- Associated Press - Monday, October 28, 2019

The Detroit News. October 22, 2019

Detroit email cover-up deserves more than wrist slap

As is so often the case, the attempted cover-up by the Duggan administration of the mayor’s special treatment of a charity run by a close friend is worse than the offense he is accused of committing.

City Inspector General Ellen Ha investigated allegations that Mayor Mike Duggan used city resources to give special treatment to a Wayne State University-associated nonprofit run by a woman he’s close to. The Make Your Date charity seeks to address Detroit’s alarming preterm birth and infant mortality rate - about 15 out of 1,000 babies born do not see their first birthday (that’s more than double the statewide and national average).

The charity is run on a voluntary basis by Dr. Sonia Hassan, whose relationship with Duggan made news earlier in the year. Duggan was accused of deploying city staffers and resources in aid of the charity, giving it special treatment not available to other non-profits. Ha’s report notes that while it’s “entirely appropriate” for the city to spend time and money on the issue, “there must be a process by which any agency, non-profit or other organization is selected to receive these resources.”

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, ordered that emails related to Make Your Date be deleted, according to Ha’s report. Duggan said he was unaware of the decision to delete the emails.

Wiley says she was acting to shield junior staffers who had gotten caught up in the process. Detroit Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra were also implicated.

The official explanation seems disingenuous. It is much more likely that the emails were killed to protect Duggan.

Now, Duggan is saying that all three will be required to undergo document management training, and training will be headed up by Detroit’s Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia.

In her report, Ha recommended discipline for the staff who called for deleting the emails. Duggan’s response is inadequate to send a message that his administration is committed to transparency.

Deleting emails has become an all-too-common means of escaping public scrutiny. And while the emails have since been recovered, the attempted cover-up is what really stinks.

Duggan has drawn attention to the fact the report did not find anyone in the city broke any laws, city rules or that money was misspent. There remain ethical questions, however.

And the attempted cover-up. An administration that has done nothing wrong should have nothing to hide.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). October 26, 2019

SHF an essential organization that supports community

It’s easy to overlook the many organizations that live in Marquette County that, through one device or another, provide funding to deserving nonprofits that serve the population.

They just always seem to be there when a need must be addressed.

That’s how it is with the Superior Health Foundation, which staged its annual fall grants celebration last week. Headed by Jim LaJoie, SHF gave out a record $507,000 Wednesday, including a whopping $400,000 to the Michigan Public Transit Association, in partnership with the Michigan Transportation Connection.

The money will go toward Connect UP, a project aimed at a unified approach to tie in public transit agencies across the U.P. to work together to provide safe, reliable transportation for patients to get to and from non-emergent medical appointments, according to a Mining Journal story on the matter.

“Non-emergent transportation, and lack thereof, has long been a well-discussed topic in the Upper Peninsula,” LaJoie said in a press release. “Despite knowing the complexities of addressing this issue, our U.P.-wide board of directors is committed to finding solutions to assure patients and their families get to and from non-emergent medical appointments safely and effectively.”

In addition, some $25,000 in mini-grants and more than $82,000 in large grants was awarded to more than 20 other deserving organizations.

We’ve used this space in the past to laud the SHF and we’re doing it again. It does outstanding work that is proving crucial to the community it serves.


The Alpena News. October 25, 2019

Gov’t transparency is for you, not just me

A 2008 report from a national group had pegged Michigan’s indigent defense system among the bottom of the barrel, and, by 2016, a state-appointed commission to raise standards for that system was just getting up to speed.

To figure out what those court-appointed attorneys do, fellow Lansing State Journal reporter Matt Mencarini and I decided to look at the bills the attorneys submitted to the three counties that made up the State Journal’s core coverage area. We submitted a request through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act for a year’s worth of bills from Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties.

Eaton and Clinton counties handed over the documents no problem, even setting Matt and me up in courthouse conference rooms so we could pore over the thousands of documents.

But Ingham County wanted to reject or request, saying the bills were exempt from disclosure because they included some attorneys’ tax ID numbers and the names of some defendants who had since been granted privacy protection under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act.

We appealed the denial to the county Board of Commissioners, arguing that FOIA requires governments to maintain records that are exempt from disclosure separate from records that should be given to the public, so the tax ID numbers and defendants’ names shouldn’t be on those bills in the first place.

We also argued that Article IX, Section 23 of the Michigan Constitution mandates all government financial records be handed over to the public upon request.

The county board sided with us, though we reached an agreement through which the State Journal had to pay some astronomical amount - it was around $1,000, if memory serves - for the county to copy all of the bills and redact names and other information they felt should be withheld.

The documents were well worth the fight. The attorneys’ invoices often detailed every phone call they made, email they sent, meeting they held, hearing they attended. Through those bills, we were able to paint a pretty complete picture of the lackluster effort many of those attorneys put into offering the constitutionally mandated criminal defense the accused deserve, and the pittance those attorneys were paid by the government.

The records showed that, while some attorneys went above and beyond for their clients - one lawyer noted that he’d bought a suit for his client - the public defenders almost never tried to take a case to trial, often waiving preliminary hearings. One attorney had reached out to prosecutors to begin plea deal negotiations before even meeting his client and asking if he was innocent or guilty.

That has real-life consequences. Around the same time we were working on the attorneys story, Matt learned that the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office had flooded, destroying evidence in hundreds of cases. If any of the court-appointed attorneys for those defendants had bothered to force prosecutors to show their hands in a preliminary examination or trial, the prosecutors would have been caught flat-footed and there’s a chance those defendants would have been freed. Instead, their attorneys worked them into plea deals that gave them a criminal record that would follow them the rest of their life.

I think that story perfectly illustrates everything that’s right and wrong with government transparency laws in this state.

Without the laws, Matt and I wouldn’t have been able to tell that story of what some people would call a human rights violation right on Michigan soil.

But it took an expert knowledge of statutes and a lot of time, energy, and money for us to get the records, and that shouldn’t be the case.

While journalists use FOIA and the Michigan Open Meetings Act to crank out copy, the laws weren’t designed for us. They were designed for you, the taxpayer, to better understand what the government is doing with your money. From property disputes to civil suits to business dealings to elections, transparency laws allow Michiganders to interact with their government fully armed with the information they need to do so effectively.

But, first, you have to know how to use the law.

That’s why The News is proud to host Attorney General Dana Nessel at the Alpena County Library on Tuesday for a seminar on transparency laws. Our reporters will be there and we’ve specifically invited Northeast Michigan government leaders, but we hope you’ll be there, too, to learn how you can make sure government’s not keeping secrets it shouldn’t be keeping.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

If you go

? WHAT: Seminar on the Michigan Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts, hosted by Attorney General Dana Nessel

? WHEN: 1 p.m. Tuesday

? WHERE: Alpena County Library, 211 N. 1st Ave.

? COST: Free

? INFO: The News and Michigan Press Association sponsor Nessel’s visit to talk about government transparency. The event is open to the public.


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