February 26, 2014 - Responses are mounting to articles posted in The Clarkston News regarding Freedom of Information in Clarkston.
Outspoken Clarkston resident Cory Johnston said he is seeking legal advice from his attorney over accusations of mental illness and stalking by City Manager Carol Eberhardt, as reported by the News, "City manager breaks contact with News," Feb. 19.
Independence Township resident Michael Powell said he has experienced how city officials handle communications firsthand
"I've lived here 30 years and made one request to the city of Clarkston and I was shocked when I saw the M.O. they use against those who dare to question, complain to, or speak out against them," Powell said. "It's wrong, and thanks go out to your paper for finally putting their misconduct in the paper."
Councilman Mike Sabol contacted the News to say its articles are inaccurate. The article "BYOB Art Studio Ok'd," Feb. 12, reported an incorrect vote. Clarkston City Council voted unanimously to approve the business concept for Picasso's Grapevine on Main Street.
Sabol also pointed out he was excluded from an email requesting response for the Eberhardt article. The councilman was inadvertently left off the email.
Regarding the Feb. 19 article, Sabol said he supports the city manager.
"I expect her and any other city employees to follow the law when it comes to FOIA or other laws, but until someone to Freedom of Information Act or other laws, but until someone shows me a law that says the city administration is required to talk or respond to any media, I support and respect their discretion to speak or not speak as appropriate," Sabol said.
Eberhardt said she would no longer talk to the newspaper because it gives Johnston a "platform" to voice his concerns and opinions.
Assistant Publisher Don Rush said The Clarkston News gives a platform to all local residents and officials.
"The idea is to get concerns out in the open," Rush said. "When a government official closes those doors of communication, newspapers generally think, 'what are you trying to hide?'"
Powell said he has noticed a pattern in the way the city responds to anyone expressing concern or asking questions.
"First, expect to be read the riot act and not receive information; second, receive lies, but no information; third, a city 'attack dog' writes a letter to the paper for daring to 'meddle'; fourth, an anonymous letter in the mail that tries to intimidate you; and finally, stone cold silence, and still no information," he said. "Welcome to the club – your paper is now on step five, right where everyone else ends up. I'm noticing a disturbing pattern here."
Powell and Johnston both received an anonymous letter filled with personal attacks.
"Thanks for turning the screws. This type of conduct shouldn't be tolerated against anyone," said Powell.
Over the next few weeks, the News will review issues that have been featured in articles since 2013. During this research, The Clarkston News editorial staff is investigating all Freedom of Information Act requests as well as digging into claims and procedures.
Accusations have been made that the city council and its officials have ignored rules beginning last April with violating the City Charter.
Council Overrules City Charter
Carol Eberhardt began working as city manager in Apri 2013. Controversy swirled when city council members hired Eberhardt.
In order to hire Eberhardt, council voted to override City Charter section 4.18, which states, "except where authorized by law or five members of the council, elected officers shall not hold any appointed city office or city employment until one year after the expiration of their term in office."
During a Jan. 14, 2013, Clarkston City Council meeting, Luginski told council, "We formed a kind of behind the scenes, small committee, search committee if you will. Luginski then passed out a packet of information containing a job description, interview questions and a timeline for the process of hiring a new city manager.
At the time of the manager search, Eberhardt was on the city council. She would excuse herself when discussions about the city manager position arose.
Former city council member Chuck Inabnit said Eberhardt's candidacy was clearly a conflict of interest and the council should not have accepted her resume.
At the time, Inabnit said because Eberhardt was on the city council he believed the hiring process was stacked from the get go in favor of Eberhardt.
Other residents, besides Johnston, expressed their dismay at the hiring of Eberhardt in letters to The Clarkston News.
In a letter to the editor, Independence Township resident Hillary Scott said she believed the 4.18 section of the city charter existed to prevent "an egregious elected official from cherry picking compensated appointed positions," such as the position of city manager.
Scott added she also felt it was obvious the Clarkston City Council had no intention of hiring anyone but Eberhardt for the position.
"It is apparent councilwoman Eberhardt's competitor for the city manager's position was an unknowing participant in a cleverly orchestrated dog and pony show to validate the council's choice for city manager," said Scott.
"Councilwoman Eberhardt's acceptance of the position displays her selfish sense of entitlement, her lack of regard for the citizens of Clarkston, and her lack of regard jurisprudence involving city governance. Councilwoman's acceptance of being appointed to the city manager contrary to section 4. 18 of the City Charter will insure the status quo of mediocrity within her tenure as the city manager."
In next week's edition, we discuss how other candidates for city manager stacked up against Eberhardt.
Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.