Houghton County officials break FOIA to deny financial transparency
No documents, or justification, given in response to lawful request
In Copper Beacon’s initial Freedom of Information Act Request, item (b) is the summary of accounts payable. The intention was to obtain a breakdown of the $910,539.94 approved by the board to pay “bills” in December.
The response said that a summary of accounts payable does not exist, but that a check register is made available for public viewing within the courthouse. That’s all well and good, but the FOIA says the public has a right to request copies be sent via mail or electronic mail (MCL 15.235, (10)).
If a check register is what is available, that is acceptable. But when Copper Beacon renewed the FOIA in January for the check register, we received a flat denial with a repeat of the information regarding inspecting records in person. This doubles the county’s faults, both refusing to send copies and offering a denial with no lawfully cited statutes. A denial with no quoted statute is also against FOIA law (MCL 15.235 (5)).
For months, the county commissioners have approved large amounts in bills, often over $1 million, with no public oversight. Documents have been withheld from the board information packet that is provided to the public, as well as reporters.
The people of Houghton County deserve to know how their tax money is being spent, but the county administrator, now with the blessing of four members of the county board, is throwing up barriers to that knowledge and flouting Michigan law.
The cities of Hancock and Houghton, and villages of South Range and Calumet all make their paid bills available as a routine matter, or by request.
By refusing to do the same, or offer lawful justification for the refusal, the Houghton County leadership is opening themselves up to an expensive lawsuit, eroding the strength of the laws by which they govern, and blocking residents and taxpayers from participating in self-government.