FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Contact: Jessica Tramontana, firstname.lastname@example.org, 517-974-6302
FOIA request on secret Snyder voucher group partially denied after online records deleted
LANSING – Today citizens’ watchdog group Progress Michigan released the Freedom of Information Act response from Gov. Snyder’s administration on the secret “Skunk Works” voucher group. Progress Michigan requested correspondence from Snyder Administration official Bruce Upstead, who works for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). Mr. Umpstead used his state email address to send and receive emails related to the secret “Skunk Works” group, which Gov. Snyder denied was an official state project. The FOIA request was partially denied because the Basecamp server that housed “Skunk Works” discussions and files was shut down following the revelation of the group’s existence, making several files unavailable.
“Something stinks, and it’s time for Gov. Snyder to clear the air on Skunk Works,” said Zack Pohl, Executive Director of Progress Michigan. “The people of Michigan deserve answers about this voucher scheme, not more secrets from the governor. One thing we know for sure is that Snyder has the wrong priorities for our kids. Instead of setting education policy in secret meetings with lobbyists, we need elected leaders to start working with teachers to invest in education and help our kids succeed.”
The documents made it clear that the workgroup planned to implement their scheme as quickly as possible. One presentation (pg. 250) included a plan for a new legal authority to “remove regulatory barriers,” and indicated their new schools would require a request for an extra $4 million in funding.
In the days immediately following the initial reporting on “Skunk Works,” Snyder was evasive, first telling reporters “I haven’t spent a lot of time on it,” then seconds later saying, “I haven’t been part of this process at all.” These statements were contradicted by the documents released by MDE, including a “Project Outline / Framework” document that used Snyder’s education “vision” as its starting point (pg. 97) and indicated their intention to present the Governor with a plan in “early April” (pg. 99). “Skunk Works” was first revealed to the public on April 19.
The documents also included a February 28 email indicating that Richard McLellan had collaborated with Michigan Virtual University (pg. 161), despite subsequent comments to the media from Snyder’s chief information officer David Behen that teachers had been intentionally excluded from the process.
McLellan also used the “Skunk Works” email listserv to criticize MSU President Lou Anna Simon, explaining he asked her to identify academics “primarily…from outside the College of Education” to contribute to the workgroup. He noted that she responded by sharing his request with the College of Education and “lecturing” him for “about 45 minutes… (if you know her, that is not unusual).”
The documents released by MDE can be viewed here.
(Note: a Pew Research Center study, “How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms,” was also included in the documents released by MDE.)
And I will ask my question again, just as I did on the day he had his “town hall” meeting and I posted the question on Twitter: How does project “skunk works” fit with your promise to make Michigan a leader of transparency and ethics?
He gave an answer to this question that night, and his answer was a lie. So much for transparency.
> The FOIA request was partially denied because the Basecamp server that housed “Skunk Works” discussions and files was shut down following the revelation of the group’s existence, making several files unavailable.
If the Basecamp server hosted public records, then by shutting the server down the person who did that could reasonably be said to have destroyed records. That’s doubly true if the server was shut down after the FOIA request was made. Destroying public records is a crime under MCL 750.491
Alternatively, I’m pretty sure that Basecamp doesn’t fully destroy records when it shuts down an account – you should be able to get them restored from backups. It might take an appeal at least or a lawsuit at worst to get to the unavailable files.
The State had a similar agenda in last year’s semi-secret Collaborative Stakeholder Initiative which revamped MDEQ environmental rules to make them more palatable to industry (since only one of the dozens of stakeholders represented the environmental community)… except in this instance the State held a webinar to celebrate the results. More info here: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3311_4109_9846_30022-269955–,00.html