Let the sun shine along our shores

The week of March 16-22 is Sunshine Week.
Mar 17, 2014

While this week might not mean much to most people in our community, it should.

Without the ability of the press to gather information about the operations and activities of our local governments, all citizens may be kept in the dark.

They may be kept in the dark about how their taxpayer dollars are being spent, how jobs are awarded or rescinded, and kept from information that reveals wrongdoing of those who have sworn to serve our community.

Sunshine Week is a national effort to get Americans more engaged in advocating for open government and transparency.

Michigan is among the worst states for public records laws. The laws in Michigan, based on the federal Freedom of Information Act, are adapted here to make it even more difficult and expensive for citizens and journalists alike to access public records.

Want to know why the Spring Lake-Ferrysburg police chief abruptly left the fold? Too bad. Want to know how much the village and city are spending on his departure? That’s none of your taxpaying business. That’s according to some dubious confidentiality clause added to the chief’s separation agreement.

Want to know what was said on the 911 calls made from a household where a local teen was shot — and later died — from a game of Russian roulette gone wrong? How about the investigative report on the incident? Too bad. It’s not the public’s business until the alleged triggerman — just a boy — is tried, convicted and sent to prison. That’s according to our powerful county officials.

Want to know what crimes occur on your street and in your neighborhood? Or how Ottawa County emergency officials spend their time on the public clock? If you live in Spring Lake, Ferrysburg or Grand Haven, you’re in luck because public safety officials in these communities recognize the importance of keeping the public informed.

But if you live in the townships of Grand Haven, Robinson, Crockery, Spring Lake or others, too bad. That’s according to, again, our illustrious county officials who prefer we all live behind a veil of vagueness and ignorance, and have decided that’s information taxpayers don’t need to know.

Just what, exactly, are they hiding? If they have nothing to hide, why the secrecy? Why the denials of FOIA requests? Why a secrecy clause in a separation agreement?

News media organizations such as the Grand Haven Tribune take seriously their duty of obtaining and disseminating the public’s information. But we need your help in supporting measures in the Legislature that might help improve access to public records.

Among those measures are House Bill 4001, a bill that would limit costs and increase efficiency in filling FOIA requests; and House Bill 4314, a bill that would create an Open Government Commission to serve as a public body to address conflicts in FOIA without incurring the costs and time of going to court.

This legislation could help all citizens obtain access to records that should be rightly owned by the public trust.

Let the light shine upon our shores.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to news@grandhaventribune.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

 

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