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.

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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?