If anyone reads the exchange below between a Michigan state government bureaucrat and a Montcalm County property owner way back in 1997, when John Engler, a Republican, was governor, things become clear.
WARNING: This is FUNNY, once you get past the first letter, written by the bureaucrat. Here it is:
GRAND RAPIDS DISTRICT OFFICE
STATE OFFICE BUILDING 6TH FLOOR
350 OTTAWA NW
GRAND RAPIDS MI 49503-2341
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
HOLLISTER BUILDING, PO BOX 30473, LANSING MI 48909-7973
INTERNET: http://www.deq.state.mi us
RUSSELL J. HARDING, Director
Mr. Ryan DeVries
Pierson, MI 49339
Dear Mr. DeVries:
SUBJECT: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023-1 T11N, R10W, Sec. 20, Montcalm County,
It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent
unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity: Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond.
A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department’s files show that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301,. Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated.
The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris dams and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all unauthorized activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the strewn channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 1998. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff.
Failure to comply with this request, or any further unauthorized activity on the site, may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action.
We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.
David L. Price,
Land and Water Management Division
David L. Price
Land and Water Management Division
Grand Rapids District Office
State Office Bldg., 6th Floor
350 Ottawa, N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2341
Dear Mr. Price:
Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N, R10W, Sec 20; Montcalm County
Your certified letter dated 12/17/97 has been handed to me to respond to. You sent out a great deal of carbon copies to a lot of people, but you neglected to include their addresses. You will, therefore, have to send them a copy of my response.
First of all, Mr. Ryan DeVries is not the legal landowner and/or contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan — I am the legal owner and a couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood “debris” dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, nor authorize their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of natural building materials “debris”. I would like to challenge you to attempt to emulate their dam project any DAM time and/or any DAM place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no DAM way you could ever match their DAM skills, their DAM resourcefulness, their DAM ingenuity, their DAM persistence, their DAM determination and/or their DAM work ethic.
As to your DAM request the beavers first must fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity, my first DAM question to you is: are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers or do you require all DAM beavers throughout this State to conform to said DAM request? If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, please send me completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits. Perhaps we will see if there really is a DAM violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated. My first concern is – aren’t the DAM beavers entitled to DAM legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said DAM representation — so the State will have to provide them with a DAM lawyer.
The Department’s DAM concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event causing DAM flooding is proof we should leave the DAM Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them DAM names. If you want the DAM stream “restored” to a DAM free-flow condition – contact the DAM beavers – but if you are going to arrest them (they obviously did not pay any DAM attention to your DAM letter — being unable to read English) — be sure you read them their DAM Miranda rights first. As for me, I am not going to cause more DAM flooding or DAM debris jams by interfering with these DAM builders. If you want to hurt these DAM beavers — be aware I am sending a copy of your DAM letter and this response to PETA. If your DAM Department seriously finds all dams of this nature inherently hazardous and truly will not permit their existence in this DAM State — I seriously hope you are not selectively enforcing this DAM policy — or once again both I and the Spring Pond Beavers will scream prejudice!
In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their DAM unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more DAM right than I to live and enjoy Spring Pond. So, as far as I and the beavers are concerned, this DAM case can be referred for more DAM elevated enforcement action now. Why wait until 1/31/98? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the DAM ice then, and there will be no DAM way for you or your DAM staff to contact/harass them then.
In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention a real environmental quality (health) problem; bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the DAM beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! (The bears are not careful where they dump!)
Being unable to comply with your DAM request, and being unable to contact you on your DAM answering machine, I am sending this response to your DAM office.
Fast-talking Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson did her best to ‘snow’ an “Off the Record” panel of journalists on Michigan Public Television last week-end, but this particular episode (#4,834 on Tim Skubick’s record-setting list) should be entitled “Home of the Whopper.”
We won’t say “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” Let’s just say Benson put a serious dent in the truth while answering the assembled scribes.
