Clouds continue to hang over Michigan's government transparency laws

By Wes Smith
President MPA Board of Directors
Publisher View Newspaper Group

When there was a change in leadership in Michigan’s legislature earlier this year, hope rose again in the hearts of citizens who want a more transparent state government.

Maybe, it was thought by those citizens, the time has finally come for Michigan to join almost every other state in expecting their legislature and Governor to be subject to our open records law. Maybe, they thought, adding hope upon hope, new laws would be passed requiring other government officials to respond to records requests in a timely manner without outrageous fees. But, alas, it’s nearly November and there has not been even a small ray of sunshine in our state house or governor’s mansion.

Michigan remains at the bottom of the bottom for government openness among the fifty states. The Center for Public Integrity gave the Great Lakes State an “F” grade in 2015. In 2020 Michigan ranked 47th out of 50 for anti-corruption measures for public officials according to the Coalition for Integrity.

News reports of former House Speaker Johnson convicted of accepting bribes and Inkster Mayor Wimberly indicted on bribery charges, along with numerous other accounts of unethical behavior on the part of elected officials in our state, illustrate the importance of openness and transparency in government. 

In 2022 Michigan voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative to require state elected officials to provide financial disclosure statements. In a recent study, done on behalf of the Michigan Press Association, there was more data showing Michigan voters want more information about what their elected officials are doing. Nearly 9 out of 10 Michigan adults believe that taxpayers should have access to the meeting calendars of state representatives and their correspondence with outside organizations as well as the budgets of these office holders.

Leaders from the Michigan Press Association have recently reached out to legislative leaders and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer requesting action with specific amendments to improve the open government climate in our state.

The Michigan Press Association has drafted – and this newspaper fully supports – the following crucial measures to bolster transparency, accountability, and integrity in Michigan government: 

1. Extending Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the executive and legislative branches.

2. Requiring far more timely response to FOIA requests. Citizens and media outlets routinely endure very long and unnecessary delays in obtaining clearly public information from government agencies.

3. Preventing exorbitant fees for FOIA responses. Michigan transparency is severely restricted by often outrageously high fees public bodies attempt to charge for FOIA responses.

As citizens of Michigan, you can hold your government accountable. We urge you to contact your legislators and tell them to move forward to improve Michigan’s open government laws to allow taxpayers the access they deserve when it comes to the people’s business. It’s high time to get Michigan out of the basement when it comes to ethics in government. We implore you to act now. 

The Michigan Press Association has actively advocated for open government at the local, state and federal level for the better part of 160 years. It is of our mission is to promote transparency for the citizens of Michigan and serve as a watchdog of taxpayer dollars.