The No-Nonsense Guide to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The No-Nonsense Guide to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
About the Book
The No-Nonsense Guide to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act illustrates in plain language how and why you might use FOIA laws to obtain government documents. The guide should be useful for people involved in the political process, as well as for businesses that work or want to work on government contracts. From fixing a broken sidewalk to obtaining a crime report, the Michigan Freedom of Information Act is a versatile tool to ensure that you are not ignored when it is your turn to deal with City Hall.
- About this edition
Chapter 1: A sample FOIA request
- Be nice! Seriously. Be overly nice.
- Who can request records
- Forms and formats
- Who to send your request to
- Which organizations are subject to the Michigan FOIA laws
- Outsourcing and public-private partnerships
- Get it in writing
- Ask for records, not information or data
- The risk of your request being filed as spam
- Formatting your request
- Limiting your costs
- FOIA sample letter
- More sample letters from MuckRock
- FOIA letter generator from the Reporter’s Committe for the Freedom of the Press
- Sample letters at a2docs
Chapter 2: Records available via FOIA requests
- Agendas, board packets, and minutes of meetings
- Bids and contracts
- Budgets and expenditures
- Building inspection records, building permits and assessor’s records
- Contracts between governments and their lobbying organizations
- Dog licenses
- Electronic mail as records
- Fire department records
- Official calendars
- Police records
- Policies and procedures
- Rental information
Chapter 3. Fees, and how to minimize them.
- Avoid FOIA, and ask verbally for information, not records
- Specify a maximum amount you are willing to pay
- Request electronic records
- Ask to inspect records before copying them
- Avoid redaction
- Ask for a fee waiver
- Divide a big request into smaller requests
- Publicize unreasonable fee requests
- Negotiate fees
- Ask for a detailed breakdown of costs
- Ask for documents that have already been released
- Double check the math
Chapter 4: Avoiding FOIA delays
- Avoid FOIA
- Be nice
- Type legibly
- Impress upon the clerk the urgency of your request
- Remind the public body if the request is delayed
- Make a smaller request, rather than a larger one
- Seek records that have already been published
- Ask for specific documents by their distinguished name
- Do not use FOIA as a means of abuse
Chapter 5: FOIA exemptions
- Absentee ballots
- Absurdly overbroad and burdensome requests
- Appraisals of real property 13(1)(j)
- Attorney-client privilege 13(1)(g)
- Bids and proposals 13(1)(i)
- Copyrighted materials
- Deliberative process 13(1)(m)
- Educational records (FERPA)
- Law enforcement communication codes 13(1)(n)
- Law enforcement investigating records 13(1)(b)
- Medical records 13(1)(l)
- Personal privacy 13(1)(a)
- Security exemptions 13(1)(y)
- Test questions 13(1)(k)
- Trade secrets 13(1)(f)
Chapter 6: Appealing your FOIA rejection
- Deadlines for your appeal
- Making an informal appeal in person
- Making your appeal in writing
- Deliberative process: separating exempt from non-exempt materials
- Negotiating personal privacy rejections
- Attorney-client privilege
- Reducing costs
- Dealing with trade secrets
- Asking again instead of appealing
- Appealing at the state level before you go to court
Chapter 7: Rewriting your FOIA request for better success
- Ask again in person
- Reduce the scope of your records request
- Ask for reports, not raw data
- Examine meeting minutes and agendas
- Limit the time span you are looking for
- Learn how to search public records data for free
- Ask public interest groups for assistance
Chapter 8. FOIA Lawsuits
- When to consult an attorney
- Time limits to go to court
- Which court your request can be heard in
- Lawsuits as political statements
Chapter 8x: How to obstruct a FOIA request
- Don’t encourage FOIA requests
- Require signed, notarized proof of identity
- You’ll have to FOIA that
- Exercise all possible delays
- Maximize fees
- Store your records badly
- Use paper liberally
- Take advantage of public-private partnerships
- Deny records liberally
- Avoid punitive damages
Chapter 9. Michigan Open Meetings Act
- Notification requirements
- Meeting locations
- Postings at city hall; the tackboard
- Meeting minutes availability
- Minutes promptly available
- Requesting minutes
- Closed sessions
- Subcommittees and quorums
- Recording meetings
- Getting notified about future meetings
- Special meetings and notification
- Emergency meetings
Chapter 10. Remedies when the Michigan Open Meetings Act fails you
- FOIA requests for missing meeting minutes
- Subscriptions to meeting announcements
- Revoting on meetings held improperly
- Lawsuits when closed sessions are egregious
Appendix A. Resources
- Michigan Freedom of Information Coalition
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- FOIA Machine
- National Freedom of Information Coalition
- Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press
- Student Press Law Center
- Sunshine Week
Appendix B.. Exercises for Sunshine Week
- Make the same request to many organizations at once
- Audit compliance with basic records laws
- Ask multiple agencies for the same record
- Request FOIA log files of other FOI requests
- Repeat the same FOIA request at intervals
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