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Dorr Township denies Townbroadcast’s FOIA request

Dorr Township Clerk Debbie Sewers Monday denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Townbroadcast.com

The online newspaper filed a FOIA request Wednesday afternoon in writing at the Dorr Township Hall, asking for minutes of the closed session at the Oct. 26 meeting of the Township Board. Trustee Terri Rios that evening asked for the closed meeting to discuss an employee.

When board members reconvened in open session, Townbroadcast noted there are only three employees working for Dorr Township, office manager Vicki Fifelski, maintenance supervisor Jarod Simon and maintennce assistant Jesse Miling, and asked which one was the subject of the closed session.

Terri Rios

Supervisor Jeff Miling then stated the closed meeting was not about an employee, but rather to discuss a misunderstanding.

Townbroadcast since then has asserted the closed meeting was improper because it failed to meet the criteria by which public bodies may call closed such private sessions behind closed doors and issued the FOIA request, seeking the minutes of the meeting.

Sewers e-mailed the township’s denial in response:

Reason for denial — “Closed session minutes are confidential unless a court orders the minutes to be disclosed as part of a civil action.”

“A separate set of minutes shall be taken by the clerk or the designated secretary of the public body at the closed session. These minutes shall be retained by the clerk of the public body, are not available to the public, and shall be disclosed if required by civil action filed under Section 10, 11 and 13.”

The closed session was called for during the same week in which Townbroadcast published a story about Township Trustee John Tuinstra secretly audio taping a meeting of the Planning Commission Oct. 17. Township Treasurer Jim Martin found a tape recorder still running after the meeting had ended. The device, acknowledged by Tuinstra as his, was located on a defibrillator affixed to the wall in the meeting room.

John Tuinstra

Townbroadcast editorially since then has maintained that Tuinstra deliberately placed the tape recorder in an attempt to catch Plan Commission members discussing public business after the meeting, a charge that has been made twice by Rios.

Townbroadcast also has asserted that Tuinstra and Rios were working in tandem to try to discredit Plan Commission Chairman Robert Wagner with the accusation he has been violating the Open Meetings Act. Tuinstra, Rios and Sewers twice voted not to reappoint Wagner to the commission, for which he has served as chairman for 42 years.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Robert Traxler since the incident has maintained that Tuinstra’s action violated the state’s eavesdropping law and he concurs with the assertion that Rios and Tuinstra were colluding against Wagner.

Townbroadcast will continue to weigh its options in the matter.

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