Orr (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Lansing — Exerting a broad executive privilege, Gov. Rick Snyder has asked a Wayne County judge to block disclosure of internal emails and documents members of his administration exchanged last winter while deliberating over candidates for Detroit’s emergency manager.
On Friday, Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an emergency motion on Snyder’s behalf seeking gubernatorial intervention in a lawsuit brought by union activist Robert Davis against the state Treasury Department for documents pertaining to the emergency manager search process.
Snyder seeks to become a defendant in the case to “protect the other candidates for the emergency manager position from being unnecessarily burdened and harassed, and to preclude Davis from furthering his ‘fishing expedition’ and quest for media attention,” Schuette’s office wrote in court papers.
Circuit Judge Maria Oxholm has scheduled an 11 a.m. Tuesday hearing on Snyder’s motion to intervene. Last week, Oxholm ordered the Treasury Department to provide her with copies of the un-redacted records under seal, court records show.
Redacted documents disclosed in the suit reveal Snyder’s office entered into a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement Jan. 7 with an unnamed man “to hold discussions regarding the possibility of the appointment of an emergency manager.” The state didn’t declare Detroit to be in a financial emergency until Feb. 19.
On Jan. 6, Snyder chief of staff Dennis Muchmore approved the confidentiality agreement drafted by Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, according to emails disclosed in the lawsuit.
The emails suggest the potential emergency manager candidate that Snyder’s staff was speaking with in confidence was someone they knew, not an out-of-state candidate like Washington, D.C., bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr, who was appointed to the post in March.
“Lets go with this. I doubt we can be too worried about (redacted name) under any circumstances,” Muchmore wrote in an email to Snyder, McClellan, state Treasurer Andy Dillon and gubernatorial adviser Richard Baird. “He’s handled a lot of sensitive material in his life, and I suspect he keeps everything to his vest under any circumstances.”
A Michigan Court of Appeals panel and federal bankruptcy judge have blocked previous attempts by Davis and labor unions to force the Governor’s Office to disclose unredacted emails related the emergency manager search.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Governor’s Office is exempt from disclosing public records, but the Treasury Department is not, which is why Davis’ group, Citizens United Against Corrupt Government, sued the state agency and its Freedom of Information Act coordinator.
Schuette’s office says Dillon and his department employees’ emails detailing emergency manager deliberations should be extended the same executive privilege protection from disclosure that Snyder’s staff has.
“For all intents and purposes, those involved in the process were acting for the benefit of the governor and the executive office,” Schuette wrote. “ ... The governor’s verbal and written communications with those high level officials who advise him must be afforded protection and deference, to assure that such communications can be candid and confidential.”
Davis said he’s trying to determine whether one of the unnamed candidates was Detroit mayoral hopeful Mike Duggan, though the former Detroit Medical Center CEO has denied he was ever offered the emergency manager job.
In a separate failed lawsuit seeking to nullify Orr’s appointment, Davis obtained emails showing Duggan urged Baird in February against the appointment of an emergency manager until after the Nov. 5 mayoral election. Baird has testified in Detroit’s bankruptcy case that he began recruiting Orr for the job in late January, several weeks before the March 14 appointment.
Davis works for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which is supporting Duggan’s opponent, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, in the mayoral race. Davis assisted a court fight earlier this year to remove Duggan’s name from the ballot of the August primary, which Duggan won as a write-in candidate.
Separately, Davis is awaiting trial on charges of stealing from the Highland Park school district.