Joseph Peruzzi Statement Regarding Recent Reversal of Oakland Circuit Court Open Meetings Act

Statement on Recent Court of Appeals Reversal of Oakland County Circuit Court Decision regarding Oakland Township Parks

By Joseph Peruzzi

On November 8, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the findings of the Oakland County Circuit Court that had previously dismissed twice the alleged Open Meetings Act (OMA) violation by Parks Commissioners David Mackley, Alice Tomboulian, Colleen Barkham and me. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman who twice had dismissed the case in favor of the four commissioners.

The Court of Appeals judges Karen M. Fort hood, Elizabeth L. Gleicher and Colleen A. O’Brien saw it differently, however, in its decision citing violations of the OMA because of emails distributed to four of the commissioners. It found that deliberation by the commissioners was the “intent” even though all four commissioners did not communicate with each other. Further, it said that despite the fact that all four did not always respond or communicate by email, the fact that the recipients did not object to the receipt of these emails represented intent to deliberate even when the others on the distribution list were silent.

In essence, the court disagreed with the four commissioners’ position that the mere receipt of the emails, and that discussion among some but not all of them, did not amount to an OMA violation.

The court did not point to any “secret meetings” or “criminal acts” by the parks commissioners. It did reference emails that portrayed the parks commissioners’ displeasure with the fact that the township supervisor had expressed the intent to take over the land preservation millage that previously had been overseen by parks with approval by the full Board of Trustees.

That court guidance in respect to emails and OMA rules is now more clearly defined for future boards and commissions to reflect and act upon. That guidance would not have been provided had it not been for the successful litigation of resident Beth Markle and parks commissioners Ann Marie Rogers and Roger Schmidt, and for that I have to congratulate them on their litigation victory…in the Court of Appeals at least.

On a more personal note, I believe the legacy of long-time parks commissioners Tomboulian, Mackley and Barkham will affect the lives of township residents for years to come, as well as the lives of their children and grandchildren. Our combined service of almost 100 years (I served for 16 years and therefore must be considered the junior member), and those years resulted in the acquisition of more than 1100 acres of parkland that have been set aside and saved from development. I think this land bank, if you will, is the envy of every adjoining community in Oakland County.

Further, I think our growing parks system is a “point of pride” in Oakland Township. And apparently our residents must think so too. Parks commission candidates that ran opposing a renewal to our parks programs were roundly defeated in 2016. On the Board of Trustees side, we have a new supervisor also favorable to preserving our rural community character and parklands.

A new Parks Commission comprised of members, who are parkland advocates and protectors, and a new Supervisor and Board I believe will carry the township forward in good fashion and for that, I am grateful.

It has been a pleasure working with the parks commission for the past 16 years. As President-elect Donald Trump just said in his acceptance speech, politics is a tough business. I found that out on a much smaller scale of course.

In any case, thanks again for allowing me to serve the community of Oakland Township and reelecting me over 16 years to serve as a parks commission. And more importantly, I want to thank Parks commissioners Tomboulian, Mackley and Barkham for their service going back as far as the establishment of the Parks Department in Oakland Township, and giving countless hours and effort in serving their community.

Joseph Peruzzi

Parks and Recreation Commissioner

Charter Township of Oakland

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