By Sara Powers

PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — A state agency said it will dismiss a COVID-19 workplace violation against Port Huron after the city aggressively fought the case and revealed questionable acts by an inspector.

Port Huron spent more on its defense than the $6,300 fine proposed by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as MIOSHA.

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City Manager James Freed told The Detroit News that the citation against the city was a “sloppy attempt” to disparage city employees and an example of unfair enforcement during the pandemic.

“My heart breaks for all the small businesses and mom-and-pops that didn’t have an expert legal team, who didn’t have the resources to put MIOSHA under oath,” Freed said.

After a July 2020 visit, state inspector Matthew Hartman said Port Huron didn’t require masks, failed to keep proper records, and didn’t follow health screening rules. The city denied the allegations and fought the case.

Port Huron’s lawyers put Hartman through a formal interview. He said he burned his notes from the investigation and destroyed emails from a supervisor.

MIOSHA recently signaled that it plans to drop the case, after being told that Port Huron planned to take a deposition from director Bart Pickelman.

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“There can be many reasons that prompt the dismissal of a MIOSHA citation,” and a dismissal can be a sign that the appeals process is “working,” spokeswoman Erica Quealy said.

Freed said it was disappointing to see Port Huron highlighted in a MIOSHA press release about violations. He questioned Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s remarks in which she said only employers that had “flouted” COVID-19 rules were being targeted.

“Will the governor now issue a statewide apology and press release for our employees? It’s all just so disheartening,” he said.

Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said many businesses can’t afford the legal fees that come with fighting a citation.

“Businesses will follow the Port Huron case very closely because hundreds and hundreds of businesses have had the same kind of experience that was visited on Port Huron,” he said.

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