Department of Environmental Quality Must Be Transparent

Michigan media reports on latest Mackinac Center lawsuit

People and the press have a right to transparency, even when it’s inconvenient for government.

That’s why the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit last week against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which continues to skirt state transparency laws by not responding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Foundation Director Patrick Wright spoke with The Detroit News about the lawsuit, which seeks emails related to the Flint water crisis.

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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. … 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.

The Center has been waiting since March for emails related to the crisis and has already paid $114.35 for the records. Though the MDEQ estimated it would take approximately 4.5 hours of staff time to respond to the request and cashed the Center’s check in May, it has yet to provide the documents.

“We have been waiting for essentially four hours of bureaucratic work. It’s going to take them four months to complete that,” Wright told WILS host Michael Cohen. “We’re talking about public insight into an important crisis that is ongoing in state government and we shouldn’t have to wait for the convenience of government for them to respond.”

In an op-ed published by The Detroit News, Maria Servold — Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism at Hillsdale College — questioned whether FOIA reform is needed to prevent such delays from occurring and ensure real transparency. “Regarding Flint, it doesn’t matter. The public needs information now,” she wrote.

Wright told Fox News’ M.L. Elrick on The Frank Beckmann Show that the Legislature needs to examine FOIA and strengthen Michigan’s transparency laws.

“If you leave it up to government discretion, then you’re going to have biases slip in,” he said. “No matter what the political perspective, you want to guarantee that people are going to have access to the information and that the government is not playing politics or is biased against whoever is (asking). We’re just trying to make sure this statute and this process works well for the people who are governed.”

Read The Detroit News article here.

Listen to the full interview with Michael Cohen here

Listen to the full interview with M.L. Elrick here.

Read Maria Servold’s op-ed here.


Related Articles:

Suing the State to See Flint Water Documents

Mackinac Center Settles Transparency Lawsuit with DEQ

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

Court Rejects MDEQ’s Avoidance Tactics in Flint FOIA Lawsuit

State Officials Lose Official Representation in Flint Water Lawsuit