GRAND BLANC TWP. — Some tense moments punctuated the discussion last week when a Grand Blanc Township trustee accused Superintendent Dennis Liimatta of not following orders.
Trustee Joe Massey said neither Liimatta nor attorney David Lattie properly notified the Board of Trustees of two pending lawsuits against the police department.
“Many of us have asked the superintendent to tell us when someone files a complaint against the township, in advance,” Massey said. “The superintendent has totally ignored that. He has never notified any trustee about any complaint, a legal complaint. He has never. We had asked him to do that. He has ignored our request until something goes to the court.”
Supervisor Scott Bennett disagreed, saying he thinks the information was reported to the board.
“I am very confident we’ve been apprised of those,” Bennett said.
Both Liimatta and Lattie said they notified the board as soon as they became aware of the lawsuits.
Liimatta said when he receives information about litigation or potential litigation, he sends it directly to Lattie and it becomes subject to attorney-client privilege. He added that the board determined a year ago all information about legal issues should come to them through the township’s legal counsel.
“If the board wants me to report to you, I will be happy to do that,” Liimatta said. “I believe the appropriate way to do it is as it stands now. The legal updates are better coming from (Lattie).”
Massey said elected officials should be made immediately aware of any allegation against the township.
“There are certain things that go on in the township,” he said. “I hear from the residents. They come to me complaining. I don’t know anything about it. It puts me at odds.”
Lattie commented that Massey makes “an interesting point.”
Referring to one of the lawsuits, which harkens back to a letter the plaintiff sent to township officials earlier this year, Lattie said, “I look at the communication that came to us and it’s not technically a lawsuit, but it doesn’t mean the board shouldn’t know about it, consider it, analyze it. If someone is making allegations against Grand Blanc Township, the board needs to be informed and have discussion.”
One of the stumbling blocks to direct communication is that the township’s insurance company, Tokio Marine, hires outside law firms – usually McGraw Morris – to handle lawsuits against the township, Lattie said. Communication between McGraw Morris and the township has been a challenge, said Liimatta.
Lattie said he’s fine with keeping the board updated on all legal matters.
“The one caveat I want to address is I need direct contact with McGraw Morris and our insurance company,” Lattie said. “I want to make sure I’m not left out of the loop if our insurance counsel is handling it.
“I am happy to always report to you. I will discuss, ad nauseum, any case in Grand Blanc Township. I can’t report to you on things that have not been reported to me or Mr. Liimatta by the insurance company. That’s the only glitch I can think of.”
McGraw Morris is handling both cases that prompted the discussion last week.
One case, which is pending in District Court, alleges police damaged the plaintiff’s personal property while making an arrest.
The other complaint, which is in federal court, is more complicated and includes “a number of incendiary allegations” that the Grand Blanc Township police and others – including some residents of Grand Blanc, Prosecutor David Leyton and former Attorney General Bill Schuette – discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of his race, Lattie explained.
That case currently is in the hands of a magistrate who will review the allegations and determine whether the claim has sufficient merit to proceed, he said.
“The process is, a magistrate will review a complaint and determine if it meets the minimum thresholds to be considered an active case,” Lattie said.
Because the court has yet to certify the complaint, the township has not been formally served, he said.
Lattie said the plaintiff, in February, sent Clerk Cathy Lane an email and asked that it be read to the township board in its entirety.
“And his correspondence mentions a lawsuit, but really I’d characterize it more as just a cut and paste of different web addresses and emails and photographs,” Lattie said.
He later added that some of the allegations in the federal case are “patently ridiculous and false.”