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Poor grades for public access

March 28, 2012
The Daily News

Digital technology is great. With it, we can keep track of everything.

We can Facebook this person, and Tweet that one. We text our shopping lists to our husband or wife, and remind our kids of their homework on a cellphone while driving home.

It seems we know what everyone is doing all the time, except when it comes to our government. Government officials still do a very good job of keeping secrets.

As part of a Sunshine Week project, Michigan State University journalism students recently emailed most of the municipalities and school districts in Ingham County and asked how many Freedom of Information Act requests these entities had received in each of the five preceding years.

They cited the FOIA in their requests.

Their results were disappointing. Some answered the requests, others rejected them. The fees for the information ranged from $5 to $40.

The exercise showed that Michigan governmental units are inconsistent in how they complied with state's Freedom of Information Act.

It's no wonder that Michigan flunked in a rating by State Integrity Investigation. State Integrity rated Michigan 43 out of 50 on a corruption risk report card.

Michigan got a "D" grade for Public Access to Information.

"The campaign finance system here has more holes than I-94 after a spring thaw," wrote Chris Andrews of State Integrity Investigation. "Big spenders and special interests can easily shovel millions of dollars into election activities - secretly if they choose. The lobby law is so weak that it was nearly impossible to determine which companies were spending millions to oppose construction of a new bridge. And the financial disclosure system for state elected officials? Well actually, there isn't one."

Wisconsin scored better, a "C-" and a rated of 22 out of 50, but that's nothing to brag about.

"Just a decade ago, lawmakers from both parties were jailed in the biggest political scandal in state history, in which top legislative leaders used taxpayer-funded legislative caucus offices to run private campaigns, diverting millions of dollars a year in state funds," wrote Kate Golden of State Integrity Investigation. "The secret campaign machine was shut down after the Wisconsin State Journal, the capital's largest-circulation newspaper, exposed the system in 2001."

"That scandal prompted the state to fold its Ethics and Elections boards, long seen as toothless tigers, into a new Government Accountability Board in 2008. Watchdogs say those reforms helped clean up the state," Golden said.

Sadly, Wisconsin got a "D-" for Public Access to Information.

The public has a right to know how its governmental entities are operating. Our government is funded by our public taxes and affects the lives of all the citizens.

Through the years, government officials have been slowly closing the books on this issue and that issue. Government officials must realize that these actions are wrong; that they work for the voters.

Voters will be going to the polls in November.

During their campaign stops, voters should quiz the candidates and insist that government units operate in the open.



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