Mackinac Center Files Open Records Lawsuit Against State Government Over Flint Water Documents

Open government requires timely information

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Chantal Lovell
Media Relations Manager
Patrick Wright
Director, Mackinac Center Legal Foundation

MIDLAND — The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit today against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for delaying for months the release of emails related to the Flint water crisis.

The lawsuit comes after the Mackinac Center for Public Policy waited since March for the Department (MDEQ) to respond to a simple public records request. Rick Snyder’s office released in June the final batch of Flint-related emails in an “effort to increase transparency and make information more accessible to the public,” but the MDEQ still remains unresponsive to the Center’s FOIA request.

“Accountable government requires transparency, especially during times of crisis,” Foundation Director Patrick Wright said. “Thousands of pages of MDEQ emails were posted online last month in the name of openness, yet the department is still balking at Michigan’s transparency laws.”

On March 30, 2016, the Center emailed the MDEQ’s Freedom of Information Act coordinator to request all emails from MDEQ employees Liane Shekter-Smith and Stephen Busch from 2013 through 2015 containing the word “Flint.” The Center also requested the names of “any employees transferred, reassigned, or suspended as a result of the Flint water issues.” Finally, the request sought the current job titles of Shekter-Smith and Busch.

The MDEQ sent a 10-business-day extension letter on April 4, then on April 21, sent the Center a cost estimate of $114.35 for 2.5 hours of technical staff time and two hours of administrative staff time, saying both would be required to respond to the request. The Center sent a check for the full amount on April 26 and the MDEQ cashed the check on May 6. The MCPP has received confirmation from MDEQ that despite the recent email release, it is still waiting to respond and fully comply with the MCPP’s FOIA request. The state estimates that it will still take weeks to fulfill the request.

“The fact that the state is claiming to be transparent in public yet still ignoring open records law highlights the need for the legislature to reform FOIA to create hard, enforceable response deadlines,” Wright said.

Despite only 4.5 hours of staff time being needed to respond to the request and the MDEQ’s own guidelines indicating it will provide records in a timely manner (usually ten business days) once a “good faith” deposit is received, the department says it is not planning to respond until July 29, 2016.

“Our FOIA laws must guarantee people of all views access to timely information to fully participate in the democratic process,” Wright said. “People and the press have a right to transparency even if it’s inconvenient to the government agency.”

The case, in which the Center is seeking the records and over $2,500 in damages due to the willful conduct of MDEQ, was filed in the State of Michigan Court of Claims.

Related documents:
Original FOIA request
10-day notice from MDEQ
MDEQ records procedure
MDEQ cost estimate
MCPP payment to MDEQ for records
May correspondence with MDEQ
June correspondence with MDEQ

About the Mackinac Center for Public Policy
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan residents by promoting sound solutions to state and local economic policy questions. As a free-market think tank, the Mackinac Center is guided by its belief in free markets, individual liberty, limited government and the rule of law. Founded in 1988, it is headquartered in Midland, Mich. For more information, visit

About the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is the public-interest law firm of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. It advances individual freedom and the rule of law in Michigan through strategic litigation and public outreach to secure the liberties of the state’s residents, workers, students and entrepreneurs.

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