Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mark Brewer, AG FOIA Flap Documents - Part 1 - His Request

The man who has bedeviled state Republicans for years, Mark Brewer, is attempting to shine a light on State Attorney General Mike Cox. And Cox wants to charge him $143,000 for his trouble.
He’s accusing Cox of overcharging for an open records request related to a multi-million dollar settlement with Countrywide Financial Group. The money was in theory earmarked to help people who are hitting the financial skids keep their homes. But Cox also sent $500,000 of the cash to Grand Rapids to help with the cost of a couple of local parks/projects. One payment was $250,000 to the city. Another a donation for a park.
Many folks believe this is a case of political payback, some fiscal help to a friend or two in GR.
The $250,000 gift from the settlement for Kent County's Millennium Park is a obviously open to question. Peter Secchia is head of fundraising for the park, and Secchia donated nearly $10,000 to Cox campaigns in 2002 and 2005. This is, of course, political business as usual. But that doesn't make it immune from analysis. And it sure does a good job of helping voters make an informed choice.
Brewer filed a FOIA over the issue seeking records for “each federal or state lawsuit, complaint, of civil, criminal or administrative legal proceeding…involving corporate, commercial or business defendants brought, joined or participated in by the Attorney General and resolved by any means…”
Brewer seeks some simple things, including docket numbers, parties and venues. But he also asks for disposition of proceeds, all communications, including email text and phone records from the AG and his staff pertaining to the cases. It is a well-written, comprehensive request.
Cox fired back with a bill for $143,000 to comply. But he also says “Please be informed that nearly 8,000 pages of settlement documents currently are available on the Department’s website: and the department continues to add to this site. The Department believes, based on your most recent media statements, that the settlements you are most interested in may be available on the Department’s website at no cost.”
Of course if they are available there at no cost, it would seem that the $143,000 in charges might be whittled down a bit.
This is often where open records hit a wall. When a body does not want to give them up, it simply trumps up the charges for processing those records, which usually discourages the filer and keeps the records sealed. It has happened to us before with this state.
We obtained copies of the FOIA and ensuing correspondence between Brewer and Cox’s office. We are posting it all here in two parts in an experimental fashion – you now have the tools to decide who is right and who is wrong, if there is such a thing here.
We also emailed John Sellek at the AG’s office last night asking for a copy of Brewer’s FOIA. After all, he is said to have claimed that “…Brewer is seeking to exploit the issue by filing a request so broad it would require the searching of thousands of boxes of documents dating back six years.”
We have yet to hear back from Sellek.

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