Public Policy
  Analysis, opinion & ideas from Steve Harry



City of Lansing violates Freedom of Information Act

June 15, 2017

Update: The list of City employee 2016 wage information was finally delivered June 26, 2017, and because it took so long, I was not charged.

On March 4 of this year, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Lansing's city attorney:

Dear Mr. Smiertka,


This is a Freedom of Information Act request. I would like the following information for all City employees who were employed in 2016:


Name (except for undercover police)


Position/job title

Bargaining unit

Salary/hourly rate

Date hired

Date terminated

Total earnings for 2016

Breakdown of 2016 earnings: regular pay, overtime, final leave payout, etc.

I am still waiting. Smiertka's office has told me they forwarded my request to the Finance Department, but Finance hasn't responded.


The Freedom of Information Act says "Unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the person making the request, a public body shall respond to a request for a public record within 5 business days after the public body receives the request . . ." Five business days isn't very long, so the Act allows the public body to request an extension of 10 business days. In my case, they didn't even bother to request the extension. (My mistake) They did so, promising a response on or before March 27.

The City has clearly violated the FOIA. The Act allows me to commence a civil action in circuit court, and if I win, the court shall award - in addition to punitive damages in the amount of $1,000 - reasonable attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements. Easy money for any attorney who is interested in representing me.

Eric Lacy/Lansing State Journal

The above wasn't my only FOIA request. On March 3, I sent this one:

Dear Mr. Smiertka,


This is a Freedom of Information Act request.


I would like the latest Actuarial Valuation of Healthcare Benefits reports for the ERS the Police & Fire retiree health care systems. The latest should be the ones as of December 31, 2015. 

In this case, I got a prompt reply from the city attorney's office saying the Human Resources department told them the reports were not yet complete, but would be published in April. I checked back on April 17 and was told HR believed they'd be completed in the first half of May.


Unlike those for pensions, which are done annually, actuarial valuations of retiree healthcare benefits are done every 2 years. The last ones were dated February 2015 and were based on information as of December 31, 2013.


On May 11, I attended a meeting of the Financial Health Team and picked up a copy of Segal Consulting's Retiree Health Plan Analysis. In that report was a list of documents "reviewed and evaluated" by Segal for their analysis. The list included the actuarial valuations of retiree healthcare benefits as of January 1, 2016. Later that day, I told the city attorney's office about the report reference and was told that the reports were currently being finalized and would be ready in 3 weeks.


It may be true that the reports used by Segal had not been finalized. The other reports on their list had actual dates as "prepared" dates, but for the retiree health care valuations, the prepared date was "XXX 2017." Still, if Segal had an unfinalized copy early enough to use in preparing their May 11 report, it is hard to believe it is still not finalized as of June 15.


The failure to deliver on these requests seems to be the fault of the Finance and HR departments, not the city attorney's office. However, you'd think the city attorney would insist on compliance. After the disaster that was Janene McIntyre, there was hope that we'd have a strong, principled city attorney in Jim Smiertka.


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