Investigation Reports: The New Political Weapon

Feb 13, 2022 | City Council

At this week’s Council meeting, response to one agenda item (DC-2) highlighted a problem that is typically very difficult to raise as a Council Member. Information from (or facilitated by) the City’s legal department is often hidden behind confidentiality/privilege and – when intentionally publicized – that information is held up as infallible, beyond question or critique. This week, Council Member Griswold raised a concern at our public meeting that would have increased transparency and accountability; she faced opposition from our City Attorney and a majority of Council.

DC-2 (22-0242) Resolution Requesting a Corrected Version of Attorney Jennifer Salvatore’s Third Independent Investigative Memo

In January, Council received – through the City’s legal department – an investigative report that primarily functioned as validation for the controversial Council decision to end the employment of former City Administrator Tom Crawford. City documents available through FOIA reveal exactly where and how this investigation report is fundamentally flawed: the report includes factual errors and draws conclusions based on incorrect information. A respected local attorney, Ralph McKee, has analyzed and shared these concerns with all of City Council as well as our City Attorney.

Link to critique by local attorney Ralph McKee: Critique of Salvatore Followup Report Re Tom Crawford

In the last year, multiple “independent” investigation reports – and reliance on one hired investigator in particular – have been pivotal in justifying Council decisions, defending political allies, and targeting others. E.g. Insinuation and speculation in one of these recent “independent” reports targeted me and Council Member Ramlawi and was later used to justify the political decision to remove us from appointments. I wrote about that here:

This week’s resolution asked that our City’s legal department oversee review and correction of factual errors and submit a memo of corrections to one investigation report. To the extent that this flawed report supports a political decision made by the majority of Council, it is not surprising that a majority of Council voted against correcting errors.

An MLive article by Ryan Stanton is helpful toward understanding what happened at Council last week:

However, the MLive headline “‘This is political theater.’ Ann Arbor council argues over accuracy of investigation report” – misses the purpose of DC-2 and the main point of disagreement. Council Member Griswold introduced DC-2 in order for our legal department to review and address accuracy concerns, not Council. Factual errors have already been identified in City documents, they have been shared with the legal department and they are publicly available.

All of the “independent” reports from the last year were facilitated by our City’s legal department. Unfortunately, this is the same legal department that dictates what can and cannot be discussed publicly.

Response to concerns raised by Council members are regularly hidden behind email subject lines “PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL” to shield them from FOIA or other public exposure. On issues of public concern, Council is regularly told by the legal department what political opinions or positions should or should not be shared publicly— their advice is increasingly framed as a directive, not to be violated. A majority of Council – members who have voted to reduce accountability and transparency in our procedures – feel supported by these strategies and are eager to attack any colleague who dares question them.

Presumably, review by our legal department is an opportunity to address concerns and either correct or defend facts in question. This week, a majority of Council insisted that our legal department should neither review nor correct errors found in a published report. Our City Attorney refused to discuss any of it in open session, calling such discussion “unnecessary.” More remarkably, he refused to entertain even closed session discussion of the matter. He explained that “You can’t go into closed session without a written legal analysis”; Council depends on the City Attorney to provide that legal analysis and in this case he simply chose not to provide it. The City Attorney told Council bluntly “No, you can’t go into closed session.”

Discussion of DC-2 this week highlighted just how much our City Attorney’s office has been weaponized for political purposes: controlling available public information and restricting political discussion for the benefit of an elected majority.