Group FOIAs mayor’s emails in wake of transit center issue

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 9, 2012

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A group describing itself as a grassroots, nonpartisan community organization has requested emails from work and personal email accounts pertaining to city business from Troy Mayor Janice Daniels.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, Troy Residents Unified For a Strong Troy requested “all emails from work, personal and city email accounts pertaining to any city business to and from Janice Daniels from her first day of office through present time as mayor of Troy.” The Troy Times obtained the TRUST FOIA request under FOIA guidelines.

TRUST’s Dec. 22 FOIA request was prompted by Daniel’s comments regarding feedback she said she received in opposition to the transit center, TRUST spokesperson Ellen Hodorek said.

The Troy City Council turned down $8.4 million in federal funding for plans to construct a transit center in a 4-3 vote Dec. 19. Daniels and councilmen Wade Fleming, Doug Tietz and Dave Henderson opposed the plans.

“TRUST continues to believe the best interests of Troy are served by transparency in government; in that spirit, we enacted our rights under the Freedom of Information Act. We have no further comment,” Hodorek said in an email.

Daniels said she planned to meet with Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm Jan. 5 to discuss the matter.

Bluhm said the Troy City Clerk’s office intends to comply with the request. She said that it was a large request that would likely take some time to complete, and she noted that the request for Daniel’s personal emails is a “gray area.”

“We’ve given her guidance on the Open Meetings Act,” Bluhm said, and added that meetings with the mayor on the matter will be ongoing.

Daniels said she was working diligently on complying with the request. She said she used her personal email for city business when she first took office because she had extensive problems accessing her city email at that time, problems that have since been resolved. Daniels said she now uses only a city email account for city business. She noted that other council members also used their personal email accounts for city business.

“I hope the organization that made the FOIA request would use their considerable talents and energy to move the city forward in a positive direction, rather than making my transition as new mayor more difficult,” Daniels said. “These are really intelligent people. I would really love their help.”

Also in the wake of the transit center decision, an email from an auto parts manufacturing company manager to Troy Chamber of Commerce President Michele Hodges has prompted clarification by the company.

Last month, Frank Ervin, manager of governmental affairs at Magna Corp., sent a email to Hodges stating he was drafting a memo to company executives in response to the council’s vote on the transit center. He said he was recommending that Magna not consider the city of Troy for future expansions or job creation. Ervin’s comments prompted the company to issue a clarification Dec. 22 stating that Ervin’s comments were not an official statement from the company.

Magna is an auto parts manufacturer with 300 facilities worldwide and more than $24 billion in sales. In October of 2010, the Troy City Council approved tax breaks for the company in support of the company’s $8.7 million investment for a powertrain operation, estimated to create over 100 new jobs in Troy.

“The content of Mr. Ervin’s private email to the Troy Chamber of Commerce was based on his personal reaction and does not represent the position of Magna International,” Tracy Fuerst, director of corporate communications for Magna, said in a prepared statement. “Magna is proud to be a business partner in all of the communities in which we operate. For the city of Troy, that includes more than five facilities and 1,000 employees, and it is business as usual.”

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