Wednesday, June 13, 2018
MIDLAND — The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards launched a lawsuit today against Wayne State University for deliberately ignoring multiple Freedom of Information Act requests. The requested documents are related to questions about the qualifications and actions of Wayne State University personnel who were awarded millions of dollars in research funding after the water crisis became national news in early 2016.
Edwards is a professor of environmental engineering and an expert on water treatment and corrosion and has become well known in Michigan for being one of the first to call attention to the problems with the Flint water system. In April 2015 he assisted Flint resident LeeAnne Walters in sampling water from her home, revealing hazardous levels of lead. He later led a team of volunteers which helped reveal citywide water problems related to lead and a Legionella outbreak.
Edwards filed FOIA requests with state, federal and city government offices, uncovering problems. In May 2017, Edwards submitted the first of several FOIA requests to Wayne State University. These requests inquired about public rumors and conflicting information associated with the university’s research effort and allegations of conflicts between Wayne State employees and the state of Michigan. The goal was to provide greater transparency in the state's efforts to remediate and monitor the Flint water situation through a multimillion-dollar grant awarded to Wayne State via a sole-source research contract.
Later requests sought information regarding the qualifications of Dr. Shawn McElmurry, who helped win research grants from the National Institutes of Health. These activities are associated with the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership (FACHEP), which is a team of faculty from multiple universities investigating the situation in Flint since about mid-2016.
“Flint residents were receiving conflicting messages from the research team at Wayne State," said Edwards. "After asking questions and failing to receive simple answers, they felt they had no alternative to get the information they wanted by filing a FOIA. I am hoping the public can learn the truth about the now public conflicts between Wayne State and the state of Michigan — I am wondering if Wayne State is ignoring FOIA law because the documents reflect negatively on their employees.”
The Mackinac Center believes that the requested information should be open and available to the public. The university is a government entity and the state of Michigan has invested $3.35 million into the FACHEP team. Millions of dollars are also being spent in the ongoing and high-profile criminal trials, associated with management of the FACHEP grant and the recipients’ conflicts with the state of Michigan. Michigan residents deserve full access to these public documents and transparency over what their tax dollars have produced.
“The law is clear: Michigan citizens have a right to an open and transparent government,” said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney with the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. “Much of the information used to hold government accountable comes from FOIAs. When a government institution refuses to grant that information, they are standing in the way of complete transparency.”
View the legal filing with the Court of Claims and the FOIA requests and responses here.
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