May 21, 2014 - Cory Johnston wants an apology, but deletion of city records and inappropriate and incomplete responses to Freedom of Information Act requests are among the issues Johnston's attorney has encountered when dealing with city of Clarkston officials.
It has been about three months since Clarkston City Manager Carol Eberhardt sent an email to The Clarkston News which implied Johnston was mentally unstable and stalking her.
Her email in part said, "... I decided to completely remove myself from anything associated with the paper, or participate in anything
associated with the paper, or participate in anything that in some way encourages Cory's continued harassment through e-mail and stalking," she wrote.
Eberhardt also made statements concerning Johnston's mental health in an email sent to a Sherman Publications reporter.
Johnston sought legal counsel, and demanded any documents to back up Eberhardt's claim that he was harassing or stalking her.
Johnston's attorney Fred Butters submitted a FOIA request twice asking for all documents
or proof Johnston harassed Eberhardt.
The city produced no records claiming no records exist. However, Johnston and The Clarkston News retained the records.
WhenThe Clarkston News asked for documents from Johnston when Eberhardt was on vacation, City Clerk Sandy Miller said
Eberhardt was upset over the issue and decided to get rid of any documents relating to Johnston.
Miller said to this reporter, Eberhardt started deleting files and later called a computer company to attempt to retrieve the files,
but they were irretrievable.
According to Johnston, deleted documents include correspondence relating to his complaints about city business and other
correspondence that would have been included in FOIA requests made by Butters.
Deleting city documents relating to FOIA or citizens complaints is against the law. State of Michigan laws prohibit public bodies from destroying records if a FOIA of the documents is requested.
According to the Michigan Municipal League if a public body receives a FOIA request the entity must immediately cease the destruction of all relevant records.
Lauren Leeds spokeswoman for the state of Michigan Technology Management and Budget Department said it varies on how long documents must be kept, but in general documents have a two year retention period—longer if police are involved.
Leeds said if once a FOIA request comes into play, the documents must be kept even if they have reached an age which they could be destroyed. Failure to cease the destruction of relevant records could result in penalties.
Butters said he requested Eberhardt issue a public apology and retraction.
Multiple requests for an apology have been ignored by Eberhardt and the city's legal council. In April, Butters sent another letter to Eberhardt asking her to reconsider her position and issue a public apology. Once again, Butters request was ignored.
Butters said his client will still accept an apology and retraction.
"All the city manager has to do is issue a small apology and this will be over," said Butters. "If I do not receive a response I will assume that what City Manager Carol Eberhardt said is also the view of the city, and if I have to file a lawsuit and sue the city I will."
Butters said he faced numerous trouble since he took the case.
"I have worked with FOIA requests before and I have never encountered this type of thing," said Johnston's Attorney Fred Butters. "The law regarding FOIA and deleting city records is clear."
"However there will come a time when we just have to decide their time is up and go forward from there," he said. Going forward, means the city of Clarkston can be sued if legal counsel does not suggest city council members distance themselves from comments made by Eberhardt.
When asked on Tuesday if she planned to issue an apology so that the issue can be dropped, Eberhardt said she is following the advice of Ryan.
"I have no comment," she said.
Ryan has not responded to questions.
Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.