Gagged township an odd thing to come to light Sunshine Week

Published 4:02 am Monday, April 3, 2006

By Staff
The “FBI intimidation” angle may have enlivened the League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties “Sunshine Week” forum to promote public information, but a township near Saginaw takes the cake.
This happened the month before, on Feb. 21, but somehow came to light during March's Sunshine Week, a national observance the League of Women Voters sponsors with library and journalism organizations to celebrate and preserve our right to open government and public information.
The local event in Three Oaks even attracted the national president of Common Cause from Washington, but that proved controversial to some when an FBI agent took offense to her unrebutted Patriot Act remarks.
But did you take note of the astounding action of the Kochville Township board? It forbid elected officials from talking to reporters at the risk of being removed from office.
A ridiculous attempt at a gag order like that in the year Michigan marks the 30th anniversary of its Freedom of Information Act is enough to make us gag.
As has been proven time and again in Cass County politics, elected officials can't be “fired,” except by the voters who “hire” them at elections.
That's why Boards of Commissioners, for example, sometimes become irritated with a courthouse official, because they are ultimately accountable to the people.
The often thankless job of a public official entails making difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions. It goes with the territory.
Apparently, this board, which is alleged to have violated the Open Meetings Act Oct. 18, is fearful of being held accountable for some controversial development decisions, for which four of them are recall targets.
Only Supervisor Kenneth Bayne, one of the recall targets, may talk to reporters.
News media shall submit requests in writing to Bayne, who will “make every attempt” to respond within 24 hours.
Like a beach, your right to public records erodes a few grains of sand at a time. By the time anyone notices and insists that laws requiring open government operations be adhered to, it's that much tougher because government tends to operate behind closed doors. Not usually because of evil intent, as Common Cause's Chellie Pingree, a former Maine legislator who has been on both sides of the table, pointed out, but because not having to justify actions publicly is the path of least resistance.