EAGLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – In our investigation of the Eagle Township megasite, also known as the Michigan Manufacturing Innovation Camp (MMIC), Michigan News Source previously disclosed the existence of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) titled the “MEDC Development Projects Advisor Confidentiality Agreement” in parts one and two of our probe.
Two virtually identical agreements were signed in March 2022 between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the former Township Supervisor, Patti Schafer, as well as the entire township board.
There were two agreements because MEDC insisted that she sign one personally before she presented it to the board. This actually allowed Schafer to omit details when presenting the NDA to the board for approval, according to current Eagle Twp. Supervisor Troy Stroud.
This arrangement with the NDAs granted secrecy to MEDC, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), and various government and private entities involved, keeping details about the Eagle Twp. Megasite hidden from the media and the Clinton County community.
Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Michigan News Source acquired emails related to Schafer’s communication with MEDC and LEAP, revealing a deeper level of secrecy than initially perceived.
A plethora of partners sign NDAs for Michigan megasite projects, keeping information away from taxpayers.
Keith Lambert, COO of LEAP, in an email to Schafer on March 23, 2022, revealed extensive involvement of multiple parties in the project, stating, “LEAP, MSU, LCC, LBWL (Lansing Board of Water and Light), Consumers Energy (as well as dozens of other municipalities and partner entities across the state) have all signed on to this general NDA.”
Further analysis of FOIA-obtained emails highlighted various stakeholders contributing to the project’s progress, including multiple LEAP employees, Grand Ledge city employees, attorneys, CBRE (Commercial Real Estate Agency), Clinton County, Eaton County, EGLE, and more.
Previous township supervisor used personal emails and cell phone to communicate about Eagle Twp megasite.
The FOIA also revealed the extent of secrecy surrounding the project, as we learned that Schafer was using her private cell phone and personal email accounts, including a personal AOL account and a GMAIL account linked to her company, Countryside Accounting, for communications with MEDC and LEAP.
Current Township Supervisor Troy Stroud has requested documents and communications from Schafer, as they are considered the property of Eagle Township. However, Schafer’s incomplete response to Stroud included printed emails with no printed attachments from the emails out of her personal accounts.
Documents still being kept by previous township supervisor, township says.
Stroud said about Schafer’s supervisor account with the township, “All that came in during that two year’s time to the supervisor’s email address was just spam.” He continued, “Unless it’s forwarded from one of the other board members, the supervisor’s email address was just basically catching spam.”
Stroud has also expressed concerns about Schafer conducting her own company business while being paid by the township.
The fact that emails were being sent to Schafer’s private accounts most likely explains why our FOIA to the township for Schafer’s emailed communications about the Eagle Twp. megasite project had limited results even though the development is huge and has many moving parts.
Schafer too busy to provide township documents.
Stroud says that Schafer told him that she’s currently too busy with the tax season to provide any more information at this time.
However, he told Michigan News Source that he has discussed the issue with the Township attorney and will be sending Schafer a follow-up letter demanding that she turn over the Township information that she has in her possession without delay.
LEAP directs communications to be done through Schafer’s personal cell phone.
The use of Schafer’s private cell phone, in addition to her personal email accounts, raises concerns about the potential evasion of FOIA requests that appears to be happening by both Schafer and the partners involved with the megasite.
In a communication from LEAP President and CEO Bob Trezise on March 24, 2022 to LEAP COO Keith Lambert, he says, “Keith. Use please Patti’s cell phone to text her messages. She say (sic) this will be more efficient for her. Thanks.”
Also appearing as a way to skirt around FOIA requests are the code names given to the projects. People requesting information would need to know all of the code names (based on the client involved in the project) and the given project names in order to properly request information. Stroud says about all of the multifaceted naming of the projects, “It makes it super hard to FOIA because all the work they did setting it up is what the privilege log is hiding. And then when the client comes through, there’s no connection at all other than the site visit.”
The privilege log that Stroud is referring to was also obtained in our FOIA request and it lists documents protected under the NDA. Listed are: Project Specs (overview and salary information, site characteristics and utilities); Key Information (Water and Wastewater Infrastructure and Service); Potential Road Layout (Aerial Overview); Realignment (Aerial Overview); Typical Cross Sections (Road and Drain Information); Memo (Site Evaluation: Roadways and Drainage); Attorney Correspondence (Related to Water Supply and Infrastructure) and Correspondence (Site Visit).
Notably, the withheld information described in the above log pertains more to project details and community impact than trade secrets of the company involved. Furthermore, the documents above which are supposed to be held by the township are nowhere to be found.
Nothing will change if current practices continue.
Transparency concerns in Michigan government will persist as long as government officials can utilize private communications without the obligation to disclose records. Additionally, as long as the state of Michigan permits NDAs related to community developments, particularly those financed by taxpayer funds, the public will remain uninformed.
Transparency concerns also extend to instances where local government officials collaborate with partners to advance projects against public opposition. Unearthed in email communications were talking points provided to Schafer by LEAP’s Chief Strategic Officer, Victoria Meadows, suggesting a concerted effort to help Schafer promote the MMIC project to the community.
These practices of secretive collaboration between government officials and private industry not only hinder the community’s ability to stay informed but also undermines the principles of accountability and openness in government dealings.
The pressing need for increased transparency and adherence to the public’s right to information is evident, urging a reevaluation of the use of NDAs and private communication channels in projects being developed in local communities and funded by taxpayer dollars.
Michigan News Source reached out to Schafer to ask about her private communications, where the confidential files are and why she hasn’t turned over all of her communications about the Eagle megasite development to the township. She responded by saying, “good evening…I have moved on (sic) enjoy your weekend.”