Although we all have the legal right to public information, on the city’s website, the city council posts a list of names of citizens who have made Freedom of information (FOIA) requests. It is an attempt to create animosity toward the people who are seeking public information and an attempt to shame those making the requests to stop. What the council members don’t realize is that if they were transparent in their actions and followed the law, there would be no need to attack citizens who seek the truth. If it wasn’t for the Freedom of Information Act, we would not know the following violations.
At the October 17, 2017 city council meeting, City Manager Dave Richards recommended that the council adopt a video surveillance policy that he said was written by Lock Master Security and the city’s IT providers. There was no discussion and the only dissenting vote was Council member Ennis. The new policy became local law and the audio/video surveillance equipment was moved from the police department to City Manager Richards office. There is no documentation to support Richards contention that anyone else but him was involved in writing the policy. FOIA Video Surveillance Policy
At the city council’s November 15, 2016 meeting, Attorney Sara Bell told the city council “The Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the City is the logical person to watch or review these recordings if there is a concern, threat, or an alleged issue, particularly if criminal activity or inappropriate behavior is alleged.” At the same meeting, the council voted unanimously to hire Bell to write a video surveillance policy for the city. It appears that City Manager Richards ignored their directive and instead wrote a new policy that put him in charge and overruled the recommendation of Attorney Bell.
The saga of the surveillance equipment began in 2013, when then Police Chief Pitchford wrote a grant proposal to the city’s risk management insurance company, Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) for audio/video surveillance equipment. The grant request was awarded after Pitchford stated ‘The New Buffalo Police Department experienced a fire bomb attack on our department which is housed within the New Buffalo City Hall. The fire bomb fell just short of the Police Department striking one of the department’s patrol vehicles then igniting under the rear of the vehicle then spreading to the parking lot,. Minutes before this attack one of our officers had just cleared the station and resumed his patrol duties. If this attack had been successful the officer would have had no idea the attack had just occurred and would have had no idea the Police Department and city hall was on fire. A suspect was in fact arrested for this event and convicted in Circuit Court for Berrien County Michigan.” MMRMA granted funds to provide the police department with both video and audio surveillance equipment to ensure the safety of the police force and the protection of city assets and to lessen expensive risk exposure. City Manager Dave Richard’s new video surveillance policy violates the terms of the grant agreement, giving himself oversight authority instead of the police department, eliminates the audio equipment and compromises the risk exposure that was a requirement in the grant.
The state’s record retention law is the basis of the city’s record retention policy. FOIA Record Retention Policy The city’s Record Retention Policy requires electronic records to be retained for at least 10 years. It also requires that documents not be destroyed if requested through the Freedom of Information Act until the request is resolved. But Richards new video policy only requires the videos to be retained 30 days and does not address the FOIA requirements. Richards violated his own policy in January 2018 when he allowed the destruction of a surveillance video prior to 30 days when a FOIA request was made thus also violating state and local requirements for record retention. video request
Up until August 2016, the police monitored health and safety through the use of the surveillance equipment without a hitch. But in August of 2016 Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh was recorded on the audio equipment using questionable language while working at city hall. Since then he appeared to have a burning desire to impact the usage of the surveillance equipment. Through the actions of City Manager Richards and the men on the council, he succeeded. The equipment is no longer there for the safety of the men/women in blue or the protection of city assets. The equipment’s viability has been made impotent to ensure that no embarrassing or potentially illegal acts committed by city employees are audibly recorded and that any compromising videos can easily disappear without the protective legal enforcement by the police department. This was the case of the video I requested in January 2018 of Ashbaugh harassing me in the parking lot next to city hall, Richards either made it disappear or else the surveillance equipment overseeing city hall’s parking lot was disabled. In either case, the city council should be concerned.
In October 2016, then City Council member Donna Messinger requested the men on the council do something about Street Supervisor Ashbaugh due to his statement caught on an audio/video surveillance camera ‘Hey Donna, when you’re bitching at council meetings, do you ever worry about Diana (Selir) shooting you? It’s okay, she’s sane!’ (Laughter) Although there was an expensive attempt by both the city and Ashbaugh to keep the audio/video out of the hands of the public, through Kirkus v City of New Buffalo, the public recording had to be released. Messinger again brought this issue back to the city council in December 2017 with no response although the city council and the city manager are violating the city’s Workplace Violence Policy by not addressing the issue. Perhaps the reason the council is so loathsome to those who seek public information is to continue their laissez-faire attitude concerning law compliance. Note that all the law and policy violations are due to one city employee.
Workplace Violence Policy ‘The City of New Buffalo recognizes the need to provide for the safety and security of all employees, contractors, customers and visitors. In doing so, the City is complying with Section 5(a), the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Therefore, the City will not tolerate threats, threatening behavior. or acts of violence (or any other intimidating or disruptive behavior) against employees, visitors, guests, or other individuals by anyone on the City’s property. This includes ….. verbal or physical threats …’