This is an excerpt of a story I wrote for Dome Magazine:
When a beleaguered Gov. Rick Snyder balked at releasing a full set of internal documents on the Flint water crisis last fall, the ensuing backlash fueled an ongoing movement to reform an archaic Michigan open-records law that keeps the public at bay.
But the intensity of the Flint crisis, and Snyder’s subsequent willingness to incrementally release stacks of emails by key state officials, ironically have choked the move in Lansing toward strengthening the Freedom Of Information Act.
The prospect that FOIA reform may not happen comes as the nation recognizes Sunshine Week, an annual event marked by journalists, officials and activists calling for greater openness in government. Unfortunately, as recent events have shown, Michigan stands as an outlier with a track record of keeping information in the dark. Michigan’s biggest black mark consists of an exemption granted to the governor’s office and the Legislature from FOIA-based requests for information.
Many lawmakers now see little chance that legislation eliminating the FOIA exemptions has a chance of passage in the near term. The Snyder administration remains singly focused on turning around the Flint debacle, so GOP allies in the Republican-controlled Legislature stand by the Snyder playbook. No distractions. No additional opportunities for Democrats to put the governor on defense. Not when Snyder flails away on a number of political fronts during the increasingly far-flung investigations of what went wrong in Flint and who should pay the price.
In addition, advocates for a more transparent state government, especially an all-inclusive FOIA, are chagrined to admit that Snyder’s eventual actions – releasing thousands of Flint-related emails – have dampened the call for more openness.
“I give Snyder credit for releasing the emails, even though he didn’t have to, but how do we know that it’s all of them or enough of them?” said Jane Briggs Bunting, former longtime director of the Oakland University journalism program who serves as president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government.
“That doesn’t mean that, when the next governor who gets into trouble like this – well, who’s to say he’ll release any information?”
Read more here.