Two CS Mott Community College Trustees have publicly implied that four other trustees violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Anne Figueroa and Michael Freeman indicated they suspected that four of the school’s trustees created a private agreement regarding which positions the four would hold following the organizational meeting earlier this month.
Figueroa alleged that Trustees Janet Couch, Andy Everman, Jeffrey Swanson and Wendy Wolcott decided amongst themselves who would fill the four executive positions on the board. By state law, a community college has seven trustees, so an agreement among four trustees would carry a vote. To back up the claim, Figueroa cited block voting during the organizational meeting, with each of the four trustees voting for each other.
In December, Figueroa raised the possibility that trustees were making board-level decisions privately. At the time, two of the current trustees had yet to be sworn in. According to Michael Freeman, rumors had circulated that the four Trustees privately discussed the Board organization, as well as the replacement of the Board attorney, and potentially the removal of the college president.
Trustee Everman twice motioned to fire the Board attorney – once in a special meeting held before two of the trustees had taken their oath of office. The motion failed each time. Additionally, several members of the public suggested that the current board intends to remove Beverly Walker-Griffea, the college president.
Michigan’s Open Meetings Act requirements
Michigan’s Open Meetings Act governs the meetings of public bodies. These requirements include holding public meetings when a majority of the board (or other governing body) is present; giving adequate notice of public meetings; and public participation options, among other things.
In addition, the OMA requires a public meeting when the board could make a decision. The OMA also prohibits board members from having private discussions of board-level matters. A board can create a quorum simply by communicating as a group via any means: video, phone call, email, text messaging, person-to-person communications, etc.
According to the OMA, trustees can gather at a social event, conference, seminar, or a meeting of another public body – as long as the event does not relate to their work as a board member/trustee, and the members do not discuss board business or make any decisions while they have gathered.
The OMA does not permit board members to hold private retreats or private meetings (under most circumstances). The Board can go into a closed session under certain circumstances, most of which include various types of contract negotiations; personnel matters; real estate purchases; etc. The OMA does not consider closed sessions to be “private,” as long as the board adheres to the legal requirements of a closed session.
How does the WCC Board operate?
I was surprised that the Mott Trustees complained about pre-determined decision-making and block voting. The WCC Board of Trustees has voted as a block for years. (I have written about this in the past.) It’s very clear that in certain matters, the Board has determined its decision prior to the public meeting. This is evident through their lockstep voting patterns and the lack of participation, independent discussion and/or deliberation among the Trustees prior to a vote.
You can see this in action in the most recent Board meeting.
In the first 10 minutes of the meeting, the WCC Board elects its officers. Each position receives a single nominee, and the nominations are all made by the same person: Trustee Fleming. It’s obviously scripted and the nominees were determined beforehand. No nominee refuses their nomination, and one Trustee – David DeVarti – isn’t even present for the vote.
(Won’t he be surprised when he finds out that he’s been elected Board Treasurer again!)
Earlier this month, when the Board met in an unnecessary special session to appoint a new Trustee, Ruth Hatcher mentioned that the Board did not even receive the resumes of the nominees until the day of the meeting. William Milliken, as Board Chair, didn’t initially entertain a discussion of the candidates. Why would he? He was simply moving the Board’s pre-determined outcome forward. It was not until Trustee David DeVarti reminded Trustee Milliken that the appointment was an action item and that it required discussion that Milliken relented. Only Trustees DeVarti and Hatcher participated in what amounted to a rather awkward discussion. For the other Trustees, there was nothing to discuss.
OMA violations happen all the time
These kinds of votes aren’t the only violations of the Open Meetings Act that regularly occur. At the January 24th meeting, the Board approved the minutes of the December meeting. According to the OMA, those minutes must be publicly posted within 5 business days. As of this writing, the December minutes, which should have been posted no later than today are still not available. Further, draft minutes of each meeting are supposed to be posted within eight days of the meeting. The WCC Board has never followed this requirement as far as I can tell.
It’s pathetic that this is the way a public body operates.
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