Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Eric VanDussen
. . . .

Eric VanDussen

Anne Stanton - July 26th, 2010
An Unlikely Reporter: Roughed up by a cop 18 years ago,
Eric VanDussen has never forgotten
By Anne Stanton
If you missed watching Archie Kiel’s marijuana trial reported this
week in the Express, you can still turn to Channel 97 and catch it in
its entirety on Up North TV. Same with Joni Holbrook’s admission to
second-degree murder earlier this month when she confessed to
“snapping” after years of her husband’s alleged emotional, sexual, and
physical abuse.
Eric VanDussen, 35, is behind the video camera at these trials, and
he does it for free. He also reports for the Benzie County
Record-Patriot and WIAA, the public radio station in Interlochen that
actually pays pretty well.
Before VanDussen became a full-time freelance reporter in January, he
worked as a construction worker, trying to fit in reporting on the
side. He’s not a trained journalist, but he certainly knows the law
and has arrived at his freelance career with a passion for fairness.
His presence in the courtroom and government meetings has changed the
way Benzie County does business because they know someone is watching
them, said Sheriff Rory Heckman.
“It makes some of the people who run the departments a little scared,
a little leery, and that’s good. We could do with more Eric
VanDussens. Everyone has a right to question their government, and
they damn well should, along with the decisions made. Eric asks
questions and I embrace that,” Heckman said.

VanDussen said his fire to write and report comes from a head-smashing
incident he endured at the hands of a Benzie County deputy. The date
he doesn’t even have to think about—January 25, 1993.
He was a troubled 17-year-old teen at the time with a drinking problem
and legally emancipated from his family. Just before midnight, on
January 23, he walked about a mile through the cold air to play cards
at a party in Benzonia. He arrived about an hour after a group of five
guys had beat up his friend, who escaped out the window.
To make a long story short, two of the teens came back to finish the
job. The kid saw them at the door and escaped, making VanDussen the
new bulls-eye. The fight was fierce and quick.
“They smashed beer bottles over my head, took chairs, smashed them on
me, broke the chairs, took the broken pieces and started beating me
with them, and this is in the police report.
“I carried a knife all the time with me; it was kind of stupid,” he
continued. “I acknowledge that now, but I thought it was cool, and I
had taken it off a belt clip, and it was laying on a table right next
to me, when they busted in the door. I grabbed it off the table, and
pulled it out when I was backed in the corner. The one kid jumped on
me, and that’s when I stuck him (near his throat and in the chest)… He
was injured very badly. I freaked out and took off,” he said.
He consulted with the mother of his temporary family and decided to
turn himself into the sheriff’s department and tell them what
happened. Within 12 hours, the prosecutor exonerated him and refused
to press charges, although he did file felonious assault charges
against the two teens, who were later convicted.  The boy who was
stabbed received stitches and was released the same day from Paul
Oliver Memorial Hospital.

VanDussen’s troubles weren’t over, though. When he went to school, the
high school principal told him he didn’t want him at a basketball game
without supervision. VanDussen, bruised and battered from the night
before, explained that the prosecutor had exonerated him and that
supervision wasn’t required at athletic events. It ended in a
confrontation and VanDussen using the f-word. A Benzie County
Sheriff’s deputy arrived and asked him to step outside. VanDussen said
he wouldn’t leave unless arrested, and again told this authority
figure to f- off. At that point the deputy allegedly slammed VanDussen
against the wall and smashed his face into two sets of swinging doors.
He then allegedly grabbed VanDussen by his hair and threw him into his
police vehicle.
VanDussen was found guilty of attempted resisting and obstructing
arrest and disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. He was found not guilty
for trespassing.
The conviction was overturned a year later by 19th Circuit Court James
Batzer who wrote in his opinion that VanDussen had not disturbed the
peace and did not require supervision at a sports event. “Since no
violation of law had occurred, defendant should not have been
arrested,” he wrote.
Swearing at school violates school rules, but is not a criminal
offense. Since the arrest was unlawful, the defendant was “justified
in using such reasonable force as is necessary to prevent or to resist
the arrest,” Batzer wrote, citing the Michigan case, People v. Gray.

To this day, VanDussen, who was expelled from high school (he was a
junior), wishes he would have sued the sheriff’s department. Instead,
he went onto earn a GED and began working construction jobs. But he
never forgot.
Fast forward six years to 1999. Russ Townsend was at home when his
wife called 9-1-1 to complain about a drunk and obnoxious man whom the
couple was trying to kick out of the house. The only problem was that
the responding five or six deputies assumed she was calling about her
husband. When they went to arrest Townsend, he told the deputies to
“They beat Townsend up pretty bad, just like they did me,” VanDussen
said. Townsend sued the department in federal court. VanDussen got
wind of the lawsuit and offered to help Bloomfield Hills attorney,
John Peters, research the case. His assignment: to prove a pattern of
police misconduct and to gather witnesses for the trial.
That’s when VanDussen became intimately acquainted with the state and
federal Freedom of Information (FOI) laws that allow citizens to
obtain information from any public body, which must hand over the
requested documents, unless it’s specifically exempted in the law.
VanDussen requested from the sheriff’s department all citizen
complaints, depositions, and the amount of settlements paid out since
1980—all fair game under FOI.
Bob Blank, the sheriff at the time, and the county Board of
Commissioners (which had records of the settlements) refused to
fulfill the FOI requests, so VanDussen sued them both.  “I didn’t know
what I was doing, so I winged it. I looked at other people’s lawsuits
and modeled mine after theirs. I found there was no way they could
withhold it from me.”

