Michigan Congress Talks Transparency, Unanimously Works to Block Bid Records

As Sunshine Week is about to set for another year and the local paper perfunctory runs another banal guest opinion on the subject, let's observe an issue that should be tackled in these paper's editorial pages.  To do so, I will illustrate a bit of hypocrisy on the part of our state elected officials, in particular, our junior representative from Scottville.

Back in early February, two news articles came out in our two local news sources that looked oddly alike.  The more developed story was in the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews):

VanderWall introduces bill to make governor's office subject to FOI...

State Rep. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, Wednesday [February 1st] introduced legislation to make Michigan’s state government more transparent.

His legislation is part of a greater bill package to make the governor and lieutenant governor subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and create a similar disclosure requirement for state representatives and senators called the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA).

“Since my campaign I’ve talked about my commitment to ensuring that we hold government officials more accountable by providing more information to taxpayers,” VanderWall said. “The people of Michigan deserve to know how their money is being used so we are making that information readily and easily accessible.”

The bill package does make accommodations for some records, among them letters to and from people in the district, human resources files, and ongoing legislative investigations or lawsuits.

VanderWall said the House has committed itself to being steadfast in their transparency this term by putting more information into the people’s hands. 

“Last month we were pleased to announce that the Michigan House of Representatives website now includes the salary information for all representatives and staff members,” VanderWall said.

The following is from the Mason County Press (aka COLDNews East) with several sentences that were exactly the same as the previous article (shown in italics), it aired first. 

VanderWall introduces transparency legislation

LANSING — State Rep. Curt VanderWall of Ludington today introduced legislation to make Michigan’s state government more transparent. VanderWall is representative for the 101st House District, which includes Mason, Manistee, Benzie, and Leelanau counties.

His legislation is part of a greater bill, House Bill 4150, package to make the governor and lieutenant governor subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and create a similar disclosure requirement for state representatives and senators called the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA).

Since my campaign I’ve talked about my commitment to ensuring that we hold government officials more accountable by providing more information to taxpayers,” VanderWall said. “The people of Michigan deserve to know how their money is being used so we are making that information readily and easily accessible.”

Whenever two separate news agencies run mirror image stories, you can usually be assured it is because of one of two reasons.  The first reason is that they receive it from another reputable news source or 'the wire' such as the Associated Press, and should ascribe that fact in the article.  The second reason is that an agency or individual has offered up a 'press release' to advertise or enlighten the public about something happening.  This can often be little more than propaganda.

Undoubtedly, this was a press release offered up by Congressman VanderWall's staff to portray their man as a freedom fighter for public information.  "The people of Michigan deserve to know how their money is being used so we are making that information readily and easily accessible."

That phrase uttered my Representative VanderWall is so commendable that it has already been repeated three times in this essay.  Let's look at something else regarding the FOIA that he has also worked on over the last few weeks, this would be Senate Bill-69.

The bill if enacted into law would change a rather fundamental purchasing and bidding law MCL 18-1261 into something else.  If you read the law provided in the link, there is no reference to any restrictions to the FOIA, purchases bids and other public records associated with these are currently available to the public.  Senate Bill #69 aims to change that, here is the relevant change to the existing law (the boldface is new language, the red words are alterations made since the last reading and approval:

It indicates that records regarding bids/quotes/proposals cannot be divulged to the public until after the state contract gets awarded.  This is an incredible move away from transparency, for now the bids/quotes/proposals for state projects are secret until after the contract has been ratified. 

After the ink dries you can then look at these records several days later and determine that conflicts of interest have occurred, or that they failed to accept the low bid without any explanation, or that they spent a lot more than they should have, or that there were several parts of the proposal that would be objectionable by large segments of the public, or a host of other things-- nothing of which the public can do much about after the fact of the contract being approved.

How could anybody who believes that "The people of Michigan deserve to know how their money is being used so we are making that information readily and easily accessible" accept such an onerous piece of legislation like this?  Well. let's take a look at H of R Journal #22 where it has a roll call vote on SB 69 on March 2: 

The idea that not only the so-called FOIA Champion from Mason County, Curt "Mole Man" VanderWall, can vote for such a bill is bad enough, but when you notice that 106 out of 108 other House members did the same, we should not be surprised why Michigan has been almost perennially noted as the worst state regarding transparency.  This bill, if enacted into law, will only cement Michigan transparency to be clear as cement. 

On March 8, the House affirmed it once again 107-0, with Congressman VanderWall and the rest of Michigan's elected secret-keepers courageously once again voting to squash the FOIA of competitive bids while standing behind the contrary words of "The people of Michigan deserve to know how their money is being used so we are making that information readily and easily accessible."

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Outrageous to say the least. We all know the deceit game he and the other legislative members are playing. He talks like a typical forked tongued politician. Rereading his statement he clearly says that "the people of Michigan deserve to know how their money is being used", he didn't really lie he just failed to say when we should know. What the bill should state is that the entire process should be open for scrutiny and all information must be available to the public. This is why politicians cannot be trusted.

When a bill like this receives unanimous support during the same time that the FOIA amendment to add congress and the governor to those who must follow FOIA is getting nearly unanimous support, you know the representatives do not have their heart into the practices of full transparency. 

I fear that when and if the MI governor and congress is added to the list, they will water the FOIA for other agencies down to the point where you can't get hardly anything, and then at a price.

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