Public Meetings – OMA

From a citizen’s perspective, Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) may be more helpful than the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The OMA requires that public bodies (the list is broader than with FOIA, but it includes many identical groups) meet in sessions which the public can attend. (MCLA 15.261 et seq.) The OMA, like the FOIA, does not cover the court system. But the courts, by law in Michigan, are required to be open with very limited exceptions.

Usually, a quorum of a public body is a simple majority (but you should verify this in the city’s charter, etc.). If a quorum is present and discussing or deliberating towards a decision, it is legally a meeting under OMA. That means the pre-meeting, retreats, etc, everything but a purely social gathering or coincidental encounter, is a meeting under OMA.

Public bodies are defined as: State and local legislative and governing bodies including city councils, township boards, school boards, commissions, committees, subcommittees, authorities empowered by the state constitution, statute, charter or ordinance to exercise or perform a government or proprietary function. However, public universities’ boards are exempt from the OMA based on a 1993 Michigan Supreme Court decision.

Even if the public body violates the OMA, if it goes back into open session and re-votes to reaffirm what it did behind closed doors, that is not considered an admission it violated the law.

Similarly, there are nine exemptions that permit public bodies to hold secret closed sessions though all decisions must be made at meetings open to the public.

The good news for citizens is that violations of the OMA can be challenged in court by the county prosecutor or the state Attorney General’s office, as well as an ordinary citizen. It will take an egregious case, usually, to get either of these public officials to act, however. Citizens, just like under the FOIA, can file suit in circuit court for relief, and their attorney fees and court costs are recoverable.

For further information, please read the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The Michigan Office of the Attorney General has also published a reference guide to OMA.

Corporations and other private entities

Private corporations, colleges, schools, groups and businesses can and do have private meetings. Michigan’s OMA does not cover them and does not cover the courts.

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