LUDINGTON – Ludington resident Tom Rotta is suing the city of Ludington again. Previously Rotta sued the city in local circuit court for violating the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. Rotta lost that particular suit. He is also suing the city in federal court, accusing the city and City Manager John Shay of violating his civil rights.
Today, the Mason County Press was informed that Rotta has filed suit again in 51st Circuit Court accusing the city of violating the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
In the suit, Rotta alleges the city did not go through the proper bidding process in regards to a sewer system problem that occurred on Brother Street around July 13.
The complaint states five days after the issue, Ludington Waste Water Treatment Manager Rob Allard and Shay had been emailing each other and made the determination that the sewer pipe on Brother Street needed to be replaced, along with related repairs.
On July 21, the complaint states, Shay sent an email to the city council explaining the situation. On that same day, Hallack Contracting of Hart offered to fix the problem for $90,705.51, plus other costs if necessary. The complaint also states that Rotta doesn’t believe there were any other bids submitted.
The next regularly scheduled city council meeting was July 25 but the Brother Street project was not on the agenda.
Rotta alleges that “no authorization, vote, decision or directive was had or given by the City Council to Manager Shay to expend nearly $100,000 of the public’s money.”
“The next day,” the complain states, “on July 26, 2011, Manager Shay sent an email to all members of the city council stating: ‘As a follow-up to the email below, I have attached a cost estimate from Hallack Contracting to replace the Brother Street sanitary sewer, install new curb and gutter and repave the road between North Washington Avenue and about 365 feet to the east. It totals $90,705.51 plus cost to replace any non-copper water service lines… Unless the city council has any objections, I plan to authorize Hallack Contracting to complete this project at a cost of $90,705.51 plus the cost of any non-copper water service lines. The street and sewer funds will pay for this project.”
The complaint then states that he received the OK from councilors Wally Taranko, Gary Castonia, Wanda Marrison and Kaye Ferguson Holman. Rotta’s complaint also states he believes councilor Les Johnson also approved.
“Given the nearly 14 days lapse from notice of the problem to approving the contract, the issues on Brother Street did not constitute any form of emergency,” Rotta states.
The complaint then quotes the Open Meetings Act which states that all decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.
Rotta is being represented by Outside Legal Counsel PLC of Hemlock.
“Cities have a legal duty not to act in secret and to conduct their affairs in the open to give citizens the opportunity to participate in the legislative process,” said Philip L. Ellison, attorney from Outside Legal Counsel, in a press release. “Secrecy creates doubt of legitimacy and is contrary to the spirit and principles of government transparency and good government.”
Mason County Press has sent an email to Shay asking for comment. We will update when we get a response.
By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief