By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor
Clarkston resident Susan Bisio’s request for public records regarding the Millpond Inn Bed and Breakfast has led to a Freedomn of Information Act request and, most recently, a lawsuit.
On March 22, Bisio and her attorney, also her husband Richard, filed two FOIA requests to the city for public records involving the city’s actions against the Millpond Inn Bed and Breakfast, including, but not limited to, records regarding the city’s actions and plans to attempt to shut down the bed and breakfast or take other adverse action against that business on a questionable legal basis and for which the city attorney (Tom Ryan) recommended there be no public discussion at a city council meeting with representatives of the bed and breakfast.
“Michigan law doesn’t require anyone to explain why they want public records, or what they will do with them once they are received,” said Bisio on April 28.
On her website, ClarkstonSecrets.com, Bisio went into more detail (Will the Millpond Inn Bed & Breakfast be the Subject of the Next City Lawsuit?, March 9, 2023).
“I don’t know the old or the new Millpond Inn owners, I’ve never stayed there, and I frankly don’t care whether they continue to exist or not,” wrote Bisio. “If they aren’t complying with local law, then they will have to deal with the consequences. What I do take issue with is the city’s desire to obsessively pursue this particular business in secret, based on city officials’ questionable beliefs and a complaint from a neighbor, potentially leading the city into another lawsuit that you and I will have to pay for.”
“While it is the city’s policy to not comment on pending legal matters, it is important to emphasize that the city unequivocally respects the importance of the Freedom of Information Act and will always ensure that FOIA requests received are responded to in a thorough and timely manner,” noted Clarkston City Manager Jonathan Smith on May 1.
According to Bisio, at the Oct. 10, 2022 city council meeting, one of the Millpond Inn’s next-door neighbors made several allegations about the business during public comments, including referring to it as an Airbnb. She said she’s complained before and she said her biggest issue is that no one lives there. Ryan noted that the Millpond Inn was a court-approved nonconforming use, but they have to abide by the regulations.
Then at the Jan. 9, 2023 city council meeting, Millpond Inn owner Carl Szasz and innkeeper Jack Yarosh were present as an agenda item to answer questions from council, but Ryan advised council, who approved unanimously, to remove the item from the agenda. Bisio wrote that, “Ryan didn’t think they should be discussing something when they don’t have all the information, and this is something ‘under active pursuit and investigation by the city.’”
“The city doesn’t provide records unless you ask for them,” Bisio said April 28. “Any written request for information falls under the FOIA, whether the acronym ‘FOIA’ is used or not. I asked for the records because I wanted them. This is the second time that I’ve had to ask a court to force the city to respond.”
For almost six years, from 2015-21, Bisio’s FOIA lawsuit over city records being stored on an off-site computer containing information on city land developments raged on, in and out of court. The lawsuit was settled in April 2021 for $160,000.
“The city’s answer to the complaint admits that the city attorney told the council to ignore my March 9, 2023 email (that the Clarkston News received a copy of), provides absolutely no legal defense to the lawsuit, and states the city is preparing a supplemental response to my FOIA requests,” said Bisio on April 28. “The city agrees I am entitled to receive attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. I’m assuming these fees and costs will not be covered under the city’s insurance policy. If they were, then the insurer would have appointed an outside attorney to handle the lawsuit as they did before.
“Richard sent Tom Ryan a letter on April 21, 2023 and asked him when the city will be providing the additional records. He told Ryan we would be willing to settle the case once the response is complete. Ryan has not acknowledged the letter, so we will carry on with the lawsuit. The lawsuit won’t end until the records are produced and the city pays my attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.”
Bisio wrote on ClarkstonSecrets.com (FOIA Lawsuit Update – Winning So Far!, April 21, 2023) that she was not satisfied with the responses to her FOIA requests.
“The answer to my complaint was due on Thursday, April 20 (a FOIA request has 21 days to be answered), and that was the day that the city responded,” Bisio wrote. “Honestly, after reading the answer, I think the city would have been better off if the city attorney had simply called my attorney and asked for more time to informally resolve the lawsuit, because it’s clear the city is not going to mount any defense whatsoever to my complaint claims.”
In the March 9 email, Bisio said that Ryan and Smith were copied on many of these communications, and “these two administrative officers apparently have some of the responsive records that have inexplicably not been provided to me – even though they are both aware of the request and the deficient response.”
PHOTO: The Millpond Inn Bed and Breakfast is located at 155 North Main Street, just north of Clarkston Road, in Clarkston. Photo: Matt Mackinder