Resident sues city for information on city manager probe

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 17, 2017

 Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick takes his place at the Troy City Council table during the Jan. 9 meeting.

Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick takes his place at the Troy City Council table during the Jan. 9 meeting.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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TROY — A Troy attorney has filed suit against the city of Troy, seeking the release of information denied in an earlier Freedom of Information Act request regarding an internal investigation of Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Nanci Grant is scheduled to hear arguments for the case Feb. 1.

The city did provide some of the information that Ann Erickson Gault requested in her earlier FOIA: Kischnick’s employment agreement, employee emails questioning purchases and pertaining to a natural gas contract, a letter offering employment to the city’s new customer service coordinator, an internal memo on the FOIA request on hiring the employee, internal memos on $4,260 and $4,000 information desks for that employee, Kischnick’s travel and food expenditures, and property and businesses owned by council members. 

Following an internal investigation this summer, the Troy City Council unanimously agreed to incorporate guidelines for the city manager into his contract. 

City employees had raised questions on issues involving a car accident with a city vehicle, as well as questionable moves involving a vendor, the purchase of phone accessories and the city manager’s car allowance. 

The council, after heated discussion, voted 4-3 against waiving attorney-client privilege at its Aug. 8 meeting, which would have made public a report regarding Kischnick that the council had considered in three closed sessions. 

Councilwomen Edna Abrahim and Ellen Hodorek, and Councilman Jim Campbell voted in favor of waiving the attorney-client privilege. Mayor Dane Slater, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Pennington, and Councilmen Dave Henderson and Ethan Baker opposed it. The council voted 6-0 to release a media statement following a July 27 closed session. Councilman Jim Campbell was absent. 

The statement that City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm released July 27 addressed issues the employees had raised and laid out an action plan for the city manager. 

Kischnick’s action plan stipulates that he will retain his current salary and benefits, which remain unchanged since July 2015. He earns an annual salary of about $159,000, not including benefits and a $425 monthly car allowance. His contract is scheduled to be reviewed in early 2017, and he is reviewed on a monthly basis.

Erickson Gault is requesting:

• Documents related to the employee complaints.

• Documents regarding Kischnick hiring a woman he was rumored to be involved with as the city’s customer service coordinator without knowledge or approval of council or various city officials.

• Additional information on Kischnick’s cellphone usage, the cost of supplies and equipment for the customer service coordinator position, the city’s purchase of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, property disclosure statements for council members, and city officials’ calendars — including meetings held with city developers and suppliers.

“This is about transparency,” Erickson Gault said. “It’s important that voters and residents know what’s going on in city government. The information withheld was inherently wrong to withhold. … We don’t know the extent of the wrongdoing.” 

Erickson Gault explained that she didn’t ask for the report, but the attachments. 

“I don’t believe they are protected. We need to know why they are refusing to produce the documents. Some may fall in exception to FOIA. I don’t think the exhibits are protected by attorney-client privilege. It’s important for voters to understand what our city manager did and what has been remedied.

“I get the impression Mr. Kischnick doesn’t believe policies and procedures apply to him. That’s just wrong — to hide what’s going on in the city. I’m working from a position of outrage.” 

Erickson Gault is also seeking attorney fees and “other relief as the court deems appropriate.” 

Erickson Gault’s attorney, Karie Boylan, could not be reached for comment by press time. 

Grigg-Bluhm said she will present a resolution to the council to defend the city’s interest at the Jan. 23 meeting.

“We believe we complied with FOIA,” she said. 

“It’s unfortunate we are in this situation,” Abrahim said. “If council had voted to waive attorney-client privilege back in August, we would not be in a position to expend the legal staff’s time and energy to defend the lawsuit.” 

That said, Abrahim said she believes the council will unanimously “authorize the city attorney to defend the city vigorously, as she always does.” 

She said the council has not yet reviewed the city manager in the new year, and when that happens, it will be listed on the council agenda as a closed session item.

Grigg-Bluhm said that council would make any changes to the city manager contract at the council table during open session. 

Kischnick told C & G Newspapers that the customer service coordinator position, the desks and equipment were budgeted, along with an $800,000 new entrance to City Hall, in the 2016-17 budget. 

“I hire based on qualifications,” Kischnick said. “I’m continuing to move forward to keep Troy great.” 

Troy Human Resource Director Jeanette Menig explained that the customer service coordinator base salary is $36,067. She said that since it is a newly created position, it does not appear in the dashboard of city positions on the city website — the dashboard is updated about once per year.

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