Documents related to a secret settlement agreement between Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former city police officers were released this morning after the city’s last ditch effort to maintain the documents’ secrecy was rejected by the Michigan Supreme Court.
After the city reached a settlement of $8.4 million with the police officers, who had claimed they were fired because they had information pertaining to the mayor’s alleged affair with his chief of staff, the city refused to release documents related to the settlement. The Detroit Free Press sued the city under state public records law to obtain the records, which are believed to include text messages between the mayor and his mistress proving the mayor lied about the affair in court.
In rejecting the city’s final appeal — and agreeing with the decisions of both lower courts — the Michigan Supreme Court found that exemptions within the state’s Freedom of Information Act do not pertain to settlement agreements. In response, the city’s attorney asserted that the court’s decision would frustrate future settlement agreements and lead to longer and more costly litigation in the state.
But really, from the public’s point of view, the city attorney’s justification is feeble at best. As long as we’re talking motivations enhanced by today’s document release, how about the incentive not to perjure one’s self or, perhaps, to refrain from firing city workers to cover up your misdeeds?
In clarifying that a Michigan municipality cannot pay out millions of taxpayer money and then hide the reasons for doing so by citing an agreement with the beneficiary of the payoff, the Michigan Supreme Court ensured that elected officials in the state may think twice before engaging in dishonest shenanigans that could be covered up through hush-money settlements.
Then again, they may not. Some powerful people will always think they can get away with anything. But today’s decision, at the very least, ensures that such deeds have a better chance of being revealed and their crooked perpetrators rightly punished.