GUEST VIEWPOINT: Keep sun shining on government

By Cory Johnston

In a period of just over one month, my name has twice been on the front page of The Clarkston News for things said at Village of Clarkston council meetings even though I made no public statements and did not attend any city meetings.
That would normally give me ample reason to write a letter to someone, including the Clarkston News. However, there are more important issues than what past and present city council members and officials say about me.
This is again Sunshine Week, a national initiative that encourages people to better understand the importance of people’s right to know what their government is doing, and why. So back to the Village Hall for the City of the Village of Clarkston. The city has recently been sued for violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).
In a separate case the city is being sued for refusing to provide FOIA requested information about city actions and expenses.
These public acts are intended to let the people know what their government is doing. The stated public policy of the Freedom of Information Act is that “The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.”
The city admitted they violated both acts in the first case although they made no public statement to that effect, made no changes to any policies and procedures, and did not apologize to those who had been wronged (“Prosecutor finds meeting violation, but no charges,” Oct. 19, 2016).
In the second case, the city prevailed in the Circuit Court and that case is now headed to the Michigan Court of Appeals (“Judge rules for city in FOIA case,” Nov. 2, 2016).
The city, through their attorney, contends it does not have to reveal information they say is not in the Village Hall even if it is city related business, paid for with our tax dollars, and related to legally required actions of the city. How the city could prevail on this in any court is beyond my comprehension and what is so secret in the tiny Village of Clarkston that the city would spend our money going to Court to keep it hidden?
Under the city’s theory, city actions can be done outside of the city hall, kept in secret files, and they would not have to reveal it to anyone.
That raises the question of who is this unknown person or persons doing secret city business, spending our money to keep everyone from knowing why they spent our money, and processing a bill that the city pays without ever knowing what they are paying for?
If that makes no sense to you, good. It makes no sense to me either but it is our city’s stated defense, presumably approved by our elected city leaders.
To make it even more ridiculous, according to the city’s attorney, spouses are merely pawns and incapable of independently questioning city actions. Take note spouses, this is the city’s opinion of you and the city, whoever that is, will ridicule anyone who disagrees with them.
Win or lose, this may not change anything. The city council never questions the bills for anything, rarely asks for supporting information, and never publicly discusses the legal conflicts the city is involved in.
The city council meets twice every month and all of this somehow happens without comment. The same lack of openness and concern applies to State law, City Charter, City Ordinances and Council Resolutions which never have been available as required by the City Charter. That’s probably the reason they are seldom followed.
Informing the public has rarely been a priority of the present and past city councils and meeting minutes are close to useless. If not for The Clarkston News, most of us would know very little about city actions, legal problems, who the new city manager and treasurer are, or how decisions are made in our city. Thank you Clarkston News for keeping us informed.
It is Sunshine Week. It should be every day. We can demand to know what our city government is doing with our city and our money, or not.