By Arlan B. Meekhof, on MLive.com
My public opposition to legislation that would make the Michigan Senate subject to additional open records requirements has garnered attention and contempt from various individuals.
The Senate makes available to the public information related to the expenditure of tax dollars. My salary and that of my colleagues is specified by the state constitution. Senate office budgets, contracts and leases are available for review and are supplied upon request. The names, titles and compensation of Senate staff are available for inspection. I wholeheartedly agree that the taxpayers of our state deserve to see how their hard-earned dollars are spent.
All bills introduced by a member of the Senate are available and searchable via an online database. The state budget is made available online for the public to review and scrutinize. Legislative committees follow set schedules and make notice of their agenda well in advance of meeting so that members of the public can submit information and participate in the meeting. Committee meetings are streamed online and broadcast on television. Senate session follows a specific weekly schedule and is open to the public as well as also being streamed online and broadcast on television. I firmly believe that an open and transparent democratic process is beneficial to our citizens.
The transparency described above is specified by the Michigan Constitution. The state constitution says the Legislature must hold public session. The state constitution says committee meetings must be open and available to the public for participation. The state constitution says legislative ideas must take the form of bills; it says my votes and the votes of each and every one of my fellow senators must be part of public record. The constitution also says that legislators should be free to discuss ideas without fear of outside entities reviewing that process and undermining the work legislators do on behalf of the people.
I do not believe constituent correspondence should be available for review by the public or the media. Constituents entrust me and my staff with personal information in an effort to resolve conflicts with state departments. Citizens should be able to contact their senator without fear that their home addresses or Social Security numbers will end up in the hands of someone else.
I do not think lobbyists should be able to request my emails so they can advantage their clients. I do not think political opponents should be able to review my calendar for their own gain. I do not think my staff people deserve to have their personnel records scrutinized by the public simply because they work to serve the public.
I do think I should be able to meet and discuss ideas with constituents, interest groups and fellow elected officials in order to solve problems in my district and in the state. Once those ideas are fully developed, I introduce them in the form of a bill and the legislative process prescribed by the state constitution begins.
I understand that legislators are not held in high regard. I understand that the actions of a few bad actors means we are often all painted with the same brush. I also understand that if we circumvent the state constitution in order to score political points, there will be fewer and fewer talented and engaged people willing to run for office.
Fewer people will be willing to serve their neighbors and communities when they realize they cannot put an original thought on paper without it being subject to review by those seeking to “expose” something. Constituents will think twice about contacting their senators to express an opinion or navigate a state department if they know their thoughts and private information can be reviewed by the media intent on crafting their own stories.
I have heard the opposition to my opinion. I have read their editorials. I was elected to serve my constituents and uphold the Constitution of the State of Michigan. I stand by my position.