FOIA Proves AG’s Office Scrambled to Make Private E-mail Public

A memo sent by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s senior advisor, Rusty Hills, regarding Schuette’s Flint investigation was never public despite Schuette’s staff insisting as much when the memo was brought to their attention, a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Great Lakes Beacon has found.

Last week, the GLB obtained an e-mail sent by Hills from his personal Gmail account during work hours, shortly after Schuette held a press conference announcing new charges in the Flint Water Crisis investigation. Hills, who has worked as Schuette’s campaign manager, used his official title of “senior advisor” in the e-mail discussing state business.

State law requires that government e-mails be preserved, and campaign finance law prohibits state employees from doing political work at taxpayer expense.

On June 19th, the GLB reached out to Hills and Schuette spokesperson Andrea Bitely for further information about who the memo was sent to, why Hills was using his personal e-mail, and more. That e-mail was sent around 12:11 p.m.

Bitely responded at 1:24 p.m., “The memo you are referring to is a public memo shared as a supplementary explanation of the AG’s announcement Wednesday,” she wrote. “As such, I am happy to provide you with a link to where this is housed on the Department website (link to pdf provided), alongside the press releases, report and other public documents here: (link to Flint-related materials provided).”

But it appeared the page Bitely said was public was only created at 12:49 p.m. that day, after the GLB inquired about the memo, by Beth Nurenberg, an analyst for the Department of Attorney General.

Now, a FOIA returned by the attorney general’s office proves the office was indeed trying to cover it up by calling what was clearly not a public e-mail, public.

At 12:27 p.m. – roughly 15 minutes after the GLB inquired about the memo – Bitely sent an e-mail to Harmony Glashower, a department analyst, to have items added to the AG’s Flint Water Crisis webpage, including the memo. Bitely forwarded the e-mail to Nurenberg within 10 minutes of the request to Glashower.

Nurenberg, around 1:05 p.m., sent an e-mail to Bitely saying she was still working on the press release. Bitely responded, “Can you change the header to say ‘Press Releases, Memos and Reports’? That will clear it all up.”

By 1:29 p.m., Nurenberg e-mailed Bitely to indicate she was done.

It was around this time, of course, that the GLB was told the documents were public. Within five minutes, the GLB requested more information in a response to Bitely: “When was this posted online, where it’s currently at? Why is Rusty using a personal email for it? Is there a list of recipients he sent the e-mail to?”

Bitely never responded to those requests for comment.

The AG’s office is in the middle of a lawsuit with Progress Michigan over the use of personal e-mails on state time. The lawsuit states that, while doing previous FOIA requests, Progress Michigan discovered numerous personal emails being used by Schuette and his staff to conduct state business. Progress Michigan sent a FOIA request asking for the emails that used those personal emails to conduct state business. Schuette’s office denied the request saying the department “does not possess” the emails, despite the fact that Progress Michigan has proof that such emails exist.

By Danielle Emerson


Great Lakes Beacon

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