Requiring those seeking records through the Freedom of Information Act to pay a fee is a practice commonly used by local government to avoid sharing public records, Michigan Capitol Confidential reports, but Tuscola County seems to be pressing the point.
Tuscola County says it will not fulfill a FOIA request from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy unless it pays an outside law firm for 50 hours of staff time to review the documents. The total charge would be more than $3,200, and the county provided a breakdown of the costs.
While not unheard of, the practice is unusual, and if widely adopted by other municipalities across the state, could spell trouble for the future of FOIA in Michigan, Michigan Capitol Confidential reports.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy was requesting records regarding a wind turbine tower development by NextEra Energy Resources.
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act provides access to public records of public bodies. According to the Michigan FOIA Booklet provided by the attorney general, records open to disclosure include "minutes of open meetings, officials’ voting records, staff manuals, final orders or decisions in contested cases and the records on which they were made, and promulgated rules. Other written statements which implement or interpret laws, rules, or policies, including, but not limited to, guidelines, manuals, and forms with instructions, adopted or used by the agency in the discharge of its functions, are also covered."
NextEra Energy has three wind facilities in the state with more than 150 turbines, according to a company fact sheet. As of 2015, the company states it has invested approximately $692 million in the state. NextEra states Michigan is ranked 14th in the state in installed wind capacity.
MLive reports that NextEra is planning another wind farm in Tuscola County in Juniata and Fairgrove townships.