by Scott McClallen
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order temporarily suspending parts of the Open Meetings Act (OMA), so public groups can meet electronically through April 15.
“We are taking every measure we can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect Michigan families, but recognize that public bodies still have an obligation to conduct business as usual,” Whitmer said in a news release.
“During this crisis, we must ensure that public officials can do their job to meet the needs of residents, while also ensuring that meetings remain open, accessible and transparent to the public.”
The act, effective immediately, allows public bodies subject to the OMA, including boards, commissions, committees, subcommittees and others, to meet through phone or video-conference during the COVID-19 outbreak if they follow specific guidelines.
The order says meetings must allow two-way communication between the public and the officials meeting, including a public comment period.
If the group has an Internet page, public officials must post the meeting time in advance on its website, including the phone number or website address to virtually attend with instructions how to contact the public body.
The order excuses school boards from monthly meeting requirements.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said the Senate Republican Caucus is “deeply concerned” the order might limit public engagement, especially for older Michiganders.
“We call upon our Governor to provide greater guidance to ensure elected bodies do not hinder public input by choosing to conduct business via technology that may be inaccessible for some citizens,” Shirkey said in a press release.
“In a time of crisis, citizens should have more access to their elected officials, not less,” he said. “We are concerned this order from our Governor may place unanticipated restrictions on an individual’s ability to redress their government.”
Shirkey said they are willing to work with Whitmer to improve the order to ensure democracy while protecting public health.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org.