The Michigan Legislature passed the Open Meetings Act with the intent is to strengthen the right of all Michigan citizens to know what goes on in government. That goal is served by requiring public bodies to conduct nearly all business at open meetings. While the Act provides some narrow exceptions, the pulbi has the right to attend meetings "at which a quorum is present for the purpose of deliberating toward or rendering a decision on a public policy."
The Ann Arbor City Council has a pesky practice of holding "working sessions" without observing all of the requirements of a public meeting under the Act. Apparently, Council has been advised that if it does not make decisions at a working session, the Open Meetings Act does not apply. Of course this is completely wrong. The Act applies to meetings where a quorum either (1) deliberates toward a decision, or (2) actually renders a decision on a public policy. Working sessions, such as those conducted to discuss the City's budget, are held to allow Council members to engage in frank discussions regarding their budget priorities. In other words, the Council is deliberating the public policy that underlies the eventual budget decisions they will make.
The current Council observes some of the requirements of the Open Meetings Act when scheduling a working session. They provide advance notice of the meeting and they allow public attendance. They do not allow an opportunity for public comment either at the beginning or end of the meeting.
Our desire for the Council to acknowledge that working sessions are subject to all of the requirements of the Open Meetings Act is not just a desire for public comment time. Instead, we are concerned that if this Council pretends that the Open Meetings Act does not apply to working sessions, that precedent will allow a future Council to extend that reasoning to exempt working sessions from all requirements of the Open Meeting Act. That would permit working sessions without prior notice and in private away from the public and media.
Board and Committee Meetings
The City Council passed a resolution requiring commissions, boards and committees to adhere to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. MCL 15.261 et seq.
RESOLUTION REGARDING OPEN MEETINGS FOR
CITY COMMITTEES, COMMISSIONS, BOARDS AND TASK FORCES
Whereas, The City Council desires that all meetings of City boards, task forces, commissions and committees conform to the spirit of the Open Meetings Act;
RESOLVED, That all City boards, task forces, commissions, committees and their subcommittees hold their meetings open to the public to the best of their abilities in the spirit of Section 3 of the Open Meetings Act; and
RESOLVED, That closed meetings of such bodies be held only under situations where a closed meeting would be authorized in the spirit of the Open Meetings Act.
Substitute Resolution , As Amended, November 4, 1991
OPEN MEETINGS ACT (EXCERPT)
Sec. 3. ...
(5) A person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body. ...