a public meeting so they could secretly discuss water runoff issues at 148 N. Main. The city attorney asked to close the meeting based on a short letter from the city’s engineer about water runoff options, but that letter was not a legal basis for a closed meeting.
It was not an attorney’s legal opinion that could be discussed at a closed meeting.
The city attorney withdrew his request to close the meeting after Richard, who was on city council at the time, challenged the basis for the request. Eric Haven voted “yes” to close the meeting anyway; Richard was the only “no” vote. Richard later posted the engineer’s letter and the city attorney’s two-sentence enclosure letter on his Facebook page, because he knew people were interested in 148 N. Main issues.
Following that meeting, Curt Catallo sent a letter to the city complaining about Clarkston’s actions under his conditional zoning contract. Richard also posted that letter on his constituent Facebook page. Curt’s mother, Sharron Catallo, initiated a secret email discussion between council members because she was unhappy that Curt’s letter was shared with the public. Eric Haven participated in the secret discussion and also asked that the council discuss whether posting a letter was a violation of the city’s ethics policy at the next council meeting (it wasn’t).
Richard resigned at that meeting and later sued the city for violating the OMA. Richard asked the court for an order finding that the city had engaged in conduct that violated the law, to order the city to follow the law in the future, and to pay his costs and attorneys’ fees. The cost to file a lawsuit at the time was less than $200 and the attorneys’ fees were ZERO because Richard was representing himself.
The city fought the lawsuit for almost a year before the city council, including David Marsh and Eric Haven, finally admitted the March 9, 2015 meeting had been illegally closed under the OMA. You should note that Sharron Catallo was the only vote against settling the lawsuit.
There was also a criminal investigation regarding the unlawfully closed March 9, 2015 meeting that began with a Clarkston News reporter’s complaint to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office investigated and referred the matter to the Oakland County prosecutor for further action. The prosecutor’s office sent a warning letter to the city council, declining to criminally charge council members who’d voted “yes” in part because they admitted to their unlawful conduct and also because they may have been “confused” about the OMA’s requirements.
While Richard’s lawsuit was going on, Joseph Luginski initiated another secret email discussion with city council members asking for approval of a letter to city residents regarding a proposed city hall expansion. Sharron Catallo and Eric Haven gave their approval before a, now former, council member correctly pointed out that the secret email discussion could be a violation of the OMA. I wonder how many other secret email discussions there have been that we aren’t aware of?
There are a handful of long-time city residents and even some council members who continue to minimize the city council’s violation of the OMA, even going so far as to recently characterize Richard’s OMA lawsuit as merely a social media issue.
I would encourage you to ask the city for a copy of the complaints filed in Richard’s lawsuit and decide for yourself. There are people connected to the city who have engaged in what I believe is some very questionable conduct with regard to both the OMA lawsuit and my Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and it’s in their interest to feed talking points to willing speakers. I would suggest that these comments be taken with a large grain of salt until my FOIA lawsuit concludes, at which point I will have much more to say.
In closing, I would urge you to ignore strategically placed campaign signs and carefully study the candidates’ conduct. If you support government transparency, please vote for Steve Percival for mayor; Sue Wylie, Rick Detkowski, and newcomer Hampton Swayne for two-year council terms; and Mike Cascone for the one-year city council position. Steve, Sue, and Rick have been very open about their support for government transparency, and I hope that Hampton will follow in their footsteps. Mike has a background in risk management and has been vocal about his support for following the charter.
Thank you for reading.
Susan Bisio
Clarkston

5 Responses to "Transparency an issue as Freedom of Information lawsuits go on"

  1. Dennis   October 13, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Let me see, I am supposed to take voting advise from a resident that has sued the City, cost the City thousands of dollars AND HAS LOST HER LAWSUIT AT TWO DIFFERENT LEVELS???? Something about that makes NO Sense! Two different courts have decided that you have poor judgement. Your recommendation seems to me to be the reason to vote for the very people that your are telling me not to vote for. Thank you for your letter, I was uncertain as to who I should vote for but you have convinced me to vote for Haven, Catallo, Avery & Marsh.

    Reply
  2. Susan   October 15, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    Dennis, thank you for proving my point about “willing speakers.”

    FYI, “advice” is spelled with a “c.” (You’re welcome.)

    Reply
  3. Cory Johnston   October 16, 2018 at 7:25 am

    It seems there are those who are uninformed on this matter and apparently like it that way, including some running for city council. Yes it did cost the city thousands of dollars for the city attorney to not provide information and essentially defend himself at our expense. The city was defended by another attorney assigned and paid for by their insurer and it would have cost the city nothing to simply provide the information originally requested.
    But let’s get to the heart of the matter, according to some in the city, the city attorney and by extension anyone in the city administration, can be paid with our tax dollars to keep information from the city council and public. That’s what the city has won in court, an uninformed city council where information is controlled by the city attorney and other city officials many of which do not live or pay taxes here.
    If you want the public and our elected representatives to be uninformed at the taxpayer’s expense, then Haven, Catallo, Avery and Marsh may be a good choice. I would rather go with the intent of Michigan’s FOIA law that says “The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.” I will be voting for those who want to be fully informed and who believe the people should be also.

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  4. Dennis   October 16, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Yes Cory, you have again demonstrated that there are folks that are uninformed. You have established that standard very clearly. I will assume that two courts are a better source of knowledge and information than people who just complain and complain and complain. Your implication that you are smarter than two courts in interpreting the law is laughable! I will trust that our courts understand the legal issues better than even you! Your comments give me even more conviction in voting for Haven, Catallo, Avery & Marsh. I want people that follow the laws, not interpret it. I want people that offer solutions, not just stir things up by wining all the time.

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  5. Mike Fetzer   October 19, 2018 at 5:40 am

    Dennis, there is a significant lack of public confidence in Michigan’s state and local judicial system, packed full of political partisans. Lower level decisions are regularly reversed, and an initial decision or two by lower courts is hardly controlling in determining the merits of a party’s arguments. Often, justice is not obtained until a state or national Supreme Court has ruled. Sadly, recent appointments and a party-line divided U.S. Supreme Court are eroding public confidence in that once greatly respected institution. But that is all we have for now. The founding fathers (no founding mothers apparently were available) set up a system of checks and balances which will eventually remedy the situation, absent a coup and illegal nterference by a despot like Donald Trump who managed with Russian help to be elected “president” with only a minority of voters.

    Transparency in government is a great thing. The candidates you advocate are opposed to it…

    Reply

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