There was no room at the inn last Tuesday when users of the Walloon Lake Water System, county officials, a quorum of township leadership, and interested members of the public sat in the Melrose Township Hall to hear the details of the Dennis Hass case from Charlevoix County Prosecutor Allen Telgenhof who had recently dropped all charges against Hass in exchange for $7,500 in restitution and an agreement to stop the alleged activities that had customers of his water system upset.
No room, that is, for myself.
Despite my plans to attend to cover the meeting and inform the community, I was informed by e-mail by Mr. Telgenhof that because of the alleged victims’ right to privacy, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend. And so, as people filed in one-by-one, I sat on a bench outside the hall and listened to their stories.
I spoke to George Lasater who was allowed to attend at the request of his constituents, although he was neither a victim nor party to the lawsuit.
I spoke to another couple whose connection was described as, “We know someone who is involved.”
So the right to privacy extended to alleged victims doesn’t apply to politicians and interested people, only to the news team headed up by a guy with a decade of experience in balancing the right to privacy and the right to know?
So I’m forced to speculate: what wasn’t I allowed to see?
What happened inside that public, taxpayer-funded building during that meeting of several dozen water system users, a County Commissioner, two members of the prosecutorial staff, a quorum of the township board, and the interested guy from down the street?
If indeed there was information exchanged that was confidential and private, then our public officials didn’t do as they intended to create a safe, private environment for the exchange of information. If that were the situation, the only people allowed in that room should have been those named in the lawsuit—roughly 14 sought actual recompense—as victims and the prosecutorial staff working on the case.
If there wasn’t anything confidential then, frankly, I sat out in the cold holding my bladder for nothing. I was left outside on a bench for some other reason, but why?
This brings me now to my original question. Why was the press (and only the press) not allowed to attend this meeting?
Well, the answer soon became clear.
It later came out that the said water system may very well be purchased by Melrose Township, and that a quorum of the board was present during this meeting.
So, to sum it all up for everyone’s benefit, a quorum of the Melrose Township Board, along with members of the public and County officials met inside Melrose Township Hall to discuss, among other things, the possible purchase of the water system by Melrose Township, and the press was barred by the Charlevoix County Prosecutor to protect the rights of the crime victims?
Nice job, Mr. Telgenhof. I’m less than impressed.