Chetly Zarko, RIP

Tributes From Mackinac Center Staff

Michigan has lost forever the contributions of a stalwart freedom fighter: Chetly Zarko was found dead this morning at the age of 39. Reportedly, he slipped away while reading, sitting in a chair in his apartment.

Requieset in Pace.

Chet's greatest passion was defending the people's right to know through the state Freedom of Information Act. The University of Michigan's bureaucracy was one early target of his dogged pursuit of the truth.

More recently, Zarko was the plaintiff in an ongoing FOIA lawsuit against the Howell School District, which claimed that e-mails sent by union bosses from school computers discussing union business were "personal communications" and thus exempt from disclosure. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and the Michigan Press Association are co-authors of an amicus curiae brief pointing out the defects of this blatant violation of the plain language of the law.

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Separate from his lifelong campaign against government secrecy, Chetly was deeply engaged in partisan political activity on the Republican side. He brought a rare and unusual quality to his work there: a deep respect for the truth. A fine legacy would be for Chetly's former colleagues on both sides of the aisle to resolve to emulate his example.

So long, Chet — we'll miss you.

Jack McHugh


My own favorite Chet story was during the Board of Canvassers hearing when Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer was giving instructions to board member Doyle O'Conner about how to spike the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative petitions (a campaign on which Zarko did extensive work). Chet put the video camera in their face, in a public building, when public officials were behaving badly.

The results speak for themselves:

Chet's version of the event:

I like this one because it was vintage Chet.

More recently, he exposed the impostors who are trying to put a fake "Tea Party" on the Michigan ballot.

More at the MichiganView

Ken Braun


My first encounter with Chet was in Chicago at a small gathering of liberty-minded thinkers and activists. Almost everyone there, including me, enjoyed the privilege of drawing a paycheck for advancing liberty. Chet was there as a freelancer if possible, but a volunteer if necessary. He went where he was most needed, sometimes whether he would be paid or not.

Every important movement for liberty has been powered by people who would, like Chet, rather fight for what they believe in than fight for a steady paycheck. In the course of human events, some have even pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to such causes. Chet was their kindred spirit.

Chet would have acknowledged that certain statists, imperious bureaucrats and powerful beneficiaries of government largesse might one day greet his passing with relief. But in life he was just as certain that each day brought us that much closer to securing our lives, liberty and happiness from usurpation by the government charged with protecting those very rights.

Thank you, and God bless you, Chet.

Joe Lehman


I had the good fortune of meeting Chet over a dozen years ago. I was, for a short time, local counsel in the University of Michigan admission lawsuits, and Chet wanted to help in any way he could. Over the years, he maintained that pugnacious spirit and could often be found in the middle of political and policy conflicts.

Recently, I interacted with him over his lawsuit seeking access to e-mails from the Howell School District. It was classic Chet. He believed there to be controversial action by public employees; he went after the information; and when he was denied it, he took the legal fight as far as he could.

But while he was a fierce partisan, he believed in fundamental principles. For instance, he reached out to groups across the political spectrum with whom he had built relationships and who he thought would be interested in a vibrant Freedom of Information Act statute. To him, government transparency was an issue for all of us.

Rest in peace, Chet.

Patrick Wright