Records Flip-Flop By Former Fire Board Chair
In a surprising new development in the ongoing investigation by government officials into financial and operational problems at the Saugatuck Township Fire Department, the recently resigned chair of the Fire Board last week first refused - and then only yesterday (Wed., Feb. 20) changed his mind and verbally agreed to - a government request to turn over a 2012 evaluation report and other public documents relating to embattled local Fire Chief Brian Florey.
As part of an ongoing investigation by new government-appointed members of the Fire Board into reports of financial and operational problems involving Florey and the board, Saugatuck Township Clerk and new Fire Board Member Brad Rudich began looking for Florey’s 2012 evaluation and related documents.
Unable to find those records, Rudich contacted former Fire Board Chair Bill Kaye who resigned from the board February 11 as members of the newly constituted Fire Board began learning of - and started investigating - such issues as:
* an almost depleted fire department budget with more than four months still to go until the end of the fiscal year.
* financial, accounting and operational problems, including issues of fire officials failing to provide timely receipts or records for expenditures and the questionable use of a petty cash account.
* failure by the Fire Board over the past two decades to adhere to state-required rules and regulations on how the board shoud be staffed, governed and by whom.
Rudich said when he reached Kaye by telephone and asked if the former Fire Board official knew where the Florey evaluation documents were, Kaye reportedly responded that he had them at his home.
Rudich said when he asked for the documents (as they were official governmental records) Kaye reportedly refused to turn them over, saying since the Florey evaluation was conducted in a Fire Board session closed to the public, he did not feel they were public records and should not have to be disclosed.
Under Michigan law, government employee evaluation reports and anciliary documents requested by a Fire Board in connection with that evaluation, for example, are considered public documents and must be made available to the public upon demand under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Such government records are also required to be maintained by a governmental agency, and not stored or kept at home or elsewhere by either public officials or private citizens under state law, said Michigan Attorney General’s Office lawyers.
The Local Observer newspaper has filed a FOIA request for those Florey evaluation documents.
Rudich said he could not say why Kaye was keeping government records at his home, especially since he no longer serves on the Fire Board, or why he initially refused to turn them over to the government (Fire Board and Saugatuck Township).
A spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office said Kaye’s keeping of public records and failure to return them to a government agency, especially when requested to do so, was at best wrong and at worst a violation of state law.
Additionally, said the AG spokesman, if Kaye later either claims he “lost” those documents, or destroyed them, for any reason, he could be charged with felony criminal violations.
Rudich said he was prepared to engage a lawyer to speak with Kaye to explain the serious consequences of his actions in refusing to turn over the Florey records.
But on Wednesday, Saugatuck City Councilwoman and new Fire Board Member Jane Verplank, who along with Rudich is conducting a Fire Board investigation into the fire department issues, told the Observer that she had spoken with Kaye that day (Feb. 20) while he was on vacation in the Caribbean.
“He (Kaye) is now promising to turn over those (Florey evaluation) records when he returns next week (Tuesday, Feb. 26),” said Verplank. “I don’t know why it had to come to this. Those records should have been left with the Fire Board.”