This is an excerpt of a Sept. 29 column I wrote for Dome Magazine.
In 2015, I researched and wrote the widely publicized report that concluded Michigan was the worst state in the nation based on government accountability and transparency.
I was one of 50 journalists and academics working on the project for the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity. It was a stressful, arduous process. I was assigned to research our state government’s process of handling legislative, judicial and executive branch functions in 13 categories, each with an emphasis on ethical standards and openness to the public. I interviewed dozens of expert sources and read stacks of documents while searching for thorough answers to about 250 questions. Over the several months of work, I had five different editors challenging me at every step. They were baffled at some of the material I turned in.
How can it be that lobbyists can file disclosure reports on their wining and dining of legislators that are practically meaningless? Is it really possible that no comprehensive set of financial records for judges exists, leaving them free to hide personal conflicts of interest in their courtroom? Michigan actually has an Ethics Board with no power to investigate wrongdoing by state officials or department heads, and no authority to hand out punishment to those found guilty?
My report concluded that this subterfuge was “an honor system with no honor.”
I had no role in crunching the data from the 50 states or calculating the final rankings – Michigan received a grade of “F” in 10 of 13 categories, an F overall, and the worst score in the nation, 51 out of a possible 100.
After the study was published, I participated in several radio news interviews and a university panel discussion about the findings, and among the most common questions posed to me were: What kind of response can we expect in the Legislature to this black mark on our state’s image? How soon do you think Lansing will produce legislation to fix some of these gaping flaws in our system?
I was skeptical of a quick or thorough reaction from lawmakers, yet I never imagined more than a year of inaction followed by some giant steps backward.
But that’s exactly what has happened.
Continue reading here.