FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
January 19, 2021
Contact: Sam Inglot, 616-916-0574, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawsuit Filed Over Wayne County Board of Canvassers FOIA Denial
Board members were contacted, but never responded to FOIA request
MICHIGAN — Progress Michigan filed a lawsuit today in the Wayne County Circuit Court seeking the disclosure of communications between Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers and the Michigan Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign. The lawsuit follows a Freedom of Information Act request that was originally filed on November 23rd but was denied because board members did not respond to county government messages seeking these communications.
“What we saw happen at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting was an unprecedented and racist attempt to disenfranchise Black voters in Detroit. The people deserve to know the depth of the pressure the Republican Party political machine mounted on board members to do their bidding,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “What we’re seeking is transparency and accountability. The election may be over, but people have not forgotten what happened in Wayne County and we are demanding answers.”
The language of the original FOIA request made on November 23, 2020 is included below:
“All communications since November 1, 2020 between members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers and anyone associated with the Michigan Republican Party and its local parties, the Republican National Committee, or Trump for President, including but not limited to elected officials, party officials, staff, attorneys, and consultants. This request includes any attachments that were part of these communications, such as word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, or other types of documents. “Communications” include but are not limited to emails, text messages, direct messages, phone messages, and any form of communication whether made using government-provided device, service, or account, or a personal device, service or account.”
On December 18, after about two weeks had passed and the request had been acknowledged, Progress Michigan received a response from the Wayne County Department of Technology that, in short, said that while the request had been made of Board of Canvassers members to respond to the FOIA request, no one had responded. “Despite our request to the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, we have not received any responsive records.”
The lawsuit highlights how Monica Palmer and William Hartmann were observed before during and after the Board meeting using cell phones, leading Progress Michigan to wonder who they were communicating with. As public officials, even communications done on personal devices are subject to open records laws if they relate to public business. It was widely reported that Palmer received a phone call from Donald Trump regarding her actions on the board in the wake of the decision. The idea that Palmer and Hartmann do not possess communications records regarding the certification of the vote is simply absurd.
Scott continued, “It’s time to pull back the curtain, fulfill our FOIA request, and let the public see just what sort of pressure Trump and his allies were applying before, during and after the vote.”
Progress Michigan recently settled a major lawsuit after winning an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court regarding former Attorney General Bill Schuette and his staff’s use of private emails to conduct public business. That settlement reaffirmed that FOIA requires that private emails that discuss public business are subject to public disclosure.