Category Archives: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Sunshine Guardians

While I love the Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award, in a spirit of collaboration with Sunshine Review, we are adopting the new designation of Sunshine Guardian.

Due to the magic of the internet, you can now immediately write about your own story about a Sunshine Guardian and have it appear on the front page of Sunshine Review. Go to the Help page to see how to get started, and once you’ve written your article, simply type:

[[Category:Sunshine Guardians]]

…at the end, and your article honoring a Sunshine Guardian will appear on the front page and in the overall news category for sunshine activists.

Michael Butler: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Please meet our newest STOTW honoree, Michael Butler of Hallandale Beach, Florida.

Mike is the 46th recipient of our Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award, adding to our healthy crop of Florida sunshine lovers.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

According to Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper our STOTW is nothing but a political operative.

The mayor skates over or is unfamiliar with the part of the Florida Sunshine Law that says that why someone wants records is irrelevant. Lots of government officials in Florida have a similar misunderstanding.

As a result, Mayor Joy Cooper and four city commissioners voted last week to pay an attorney $185/hour to fight Butler’s records request.

Butler blogs at Change Hallandale. What he wants is very simple: He wants to know who received an email from Mayor Joy Cooper bragging about her record of mayoral accomplishments.

We welcome Butler to this exclusive fraternity of STOTWs and wish him the best in getting that email. Maybe he’ll get a $225,000 settlement as well.

Mark Stern: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Allow me to introduce you to Mark Stern. Mark is the 45th recipient of our Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Really, all our STOTWs cause a lot of trouble, so when I say that Mr. Stern is exceptionally troubling, I don’t mean to slight any other STOTW.

Mark is the plaintiff in Mark O. Stern v. Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unity School District 200, a case he is taking all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Mr. Stern wished to see the contract of the school district’s superintendent, Gary Catalani. (I know, I know: The Horror!) He was denied. He still hasn’t seen it. The district has spent now spent over $62,000 to defend its non-right to keep the superintendent’s contract secret.

The case isn’t about the fact that Catalini makes more than $380,000 a year. What Stern wanted to know was what, in the contract, justified that level of salary.

These pesky citizens!

Mr. Stern, bravo, bravo, to you. You are lighting a lamp in the darkness.

See also:

Mark Stern’s personal website.

Kay Mullins: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Allow me to introduce you to Kay Mullins of Winnebago County, Illinois. Kay is the 44th recipient of our Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

See: FOIA appeal going to Harlem board.

Kay earned her spurs as an STOTW when Harlem Township Supervisor Doug Aurand’s decided that for the sin of asking for copies of public documents, he was going to have to rebuke her and smite her mightily in the local newspaper by saying:

“These people are on what some people would call a political witch hunt. This woman is a political operative for my opponent. They’re trying anything they can to spear my 38 years as an elected official.”

Bad Kay!

What Kay Mullins is trying to get:

I’ve asked for expenditures, and I’ve been through the expenditures for the last 22 months. I’ve asked for a lot of details to back those expenditures up, and I’ve asked for their Freedom of Information Act policy…There’s a series of records they’ve been reluctant to give to me, such as bank statements and a trial balance (a balance of debits and credits recorded in bookkeeping ledger) for March 31, 2008. They said they probably didn’t have it.”

Or as the irate supervisor puts it:

“From Jan. 1, 2004 to the present, she has asked for every payment, phone bill, bank statements and invoices.”

Kay: Do you feel like you’re being told, “Just shut up and pay your taxes”?

Doug Aurand: Try putting your checkbook register online. That way, residents in your township won’t have to waste their time filing open records requests, and won’t have to undergo a unseemly public tongue-lashing from you, in order to gain access to information that everyone in your township should be able to access with the click of a mouse.

Steve Colbert: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Allow me to introduce you to Stephen Colbert, the 43rd recipient of the much-coveted Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award.

The Word: Locked and Loathed.

I rest my case.

Linda and Kurt Kurzmiller: Sunshine Troublemakers of the Week

It’s my privilege to introduce you to Linda and Kurt Kurzmiller of Shrewsbury Township, Pennsylvania. The Kurzmillers are the 41st/42nd recipients of the much-coveted Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Shrewsbury Twp. couple among first to file right-to-know appeal.

Under the new Freedom of Information law in Pennsylvania it is easier and more straightforward to file appeals of rejections. The first day the new law was in effect was January 15, and the Kurzmillers were the first to come to the new office to file an appeal.

Mr. and Mrs. Kurzmiller have been seeking copies of tax records from Shrewsbury Township relating to EML Codes Enforcement, a third-party vendor that provides building inspection services to the township. Township officials gave the Kurzmiller’s the information for some years, but not for 2004.

Jean Green is the township’s secretary and treasurer. As far as she is concerned, the Kurzmiller and their quest for information are an annoyance. “I’ve told them — I’ve told them three times, it does not exist.” Mr. Kurzmiller says that Greene grumbles at him whenever he drops by with a right-to-know request.

The Kurzmillers believe that the record for 2004 exists, but may not be in the physical keeping of the township at this time…and that this does not relieve that township of the legal obligation to secure the record from wherever it might have taken up domicile, such as at the business or residence of the third-party contractor.

