LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – In the push to make Michigan a part of the green energy revolution that the Biden administration and the Democrats have been championing, Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been fully on board with taxpayer funding going towards EV battery plants and other “megasites” in the state.

Claiming thousands of local jobs will be created at these facilities as well as a boost to the state economy, the Democrats haven’t seemed concerned that they have been working with companies and local economic development corporations to pave over farmland, possibly endangering the environment and the wildlife in the process. It also hasn’t seemed to bother them that some of companies they are working with are linked to China or even North Korea.

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But the communities have cared. And they still do.

Communities in the dark for years.

Once the communities learned about the megasites that were being planned for their communities, they started showing up at governmental meetings and pushed back against the developments coming into their counties, cities and townships. They soon realized that they have been in the dark throughout most of the planning of the sites and they also weren’t getting many answers to their questions.

Now we know that it was because government officials, who were supposed to be representing the people in their communities, were instead, signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) which kept their constituents in the dark.

The thing about these megasites is that most of them appear to have been in the works at least a year or more before communities even became aware of them. This is able to happen because of NDAs.

What is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)?

An NDA is basically a legal contract between two or more parties that outlines confidential information, knowledge, or material that the parties wish to share with one another for certain purposes but restrict access or disclosure to third parties. Only in the case of the megasite NDAs, the third parties are the taxpayers in the communities the developments are going into.

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Some megasite opponents who have remained committed to keeping their communities accountable for their actions have been moderately successful on different fronts including Eagle Township in Clinton County who recalled their Township Supervisor, Patti Shafer, because she had signed an NDA with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) about a proposed project.

FOIA produces NDA between Eagle Twp and the MEDC.

 The NDA agreement that Michigan News Source received through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is called “MEDC Development Projects Advisor Confidentiality Agreement” and it was signed in two separate agreements that appear to be identical. The first was signed just by Schafer on March 25, 2022, without the permission of the board, and then the second document was signed by the entire township board the next day.

Current Township Supervisor Troy Stroud says that Schafer hadn’t given the board members the details that she was given when they signed the document – nor were they told that she had already signed one earlier. Stroud adds that in emails that he has access to, the MEDC wanted Schafer to personally sign her NDA before she went to the board to convince them to sign theirs.

Although projects for the Eagle Township megasite land have been given different code names as potential buyers have come and gone (Project Copper, Project Tiger), the current development project being spearheaded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) has a site name which, after being called the “megasite,” is now officially called the Michigan Manufacturing Innovation Camp (MMIC).

MEDC, LEAP and others partner behind the backs of taxpayers.

LEAP has been doing much of the PR campaign for the MMIC and has been involved in helping to assemble the land for the project (much of it bequeathed to Michigan State and is currently being farmed). Working hand in hand on the project, the MEDC is what Stroud calls “the muscle” with the attorneys and the funding. Stroud calls the MEDC “the force pushing this forward making the other state departments work with LEAP to make this happen.”

Because of the NDA that Shafer signed, Eagle Township resident and farmer, Troy Stroud, initiated a petition to recall her. The petition was successful and Stroud became the new Township Supervisor. The petition was based on the fact that Schafer signed an NDA which gave the community “limited information available to Eagle Township residents affected by the potential development.”

Who signs the NDAs?

Not only do the NDAs get signed between local governmental entities like Eagle Township and the MEDC, but they also appear to be getting signed between the economic development corporations and a plethora of different partners as referenced in the NDA itself.

Those partners could include businesses, nonprofits, other economic development corporations, various state government departments and even elected politicians. As it relates to the Chinese-linked Gotion project, it’s been reported that Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), who is running to be Michigan’s next Senator, signed an NDA about the project.

Most of the time, these NDAs remain in the dark, far away from the eyes of taxpayers and the press. However, a recent FOIA by Michigan News Source resulted in getting access to the confidentiality agreement between Schafer, the township and MEDC.

New Eagle township supervisor releases requested documents.

Stroud, who won his election on a platform of transparency, has been true to his word and allowed the clerk to release the NDA and other documentation that pertained to our FOIA request.

In the NDA, the MEDC discusses how they work with companies on development projects and how the companies might give the MEDC “confidential exempt information” which includes things like (but not limited to) trade secrets, commercial information and financing information that isn’t of a public nature.

The agreement says that the Advisor (which would be Schafer on the first agreement and the township on the second) may also provide the MEDC with their own confidential information when working on the project together.

Township also hands out confidential information per NDA.

Going into a deal, the agreement explains that the township may voluntarily provide the MEDC with “trade secrets or commercial of financial information for use in developing governmental policy which it desires to be kept confidential” and that the MEDC will use “good faith efforts” not to share such information with third parties – however, it says that they are able to share the information with the company they represent and other partners.

The agreement states that the township has to hold the information they receive in strict confidence and take all steps to protect the information and only release such information when absolutely necessary within FOIA requirements – using all exemptions necessary to keep the information private. They also request the Advisors (Patti and the township) maintain the confidential information in a “central” place.

Where did the confidential documents end up?

 This “central” place which contains the information described above has not been located by Stroud or the township attorneys. Stroud says, “We don’t have that file.” Stroud believes that the township has a list of the names of the documents – but not the documents themselves. The question is: was the file removed from the township or destroyed?

It also appears that much of the communications and information that went back and forth between MEDC, LEAP and Schafer was sent to several different email accounts of Schafer as well as communications going to her private phone (texts) and private AOL and Gmail email accounts. In fact, Stroud says, “Since 2022 until the time MEDC sends me the letter congratulating me (on winning election), there’s not another MEDC-related email in the supervisor’s mailbox” (other than emails that were CC-ed to the township email account).

In Part 2 of this series on Monday, Feb. 5 we will delve into the rest of the NDA agreement, the MEDC’s response to the township rescinding the NDA and reaction to how NDAs are being used to hide information on community developments that should involve total transparency.