MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – A letter written by state Representative Sara Cambensy to Attorney General Dana Nessel was released on Thursday afternoon. In the letter, Rep. Cambensy raises concerns about the Northern Michigan Univeristy (NMU) Foundation and what the letter calls , “significant conflict of interest concerns, including the possible misuse of state and local public funds involving the acquisition of the old Marquette General Hospital by a Northern Michigan University (NMU) Board of Trustee Member with the assistance of the NMU Foundation.”

A statement from Brad Canale, CEO of the NMU Foundation was released shortly after on Thursday afternoon. The full statement is below:

“This afternoon we were made aware of a letter from Rep. Cambensy to the Attorney General. 

Throughout this nearly 10-month initiative, we have been transparent in the overall process. Our commitment to transparency remains. The letter to the Attorney General by Rep. Cambensy issued today needs to be evaluated in depth. 

The NMU Foundation will cooperate fully with any investigation the Attorney General may pursue. We have nothing to hide, including our motivation to facilitate the alignment of resources and partners needed for the transformation of the critical site directly next to campus. 

Taking action for the betterment of our campus community and our larger community is something we are proud to be doing. We have taken great care to do so through appropriate measures at each step. 

We stand by the work done to date which has gotten the project to this point. One of the largest community development opportunities in the Upper Peninsula is supported by the state, as well as the City of Marquette, the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and members of the Marquette community as evidenced by public forums held earlier this year.”

Brad Canale, CEO of the NMU Foundation

Veridea Group released the following statement on July 28 in regard to Rep. Cambensy’s letter to AG Nessel:

“This afternoon we learned that State Representative Sara Cambensy issued a letter to the Attorney General calling for an investigation of the proposed redevelopment of the former Marquette General Hospital campus. We have not yet had an opportunity to fully read this document and its charges and so will comment on its specific claims as they relate to Veridea Group once we have done so.

However, we do not need to read Representative Cambensy’s letter to state the following. Throughout this process to redevelop the hospital campus, the people of Veridea Group and its owner, Robert Mahaney, have conducted ourselves at all times with complete integrity, honesty and transparency. Furthermore, any potential conflicts of interest have been presented and cleared in advance by legal counsel and the respective Boards of the University and the Foundation.

Our interest in participating in this project is simple: it’s necessary for our community. No other developer has been willing to take on this project. We owe it to the community, the City and the University to see this through and we intend to do exactly that.”

Veridea Group

In a release accompanying the letter from Rep. Cambensy to AG Nessel, it states that Rep. Cambensy is requesting an opinion on whether the NMU Foundation is considered a public body. If it is considered public, Cambensy said the foundation would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) related to the gifting of the old hospital site by Lifepoint and the sale to Veridea.

A statement from Cambensy was included in the release provided on Thursday afternoon:

“Anytime you utilize a public entity to do business, especially when there is Michigan case law
for University Foundations that rules that they are still subject to FOIA and OMA even though
they receive gifts, the public deserves to know about those public transactions. We are asking
the AG to tell us what documents can be released surrounding this project and property sale, and
to make those documents available to the public.”

The letter to the Attorney General also questions if information related to the appraisals and taxable evaluations of the property could be made public. The purpose according to the release from Cambensy would be to assure taxpayers that 2019 private real estate sale between Lifepoint and Veridea that did not happen was not done to devalue the property, which would now involve the NMU Foundation and the sale of the property for $1.

The statement from Cambensy in her release continued:

“There are many valid concerns that community members brought to me that I feel need to be
addressed surrounding this project and the people who are either publicly appointed to serve on
these boards or who work for a public institution at NMU that are giving the appearance of an
insider deal. My office has the ability to collect those concerns and ask for an opinion from the
AG when we cannot get all the answers from the individuals or organizations involved.”
Cambensy continued, “If the inquiry produces nothing alarming, illegal or that needs further
investigation, great. There will be greater transparency. But when the taxpayers want their
elected official to look into whether or not their tax dollars are being used appropriately and
whether the public institutions that their tax dollars support are operating above board, I take that
very seriously. I’m going to ask the questions as their state representative. I hope every elected
official would use the tools they have to do their due-diligence to protect the taxpayer’s money,
too.”

Also included in the letter to the Attorney General, were questions related to a conflict-of-interest clause which was changed at NMU to exclude board members with a financial interest in projects where only one bid is received, as well as whether or not members of the NMU Board of Trustees violated private benefits

Representative Cambensy also questioned the conflict-of-interest clause that was recently
changed at NMU to exclude board members who have a financial interest in projects if there is
only one bid received.

UPDATE:

On Friday, Rep. Cambensy released a revision to her original letter eliminating question 14 after the potential conflict of interest raised was discovered to be unfounded. You can read about the revision in the following link. Below, we have posted the updated letter Cambensy released on Friday: