University Drags Feet on FOIA Request

When the documents had still not been received as of March 1, the Mackinac Center decided that the request had taken an unreasonable amount of time under FOIA rules and filed a lawsuit.

Ann Arbor – How long does it take to find sent emails? If you are the University of Michigan the answer could be more than 100 days.

Derek Draplin, a reporter with the Mackinac Center’s Michigan Capitol Confidential news service, thought his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for emails sent by University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel referencing Donald Trump would be simple. And, at first, it appeared that it would be. The request was sent on November 16 and a few weeks later on December 12 the university contacted him to let him know that the request would take 2.75 hours of work and would cost $126.04. The Mackinac Center sent their deposit of $63.00 few days later, and it seemed that Draplin would have the emails he was looking for shortly.

Then on January 10, the university contacted Draplin and said it would provide the records within 14 days. When that date passed without any records, Draplin was told on January 27 that the records would be ready in seven to ten days. That date also passed without any word from the university. Then finally, on February 9, the university contacted Draplin and said they had found emails matching his request and asked from the remaining fees of $72.15. The fees were paid and Draplin again waited.

When the documents had still not been received as of March 1, the Mackinac Center decided that the request had taken an unreasonable amount of time under FOIA rules and filed a lawsuit seeking the records, costs, and full penalties under the law in the State of Michigan Court of Claims.

Explaining the lawsuit, John C. Mozena the Mackinac Center vice president for marketing and communication and publisher of Michigan Capitol Confidential said in a news release, “The university’s delay is so egregious we were forced to turn the matter over to the courts so they could uphold basic principles of government transparency.”

Defending the actions of the university regarding the release of the emails, University of Michigan spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told the Michigan Review, “I can assure you that U-M fully complies with our state’s Freedom of Information Act.”

It seemed to take a lawsuit, however, to finally push the university to action. The requested emails were sent to Draplin on Thursday, March 2 – a total of 106 days after the initial request was made. Even though the emails were released, The Mackinac Center is still pursuing the case due to the incredibly long delay.

Mozena explained the Centers reasoning noting that, “Accountable government requires transparency and effective journalism requires timely transparency. Delayed FOIA responses hurt the ability of journalists and everyday citizens to investigate and publicize the actions of our government.”

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About Erin Dunne

Erin Dunne is a senior studying History, French and International Studies. In her free time she is a drug policy reform advocate and a free speech enthusiast. You can reach her by email at eedunne@umich.edu