Category Archives: Michigan FOIA

Documents that are public, but only for multi-millionaires

Kathy Hoekstra, an investigative reporter from Michigan, has surged into the lead for highest-fee-requested for public documents. She got an estimate from the Michigan Department of State Police of $6,876,303.90 for records about the state’s handling of federal homeland security grant money.

Michigan politician recalled over FOIA allegations

Last Tuesday, voters in Hamburg, Michigan recalled Matthew Skiba, the town’s clerk partly based on allegations that he flouted Michigan’s FOIA law.

Technological advances ease e-mail filtering

FOIA headache cured at Howell describes how different approaches to e-mail retention and search can make the process of recovering FOIA-responsive e-mails less time-consuming.

City Council members misbehaving

Members of municipal legislative bodies like city councils, county commissions and school boards aren’t supposed to conduct the public’s business in private. Every state has its own version of a public meetings act that lays out its own requirements for open meetings.

In the age of email and e-groups, city council and school board members can talk about public business in closed-loop email chains that are just shared amongst themselves. These have been found to violate open meeting laws. A discussion or deliberation that occurs through e-mail is just as much a discussion or deliberation as a face-to-face meeting.

The members of the Ann Arbor City Council were recently exposed by the Ann Arbor News has having systematically sidestepped this expectation.

As the newspaper writes:

An examination of e-mails exchanged among various Ann Arbor City Council members during public meetings from late 2007 through last year shows that private discussions were regularly held in the course of council sessions.

Ann Arbor’s politicians were conducting personal political campaign activity via email during city council meetings, “jockeying over the politics of City Council salary increases” and in other ways discussing public business with each other during public meetings but via email.

Grace Caporuscio: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

I’m proud to introduce you to Grace Caporuscio, this week’s Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Grace is a parent in the Chippewa Valley, Michigan school district.

Her efforts have resulted in a state government review of spending in the school district including a $600,000 purchase of land, gift baskets sent to employees, catered meals and other spending that isn’t going into the classroom.

School administrators say the spending is “legal”…which isn’t the same as saying it was necessary or non-wasteful, is it?

Caporuscio is a dental hygienist, a mother of three, and also runs the website Chippewa Watch, which documents:

    School spending on meals at fine dining establishments such as Andiamo, Aspen Lodge, and Mr. Paul’s Chophouse.
    $688 for a Christmas party for 50 employees at Aspen Lodge featuring barbecued ribs, cheese trays and hot rolls.
    Stadium blankets that were used as gifts for school board trustees.
    And much, much more.

In our STOTW stories we always look to see which local VIP will take on the job of publicly insulting our engaged and effective STOTWs. This time it was the less-than-gracious head of the district’s school board.

Henry Chiodini, president of the Chippewa Valley Board of Education, said “There’s been no groundswell of support for them, it’s just two people from the same family.”

Perhaps the willingness of the powerful, connected folks in this school district to try to diminish and dis-empower people who want to make a difference is the reason that, as with so many of our STOTWs, they labor out on the edge.

Caporuscio recommends that the district begin to post its checkbook register online. I agree with that recommendation.

If the school district practiced lots of affirmative disclosure, Caporuscio wouldn’t have to spend her spare time trying to discover and share with the public information about the district’s spending habits.

Kudos to you, Ms. Caporuscio.

Best o’ state FOIA blogging

California:

Free and fair elections? In Orange County, not so much.

Colorado:

Salaries of public employees should be kept secret because…um, because…

Georgia:

The downside of putting government spending online? People look at it.

Illinois:

DuPage County auditor puts spending online.

Michigan:

The Michigan Education Association appears to be competing for the Fact Blocker of the Year Award.

Montana:

Sometimes all you can say is “Good luck with that”.

County commish can’t find anti-Michelle e-mails; records request declined.

Nebraska:

And if that doesn’t work, sue them. With a bunch of your friends.

New Jersey:

Jon Corzine, NJ gov, doesn’t have to give the public his e-mails with former girlfriend and labor leader Carla Katz and not everyone is happy about that.

Pennsylvania:

Bucks County is advised to put the checkbook register online. It saves scarce money in the long run. And less whining?

South Carolina:

South Carolina public schools rank in the bottom five compared to other states in terms of educational achievement. So people would like to know how they spend their money. Good luck with that.

