My FOIA and Transparency Concerns of Sugar Island Township Government

At the beginning of 2013 I spoke with Treasurer Davidson about placing a FOIA to her requesting all the Financial Records of the Township in her posession as elected Treasurer of the Township, so that I might place them on this website as I have done with many of the Township minutes and other things. She ask me to hold off with my FOIA until after the “income tax season” explaining that she was busy filing income tax forms for others. I agreed. Why not wait as it was to be for informational purposes, for the Island Residents and there was no particular hurry to get it all up on this site anyway.

I did place this FOIA request in person with Township Clerk Garlitz being the only one in the Office to receive it, during the Senior Meal. At that time, I ask Clerk Gartlitz whom the Supervisor had designated as the “FOIA Coordinating Officer for the Township” was? She replied that it was Mrs. Marge Snider and that she would see that she got my FOIA request. I then left the Clerk’s Office and went out to have the Senior Lunch. About ten minutes later, while eating lunch, I observed Mrs. Snider going into the Clerk’s Office. At that time, I made a comment to John Willis concerning why Mrs. Marge Snider would have been appointed to the Coordinating Official FOIA Position, there being legal time constrains to meet with FOIA requests and Mrs. Snider not being a sworn elected Officer of the Township. I did comment to Mr. Willis how efficient Mrs. Garlitz and Mrs. Snider seem to be in how quickly she would receive my FOIA request. His reply to me was that he had always turned his FOIA requests into the Township Clerk and had no idea why she would say such a thing.

I did receive a reply, in May to my FOIA request form, from Sugar Island Clerk Garlitz, requesting a ten day extension to my April FOIA request. This extension request is a very legal request, when the requested party for some reason or another can’t meet the information criteria of the request in the original five day period. Clerk Garlitz said that she needed more specific directions as to what I wanted in my FOIA to the Treasurer. I did wonder why she was contacting me concerning my FOIA request, when she had said that Mrs. Snider was the FOIA Coordinator handling such FOIA matters for the Township. I have copied my FOIA request below for all to read, wondering how much more specific I can be or could have been. I am also placing the extension request, from the Township below, to help with clarity to what should be a very simple FOIA request by me.

It is my belief; it would take a lawyer and an expensive one to be more specific than I tried to be in my original FOIA request document.

I then attended the October 8th 2013 Sugar Island Township Board Meeting. During the “Public Comment” agenda item period, I questioned the whereabouts of the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) in magnetic document format I had requested of the Treasurer on Monday April 22, 2013 via Clerk Garlitz and up to then Mrs. Snider whom I was told was the appointed FOIA Coordinator?

I addressed the Supervisor with this question as all conversation must be addressed to the Chairman of the Board at a formal meeting. The Supervisor is automatically the Chairman of ALL Township Meetings and a Member of all other Committees, Boards and Authorities he may appoint or cause to be appointed. The Township Supervisor is also required to function as the Secretary to Boards like the Tax Board of Review as he has the final say on any tax or land disputes. This final say is it, even if he does hire or appoint another to do his Primary Elected Job, which is the Assessment of All Properties and Personal Property within the land boundaries of the Township.

Before the Supervisor could start to make a reply to me or direct my question to the Treasurer, Clerk Garlitz jumped into the conversation to inform me that Sugar Island did not have an Enhanced web site and therefore my FOIA request could not be met. I replied to her that Sugar Island does in fact have a web site and had had one for years even though she or whoever was being paid to tend it was not doing a very good job.

By definition, an enhanced web site means that you may down load a document, such as the minutes to a meeting, either for free or payment. This did seem to infuriate the Clerk, with both the Clerk and Treasurer informing me that they would not do a “Data Dump” for me or anyone. I replied that I had never asked for a “Data Dump” in my life of them or anyone in Township government. I said, I was asking for the Treasurer’s complete records, no more, no less, to be placed on the new unopened Flash Drive I had provided to them with my initial April FOIA. The conversation then ended in the Public Comment Agenda Item.

I went up to the Head Table after the meeting held on October 8th to speak with Treasurer Davidson. Treasurer Davidson started out by saying I had placed “miss-information” on the Sugar Island Review website in that “what” I was calling a “Treasurer’s Report” was not in any way a “Treasurer’s Report”. She said that she does not make a written report for the Public but does make a report to the Township Board which she reads to them at the meeting. When I ask why I could not have the report on magnetic media (Flash drive provided by me), she replied that while she does create this fund balance report on a computer, she then erases it from the computer, after printing it, thus making it unavailable by any means but paying her to recreate it on paper, if she receives a FOIA requesting it.

I ask her if she believed in Transparency in Government and said that I thought her just erasing of documents was leaving suspicions of improper conduct, to be open for my consideration. She replied that was why a FOIA needed to be filed by me for each sheet of paper I wanted to see.  If anyone wants information, they can just get it through a FOIA. I replied that I had placed a FOIA for information and been given what I think is a run-around by  her and the Township Clerk.

