In the world of transparency, there are blunders and then there are massive blunders. And just the same, there are gadflies, and then there are people with just too much time on their hands. In Augusta Township, outside of Ypsilanti, the two have met with interesting results over the last few months,
The Augusta Township board of trustees last December voted to file a suit against resident Jim McDonald. The apparent reason? McDonald filed just too damn many FOIA requests and acted weird when he came around to retrieve the records to boot.
According to a report in the Ypsilanti Courier, a judge signed an injunction barring McDonald from using the Freedom of Information Act at township offices along with assessing a fine of $5,000 to help the township with the nearly $12,000 in legal costs. McDonald agreed to the injunction and fine in May.
The legal fees were needless, of course.
Now, officials are considering returning the $5,000 to McDonald.
And we see that tonight, June 9, the trustees are scheduled to vote on a FOIA coordinator.
Seems McDonald has had some trouble up there at town hall before.
The story states that McDonald filed a suit against the township when he became frustrated at the bureaucratic hoops he was made to jump through by Township Clerk Kathy Giszczak. The township countersued and won.
Trustees blamed Giszczak for a lot of the trouble.
“[Trustees] Hafler, Jackson and King all contend that Giszczak is to blame for McDonald's being unable to get information and driving him to the point of frustration where he banged on metal desks and cabinets. They each said they also have problems getting information from the clerk.”
And as if this isn't all enough, the whole place seems pretty unhappy with this public servant, her being the subject of a recall in 2005.
We’ve been to smallish townships that have no idea what an open record is – Meridian Township outside Lansing, for example, will outright refuse to hand over information that is clearly public. Lacking any real support in this state, the only remedy is court action. That erases the news value if one is writing for deadline. And it's needlessly pricey in case you run into a judge who also doesn’t know or care about the public’s right to know.
These small-town squabbles over public records and who said what and did what to whom make for great local news. It’s surprising that no other media outlet has been around to cover it a little more extensively. Then again, maybe not.