FOIA and the Anatomy of the Flint water story

Read the timely article about the efforts of Flint Journal reporter Ron Fonger who covered the Flint water crisis from almost the first drop. Using his sources and the state Freedom of  Information Act, Fonger exposed the crisis as it unfolded. Kudos to him, the Flint Journal and

The Michigan ACLU’s Curt Guyette also was busy unraveling the Flint debacle.

Fonger’s hard work using sources and the state Freedom of Information Act uncovered the problems months before it made national news. His use of FOIA to gain access to records when the first wave of complaints was anecdotal demonstrates the importance of FOIA to journalist and members of the public.

FOIA was a critical part of his reporting efforts. Without those efforts and those of Hurley Hospital Flint doctor Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the crisis would continue to be hidden.

Sadly, most in the state legislature seem to prefer limiting FOIA access rather than promoting and increasing access, smoothing the way for Michigan’s citizens to watchdog their government at all levels.

This morning (January 26, 2016) the House Natural Resources Committee discussed HB 4540, an amendment to FOIA that would block access to critical energy infrastructure information submitted by businesses and others to the state’s Agency for Energy if those businesses, like Enbridge, decided the information should remain secret. The excuse is national security, though the federal government and the state have already provided amply protection against the threat of terrorism. he House Oversight and Ethics Committee already approved a version of the proposal.

The Senate is currently discussing SB 634 that would block public access to police body camera video. The House has been discussing blocking police body camera videos in HB 4234 since early in 2015.

There are many more determined efforts to limit FOIA than expand it. SB 716 is a rare exception. It would expand coverage of FOIA to include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor and the Legislators.

The intent of FOIA when it was passed in 1976 was to guarantee access to the public to observe how effectively governments at the local, county and state levels were doing their jobs. Now more than ever, as evidenced by the water crisis in Flint, FOIA is a vital tool for citizens to do exactly that.



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