Benson made two startling pronouncements. First, she said that, despite a recommendation of her own Elections Bureau to the contrary, she determined for the first time ever that the graphic “Gretchen Whitmer candidate for governor” embedded in a TV ad last summer was an example of “express advocacy” and therefore illegal as an issue ad.
Benson implied that her brave, bold new interpretation of the law probably caught the ad’s sponsor, Build a Better Michigan (BBM), by surprise. That is why Benson says she decided to “set a precedent” by imposing a fine of only $37,500 against BBM for making illegal expenditures totaling over $2.4 million. The levy was just 2% of the illegal expenditure, one of the lightest campaign fines in Michigan history for the offense committed. But it “sends a message,” Benson bragged.
Secretary Benson was a career academic whose specialty supposedly included campaign finance law. Benson surely is familiar with footnote 52 in Buckley v Valeo, the landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance decision, which lists the so-called magic words “express advocacy.” Footnote 52 was codified into the Michigan Campaign Finance Law in 2013 in MCL 169.206 (2)(j). Secretary Benson conveniently omits those facts. She also omits the fact that in 2014-2015 the Department of State levied a $17,000 fine against the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation (MJLF), which amounted to 100% of the illegal expenditure made by MJLF for ads that, although intended to be issue ads, were mistakenly broadcast using words of express advocacy (Horn for State Senate and Zorn for State Senate), making them illegal. Secretary Benson is now trying to rewrite history that the BBM complaint somehow required a new interpretation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act just because BBM used the graphic “Gretchen Whitmer candidate for governor.”
The second startling pronouncement Secretary Benson made during the Off the Record interview was that the Elections Bureau staff first recommended that the complaint be dismissed. Was that recommendation to her or to then-Secretary Ruth Johnson before the latter left office at the end of last year? If so, how did the current Elections Bureau staff reconcile the handling of the MJLF complaint* in 2014-2015, when Chris Thomas was Director of Elections, with its recent recommendation to dismiss and later to reach such a laughably small fine in the settlement agreement with BBM?
Who in the Elections Bureau recommended dismissal of the complaint? Buckley v Valeo is, after all, a 43-year old case. It’s a case that should be familiar to all campaign finance attorneys.
Should Benson return to teaching to give her Elections Bureau staff a remedial course? No, wait! Not her. Rather, somebody who knows the law and will tell the truth about it, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — and enforce it.
* To read the Conciliation Agreement with MJLF signed by Chris Thomas in early 2016 on behalf of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, go to the second page of the link below. The correct citation of the “magic words” codification is MCL 169.206 (2)(j).
It depends on what they decide to pay themselves — and that can turn out to be a lot.
About 10 months from now, applications will go in the mail to Michiganders who want to serve on the new Commission created by voter approval last Nov. 6 of Proposal 2, the Voters Not Politicians (VNP) Constitutional Amendment that will redraw maps of the state’s Congressional and legislative districts for the ensuing decade.
Anyone who read the text of Proposal 2 should know it provides that the compensation to be paid a Redistricting Commissioner is to be “at least 25% of the compensation of the Governor.” A quarter of the Governor’s salary ($177,600) in 2020 will be $44,400. A plain reading of that constitutional amendment means that 25% of the compensation of the Governor is a floor not a ceiling.
Proposal 2 further provides that the Commission will have an operating budget of “at least 25% of the Department of State’s general fund budget.” Most importantly, the VNP Amendment requires that the Redistricting Commission be indemnified from the state’s treasury if the Legislature does not appropriate sufficient funds for Commission operations. In other words, if lawmakers don’t give the panel what it wants, Commissioners can spend it, anyway.
Fact is, Proposal 2 created an omnipotent new state agency with little or no accountability to anyone.
Passage of Proposal 2 allows the Redistricting Commission to exercise both legislative and executive branch functions. Neither the Governor nor any of her department directors that oversee the state’s budget will have any control over the fiscal management of the Commission. The Governor cannot by executive order reduce the Commission’s funding, or the Commissioners’ salaries. The Governor cannot remove a Commissioner. It would require a vote of 10 of the 13 Commissioners to remove a fellow Commissioner.
