State still ignores sunshine laws
It’s been months since Gov. Rick Snyder voluntarily released emails regarding the Flint water crisis and we got some answers about who was responsible for the mess.
But another state agency has yet to respond to official Freedom of Information Act requests, in blatant disregard of those laws.
Despite significant updates to Michigan’s freedom of information or “sunshine” laws, implemented one year ago, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hasn’t gotten on board. When it comes to Flint, all government agencies involved should be as forthcoming as possible. While the governor’s office is exempt from official FOIA requests, the MDEQ is not.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation recently filed a lawsuit against the MDEQ because the agency has failed to fulfill a request for emails, with no reasonable explanation. The public should know the lengths a government agency will go to to keep records to itself, especially regarding Flint.
The state agency seemed to play nicely at first, asking for a 10-business day extension on the request, which is allowed under state law. It then said it would be able to fulfill the request for the reasonable price of about $115.
The Mackinac Center paid, the check was cashed, and the email records should have come streaming in within about 10 business days. The agency later told the Mackinac Center that it will take until July 29 to complete the request, despite the fact that in its original bill, it claimed the job would take less than five hours to complete.
And yet, more than 90 days after the Mackinac Center’s request, still no records.
Especially after efforts in the state legislature last year to improve Michigan’s sunshine laws, Michiganians might hope for better compliance from state agencies.
Are more FOIA rules needed? Or do government agencies simply expect requestors to wait and eventually file a lawsuit?
Regarding Flint, it doesn’t matter. The public needs information now.
Maria Servold is the Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism at Hillsdale College.