County resident dismayed by FOIA haul | News
TRAVERSE CITY – A local resident recently filed a motion under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act in Grand Traverse County asking for documents related to a controversial county board’s resolution in August.
Ted Wendling’s query included 53 pages of information he’d asked for: emails – mostly from people unsatisfied with the resolution banning the county from banning vaccines – a copy of the resolution and policy.
It also had over 1,300 pages of things he hadn’t asked about, including Michigan Golfer News and several articles from a local news agency about the Healthier Drinking Culture Study in Traverse City, Childcare in Leelanau, and the city manager’s salary agreement. Wendling received numerous copies of a Veterans Affairs grant agreement, several more of a lake level setting agreement for Wolf Lake in Muskegon, a 2020 annual report from the 13th District Court, and emails to District Administrator Nate Alger about Michigan Trails Week.
The stack contains obituaries, real estate listings, and fall fashion information. Some pages were even blank.
“It’s almost as if you saw a pile of papers lying somewhere and said: ‘Give them to him and hope he goes away,'” said Wendling.
The stack is just under a foot tall and priced at $ 80.
Wendling filed his FOIA on September 23, soliciting all communications related to the resolution in support of Vaccine Awareness and Medical Autonomy, which is from August 18 through the filing date from Alger, Assistant Administrator Chris Forsyth, District Secretary Bonnie Scheele and Chairman Rob Hentschel was sent or received to the district council.
Wendling sought information on who was following the instructions in the resolution to send a copy of it to every county in the United States – something he says is a huge undertaking and not a legitimate use of taxpayer’s money whether or not a person agrees with the resolution.
“Who carried out this instruction, how it was carried out, how much would it cost and whether it would be carried out internally or commissioned a contractor,” said Wendling.
None of the documents he received answered these questions.
When the resolution was passed in August, Hentschel said he had 50 volunteers ready to take over a state at a time and collect email addresses for all of these commissioners. According to Hentschel, that did not happen.
A part of Wendling’s motion was rejected on October 13th by Kit Tholen, civil law advisor to the board. In his rejection letter, Tholen wrote that the item does not exist under the name given in the request and that the information being edited contains records that are subject to legal confidentiality.
None of the pages that Wendling received had been edited, which signaled to him that entire documents had been withheld.
Wendling appealed to the district council, which ultimately decides on the release of further documents.
The appeal should be on the agenda for the November 17th session, which was canceled. Wendling said Tholen called him to ask for an extension until November 29, when the next regular meeting takes place. Wendling granted the extension.
Tholen was not immediately available for comment.
The resolution prohibits the county from mandating vaccines and proof of COVID testing for employees, and requires the Grand Traverse County’s Department of Health to provide public health messages that encourage people to talk to their health care provider about the risks and benefits associated with the Talking about COVID vaccine.
The county, including the health ministry, must not encourage private employers in the county to issue vaccine mandates that would “hamper medical autonomy.”
When the district board approved the resolution, the decision sparked sharp criticism of the board members, some of whom said they were considering an issue that should be left to health professionals. Commissioner Betsy Coffia was the only Commissioner who voted against. Bryce Hundley was absent. Coffia and Hundley are the two Democrats on the county board.
When Dr. Michael Collins, former Medical Director of the Health Department, openly condemned the decision, and his contract was not renewed. He worked in the department for 28 years.
There were also many public commentators who supported the resolution.
The resolution instructed Hentschel and the district staff to forward a copy to each district chairperson, or its equivalent, in Michigan and the United States. There are 3,143 counties, parishes, counties, and census areas in the country.
When some residents noted during a public comment that covering the land with the resolution was a waste of taxpayers’ money, Hentschel said the district was already in the process of receiving lists of e-mails for commissioners from established associations, as previously reported.
Since the resolution was passed, administrative assistant Lisa Emery has received emails for all Michigan commissioners, Hentschel said.
“So now it’s just a matter of cut and paste,” he said.
Emery couldn’t find any email addresses for commissioners outside Michigan, Hentschel said. He said a parishioner offered to do this, but Hentschel said that person told him the national list couldn’t be obtained without a lot of money. He didn’t know the exact number, but said it was at least $ 1,000. He wouldn’t say who the community member is.
“Here we are,” he said. “We didn’t spend thousands of dollars on it.”
Wendling was a reporter and editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 22 years and is now writing a newsletter critiquing “County Commissioners and their willingness to engage in issues that are either off their track or that these Republican culture wars continue to do” fight”. ,” he said.
The vaccine resolution is one of them, said.
In Ohio, FOIA laws allow residents to see the requested documents before deciding which to take with them and only pay for those, Wendling said. He said the FOIA cost in Michigan is too high, especially when inquirers have to pay for articles about golf results.
“It prevents citizens from pursuing their demands,” he said.