REPORT: What does the Det News, Freep, Common Cause and Mackinac Center Have in Common?

From Dan Farough

Subject: REPORT: What does the Det News, Freep, Common Cause and Mackinac Center Have in Common?


An excellent Detroit News editorial (did I just say that??) on the need for full transparency in state government.  

The Detroit News joins the Detroit Free Press and other strange bedfellow like Common Cause MI and even the Mackinac Center in calling for subjecting the Governor and Legislature to FOIA.  The Flint water crisis highlights the absolute need to get this done.  The editorial also calls for government reforms like a cooling off period for legislators before becoming lobbyists and more financial disclosure.  They even use our examples and reports we helped to release.

As you know, we work with a chorus of groups that with have been hammering these issues for well over a year.  The State House has introduced bi-partisan legislation by Reps Moss and McBroom on the subject of FOIA with growing conversation that it could move.  Dems have been championing this concept for a long time.

Please do us all a favor by tweeting and Facebooking this Det News Sunday editorial below.  Also - further down, I have included other editorials on the subject.  Help us keep the momentum growing!

Our Editorial: Expand FOIA for full transparency
The Detroit News 10:46 p.m. EST February 13, 2016

The water crisis in Flint underscores again the need for more transparent and accountable government in Michigan, which starts with changing the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws, among other improvements.

The Legislature and governor’s office must be subject to FOIA. The exemptions they enjoy block the public from information and communications at the highest levels of state government that is rightly theirs.

Changing the law will require bipartisan support in the Legislature, and the political will to do the right thing. But Flint should provide the pressure to get lawmakers to act in the public interest.

Michigan’s laws on transparency and access are some of the weakest in the country.

The state received an F in 10 of the 13 categories of government operations that were examined in the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of state government transparency and accountability conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.

Michigan joins Massachusetts as the only states in the country that exempt both lawmakers and the governor from FOIA.

Here the governor is explicitly exempted. Lawmakers were carved out in a 1986 opinion by then-Attorney General Frank Kelley on the original 1976 law.

Gov. Rick Snyder, as a candidate in 2010, said in an interview with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that he’d support lifting the exemptions for both the Legislature and the governor’s office. He should be held to that pledge.

Reps. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, are working on legislation to get rid of the exemption.

Certain communications, such as medical records and other sensitive communications between lawmakers and constituents, should be protected. Separate privacy laws might already cover them, or such provisions can be worked into a new law.

But to provide blanket shelter for correspondence, phone records, appointment schedules and reports from the people is inappropriate, and both the Legislature and the governor must recognize it as such.

“Several things happened in the last year to illustrate its time to change the law,” said Lisa McGraw at the Michigan Press Association, noting last year’s Courser-Gamrat scandal, as well as the developing situations in Flint and with the Detroit Public Schools. “Getting those two exemptions removed is our highest priority right now.”

In addition, changes should be made to financial disclosure and lobbying laws. The state doesn’t require elected officials to disclose financial holdings and outside income, which protects judges, lawmakers and others from revealing a conflict they might have in a potential dispute regarding taxpayer money.

There’s no requirement for a “cooling-off” period for non-elected state officials who directly leave their jobs to lobby. At least 17 states have such restrictions on lawmakers who leave office to lobby.

Michigan’s only restriction on former lawmakers is that they’re not allowed to lobby for the remainder of the term from which they resigned. Further, lawmakers can accept “nominal” gifts from lobbyists, and the impetus is on lobbyists, not lawmakers, to report them.

The public has a right to access information that affects them, and that pertains to how their politicians are being influenced by special interests. This opportunity to leverage the various crises and scandals Michigan has endured to force a more transparent government should not be squandered

Det News: Our Editorial: Snyder must produce all emails immediately
The people of Flint deserve better than to learn new details of the crisis day after day as they are uncovered by third-party sources. These dribs and drabs are damaging Snyder’s credibility and contributing to the destruction of the people’s trust in their government. The surprises must stop now. Snyder has released his own emails from 2014 and 2015. But there are more he has not made public — including the ones from Wurfel to Hollins. He still refuses to release his emails from 2013, and his staff’s communications for the entire period. He must put them on the table now, along with all other documents related to Flint.

MLive: For Flint and Michigan, abolish FOIA exemptions for governor, lawmakers
The state's FOIA isn't just a law important to journalists and a free press. Public oversight is a cornerstone of democracy, and letting the sun shine on the dark corners of our government will help rebuild broken trust and refute allegations of bureaucratic apathy.


Macomb Daily: Our view: Time for sun to set on FOIA exemption
It is too bad it took a news event that has generated international coverage to compel the governor’s office to provide information. But as one of only two states with Freedom of Information Act exemption provided for the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature, the highest-ranking officials in The Great Lakes State are shielded from the type of scrutiny peers around the nation are held to.

Battle Creek Enquirer: Editorial: Another lesson from the Flint water crisis
"He owes us full transparency, and explication. "Which means he needs to waive his own FOIA privileges and release all the executive-branch emails about Flint. It’s the only way the truth — about the timeline, about the decision-making and who knew what — can ever come out. More important, it’s the only path to discovering how to avoid anything like this happening in the future.

Freep: Governor must make Flint emails public
It’s none of your business what Gov. Rick Snyder knew about the Flint water crisis, or when he knew it, as it might be reflected in his emails. Also none of your business: What he may have been saying to his staff in emails about the lead contamination in the city’s water, or what his staff may have been saying to other officials in the departments of environmental quality or community health. That's because Michigan law privileges all of that information, shielding it from the Freedom of Information Act