Not once, but twice in the space of a week, Gov. Snyder’s “Transformation Manager”, Richard Baird, has threatened his critics with SLAPP suits — aka Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It’s a form of litigation with the intention to censor, intimidate and silence activists and critics through costly, frivolous, and un-merited litigation, typically claiming libel, slander, or false light.
In the wake of reports that he had claimed two homestead property tax exemptions, and the subsequent revelation that it was a township clerical error, and not of his doing, Baird paid back the past due taxes, totaling $16,700 — nearly $5,600 for each year of the exemption — an amount, it’s safe to say, most reasonable people would have noticed as possibly due.
Although Baird claims he had no idea of the error, he certainly was proactive when it came to making legal threats against those that criticized him.
Starting with Karla Swift, AFL-CIO President, who penned a guest column in the Detroit Free Press saying his double exemption “forced his neighbors to pay more for police, fire, roads, schools and other services.” Baird left her a nasty-gram on her answering machine warning “You better be careful. I may be suing you.” (Listen to the voice mail recording at the Detroit News.)
Next up was Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-23). She had referred to him as a “crook” on public TV. Claiming he was unable to find her publicly available email address, Baird attempted to relay his threats through an email to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-17). Here’s an excerpt:
Note that he used his Michigan.gov email account. (Media is going to have a field day submitting Freedom of Information Act requests on that account.)
Baird has found himself in the media before for his facilitating the secret “skunk works” education program, linking-up Snyder’s furniture-selling cousin with the right people in the administration, finagling huge raises for some Treasury Department officials, and for recruiting Kevyn Orr as Detroit’s emergency manager. (Whom, you may recall came from the silk-stocking law firm of Jones-Day, which similarly recently threatened a SLAPP suit against a local blogger for making satire of their involvement in Detroit’s bankruptcy.)
Baird was originally paid out of the governor’s secret-donor NERD fund, but when Snyder disbanded the account under political heat last year, Baird was put on the state’s payroll, and given a forty percent pay raise. There is some speculation that during his tenure under NERD dollars, he was in violation of Michigan’s lobbying rules.
Regardless, we have an important message for Mr. Baird: Welcome to the Public Sector! Unlike the private sector, public servants are subject to intense, and often unfair, criticism. The public at large can, and will, rip you up one side and down the other — and if you can’t handle it, you’re in the wrong job.
Threatening litigation is unprofessional and decidedly unstatesmanlike. Snyder should take Baird behind the woodshed over his recent conduct. Given the governor’s propensity to ignore all forms of criticism, he surely must be baffled by Baird’s self-righteous tantrums.
“Oh, Blame not the bard.” That’s a quote from St. Thomas More, a 16th century philosopher, statesman, and close advisor to Henry VIII, until the king grew tired of him and lopped-off his head.
Twenty-first century public servants have it easy.