City Attorney Appears to Play Both Sides in Legal Agreement

Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 11:47 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

This article was published before East Lansing Info (ELi) existed in its current form as a 501c3 nonprofit organization and therefore may not reflect its current standards; we have kept it at the site to preserve the archives.

Note: This article was updated on October 17, 2012, to reflect corrections as shown with strikethroughs (deletions) and underlining (additions). For an update on the matter, see our October 17, 2012 article.

The City Attorney, Tom Yeadon, appears to have represented the city in a legal matter while he was also a co-owner of the business entering into the agreement. In other words, it would appear that Yeadon personally stood to benefit, as a business person, from the agreement he prepared reviewed as city attorney. This does not appear to have been disclosed to City Council, nor does it appear that a disclosure would have been enough to make this right. The matter comes before Council tonight.

The matter in question involves a large retaining wall built along Abbot Road, near Fern Street, on abutting the property of the law firm in which Yeadon is a partner. This law firm--now called McGinty, Hitch, Housefield, Person, Yeadon, & Anderson, PC--has been engaged by the city as its attorney for over forty years. The existing retaining wall outside the law firm's office had been collapsing and was badly in need of repair. This was an expensive job, extending over multiple properties along Abbot (not all of which are at issue here). The cost of the job, including rebuild of the retaining wall and the sidewalk, appears to have come to $130,310, according to the synopsis of the City Council meeting of July 10, 2012, where Council approved the cost.

The Council packet released yesterday shows, in Attachment B, an agreement prepared reviewed by Tom Yeadon which, if signed by Council, will give a permanent easement by the owner of the law firm's property to the City. Basically what this means is that the property owner will "give" the city access to this a chunk of land so that the city can repair the wall and widen the sidewalk. In other words, it permanently makes the wall the taxpayers' problem, removing from the land owners the consider liability of an expensive retaining wall.

Attachment B shows that the land owner is a company called Woodland Pass Equity Company. The person who signed for Woodland Pass Equity Company on August 31 is Thomas M. Hitch. Hitch is Yeadon's law partner. He is also Yeadon's partner in the business that is Woodland Pass Equity Company, according to the attached PDF document (obtained at the Ingham County website).

In other words, it appears that Yeadon personally stood to benefit from this agreement as one party of the agreement, while also representing the city as the other party of the agreement.

Mayor Diane Goddeeris put this matter on the "consent agenda" for tonight's Council meeting, apparently seeking to have it voted through without discussion by Council. As noted, the agreement was signed by Hitch on August 31, and this was after the retaining wall was completely rebuilt. The agreement has still not been signed by the City. If the matter passes tonight, it will be signed by the City. Regardless of what happens tonight, the taxpayers have already been billed somewhere on the order of $130,000 for this project, under a no-bid with C&D Hughes, Inc.

Our FOIAs on this matter have not yet been answered. Expect more information to be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Photo credit: Aron "Raz" Sousa