Ludington settles lawsuit with Rotta

January 22, 2013

LUDINGTON — City council agreed to settle a lawsuit Monday night acknowledging it violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The city was being sued by resident Tom Rotta who claimed the council and City Manager John Shay violated the OMA by taking action via email rather than in a public meeting.

The action involved approval of a 2011 sewer repair that cost the city over $95,000. The OMA specifically states that all action must be taken in an open meeting and that voting by email is a violation. Instead of bidding out the job, the city hired Hallack Construction because the company was working on a job nearby. A press release from the city states the issue was an emergency and taking quick action was necessary in order to prevent sewage from backing up into residents’ homes.

Rotta has claimed that the situation was not urgent.

“City management and the councilors… never questioned the fact that they had indeed made decisions for this large contract with no competitive bids (as demanded by charter for non-emergency situations of this cost) or any discussion in an open public meeting,” Rotta stated in a release. “Nor is there any evidence that the city’s claim that the ‘city council subsequently unanimously approved payment of Hallack’s invoice for its work to repair the sewer main and the street,’ at least in an open meeting. The minutes do not show it.”

The city’s press release defends its actions.

“The city acknowledges in the settlement that it can see how one can make the case that the city technically violated the OMA since the decision to enter into the contract with Hallack should have been made by an affirmative vote of the Ludington City Council. It is important to understand that at no time did the city staff or city council make a deliberate effort to violate the OMA.”

The case, which was filed in circuit court, was settled for Rotta’s legal fees, $4,650.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Rotta chose this path to question how it responded to this emergency,” the statement said.

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