2018-03-15 / Views

Sunshine missing on week for openness

During Sunshine Week, let’s turn attention to what a black magic marker did in Glen Arbor Township for public disclosure.

After all, it was public disclosure that was negatively affected by the Glen Arbor Township Board’s decision to release only a heavily redacted version of a publicly funded investigation into a sexual harassment complaint.

Sunshine Week is a time set aside to acknowledge and promote openness in government, from small townships in Leelanau to the Capital Rotunda in Washington.

Public funds in Glen Arbor paid for an internal investigation into a sexual harassment complaint filed by an employee of the Glen Lake Fire Department against Fire Chief John Dodson.

As to whether there was much to the sexual harassment complaint, we can say with certainty that the township attorney, who has a vested interest in defending his client, and a member of the Emergency Services Advisory Commission, who oversees Chief Dodson, doesn’t believe so.

We’d like to tell you that funds that paid for the report were well spent, that the report was needed to sort fact from opinion, and that the fire department is better off for the experience.

But we can’t. The copy we received was compromised to the point that its conclusion — a portion of a sentence that was not completely blacked out states, “the claim of sexual harassment cannot be supported” — cannot be independently verified.

It was especially disappointing to find the report’s recommendations redacted.

The editing was done by one of the report’s authors, attorney Richard Figura. He was joined by Ron Calsbeek, a member of the township Emergency Services Advisory Committee, in conducting the investigation and writing up its results.

We had heard rumors swirling in Glen Arbor about an “investigation,” and so we sought a copy of the report through the state Freedom of Information Act way back in October. The request was denied, but with the help of Michigan Press Association attorney Robin Luce-Hermann we complained loud enough to receive an edited version. We were dismayed to find whole sections of the report blacked out.

As allowed by state law, we appealed the decision to heavily edit the document to the Township Board. Mr. Figura, speaking to the board at a special meeting, said his editing was allowed under the law. We hold a different opinion.

But ultimately Mr. Figura left the decision to the Township Board, writing that “the last point is what does this Board believe is more important, preserving the integrity of the investigation and the confidentiality of it, or is it more important to give public disclosure.”

We could — and probably should — file a lawsuit to let a non-biased judge decide if residents should have the right to view a report they funded about the conduct of a public official. Had we received the report in its entirety, we would have made an editorial decision to lightly cover the complaint or perhaps dig deeper into its roots. Content would have driven coverage.

Our gut instinct is that the complaint was based on Mr. Dodson’s management style rather than sexual harassment. Unfortunately, such a conclusion cannot be substantiated because the Township Board carries such a low opinion of public disclosure.

So we’re directing our wrath at the board.

Return to top