Motor City Muckraker files FOIA lawsuit against Detroit over hydrant records

A broken hydrant in southwest Detroit. By Steve Neavling/Motor City Muckraker

A broken hydrant in southwest Detroit. Steve Neavling/MCM

Motor City Muckraker has filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit for refusing to disclose public records about broken fire hydrants.

The suit charges that the city violated the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by failing to provide public records that list the number and locations of broken hydrants in 2014. The city also failed to even respond to a portion of the Feb. 9 request that sought copies of audits, complaints and investigations involving broken hydrants.

Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration claimed that revealing the number and locations of bad hydrants would be used by an arsonist “to plan and start a mass fire in those specific areas.”

Muckraker’s attorney, Ralph C. Simpson, disagrees.

“The city failed to meet its burden of showing a real threat to security that would justify withholding the records,” Simpson said, pointing out in the lawsuit that even the city’s FOIA attorney acknowledged that the locations of broken hydrants in 2014 would “only capture the status of the fire hydrants for the date reflected on the report” and therefore “do not necessarily provide an accurate count of non-functioning fire hydrants” or those hydrants that “were repaired by DWSD.”

Click here to read the lawsuit. 

fire hydrant“The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is a manifestation of this state’s public policy favoring public access to government information, recognizing the need that citizens be informed as they participate in democratic governance, and the need that public officials be held accountable for the manner in which they perform their duties,” Simpson said.

Motor City Muckraker launched a series in March about an alarming number of broken hydrants that were jeopardizing lives and property. Numerous occupied houses burned to the ground because firefighters struggled to find working hydrants.

The series prompted the administration to call for an inspection of the city’s 30,000 hydrants and change how the fire plugs are reported.

Last month, the city maintained it knew about just 70 broken hydrants, a mere fraction of the real number.

The city has several weeks to respond to the FOIA suit, which was filed Friday.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • vielmetti

    Go Steve go – important work.

  • bebow

    If a claim of 11 mistaken water shut-offs reflects an actual 1,000, then a claim of 70 broken fire hydrants must mean there are approximately 7,000.