News Story

Cities’ Clever And Prohibitive Fees Are Killing Michigan’s Open Records Law

Freedom of Information Act on life support as municipalities clamp down on access

The city of Ann Arbor is becoming more creative about finding ways to block public records requests under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. It is now claiming that a police sergeant who collects a salary greater than $150,000 will have to spend 12 hours reviewing police video footage of a city council member’s spouse being arrested.

The officer would spend an estimated 724 minutes reviewing the video footage, for which the news reporter seeking the information would have to pay $987.46.

Pat Lesko is the editor of The Ann Arbor Independent newspaper that made the records request.

Lesko said she was charged $88.55 for similar request to the Novi Police Department, less than 1/10th of the amount demanded by the city of Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor officials did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In 2019, Lesko requested all Novi Police Department records (photos, notes, investigation materials, evidence logs), including the audio and video body camera and car camera footage from the arrest of Ann Arbor City Council member Zachary Ackerman.

The city of Novi charged $88.55 for the information.

Lesko also submitted a FOIA request to the city of Ann Arbor seeking police records related to a domestic abuse investigation involving Mitch Irwin, the husband of Ann Arbor City Council member Jen Eyer Irwin.

In her request to Ann Arbor, Lesko asked for the audio recording of the 911 call reporting the incident, witnesses statements, body camera footage from police officers at the scene and police car dash camera footage if Irwin had been transported by police.

The city of Ann Arbor has demanded $929.84 to release the video.

Ann Arbor is not unique in raising barriers to document requests, a trend that threatens to make Michigan’s open records law a dead letter. Municipalities statewide are increasingly seeking and finding ways to add costs high enough to squelch requests for public information they are required to turn over.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.