Thank you for your service …… now prove it.

This is only the second time Bear Lake News has written an Editorial. As the masthead states, we print information not opinion.

On Veterans Day we make this exception.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the most bloody example of human barbarity (to that point in history), World War One, came to and end.

The Village of Bear Lake sent its young men off from the platform of Kaleva railway station to that war, and some never came back from the killing fields of Flanders.

[In Flanders Fields was written by a Canadian officer called John McCrae and is read by poet Michael Rosen.]

The Village has sent it’s share of service men and women to fight and uphold the spirt and principles of democracy in every war and ‘police action’ from the Civil War to this day. From the Grand Army of the Republic Reunion in Hopkins Park to the Rolling Thunder honor rides – we stand and pay tribute to those who serve, fought, were injured, or died defending the self evident principles of our government: for the people, by the people with liberty and justice for all.

For some returning from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan the wounds are not so evident. Many carry the legacy of psychological or chemical trauma – but without exception they do not complain or define themselves by the horrors they have witnessed. They only ask for fair treatment and respect.

Surely not too much to ask?

Especially on this Veterans Day?

They came back here – to live, build homes, raise families, support the community and paid their taxes each year, every year, on time.

Because that’s how we raise our children here – with honor and integrity. That a debt paid is a credit earned in the life of this, or any, small community. Do unto others.

“We firmly believe in ‘open government’, ‘transparency’, ‘communication’”.

Do we really?

Consider these questions.

When is a ‘public’ document, well, ‘public’?

If a document is ‘public’, which ‘public’ does it belong too?

The one who paid for it to be created?

The one for whom it was created in the first place?

The one it affects, either by regulation or actual cost?

The one who then has the right to contest it?

When do the public have the right to request a ‘public’ document?

Running for Governor of the State of Michigan in 2018, current Attorney General Bill Schuette has this to say in his guide to the OMA_handbook_287134_7:

The Open Meetings Act (OMA) is 1976 PA 267, MCL 15.261 through 15.275. The OMA took effect January 1, 1977. In enacting the OMA, the Legislature promoted a new era in governmental accountability and fostered openness in government to enhance responsible decision making.

Using e-mail to distribute handouts, agenda items, statistical information, or other such material during an open meeting should be permissible under the OMA, particularly when copies of that information are also made available to the public before or during the meeting.

Excluding individuals – no one may be excluded from a meeting otherwise open to the public except for a breach of the peace actually committed at the meeting.

It’s worth looking at the opening preamble of PA 267 of 1976 itself:

Open Meeting Act of 1976

P.A. 267 of 1976

As amended through 2016:

AN ACT to require certain meetings of certain public bodies to be open to the public; to require notice and the keeping of minutes of meetings; to provide for enforcement; to provide for invalidation of governmental decisions under certain circumstances; to provide penalties; and to repeal certain acts and parts of acts.

(3) After the effective date of this act, nothing in this act shall prohibit a public body from adopting an ordinance, resolution, rule, or charter provision which would require a greater degree of openness relative to meetings of public bodies than the standards provided for in this act.

The State of Michigan Legislature published its own guide to the “Sunshine” Laws OpenMtgsFreedom in which the following introduction states:

Dear Citizen,

The ideal of a democratic government is too often thwarted by bureaucratic secrecy and unresponsive officials. Citizens frequently find it difficult to discover what decisions are being made and what facts lie behind those decisions.

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act, Public Act No. 442 of 1976, establishes procedures to ensure every citizen’s right of access to government documents. The Act establishes the right to inspect and receive copies of records of state and local government bodies.

The Open Meetings Act, Public Act No. 267 of 1976, protects your right to know what’s going on in government by opening to full public view the processes by which elected and nonelected officials make decisions on your behalf.

This guide to the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act is designed to make it easier for citizens to keep track of what their government is doing.

“designed to make it easier for citizens to keep track of what their government is doing.”

The Open Meetings Act was amended in 2012 to require the inclusion of this language to all Village of Bear Lake meeting notices:

Persons with disabilities needing accommodations for effective participation in the public hearing/public meeting should contact the Bear Lake Village Clerk at 231.970.2066 or at the above address one week in advance to request mobility, visual, hearing, or other assistance. 
Cindi McPherson Village Clerk

Any member of the ‘public’ is legally entitled to reasonable accommodation, to have the same ability to be an active participant in the business of their own government as if they were physically able to be present.

A reasonable accommodation would be a copy of the Meeting Agenda, the previous draft Minutes, the financial reports, any document of importance to be reviewed and discussed in the open public meeting – a facility easily afforded by many municipalities who simply post all that to their web site as the Meeting packet. A one time, cost saving, time saving ‘public’ service.

Which leads to our closing question – when a veteran makes a request to attend via telephone conference, can a FOIA request be required to receive those ‘public’ documents every other member of the public in attendance can simply walk up to the table and pick up for themselves?

Should a veteran be required to pay again in advance to receive the public documents his tax dollars have already paid for?

Should any unit of government spend his, and your, tax dollars for your municipal attorney to write a 9 page letter TitleVIFOIA1161706112017 (1) asking that veteran to prove his disability? (and send that same letter to others asking for the same reasonable accommodation)

Why, in good conscience would any municipality of 137 households do that?

Thank you for your service.