In the still unwinding controversy of the ongoing by , the council agreed informally Monday to allow more documents to be made available to the public.
A wide three-ring binder held up for display during the last council meeting containing all of the information related to the questionable billing and the subsequent action by city employees will be available for public review. The notebook will be available after city attorney Mark McInerney and city manager Brian Vick ensure any attorney work product has been removed.
The decision came during McInerney's legal report to council. For his report, McInerney submitted a lengthy legal opinion to council regarding whether records would be considered public and should be released to the public.
His legal opinion also addresses the substance of the complaint by the Yacht Club. His legal opinion was being discussed late Tuesday in a closed session, which council entered after of the rest of the agenda items were complete.
Two residents called for the dismissal of Vick and McInerney, saying the entry of a the tolling agreement between the city and the yacht club was done secretly and eliminated the public's trust in their work.
Council did not react to the requests but McInerney and Vick both responded. McInerney said he was frustrated with the misperceptions that have been floating around the community and urged council to allow him to talk more openly about the establishment of the tolling agreement, which he did. He did not talk about the substance of the complaint, which is still being investigated.
McInerney and Vick both said everything they did related to this issue was done properly and with integrity. McInerney provided a timeline as a way to help residents understand. There is also .
In January 2010, the yacht club approached Grosse Pointe Shores to alert the city of what the club believed to be overbilling on their water bills from 1997 to 2007. In March 2010, the yacht club contacted the Shores and requested the tolling agreement, which was entered into by Vick per the advice of McInerney.
In July 2010, the Shores finally received more solid information about the yacht club's concern related to billing, spurring two meetings between officials from both sides and the update via memo to council regarding the review, the entry into the tolling agreement and the plan going forward with the review.
The meetings continued between both sides as officials began checking the water system, physical structures and getting engineers involved in the review. Vick then provided an update to council in November 2010, as referenced in meeting minutes.
McInerney repeatedly said the tolling agreement did not impact the rights of the city and that it was the appropriate thing to do at the time considering neither side was sure of what happened, if anything.
In a prepared statement for Tuesday's meeting, Vick said a "limited snapshot" of information had been released by certain council members to certain residents concerning the Yacht Club water-billing review and it has been cause for much misinterpretation and confusion for all residents. He said the agreement was never secret and reading all of the documentation related to the matter would only support that he has acted with integrity throughout the entire process.
Vick also emphasized that he has never tried to settle the questionable billing issue with either an in-kind or monetary offer of any kind and that all of the decisions to extend the tolling agreement have been those of the yacht club, which has offered to reach a settlement for the money they believe they are owed by taking a few of the Shores municipal boat wells.
The timing of the entry into tolling agreement has been at issue for weeks because some believe it was done in a non-public manner to spare former Mayor James Cooper from losing in the recall election. McInerney and Vick, however, said Tuesday night there were no reasons not to enter the agreement because it allowed both sides to investigate the allegations without having the burden of legal expenses related to a lawsuit.
Had the Shores not entered the tolling agreement, the only choice the yacht club would have had to preserve the statute of limitations would have been to file a lawsuit in Wayne Circuit Court, McInerney said.
Robert Lee, a Shores resident who called for the dismissals of Vick and McInerney, referenced an email and suggested during the meeting that they had conspired to hide the tolling agreement so as to influence the outcome of elections. McInerney addressed this issue, saying no one had ever talked to him about such concerns before and that although he did not have a copy of the email handy because it was the first time it was surfacing that he would be happy to provide it.
He explained that the email stemmed from the yacht club's most recent request to extend the tolling agreement, which came shortly before the November election. McInerney said he and Vick discussed the extension as being an appropriate decision considering the hotly contested elections, and he told council Tuesday that he did not believe negotiating or trying to complete an investigation of such magnitude when the city was in a state of flux was a good idea, which is why they agreed to another extension.
Most council members were in agreement Tuesday that it would be better to put as much information forward as possible for the public's consumption than to hold back on it. They also recognized the need for some of the information—regarding the substance of the complaint under investigation—should not be released.
Councilman Dan Schulte, who is now the mayor pro tem and one of only two who were voted back into office in the November election, said he did not recall ever being briefed about the tolling agreement or the accusations brought forth by the yacht club before this fall. He said regardless, he was disappointed that the municipality was entered into such a significant agreement without alerting the council.
When the topic began surfacing just before the November elections, it was made out to the public like the tolling agreement and accusations were just learned about by officials as well as residents; however, public records show otherwise as reported by Patch Tuesday afternoon.
A few details about the complaint itself surfaced during the discussion about the records, including that the original acccusation involved more than a $1 million claim but the yacht club has re-calculated, finding most recently the billing issue involves $500,000 instead.
The tolling agreement is slated to expire Jan. 7.