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Lawmakers taking on transparency reform is a great first step

It’s an understatement to say Michigan’s government transparency record is dismal.

The state regularly lands on the wrong end of worst-in-the-nation rankings for government accountability. Those ratings, lists that often place our state at or near the wrong end, repeatedly highlight inadequate open records and open meetings laws. They also point toward a wholesale exemption lawmakers and the governor enjoy from the Freedom of Information Act.

Maybe that’s why we were encouraged by remarks made this week by the recently seated speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, seemed to plant a priority in government accountability and transparency in the first days of his tenure.

“Anything that improves the transparency and accountability of government is on the table,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

We hope he means it. More, we hope Wentworth puts some action to those words and does something to finally lift our state from the murky end of those rankings. We hope he, and his lawmaking colleagues, see fit to finally rectify the abhorrent blockades that allow those doing the public’s business to effectively shield themselves from public view.

Those reforms should include making both the legislature and the governor subject to FOIA; fixing gaps in the law that allow government agencies to delay release of records arbitrarily as a matter of practice; and eliminating the absurd language that allows bureaucrats to charge thousands of dollars for the release of documents created, catalogued, and maintained with taxpayer dollars.

Sure, we probably have a little more experience with these regulations than most Michiganders, and therefore we carry a little more animosity toward their shortcomings.

But fixing the structures that cut our governance and its execution from public view probably is one of the most meaningful public service projects lawmakers could tackle.

For decades, those who become comfortable either in elected office or inside the bureaucracy have worked against any reform that would bring meaningful transparency to our state. In fact, resistance to transparency reforms seems to come from all corners.

Likewise, government transparency is, in our view, the single most nonpartisan issue in our state. If we, the taxpayers are footing the bill, shouldn’t we have a right to inspect the fruits of our investment?

For those reasons, we hope Speaker Wentworth succeeds in his pledge to bring transparency to Michigan government.

— Traverse City Record Eagle

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