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Freedom of Information

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Rachel Wolfe

on 3 February 2014

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Transcript of Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information
From Who?
"A person has a right to inspect, copy, or receive copies of a public record of a public body." - Michigan FOIA
What Kinds of Information Can Be Requested?
A public body must make ANY public record available upon request, unless the records are specifically exempted.

A Public Record:
1. Must be a "writing"

2. Must be prepared, owned, or in the possession of a public body.

3. Must be created or used in the performance of an official function.

4. Must actually exist.

How much money does my school spend on football uniforms? New Library Books? Superintendent's salary?
Are the buses at my school safe?
How clean is my school's cafeteria?
Freedom of Information Laws
FOI Laws are a tool by which citizens have given themselves the ability to keep tabs on what their government and its officials are doing.

These laws are available to everyone, but journalists find them especially useful for informing the public.
The General Law: A public body must provide notice of all gatherings and ALLOW PUBLIC ATTENDANCE unless a meeting is specifically exempted.
What Sort of Meeting is Exempted?
* Discussion of Personnel Matters

* Discussion of Individual Students

* Matters involving highly personal information (medical, financial, test scores)

* Discussion of ongoing or contemplated legal proceedings.

* Meetings to discuss the acquisition of real estate.
So How Do I Make a Request?
FOI Laws are also called "sunshine laws" because they shed light for the public on government activity.
A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
- James Madison
Types of FOI Laws

1. Freedom of Information Act
* State and Federal

2. Open Meetings Laws
The Kwame Kilpatrick Story
So who can make these kinds of requests?
Federal government agencies (FBI, Dept. of Education, etc.)

State Government Agencies (Dept. of Motor Vehicles, state colleges, etc.)

Local Government Agencies (city council, school districts, school boards, city police, etc.)
Private Schools

Companies (McDonalds, Old Navy, etc.)

Private Individuals

Most NonProfit Organizations (churches, private charities, etc.
Can you think of some examples?
Ask for your school district's annual budget.
Request school bus safety inspection reports from the district transportation office.
Ask for your school's most recent cafeteria safety/health inspection report conducted by the Department of Health.
Find The FOIA Coordinator
Ask nicely.
Often, a verbal request is all that is required.

If an agency requires a written request, provide one.
The FOIA Coordinator Will Respond
After receiving a formal request for records, officials must, within 5 days . . .

1. Provide the records

2. Point to a statutory exemption.
If your request is denied...
Politely ask them to explain.

They are required to give you a specific and detailed explanation.

If they refuse to explain, or charge you excessive fees, seek legal advice.
Written FOIA Requests

* Provide a reasonable description of the record you're looking for.

* Provide the name of the government office/official you believe has the record.

* Acknowledge fees.
So What Would You Like to Know?
Now It's Your Turn.
Open Meetings Law
Common Exemptions:
1. Records involving "ongoing criminal investigation"

2. Disclosure of police techniques; undercover identities.

3. Information that could jeopardize national security.

4. Documents whose release would constitute an invasion of privacy.

5. Educational records of specific, identifiable individuals.
What Is It?
Attending a Public Meeting
* Show Up.

* Understand and be prepared to explain the law.

* If told to leave, ask that the minutes of the meeting reflect your eviction - and then leave.

* Judicial review is available.
Where Can I Find Help?
Ask us! The MSU Law First Amendment Clinic is here to help.

Look up Michigan FOIA and OMA statutes with Google.

Michigan Attorney General's Website for more information.
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