Traverse City Record-Eagle

Meijer-Acme Township Dispute

May 16, 2009

Village at GT didn't report campaign expense

TRAVERSE CITY -- The Village at Grand Traverse LLC paid lawyers thousands of dollars to work on a 2005 Acme Township election campaign, but did not report the expense to state officials.

A Village official in lawsuit testimony last month said he was unaware he paid for campaign work in 2005. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land's office learned of the Village's campaign transactions in 2008, but excused officials from the Village because its development partner, Meijer Inc. assumed responsibility for campaign finance violations.

"There was no expectation for the Village of Grand Traverse to report. It didn't know it was making the election payments," said Ken Silfven, Land's spokesman. "Meijer paid for (the attorneys) and took full responsibility."

But critics contend the Village should have been required to disclose its financial role in attempting to shape a 2005 referendum on a "big-box store" moratorium in Acme.

"Wow, this just sounds like an open license for some parties to reinvent history, and I don't know how you hold parties responsible in an environment like that," said Rich Robinson, director of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Details of the Village's undisclosed financial role in the 2005 election emerged during deposition testimony from Steve Smith, the Village's managing partner. Former Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres is suing the Village, and Smith was deposed last month.

Plans by the Village and Meijer for a sprawling, mixed-use project pitted them against township officials in a zoning dispute. The battle led to lawsuits by the developers against township officials in 2005; Acme officials then turned the tables and sued the Village and Meijer for malicious prosecution.

In separate cases, Boltres in late 2007 agreed to an undisclosed financial settlement from Meijer to halt his lawsuit, while five other Acme officials recently received a $1.5 million settlement from Meijer and the Village to end their suit.

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