Seeking information, the full story is our job

Newspapers have many roles within the community, but fighting for transparency and accountability of public institutions and how they spend taxpayer dollars are among the most important.

Not only is it our job here at Leader Publications, it is one of the fundamental responsibilities all newspaper have to our readers and the communities we serve.

With that in mind, Leader recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request for public documents related to the suspension and pending hearing of newly hired Lake Michigan college president Jennifer Spielvogel.

Without question, this is an important issue that potentially involves hundreds of thousands of public dollars and will have an impact for years to come on an institution that is vital to our community.

College officials have provided some carefully crafted statements about what allegedly has gone wrong during Spielvogel’s three-month tenure, but we feel strongly that more information is needed quickly so the public can better know the full story.

To its credit, the college is cooperating fully and carefully reviewing the request — utilizing up to the15 days provided under Michigan law — so we hope to have information to share on May 6.

We respect that and want the college to do its due diligence to protect itself while balancing the need for sharing with the public.

Does us making this FOIA request mean we assume the college has done something wrong? Absolutely not. Should this cast the college in a negative light? Not at all. Does it mean we want to have an adversarial relationship with LMC? Of course not.

The Lake Michigan College board has its job to do; we have ours. The first step in us doing ours properly is gathering all available information, even if the parties involved would prefer that it were disseminated differently.

The board has made some very specific allegations, many of which are tied to Spielvogel’s expenses and the use of public funds. Exactly how those dollars were spent is something that citizens have a right to know now in order to better understand how we got here, the ongoing process and, ultimately, the outcome when it arrives. Details would provide much needed context and transparency.

The requested documents — such as her contract, expense reports and the college’s policy on expenses — are vital to allowing taxpayers to understand this situation. We also asked a number of additional questions about the vetting process used in Spielvogel’s hiring process.

The public has a right to know everything we have asked and to know it now so they can form their own opinions and communicate those to board members as their elected representatives to guide the college.

Although the college has to walk the tightrope of privacy and not trying this case in public, we believe accountability, transparency and full disclosure are integral parts of a situation like this.

Our readers deserve it. Southwest Michigan taxpayers deserve it.

 

Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at mike.caldwell@leaderpub.com.

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