VanDussen served as his own attorney at the beginning, but two
attorneys eventually took it over, their fees contingent on VanDussen
winning his case.
Lawsuits mounted as time went along. The county board of commissioners
had the habit of going into closed session to discuss lawsuits filed
against them, including the FOI suits, yet without stating a
justifiable reason to do so, as required by the Open Meetings Act.
“They did it ten different times, and the only way to get minutes of a
closed session is to sue, and so I did. This was around 2004, 2005,”
VanDussen said.
Again, he won. The judge ordered the county to produce the minutes.
The county’s legal fees, court costs, and contempt sanctions related
to VanDussen’s lawsuits totaled more than $240,000. They were also
ordered to pay about $50,000 to compensate VanDussen for his attorney
fees. VanDussen himself only received $1,500, the maximum amount
allowed under the law ($500 per lawsuit). Batzer wrote in his decision
that Blank’s refusal to comply with the FOIA requests were “arbitrary
and capricious.” In 2006, Batzer held Benzie County in contempt for
not providing the requested documents and imposed a $10,000 sanction

So once VanDussen finally did receive the information he was
looking for, what did he find? The county taxpayers since 1980 had
unknowingly dished out more than $2 million for court and legal fees,
and settlements.
And Townsend’s case? VanDussen was one of the eight witnesses who
testified about their experiences with the county deputies. Townsend
ultimately settled with the county for $60,000. VanDussen received
nothing except a little satisfaction.
Benzie County had it rough for a while. The Traverse City Record-Eagle
was also going after the department over the FOI issue and won a
lawsuit. Eventually, Sheriff Blank was punished by voters who rejected
two millage requests, forcing the department to make drastic cuts.
Blank is now out and Rory Heckman took office in 2008.
Heckman has nothing but praise for VanDussen, who said he did the
right thing by going through the court system to address his
“Eric spent a lot of time learning, a lot of time schooling himself,
asking questions; he’s very intuitive,” he said. “He’s even argued his
cases in front of a law judge and won. Those early days were
challenging. But Eric and I get along very well because I understand
the Freedom of Information Act. There’s no argument here. What do you
need? I’ll give it to you.  I do that with all requests. The law is
black and white, there are not a lot of gray areas, and we rarely have
any differences.”
VanDussen also learned the criminal system, he said.
  “I told him, ‘You should have gone to law school.’ He writes well.
He’s logical in his arguments. The other departments, when they go
against him, they soon find out, he’s right. Some actually fear him,
to be honest with you. That’s a good thing. Here’s why. Government has
to be transparent at all levels, and, as soon as they try secret
talks, double-dipping, that’s bad; that’s not what people want in
their government, even on a local level. No backroom dealing—and
that’s what Eric has done for Benzie County.”

As his credibility has grown as a journalist,  VanDussen began
reporting for newspaper and public radio, as well as providing news
tips to the Traverse City Record-Eagle and TV 7&4. Dateline, the
national TV show, talked to him about the Holbrook case.
“We were talking about the case, and they asked me, ‘How good looking
is she? What about the attorney? The prosecutor? Then they looked at
my videotapes on Up North TV. They thought her attorney, Jesse
Williams, wasn’t bad, but they decided she didn’t fit the bill,” he
Despite Dateline’s abrupt lack of interest, VanDussen’s taping
provided viewers a chance at unsanitized glimpses into her life that
have gone unreported. Forensics pathologist Stephen Cohle testified
about the autopsy and determined that Paul Holbrook had an old head
injury in his frontal lobe that could have caused behavioral problems.
Second, he showed evidence of several minor heart attacks. And third,
he had rings on both his nipples.
The defense attorney also asked him repeatedly about whether
Holbrook’s penis had been pierced for a ring (an indication of sexual
kinks) to which Cohle responded, he didn’t see any hole, although he
wasn’t looking.
“Eric deserves some real credit for contributing to community access
TV, and calling to our attention the raw material in the pretrial,
difficult adult stuff,” said Joe VanderMuellen, executive director of
LIAA and Up North TV. “He suggested we review it with our advisory
committee, and we felt it showed foresight and concern for our
community.” The advisory committee decided to allow the video to run
after 8 p.m. in order to reduce the risk of children watching it
unsupervised. “We chose a very conservative path in terms of showing

VanDussen feels that he’s been vindicated over the years by public
officials, as well as those in the media. As if to prove it,
VanDussen, who was sitting in the county commissioner’s meeting room
for this interview,  said an enthusiastic hello to a Mark Roper. He
introduced him as a county commissioner he once sued.  Roper gave a
friendly hello back.
“I think public perception of me has definitely changed, even if
people may still not appreciate everything that I do,” VanDussen said.
“A lot of people were irritated that I cost the county a boatload of
money. They thought I was after the money;  it took some time for them
to realize that I wasn’t getting any. The money that was spent was the
county trying to defend themselves against my lawsuits to get public
records that I had every right to obtain. Now my relationship with
public officials and law enforcement is completely different than it
was 10 or 11 years ago.
“I am having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, even though I’m
dirt poor. I wake up in the morning and I don’t feel like my body is
going to fall apart because that’s what construction work was doing to

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