If Michigan’s collection of open records laws was a bathing suit, it’d be a bikini — the kind no one looks good in; the kind that just looks cold.
Our skimpy open records laws do just that — leave us Michiganders in the cold and dark, and this week’s news of a federal indictment filed against our State House Representative Larry Inman shows the wind whipping through the gaping holes in our laws.
Michigan is one of only two states that does not subject the governor, lieutenant governor and the state legislature to open records laws.
It’s embarrassing to be the only one wearing a bikini in a government blizzard. It also chafes like a sandy bottom that the only ones who can change the laws are the ones who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
To be fair, a number of politicians have called — and acted — for change.
Rep. Andrea Schroeder, R-Independence Township, sponsored Bill No. 4014 to add a section to existing FOIA law that will establish timetables and deadlines for responses to Freedom of Information Act requests for the legislature and the governor.
The proposed Legislative Open Records Act is similar to FOIA, but includes the Legislature and contains special exemptions for constituent inquiries and personal information.
We don’t agree with the exemptions but fall in with the Michigan Press Association’s attitude that it’s a good start.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also signed legislation in February that limited an agency’s ability to extend FOIA-related deadlines endlessly, which was previously the case.
But this week, as we wrestle with the vote-for-hire allegations against Inman — which seem to open the possibly that more Legislative indictments could spring up — we need to ask what can we do now to make these situations less likely.
What would make our government accountable to the people who pay them and whom they represent?
Access to information about the things they do on government time with the people’s dime.
We wonder what that access would do for shenanigans-prevention; or at least, giving the public an opportunity to catch on to those shenanigans more quickly.
The wake of the accusation’s against Inman churned up a wave of press releases and statements from politicians expressing shock, disappointment, even calls for Inman to resign his position.
Inman has declared his innocence and vowed to fight against the charges.
The beauty of information is that it can exonerate as well as indict.
We ask our Legislature to act quickly on Senate Bill 4104, currently in the Senate Oversight Committee, chaired by Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.
How many more examples do we need that government transparency is a necessary part of a functional democracy? This is about the people, the employers knowing what is happening with their money.
Meanwhile we shiver in our bikinis in the dark. Legislature, let the sun shine in.