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Opinion | Whitmer, lawmakers continue to stall on transparency pledge

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

Wes Smith headshot
Wes Smith is president of the Michigan Press Association Board of Directors and publisher of the View Newspaper Group.

Maybe, it was thought by those citizens, the time has finally come for Michigan to join almost every other state in expecting its 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 statehouse or governor’s mansion.

Michigan remains at the bottom of the bottom for government openness among the 50  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 Rick Johnson convicted of accepting bribes and Inkster Mayor Patrick 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-in-10 Michigan adults say taxpayers should have access to the meeting calendars of state representatives and their correspondence with outside organizations as well as the budgets of these officeholders.

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

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

  1. Extending Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to cover 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. 

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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