And now, there is a state agency charged with mediating disputes like this, and not a moment too soon.

Carry on, Linda and Kurt Kurzmiller, with our thanks and best wishes.

Grace Caporuscio: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

I’m proud to introduce you to Grace Caporuscio, this week’s Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Grace is a parent in the Chippewa Valley, Michigan school district.

Her efforts have resulted in a state government review of spending in the school district including a $600,000 purchase of land, gift baskets sent to employees, catered meals and other spending that isn’t going into the classroom.

School administrators say the spending is “legal”…which isn’t the same as saying it was necessary or non-wasteful, is it?

Caporuscio is a dental hygienist, a mother of three, and also runs the website Chippewa Watch, which documents:

    School spending on meals at fine dining establishments such as Andiamo, Aspen Lodge, and Mr. Paul’s Chophouse.
    $688 for a Christmas party for 50 employees at Aspen Lodge featuring barbecued ribs, cheese trays and hot rolls.
    Stadium blankets that were used as gifts for school board trustees.
    And much, much more.

In our STOTW stories we always look to see which local VIP will take on the job of publicly insulting our engaged and effective STOTWs. This time it was the less-than-gracious head of the district’s school board.

Henry Chiodini, president of the Chippewa Valley Board of Education, said “There’s been no groundswell of support for them, it’s just two people from the same family.”

Perhaps the willingness of the powerful, connected folks in this school district to try to diminish and dis-empower people who want to make a difference is the reason that, as with so many of our STOTWs, they labor out on the edge.

Caporuscio recommends that the district begin to post its checkbook register online. I agree with that recommendation.

If the school district practiced lots of affirmative disclosure, Caporuscio wouldn’t have to spend her spare time trying to discover and share with the public information about the district’s spending habits.

Kudos to you, Ms. Caporuscio.

Florida STOTW Joel Chandler files more lawsuits and starts a website

We gave our STOTW award to Joel Chandler back in November 2008.

Chandler has become wildly controversial. He has started his own website, I Am Troublemaker (and he’s not kidding), where he brings up what his critics are saying, explains his project and links to ongoing press coverage.

See The “most hated man in Florida”? for some early January links.

This has not deterred Mr. Chandler — would it deter any of our STOTWs? — and he has now filed lawsuits against the Clay, Flagler, Marion, Orange, St. Johns, St. Lucie and Lee school districts.

Mike Gantt: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Mike Gantt of Gaston, South Carolina is this week’s Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week. Mr. Gantt is the 38th recipient of the STOTW award, and the first STOTW of 2009.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

See As Gaston leaders prospered, town suffered.

The population of Gaston is just a bit over 1,000 but it has a lot of problems:

Unopened bills spilled out of drawers and $8,000 in cash sat on the desk of the woman responsible for the day-to-day operations of Gaston government when help arrived in the summer of 2007.

For years, as the town sank deep into debt, Gaston officials and some relatives got jobs, bonuses, cell phones, meals and mileage reimbursements on the public’s dime.

The former police chief, who questioned how tens of thousands of dollars in traffic tickets were handled, found himself locked out of the offices of the town administrator and mayor.

Many problems came to light because of Mike Gantt’s efforts. A businessman, he began to suspect that all was not right in tiny Gaston following events in December 2007 when his son, recovering from brain surgery, was given a ticket for parking in a handicapped parking slot at a convenience store. Mr. Gantt began filing records requests under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and attending meetings.

Other residents joined his efforts and soon a tipping point was reached. Outside investigators helped figure out that all was not well.

Mr. Gantt: Congratulations. It takes courage to be the first to say that the emperor has no clothes.

Susan Siegel: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Susan Siegel of Yorktown, New York is this week’s Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week. Ms. Siegal is the 37th recipient of this increasingly coveted award.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

See Critic questions decisions behind Yorktown’s legal spending.

Ms. Siegel has become unpopular with those who govern Yorktown, a town of about 40,000 residents that has significant legal bills. According to the local newspaper:

Councilman Matthew Metz, an attorney, said the town must defend all lawsuits against it vigorously and regardless of merit. “No one can control who sues the town,” Metz said, “but we can make sure we protect the town’s interests.”

Siegel believes that the town would be better managed, and perhaps be less vulnerable to lawsuits, if it had a town manager. She heads up a committee to change the town’s governance to allow for that.

One of the lawsuits Yorktown defended itself against was filed by Siegel after the town denied a New York Freedom of Information Law request. They lost, had to give her the documents, and paid $6,000 to an attorney. Although town father Matthew Metz may be correct that the town has to defend itself vigorously against any and all lawsuits, perhaps it could have saved the $6,000 by just giving Siegel the documents it ended up giving her anyway.

The town is now charging Siegel $.25/copy when she asks for documents.

Siegel, in a line that could be used by STOTWs everywhere, says:

“Yes, I’m a thorn, but all I’m doing is exercising my rights, and what’s interesting is the information I’m finding out is not complimentary to the town. If government is not spending our money wisely, we have a right to find out.”