Coleman (Heather Rousseau / Special to The Detroit News)
An Ann Arbor activist announced Thursday he intends to ask Michigan voters to revise state law to make public universities more open and accountable to the public.
Doug Smith, a former University of Michigan pathologist turned whistleblower, told the Board of Regents he plans to organize an effort to amend the state constitution to make meetings and documents of higher education institutions open unless restricted by legislation.
He plans to collect enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would strengthen the existing law.
“Recent events give us an opportunity to get the idea out there,” said Smith, who regularly requests documents from U-M and posted to his website Ann Arbor police reports that detailed rape allegations against former football player Brendan Gibbons.
“The university resists the idea of open government routinely,” he said.
Smith would have to get 322,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot by November. He said he is still organizing and it may not happen until the subsequent election.
Officials from the Michigan Press Association would not comment on Smith’s strategy of a ballot initiative but endorsed more government openness.
“We’re always supportive of more openness, no matter what the governmental body is,” said Lisa McGraw, MPA spokeswoman.
The MPA is lobbying for passage of two bills in the state Legislature. One seeks to make fees lower and more consistent on document requests and add penalties to institutions that fail to deliver timely responses. The other bill would establish a commission to review appeals of document requests, instead of having them be decided in court.
In other news, the Regents approved a $10 million gift to endow the head football coach’s position. Starting March 1, Brady Hoke will officially be the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach.