Michigan open government group names first executive director as Sunshine Week nears

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG) has selected Steve Delie as its first executive director, bringing on board an attorney who specializes in open government issues at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy to further MiCOG’s mission of making Steve Deliegovernment more accountable to citizens.

The appointment comes just before the start of Sunshine Week, a national effort observed this year from March 14-20 to celebrate and promote transparency in government. Michigan ranks low in government transparency in national studies, being one of only two states to exempt its governor from state open records laws and one of only a handful that exempts the Legislature. Repeated efforts to broaden Michigan’s restrictive laws so far have gone nowhere.

“Having Steve on board as the executive director of MiCOG will be very helpful in bringing transparency to the forefront in our not-always-sunny state,” said Lisa McGraw, MiCOG vice president and public affairs manager for the Michigan Press Association.

Formed in 2012, MiCOG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition that protects the right to open government through educational activities, policy recommendations and the legal process. It’s governed by a board with members from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Michigan Press Association, Mackinac Center, Center for Michigan, Freedom Fund and two Michigan chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit and Mid-Michigan.

In addition to his job as MiCOG executive director, Delie will continue to work with the Mackinac Center in Midland, Mich. He has served as the lead expert on open government for the Mackinac Center since April 2020 and has extensive experience with public records and open meeting laws. He also worked in private practice advising municipalities. A graduate of Hillsdale College, he earned his law degree from the Michigan State University College of Law.

“MiCOG has consistently been one of Michigan’s strongest voices for government transparency and I’m glad that I’ll be able to help it continue that work,” Delie said. “Given the tumultuous times in which we live, transparency is more important than it ever has been, and I look forward to helping promote nonpartisan efforts that will truly make Michigan’s government more accountable to the people.”

Delie, 30, said his work advising municipalities on open government issues as well as helping citizens who contact the Mackinac Center with questions on the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act means he’s seen the issue from both sides.

“This experience has left with me a firm belief in the importance of open government, and a deep passion for the proper implementation of Michigan’s sunshine laws,” he said. “As MiCOG’s executive director, I look forward to putting this passion and experience to use on behalf of Michigan’s citizens to ensure full, fair and open access to governmental records.”

The Michigan House of Representatives has passed laws over the past six years opening up some legislative records to the public and expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the bills have never gotten a hearing in the Michigan Senate.

A House committee held hearings last week on a package of bills that would create a new Legislative Open Records Act and remove the current FOIA exemption for the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office, beginning January 22, 2022. The bills open up records for both the Legislature and the Executive Office but also include many exemptions. In addition, efforts have been announced by an outside group to launch a petition drive to repeal the laws exempting the governor, lieutenant governor and lawmakers from FOIA.

MiCOG’s Sunshine Agenda calls for FOIA to be extended to apply to them, as well as a reduction in fees for public records requests and new penalties that would make public bodies more accountable, among other goals.