Following the proper rules for a public hearing?

Is our township in proper compliance with the Open Meetings Act?

A recent question was sent to Michigan State University Extension educators regarding a special meeting in a Michigan Township. The writer asked, “We have a contentious issue in our city currently before the planning commission. That agenda item did not start until late in the evening. By that time, many people that wanted to speak had to leave. Is it a violation of the Open Meetings Act to schedule meetings in such a way that limits people’s ability to participate?”

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).

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.

Additionally, a public body has discretion under the OMA when to schedule public comment during the meeting. Thus, scheduling public comment at the beginning or the end of the meeting agenda does not violate the OMA. The public has no right to address the commission during its deliberations on a particular matter.

Extension educator Emeritus Kurt Schindler wrote an article several years ago titled “The public hearing is the worst way to involve the public.” In his article Schindler explains that “of all the various techniques aimed at allowing the public to participate, the public hearing is one of the poorest and least-effective ways to accomplish good or effective public participation. Governments still use the public hearing because it is required by law in many instances. But it is not the best practice. There are many more effective ways to engender public participation, and they are less likely to result in disputes or conflicts. One might even think of these techniques as “conflict resolution” by avoiding the conflict in the first place.” Visit the article to access additional resources.

Finally, if there is a formal complaint to make, the process for making that complaint is on page six 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). 

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