Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

November 18, 2013

Forum: Legislation would make government info public

Most government officials and politicians will agree in public that the work of government should be transparent so citizens can judge whether money is being spent wisely and decisions are being made properly.

But the reality is that getting your hands on specific government information isn’t always easy, even when the law says it should be available.

A bill proposed in the Michigan Legislature, House Bill 4001, would amend the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to make that information more accessible by limiting fees and discouraging delays.

The Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG) strongly endorses the legislation and believes the bill would help promote transparency and accountability in state and local government. It applauds Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, for introducing the bill.

Although Michigan’s FOIA law rightfully requires much information to be available, the law is being undermined by officials who block access to public information by wrongly denying requests, unnecessarily delaying the release of information or charging too much for searches or copies.

Delays that hold up the release of information until after an election is held or an important public policy is set can lead to bad governance and decision-making. And officials who want to keep information secret or complain it takes too much staff time to fill a public records request know that charging high fees to track down or copy public records is often an effective way to stop a request dead in its tracks.

Legislation also has been proposed to create an Open Government Commission to hear FOIA appeals (HB4314) and to expand FOIA coverage for the legislative branch so it is more in line with the broader coverage for the executive branch (HB4302 and SB202).

Those bills also are supported by MiCOG, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization open to citizens, journalists and associations concerned with open government and freedom of information.

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