The Open Meetings Act isn't that complicated, it can basically be summed up by saying that all meetings of a public body need to be open to the public, then develop a few rules about noticing those meetings and when the body can close those meetings. Yet, the July 12th meeting of the Ludington City Council showed that councilors and attorneys could argue over minutia in the law to try and hold a closed session of the public body, even when it doesn't appear to have the grounds to do so, as Councilor John Bulger argued over a fifteen minute period with other officials. When one looks at the known facts, he appears to be right.
You may ask for what purpose the council was holding a special meeting three days later on July 15th. There lies the problem, they hadn't planned on holding a city council meeting; it was supposed to be a meeting of the Public Safety/Public Utilities Standing Committee. And yet, in a way it was planned, for they noted in the agenda for the committee meeting that Kathy Winczewski would attend to give a report on Straits Steel & Wire. Councilor Winczewski is not a member of the committee.
Provided that all of the three councilors who form that standing committee were to attend the meeting, there would be a gathering of four city councilors deliberating about public policy, namely what the environmental report from the wells reported, what it meant to the City of Ludington, and what would be the best options to explore in the future, among other issues.
Four members represent a quorum of the city council, when four or more meet together and discuss public policy, they are holding a meeting of the city council. As such, it has to be timely noted as a meeting of the city council, as well as other consideration in the OMA. "If the members of a public body gather, a quorum being present, for the purpose of deliberating, the meeting is subject to the provisions of the Act." (AGO 5183 1(c))
Likewise courts have interpreted this part of the OMA even stricter than the attorney general. "When a quorum of the members of a public body meet to consider and discuss public business, it is a “meeting” within meaning of Open Meetings Act (OMA)." Nicholas v. Meridian Charter Twp. Bd., 239 Mich. App. 525, 609 N.W.2d 574 (2000). With that in mind, the committee composed of Councilors May, Johnson, and Bulger convened at 2 PM in the council chambers (how appropriate) of Ludington City Hall. The first order of business was to hear the Straits report.
Councilor Kathy Winczewski handed out a sheet showing the latest reports from wells in the area showing the extent of contamination of hexavalent chromium; in a 15 minute period she went over the report and fielded questions from the councilors and other officials present. The future of this area and what the City could do about the problem was discussed in some detail by the four councilors present:
Exactly none of the city officials present saw any problem with having this meeting of the committee morph into a meeting of the city council, which wasn't properly and publicly noticed, nor did it follow the usual council procedures, like have a public comment after the business is concluded, so an attending member of the public can remind them of their error. These officials included the city manager, the assistant city manager, the police chief, the mayor, the DPW supervisor, water supervisor, and community development director.
And, of course, Councilor John Bulger, who caught the violation of the OMA by the council earlier in the week. The three other councilors and other participants in the unlawful July 12th closed session can proudly claim they actively violated the OMA twice at two city council meetings in one week.