Michigan Open Meetings Act: Frequently Asked Questions
Special questions answered about the Michigan Open Meetings Act
The Michigan Open Meetings Act, MCL 125.3101 et seq., enhances a resident’s right to know what is going on in government by requiring public body meetings to be open to the public. These are meetings at which elected, non-elected officials, and others make government decisions. Michigan State University Extension holds trainings on the Open Meetings Act (OMA) so people better understand its parameters. Here are some common questions that might help you better understand the Open Meetings Act.
How do we find out if our board is required to follow OMA?
The Public Policy Brief “Michigan Open Meeting Act Decision Tree” may be helpful to answer this question. The first part of this Brief considers the question – Is it a public body? The second part asks if part of the meeting can be closed. The Open Meetings Act (OMA), defines a public body as “any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council, that is empowered by state constitution, statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, or rule to exercise governmental or proprietary authority or perform a governmental or proprietary function; a lessee of such a body performing an essential public purpose and function pursuant to the lease agreement; or the board of a nonprofit corporation formed by a city under section 4o of the home rule city act, 1909 PA 279, MCL 117.4o” (MCL 15.262(a)).
If the board fits that definition, it is critical for board members to have a copy of the OMA and have a complete understanding of their obligations under the OMA.
Are organizations that act in support of a government body required to follow OMA?
If an organization is not authorized by statute to serve a governmental function, then they would not be subject to the act. However, a board seeking to maintain an open and trusting relationship with its public should consider following the standards of openness in the law.
Are we required to follow the Federal Open Meeting Act?
Federal Open Meeting Act rules in this brochure indicate the Federal Open Meeting Act applies to bodies appointed by the President of the United States or that are a part of federal government. If there is confusion as to the type (local, state or federal) of board then checking with legal counsel could be an option.
How much detail do we need in minutes?
Minimally, all boards need to report decisions (motions, resolutions, etc.). But administrative boards have to include additional information. Minutes for administrative boards should be as outlined in Land Use Series “How to Take Minutes for Administrative Decisions.” Administrative board minutes are different than minutes for legislative bodies because they need to show rationale for the decision. Additional information about minutes can be found in the MSU Extension article Suggestions for keeping an accurate history of your organization.
The Land Use Series flyer has side-bar boxes listing typical legislative bodies and administrative bodies. As a general rule, a “legislative body” is one where members are elected. The real test however, is not simply only what type of board, but what type of decision is being made. As an example, a legislative body that acts to approve a special use permit is making an administrative decision. For that action it must act like an administrative body and minutes must be reflective of an administrative body.
If our board goes into closed session but approves minutes of the closed meeting in an open meeting (without allowing the meeting minutes to be shared) is that a violation?
Minutes can be approved in a closed session and members can also make corrections to the minutes in that closed session. However, members can also approve minutes in the open session without divulging the content of the closed meeting.
If we have no bylaws or operating procedures that address public comment is it reasonable to say at the start of the meeting “these are the rules we will follow today for public comment”?
OMA explains that “a person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body” (MCL 15.263(5)). That means the rules can’t be arbitrarily changed from one meeting to the next, and that they have to be written rules – in the public body’s bylaws, for example. If different meeting circumstances legitimately require different rules, then the body should establish those different sets of written rules and identify in the rules which are used in which situations. A public body making every effort to be transparent should have those written rules available prior to the meeting for public examination.
Can boards request individuals to provide their name or just write the names down because we know who the individuals are in order to be entered in the minutes as attendees of the meeting?
It is reasonable to list guests and speakers listed on the agenda, but not necessary to list every person who attends the meeting. The OMA states, “A person shall not be required as a condition of attendance at a meeting of a public body to register or otherwise provide his or her name or other information or otherwise to fulfill a condition precedent to attendance” (MCL 15.263(4)). The way to avoid an issue is to simply not make it a practice to do so. Additionally, if you have a large crowd with several wishing to speak who do not wish to give their names, then you may simply refer to them anonymously.
MSU Extension 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 residents, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. MSU Extension also offers professional training in Parliamentary Procedure. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).