In hindsight, it's hard to argue that the public had no right to know the name and salary of Christine Beatty, the former chief of staff to (and eventual co-defendant with) former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. And when the Detroit Free Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request for this information, the city was compelled by that state law to provide it. But as reported by Michigan Capitol Confidential last week, this requirement does not apply to the state Legislature, governor's office and lieutenant governor. If Beatty were being paid her $142,813 taxpayer-funded salary while working as the chief of staff to a hypothetical Gov. Kwame Kilpatrick, then Kilpatrick wouldn't have been required to disclose Beatty's salary information to the people paying the bills.
And this is no idle hypothetical: as noted last week, the current governor refuses to provide this very information when asked to do so.
Federal law requires the Congress and President to make staff names and salaries available to the public, and there is at least one website - www.Legistorm.com - where taxpayers can check out the information themselves whenever they wish to. The Michigan Legislature, like the governor, is legally entitled to conceal this information from public disclosure, but has not done so for many years.
In late June, Michigan Capitol Confidential requested this information from the Michigan House, Senate and Office of the Governor. The House and Senate voluntarily and promptly provided the information during the first week of July.
In the article last week, five of the seven candidates for governor - each of the Republicans - said that they would support changing the FOIA to read that state politicians would be required to turn over this information. Additionally, each of the five pledged to support a requirement that this information be put on a state website where the public could view it at any hour of any day.
Michigan Capitol Confidential has now placed the recently acquired list of Legislative staff names and employees on its website.
The Michigan House staff names and salaries are here.
The Michigan Senate staff names and salaries are here.
The refusal by the Office of the Governor to release the names and salaries of publicly-funded political appointees is here.
P.S. Astute readers of the Michigan House staff names and salaries list noted above will note that the final name on the list is Chetly Zarko. This article was written several days ago and planned for release today - long before news of Chet's very untimely death stunned us all yesterday afternoon.
That this is published today is both ironic and appropriate. Chet was a champion and defender of Michigan's FOIA law and the free exchange of public information by a free people. He would have been pleased to see these lists released. Indeed, after a pair of new lawmakers set a standard of releasing this information to the public nearly two years ago, Chet called me up and said he was pushing to get others on board. He succeeded in doing so, and as a result his own taxpayer-paid salary has been public knowledge for some time now.
Making this sort of open government a rule, rather than an exception, will be much harder because we don't have Chet in our corner anymore.