Saugatuck Councilwoman Fisher Called Out By Colleagues For Alleged Violations Of FOIA Law
Monday’s Saugatuck City Council meeting could not be criticized for being boring, as Mayor Bill Hess was compelled to aggressively strike the gavel against the sound block to bring the session to order.
Some members of the attending public spoke aloud outside the public comments section of the agenda to make remarks about the latest friction, clearly visible, between Saugatuck City Council Member Wendy Wise Fisher and some of her colleagues.
As in recent past, Fisher’s online activities on her public blog have stirred emotions and raised issues, driving the wedge a little deeper yet.
Pointing to the city legal counsel’s recommendation - and without making any kind of reference to Fisher’s blog or, more precisely, her emails - Hess read aloud a memo titled, “Reminders of the Responsibilities of City Council Members,” which addressed, among other issues, the topic of the state of the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
Hess read, in part, “It is a violation of the Open Meetings Act for council members to conduct city business via e-mail. The best advice is not to send an e-mail or ‘REPLY ALL’ to e-mails that include a majority of council members. Communications can be sent to the City Manager, Mayor and the Mayor Pro-Tem.”
Elsewhere, the document lays out “appropriate avenues for a citizen to report a violation of the law,” under which it states the city charter “prohibits city council members from interfering with city employees” and warns that it is “inappropriate for council members to instruct citizens not to interact with the city manager or staff.”
Upon Hess finishing reading the document in its entirety, Fisher, looking out into the audience, said, “Can we let the public know that statement is directed at me?”
At which point, an unidentified individual from the audience blurted out, “Well, that was obvious when all the eyes of council were on you (Fisher).”
Hess immediately banged the gavel on the sound block, then Saugatuck City Council Member Barry Johnson reminded the audience the public comments section of the agenda was now closed, and, alluding to Fisher’s comment, asked that all questions be directed at the presiding officer, not the public.
As for the Fisher emails themselves, all openly posted on her public Online blog, at mytownfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com, it shows Fisher recently emailing a quorum of city council members demanding an investigation into alleged violations of the Homestead Act.
Fisher said she was acting on behalf of an anonymous emailer, “Pay Fairly.”
Pay Fairly’s email inquiry, containing a subtle tone of sarcasm—and sent to Fisher and several other city officials, and local media outlets—claims that although he/she is not a tax expert, he/she found “some examples of properties that gave (sic) 100% homestead exemptions to some who may possibly not be eligible.”
Pay Fairly stated the properties in question “warrant a deeper investigation by the city.”
It was at that point that Fisher responded to Pay Fairly and then proceeded to email the city manager and her colleagues, demanding answers on behalf of Pay Fairly.
Subsequently, Johnson responded by emailing only Fisher, Hess and Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, expressing concern that Fisher is engaged in an email discussion that involves a quorum of council and, among other issues, raising the question: “Should council member Fisher be censured for continued violations of the Open Meetings Act after repeatedly advised to refrain?”
Fisher respond to Johnson’s concerns by emailing him: “Barry, Was this meant to intimidate or scare me? Well it didn’t work.”
In either case, Harrier asserts he has looked into the alleged homestead violations, and found no issues whatsoever.
Also on Monday, Fisher charged her colleagues with ignoring constituents and the business community.
And, as she has done many times previously, Fisher was harshly critical about what she said was an unacceptable disregard for the city’s untidiness and uncleanliness.
To prove her point and give the council a visual reference, she brought in a broken top from one of the many city’s trash bins, a flip-top with about a four-inch hole.
“The decisions this council is making is killing our town,” she told her colleagues.
The other council members did not respond to her comments.