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OMA changes to keep public informed

February 06, 2013 - Folks who wish to stay on top of when their local governments are convening meetings and for what purpose will be pleased to know the state's Open Meetings Act (OMA) has been amended to increase transparency.

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 28, Public Act 528 of 2012 provides new and expanded public notice requirements for rescheduled, special and emergency meetings.

These changes range from mandatory postings on government websites to requiring public bodies to explain the need for emergency meetings, when they arise, to both citizens and the county.

Oxford Township Clerk Curtis Wright supports the changes.

"In my opinion, there should be as much notice as possible for people that want to be informed about what's going on with township business, or even city or village business," he said.

Addison Township Clerk Pauline Bennett agreed. "I think it's good that people are kept aware," she said. "More and more people are using the internet to check out what's going on within the township. I think it's a good thing."

In addition to being physically posted at least 18 hours in advance in a prominent and conspicuous place at the public body's principle office, notices for rescheduled regular meetings and special meetings must now be posted on a government's website, if applicable.

"Website posting is mandatory where (a) public body directly or indirectly maintains an official internet presence that includes monthly or more frequent updates of public meeting agendas or minutes," according to a Jan. 30 memo issued by Judith Cunningham, corporation counsel for Oakland County.

"We're doing that right now," Wright said. "We post all our notices on the website . . . We're totally in compliance here."

Bennett noted that agendas for both regular and special township meetings were already being posted on Addison's website prior to the new law. The only difference is Addison's website now contains a link specifically designated for special meetings.

Most local governments in the Oxford/Addison area have websites (see above).

Only the Village of Leonard, which has a population of approximately 400, currently does not have a government website.

"We did have one," explained Leonard Village Clerk Cindy Grosskopf. However, the company that handled it went out of business, so the village is in the process of having a new one published. Grosskopf estimated it should be up and running in about four to six weeks.

Once Leonard's new site is on-line, village President Mike McDonald said, "Obviously, we're going to follow the law (with regard to posting meeting notices)."

Wright noted that notices for all township meetings are currently physically posted at the township hall (300 Dunlap Rd.) and village complex (22 W. Burdick St.). The same is true for Addison, which posts its paper agendas at township complex (1440 Rochester Rd.)

The new OMA amendments also include changes to the way emergency meetings must be advertised.

Governments are still empowered to conduct emergency sessions in the event of a severe and imminent threat to health, safety or welfare. However, now paper copies of the notice must be made available at the meeting and they must include an explanation of the reason why the normally-required 18-hour notice could not be given.

"The reasons must be specific and not generalizations," Cunningham wrote.

"You'd really have to have a catastrophe (to need an emergency meeting)," Bennett noted. "That rarely happens."

If the government has a website, the emergency meeting notice and explanation must be posted on it as well.

Within 48 hours of the emergency meeting, the new law mandates that a public body must send official correspondence electronically or via first class mail to the county Board of Commissioners explaining the emergency meeting.

Although she has "no objection" to notifying the county, Bennett views this new requirement as "odd."

The OMA amendments also made it clear that when an 18-hour notice is required for a meeting, the notice must be accessible to the public for the entire 18 hours.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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