Council Making Decisions about City Attorney Out of Public Eye
Tom Yeadon at the DDA meeting on May 23, 2019. (Photo by Andrew Graham)
City Council is set to decide next Tuesday to whom to award the lucrative position of East Lansing’s City Attorney. But little information has been provided about this major decision, with Council making multiple key decisions on the issue out of the public view.
At this week’s City Council meeting, Mayor Mark Meadows dedicated less than one minute to the matter, saying only that there would be a special meeting next Tuesday, June 18, starting at 4 p.m. in City Hall to interview finalists. He suggested that a decision about who gets the annual contract will be made at the meeting that starts at 7 p.m. the same day. That contract is currently worth over $500,000.
A posting on the City’s website confirms the scheduling of the 4 p.m. special meeting.
But who are the applicants? What do their applications offer? Which have been chosen as finalists for the interview round? And how were the decisions made about choosing the finalists?
None of that has been made public.
ELi reported last week that documents released through the Freedom of Information Act show that – following failed negotiations led by Council Member Shanna Draheim on a new contract with current City Attorney Tom Yeadon – a majority of City Council decided to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) calling for applications for the position.
The decision to go for an RFP was made through emails and phone calls, and Council member Aaron Stephens advised Yeadon of that decision on April 16.
But, even though Council and Yeadon knew this was going to be the plan, no one on Council let on about the RFP until it was suddenly added to the April 23 meeting agenda only moments before the meeting.
The public consequently had no opportunity to comment on a draft RFP before Council formally voted unanimously to send it out.
Applications for the contract were accepted through May 31, but none of those application materials have been released.
In Defiance of Michigan Open Meetings Act?
Now it appears Council has also decided, again outside public meetings, who will make it to the interview round on Tuesday.
The Michigan Open Meetings Act says that “[a]ll decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public” and that “[a]ll deliberations of a public body constituting a quorum of its members shall take place at a meeting open to the public.”
There are a few circumstances in which the Council can deliberate in closed session, but a vote to go into such a session has to be public, with the reason stated. That hasn’t happened.
Yeadon’s firm – McGinty, Hitch, Person, Yeadon and Anderson, P.C. – has held the contract for City Attorney for more than 50 years. The year 2016 marked the first time an RFP for the position was issued. Following interviews, Council decided then to retain Yeadon.
In 2018, Stephens and Draheim requested an RFP but they were rebuffed by Mark Meadows, Erik Altmann, and Ruth Beier. At the time, however, Beier said that the issue of the retaining wall lawsuit troubled her, and she suggested she might want to change course in the future.
The retaining wall issue, which culminated in the settlement of a federal fraud suit, involved the misuse of public funds to build a retaining wall along the private property of Yeadon and his partners. The case centered on Yeadon’s undisclosed conflict of interest in an application for federal funding.
ELi will update this article if information about the applicants or process becomes available in advance of the meeting that starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Update, June 13: In response to ELi's reporting, the City announced today via a Facebook comment on ELi's post that the applications have been posted on the City's website at a dedicated page. No mention of the applications' posting has been made otherwise.
With 16 firms invited to apply, applications came in from five firms: Clark Hill; Dickinson Wright; Yeadon's firm; Secrest Wardle, and Thrun Law Firm. The City Council has still not indicated how it is deciding who to interview.
Update, June 14: Council has now released an agenda for the Tuesday, June 18, 4 p.m. meeting showing that Council will interview Yeadon's firm, Dickinson Wright, and Secrest Wardle. No explanation has been provided about how or why Clark Hill and Thrun Law Firm were eliminated.
Citizens wishing to comment will be able to do so after the interviews, according to the published agenda. Citizens can also write to City Council by email.
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