Last Tuesday the Shiawassee Dems welcomed speaker Mary Ellen Gurewitz. Mary Ellen is an attorney for the Michigan Democratic Party, and she was here to speak on the Open Meetings Act. We learned some interesting things:
The five Democratic commissioners can caucus privately if they do not discuss matters that are before the board of commissioners. If they would like to caucus to discuss matters that are before the board of commissioners, they may caucus publicly. This would require holding the meeting in a public place, and posting notice of the meeting so that the public may attend.
(The above question stems from the fact that the five Democratic commissioners comprise a quorum of the board of seven. If six commissioners were required for a quorum, then the OMA would not apply to a caucus of five)
It is not permissible to go into a closed session to discuss a ‘legal opinion’. You may go into a closed session for specific items, as listed in the act. Discussing legal strategy is a valid reason. Discussing the outcome of a legal issue is not a valid reason for a closed session.
It is not permissible to intentionally evade the OMA. For example: three commissioners meet in one room, and two meet another, and then commissioners move from room to room to discuss matters. This would be a violation of the OMA. I suspect the recent activity of the Owosso City Council was an evasion of the OMA. In this situation, three council members met with the Owosso City Manager privately. A fourth council member had been (reportedly) consulted by phone. Four are required for a quorum of the Owosso City Council. This incident is under investigation by the Michigan State Police.
Commissioners Dan Stewart and jack Johnson were the only county officials in attendance.