ELECTION 2021: Saline City Council Candidates on The Wastewater Treatment Violations and Transparency
Voters in the City of Saline will elect three citizens to Saline City Council in Tuesday's election. The candidates are incumbents Jim Dell'Orco, Jack Ceo and Kevin Camero-Sulak, and Brian Cassise.
Kevin Camero-Sulak chose not to answer our questions.
(Note: This question was originally asked and answered in September. The issue with the state has been settled.)
QUESTION: People running for office speak often of transparency. In your view, has the City been transparent about the WWTP's environmental violations and remedies?
Jack Ceo: We are just completing the finishing touches on the Administrative Consent Order (ACO) between the State’s office of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the City of Saline over the operation of the WWTP. Much of this work was performed on our behalf by our city attorneys. As we completed these negotiations, there were many issues to be hashed out with EGLE, and many of these issues were debated and settled by our attorneys on our behalf. It has been a long journey, beginning in March of 2020, and hopefully concluding with the Council meeting of September 13, 2021. During that time, in order to complete these negotiations with the best terms possible for our citizens, we met with our attorneys in closed session a number of times, and proffered many offers on the issues back and forth with EGLE. Due to the sensitive nature of these negotiations, these closed session meetings took place out of view of the public. These meetings were properly conducted under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as protected under the Attorney-Client privilege provision of FOIA. This was done as a careful balance between being transparent with our citizens, and serving in a manner so as to achieve the best possible outcome on their behalf. I firmly believe that we acted in a manner to achieve this delicate balance, and to obtain the best possible terms in the ACO.
Jim Dell'Orco: I have been deeply connected to this issue since I was first elected at the tail end of 2019. Shortly after I was made aware of the environmental violations, I became a staunch advocate for discussing the matter in public meetings as early as April of 2020. It was soon after, however, that the city attorneys advised both the mayor and council what we were entering into an Administrative Consent Order with the state and that the issue needed to be addressed in closed session as it was now a matter of pending litigation with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). At that point, the issue had become a subject of attorney-client privilege and therefore any public disclosure of details referencing the matter could potentially jeopardize our ongoing negotiations with EGLE. As difficult as it was, we as a body were not able to discuss the matter outside of our conversations with legal counsel. Now that the Administrative Consent Order is fully executed with EGLE the attorney-client privilege no longer applies. Both the fines and details surrounding the issue are now a matter of public record. At a recent council meeting, the mayor requested that any media inquiries related to this matter should be directed to the city manager. Is that in the spirit of transparency? I’ll let the public decide. I’ll also grant our city manager the benefit of the doubt. To my knowledge there has not been any inquiries from either the media or the public requesting further details related to the violations. If such requests solicit a public statement from the city manager that lacks transparency, or that I feel seeks to control the narrative around the issue, I am happy to tell you everything I know.
Brian Cassise: The city hasn’t been fully transparent with the WWTP system and it’s shortcomings.
My approach is:
- 1. Understand the needs of the system. Now and in 50 years.
- The associated costs
- Land and equipment requirements.
- Impact to the environment
- And bench mark other cities facilities to better understand what works and what doesn’t.
Currently, our WWTP isn’t living up to the expectations of all residents.
Also, if residents are straining the system by disposing of items that contribute to system failure, let’s communicate that so folks can assist with a smoother operation.
Kevin Camero-Sulak: Did not answer.