Eureka Township signs lawsuit consent judgment


By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 10:42 am on Thursday, May 16, 2013

EUREKA TOWNSHIP — The Eureka Township Board approved signing a settlement regarding an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit between the township and the city of Greenville.

According to township board members, attorneys on both sides have worked out the consent judgment.

However, city of Greenville officials say they have yet to see the agreement.

During Monday night’s township meeting, the proposed settlement was given to township board members, asking for a motion to approve the consent judgment.

“The motion is to approve the supervisor — myself — to sign the settlement letter that was drafted by our attorney to go to the Montcalm County Circuit Court, stating that the city and township have agreed to each pay their own attorney fees and the township is waving the FOIA fee of $400 for the document requested (by the city),” said Eureka Township Supervisor Rodney Roy. “The township has agreed to review our current FOIA policy and ensure it is in compliance with our statute.”

The consent judgment that was signed by the township includes a line stating “this consent judgment and the settlement contained herein is not and shall not be construed as an admission by any party of any fault, wrongdoing, violation of FOIA or similar matters.”

Roy went on to explain the motion would allow him to sign the agreement so it could go back to the attorney and be presented to the Greenville City Council, and then to 8th Judicial Circuit Court to be signed by a judge.

“These are the terms our lawyer and the city lawyer worked out for the settlement,” Roy said.

The township board voted 7-0 to have Roy sign the consent judgment so it can be passed on to the attorney.

When Greenville City Manager George Bosanic was asked about the settlement, he said he had not been presented with the it.

“We currently have a lawsuit pending,” Bosanic said. “Until a meaningful settlement is proposed, we will be moving forward with the lawsuit as is.”

 

The lawsuit

The city filed a lawsuit against the township on Dec. 28, 2012, involving a FOIA request made by the city to the township on Sept. 10, 2012.

Bosanic requested public records (excluding engineering drawings and maps) related to grinder pumps and a forced sewer main constructed around Baldwin Lake.

Eureka Township Supervisor Laura Shears, who has since gone on medical leave and resigned from the township, responded to the FOIA request on Sept. 14, 2012, stating it was “very broad in nature and does not specify a given time period” and said it could cost up to $6,000 to research. She suggested a more specific request and asked for a 10-day extension to the FOIA request, which typically must be fulfilled within five business days unless an extension is requested.

Bosanic submitted a revised request on Sept. 17, 2012, seeking copies of all public records from January 1986 to September 2012 (excluding engineering drawings and maps) relating to the grinder pumps and forced sewer main.

The township was required to respond to the request by Sept. 25, 2012, but did not respond until Sept. 27, 2012, when Secretary Renee Fountain again requested a 10-day extension.

Bosanic called the township office on Sept. 18, 2012, informing them their failure to respond to his request violated the FOIA and constituted a denial of the request. Bosanic asked if he could inspect the public documents at the township hall. Shears said she would charge him $10 per hour to look at the documents.

According to state law, the FOIA only allows imposing a fee for a search and/or copying of a request — not to inspect public records.

On Oct. 1, 2012, Bosanic informed Shears she could not lawfully charge him to look at the documents. He told her he was simply seeking to review the agreements made between the city and the township. On Oct. 2, 2012, Shears reasserted the township’s authority to charge Bosanic for looking at the documents.

Bosanic was informed by Shears on Oct. 4, 2012, that the requested documents were ready for delivery and would cost $400 for searching, compiling and copying. Bosanic requested an accounting of the fee on Oct. 8, 2012, along with a copy of the township’s FOIA policy, as he believed the $400 fee to be excessive.

On Oct, 9, 2012, Shears provided an accounting of the fee as follows: “13.5 hours at $10 per hour equals $135. Approximately 1,000 copies at 30 cents per copy equals $300.” Shears did not provide Bosanic with a copy of the township’s FOIA policy.

Shears was informed by Bosanic on Oct. 15, 2012, that the $400 fee violated the FOIA. Bosanic stated he was aware of identical documents that were previously provided to another individual via a FOIA request and the fee for that request was substantially less than $400.

On Nov. 6, 2012, Shears suggested meeting with Bosanic. On Nov. 8, 2012, Bosanic responded that a meeting was not required under the FOIA. Shears indicated a willingness to “sit down and discuss giving you the documents that you need,” on Nov. 12, 2012.

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