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Is Michigan's Emergency Loan Board transparent enough?

Kevyn Orr surrounded by the press
Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy on Flickr

The state's Emergency Loan Board is not very transparent regarding how it makes decisions for state emergency management or consent agreements.

The board is made up of three members who are appointed by the Governor, and they have the ability to lend millions of taxpayer dollars to schools.

Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter Lindsey Smith recently published a "Reporter's Notebook" describing her difficulty in getting information about how the board makes its choices.

Smith has reported on various school districts as they have operated under emergency management throughout the years.

Her piece shared the continuous difficulty she experiences when trying to obtain information that should be open to the public, including emergency managers' contracts and salaries.

But Terry Stanton, spokesman for the State Treasury Department, takes issue with Smith's description of the board.

Smith describes the board as "hand-picked" by the Governor.

"The statute calls for members to be the State Treasurer, the Director of Technology, Management and Budget, and the Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, so the statute lays out who the members are," says Stanton. "They happen to be appointed by the Governor, I don't know that that means they're hand-picked by the Governor."

Stanton also says meetings are open to the public. He says the press is sent information about when the meetings will be beforehand.

"[The Emergency Loan Board] generally hears from both sides if there's an issue to be considered and they take public comment. They certainly have opened the doors to allow anyone who's interested in coming and commenting on a particular issue," Stanton says.

But Smith still doesn’t believe this makes them transparent enough.

"I agree that the meetings are public, but I feel like most of the time the decisions that they're making are very much pre-determined and not done in a public way," says Smith.

Smith says this is often apparent in the board's questioning of individuals. Specifically, Smith cites the questions posed to Detroit’s former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr as being too easy and not truly working to determine his abilities.

"The Emergency Loan Board meetings are open to the public. The information can be accessed through the Freedom of Information Act. The process is transparent," says Stanton. "The only way to make it more transparent would be to allow the public and the press to look over the staff as they're reviewing documentation submitted for an application on a loan or any other issue that might come before the board."

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