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Citizens sue Houghton over alleged violation

HOUGHTON — The City of Houghton is facing a civil suit alleging meetings of the Lakeshore Drive Redevelopment Committee violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Benjamin Ciavola, Marilyn Cooper and Frank Fiala are named as plaintiffs in the complaint, which attorney Evan Dixon hand-delivered to city officials at Wednesday’s Houghton City Council meeting. 

The suit alleges the committee repeatedly held meetings in private with no advance notice to the public, specifically citing meetings on Sept. 19, 2019, and Jan. 16. 

“Defendant has demonstrated a pattern of violating the OMA in failing to provide notice of meetings,” the complaint states. “Based on this pattern, Defendant is likely to continue violating the OMA in this manner unless enjoined from doing so.”

Michigan’s open meetings law requires public bodies to post a notice at least 18 hours before the meeting in a “prominent and conspicuous” place at both their principal office and on a publicly accessible part of its website. The requirement does not apply to conference committees of the state legislature, which must give at least a 6-hour notice, or to special meetings of subcommittees of a public body.

The LDRC deals with a potential redevelopment project on the space currently occupied by the large parking deck between Huron and Quincy streets. Last year, the city entered into discussions with Marquette-based developers The Veridea Group about possible mixed-use development on the site. If the city council approves of Veridea’s proposal, it would sell the land to Veridea. 

Ciavola, Cooper and Fiala are members of the Waterfront Redevelopment Citizens Group (WRCG), which formed to demand more public input into the Lakeshore Drive project.

The group successfully placed a non-binding resolution on Houghton’s August ballot recommending the city delay selling the property to a developer until a process for public input is developed. 

City Manager Eric Waara said after Wednesday’s meeting he could not fairly comment on the suit, as neither he nor the city’s attorney had read it. 

The plaintiffs ask the court to find Houghton has violated the OMA, prevent the city from holding future meetings without adequate notice, and award the plaintiffs attorney fees, costs and whatever other relief the court deems appropriate.

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