The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

State auditors to review Ojibway closure process

 

September 1, 2018



LANSING — Michigan’s Auditor General will review the process the Michigan Department of Corrections used when deciding to close the Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco.

Auditor General Doug Ringler informed State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, Thursday that Ringler’s office had granted Dianda’s request to review the process behind the decision to close the prison.

While auditors will be reviewing the process leading up to the decision, Ringler’s letter makes clear it won’t be looking whether the decision to close Ojibway was the best option.

“Please note that we will not provide any conclusions as to whether Ojibway was the most appropriate facility for closure and/or if any closures were necessary,” Ringler wrote. “Our audit mandate … is not to question the discretionary policy decisions made by the executive branch, but instead to independently and professionally audit the process used in making those decisions and how the operations were then executed.”

The MDOC announced Aug. 14 it was planning to close the prison Dec. 1. The prison has 203 employees, including 116 correctional officers.

“I want to thank Auditor General Ringler for his quick response to my request and for agreeing to conduct an audit to determine if documentation exists to support MDOC’s decision to close Ojibway Correctional Facility. We know that closing Ojibway could result in Gogebic County losing more than $700,000 in state school aid, the local hospital losing more than $1 million in broken contracts, and corrections workers being forced to drive more than 200 miles a day to work in the nearest correctional facility if they can even transfer there,” Dianda said regarding the decision. “No one understands how MDOC could consider the economic impact, as required by the state budget, and still decide to close this facility. With the livelihood of hundreds of U.P. families hanging in the balance, I am glad that we will now have another audit to determine if MDOC is following the rules concerning prison closure decisions.”

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz welcomed the review, saying he was confident it would show the department followed procedure.

“We welcome their look into this very limited scope of what they’re looking into. I’ve seen it described as a full-blown investigation, that’s not the case here,” Gautz said.

“We welcome (the review) because we know what we did,” he continued, referencing the recent release of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

“We’ve placed close to 600 documents online already that list and show the different members of the community we heard from and spoke to, and the reports we had other state agencies provide us regarding the employment levels, and some stats about the economic activity in the region,” Gautz said.

He said the department would work with the Auditor General’s office throughout the process, expected to begin next week.

The auditors won’t be conducting a full audit, the office’s state relations officer Kelly Miller said. Rather, it will complete a follow-up to a 2012 performance audit.

That audit reported “the department did not have sufficient documentation to support its basis for identifying and recommending correctional facilities and camps for closure or consolidation,” according to Ringler’s letter.

Miller said the follow-up will look at what, if anything, has changed since then.

If there is a finding issued, Miller said it will be up to the MDOC or state legislature whether any action is taken.

“We would present them with information and then it would be their decision, what do they want to do with that information and how do they want to handle it,” Miller said.

The follow-up is focused on whether the MDOC’s process complied with the language in “boilerplate Sec. 944,” regarding an economic impact analysis of the closure.

Gautz said the language was added roughly two years ago, after the department closed its Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley. It requires the department to “fully consider” the economic impact of a closure.

“All the documents we have provided show we did fully consider (the economic impact),” Gautz said. “And we knew, we obviously knew this was going to be a very difficult decision and hard on the employees there and it would impact the community. We understood that, we fully considered all of that.”

He said some have mistaken the requirement to fully consider the impact as requiring the creation of an economic impact report.

“It does not say that, all it says we have to do is fully consider the decision we’re making,” Gautz said. “We feel we’ve definitely fully considered that and have for several years.”

While there is no timeline for the follow-up to be completed, Miller said it shouldn’t take as long as a full performance audit.

 
 

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