Michigan AG declines to investigate, issue opinion on plans for former hospital property

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WZMQ) – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office is declining to investigate or issue an opinion on the proposed redevelopment of the old Marquette General Hospital property.

State Representative Sara Cambensy (D) in July requested the AG investigate whether there was a conflict of interest in the proposed redevelopment of the site after the state budget included $8 million for the project.

Tuesday, the AG’s office declined to investigate or issue an opinion on the matter. The AG’s office released this letter to Rep. Cambensy, Marquette Mayor Jenna Smith, and NMU Foundation board members:

Dear Representative Cambensy,
We are in receipt of your letter dated July 28, 2022, and modified by your letter dated July 29, 2022. In short, you’ve requested an investigation into, and asked a series of legal questions related to, the proposed redevelopment of the old Marquette General Hospital. This office has also received responses stemming from your inquiry from various parties including the Veridea Group, the Marquette City Commission, the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees, and the Northern Michigan University Foundation. We’ve reviewed all of the materials presented to us thoroughly, and ultimately concluded that the Department must decline to issue an opinion on the legal questions you’ve presented. Further, we have not been presented with sufficient grounds to open an investigation at this time.
First, although we would like to be helpful in answering questions about local issues, because the Attorney General is not legal counsel for local units of government or universities, both she and her recent predecessors have concluded that this office’s resources will best serve the interests of the people of the State of Michigan by responding to opinion requests that involve the operation of state government. Moreover, while the Attorney General’s opinions are binding upon state agencies and officers, they do not have the force of law and, therefore, are not binding upon local units of government or private actors. See, e.g., Michigan ex rel Oakland Co Prosecutor v Dep’t of Corrections, 199 Mich App 681, 691 (1993). The matters in your letter strike at the very heart of those that constitute local concerns, namely economic planning and redevelopment. We take no position on the wisdom of the redevelopment project at issue here. We only note that – as counsel for the State of Michigan – the legal questions related to conflict of interest, tax consequences, property valuation, and the bidding process for a local project are often times best left to local counsel. Further, the questions presented related to the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act are not novel but rather can be evaluated under the existing body of case law, which weighs against the Attorney General issuing a formal legal opinion.
Finally, the Department has reviewed the matters in your letter pursuant to the Charitable Organizations and Solicitations Act, PA 169 of 1975, the Supervision of Trustees for Charitable Purposes Act, PA 101 of 1961, and the Nonprofit Corporations Act, PA 162 of 1982 (collectively “charitable trust law”). The facts
provided do not support a viable action under charitable trust law, nor provide sufficient grounds for the institution of a criminal investigation by the Department at this time.
In conclusion, after considering the information presented in your request, we have respectfully determined that action by the Attorney General is not now warranted. In the interest of transparency, we have copied to this correspondence those who contacted this office in response to your request. If you have any additional questions or concerns, or if you have any supplemental information concerning this
matter that you would like us to review, please let us know.
/s/ Christina Grossi
Christina M. Grossi
Chief Deputy Attorney General
Department of Attorney General

The NMU Foundation released the following statement in response to the AG’s letter:

The Northern Michigan University Foundation is extremely pleased with today’s decision by the Michigan Attorney General declining to take any action regarding unfounded allegations by State Representative Sara Cambensy concerning the redevelopment of the former hospital site.

The Board of Trustees and staff leadership of the NMU Foundation appreciate the Attorney General’s diligent, expeditious and thorough review of this matter, and we remain focused on continuing the process of bringing this significant project to fruition for the benefit of the Marquette area, Northern Michigan University, and the Upper Peninsula.  

Our appreciation extends to the City of Marquette staff, Mayor Jenna Smith, City Commissioners, the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Michigan Legislature, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Veridea Group, UP Health System – Marquette, our consulting team, and members of the Marquette and NMU community who have joined this important effort over the course of the past year for the betterment of our community.