Busy restaurants, lots of people, walking, biking, all enjoying the Village of Clarkston. In my 37 years of living in the Village, I can’t recall a time when it was more alive and vibrant than it is now.
What appears to be a very successful downtown does have some problems however. Parking is certainly one of the more obvious and our city government is trying to address that issue. Being able to safely cross the street, increased traffic, and the actual gain to the overall city versus that of a few must also be considered.
Unfortunately there is a far more serious problem being kept far below the surface, one that our city government has so far refused to talk about publicly, it at all. That is the City of the Village of Clarkston’s professed purpose through their attorneys and insurance carrier to limit if not outright end the right of citizens to know what our government is doing with taxpayer’s money or for that matter what they are doing about anything.
The City of the Village of Clarkston and their multiple attorneys, are currently in the Michigan Court of Appeals arguing that they do not have to provide information on city related business and the actions that we pay for. The attorneys for the Michigan Municipal League, of which the city is a member and receives municipal insurance, and the Michigan Township Association, have filed a brief in support of the city’s position to withhold information from the public. Their claim to the Michigan Court of Appeal states the following: “More simply put, State officers and employees are subject to FOIA, but officers and employees of municipal and local units of government are not.”
They also argue that city related information not in the city hall does not have to be made available to the public and in a bizarre twist on equal rights, that a wife is not capable of acting independently from her husband. Something to the effect that if your husband asked for something, the wife is not allowed to.
FOIA is Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act as implemented in 1977. The intent of the act is clearly stated. “It is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act. The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.”
The city’s attorneys, that we pay for through our taxes, say we have no rights to the information we pay for and that are part of our city’s obligated duties.
The State Attorney General disagrees with them in his explanation of the Freedom of Information Act www.michigan.gov/documents/ag/FOIA_Pamphlet_380084_7.pdf which states, “The FOIA sets requirements for the disclosure of public records by all state agencies, county governments, and other local governments, school boards, other boards, departments, commissions, councils, and public colleges and universities are covered.”
It seems our city leaders and their various attorneys are more knowledgeable than the attorney general because they are arguing that this does not apply to them. I don’t know who that leaves to respond to the public’s questions and concerns or what they think a city is if not the people who govern it and pay for that service.
Our tax money is now being used in an attempt to deny our legal and ethical right to know how our money is spent and how government decisions are made. This is in the Appeals Court now, with big name organizations and their expensive attorneys chiming in, all for a small city of only ½ square mile and a population of around 900.
As much as I enjoy all the visible signs of success in our city, is this backroom move to a secret government a price we want to pay? Is this how we are represented by our city council and staff? Do they know what is going on in the courts? Are we represented by the friends and neighbors we have elected or attorneys we seem to have no control of and who profit from these foolish claims? After numerous problems I have had getting information about city matters and now reading recent court filings on behalf of the City of the Village of Clarkston, I have my doubts.