Is it a violation of Open Meetings Act when a quorum of a board attends another meeting?

Michigan attorney general clarifies application of Open Meetings Act when a quorum of a board attends a meeting of another board

All public bodies in Michigan must follow the Open Meetings Act regarding holding discussions, deliberations and making decisions at meetings which are open to the public. The act also addresses issues like public comment, meeting notices, locations and much more. The full act can be found here. People are often critical of legal language, but this act is actually quite readable. That said, there have been many questions arise over the years since its passage in 1976.

Questions about legislation are often answered either by the courts during their review of a case where that particular law applies, or by written opinions of the state attorney general. In July of 2016, Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette issued opinion number 7290, which addresses a question from a legislator about the application of the Open Meetings Act when a quorum of one board attends the meeting of another board, and specifically when a quorum of the members of the first board also serve on the second board.

The representative asked two questions: whether a quorum of the county board could participate in the deliberations of the county mental health board, and whether their participation also constituted a meeting of the county board.

The attorney general first reviewed the background of the composition of both the county board and the county mental health board, and then the relationship between the two boards.

In response to the first question, he stated that, “Because the county commissioners’ dual service is expressly authorized in this case, they are entitled to fully participate in the deliberations and actions of both boards while acting in their capacity as either a county commissioner or as a member of the mental health board.”

His response to the second question, about whether the participation of a quorum of the county board in a meeting of the county mental health board requires posting the meeting as a meeting of the county board also, is clear that it does not, and contains a clear qualification. He says, “But where a quorum of the members of one public body attend or participate in the meeting of a second public body, the presence of a quorum will generally not subject the first public body to the OMA unless they discuss or decide matters in their role as members of that public body.” I added the bold and italics to highlight a key point in his opinion. The attorney general has basically said that participation in the meeting of the second body does not make it a meeting requiring the first body to comply with OMA, so long as the quorum of members of the first body do not deliberate and make decisions on business that belongs to the first body.

Michigan State University Extension provides, through the Government and Public Policy Team and the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy, educational programs for local government officials and citizens regarding the Michigan Open Meetings Act and many other aspects of local government operations. Please contact us at the Center at 517-355-2160 or on the web at thrivelocal.msue.msu.edu for more information.

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