I explained to Treasurer Davidson that the “Transaction List” left out almost all the information a common resident might ask, such as, for what purpose was the expenditure (what did you buy?)?

I said that the FOIA charge per page, “paper reply only policy” by Sugar Island Township was a time consuming policy, a waste of paper policy, and a poor way to reply to a FIOA attitude by her. I said this attitude by her could easily lead to many residents of the Island ending up with many unanswered questions and then to many inaccurate assumptions, which then could start many unpleasant rumors. Her reply was I can either FOIA every detail on paper or go ahead and assume whatever I like.

Clerk Garlitz stood beside her during this verbal exchange and appeared to support all she said. I told her that in all the Transaction Lists placed on the Sugar Island Review site by me, I will start placing my questions in BOLD and let the readers make their own assumptions as to what the answers may be.

To demonstrate how TRANSPARENT our State government in most instances is and what Transparency in Government is intended to be, in my mind, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the www. address to the right or type www.michigan.gov in the address window of your web browser.
  2. Type “Sugar Island Causeway” in the “Search Box” located in the upper right hand corner of the web page that appears, then press enter. You will notice that any of the words “Sugar Island Causeway” will be in “BOLD” print in each item that has a reference to “Sugar Island Causeway” contained in it.
  3. The first item “Michigan Areas of Concern” will make good information available to a concerned Island resident/citizen about the Causeway Improvement Project.
  4. The other articles found below the item in step #3 will also be of interest to anyone that takes the whole areas general betterment into consideration. There has been an effort by a few largely uninformed residents to prevent the project using any tactic they can.
  5. To deepen your search Type  “Jesse Knoll” after “Sugar Island Causeway” so it reads “Sugar Island Causeway Jesse Knoll” in the “Search Box” located in the upper right hand corner of the web page that appears, then press enter. You will notice that the words Sugar Island and Jesse Knoll will be in “BOLD” print each item that has a reference to “Jesse Knoll” or Sugar Island is contained in it. Move your mouse cursor over an item of interest such as the first one “HOUSE STANDING COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, TOURISM, AND …: and when it turns from a “arrow pointer” to a “hand pointer” again click your left mouse button or press enter to view or read that item and so on for each item that contains the bolded search words. The sought after search words will be somewhere in the text of the article, not necessarily in the top line of text.
  6. The HOUSE STANDING COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, TOURISM, AND … item may be good support for anyone in an argument over the length of time residents have had to consider this Causeway Project. The Township Supervisor stated today the very hurriedly called Special Meeting of the Sugar Island Township Board was necessary to create an Official Resolution placing “Sugar Island Residents” on record against the “Causeway Improvement Project” do to so little time notice. One member of the Board (Marvin “Bud” Willis) made an objection as to how he was or had been notified of / found out that this Special Meeting was to take place.  The Supervisor replied that a notice of the meeting had been placed on the Ferry for all that wished to attend to read it. Does this seem like this represents Transparency in Government to our Supervisor? Supervisor McKerchie declared the Resolution Passed with, Supervisor McKerchie, Clerk Garletz, and Trustee Biron voting in favor of the Resolution with Trustee Willis having the only opposing vote while Treasurer Davidson was absent. Maybe she didn’t read the notice on the Ferry.
  7. If you do steps 1 & 5 the first item to appear on the search selection list will be minutes of a meeting that I and Louise Bledsoe attended. I was representing Chippewa County as a County Commissioner, and Louise Bledsoe was representing Sugar Island Township as Township Clerk at a Public Hearing being held at the Lake Superior University on the Proposed Causeway Culvert Improvements in 2011.
  8. Should you want further information on say the second name attending the meeting go back to the www.michigan.gov website (Step 1) and then type “Louise Bledsoe” into the search box located in the upper right of the page, then press enter. Because Louise Bledsoe and I both attended a public hearing on the proposed Public improvement to the Causeway Road on September 23, 2011 and both of us were elected Public Servants at the time, everything we did is available on the internet or should be, if the intent of Transparent Government is being followed by the governing unit. If you would have yet another or further interest in Louise Bledsoe just read other articles listed below the one of the meeting at the University. The search words “Louise or Bledsoe” will be found in all the listed articles. At some point the “Louise or Bledsoe” will be left off with just one or them other appearing in the article. If both are not found together, make sure that you are still looking at the return to you search and not something pertaining to perhaps another “Louise” or Bledsoe.
  9. For a final demonstration of Transparency in this article, do step 1 and then type “Sugar Island Road”. You may be amazed at all the good things available through Transparency in Government. Everything the County Commission has done for the last many years is also available, along with the State Legislators, Federal law makers, etc…

There may be things those of us that run for office aren’t the proudest of in our lives, but all of our actions are supposed to be open to public scrutiny, because we did place ourselves up for election to represent our friends and neighbors and ALL the rest of the People in the voting area, whether they like us or not, not just the people we feel voted for us. We are supposed to be personally honest, up front, ready to fight for the rights of ALL the residents, not just our own self interest or beliefs. We are supposed to stand up against corruption in office. We must be conscientious in the performance of our elected duties. We should be knowledgeable or become knowledgeable in all the aspects of our elected office. We are expected to be transparent in elected and personal life. We have to be open to constructive criticism, forgiving of the comments and actions of others caused by ignorance. We very much need to be  caring, compassionate, type individuals .

