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March 19, 2005

No More Phooey to FOIA

This past week was Sunshine Week, highlighting the Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1966. It could otherwise be called "accountability to the public."

Last week, Benzie County was kicked in the pants to the tune of $65,000 because its sheriff said "phooey" to FOIA and refused to hand over documents requested by The Record Eagle through the FOIA. The public documents pertained to citizen complaints against the sheriff's department and jail employees.

Recently, the Cool Cities Grant snafu was uncovered by the newspaper's FOIA filing. Some would find it unfortunate that the grant was retracted and although I don't believe the city's original intended use of the grant money was a deliberate attempt to "get away with something," the uncovering of the rules did lead to a more appropriate use of grant money.

In December, the local branch of the ACLU settled with Traverse City, costing taxpayers $3,000, because the police department would not respond to the ACLU's annual FOIA request for records.

There have been other cases which have not resulted in a monetary award or settlement, but in filing the FOIA, the public has learned about toxins dumped into the bay, the possible new development of a portion of the downtown district, to name two.

But apart from the FOIA, there have been groups operating on their own which should definitely have been doing so in the sunshine … because there could be no reason not to. One is the plan to spruce up west bay, and the other is the County's self-appointed group (which has since widened and become inclusive) studying transportation and land use.

"Sunshine Week" is too cute a name. I like better: "We Taxpayers are Paying You So Tell us What You are Doing Week."

Posted by Gadflygirl at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2005

Titmo on the Boardman

A couple of weeks ago, the local newspaper published a story about a young woman who spent several months in the county jail and who is now joining others to express concerns over the conditions in the jail. Her experience consisted of not getting her pain medication (for a broken back and sternum in a car accident a few years ago), headaches caused by black mold, and bedbug bites.

Other former inmates complained about mismanaged medications (lost, wrong dosage, wrong time, or overmedication … resulting in death in one case), and not getting medical attention when needed.

About ten years ago, I heard there were similar complaints, as well as instances where women in the jail were not given sufficient sanitary necessities, and were not able to obtain even a Midol.

The sheriff stated that all of these complaints are untrue. Simply stated, "I had the whole jail looked at. We just had another 100 percent compliance, and they would not give you that if you had mold in the jail. As far as infestation, there is nothing like that at all," he said. The jail is inspected by the Michigan Department of Corrections which is somewhat like the fox inspecting the chicken coop.

Following the article there have been two letters to the editor scoffing at the bringers of the complaints. One writer, a woman, was "disgusted," at the story (not the conditions), feeling that women who make lousy choices should not expect The Ritz. She wondered if the paper was "joking."

The women in the county jail are there probably for failure to pay child support, bad checks, shoplifting, driving under the influence. Certainly the law is the law, and these women are paying the penalty, having lost their freedom, contact with their families and children. But the punishment did not include, when levied, pain from not getting medication for four to five hours. No one should have to be exposed to mold (mold is not a housekeeping issue as much as it is a health problem), or a bug infestation in mattresses.

Maybe if the sheriff is so confident these complaints are without merit, he wouldn't mind an independent panel of women dropping in from time to time to make sure the female inmates have nothing to complain about.

Posted by Gadflygirl at 08:21 PM | Comments (0)