Michigan Municipal Law

Chelsea City Utility Issues

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Wednesday, 03 March 2010 19:52

The City of Chelsea offers its own municipal electric services. Residential and commercial uses of electricity find that locating within the City, as opposed to other areas in Washtenaw or Jackson counties, has the advantage of lower electrical rates. Chelsea's utility grid being smaller and more compact has fewer "brown outs" and interruptions due to weather events.
The City, being a municipality, has the right to impose a lien upon real property for the non-payment of its electrical utility charges, unlike private companies. This presents two unique legal issues for the purchaser of property in the City. First, a buyer of property may find after closing that the seller did not pay the light bill. The City will impose a lien on the real property title regardless of who appears on the deed. Title insurance companies are attuned to the necessity of withholding an amount to pay water charges, but frequently, they fail to inquire as to a municipal electric charge.

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Freedom of Information Act – the Public’s and the Municipality’s Best Friend

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Tuesday, 05 January 2010 20:23

Clearly, no pun intended, there has been a need to open the doors to public meetings to allow information to flow back and forth between the public and the government.  Efficiency, transparency and civil rights are preserved when citizens have access to what goes on in meetings of their governments and governmental agencies.  The municipality and agency is served also by removing the taint of closed door decisions that ultimately bring scandal and cost down on our governing bodies and leaders.

The Freedom of Information Act (1976 PA 442) is often abbreviated as FOIA.  A FOIA request is when, under certain guidelines, a person seeks a public record from a public body.  "Person" is widely defined to include such entities as individuals, corporations associations or other governmental entities.  "Public Records" are writings prepared, owned, in the possession of or retained by a public body in the performance of its official functions.  "Public Bodies" include individuals (officers, employees, officials), agencies, boards and departments.  Although these definitions form the skeleton of the statute, the definitions are more broadly defined in the Act.

Persons request these records from the public bodies, which must respond in a timely manner.  The public body has a policy for FOIA requests and that is readily available.  There is often a fee associated with a request.

Certain records are exempt from disclosure.  The categories of exempt records include records which involve privacy rights, law enforcement investigations, school records, trade secrets and other records.  MCL 15.243(1) contains a list of exempt records.  Conflict and litigation ca arise when a person and a public body disagree on what is exempt or the degree of exemption in a request.

The Freedom of Information Act is a technical statute, with deadlines and requirements that are specifically stated and enforced.  Both the person requesting the information and the public body charged with disclosing the information is served well by preparation and sound legal advice.  The broad policy of disclosure represented by the Act is one that has help individuals and local governments preserve the rule of law to the betterment of all.


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