Houghton County struggles to maintain basic transparency
The Inside Scoop (and a picture of my cat)
Introducing The Inside Scoop
This, the new editorial and opinion page of Late Edition, will be exclusive to paying subscribers after this initial posting. It is important to me that regular coverage and information be publicly and freely available. While I welcome a large and diverse audience to participate in the discussions here, it’s much more conscionable to have this behind a paywall than hard-fact news about public meetings, community events, or features like the mental health series. Of course, at the same time, subscribing to The Inside Scoop supports all of Late Edition’s work.
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Houghton County struggles to achieve basic transparency standards
You may have noticed a lack of documents posted in the “Board Packet” for Houghton County, both on their website, and on Late Edition. I’ve gone back and forth with the county administrator about this, including trying to use the Freedom of Information Act to acquire copies of the documents after the meetings. The administrator was not particularly cooperative, which culminated in me having a letter from the Michigan Press Association’s lawyer sent to the county commissioners.
To be clear, posting the board information packet is not required by law. The law violations were strictly related to my FOIA requests.
The most recent meeting was thankfully preceded by the posting of what I could call a nearly-complete board information packet. One item (Resolutions 21-10) was added to the agenda just before the meeting, and while that is sometimes suspicious, it isn’t uncommon at all.
The reasons I’m sharing this with you now are two-fold.
The first is transparency. I embarked on this quest for transparency quietly, and had it ended short of having a formal letter mailed from a lawyer, I would have ended it quietly, too. Once a letter is sent to the commissioners, however, it becomes a public document, and I have a policy of sharing those whenever ethics allows.
The nearly-complete board packet did not include the letter sent to the commissioners as public correspondence. One can only guess what other correspondence to the board is still being omitted, and effectively hidden from the public. I won’t sue the county over documents I’m not sure exist, but it is concerning.
This brings me to my second point. Sharing the board information packet is the most basic of transparency measures. Counties, cities, and villages across the state often post them routinely, or at simple request. How can anyone be expected to fully participate in government meetings otherwise? If they don’t have ready access to public information like budgets, improvement plans, ordinances, and even resolutions that are going in front of a government body, not only does it keep them from offering informed comment and opinion, but it keeps them from being able to learn how to contribute even more meaningfully, by withholding the materials needed to learn how to fill positions on planning commissions, review boards, and political bodies themselves.
Attending, or the right to attend, a public meeting makes little difference if, as the governmental body discusses a given resolution or ordinance, you’ve never heard of it, nobody reads it out loud, and there are no copies of it available to you. This is not a description of participatory democracy.
Hopefully, Houghton County’s recent move to return the basics of transparency continues to blossom, and I hope you’ll help encourage it, too. If the government thinks I’m the only one watching, then I’m easy to ignore. Send a note of appreciation to County Administrator Ben Larson or the commissioner who represents your district, and tell them you appreciate the renewed opportunity to be an informed participant in your government.
While standing up and demanding your rights is important to your identity as an American, I’ve always found gratitude is key to personal happiness and interpersonal relationships.
Non-profit development update
Not much to say here. After the Tiny News Collective turned us down, we’ve started composing our own Articles of Incorporation to launch independently. I’m hoping getting these accepted by the state will be the last thing that needs to be done before we can roll out the new, locally-focused branding to replace “Late Edition”. To go non-profit requires an additional filing with the federal government, but the Articles need to be done first.
As excited as I am to make this happen, I’m trying to be methodical in my approach, and make sure the details are handled properly and with counsel from the (still growing) board.
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A picture of my cat
I got The Lawnmower running beautifully… and briefly. And then running again, thanks to my friends Chris and Dale. The thing has been put through the wringer and just working on it is an adventure, I never know what I’m going to find. We’ll see how far it takes me. If you have a 150cc GY6 engine in anything around your property, let me know. I’m looking for spare parts.