Flint Emails Meant to Stay Secret

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration made thousands of emails related to the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water public.

The move comes in response to calls from the public for information as to who knew about the crisis, when and what was done in response.

And the emails reveal that government officials actively attempted to keep the city’s water condition a secret under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), one that Gov. Snyder’s administration is exempt from.

“There’s a culture in state government that’s filtered down to employees that says, ‘That’s just FOIA; this is how you get around it,'” Jane Briggs-Bunting, president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, said.

Michigan’s FOIA law includes an exemption for records that are notes between and within government agencies that are advisory in nature. Notes that don’t deal with purely factual matters, and are preliminary to an agency’s final determination of a policy or action are also exempt.

In addition to what is perceived as an active effort by state employees to avoid disclosure of public records under FOIA, the emails released on the Flint crisis show that while in some cases a draft document was being discussed, some Department of Health and Human Services employees and workers of Department of Environmental Quality appeared to include “not subject to FOIA” and “preliminary and deliberative” as standard subject headings on emails.

“Attorney Client Privilege. Not subject to FOIA” was also a commonly used headline.