THE SHIAWASSEE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS (right photo) met in the Surbeck Building in Corunna, following the monthly Public Safety & Courts and Finance & Administration meetings, for a training presentation on the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
Shown (from left) are Shiawassee County Clerk Caroline Wilson, Commissioner Gary Holzhausen (R-Dist. 3), Commissioner Brad Howard (R-Dist. 5), Commissioner Cindy Garber (R-Dist. 6), Chair Greg Brodeur (R-Dist. 2), Commissioner John Plowman (R-Dist. 7), Commissioner Brandon Marks (R-Dist. 4), Commissioner Marlene Webster (R-Dist. 1) and Shiawassee County Coordinator Dr. Brian Boggs. The presentation was offered by Rhonda Stowers (center) of the Plunkett Cooney law firm. Stowers was in attendance to offer an overview, education and training on the Open Meetings Act. Shiawassee County Treasurer Julie Sorensen also attended.
Stowers stated that the OMA primarily started in the 1970s, though a few states had earlier variations. Following Watergate, federal and state governments formulated several acts including the Government in the Sunshine Act, requiring public openness from a government board, eventually evolving into the OMA. The Michigan OMA, established in 1976, supersedes any previous local government charter rules.
Stowers continued, offering more critical OMA information such as defining a public body including committees and subcommittees and criteria associated under OMA. A handbook of the OMA is available at www.michigan.gov, though the OMA has been somewhat in flux due to rapid changes in technology.
The commissioners approached Stowers with a number of questions during the presentation. Webster asked her about “the filtering” of information given to the board by the chair, expressing an interest in being offered as much information as possible to make board decisions. Brodeur explained there is somewhat of a filtering of information that happens as information is dispersed through Dr. Boggs and himself, offering what he believes there are a number of “gray areas” related to OMA.
The “gray area” topic came up amongst commissioners as the presentation continued, with confusion expressed because of varied legal advice. Stowers agreed, sharing, “There is a lot of gray area in the Open Meetings Act just because it really depends on what issue is in front of you. You know, how the particular meeting goes that we’re talking about. How the committee was made up, that we’re talking about. What decision was made and how much debate or information went through council. It does tent to be very fact dependent.”
“What I can say, is that the safest and best practice is to try to error on the side of openness,” Sowers said. “Try to bring as much to the public as you can. That way, if nothing else, you won’t get hit with an intentional violation, because clearly, your effort is toward openness and transparency.
The OMA presentation lasted for over two hours. It is available on YouTube.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)