A Nice Little FOI Audit by Michigan Students…

No reason why every journalism program in the country can’t do this:

On Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 29, the Spartan Online News Network, powered by Michigan State University journalism students, emailed most of the municipalities and school districts in Ingham County with a simple request. The students asked how many Freedom of Information Act requests these entities had received in each of the five preceding years. They cited the FOIA in their requests.

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act
 says local government should respond or ask for an extension within five business days. We felt the request could be answered quickly, without straining local clerks. In some cases, this was true. In others, we have not heard back, long after the five-day response period has passed.

Some communities answered immediately, others denied the request and invited us to sue them in Circuit Court, as the law provides. Three, so far, have set fees ranging from $5 to $40 to perhaps more. In one case, we were told that this is just a crummy time of year to follow the Freedom of Information Act.

There is a lack of consistency about how easily governments make it easy for citizens to use the Freedom of Information Act and several reported glitchy email systems or websites. Some small communities have trouble complying with requests and others seem to do OK. In many cases, it might help to centralize FOIA requests.

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