Improving Transparency in Michigan

March 7, 2013 3:32 PM

From Sunshine Week:

Welcome to Sunshine Week, and no, I am not talking about the fickle weather in the state. I am talking about the public’s right and responsibility to keep an eye on what our government at the local, state and federal level are up to from our legislators to our bureaucrats, school boards, state universities, teachers, mayors, managers, department heads, council members, cops and others.

Sunshine Week, a national initiative to encourage discussion on the importance of open government and freedom of information, is celebrated annually in mid-March to coincide with James Madison’s March 16 birthday.

Sunshine Week is also the official launch of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG). Michigan was one of just two states (the other is Alaska) without an open government group.

MiCOG’s purpose is three-fold:

  • to promote and protect transparency and accountability in state and local governments;

  • to recommend significant freedom of information, open meetings and public access legal cases to the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) for financial support,

  • and to create educational programs and information.

And MiCOG invites you to join its efforts.

Why? Citizens and journalists are having greater difficulty obtaining public documents from government agencies. They are deterred by long delays in responses and high fees. Most individuals and smaller news organizations do not have the resources to mount legal challenges in FOIA and OMA cases.

But MiCOG can help with that. MiCOG makes citizens and news media in our state eligible to access some of the $2 million the Knight Foundation gave to NFOIC to fund worthwhile open access litigation. If the plaintiff prevails and recovers attorney fees and court costs (as required under Michigan’s FOI and OMA), that money goes back to the national group for future lawsuits around the nation. The NFOIC relies on state open government groups to recommend cases that could tap into the Knight funds. The national committee decides whether to back a case financially. One key role of MiCOG’s board is to make certain that only cases with good sets of facts go to court to make good law.

See the rest at Sunshine Week.

The Michigan Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds