Grand Rapids says camera ban imposed at public hearing involving Acton Institute no longer in place
GRAND RAPIDS — The city of Grand Rapids has changed what it said was its policy banning electronic media coverage of Board of Review hearings.
At a hearing Monday to hear tax assessment complaints on a walk-in basis in which Michigan Capitol Confidential tried for a second time to record the proceedings, an attorney for the city said recording equipment was allowed this time and that its ban two weeks ago was due to a "misunderstanding" and "miscommunication."
The Board of Review heard testimony March 11 on the denial of a property tax exemption request from the nonprofit Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Moments before that hearing, the City Tax Assessor announced that the board was prohibiting the media from using recording equipment. The city could not provide any written documentation of its policy nor could it verify whether the decision was subject to public comment.
City Attorney Elizabeth White said Monday the ban was not specifically in place for the Acton hearing. She did not want to make a comment on camera.
Acton faces a property tax bill of $91,000 because the city said its 501(c)(3) nonprofit does not meet the city's definition of a charity. Acton argued that it meets the definition of a tax-exempt charitable organization under the Michigan General Property Tax Act 206 and cited two examples in which the courts defined charity on a broader basis than the city.
The Board of Review had no questions two weeks ago when Acton presented its case to the city.
The city attorney's office said a decision on the Acton case should be made by mid-April.
March 24 was the last day the Board of Review was hearing objections to tax assessments and it was the only day for walk-in complaints. Hearings were scheduled between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., but board members took an unexpected two-hour lunch break and could not be found during that time for comment.