UPDATE: NMU Foundation’s legal counsel responds to Rep. Cambensy’s letter to AG Nessel; Cambensy issues new statement

Former Marquette General Hospital site
Former Marquette General Hospital site(WLUC)
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 1:33 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - On Wednesday, Aug. 17, The Northern Michigan University Foundation and the Miller Law Firm delivered a response to State Representative Sara Cambensy’s letter to Attorney General Dana Nessel.

In a statement, the NMU Foundation said, ”The Northern Michigan University Foundation’s legal counsel today delivered a detailed response to State Representative Sara Cambensy’s July 28 letter to The Honorable Dana Nessel, Attorney General of the State of Michigan. Following an in-depth review of Representative Cambensy’s many false and baseless claims, as well as factual corrections made by the City of Marquette, Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees, and others, the Foundation determined it was important and necessary to respond. The intent of this letter is to provide an accurate record of the growing public-private partnership that the Foundation has led to facilitate the necessary resources and relationships required to prepare the former hospital site adjacent to NMU’s campus for redevelopment, as well as to invite Attorney General Nessel to discuss any questions or points of clarification. A copy of the letter is being made available to the public.

Consistent with its mission to establish and foster relationships to generate resources that benefit Northern Michigan University, the NMU Foundation stands by the work done to date, which is presently in the final stages of realizing a productive and transformational outcome that many thought was impossible.

The work by the NMU Foundation and this public-private partnership is poised to facilitate the demolition of 23-acres of functionally obsolete and blighted buildings at the former hospital site, which will enable one of the largest community development opportunities in the Upper Peninsula. These efforts have been supported by the City of Marquette, the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Legislature, and members of the Marquette community, as evidenced by public forums held earlier this year.

Along with other community members and key institutions, the Foundation is bewildered and dismayed by Representative Cambensy’s misguided and reckless action. Her letter has caused a significant distraction during the critical stage of finalizing this transformational project. If the hospital redevelopment is not realized, it would come at the expense of the Marquette Community, NMU, taxpayers, and the community whom Representative Cambensy serves.

While we are disappointed that Representative Cambensy did not reach out to the NMU Foundation or any other parties to discuss the questions presented in her letter, we continue to offer an open door policy to directly discuss our collective efforts. We hope that this response provides additional clarity as well as the opportunity to discuss further any questions that the Attorney General may have while enabling the Foundation and its partners to continue focusing on pressing critical milestones to achieve an outcome that benefits Marquette, NMU, and the community at large.”

On July 28, Rep. Cambensy wrote Michigan AG Dana Nessel expressing concerns over a possible conflict of interest and misuse of state and local funds regarding the sale of the old hospital site to the NMU Foundation.

The Veridea Group, and Jenn Hill have also previously responded to the letter.

Cambensy issued a statement Wednesday following the NMU Foundation’s:

“My letter to the AG is asking for an opinion. My letter is a series of questions based on the laws we have in our state that govern our universities, procurement and bidding, and those who serve on public boards and committees. I have asked whether or not certain laws have been followed or violated. Most importantly, I have asked that the public taxpayers be able to see the documents that those serving as public officials have made their decisions for this project on.

To continue to say that these questions in my letter are instead accusations is untruthful. It implies that a state representative should not stand up for the citizens I represent and ask these questions concerning their tax dollars. If there is nothing suspect and nothing to hide, then why not release the documents and meeting minutes to the public?

Representative Cambensy’s office says her response comes after the NMU Foundation refused to put anything in writing about the project after a phone conversation with its members in late January when she was asked if she would help secure state funding for this project among other legislators. According to her office, she asked the NMU Foundation for the project details to be put on paper, but no document or follow up was ever made by their members to her. Marquette city residents also spoke up to city commissioners in May about the possible conflict of interest, in which several commissioners responded that there was no conflict. Lastly, Representative Cambensy tried to sit down with NMU administrators on July 15 to get many of the questions in her letter answered. Her office says she was told that she would have to FOIA that information instead.

“Every day I have residents from all over the U.P. reach out and thank me for looking into this project and asking these questions for them. So as much as the NMU Board, the NMU Foundation, Veridea, and the Marquette City Commission want to continue to blame me in the media for asking the AG questions, it’s the residents that want transparency and answers. It’s other businesses and developers and construction companies. It’s NMU professors and students. My hope is that they’d want to release the documents to the public instead of trying to have their lawyers convince everyone through more press releases that there is nothing to see here that’s wrong with the project.”

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