What’s required to unlock records? Often it’s opening a checkbook and hitting the open road

While much of the world runs on digital transactions, it takes an actual paper checkbook and a lot of travel to unlock open records in many small agencies and police departments.

A Michigan editor, who is leading a reporting project into police responses at a music festival at which four people died, found herself driving across two counties, checkbook in hand, to obtain hardcopy public records from multiple government offices.

“Apparently, I’m the only one on our team that’s over 50,” said Sara Scott, an editor for MLive Media Group. “So, I started writing a series of personal checks, mailing it to these small police departments. When the reports finally came in, (we said) digitize them and send it to them in an email. ‘Oh, no, no – we can’t do that.’”

In a Sept. 30, 2021, column and podcast, John Hiner, MLive Media Group’s vice president of content, shared the backstory of Scott’s team, and the obstacles and expenses it faced in obtaining public records. Think of extra fees to remove staples.

“That may seem comical, but it’s not funny,” Hiner writes. “Government documents are your documents, and obstacles to transparency are obstacles to accountability from the agencies you expect to work on your behalf.”