The FOIA law was created to give a common citizen a means to force our elected officials to a transparency level that some do not want to attain, likely because of a miss-service or miss-behavior in office, or prior to taking office. I personally “doubt” any elected official who uses the FOIA law as a money maker or excuse for not having the records available free of charge on the internet.

One and all readers may feel free to use my format in a FOIA request and altering it to their specific needs.

I personally feel that if you have nothing to hide as an elected official, then all documents should be available for all to see. Some Legal Exceptions to Transparency in Government documents are Social Security numbers and reprimands of an employee or certain health conditions of a employee or institutionalized resident, Union Negotiations prior to the ratification of the contract, etc. also are held back from the Transparency FOIA laws. There are some things such as a Government Union Contracts, (EUPTA, Courthouse Employees, Sheriff Deputies ETC.. for example) after they are ratified, that must be made Public. If you care to check with the County Clerk for these documents, you may find some documents of this type have “not” been filed. It is the Unit of Government’s responsibility to file these documents, not the County Clerk’s duty to seek them out for recording.

When I go to the County Clerk or Township Clerk, for that matter, and am denied the Public document I seek, I start to wonder why is it not available, are they hiding something, what are they hiding, are they just lazy and taking the tax payer’s money without doing a respectable job, is it just an over site and a reminder will get it done.

In this case, I have given the reminder and not seen a product, which leaves all the rest open to my way of thinking.

Jesse Knoll

 

 

My FOIA to Treasurer Davidson, I say, how much more detail could I ask for??

April  22, 2013

Sugar  Island Township

6401 E 1 ½ Mile Road

Sault Ste. Marie, Ml 49783

RE:   Freedom of Information Act Request (F.O.I.A.)

To Sugar Island Township Treasurer/appointed FOIA administrator:

Please consider this a request made pursuant to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

Please produce the following:

(1)          A complete, accurate electronic copy of any and all records: of any kind including merchant invoices, account statements, purchase orders, delivery tickets, Request for Quote (RFQ), Request for Proposal (RFP), check registers, financial statements, reconciliation reports and statements, agreements or contracts of financial obligation/indebtedness by the Township, from all accounts, revenue records/revenues from all sources, from/to all vendors hired to provide/receive any service, commodity or material item from/to Sugar Island Township or its elected/appointed officials in the performance of their duties. All records of material items being disposed of for any reason, all forms of compensation made to all elected or appointed persons.

(2)          This request is for a magnetic recording of these records but not limited to magnetic means if for some reason these magnetic records/files have been erased or never existed. Written documentation that in any way reflects Sugar Island Township’s Treasurer’s files, ledgers or records not so magnetically recorded will be made available for scanning, time to be agreed upon. All financial ledgers, invoices to/from Sugar Island Township are to be included during the time period of November 20th 2000 through to the present

(3)          Any and all correspondence of any kind by and between Sugar Island Treasurers and/or any of their predecessors, appointed representatives and/or agents that in any way refers to any financial transactions/minutes or notes involving anything of any nature pertaining to a financial transaction created/executed by all elected/appointed persons/employees of Sugar Island Township at any time during the time period of November 20th 2000 through to the present should be thought of as included in this request.

For brevity of effort on your part, I ask that all records/files/documents be electronically transferred to the unopened 8 GB flash drive delivered to you with this request for this purpose. This transfer is requested in a Portable Document Format (PDF). If the PDF format is unavailable to you, a comma delimited or Rich Text format is also acceptable. Should this request exceed $30.00 (thirty dollars) in fees of any kind, state the dollar amount over $30.00 and the reason for the charge, prior to complying with this request for information retrieval (The process of searching for and recovering specific data from large quantities of information stored in a computer).

Permission from the requester for payment of any fees over $30.00 must be obtained, by you from me, prior to complying with this request .

If you cannot comply with the above request within five days as provided under the Freedom of Information Act, please so inform if you make the election for an additional 10 days to so respond.

 

If you fail to produce any of the above requested information based upon a claim of privilege, please specifically describe the “privilege” involved and identify any and all information withheld under a claim of privilege to allow a court of competent jurisdiction to conduct an in-camera review of same, if requested to do so.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jesse Knoll

1710 N. Honey Ln.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ml 49783

 

The 10 Day Extension Request because it was filled in by hand and not typed will be here as soon as I figure out how to get it here. I think I have it figured below.

TREASURER REPLY