Editorial: Don’t take our word for it

North Wind Staff

Welcome to the dead zone: Flint, Michigan, population 100,000, is in the midst of a massive environmental and public health crisis due to contaminated drinking water. Now, residents search for answers and can’t help but feel they’ve been betrayed by their government.re-EditorialCartoon_Zach

As soon as the news broke that the entire city water supply was contaminated with lead, everyone seemed to be asking the same question: “Who is responsible?” The blame, according to many, resides within Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, who in 2011 appointed an emergency manager to run
the city.

In his annual State of the State address, Snyder gave in to calls for transparency and vowed to divulge his personal emails that documented every step of the process the state undertook.

What most people don’t know, however, is the governor’s office and his requisite employees are all exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Massachussets is the only other state in this country with similar legislation on the books.

The official explanation for this change in policy is attributed to a need for frankness in executive dealings. Apparently, when a state is in such a bad situation as Michigan, you need license to roll up your sleeves, put your feet up and let the expletives fly without the public knowing it.

This exemption bars the press and the citizenry from doing their own investigative work, which means the government can basically give us whatever information they want. They can craft the perfect package of evidence to corroborate with their story, and there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it for now.

So much for transparency in Lansing, and so much for the people of Flint getting justice. And now, more than ever, do they need it.

We feel it is absolutely against democracy for one official, regardless of status, to be above the same laws as those below him. Michigan residents, especially those living in Flint and affected by the water crisis, deserve to know the truth and not just the parts that Synder wants to release.

The press has a long tradition of paving the way for greater transparency, as the unelected fourth estate of government. Our job is to serve as a watchdog over government and deliver our readers factual material, not a heavily redacted string of emails that may not include the full story.

Barring a whistleblower coming forward, it’s hard to imagine a satisfactory outcome to a story that’s growing more tragic every day—unless we see a drastic change in the way we access government information in this state, with a retroactive clause that allows citizens to access the Flint emails.

We implore Snyder to do the right thing and reverse the course of anti-transparency legislation in Michigan.