Houghton County pays $1.2 million to unknown recipients
Houghton County Commissioners, Feb. 15, 2022
The county commissioners again paid more than a million dollars worth of monthly bills without offering any information to taxpayers about where that money is going. Past Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Copper Beacon for pertinent documents have been denied without legal justification.
Commissioners skip discussion on wind turbine PILT agreement
The board did not discuss the Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement sent to them by Circle Power regarding the Scotia Wind project. It starts on page 2 of the documents packet if you’re interested in reviewing it.
Commissioner Tom Tikkanen reported that the task force must seek a feasibility study to move forward with planning a second crossing of some kind. They’re seeking funding from the state to fund that study.
Tikkanen said he’s hopeful that the funding will be available for the project because of recent state and federal commitments to funding infrastructure updates and improvements.
Commissioner Roy Britz reported that the county sheriff’s department is growing frustrated with the high mileage of their patrol cars causing breakdowns and maintenance issues. The board has approved the purchase of seven new cars, some as long as two years ago, but none have clear delivery dates yet. Britz said the most recent news is that blockages on the Ambassador Bridge caused by protestors may further delay the patrol cars.
Britz reported that County Administrator Elizabeth Bjorn would work with the sheriff’s department to see if there were options for quicker delivery.
While exact amounts were not publicly discussed, Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said the settlement would amount to about $40,000 to $50,000 a year. They took no action on the agreement.
The board of commissioners denied an appeal of two FOIA requests lodged by Copper Beacon based on an “off the record” written memorandum offered by the county administrator. County Administrator Elizabeth Bjorn stated aloud that the first request, for the county check register, was “granted in part”, but the county’s response letter does not contain those words.
Commissioner Tom Tikkanen stated that some of these records (the check register) are available on the second floor of the county building for inspection, and said that members of the general public can come and “make an abstract or memorandum”, but did not mention whether they could make copies. Michigan FOIA law expressly states that the requestor has a right to receive copies in their desired format.
Bjorn stated she did not want the documents shared online because of sensitive or private information contained within the check register. However, FOIA law states that members of the general public can request copies of public documents and that the government body has an obligation to redact any private information before supplying those copies. The cost of time invested in redaction can be charged to the requester. The county has made no such request for funds of Copper Beacon.