BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Back on March 30, the Clarkston City Council agreed to settle the ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit between resident Susan Bisio and the City of the Village of Clarkston for the amount of $160,000.
In 2015, Bisio sued the city for documents pertaining to land developments that were not stored on city-owned computers and were instead stored on City Attorney Tom Ryan’s personal computer.
“We are glad the case is concluded after more than five years of difficult litigation,” said Bisio’s husband and legal representative Richard Bisio. “All that was left after the city lost in the Michigan Supreme Court last July was to decide how much of Susan’s fees the city would pay under the requirement for a fee award to a prevailing plaintiff under the Freedom of Information Act. To end this, both for us and for the city’s taxpayers, Susan agreed to accept a payment of $160,000 from the city on her documented fees of over twice that much.
“Intransigent to the end, the city argued in the Supreme Court that Susan didn’t win the case, argued about the terms of settlement, asking the circuit court to impose conditions Susan never agreed to, continues to deny it lost the case, conceals the settlement agreement and what the council approved, and tried to misrepresent the settlement to the public.
A more detailed discussion of the settlement from Bisio’s standpoint can be found at clarkstonsecrets.com/the-city-council-has-apparently-not-learned-a-damned-thing.
“The total settlement amount is $160,000, and the city’s portion of that is $35,000,” said Clarkston City Manager Jonathan Smith. “The difference is being paid by the two other defendant parties in the case, the Michigan Municipal League and City Attorney Tom Ryan’s insurance provider. Those parties requested the city to not disclose the amounts of their payments. A budget amendment was passed by city council on February 12 reallocating $35,000 from the fund balance to pay the city’s portion.”
“We regret that the city’s crusade for the ‘principle’ that city officials can hide records of city business in secret off-site files has cost the city’s and the state’s taxpayers at least $125,000, not to mention the extra fees the city has paid to its recently hired new lawyer,” added Richard Bisio. “It is notable that the city attorney’s malpractice insurer contributed $35,000 to the settlement, in apparent recognition of his misconduct.”
Bisio added that he hopes the city will “learn something from this saga about the importance of transparency in government and about complying with the law.”
“We hope the city will stop making decisions in secret,” said Bisio. “We hope the city will change its approach to concerned citizens who want to know about the workings of city government by engaging with them in a civil manner rather than attacking and demeaning them, as it did with Susan and me. The city’s antics around approval of the settlement (noted in the ClarkstonSecrets.com link) give us pause, but we hope that, on further reflection, those who run our city government will take the knowledge to heart that they work for us, that the city’s business is the public’s business, and that they should do what is in the public’s interest rather than their personal interest or the interest of a few officials or individuals.”
Smith said a formal statement on the matter will be released soon.
In the closed session on March 30, six council members voted unanimously to settle the lawsuit. Ed Bonser was absent, while Mayor Eric Haven, Jason Kneisc, Sue Wylie, Al Avery, Gary Casey and Joe Luginski all gave the “yes” vote.