News Story

Online Activist Riles City Of Flat Rock Officials After Ford Gas Leak

City Hall’s PR firm appears to get personal

An online activist in Flat Rock who has been using Facebook to post commentary and links to news stories about a Ford Motor Co. gas leak claims he has been the target of a disinformation campaign paid for by city hall.

Sean Gillaspie started his Flat Rock Times page in 2014. On Tuesday, Gillaspie made public a memo from the public relations firm hired by the Wayne County city’s government at $210 per hour.

The memo was part of a Flat Rock city council packet he had obtained, and had been written by Bsharah Public Relations in Royal Oak. It stated, “Importantly, we will read and evaluate social media posts from residents and, particularly those of Shawn Gillespie [sic]. Mr. Gillespie [sic] appears to be an irresponsible gadfly intent on achieving recognition for personal political gain. His credibility must be eliminated while, of course, emphasizing the City’s positive response to the Crisis. ...”

Commenters criticized Flat Rock officials for being focused on one Facebook page during a crisis that saw 1,200 families evacuated in early September, with most still unable to return to their homes. Some residents are just now beginning to go home.

“WOW!!” one Facebook commenter posted. “So the Mayor’s major concern right now is to make sure his image looks good during this crisis in this city??!! Election coming soon Flat Rock.”

Gillaspie said the city government has blocked people from leaving comments on its Facebook page.

Before September, most of the posts on the Flat Rock Times website were of links to low-impact news stories about the community. The website sometimes went weeks without a post.

But then on Sept. 5, it was reported that Ford discovered the gas leak at its assembly plant in Flat Rock, which led to the evacuations.

Since then, the Flat Rock Times’ commentary has been receiving a lot more attention from residents who are angry and confused.

The Flat Rock Times now has 1,464 people who follow it, in a town with a population of 10,000.

Some of the posts on the site are critical of the mayor. For example, on Sept. 15, the Flat Rock Times posted a link to the Monroe News. That story reported Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond had retired from his position as the emergency management director for Monroe County.


The Flat Rock Times also cautioned residents about cashing the $500 certified check Ford gave to those families who evacuated.

“I would consult a lawyer before cashing it. It may make it impossible to sue later. We will find out about that ASAP.”

“Stay tuned,” the Facebook page stated.

Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond and Bsharah Public Relations didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.