The Open Meetings Act and remote participation in public meetings
What does Michigan’s Open Meetings Act say about remote participation in public meetings?
In Michigan there are two primary laws which protect transparency and open government, the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, and the Michigan Open Meetings Act. This article focuses on the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Other articles on the Freedom of Information Act are available on the Michigan State University Extension website.
The primary purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to ensure that the public’s business is done, quite literally, in public, where the public can witness deliberations and decisions their governing bodies make. There are many MSU Extension news articles which cover various pieces of the OMA, some of which you can find here.
We are often asked whether the Open Meetings Act allows for an elected official to participate in a public meeting remotely, or if they must be physically present at the meeting in order to participate. Until 2020, the Act itself gave no direct guidance as to whether members of public bodies could participate electronically. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the OMA was amended to temporarily allow public bodies to conduct and attend meetings electronically, but those amendments expired after December 31, 2021.
Currently, OMA is interpreted to prohibit remote participation with limited exceptions. The Act does allow a board to accommodate remote participation by a member due to their military duty (MCL 15.263(2)).
In addition, Michigan Attorney General Opinion 7318 concludes that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act require state and local boards to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, which could include an option to participate virtually.
The Act remains silent on whether a member of the public can attend a meeting remotely. In 2020 and 2021, while the ability to hold public meetings remotely was in effect, it became common practice for the public to be able to attend and participate remotely. As the current law does not prohibit this, some public bodies still permit the public to attend either in-person or remotely.
This article is one of many Michigan State University Extension articles and resources related to the Open Meetings Act. Others can be found on the MSU Extension website and Extension has training programs on complying with the Michigan OMA. The “Open Meetings Act Handbook,” published by the Michigan Attorney General, is another source of information to answer OMA questions.
Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on government and public policy provide various training programs, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local government and community vitality educator for more information.