Opening Meeting Laws

QUESTION 28. -
CAN THE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONS VOTE BY SECRET BALLOT FOR THEIR CHAIRMAN?

Yes. By specific statute County Boards of Commissioner must vote in the open and their votes recorded by individual except for their vote on who shall serve as Chairman. MCLA 43.3a

QUESTION 29.-
CAN A PUBLIC BODY MEET OUTSIDE OF ITS GEOGRAPHIC AREA?

Yes, but the Public Body may not do so to avoid the act. The Act requires the public meeting to be open to the public and the Attorney General has opined OAG 1979, # 5560 that this means that the meeting must be held somewhere that can be attended by the public and not be difficult or inconvenient for citizens residing in the area served by the public body to attend.

QUESTION 30.

If a lawyer delivers a complaint to our offices and says that he has just filed it, may we run the contents of the complaint? Perhaps, but why would you want to? The first thing you must determine is that the complaint has indeed been filed. The Libel statute protects a fair and true report of public documents. Court files are public documents.

On the other hand, do you want to report allegations made in a complaint to which the other side has had no opportunity to respond? Do your readers need to know about a complaint and allegations that are as yet untested? Although attorneys are supposed to file only complaints well grounded in fact and law, a cursory review of libel complaints against newspapers would indicate that such a standard is often not followed.

If the allegations are particularly defamatory, i.e. derogatory, you also might want to consider the chances of the matter going to trial. The defendant may not have the opportunity to challenge or explain the bald allegations in a complaint. On the other hand, if a complaint indicates a public health hazard or danger, a report might be appropriate.

In short, let good news judgment be your guide.

QUESTION - 32. ADVERTISING
CAN I PUBLISH A POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT THAT USES A COPY OF A STORY FROM ANOTHER NEWSPAPER?

Newspapers have a common law copyright in the newspapers they publish. If they affix a copyright symbol to their publications, they also get statutory recognition of that copyright. The penalties for violation of a copyright would apply to the republication of an article from such a newspaper or any other publication absent written approval of the owner of the copyright for reprinting in the political ad. This goes for photographs as well as printed material.

QUESTION 33. - ADVERTISING
CAN I PUBLISH A PROPERTY TAX RECORD THAT INDICATES THAT A CANDIDATE HAS UNPAID, DELINQUENT TAXES?

Yes, so long as you are certain that the tax record pertains to the candidate. From the stand point of privacy and copyright, the government does not have a copyright in the document. So you are free to publish the document. As to privacy concerns, there cannot be an invasion of privacy claims for the publication of a government document, legally obtained. However, be certain that the document is not libelous. Is the document clearly pertaining to the candidate and not to her mother who has the same name? Is that business owner of the property the sole business of the candidate? Is the document current? Delinquent taxes of several years ago may be problematic if the taxes have been paid in the interim or if there has been a dispute over the amount.

QUESTION 34. - OMA
IF A PUBLIC BODY POSTS A SPECIAL MEETING ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING OVER THE WEEK-END, IS THE MEETING LEGAL?

Technically, the meeting is legal. The statute only requires that a special meeting be posted 18 hours before the meeting. Although the posting must be conspicuous, i.e. on the outside of the building, not on the inside of the building, it need not be posted during regular business hours. However, any public body routinely posting notices of special meetings over the week-end should be editorially chastised. The Open Meetings Act assumes good faith and common sense. The purpose of the posting is to provide the public with notice. Therefore, if at all possible, special meetings should be posted as soon as the date and time have been determined.

QUESTION 35. - FOIA
CAN I OBTAIN PERSONNEL FILES UNDER FOIA FOR TEACHERS?

With the Supreme Court decision in Christine Bradley v. Saranac and its companion case, Lansing Association of School Administrators v. Lansing School Board, the Michigan Supreme Court held that criticism and discipline of public employees is not a personal or private matter. To the contrary, the controlling law expressly holds that there is no privacy interest of a public employee in documents relating to job performance. Bradley, 455 Mich 285; 565 NW2d 650. Nor is there a constitutional privacy, as opposed to common law privacy, limited to the interest in the nondisclosure of personal matters and the interest in personal independence in making certain types of decisions such as decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships and child rearing.

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