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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 Some would find it unfortunate that the grant was retracted and although I don't believe the city's original intended use of the grant money was a deliberate attempt to "get away with something," the uncovering of the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 March 19, 2005 06:23 PM

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