Note: This editorial from Wes Smith, Sam Klemet & SPJ Detroit President Marty Fischhoff originally appeared in The Detroit News
Once again, we wait for the sun to shine in Michigan. At the same time, we wait for the sun to shine on our local and state government.
Overall, the Great Lakes State has consistently maintained a failing score for integrity from the Center for Public Integrity. This is based largely on our lack of transparency in government, especially at the state level.
Last year, the citizens of Michigan voted overwhelmingly to require that elected state legislative and state executive officials must file annual financial disclosure reports on their income, assets, liabilities, gifts from lobbyists, positions held in certain organizations, and agreements on future employment. Michiganians are obviously ready for a change.
Taxpayers deserve to know what the people who work for them are doing. We are the only state in the country that does not subject its legislators and governor to the Freedom of Information Act. That needs to be fixed.
At the same time, some local government officials, law enforcement agencies and schools — kindergarten through university — cry foul and call FOIA a burden. We think it’s an essential service.
The preamble to the Freedom of Information Act in Michigan reads: 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 key part of the language above is “the people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.” Yet government officials at all levels stonewall, over charge and generally make asking for this information an onerous process.
The members of the Michigan Press Association, and our partners at the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, invite you to join us in fighting for more sunshine this year.
Contact your state legislators and let them know that you would like to see more transparency and accountability at every level of government, and that you don’t think it should be up to the citizens of our state to bear the burden of exorbitant costs, stall tactics and lengthy court appeals to find out where their tax dollars are being spent and how decisions that impact their day to day lives are being made.
As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said over a century ago: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
Wes Smith is publisher of View Newspaper Group and president of the Michigan Press Association. Marty Fischhoff is director of community engagement at Detroit Public TV and president of the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Sam Klemet is CEO of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.