July 1, 2020
As America prepares to celebrate its freedoms on the Fourth of July, the Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG) is releasing a “Sunshine Agenda” outlining steps to make Michigan a leader, rather than a laggard, when it comes to ensuring Michigan citizens have access to government meetings and records.
The agenda’s top priority is to get lawmakers to extend the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to cover the Michigan Legislature and governor’s office. Michigan is the only state with a FOIA statute that doesn’t apply to the governor and executive office, and it’s one of only a handful to exempt the state legislature. As the Flint water crisis showed, Michigan citizens suffer when they’re locked out of knowing what their government is doing.
MiCOG is a statewide nonprofit focused on good government whose members include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, the Mackinac Center, the Detroit and Mid-Michigan chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations. Formed in 2012, it’s committed to securing, protecting, expanding and maintaining citizens’ right to know what goes on within their governments.
“A key marker of effective, representative government is our ability to access government records and meetings,” said Michael Reitz, MiCOG president and executive vice president at the Mackinac Center. “Michigan can become a leader in government transparency by pursuing the ideas in our Sunshine Agenda.”
Shelli Weisberg, an MiCOG board member and political director of the ACLU of Michigan, noted that the challenges facing Michigan and the nation make citizen access to government even more imperative.
“Due to the crisis of COVID-19 and its disproportionate harms on Black and Brown communities, this year in particular demonstrates the urgency for government officials to make access and information more available to the people, not less,” she said. “This is an opportunity to invite the public to participate in the democratic process by continuing to open up avenues to do so.”
On its 10-point Sunshine Agenda, MiCOG also calls for strengthening penalties against public officials who violate open meetings and open records laws and for setting limits on how much citizens can be charged to get their FOIA public records requests fulfilled.
It also calls for establishing a statewide Open Government Commission that would result in faster and more cost-efficient resolutions to citizens’ appeals on FOIA and Open Meeting Act (OMA) concerns. Citizens’ only recourse now is to file a lawsuit, encouraging some local entities to ignore FOIA and OMA requirements because they know any resolution could be months or years away.
The MiCOG Sunshine Agenda also wants to see Michigan pass laws that would:
- Establish an independent commission to review all proposed new exceptions to FOIA.
- Require a public body to produce documents in a specific number of days.
- Require a public body to provide a timeline on how long it will take to provide the documents under FOIA and create an avenue to appeal an unreasonable FOIA timeline.
- Mandate fee-free estimates of FOIA charges rather than charging a fee before giving an estimate.
- Encourage government entities to work toward automatic access to documents through proactive review and filing.
About the Michigan Coalition for Open GovernmentThe Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG) is a nonprofit formed in 2012 to raise awareness about the importance of access to public information in the state. It advocates for open government and ensures Michigan citizens have access to government meetings and records as required by the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act. To find out more, go to https://miopengov.org/.