(Editor’s Note: Sunshine Week — March 12 through 18 this year — was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors — now News Leaders Association — and has grown into an enduring initiative to promote open government. The News Leaders Association has partnered with The Society of Professional Journalists to host the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community. It’s your right to know.)
Once again, Michiganders wait for the sun to shine in Michigan. At the same time, we wait for the sun to shine on our local and state government. Overall, the Great Lakes State has consistently maintained a failing score for integrity from the Center for Public Integrity. This is based largely on our lack of transparency in government, especially at the state level.
Last year, the citizens of Michigan voted overwhelmingly to require that elected state legislative and state executive officials must file annual financial disclosure reports on their income, assets, liabilities, gifts from lobbyists, positions held in certain organizations, and agreements on future employment. Michiganders are obviously ready for a change.
Taxpayers deserve to know what the people who work for them are doing. We are currently the only state in the country that does not subject their legislators and governor to the Freedom of Information Act. That needs to be fixed.
At the same time, some local government officials, law enforcement agencies and schools (K-university) cry foul and call FOIA a burden…we think it’s an essential service. The preamble to the Freedom of Information Act in MI reads: it is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act. The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.
The key part of the language above is “the people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.” Yet government officials at all levels stonewall, over charge and generally make asking for this information an onerous process. The members of the Michigan Press Association, and our partners at the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists invite you to join us in fighting for more sunshine this year. Contact your state legislators and let them know that you would like to see more transparency and accountability at every level of government, and that you don’t think it should be up to the citizens of our state to bear the burden of exorbitant costs, stall tactics and lengthy court appeals to find out where there tax dollars are being spent and how decisions that impact their day to day lives are being made.
As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said over a century ago: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
— Wes Smith, Publisher View Newspapers and President of the Michigan Press Association, Marty Fischhoff, Director of Engagement at Detroit Public TV and President of the Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Chapter and Sam Klemet, CEO of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.