Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel will hold a seminar on the State Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act to help improve and promote transparency in government.
An information seminar on the Freedom of Information Act, sponsored by the Michigan Press Association and The Macomb Daily, will be held at 1 p.m. at the CARE of Southeastern Michigan in Fraser. It is open to the public.
Nessel will give a presentation on FOIA and OMA laws and answer questions. The workshop will be part of the National Sunlight Week, which celebrates and promotes dialogue on open government, which begins on Sunday, March 13th.
“The FOIA / OMA sessions held by AG are a great way to promote transparency in Michigan and inform the public about access to public documents and public meetings,” said Lisa McGraw, MPA’s public relations manager.
Macomb Daily Editor-in-Chief Jeff Payne noted that the public should be aware of the responsibilities of government agencies and officials to society.
“It is important that citizens understand the responsibility of officials to you, the voters who elect them,” Payne said. “From your local school board and planning committee to officials in Lansing and Washington, D.C., providing access to discussions that determine outcomes that affect you is the responsibility of every official.”
Nessel is expected to discuss issues related to response time, cost and editing of FOIA inquiries, as well as issues related to public meetings. MPA attorney Robin Luce Herman will also attend.
“We see a lot of delays, and we see a lot of excessive spending (in FOIA responses),” McGraw said. “There is a lot of use of Sharpie” for editors by government officials.
Nessel will probably also say that Michigan is one of the worst states for transparency. The state executive and legislature are exempt from the FOIA, one of two states that do so.
The state House of Representatives passed a bill repealing the exception for the governor’s office, the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the measure did not receive support in the Senate, said state spokesman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland.
Johnson, a supporter of greater openness in government, said he believes Michigan’s lack of transparency has contributed to conspiracy theories among residents.
“We need to remove barriers to make everything more open,” he said.
And, quoting Abraham Lincoln, he added: “Government must be of the people, for the people and the people.”
Allowing FOIA state legislators, he said, “It would make me a better legislator and it would be good for us to have that responsibility.”
Johnson said he is also working on amendments to the FOIA law to address costs, response times and ways to facilitate the process for both the public and the government.
He and State Representative Cynthia Johnson (no relatives), D-Detroit, are sponsoring bills that make the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Institute of the Arts eligible for the Freedom of Information Act because both entities receive taxpayer dollars through the military.
The workshop will be the first in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic, McGraw said. The seminars were held a few years ago under the direction of former state attorneys general Jennifer Grenholm and Mike Cox and revived Nessel after she took office in 2019. Nessel held several sessions during the first 15 months of his tenure before they were terminated. One was to take place in Macomb County, sponsored by the MPA and The Macomb Daily in March 2020, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation strategies forced it to be canceled.