In my experience filing many Freedom of Information Act requests, some government agencies are much better than others. Some do their best to comply with the law and provide the information requested; others do everything they can to delay and deny such requests. The mayor of Warren, Jim Fouts, is a great example of the latter. Jeff Wattrick, a longtime Michigan journalist, put in a FOIA request for communications between Fouts and others in his administration about FOIA requests and found that he’s essentially been lying about the issue.
In January, he told WWJ that, among other things, he was concerned the identities of citizens who provided him with crime tips could be exposed by FOIA requests for copies of his city email.Turns out, Jim Fouts probably wasn’t as concerned with FOIA as his public statements may lead one to believe. Warren has no record of Fouts communicating with anyone about FOIA policy.
This is an important fact because, had he spoken to anyone worthwhile, Fouts would have learned thatinformation identifying informants is exempted from disclosure under Michigan’s FOIA law. It’s black-letter law.
His assertion to WWJ that people supplying him with “tips about drug houses or about a complaint about a neighbor, about a city employee” may have their identities compromised is a pure red herring.
In addition to this informant canard, Fouts is fond of citing a request of information about bathroom key card swipes as an example of a silly FOIA that burdens Warren. What he rarely explains is that Warren denied that request for legitimate security reasons, as is permitted under the Freedom of Information Act.
Fouts’ anti-FOIA crusade unravels further, when you take a look at his argument that FOIA compliance is an expensive burden on Warren’s City Attorney. For all his public gripes, our request didn’t yield a single communication either to or from Fouts about the cost of FOIA compliance, in employee time or money.
I don’t really care whether FOIA requests are a burden no the city or not. It’s part of the job. That’s the entire reason why we have such laws, so government officials can’t avoid transparency by claiming it’s too expensive.