Friday, February 10, 2012

Judge says Wayne County Airport Authority violated Open Meetings Act

Detroit— Both sides claimed victory following a judge's Friday ruling on a lawsuit that challenged how the Wayne County Airport Authority handled its public meetings.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. agreed with union activist Robert Davis' claim that the authority had violated the state's Open Meetings Act on three occasions. But Colombo did not award attorneys fees for the offenses, saying the authority is now aware of the law.

Drew Paterson, Davis' attorney, said he would appeal the decision.

The case marked the second time Davis has challenged the airport board and arises from concern over how it chose Turkia Mullin, the short-lived CEO, to lead the airport authority. Mullin was fired Oct. 31, less than two months after the airport board hired her to a $250,000-a-year position.

She was fired in the wake a scandal over a $200,000 severance payout after she left a position as head of Wayne County's economic development team to take the airport job. The airport board never said exactly why it dumped Mullin, though it voted 5-2 to fire her "for cause." The authority says she is not entitled to a severance that could exceed $700,000.

Megan Norris, an attorney for the authority, said Colombo's ruling indicated he understands the authority will abide by open meetings law provisions.

In a separate but related case, Colombo had earlier ruled that the airport authority violated open meetings provisions during its CEO search that ended with Mullin's hiring.

Davis filed the second lawsuit afterward and made six separate charges. Last week, Colombo dismissed the three most serious, including one that the board intentionally violated open meeting laws.

Colombo agreed that the board made a mistake twice in 2010 when it went into executive session after a vote of just the four board members present. Such a decision can only be made by a two-thirds majority of the entire board, which would require five votes. The authority also failed, by two days, to meet a deadline to post minutes of a recent meeting.

Davis had sought to invalidate Mullin's contract, claiming it was approved at illegal meetings; Colombo dismissed that claim last week.

Paterson said the airport authority wants the matter to go to arbitration because "they want to get her money." In a recent legal brief, the airport authority has challenged its own handling of Mullin's contract, saying the board violated its own bylaws when it delegated authority to board member Suzanne Hall to negotiate a contract with Mullin and when it did not approve her employment agreement.

Colombo ruled last week that an arbitrator must decide that matter. Paterson, however, said the airport authority could have joined his lawsuit in challenging the legality of Mullin's airport contract.

"They had an opportunity to fight her contract right from the get go and they chose not to," he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment