On Monday the JIM dismissed the lawsuit it filed against the City Council and individual council members Laura Schlecte, Derek Dobies, and Dan Greer. For those of you who aren't familiar with this case, the lawsuit alleged that the City Council, particularly council members Schlecte, Dobies and Greer intentionally violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The departure of Larry Schaffer, the secret meeting and the $64,000 was covered fairly extensively by the JIM and the Cit Pat. However, the previous articles on Schaffer's departure and the OMA case did not report on some important details that lead to Larry Schaffer's resignation and Patrick Burtch taking over the helm as City Manager.
The most offensive and blatant violation of the OMA occurred when Schlecte, Dobies and Greer met privately with Schaffer on July 13, 2012 and obtained Schaffer's agreement to resign in consideration of a $64,000 pay off. The intent of Greer, Schlecte and Dobies was made crystal clear in an email Greer sent to the late Carl Breeding later that day. In that email, Dan Greer wrote:
I need to inform you that Larry Schaffer has agreed to give the Council a 2 week notice of his resignation. He did so this morning in a meeting with Laura, Derek and I. He requested 5 months severance and any unused vacation time & sick pay in a lump sum.
The 3 council members present agreed with this in an effort to make this as least controversial as possible. Larry is preparing a letter of resignation & severance agreement for Council's consideration Tue. night.
None of this is public knowledge at this time. Larry was professional about the situation & understands our goal was not to smear him and is to have a smooth transition.
A copy of the email in its entirety is attached to this article. (My favorite part of the email is where Greer tells Carl Breeding that the agreement with Schaffer had been reached and then, in the next sentence, had the audacity to say that the documentation for the deal would be presented at the next meeting for "consideration.")
This email is astonishing to me. The substance and tone of the communication indicates that Dan Greer is either extraordinarily stupid or is so accustomed to breaking the law and breaching his duties as a public official that he thought nothing of essentially confessing to at least one criminal act in an email to a fellow council person who he knew would not support the Schaffer pay off.
So why did Dan Greer put this in writing? It certainly was stupid but I think there is a better explanation. Dan Greer had no hesitation to put this in writing because he knew no one would do a damn thing about it. And that's exactly what happened. No one did anything about it. This is what happens when public officials are not held to account for their illegal or unethical actions--they begin to believe they are above the law. Dan Greer and his cronies on the City Council have good reason to believe this--we have trained them to believe they are above the law by doing nothing when they break the law right in front of our faces.
As I was discussing the dismissal of the OMA lawsuit against the City with the attorney for the City (no, not Julius Giglio or any of the other City attorneys we pay...they are much too busy presiding over the unlawful demolition court or eating lunch at Giglios), he explained to me that the City of Jackson and Larry Schaffer had moved on. Essentially, he was saying that no one else but me cared about this stupid nonsense with Larry Schaffer. Unfortunately, I think he was right.
In hindsight I suppose I was a bit naive to think that I could fight City Hall...especially a City Hall that is ruled by a man whose very voice and appearance give most men chills. I suppose that some men are simply so scary and intimidating that one cannot expect anyone to rise up and stand against them. Mayor Marty is just one of those men.
Even though the OMA lawsuit is over my experience with the OMA lawsuit raised many additional questions about the folks who are running our City. Here are some of the questions that remain:
1. Why would the City pay Larry Schaffer $64,000 to resign and then replace him with a guy (Patrick Burtch) who was run out of town in Dundee and investigated by the Michigan State Police for misusing public property, equipment and personnel?
2. Is Derek Dobies just some random carpet bagger from Lansing sent to Jackson by the Democratic Party or is there some other reason that explains why Mayor Marty keeps appointing him to everything?
3. Isn't it problematic for Laura Schlecte to act as the real estate broker for the City and banks who own foreclosed properties when she is a member of the City Council and takes direct or indirect actions which could directly benefit her or have an adverse impact on the interests of the banks she represents?
These are just a few of the questions that remain and the JIM will continue to investigate and report on these issues in the coming months.