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A step in the right direction

Momentum. Traction. Whatever you want to call it, there is movement on Michigan’s abysmal accountability practice when it comes to state government.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a directive last week at the Michigan Press Association meeting that:

Requires state agencies to appoint transparency liaisons to process cost-effective Freedom of Information Act requests and public records.

Mandates public notices and records to be uploaded online in a system devised by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Limits time extension requests by state agencies. FOIA requires a 5-day response window, but agencies often use a 10-day extension. Requesters must be given notice of delays.

Prohibits state officials from using electronic communication to conduct business during public meetings.

Urges live streaming public meetings.

This is a healthy step in the right direction — the public needs to know what their state government is doing on their behalf with their dollars.

But there’s more to do. Currently only Michigan and one other state (Massachusetts) allows its Governor to sidestep FOIA, and one of only 8 states to let the Legislature do the same. We’re at the bottom of the class when it comes to most systems that rank integrity and accountability in state government.

It seems fair to say that Whitmer’s actions thus far have earned her the benefit of the doubt in her stated intention to push the Legislature to open up before she follows suit.

Legislative action is stronger than directives, Whitmer said. The people of Michigan deserve strong, decisive open government laws.

Sometimes it takes small, persistent movements to start the stonewall rolling.

We hope Whitmer is the lever, and the Legislature is the weight behind her.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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