Whitmer official burned documents related to COVID rule enforcement

Whitmer official burned documents related to COVID rule enforcement

The documents related to a fine on the city of Port Huron.

An official from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office admitted to burning public records and destroying government emails associated with a fine on the city of Port Huron for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions set by a Whitmer executive order.

Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector Matthew Hartman fined the city for the alleged violations in July 2020. Port Huron appealed the fine, spending more on its defense than the proposed $6,300 fine itself. During a lengthy deposition on Oct. 12, Hartman admitted to burning notes he took while investigating the alleged violation and deleting email exchanges between him and his supervisor.

Hartman contended he did not observe anyone directly violating COVID-19 rules, but rather was told by employees that they occurred. When pressed by Port Huron’s lawyer, Toddy Shoudy, Hartman agreed that his standard was guided by the specific language of Whitmer’s executive order.

Port Huron denies committing any health and safety violations. Shoudy noted that, even if the city had committed any violations, the inspector’s attempt to enforce orders already ruled unconstitutional by Michigan’s Supreme Court would deem the fines void.

On Oct. 15 Shoudy informed MIOSHA he would also depose Director Bart Pickelman, who approved Hartman’s citation. Six days later, the agency abruptly decided to dismiss the case.

The many small businesses in Michigan that have been targeted by Whitmer’s administration have been especially hard hit by this case. Unable to finance legal fees for an appeal that outweigh the unsubstantiated – and even unconstitutional – fines by MIOSHA, small businesses have been forced to accept the fines without trial, facing the reputational repercussions of the agency’s press releases naming these businesses.

Port Huron City Manager James Freed called on the Michigan Legislature to investigate MIOSHA, calling this a “sloppy attempt” to disparage city employees and a perfect example of the agency’s harsh treatment of businesses during an already difficult time.

This is far from the first time Whitmer’s administration has displayed issues with transparency. Both Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and former director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Steve Gray received taxpayer-funded severance deals from Whitmer that kept the details of their employment and dismissal under wraps with gag orders.

The governor has also failed to act on her campaign promise of extending Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to the governor’s office.

Michiganders deserve transparency and intact public records.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!