Editorial by Jim Voss, resident of Lake Township
On November 9th 2015, the Detroit Free Press reported on the findings of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit organization that promotes government transparency and ethics. State governments were ranked using criteria like: accessibility, responsiveness, and accountability. This national study concluded that Michigan ranked last in laws on ethics and transparency.
Those of you that worked on the committee that developed Part 632 know the effect that businesses can have on interpreting and developing the rules for laws in the State of Michigan. The result is a document that, in some opinions, makes Michigan a “Most Mining Friendly” state.
The process for developing the rules for Part 632 did involve citizen accessibility through input, but did it demonstrate governmental responsiveness and accountability? Was there a level playing field for all participants? Were ethics involved?
At the January meeting in Stephenson, the DEQ took questions concerning the application process for Aquila Resources’ application regarding their Back Forty project. Joe Maki, the DEQ spokesperson that presided at the meeting, said the process was going to be as transparent as possible. There would be public meetings and opportunities for public input and suggestions. We were assured that questions would be considered, each suggestion evaluated and, when appropriate, acted on. A first small step indicating that Joe Maki was going to live up to his word was, after many requests, the granting of a two week extension of the deadline for submitting questions to the DEQ.
Listening to concerns, considering requests and acting on behalf of the people are all things any governmental unit should be doing. Especially a department that is ultimately responsible to the people of the State of Michigan, and not to the people that appointed them.
If the DEQ’s loyalty is to their bosses and not to the people, disasters can occur. A recent example where this happened is the Flint water crisis, which is under investigation in Michigan today. It appears that appointed city officials and appointed DEQ members were more interested in saving money and saving face than serving the constituents they were charged to protect.
A local doctor, an independent scientist, and local residents were ignored and discounted while the citizens of Flint continued to drink tainted water. Ironically, bottled water was being supplied (as an alternative) to state employees working in government buildings while local citizens were being assured their drinking water was safe to drink.
Something went wrong there. Somebody (more than one somebody) lost sight of the reason they were appointed to their position. That reason, in a nutshell, should be to preserve and protect the health and well-being of their constituents. The health and well-being of the people they serve.
They have no obligation higher than that. Not to business, not to lobbyists, not to the “bottom line”, and not to their bosses. Their obligation is not to circle the wagons and protect the well-being of the puppet-masters that appointed them. Their obligation is to us!
As this permitting process for Aquila Resources Back Forty Project continues to unfold, as we look at the time lines, as we worry about governmental expertise, as we fret over the influence of cronyism and money and lobbyists, let’s constantly remind the people that are reviewing these documents that their loyalty is to us, that their loyalty is to the health and well-being of future generations, that their loyalty is to this great place we call the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.