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Chetly Zarko v. Howell Education Association

(now Eric Rothoff v. Howell Education Association)

(Editor's note: This case resulted in a disastrous Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that held that the emails sought under a Freedom of Information Act request were essentially personal records, not public records, and therefore beyond the reach of FOIA. The decision severely weakened the state’s FOIA law and thwarted disclosure of improper activity by public employees. Because the Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of the decision, the ruling can be corrected now only by the Legislature or by the Michigan Supreme Court in a future case.)

A lower court's interpretation of what constitutes a "public record" under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act would shield criminal and other improper government activities from public scrutiny, according to this "friend of the court" brief jointly submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan Press Association.

Click here to download the PDF of this amicus brief. This news release explains the context of the case.

Following the filing of this brief, the Mackinac Center and MPA have submitted two supplemental briefs to the Court. The first alerted the Court to a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is relevant to this case. The second supplemental brief brings up recent examples of how the Appeals Court’s disastrous ruling has been used by school districts to deny FOIA requests and potentially hide improper activities. Read the news release for more information.

The Mackinac Center's original amicus brief for the Appeals Court hearing of this case, then named Howell Education Association v. Howell Board of Education, is available here.

Howell Education Association v. Howell Board of Education

Just what constitutes a public record? Are documents created by a public official on a public computer system “public records” under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act? In this "friend of the court" brief, Mackinac Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright argues the answer is “yes” and warns that a failure to readily disclose such documents would seriously undermine FOIA's value.

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2009

With Michigan’s public school districts facing a decline in per-pupil funding, more districts are contracting out for at least one of the three major school support services — food, custodial and transportation — than ever before. This year’s survey of school districts found that 44.6 percent of all Michigan school districts contract out for at least one of these services, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. This year, new contracts alone are expected to save $6.9 million.

Leveling the Playing Field

What Michigan Public School Academy Leaders Need to Know About Union Organizing

A guide to labor law for charter school staff. This 105-page book explains how Michigan's labor law works and in particular how and why unions are formed. The book also gives advice on how charter schools can maintain good relations between teachers and administrators.

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2008

Privatization of school support services is a time-tested means for lowering educational costs. The three major services that school districts in Michigan contract out for are food, custodial and transportation. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy's survey of privatization is the longest running and most comprehensive source of school support service data in the nation.

Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling

A Statistical Analysis and Historical Review

In this study, the authors consider cigarette smuggling from two angles. First, they employ a statistical model to estimate the degree to which cigarette smuggling occurs in 47 of the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Second, they review the historical experiences of three states — Michigan, New Jersey and California — known to have problems with cigarette smuggling. The author's findings suggest that state policymakers should reassess the value of cigarette taxes as a revenue and public health tool.

Proposal to Raise Fees on Television Providers is Unnecessary, Likely to Increase Cable Rates

The State should not allow municipal governments to increase public, education and government channel fees when there is no evidence of additional demand.

Mackinac Center Amicus Curiae Brief in In re Complaint of Rovas Against SBC Michigan

The Mackinac Center’s brief urges the Michigan Supreme Court to hold that the judiciary need not defer to administrative agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Alternatively, because Michigan courts (unlike federal courts) have not determined that agency rules created through formal adjudication are equivalent to rules created through notice-and-comment rulemaking, the Court could hold simply that there is no judicial deference to rules created through adjudication, leaving aside the question of deference to notice-and-comment rules.

The Michigan Supreme Court decided the case in July 2008. The justices held that the rulings of state agencies should not receive deference from the courts and that the Michigan judiciary hence plays an integral role in reviewing the legality of agency actions. The ruling places a direct check on the power of state agencies to interpret and to act upon laws passed by the Michigan Legislature.

The decision is a landmark in Michigan jurisprudence, particularly since it diverges from federal jurisprudence, which grants almost unlimited power to federal agencies in implementing laws passed by Congress. The court's ruling was substantially in agreement with the arguments presented in this brief.

A Teacher Quality Primer

For Michigan School Officials, State Policymakers, Media and Residents

While it is true that Michigan students learn a variety of skills in their time at school, perhaps the most important charge of public schools, beyond providing a safe and healthy environment, is to ensure that students are learning "the three R’s." Unfortunately, the achievement levels of Michigan public school students raise doubts about the quality of public education in the state. This volume has been written to assist local and state policymakers who want to initiate and support teacher quality reforms to improve Michigan's primary and secondary schools.

Hart Enterprises: A Wetland Case Study

This study analyzes a dispute between Hart Enterprises Inc., a medical device manufacturer located north of Grand Rapids, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The department alleges that Hart Enterprises’ property contains a nearly one-acre wetland — an area that lies in the way of the company’s proposed expansion of its parking lot. Because of the DEQ’s ruling, the department expects the company to request a wetland permit — request that might be denied, or that might be granted only with significant conditions attached.

Readers may view a supplemental video of Russ Harding interviewing Alan Taylor of Hart Enterprises.