Michigan Capitol Confidential (CapCon) is reporting today that the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., is selectively releasing what should be public information regarding Acton Institute’s tax status in an on-going dispute between Acton and the city.
Grand Rapids city officials gave detailed information about a tax dispute involving the Acton Institute to a select reporter, but not to the nonprofit fighting to prove it is a charitable organization, according to documents received through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In fact, an Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty official complained that the organization was struggling to get information about the appeal of its rejection of an application for tax exemption just two business days before a scheduled hearing.
City attorney Catherine Mish, while not communicating with the Acton Institute, has been exchanging emails with an MLive reporter regarding this dispute.
On March 6, Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish exchanged several emails with an MLive reporter. In one 280-plus word response to the reporter, Mish cited the state law the city was going to use against Acton and then laid out three examples of case law describing what they believe a “charitable institution” is for purposes of property tax exemption. The emails to the reporter also added the city’s concerns with Acton’s application.
“While the City agrees that the Acton Institute is a non-profit entity, the City was unable to verify that the Acton Institute qualified as a ‘charitable institution,’ ” Mish wrote in one of the emails. “I am left to question, what does the Acton Institute provide that would qualify as a charitable gift for the benefit of the general public?”
Meanwhile, Acton Institute Director of Finance Tom Vogt sent an email to City Commissioner Dave Shaffer complaining about the lack of response from the city, and that email has yet to be answered. Managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, Manny Lopez, noted that while the city has communicated with MLive, they’ve refused to answer questions from CapCon as well as the Acton Institute.
[T]he terse, and I’d say somewhat angry, response we got from Grand Rapids was over the top,” Lopez said. “I’m not sure why Grand Rapids thinks it’s OK to respond openly with some reporters but to purposefully shut out others, especially when we’re talking about public information and the use of public tax dollars.”