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Mackinac Center sues MSU over alleged FOIA violation

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(The Center Square) – The Mackinac Center for Public Policy sued Michigan State University, alleging it violated the Freedom of Information Act by redacting and blacking out key documents and information related to a potential Eagle Township mega site.

The free-market policy research group filed a public records request after reports on a potential government-funded mega site in Eagle Township indicated that some of the land involved might have been sold by Michigan State University. The parcel in question was donated to the university and a tip suggested that the donation agreement possibly prohibits MSU from selling the land for non-agricultural use.

To investigate, the Mackinac Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request on February 23, 2023, for the donation agreement and any amendments.

MSU responded by producing some of the requested records on February 28, 2023. The university did not provide the original agreement, as requested, and only released portions of an amendment to the original agreement. The key agreement was almost entirely redacted, making it impossible to know the terms of the land donation agreement.

The university claimed it was using an exemption that allows private information and material related to the university’s security to be redacted. But MCPP says the privacy exemption is highly unlikely to apply to all the redacted information. And MSU may have failed to fulfill its obligation to separate exempt information from non-exempt information. The Mackinac Center says it contacted MSU’s FOIA office to discuss the records to avoid legal action, but never received a response.

“This case represents yet another example of Michigan’s lack of transparency,” Director of Transparency and open government Steve Delie said in a statement. “The Eagle Township mega site has been the source of major media attention, but details on the project are sorely lacking. Michigan’s citizens deserve to know the details of how the underlying land came to be in MSU possession, and MSU needs to be held accountable for relying on improper redactions to withhold key information.”

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