The first time the Redistricting Commissioners will meet after their selection will be on October 15, 2020. The Commission is given the authority in the VNP Amendment to elect a Chairperson. The Commission shall have the sole power to make its own of rules of procedure. The Commission shall have procurement and contracting authority. It is empowered to hire staff, consultants and legal representation. Nothing in the text of the VNP Amendment prevents a Commissioner at that first meeting or any subsequent meeting from offering a resolution to pay each Commissioner a higher salary. Secretary Benson has no veto power over Commission decisions.
For example, any Commissioner could propose a salary of, say, $161,000 for each member — based on $1,000 for each of the 161 districts the Commission will draw (110 state house, 38 state senate and 13 Congressional). If that motion receives seven affirmative votes from Commissioners, their salaries would be increased. Is that outrageous? If such action was to be challenged in court, a state Supreme Court majority which voted last summer, 4-3, to put Proposal 2 on the ballot would almost certainly conclude that “at least” means a floor, not a ceiling.
Because the VNP Amendment requires at least 10 public hearings to be held across the state to solicit public input, and at least five public hearings for each proposed redistricting plan, nothing prevents the Commission, as part of its compensation package, to include for each Commissioner a leased car. That’s not unthinkable — the Detroit School District until recently provided each of its board members with a car and driver.
Demographically, will the composition of the Redistricting Commission, itself, give the Commissioners a financial incentive to transform themselves from what most have thought will be a part-time into a full-time position by substantially increasing Commissioner compensation? The Michigan Legislature, from our founding as a state in 1837 until 1964, was part-time before it expanded its role over the next decade into full-time status.
Proposal 2 mandated that the 13 Commissioners must have no governmental or political experience, yet they are faced with the daunting task of setting up a new governmental agency, hiring staff, receiving training on the law of redistricting, drawing maps and conducting public hearings. The magnitude of the challenges facing the Commissioners has been laid out in a new 48-page publication produced by The Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, entitled “A COMMISSIONER’S GUIDE TO REDISTRICTING IN MICHIGAN.”
But wait! Maybe Secretary Benson, who has written a book on election law and considers herself a national expert on apportionment, can play a dominant role behind the scenes directing those 13 neophytes in their training and hiring decisions.
Don’t count on it. Benson surely must realize how bad she looked in her recent botched attempt to reach a settlement before trial in the federal redistricting lawsuit brought by former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, who serves as co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the litigation. A three-judge federal panel rejected Benson’s plan. Benson then declined to present a defense of the state law during the trial, further infuriating skeptics about the impartiality of the Secretary.
Also this month, Benson has been blasted for fining a pro-Gretchen Whitmer soft money 527 non-profit a mere $37,500 for illegally spending $2.4 million in TV ads run during the 2018 Democratic primary election campaign. Several key officers of that outside group now work in the Governor’s office.
No, Benson realizes all too well that she must have plausible deniability about any perception that she might be trying to control or manipulate the Commission. So she announced last week that she will appoint a “director” of the Commission, ostensibly to guide and supervise the clueless neophytes, although it is difficult to imagine such a director would disagree on anything with Benson.
In less than two months on the job, Benson has already achieved a reputation as the most partisan SoS in six decades, since Owen J. Cleary in 1953-54. Before he was elected, Cleary had been the Michigan REPUBLICAN Party chairman, from 1949-’53. Cleary was toppled in 1954 by Democrat James Hare, a Michigan State University professor, who served in the office for a then-record 16 years and was considered “unbeatable.” Hare’s record tenure was broken by Democrat Richard Austin, who served a new record 24 years until he was ousted by Republican Candice Miller in 1994. It took three Republican females — Miller, Terri Land, and Ruth Johnson— a combined six four-year terms to match Austin’s time in the office.
Now comes Democrat Benson, not a native Michigander, elected in the “Puce Wave” 2018 election. No, she was never a Michigan Democratic Party chair, but with Mark Brewer standing by, does that matter?