Rotta files law suit against mayor, city councilors

November 15, 2013
Tom Rotta

Tom Rotta

LUDINGTON — Community activist Tom Rotta has filed a new lawsuit. This time, Rotta is individually suing each member of the city council for allegedly violating the Michigan Open Meetings Act by not posting a special meeting of the council back in May.

The meeting in question is the May 20, 2013 meeting, which was moved from its regular time of 6:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. so third graders from Foster Elementary could attend and observe.

Rotta is accusing seven members of the city council of not posting the meeting in the lobby of the city hall, notifying the public that the meeting time had been changed. Named in the lawsuit are Mayor John Henderson along with city councilors Wally Taranko, Les Johnson, Wanda Marrison, Nick Tykoski, Gary Castonia and Kaye Holman. Councilor Dick Rathsack was not named because he was not in attendance of that day’s meeting. Also not named were City Manager John Shay or City Clerk Deborah Luskin, the two city employees who are responsible for such notifications.

Rotta filed the lawsuit in 79th District Court, an unusual action since open meetings act violations are typically tried in circuit court. His first attempt at filing was denied Tuesday by Mason County Magistrate Patricia Baker. However, on Wednesday, Judge Peter Wadel allowed the case to be filed.

Rotta, in his complaint, justifies the district court filing because it is a civil case against seven individuals. He is seeking damages up to $500 per defendant and is not seeking invalidation of policy or injunctive damages.

City Attorney Richard Wilson said the city will defend each of the councilors and is confident the city’s insurance will cover the costs.

City Manager Shay said he believes the meeting was posting in its proper place.

MCP is sent email notices of meetings, along with the agenda and city manager’s memos. We received our notification via email on May 17 from the city clerk’s office.

Magistrate Baker said the next step will be for each councilor to be served papers and then they will have the opportunity to respond.

Rotta said he waited to file the case until this past week because he did not want to cause an issue during the mayoral campaign.

“I had 180 days to file suit under section 13 of the act, which limited me to basically the end of this week, possibly longer,” he told MCP. “Wally Taranko is one of the defendants, and although I think he’s been a cruddy councilor and I’ve had the complaint written since September, I didn’t think it was fair to his mayor bid to divulge it before the election as some October or November surprise.”

Earlier this year, the city settled with Rotta for $15,000 on another lawsuit.

 

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