Source: Sherman Publications

Letter to the Editor
Reader sees need to start over in FOIA discussions

June 12, 2013

Dear Editor,

The letter "Fired up on FOIA" showed up in my inbox as a Google Alert. FOIA reform, particularly in Michigan, is an interest of mine. One area that concerns me is government transparency. Maybe it's just me, but is there a pattern to the Michigan Legislature's on again, off again proposals to amend the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

The circle starts with a representative reintroducing a bill that died in the previous session. Newspapers note the occasion with optimism. Somebody suggests bringing the so-called stakeholders together to hash out differences.

Invariably, opponents of the legislation such as the Michigan Municipal League (MML) and other lobbying organizations point out the unbearable burden FOIA has imposed on them, compounded by shrinking budgets. Their political allies in the legislature squirm and commiserate.

Eventually, roundtable discussions become less frequent, and news coverage dwindles. In the committees, a thousand other legislative concerns cry for attention. The bloom is off the rose. FOIA amendments slumber. In a couple of years, the session ends, and the bills expire.

I suspect that it's not cost and inconvenience that raises the ire of some public officials so much as the fear that open access to government records will reveal foolishness, incompetence, wastefulness and crime.

Perhaps an air of superiority and a sense of entitlement on the part of some public "servants" add to their aggravation.

In any event, it's long past time to trash Michigan's old FOIA model and bring open access into the 21st century.

Jim Lang

Royal Oak