ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.
The Gongwer News Service, which has been faithfully reporting on the Lansing political scene for more than a few decades, recently published an interview about the Open Meetings Act. It was asserted that public officials have been abusing this law intended to give people the right to know about what government is doing. Instead they are appropriating certain provisions of the act to make excuses for having unpleasant and embarrassing discussions behind closed doors.
I concur, especially after being rebuffed in my attempt, under the Freedom of Information Act, to obtain minutes of the Dorr Township Board’s closed session Oct. 26 because I believe the reason for closing the meeting to the public was bogus.
Gongwer News Service Editor Zack Gorchow said in the article, “Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act has become more of a shield for government to avoid or delay the release of information instead of a real tool for the public to access public documents.”
Dorr Township Trustee Terry Rios asked for the closed session in order to discuss an employee, which normally would fall under the provisions in which closed meetings may be held. However, Township Supervisor Jeff Miling, after reopening the public meeting, said the session was not about an employee, but instead “a misunderstanding.”
Therefore, the closed meeting was improper, not meeting the standards by which such closed sessions are permitted.
The Open Meetings Act, a product of the post-Watergate era, was an attempt to make
government more open and accessible to the public, to restore trust that had been lost in the infamous cloak-and-dagger affairs of national government between 1972 and 1974.
But lately there have been unintended consequences, in which public officials have cherry picked the act’s wording to justify questionable meetings behind closed doors. When they do this, the public is left in the dark and suspicions, already a hallmark in Dorr Township government, are made worse.
Clerk Debbie Sewers, in her e-mailed response and denial of a FOIA request to Townbroadcast, said, “Closed session minutes are confidential unless a court orders the minutes to be disclosed as party of a civil action.”
This is true, but Townbroadcast contends the closed session was called in error because it did not meet the criteria for private meetings. Essentially, public bodies can have a closed session to discuss the purchase of land, to discuss a public employee or to discuss negotiations with an attorney.
It appears that none of these three conditions, as acknowledged by Miling, were met. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as a closed meeting.
Townbroadcast remains suspicious that the private discussion was about Trustee John Tuinstra secretly tape recording a Planning Commission meeting Oct. 17 and his clandestine activity was done at Rios’ request. Townbroadcast believes Rios, Tuinstra and Sewers have been working in tandem to have Planning Commission Chairman Bob Wagner discredited and ultimately dismissed as the result of a non-productive ancient feud orchestrated by Bernie Schumaker and former Trustee Patty Senneker.
As Detroit Pistons scout Will Robinson said while evaluating MIAA basketball, “It isn’t very good, but it sure is interesting.”
An even better quote for assessing this, however, comes from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians in the New Testament:
“Have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes a light itself…”