ISHPEMING - Ahead of Tuesday's election where three of five members could be recalled from office, tensions erupted at a special Ishpeming City Council meeting Friday morning when two council members alleged that one of the council's members has been leaking confidential information.
The tension stemmed from information that was given to The Mining Journal last week regarding City Manager Jered Ottenwess' decision to interview for the city manager position in Ypsilanti, a decision he had disclosed only to the five members of the council.
"Before The Mining Journal article (Saturday, April 28), our manager met with each of the council members and explained the situation. And he asked to keep it confidential. He didn't want to leave the city, why he was doing it. He didn't have to tell us, but he's honest," Councilman John Stone said. "I believe someone has no respect, dignity, honor or morals. This is gutter politics at its worst. I always thought there was nothing lower than a snake's belly, but someone is."
Ishpeming Councilwomen Elaine Racine and Claudia Demarest react as fellow councilmember John Stone speaks, alleging someone on the council had leaked confidential information, specifically regarding City Manager Jered Ottenwess’ decision to interview for a position downstate.
Ottenwess confirmed to The Mining Journal that he was interviewing for the position, which would allow his family to move closer to relatives and closer to medical care required for one of his children. Other than that position, Ottenwess said he had no interest in leaving the city and was happy working and living in the community.
"In my opinion, the member who leaked this should resign in shame," Stone said.
Neither Stone nor Mayor Pat Scanlon, who also spoke on the issue, named which of the council members they suspected of the leak.
Scanlon said he had contacted the Michigan Municipal League regarding the leaking of confidential communication and would be following up with the city's attorney.
"I believe for a fact some council person leaked it," Scanlon said. "City staff did not know the reasons he (Ottenwess) was going or that he was going.
"This is the biggest crock of crap I've ever seen in my freaking life ... This man deserves much more respect than the back-stabbing b.s. he's got."
Scanlon said the council has run into the issue previously, particularly during union negotiations when the unions knew the details of closed-session negotiation sessions.
"There's been lots of underhanded, conniving stuff going on, and it's not in the best interest of the city," Scanlon said. "I'm fed up with it."
During the meeting, Councilwoman Elaine Racine refuted the claims that someone on the council had leaked the information.
"When you accuse a council member of leaking this, rather than calling them lower than a snake's belly... what you're doing is casting doubt on each and every one of us. We are not the only people who knew about this ... Word gets out. In order to accuse a council member, you would have to have absolute proof who did it," Racine said.
Following the meeting, Racine said she felt that the comments from Scanlon and Stone during the meeting could be an indication that one of them had leaked the information. Bringing the controversy up just a few days prior to the recall election was intentional to swing voters in favor of the recall, she said.
"What I'm thinking is he (Stone) and Scanlon made such a tirade against the three of us, did one of them do something?" she said. "Did one of them say something to get this out to make us look bad for the recall? He (Stone) cast a pall on all three of us."
Racine said she felt that if Stone had information that would indicate a specific council member leaking information, it should have been addressed ahead of the meeting.
Racine, along with Councilwoman Claudia Demarest and Councilman Mike Tall, who was absent from the meeting, are the three council members targeted by Tuesday's recall election, which stems from a conflict with former police chief Jim Bjorne.
Demarest did not address Stone and Scanlon's claims during the meeting.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.