The ideal of a democratic government is too often thwarted by bureaucratic secrecy
and unresponsive officials. Citizens frequently find it difficult to discover what decisions
are being made and what facts lie behind those decisions.
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act, Public Act No. 442 of 1976, establishes
procedures to ensure every citizen’s right of access to government documents. The
Act establishes the right to inspect and receive copies of records of state and local
The Open Meetings Act, Public Act No. 267 of 1976, protects your right to know
what’s going on in government by opening to full public view the processes by which
elected and nonelected officials make decisions on your behalf.
This guide to the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act is designed
to make it easier for citizens to keep track of what their government is doing."
I have been noticed, and it concerns me because I am a man of duel natures. On the one hand I like to be left alone to do as I will, and on the other I believe that there is good work to be done. Twice now in city council meetings mention has been made about my YouTube audio recordings. It was never my desire nor my purpose to draw attention in such a manner, however I believe that these videos do serve a public good.
I have avoided addressing why I post them but I think now I need to. The reasons I do this fall in to two categories, personal and journalistic.
For now I shall put off the "people's right to know" speech and recall the last year of my life. I graduated from college and like many in this recession I had and still do have difficulty finding work. I asked myself what can I do that can serve a societal function. I graduated a journalism major. Because of the draconian penalties for misquoting at Michigan State I developed the habit of recording anything that I intended on using for journalism class assignment. Even though I did not necessarily desire all the pressures of the newsroom and still don't I felt that going to a public meeting and providing an honest, complete, and easily accessible record of the dialogue our leaders were having was something productive that I could do. All in all it was better than eating frosted flakes and watching television. For a better picture of my mental state at the time read my heroic BSOD April journal post, "Look not into the Maw of the Void Lest Ye be Devoured AKA Today Was One of My Demon Days"
For those who don't want to read my angsting let's just say I crashed and rebooted on the truth explained in full in Joss Whedon's Angel episode "Epiphany".
ANGEL: It doesn't.
KATE: Doesn't what?
ANGEL: Mean anything. In the greater scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win.
KATE: You seem kind of chipper about that.
ANGEL: Well, I guess I kinda worked it out. If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today. - I fought for so long. For redemption, for a reward, finally just to beat the other guy, but... I never got it.
KATE: And now you do?
ANGEL: Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer, as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
I really do not want to give the "people have a right to know" speech so I will say the following. I spent two and a half years as a journalism major and am still not far removed from the idealism of college. It makes sense that some of that government watchdog and transparency talk sunk in.
To get into my mind frame just substitute television with internet.
Apart from that I will address some of the criticisms levied against me, though I know that that is probably a rotten idea.
Though it is something I do not like to discuss I am still without a job. The reason why the audio is so atrocious is because all I could afford was a $30 tape recorder and believe it or not it is better than my old tape recorder which sounds better than my old analogue tape recorder. Even if I had more money there are other things I would want before new audio equipment, like a new hard drive, a camera, or an apartment. The way I view it better equipment is something I am going to have to earn through maintained effort and maybe a little karma.
Now for the one that I feel has some credence. At the beginning of individuals addressing council they are required to give their name and addresses. I sympathize with those who feel it is unfair of me to put that information on the internet and am considering cutting the audio to take that information out. That said there are reasons not to as well. The first is that cutting the audio in that way would be incredibly labor intensive and difficult. I would have to review the audio for each case most of which are seconds or less long. Even if I do the software I use Windows Live Movie Maker is not so precise I am confident I could do it without cutting a good chunk of what people are saying out as well.
Furthermore many of the meetings are already televised. I would contend that if you are uncomfortable giving that information to an internet audience you should also be uncomfortable giving it away to a television audience. While it pains my ego to admit, not that many people watch the meetings on the internet. My guess is that I average about 40 views, about the same size as the city council study room when filled. Even then most though admittedly not all addresses can be found using the white pages anyway.
To those who think that it is odd that I am doing this I say that both the cities of Royal Oak and Detroit do the exact same thing on their official websites. I'm just a guy who lives in a town that doesn't and said hey here is something I can do.