Know the Michigan Open Meetings Act and Keep Government Open and Honest

Over the years, I’ve received several questions on the Open Meetings Act (OMA).  OMA sets rules to keep government open and honest.  Taxpayers ought to see the full process leading up to decisions that affect how their tax dollars are spent.  The courts have said that interpretations of OMA should be broad to protect the public’s right to know. 

It takes a 2/3 vote for a public body to go into ‘closed’ or ‘executive’ session and the purpose for the closed session must be stated.  Permitted reasons include:  discussion to purchase property, strategy discussion on labor contracts, strategy on the settlement law suits or trial strategy (pending litigation), attorney client privilege, or an employee discipline matter but only at the request of the employee.

All final decisions of the public body must be made in public with few exceptions.  The overuse of attorney client privilege can be problematic.  It’s legal to discuss pending litigation strategy with your attorney in private.  However, it’s not alright to settle that litigation in the back room or finalize public policy decisions in private.  In fact, you shouldn’t do any more than determine a consensus on strategy in closed session.

If a public body starts voting or using a method such as silent consent or head nods in the back room for settling a lawsuit or making policy decision, it just doesn’t cut the mustard according to the courts under the Michigan Open Meetings Act. 

Does Rochester area local government engage in more than what the OMH permits in the back room?  I sure hope not!

By Sue Ann Douglas, Oakland County Commissioner

 You can learn more about OMH at the following links:

Open Government Guide – Published by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Michigan Association of School Boards  PowerPoint

State of Michigan


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