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City Council declines to investigate possible OMA violation

 

By Judy Reed

 

The Cedar Springs City Council has been in the news for over a year and a half regarding a possible violation of the Open Meetings Act, when it took then Mayor Bob Truesdale into a closed session to hear complaints against him. Since then, an open meetings act violation was filed, two council members recalled, a complaint was filed with the state bureau of elections over funding the investigation, rhetoric, drama and accusations took up time in countless Council meetings, and, after the most recent City Council declined to proceed any further with the investigation, we may never know if there really was any wrongdoing.

The saga began in July 2013, when the Council voted to take then Mayor Bob Truesdale into closed session to hear complaints against him. According to Truesdale, he did not ask for the closed session, but was instead told by two of the council members that they were going to do this in closed session. Truesdale said he voted with the council to go into closed session, figuring he had nothing to hide, and was not aware of his rights to end it at any time.

Citizen Mark Laws then filed recall petitions against two of the council members—Patricia Troost and Ashley Bremmer—and the alleged Open Meetings violation is one of the reasons listed. (Those two council members were the only two he could recall at that time due to laws regarding where they were in their terms.) The petitions were finally approved in February of this year.

The City Council then voted to conduct an investigation into whether a violation of the Open Meetings Act had occurred, and directed City Manager Thad Taylor to proceed. When Taylor went to the Michigan State Police, he was told that the City needed to collect as much information as possible, submit it to the Kent County prosecutor, and then the State Police would investigate. Truesdale said he didn’t feel it was necessary, that as far as he was concerned, it was water under the bridge.

Taylor then began to have staff collect the information necessary. It was then that Laws filed a complaint with the State Bureau of Elections, asserting that any money spent by the City in connection with the investigation, was an effort by the City to show that the recall was baseless and to encourage voters to vote against the recall.

The City then stopped their investigation into the alleged Open Meetings Violation, since there was now a complaint on whether they had violated the Campaign Finance Act.

Laws didn’t realize they had stopped the investigation, and once he found out, he filed his own OMA complaint with the MSP.

Attorney Michael Hodge filed an answer to the Campaign Finance Act complaint on behalf of the city and five of the council members, and the State dismissed the complaint in October, stating that “They [City] also had real and credible concerns that the public should know if they complied with the Open Meetings Act or not. Because the City Officers had legitimate legal concerns regarding the alleged Open Meetings Act violation, the Department finds that the evidence does not tend to show that the City Officers made an expenditure in regard to the recall election and your complaint is dismissed.”

Then, in mid-November, City Manager Thad Taylor was told by MSP D/1st LT Mike Anderson that Mark Laws reportedly called and told him he no longer wanted the investigation completed or presented to the prosecutor for review. Laws said that he asked the MSP to drop it right after the election in November, because he felt the voters took care of the issue. “None of those people are still on Council, so I thought why waste the MSP’s time when they have more important things to work on,” he explained.

Lt. Anderson also told Taylor that he did not find anything in the investigation so far that suggested an OMA violation. Taylor told him that the City still wanted the investigation and asked a summary of their conversation by email.

Taylor brought it to the Council in December to vote on continuing the investigation and presenting it to the prosecutor. Four of the council members are new, and did not vote on it last spring. When new council member Perry Hopkins made the motion, no one on the council gave it a second, causing the motion to die.

Mayor Jerry Hall told the Post that they didn’t want to spend any more money on lawyer fees. “The MSP didn’t think they (the previous council) did anything wrong; Mark withdrew the lawsuit; so why should we spend more money to prove we did nothing wrong?” he asked. “We would still have to pay our attorney.” He also noted there is still the other pending OMA lawsuit over the City Manager contract that they are paying attorney fees for.

City Manager Thad Taylor said it is possible there would be some attorney fees to continue the investigation; however, he felt they would be minimal. “But it’s now a moot point,” he added. “The council was comfortable with not continuing.”

Citizen Kathy Bremmer recently requested through the Freedom of Information Act the amount of attorney fees spent on three separate cases, and shared the figures with the Post: the City reportedly spent $1,439.50 in attorney’s fees for the alleged OMA violation regarding Bob Truesdale; $5,020 to defend itself against the Campaign Finance complaint; and so far has spent $6,372 on the lawsuit for the alleged violation of the OMA regarding the City Manager Contract.

 

 

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One Response to “City Council declines to investigate possible OMA violation”

  1. Sharon says:

    Referring to the article on page 3 of last week’s C.S. Post: Fourteen paragraphs without one word in defense of those previous council members who had worked hard to do their best and had their reputations put to question while being publically disdained, without having yet received an unbiased report from our local newspaper? Seems to me the full story has not yet been presented in the Post for people to be able to hear all sides. My opinion.

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