City ponders request for 2016 ballots

ESCANABA — While the special meeting held by Escanaba’s City Council Thursday afternoon was initially set to address the replacement of exiting City Clerk Lisa Glish, the council had a significant amount of other business to address — including a substantial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that lead to the scheduling of it’s own special meeting.

The request, which was submitted on Aug. 20 by “Emily” from the United Impact Group, LLC. Besides being vague on who was actually submitting the request, the request was sent from Chicago with instructions to ship the gathered materials to an address in New York. The only phone number on the request had a Flint, Mich., area code.

“Apparently this FOIA request was sent to pretty much every city, township, village — anyone that did an election in November of 2016 — requesting copies, physical paper copies of all ballots, all absentee applications, and the envelopes that (absentee voter) apps come in with the signatures on them, showing the signatures of the person from the clerk’s office that accepted it,” explained Glish.

Because nobody outside of the clerk’s office personnel is allowed to touch any ballots that have been voted, the city and other communities across the state are left with the task of figuring out how to reproduce and ship the materials. In some communities, this can be an extreme challenge simply because the size of some ballots do not fit on standard copy machines.

Prior to discussing the FOIA request Tuesday, the council voted to approve a change to the city’s fee schedule, which will increased the fee 50 cents per page for FOIA requests that must be reproduced on larger sized paper.

It is believed that the requests were only sent to communities in Michigan, as ballots from 2016 in the state are slated to be destroyed on Sept. 9, after the 22 months retention period ends.

The council voted that, if legal, the requester be told to come see the documents by physically visiting the city and being shown the documents and billed. A deposit was also requested prior to their visit. Only Council Member Michael Sattem voted against the motion.

The issue will be readdressed with City Attorney Ralph B.K. Peterson when he returns from a trip out of town. A meeting was set for Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 10 a.m.

In other business, the council approved sending a resolution supporting the completion of the Escanaba River Bridge contract. A similar resolution was adopted by the county recently. Only Ralph Blasier voted against the resolution, expressing that he felt it was a labor dispute and not a city issue.

The council awarded an engineering project to Bittner Engineering of Escanaba for the replacement of Pier 2 at a cost not to exceed $17,500. Bittner was not the low bidder, however the low bidder on the project did not physically visit the site as Bittner did.

Council members also discussed ongoing issues with the city’s audio and video systems used for recording meetings. Due to wiring issues inside the building, both systems have been performing poorly and videos recorded are being broadcast at low quality. The council asked for more information about the costs related to broadcasting the meetings and raised the idea that meetings could be posted online instead of broadcast. No decisions were made.

The existing county jail and the upcoming Michigan Municipal League conference were also discussed. Council members expressed disappointment that the council as a whole was not invited to a recent meeting on future uses for the jail site and the lack of a detailed agenda for the MML meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Marc Tall made three board appointments. Two individuals were appointed to the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and one was appointed to the Planning Commission.


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