Kevyn Orr (Detroit News file)
Detroit — A Wayne County circuit judge ruled the state must release the names and resumes of the final candidates who applied to become Detroit’s emergency manager.
Union activist Robert Davis scored a small victory when Judge Maria Oxholm ordered the state to turn over the emails within 48 hours. But her ruling grants a stay until the case heard by the state court of appeals. An emergency motion for expedited ruling is expected to be filed.
Davis called it a win for opening up transparency in government in Detroit, particularly since mayoral candidate Mike Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder wanted to keep the emails hidden.
“Now that we have a ruling from Judge Oxholm, the people can see exactly how involved certain individuals were in this process and who exactly were the final candidates for the very important and vital position of emergency financial manager,” Davis said. “Today was a victory for the people..”
Oxholm said in her ruling that releasing the names and resumes are not of a personal nature and there’s a vested interest in knowing who applied.
“Merely because some of the candidates might not want to disclose the fact they applied for the emergency financial manager position, it is not a basis for concluding that information is of a personal nature,” Oxholm said. “(The) plaintiff has a valid interest in knowing the identities of the final candidates considered, not every candidate that applied for the emergency financial manager (position). Names of the final candidates are not exempt.”
Davis has sought to get the emails released because he believes it will show Duggan has been involved in the emergency manager process.
In a separate failed open meetings act lawsuit, Davis obtained emails showing Duggan urged Snyder adviser Richard 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 August primary ballot.
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.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the governor's office is exempt from disclosing public records, but the Treasury Department is not.
Redacted documents 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 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.
“Let’s 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 Baird. “He's handled a lot of sensitive material in his life, and I suspect he keeps everything to his vest under any circumstances.”
Duggan has stressed he lobbied against an emergency manager for Detroit. His spokesman, John Roach, said Tuesday he doesn’t have an issue with the emails or names being released.
Earlier Tuesday, Davis testified city residents need to know whether Duggan or his consultant Charlie Beckham was involved in the vetting process of candidates.
“The need now is the names need to be revealed so that the citizens of Detroit know who was vetted for this position, including some of the candidates that are currently running for elected office,” Davis testified. “It is very vital to our organization to have these names and to have the residents to see whether Kevyn Orr was the most qualified candidate that was selected and whether or not candidates running for office or any key campaign advisers were connected or vetted in any way with the selection process.”
But assistant state attorney general Michelle Brya said those communications needed to remain private because the governor “has a strong interest that far outweighs what the plaintiff might have.”
Brya said if released they would “have a chilling effect on future appointments and discussions.”
“The privacy of the candidates who are being reviewed to determine whether or not they should be candidates, they have a strong privacy interest,” Brya said. “There's no reason why their names need to be disclosed to the public. How is the governor supposed to have conversations with his highest level officials if he doesn't have an opportunity to keep those communications confidential.”
Brya had no comment after Tuesday’s ruling.