FOIA, OMA key tools anyone can use to keep tabs on government

It’s not unusual to hear people complain about the activities of government and include in those complaints a desire to review documents connected with the issue or issues they’re interested in.

But where can one obtain documents to look at?

Others lament and/or voice suspicions that the governmental entity they are following doesn’t seem to be conducting all of its business in open session.

What can they do about it?

Regrettably, we hear more than our share of such commentary and do our best to look into matters brought to our attention. Such is the work of a First Amendment speaker, endeavors that dovetail with this week’s observation of Sunshine Week.

People might be surprised, however, to learn the tools we use at The Mining Journal to peel back the layers of bureaucracy that often surround governments’ workings are easily available to anyone: The Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.

Both were passed by the state Legislature in 1976, when the glow of the Watergate crisis still shone brightly and people were acutely aware of what can happen in government when people aren’t paying attention.

FOIA, as it generally is known, is Public Act 442 of 1976. It entitles people to a wealth of information under specific categories. Certain kinds of information is exempted and we won’t attempt to detail its provisions here — the act is lengthy and deserves a complete read — we will simply note its use is often the first step in learning how government really works. There can be a monetary cost to the requester so that information should be secured before the request is filled.

The Open Meetings Act is Public Act 267 of 1976. In a nutshell, it sets forth very specific procedures for public bodies, in terms of meeting and decision making, including what kinds of things can be discussed behind closed doors in executive session, and how that process should play out. Again, it’s not the intention of this writing to provide an exhaustive review of the OMA but rather to inform readers of its importance.

We recommend the link below be followed to obtain downloadable PDF copies of both laws and attendant court and attorney general opinions. Become familiar with them and don’t be afraid to use them.

The government works for you, or at least it should. Time to start checking up on your employees.