Following the proper rules for a special meeting?
Is our township in proper compliance?
A recent question was sent to Michigan State University Extension Educators regarding a special meeting in a Michigan Township. The writer asked, “Our township board just gave the approval of a new employee that does a great deal of work for the township. This was done at a special meeting, the notice was on the door of the township hall and the appointment was not on the agenda. No other notifications were posted. I feel that this is a definite conflict of interest. Plus, the special meeting was set intentionally so that the township residences were not aware. I am concerned! Is my concern valid?”
This document by Attorney General Schuette helps to provide clarity around Open Meetings in Michigan. It outlines in simple, understandable language the details of the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
There are two main questions here. The first being the question about a conflict of interest for a board member. Conflict of interests would include:
A situation when one is making a decision in their government office capacity which is also impacting one’s:
- Relatives/family (employer/employees, business partner)
- Proximity (as it influences one’s property value)
Courts and statutes have established the minimum standard which creates a conflict of interest. However, a local government or a government body (in its bylaws or rules of procedure) can raise the bar and set a higher standard for when a situation is considered a conflict of interest.
If the new employee is not making any decisions as a board member, there was, in fact, no conflict of interest. If the employee offers services outside of specified work tasks, such as cleaning or lawn care for example, the board should continue to award contracts based on bids to eliminate any perception of favoritism and work performed would be outside of the employee’s regular position hours.
The second part of the question is regarding the public notice requirements. A meeting of a public body cannot be held unless public notice is given consistent with the OMA. A public notice must contain the public body's name, telephone number and address, and must be posted at its principal office and any other locations the public body considers appropriate. Public notice requirements are specific to the type of meeting. For a rescheduled regular or a special meeting of a public body, a public notice stating the date, time and place of the meeting shall be posted at least 18 hours before the meeting. Additionally, while the OMA requires a public body to give public notice when it meets, it has no requirement that the public notice include an agenda or a specific statement as to the purpose of a meeting. No agenda format is required by the OMA.
If an individual is concerned about how their board handled a situation, it is suggested to obtain a copy of the minutes from that meeting, to verify a motion and vote was recorded. If an error is noted, it is important to first bring the mistake to the attention of the board chair and/or clerk to encourage them to correct their action. If there is a formal complaint to make, the process for making that complaint is on page 6 of the document by Attorney General Schuette.
MSU Extension Educators can provide your organization with assistance in learning more about parliamentary procedure. The Government and Public Policy team also offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).