Newspaper alleges Northwestern Michigan College violated meeting law
In a series of reports the Traverse City Record Eagle says it has found evidence that several Northwestern Michigan College board trustees and other officials have discussed college matters through emails instead of in their public meetings.
Allegations by the Record Eagle point toward violations of Michigan's open meeting act.
The newspaper reports discussions between college officials on whether to televise their monthly board meetings were done through email and not in public.
It's human nature I think sometimes to want to express your views and opinions outside of the public forum, but once you start doing that that can be a very slippery slope, said Chet Janik, Leelanau County Administrator.
Despite how this controversy plays out, the Leelanau County administrator says clear expectations are critical when it comes to following the open meeting act.
We've always had training sessions with our board members about what the open meetings act is, what you can do, what you cannot do, how to proceed with emails, how to proceed with phone calls, debate between board members, because it can be a little tricky at times.
Email addresses are assigned to Leelanau County commissioners, which mean all digital correspondence is available to the public.
We remind them that it's a great way to communicate but you have to be careful and not debate issues during email or by phone calls.
Although charges are rare when there are accusations of open meeting law violations, prosecutors do not take the issue lightly.
There are alternatives. A person can bring a civil action against the unit of government and if they're successful they can get their attorney fees paid. The prosecutor can bring an action in the form of an injunction or some sort of civil matter, or the prosecutor can choose to pursue criminal charges, said Joseph Hubbell, Leelanau County Prosecutor.
At Monday TMs board meeting, college officials denied violating any open meeting laws.