Jun 24, 2022 - News

Introducing FOIA Fridays, a look into public records law in Michigan

Illustration of an unlocked padlock made out of a manila folder.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Michigan's public records law is a confusing mess to navigate for anyone who wants more information about the government.

Why it matters: As a citizen, you are entitled all kinds of public information — anything from property records to police reports and government contracts. The state's Freedom of Information Act provides a legal pathway to get it.

Yes, but: The law has numerous exemptions that keep some records secret. And FOIA officials can be unresponsive or unwilling to assist with a records request, especially if the information is viewed as sensitive.

What's happening: We're launching a new weekly feature to explore the ins and outs of Michigan's public records law. Our goal is to help readers understand how the law works while reporting out stories that we obtain through the process.

State of play: Transparency advocates and reporters have long complained about problems with Michigan's public records law.

  • It allows governments to charge astronomical fees for public records, sometimes in the six figures.
  • And it's so littered with vague language, loopholes and exceptions — allowing officials to delay or deny requests — that lawmakers held a hearing last October to explore fixes, Bridge Michigan reports.

💭 Joe's thought bubble: I've often relied on FOIA to get information as a reporter, particularly when digging into topics officials don't want to discuss. But the law is too burdensome on the public and I'm hopeful this spotlight can lead to more transparency.

  • When I was a reporter at the Free Press, we filed a FOIA lawsuit after the city demanded $222,667 for access to documents from a 2019 investigation involving Mayor Mike Duggan.

What's next: We share why the city wants more than $17,000 for government emails we requested about suspect parking tickets in next week's FOIA Friday.


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