COMMENTARY: Sunshine is important now more than ever

By Joe Warner

As we face one of the worst government-created problems in Michigan's history, the Flint water crisis, and hear stories of legislators using state dollars to cover up their sordid behavior, the need for more openness in government is stronger than ever.

The Freedom of Information Act in Michigan begins with the following: "It is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act. The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process."

The last sentence of this statement is vitally important. We've made some progress over the last several years. The last session of our legislature passed a law to improve the process of FOIA by lowering costs and demanding timelines be adhered to or there would be consequences. But as events have unfolded in the last year, it's become evident we have a long way to go.

Michigan is one of only two states that completely exempt the governor's office from FOIA. We are one of a handful that exempt the legislature. It's time to make a change. The citizens of Michigan should have access to information about every level of government.

In a study by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity toward the end of last year, Michigan ranked last nationally in ethics and transparency laws and safeguards, in part because of our weak public records law and an absence of laws requiring personal financial disclosures by lawmakers and top state officials.

The Michigan Press Association is hoping to change that ranking. We feel amendments to current law would remove the veil of secrecy in our legislature and the governor's office and would be a big improvement. We expect to see a proposal soon and hope Michigan's citizens will urge support from our lawmakers and governor.

Sunshine Week, March 13 to 19, celebrates the public's right to know. We can do much better. We ask you to join us and encourage our government to see the advantages of transparency and the importance of checks and balances.


Joe Warner is president of the Michigan Press Association.

Published: Fri, Mar 18, 2016