FOIA appeal denied, Zoom attendance reinstated for public, opioid settlement moved forward
Houghton County Board, Jan. 11, 2022
Chairperson Al Koskela was not present at this meeting.
The board unanimously approved the payment of $1,094,926.50 in monthly bills to unknown persons and companies. (The check register or other summary of bills paid is one document Copper Beacon has been unable to regularly obtain.)
You’ve probably heard about the case by now, which involved a late-night phone call made to County Clerk Jennifer Kelly during 2020. The sentencing was earlier this week, and Kelly said she feels safe for the first time in almost two years.
The draft settlement is in the documents posted above. While no estimated dollar amount was shared with the board, County Administrator Elizabeth Bjorn said the settlement would be “sizeable”, and paid out over a set period of time.
Bjorn told Commissioner Glenn Anderson that she would potentially have a rough dollar amount at the next meeting.
The commissioners voted to approve proposed contracts with the airport employees union and the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) without any discussion.
Open Meetings Act rules are designed to allow for closed-door negotiations with unions and can be used to also keep unapproved drafts from the public. These contracts should be made public once they have been ratified by all of the involved parties.
At the request of a constituent, the commissioners agreed they should restart facilitating the public attending and interacting in the meetings via Zoom. They cited COVID-19 precautions and hazardous winter driving over Houghton’s geographic area as reasons for wanting to return to using Zoom. The commissioners are still expected to meet in person.
During 2020 and 2021, the county used Zoom regularly and still has the necessary equipment and software.
The constituent’s letter is available in the document packet linked above.
The board renewed the rules of order that it has used since 1988, with one alteration. The original rules held that the chairperson was to be chosen each year, but the new rules hold a new chairperson is only selected in January of odd years.
I briefly addressed my appeal to the FOIA request denial during the early public comment session. I prefer the written word to speaking, but you can hear my comment to the board here in the video.
During new business, the council referred to my appeal letter, which was part of the council packet (but not shared with the public), and then voted unanimously to deny the appeal with no discussion of the points therein.
You can read my appeal letter, the original request, and the county administrator’s denial at the link below.