|Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof|
By Brandon Hall
The Michigan Senate's outrageous rule change severely limiting public and media access to Senate documents was passed via voice vote just two weeks before Senator Virgil Smith was arrested for shooting and trying to kill his ex-wife for refusing to participate in a three way sexual encounter, but most Michiganders-even politically astute ones-don't even know about the rule change because of a media blackout on the issue.
Even now, as outlets call for increased transparency in Lansing because of the Courser/Gamrat drama and for laws to be passed to bring the Legislature and Governor into the scope of FOIA authority, no one is talking about the change.
The Detroit News has called for increased transparency in Michigan government in a recent editorial, writing:
"When lawmakers excluded themselves from FOIA, the reason put forward was that they did not want correspondences with their constituents to be subject to freedom of information requests.
But that’s precisely the sort of thing that should be public. Communications between local officials and the public are subject to disclosure under FOIA, and that should be the case at the state level as well.
Michigan joins Massachusetts as one of just two states that exempt lawmakers and the governor from FOIA. The initial law, passed in 1976, did not specifically carve out the Legislature, but an opinion by then-Attorney Gen. Frank Kelley in 1986 determined that lawmakers are not covered.
Bills have been introduced over the years to bring all elected officials under the FOIA umbrella. But they’ve gone nowhere.
Michigan’s exemption is not a blanket exception; documents relating to financial transactions must be made public. But it is broad enough to shelter correspondence, phone records, appointment schedules and reports.
It’s worth noting that Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would subject the Detroit Institute of Arts to FOIA, since it collects taxpayer money.
If sunshine is good for the DIA, it certainly would be beneficial for the Capitol."
But one doesn't need to go back to 1976 or some other far away time to spotlight problems with transparency in Michigan government, just look at the Michigan Senate earlier this year.
The Detroit News and most other outlets have yet to bother covering an outrageous act pushed forward by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof this April.
On April 28th, Meekhof changed Senate rules to eliminate FOIA like Senate policies giving the media and public access to Senate documents.
WMP wrote at the time:
In a voice vote unaccountable to Constituents and pushed for by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, the public and media no longer have access to vital records of the Senators they elect after Senate rules were changed.
Local governments are subject to FOIA, as are most areas of federal government. Years ago though, the Michigan Legislature exempted themselves from FOIA requirements. The Senate rules allowed a similar process to FOIA, but Meekhof has JUST purged those rules, like Cindy Gamrat at a GOP Caucus meeting: they're GONE.
What did Meekhof remove from Senate rules??? Accountability from our elected officials to "we the people," and to the media. It's not like we pay for their salaries and everything that they do, including the buildings in which they do it.
>>>The following is no longer true:
"The Secretary of the Senate shall serve as the Senate Information Officer to respond to requests for Senate financial records from the public and the media on behalf of a Senator or the Senate. All requests must include the first and last name, mailing address, and phone number of the requester.
When the Secretary of the Senate receives a written request for a public record, the Secretary shall immediately, but not more than five (5) business days after the day the request is received unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the person making the request, respond to the request by one (1) of the following:
A) Grant the request.
B) Issue a written notice to the requesting person denying the request.
C) Grant the request in part and issue a written notice to the requesting person denying the request in part.
D) Under unusual circumstances, issue a notice extending for not more than ten (10) business days the period during which the Senate shall respond to the request.
The Senate shall not issue more than one (1) notice of extension for a particular request.If the Senate fails to respond to the written request within these guidelines, there will be a fine of $250 and all Senate copying and inspection fees shall be waived.""
>>>And even two weeks later, when Senator Virgil Smith is arrested for firing a shotgun at his ex-wife-trying to kill her when she won't agree to a three way sexual encounter-not a word is said by most about the rule change, not a peep.
Lansing needs more transparency, but we don't need new laws to start providing it. If outlets like the storied and well written Detroit News covered issues like the April rules change and #MeekhofSenateBuilding, Michiganders would be better served immediately, no law needed.
BLACKLIST: As Courser/Gamrat Drama Rages, Media Keeps Michiganders In The Dark On State Senate Scandals
>>>Breaking: What Is He HIDING? Meekhof Changes Senate Rules To Stop Public+Media From Accessing Senate Documents
>>>Read more below:
RUDE: Cotter Tells Gamrat To Get Lost As Greimel Reads Her Apology To House Dems
Breaking: Detroit News Confirms WMP's Courser Email Story, Reveals Affair With State Rep. Cindy Gamrat
False Flag? Sources: Courser Sent Controversial Email+House GOP Leadership Knows, No Longer Attends Caucus Meetings
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.
>>>Email him at WestMiPolitics@Gmail.com
|Photo By Darlene Dowling Thompson|