RECORDS & FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOIA)
Regardless of where or when township officials work, all of the township’s public records must be maintained so that the public may inspect them. A township shall establish policies to accommodate requests to inspect. A township is not required to have office hours, but at least three laws specifically require that public records be available for public inspection. The FOIA gives the public “a right to inspect, copy, or receive copies” of public records. That same section of the FOIA also requires:
“(3) A public body shall furnish a requesting person a reasonable opportunity for inspection and examination of its public records, and shall furnish reasonable facilities for making memoranda or abstracts from its public records during the usual business hours. A public body may make reasonable rules necessary to protect its public records and to prevent excessive and unreasonable interference with the discharge of its functions. A public body shall protect public records from loss, unauthorized alteration, mutilation, or destruction.” (MCL 15.233)
The Michigan Penal Code states:
“Any officer having the custody of any county, city, or township records in this state who shall when requested fail or neglect to furnish proper and reasonable facilities for the inspection and examination of the records and files in his or her office and for making memoranda of transcripts therefrom during the usual business hours, which shall not be less than 4 hours per day, to any person having occasion to make examination of them for any lawful purpose is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.
The custodian of said records and files may make such reasonable rules with reference to the inspection and examination of them as shall be necessary for the protection of said records and files and to prevent interference with the regular discharge of the duties of such officer. The officer shall prohibit the use of pen and ink in making copies or notes of records and files in his or her office. No books, records, and files shall be removed from the office of the custodian thereof, except by the order of the judge of any court of competent jurisdiction, or in response to a subpoena duces tecum issued therefrom, or for audit purposes … with the permission of the official having custody of the records if the official is given a receipt listing the records being removed.” (MCL 750.492)
MCL 211.10a, part of the General Property Tax Act, requires that: “All property assessment rolls and property appraisal cards shall be available for inspection and copying during the customary business hours.”
None of these laws require a township to have a township hall. If a township has a hall, the elected officials are not required to maintain an office at the hall, and many township officials maintain home offices. Township officials are not required to hold general office hours (and there are only minimal requirements for specific statutory office hours during the year).
MCL 750.492 requires inspections to be allowed “during the usual business hours,” but it does not require a township to have hall or office hours. If a township or official does not hold regular hours, however, a reasonable effort must be made to arrange a time when the requestor may inspect the records, and the person may spend up to four hours per day inspecting records. If the records are maintained in a private residence, the official must allow the requestor to review the records in the residence or agree to meet at an appropriate alternate facility, such as the township hall or a local library.
What does that all mean for Crystal Lake Township?
The operation of our "little" township generates untold volumes of records, everything from assessment records and tax payments to voter rolls and cemetery documentation. We who work here are in full agreement with the law, so work with us! Just ask for the records you seek. We believe in transparency in our government resulting in, 99% of the time, no need to FOIA us. But when you do feel a FOIA is the appropriate vehicle to request a record, we will.
Statement of Our Policy:
We readily recognize that our township business generates untold volumes of records, everything from assessment records and tax payments to voter rolls and cemetery documentation. We are in full agreement with the letter and the spirit of the law:
1) We believe records are public documents and therefore open to public scrutiny. (Examples of such records include ordinances, meeting minutes, oaths sworn to, voter rolls, but there is much, much more. There are only a few documents that are protected, including communications with township legal counsel, or when social security numbers are visible.)
2) We shall abide by the State's mandated retention schedule, either directing us to keep some records forever or dictating certain lengths of time before proper disposal.
3) Our clerk is statutorily charged by the State with being the official keeper of township records, thus our clerk is charged by the township to be the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Coordinator. However, others are also charged with being in charge of their own "sub-categories" of records, such as the treasurer, or the supervisor.
4) Our modern world is dictating changes in how records are stored. Many if not all records are now digitized so the townships --including ours-- are providing equipment, software or services that will allow the public to instantly access the township’s ordinances or the assessing or tax records from the township’s in-house public computer or from the website. Acquiring such new methods of access to township records is an on-going process.
5) There are legal steps by which public township records are accessed by the public under the Freedom of Information Act. For more details, see below.
CRYSTAL LAKE TOWNSHIP POLICIES AND FORMS:
For CLT's FOIA policy, click here.
For CLT's FOIA fee schedule, click here.
For CLT's suggested request forms, click here.
STATE OF MICHIGAN FOIA FACTS:
Michigan's Freedom of Information Act (Public Act 442 of 1976, MCL 15.231,et seq.) informs citizens that
OFFICIAL RETENTION SCHEDULES:
General Schedule #29--Township Treasurers
General Schedule #26--Local Government Human Resources
General Schedule #25--Township Clerks
General Schedule #23--Elections Records (revised 1-26-2016)
General Schedule #10--Township Records (not covered by another schedule)