- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Democrats on Monday called for changing Michigan’s public records law, which exempts the governor’s office and the Legislature from disclosing records.

The move comes after Gov. Rick Snyder voluntarily released some 17,000 pages of emails written or received by his staff as key aides were dealing with Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

During a news conference, House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel and Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon urged Snyder, Republican lawmakers and the attorney general to support changing the state’s public records law in wake of the emails’ release Friday and Saturday.

Because Michigan law shields Snyder’s office from public records requests, Democrats say there’s no way to tell whether the emails were cherry-picked or whether redacted portions were justifiably censored.

The emails voluntarily released over the weekend revealed that state officials, including top Snyder aides, raised concerns about the water supply before the lead contamination was publicly disclosed in September. The emails seem to show that his aides’ reticence to notify Snyder may have stalled addressing the city’s lead contamination.

Dillon and Greimel told reporters Monday that the email revelations are proof that the law should change. They said they want to see text messages, memos and other documents, too, which Snyder did not release.

“This is becoming less surprising every time that public pressure moves the governor - and let’s be clear, it’s only public pressure” that spurred him to release the emails, Dillon said.

In January, when asked whether his office and the Legislature should be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, Snyder told a roomful of journalists that he would “love to have that discussion” with lawmakers. He said a broader analysis of better government transparency is underway because of Michigan’s low national transparency ranking.

Emails released this weekend also show that a year before Snyder’s administration helped Flint reconnect to Lake Huron water after lead contamination was exposed, two top advisers were already advocating for the switch, citing E. coli and a General Motors plant’s rusting parts. The city’s water supply became contaminated with bacteria and lead after it switched to the Flint River for its water source in April 2014. The failure to provide corrosion control chemicals after the switch allowed lead to be scraped from the pipes into the water supply.

Gideon D’Assandro, press secretary for Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter, said an email, “The speaker has always said that he is open to considering good, serious reform proposals. However, he does not have time for the political stunts that so often use this issue as a vehicle.”

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley formerly introduced legislation to broaden the state’s FOIA purview to include Snyder’s office when he was a lawmaker. His spokeswoman, Laura Biehl, said he’s open to reviewing future proposals to do the same, if the Legislature approves such bills. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof’s stance is unclear, though his spokeswoman said Meekhof is concerned that expanding public records requests to the Legislature would jeopardize the privacy of constituents’ financial or personal information.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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