Campaign opponents blast Savoie for email list

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 10, 2016

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Just days before Bloomfield Township voters were to head to the polls Aug. 2, one resident alerted the media that she had filed a privacy breach complaint with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office against Township Supervisor Leo Savoie and Clerk Janet Roncelli.

A press release announcing the formal complaint was released July 26, one day after Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office received the paperwork asking for an investigation into the alleged misuse of public resources for political purposes and personal gain, among other claims.

According to resident Alice Wachol, who filed and announced the complaint, newly re-elected Savoie, while campaigning to keep his seat, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Roncelli asking for a copy of the email list used by the township for municipal e-newsletters.

The problem is, however, that the subscription page where residents can sign up for the emails states that the email addresses provided will be used only for communications from the township.

“It was a clerical mistake,” said Savoie in response to the complaint. “Everybody went through the correct formal process, and nobody realized there’s a small sheet of paper (which says) that those emails are not to be shared. Fortunately, the list went to me; it will never be used again and I never had the intention of using it.”

Savoie acknowledged the error during the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting July 11, where he explained that he had obtained the list for a campaign communication that touted the endorsement of a local newspaper. He added that he had contacted Township Attorney Bill Hampton to ask if the emails were subject to FOIA law, and at that time Hampton said he believed they were.

Longtime adversaries on the board, Trustee David Buckley and Treasurer Dan Devine, weren’t satisfied with the reasoning.

“The damage is done, Leo. Not only did you send it out, you created a bogus email address that called yourself the Bloomfield Township Elections site. So it looked like it was coming from (clerk) Jan,” Devine said. “I have people contacting me that are very irate that they were misled it was coming from Jan’s office (and looked like) Jan was endorsing certain candidates from her position as clerk. And I’d like to know if Jan knew about it before it went out.”

Savoie told the Eagle that the email’s resemblance to a municipal communication was no coincidence.

“The goal is to get people to open your email,” Savoie said.

Buckley questioned Savoie’s consultation of the township attorney for campaign reasons. Hampton said he wasn’t aware it was an issue relating to a campaign, but a FOIA issue, which is within his realm to advise on.

Buckley’s inquiry was echoed in the press release on the issue, which was sent out after the Eagle’s press time for the issue preceding the election.

“This flip-flop on the legality issue supports the case for abuse of office through both special privilege granted to Savoie and his use of the township attorney to evaluate his personal campaign actions,” Wachol stated in the release.

Savoie said he’s confident that the complaint will be dismissed by the attorney general since the wrongful use of email addresses was an oversight instead of intentional wrongdoing.

Hampton agreed, saying the timing and identity of the filer are telling.

“The complaint was obviously political, inasmuch as it was filed by the supervisor’s opponent’s major campaign contributor,” said Hampton in an email. “I’m sure it will be dismissed.”

Wachol is listed as a contributor of $1,000 to the campaign of Dave Thomas, Savoie’s opponent for supervisor in the Aug. 2 primary race. Complete lists of campaign finance reports can be found on the Oakland County elections website.

“Statements from Township Attorney Bill Hampton are not credible. He, too, violated public trust by ruling that the information could be given to Savoie, then doing a complete about-face just days later (and) saying it was illegal to give a citizen the exact same list,” said Wachol in an email. “It is inexcusable for Savoie, Roncelli and Hampton to have violated our privacy and disingenuous of them to claim ignorance of published township web policy.”

She added that her donation of $1,000 “is nothing in comparison” to the more than $115,000 donated to Savoie, much of which she claims was given by contractors doing business with the township.

Andrea Bitely, press secretary and communications director for Schuette, said in an email that she can’t confirm or deny the presence of an investigation.

Hampton said he has not been contacted by the Attorney General’s Office concerning an investigation as of yet.