BELDING — The drama that has unfolded due to numerous amount Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from one resident to the city of Belding does not appear to be ending anytime soon.
Members of Belding City Council voted to deny six FOIA appeal requests during Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, while voting to reverse the denial, in part, of a seventh appeal, all coming from Belding resident Kimberly Orlich.
The six appeals that were denied by city council, as recommended by City Manager Meg Mullendore, were done so for reasons ranging from particular documents that Orlich was requesting not existing to the appeals not meeting the criteria of the official FOIA appeal process.
Each appeal was denied unanimously with council member Tom Jones absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Mullendore has previously stated the majority of the FOIA requests coming from Orlich are not being filed in the general interest of the public, but rather, for her own personal interests.
Orlich, who was not in attendance at Tuesday evening’s meeting, has stated previously that she has been using the FOIA process to “bring to light” facts to the public.
The Daily News reported on Sept. 12 that Orlich had filed 175 FOIA requests to the city within a six-month period beginning Jan 1.
According to Mullendore, as of Tuesday evening, that figure has climbed to 255 total requests from Orlich to the city.
Council members did not speak on the topic of any of the seven appeals during the meeting, however, Mullendore expressed her frustration at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting.
“I have this huge frustration with the FOIA situation and I just want to put things in perspective,” Mullendore said. “This is not funny anymore, it’s ridiculous. A community of this size, expending this level of monetary and staff resources, is absolutely ridiculous. I’m all about transparency, but this is abuse in its greatest form.”
Mullendore said she recently reached out to the city clerk of East Lansing to query about their total number of FOIA requests over the past two years.
Mulledore said East Lansing has an approximate population of 48,579 while Belding has approximately 5,800 residents.
According to Mullendore, the city of East Lansing received 270 FOIA requests within the last two years.
“In 26 months, that city has received 270 FOIA requests total,” she said. “As of today, we are at approximately 255 FOIA requests from one individual, with 260 in total FOIA requests to the city.”
Mullendore estimates the amount of time she is putting in to answering and denying the FOIA requests has ranged anywhere from 45 to 50 percent of her total time during a single week.
“We have two months left in the calendar year and at the rate we are going, at 25 FOIA requests per month, we’ll see more than 300 by Dec. 31,” she said. “I can tell you right now my time is being spent closer to 45 to 50 percent on these FOIA requests.”
By law, Mullendore is required to respond to every FOIA requests she receives.
Orlich has not collected any of the FOIA request she has submitted that have been approved as she refuses to pay the fees associated with each FOIA request, which include city staff time, postage and paper, because she has stated that she is indigent and cannot afford to pay.
Mullendore has not waived the fees because she claims the requests are not being pursued in the interest of the public good.
Though Mullendore said she is handcuffed by the laws bound to the FOIA process, she plans to testify in front of legislators in Lansing at some point in the future regarding legislation pertaining to the FOIA process.
According to Mullendore, the year-long demolition process of the Belding Bros. Clock Tower and adjoining Gibson buildings formerly located at the corner of Bridge and Main streets, is continuing along as scheduled.
Mullendore said she has been in communication with Environmental Lawyer John Heer, who represents Electrolux, owner of the 4-acre property.
“The demolition and removal of all buildings and structures is complete,” Heer said in a letter to Mullendore. “Electrolux is now placing soil and landscaping on the property so that it looks aesthetically pleasing and consistent with its future use as a public park. We expect the soil cover work to be completed in the next few weeks followed by grass seeding and landscaping.”
According to Heer, Electrolux has been working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to ensure all work on site is done properly.
“Electrolux is also working with the MDEQ to ensure that any environmental conditions on the property are properly addressed,” he said. “That cooperative working relationship continues as the MDEQ monitors the applicable activities.”
Electrolux has until March of 2014 to have the property made suitable for the creation of a city park.