EUREKA TOWNSHIP — The Eureka Township Board received and passed a consent judgement Monday regarding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit between the township and the city of Greenville.
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. Greenville City Manager George Bosanic had requested public records (excluding engineering drawings and maps) related to grinder pumps and a forced sewer main constructed around Baldwin Lake.
At Monday night’s meeting, Eureka Township Supervisor Rodney Roy explained that he, Clerk Linda Ruwersma, Greenville City Manager George Bosanic, the township attorney and the city attorney met last Thursday for a court conference where they discussed a settlement for the lawsuit.
“The lawyers came to a settlement requesting both the city council and Eureka Township board look at it,” Roy said. “It is basically the same settlement as two months ago.”
The only difference, Roy said, is a $300 reimbursement fee from the township to the city in partial payment for the city’s costs and expenses with no other costs being awarded. Roy said the Greenville City Council is supposed to look at the settlement and vote on whether it passes the settlement during its Aug. 20 meeting. If it is passed by city council, Roy said, the settlement will move forward. If council does not pass the settlement, the lawsuit will continue forward with a trial.
“(The settlement) was drawn up by our attorney and the city’s attorney,” Roy said.
Trustee Jeremy Austin questioned why a payment was added to the settlement when he was told the documents he requested regarding the grinder pumps was delivered and wasn’t accepted.
“Why is there a $300 payment to them?” Austin asked. “We did the work and provided it to them.”
Ruwersma said there were discrepancies regarding dates, documents being requested and the cost that should be paid for the documents.
“It was a bunch of different things,” Ruwersma said.
She explained the township had an understanding that Bosanic wanted all documents related to the Baldwin Lake grinder pumps, which the township said would have cost $400 under the FOIA. Ruwersma later stated it was a specific contract Bosanic wanted that didn’t exist.
“It was really a matter of a lack of communication,” she said, noting if Bosanic would have called and negotiated the price, it could have been changed. “But they did not call us…and that is where the case started. It has cost us thousands and thousands of dollars over something that could have been taken care of so simply.”
A Eureka Township resident asked if everything was followed through with the FOIA request as is required by law. Ruwersma said the township did everything according to FOIA regulations and it was not a “timeline issue.”
“We tried to follow the FOIA and get it to him as quickly as we possibly could — we were diligent,” Ruwersma said. “We asked for an extension and then, when we got to him, he didn’t really want to accept it. I was the one that personally brought it to him. It has cost many and many thousands of dollars and will cost us that much more if we continue forward.”
The lawsuit is something Ruwersma said she wants to see put behind the board and city council.
“We just really want to settle this out of court because of the precedence — the city and our township are trying to get along and we are trying to settle this,” she said. “We figured, otherwise, this will go on to court and be an actual court case. We don’t want that.”
Just because the township passed the settlement at Monday’s meeting, Roy said, doesn’t mean the city council will.
“I don’t know if (Bosanic) will recommend it or not,” Roy said. “At (Thursday’s) meeting, he said he would not recommend it.”
Besides the $300 fee, the settlement includes the following stipulations:
• The documents were delivered to the city by the township as request through the FOIA.
• The township waives the $400 fee it originally charged for the documents.
• The township agrees to review FOIA policies with its attorney.
• The consent judgement is a complete and comprehensive settlement of all claims by the city and the township on this subject.
• The consent judgement will not and shall not be construed as an admission by any party of any fault or wrongdoing, violation of FOIA or similar matters.
• The consent judgement is a final order and resolves all claims.
After Monday’s meeting, Bosanic told The Daily News the lawsuit was filed based on the fact that city officials believed township staff violated FOIA regulations.
There are two specific instances where the township was believed to have been in the wrong. The first is failing to respond to the city’s request within the correct timeframes and the second is attempting to improperly impose fees and costs to the city.
“After the township had violated the FOIA by failing to timely respond to the city’s request, (the township) eventually collected some documents that it believed were responsive,” Bosanic explained. “(The township) then tried to impose a fee on the city for those documents. At that time, as reflected in the city’s complaint, the city contested the fee amount and suggested to the township that the fee was improperly calculated in violation of the FOIA.”
Bosanic said city officials believe Ruwersma delivered the documents and still expected the city to pay the improperly calculated fee, which was presented to a city staff member who is not the FOIA coordinator.
“The time for the visit was not communicated to me in advance and I was not in the office at the time of the delivery, so I did not personally deny taking the documents,” Bosanic said. “However, even if I had been in the office, the city could not have received the documents brought by the township clerk because (the city) would not have paid the fee being improperly imposed by the township.”
As for the settlement the township passed Monday, Bosanic said, it represents the township’s offer to settle the lawsuit.
“It is my position, along with the city’s attorney, that settlement is inadequate because it does not sufficiently address or remedy the FOIA violations committed by the township,” Bosanic said. “In recognition of these deficiencies, the city’s attorney had suggested to the township’s attorney that the settlement be pulled from the township board’s agenda and that the parties continue with the lawsuit.
“Despite my own misgivings and failed attempt to seek a greater compromise on the outstanding issues at the time, I graciously agreed to present the township’s offer to the city council in the hopes that doing so might encourage both parties to arrive at a more mutually beneficial settlement,” he said.