What started as Gov. Whitmer’s administration threatening businesses – that allegedly violated her COVID-19 rules later deemed unconstitutional – ended with the first-term Democrat’s administration dismissing a complaint and burning documents.
The Detroit News first reported the story, citing an Oct. 12 deposition of Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) Inspector Matthew Hartman, who fined the City of Port Huron $6,300 after a July 21, 2020, visit that followed a complaint alleging violation of COVID-19 rules.
Despite Hartman not witnessing anyone not wearing a mask, violating COVID-19 rules, he claimed employees he interviewed saw violations.
“When asked about notes he took during the investigation and interviews, Hartman said he burned them,” the News reported. “The inspector also said he destroyed emails from his supervisor regarding the case.”
It’s unclear why. Neither MIOSHA nor Whitmer’s office responded to a request for comment. Port Huron argued the rules Hartman attempted to enforce didn’t apply since the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Whitmer’s executive orders pertaining to the pandemic were unconstitutional.
On Oct. 15, Port Huron’s lawyer Todd Shoudy notified the department he also planned to depose MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. Six days later, MIOSHA said it planned to dismiss its case, the News reported.
City Manager James Freed called on the Michigan legislature to investigate MIOSHA's governance structure and appeal process.
“My heart breaks for all the small businesses and mom-and-pops that didn’t have an expert legal team, who didn’t have the resources to put MIOSHA under oath,” Freed told the News about the city’s roughly $15,000 to $20,000 appeal cost.
While MIOSHA cites its general duty to protect Michiganders, the deposition suggests Whitmer’s executive orders led MIOSHA’s rule enforcement.
“So it sounds like the measure, the standard that you were measuring employers by, though, was the specific language of the executive orders in determining whether or not there was a general duty clause violation, true?” Shoudy asked, the transcript says.
“I would say that’s true, yes,” Hartman responded.
The News reported that MIOSHA declined to answer questions about the case in a Saturday statement because the dismissal still needed to be reviewed by the Board of Health and Safety Compliance and Appeals set for Nov. 19.
The Michigan Freedom Fund called on Whitmer to apologize and rescind every MIOSHA fine and order related to her COVID-19 orders.
Despite the initial $6,300 fine for Port Huron, Landshark Bar and Grill, an East Lansing bar where Whitmer violated her own COVID-19 rules in May, wasn’t fined.
“During her campaign for governor, Whitmer promised to make state government more open, transparent, and accountable. Instead, the culture she has created empowers and allows officials to burn documents and delete emails,” MFF Executive Director Tori Sachs said in a statement. “The destruction of documents and emails should be fully investigated and Whitmer should reveal what her administration is trying to cover up.”
MIGOP Communications Director Gustavo Portela called for an investigation.
“It’s very clear Gretchen Whitmer and her administration abandoned transparency, a key part of her campaign promise to Michiganders,” Gustavo said in a statement. “She not only failed to follow the rules everyone else was forced to follow, but now we find out her administration has been disposing of important documents related to COVID fines. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration must be investigated because Michiganders deserve answers.”
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