Apr 14, 2023 - News

FOIA Friday: Michigan's mystery poetry spending

Illustration of a pattern of quills. 

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Michigan's first poet laureate since 1959 was announced this week just hours after the publication of a Free Press investigation seeking public records about the position's vacancy.

Why it matters: Michigan was one of four states without a poet laureate or state writer to read at public ceremonies and promote literary arts.

Catch up quick: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer first approved a state budget with money for the job in 2021.

  • Lawmakers appropriated $100,000 annually for the position.
  • Despite not actually employing a poet laureate, the state's education department spent $67,266.81 on poetry books, future poet laureate events, and other expenses over the last two years.

Between the lines: The state denied the Free Press' Freedom of Information Act request for job postings or applications because the records did not exist.

  • The denial prompted the newspaper's investigation that raised questions about state expenditures for a position that wasn't posted.

The latest: Detroit-raised Nandi Comer was selected poet laureate on Wednesday, the same day the report was published.

  • An education department spokesperson denied that the Free Press' report affected the timing of Comer's selection, which was "a strong deliberative process and nearing conclusion."

The bottom line: Sometimes the absence of government records can be a smoking gun.


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