North Carolina:

Mike Easley got some of that ol’ time FOIA religion. As he left office.

Texas:

What a rip. Apparently in Texas, state senators can do “outside work” like charging a school district $3.8 million for “legal fees”. I’m sure it’s all for the kids.

Washington, DC.

“The websites do not serve to provide information to the general public, therefore we find that you are not a representative of the news media.” So you can’t have reduced FOIA fees.

Just put it on the website

According to the Livingston Daily:

“Hamburg Township Clerk Matt Skiba last week informed local media that he will require that state Freedom of Information Act requests be filed and fees be paid before reporters can have board meeting informational packets.”

Skiba’s rationale for this policy is that he charges members of the public for copies of the packet, so he can’t in all fairness let members of the media have it for free.

Can’t this all go on the township’s website?

Christine Barry: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Meet Christine Barry of Shiawassee County, Michigan. Christine is this week’s Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week and she has had to endure and conquer much in order to earn this coveted award.

Christine fought the law, and Christine won.

Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Specifically, Christine, who is but a lowly blogger and message board host took on the bullying, out-of-control sheriff in Shiawassee County.

After hearing reports in her county for months about assaults, intimidated deputies and complaints that went uninvestigated or disappeared, Ms. Barry began to ask questions.

Around the same time, the sheriff stopped providing information to the local newspaper because it ran a story about the problems in the department.

When her efforts to get answers were rebuffed, she worked with Chet Zarko, who is widely known in Michigan for his successes using the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. Zarko filed a FOIA and the documents Ms. Barry needed were finally available.

That’s the happy ending. No, wait. This is the happy ending.

Happy endings are good, but along the way, besides being stonewalled for about a year on a story of significant importance to the harmony and quality of life and law enforcement in her county, Ms. Barry had to go through a threat of a subpoena from the sheriff–who she was investigating–for the names of people who were posting information about him on a Shiawassee-focused community message board she hosts.

Christine Barry: An STOTW with nerves of steel, preternatural persistence, and results: An inspiration to all of us.

Time for a FOIAsphere round-up

I continue to be impressed and surprised at how much great FOIA-blogging comes across my RSS transom.

Our featured post is from Kentucky, where investigative blogger Ed Springston has been blogging up a storm, partly based on the results of open record requests he filed, about mega-problems with the Inspections, Permits and Licensing part of Louisville’s government.

Some of the best in the last few weeks:

Georgia:

According to Sabernomics, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners at a recent meeting approved a $19 million budget increase to fund a new stadium for the Gwinnett Braves. And I quote, “It turns out that though the Board didn’t mention a word of the cost increase until the Friday before Labor Day, and voted on it the following Tuesday without discussion, county officials were aware of the cost increase well before this time.”

Michigan:

The blog produced by the Michigan State University Libraries points out that when Kwame lost, freedom of information won.

New York:

I get why some public officials aren’t in a hurry to hand over the records they’re asked to hand over. But public health information? The spread of the West Nile Virus? What the requesters wanted was information about the location in their county of mosquito traps where mosquitoes with West Nile were picked up, and they got stonewalled. Unbelievable.

Tennessee

Ben Cunningham says that there’s a move a-foot in Tennessee to imperil citizen access to records.

Cup of Joe Powell says that’s why it’s important to act now.

It’s a regular Tennessee FOIA blogswarm!

Texas:

In Dallas, Texas, there’s a race for sheriff. There’s also an elections board in the county. The elections board maintains the legally required campaign finance disclosure reports for the sheriff campaigns. That’s how they roll here in the Big D tells the rest of the story, from Texas Watchdog.

Vermont:

The Vermont Tiger is not the first to notice that open, public access to documents helps everyone. But not all bloggers take advantage of that insight to go ahead and file a FOIA request.

FAQ on e-mail retention for Michigan public schools

Here’s a terrifically useful link from The Backroom Tech on e-mail archiving in Michigan public schools. It includes an FAQ for employees.

It would be a great service to all public employees everywhere if they were given an orientation on this when they start work. I know I wouldn’t appreciate it if–like pretty much everyone else–I occasionally used my work e-mail to correspond about personal matters and later found out not only that someone had asked for all district emails for the last month but that, yes, that meant that my school district might be handing over my personal emails.