State grants to Republican Party leader questioned
Apr. 2, 2020 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
By Don Howard
Individuals involved in what Plymouth Township officials described as state funding of “urban sprawl” may soon face public scrutiny regarding the ethics of their actions.
The approval of a 2018 supplemental spending bill that awarded a $10 million grant to Salem Township is again being examined.The 73 projects placed on the spending bill were said to be missing documentation.
The grant money was earmarked as funding to help Livonia builder Bobby Schostak install water and sewer lines for the construction of Salem Springs South, one of two planned subdivisions located in a 200-acre triangle bordered by M-14, Gotfredson Road, North Territorial and Napier roads on the northeast edge of Washtenaw County, just outside Plymouth Township.
Plymouth Township officials are guardedly critical of the development and questionthe possible impact on the township infrastructure, schools and public safety.
Legislators approved the funding on the last day of the lame duck Legislature session in December, 2018. The bill included $115 million for small projects across the state that were championed by Republican senators and representatives, including the project headed by Schostak, former chairman of the state Republican Party.
Former State Rep. Laura Cox, then chair of the House Appropriation Committee, now chair of the state Republican Party, was rumored to have fostered a prior Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MDEC) grant earmarked for the Salem Township project that was approved by the state Legislature in July 2017. At the time, Cox claimed to have no knowledge of the details was quoted as saying “( It’s) preposterous to believe that one person such as myself, a state rep, would have the ability to put a $10 million grant in the budget.”
To date, the builder has received $20 million to start construction.
According to a recent Detroit News article, former lawmaker and Grand Haven Republican Arlan Meekhof, who left office at the end of 2018, and several others involved in the approval of the grant, including his daughter, were the facilitators with allies who set up “social welfare” nonprofit groups that raised money from “mystery sources.”
Secret donors pumped money into the coffers of the former lawmaker who served two terms in the Michigan House and was later elected to the Senate and served for eight years. Records show 2018 financial supporters included 11 donors who contributed at least $20,000 each. Accordingly, the group had to disclose under federal tax law how much it received from individual large donors, but not who they were.
“One donor gave $150,000, according to the tax filing. Another gave $125,000. There were contributions of $82,800, $75,000 and $60,000. And three gave $50,000 each.”
Meekhof’s nonprofit, The American Jobs Council, reportedly has three directors, Steve Linder, a consultant who’s worked with senate republicans; Robert DeVries, a lobbyist who previously served as Meekhof’s chief of staff and Meredith Beidler, Meekhof’s daughter.
The Schostak project has now stalled for reasons unknown and Salem Township has not asked for the money, according to Township Supervisor, Gary Whitaker.
Whittaker said Schostak approached former Plymouth Township officials a few years ago to negotiate a deal for water and sewer usage. He saidSchostak officials then asked Salem Township to borrow the money through a bond that would be paid off by developer fees. Whittaker said his township declined to participate. Whittaker said he believesthe developer of the subdivision land would be responsible for all of the cost, as dictated by the township master plan for the area.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at the time she was frustrated with the approval of the grant money just days before she took office-but could do nothing to halt the spending. The current total cost estimate of bringing water and sewer to the area is $40 million. Later the state attorney general’s office said the grants were legal and should be funded.
According to Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the Department of Technology and Management, the actual wording of the grant in the law is open to a broad interpretation. It calls for spending the money “to encourage economic development and future growth in a small portion of the township. There is no mention of water and sewer lines; with the language vague enough to suggest the township could spend the money on other things,” Weiss said.
Bridge Magazine reported, in 2009, that Schostak’s company asked Salem Township to ask the federal government to fund the project and the township declined. That decision added to the contentious relationship between the township and Schostak Brothers & Co., Inc., with the Schostak Company taking legal action against the township. Whittaker later said the township would probably use the money for the utilities out of fear of being embroiled in more legal action.
Meekhof is said to be one of many politicians in Michigan and outside the state with allies who run so-called “social welfare” nonprofit groups that raise money from mystery sources. The former Michigan Senate Majority Leader had control of which bills would advance and become law and the organization led by allies collected “hundreds of thousand of dollars from secret donors,” as reported by the News.