A $30,000 no-bid contract to a victim of Larry Nassar is under attack in Meridian Township by Clerk Brett Dreyfus and experts in the field of sexual assault prevention and education. But Township Manager Frank Walsh is defending what experts have characterized as a “sketchy” deal by accusing those questioning the contract as “re-victimizing the victim.”
Dreyfus raised concerns about the contract during the board’s March 20 board meeting. He is questioning if the contract with Brianna Randall-Gray, who reported her victimization by Nassar to township police in 2004, is a legal expenditure under state law.
“I want to ensure the community has a qualified consultant to deliver a training program that is effective,” Dreyfus said by phone. “And that we follow state law on our expenditures. I also want to make sure we follow our own internal policies.”
Dreyfus called the contract a “thinly veiled payout to the sexual assault victim.”
“We shouldn’t be doing backroom deals that the manager feels personally great about,” Dreyfus said, referring to Walsh.
Walsh bristled at that implication. “She’s not asked for a dime.”
At issue is a state law that limits how townships in Michigan can expend money. The law limits expenditures related to domestic or sexual violence to “any private, nonprofit corporation or organization.” The board approved the no-bid contract with Randall-Gray as an individual.
That contract would pay Randall-Gray $30,000 to “assist in developing and implementing a community-wide sexual assault program.”
Walsh played down the legal concerns in a combative interview Monday afternoon.
“We’re in a good place on this,” he said. But asked if he had asked township lawyers to review the state law and provide a legal opinion, he said he had not. He also said that he had not personally read the law. He then pivoted to accuse those who might question the process of making Randall-Gray a victim again.
“If somebody wants to challenge us, they can,” he said. “It’s too bad that through this whole thing she is, I feel like, Brianna is being made out to be the victim again.”
Dreyfus slammed back on that allegation.
“It’s really twisted logic to accuse someone of re-victimizing Brianna when that person is trying to comply with state law and township policies and serving in the role of the fiduciary responsibility,” said the clerk.
And he’s following that responsibility by seeking an outside legal opinion. He said he would meet with Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon on Tuesday to discuss avenues to “investigate” his legal questions.
Siemon did not return calls seeking comment.
Tashmica Torok, who runs the local Firecracker Foundation, which does sexual assault and abuse education programming, said the policy and process questions were legitimate. “I don’t think that is revictimizing someone,” she said. She will meet with township officials next week at their request. They hope to get her agency on board with Randall-Gray’s program.
As the executive director of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, Katherine Redmond has spent 25 years educating pro- and college-level athletes about sexual assault. She angrily dismissed Walsh’s claims the questions being asked made Randall-Gray a victim again.
“It’s not re-victimizing,” Redmond said.
“It has nothing to do with the victim and her claims. Of course, she was believed by those of us who understand sexual assault from the beginning, while others did not take her claims seriously and did not act. The issue here is the process and ensuring that the right people with the knowledge of sexual assault are being placed in positions to prevent sexual assault and support victims.”
As a sexual assault victim, Redmond understands how important victim’s voices are in shaping educational opportunities related to sexual violence. But after reviewing the contract between the township and Randall-Gray, she’s not sure it’s a good one.
“It is concerning to me. While victims do have very good insight and understanding into their specific experience, that this type of consultancy fee with no deliverables and no expectations would make it sketchy,” said Redmond, who has provided training to pro and college athletes for the last 25 years.
Throughout the interview, Walsh referred to Randall-Gray as “our” victim, noting that organizations such as Firecracker Foundation weren’t.
In February, as hundreds of women lined up to testify about the harm Nassar did to their lives through his assaults, township officials held a press conference to acknowledge they had failed Randall- Gray. A tearful Walsh stood before local and national media and apologized.
She brought a complaint against Nassar to Meridian Township in 2004, but Nassar was able to convince an investigator that he had performed a legitimate medical procedure and the case was closed.
While Randall-Gray has not shown any intent to sue the township, Walsh said officials recognized they had an opportunity to learn from the mistake and provide community-wide education about sexual assault and prevention. Within that context, Walsh said, Randall-Gray, who lives in Washington state and is a physician’s assistant, expressed interest in leading the process.
Walsh said Monday she had not provided the township with a resume or curriculum vitae, and only on Sunday, days after the contract was signed, did she provide a one-page summary of some of her plans. The one-page project description has a vaguely worded assurance that she will create an educational program, but it has no clear deliverables, noted Dreyfus.
“We don’t know exactly what this will look like until it’s done,” Walsh said. “But that’s the deliverable.”
When questioned whether he was aware of any other no-bid contracts for tens of thousands of dollars that provided no deliverable measures of timelines, he said he could not think of one off the top of his head.
On top of questions about the legality of the contract under state law, there are also questions about whether internal spending policies were followed. Dreyfus said the township requires bids for any contract over $5,000, but Walsh said there was no bid.
“If we did a bid it would be for someone who was a Nassar victim who had interactions with our department,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone else who fits that description.”
Despite local services like the Firecracker Foundation, Walsh said he wasn’t interested in working with them specifically. “We wanted to work with Brianna,” he said. “That’s it. We have a very good working relationship with her.”
He said he can’t assure taxpayers that Randall-Gray may replicate already available services. “We just don’t know what it will be yet, just that it will be specific to our township and our schools,” he said.
Dreyfus is also questioning whether it was legal for the township to foot the bill to fly Randall-Gray to Michigan to testify against Nassar. The township paid about $1,300 for that flight.
“It was the right thing to do,” Walsh said about the flight expense in a previous interview with City Pulse.
As clerk, state law requires Dreyfus to oversee the issuance of payments and township accounting.
He said a decision to pay to have Randall- Gray fly in from Washington to testify against Nassar was “a nice gesture, but an illegal expenditure.” State law requires that expenditures result in the township receiving goods or services equal to or in excess of the amount of taxpayer money spent.