FOIA. It’s an acronym that stands for the Freedom Of Information Act and it’s been attached to stories in our local news a lot lately.
Passed in 1966 and enacted one year later, it gives the public access to government information principally in the form of documents. It can simply be described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. While originally a federal provision, it has since been extended to all levels of public governance.
This newspaper is a strong defender of the law and believes that the public is best protected by having this “right to know.” To that end, every now and then, a FOIA is filed by our organization to get information we believe is critical for readers.
Local headlines during the past 11 months have detailed a battle, of sorts, between the city of Greenville and Eureka Township over paperwork detailing an agreement made years ago regarding the sewer system at Baldwin Lake. Last September, the city wanted to look at the documents. The township wanted to charge them big bucks for that privilege. The two sides went back and forth. And in December, the city filed a lawsuit against the township.
This week, the city voted to reject a settlement offer from Eureka Township and move forward with negotiations. Details are few and far between with regard to who has what records and what has been said or done.
What we do know, however, is that regardless of those details, this fight over paperwork isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for our city and township leaders whose focus is now being shifted from issues that need their attention. And it’s certainly not good for taxpayers, whose already tight tax dollars are now being spent on lawyers.
For the most part, our public officials are good about providing documents, even when they are FOIA’d. Some keep a tighter hold on information than others, but all in all, we’ve found that most are willing to comply in the name of transparency. We also understand that certain circumstances require a tighter grip, especially when it comes to personnel and criminal issues.
Dispute between the city of Greenville and Eureka Township is nothing new. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that the two were in court over a local tool and die company’s request to expand and what that mean to the boundary between the two entities.
From an eagle’s eye view, these expensive disputes seem like the kind of stuff that happens between enemies. And we’re sure the taxpayers of both Greenville and Eureka Township are tired of it.
We need new business and jobs in Montcalm County and we need progress and upgrades when it comes to issues like the Baldwin Lake sewer system. With regard to the latter issue, an entire year has gone by while township and city officials squabble and progress for lake residents is at a standstill.
These two governmental bodies should be working together on common ground. We deserve better from our local governments.
Editorial opinions are the consensus of The Daily News editorial board.