Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 15, 2013

Frankfort police chief search raises concerns

TRAVERSE CITY — Frankfort city officials may have violated open meetings laws when they interviewed candidates for police chief, a state media law attorney said.

A city personnel committee interviewed four candidates for the vacant top police department post late last week. Three of those interviews took place behind closed doors at the candidates’ request, said Frankfort Mayor Bob Johnson, a member of the personnel committee.

Attorney Robin Luce Herrmann, general counsel to the Michigan Press Association, said interviewing the candidates in closed session violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

“The interviews have to be in public,” Luce Herrmann said. “And they can’t make decisions on those interviews without deliberating in public.”

Michigan’s Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to conduct nearly all business at open meetings, according to an OMA guide published by Michigan’s legislature.

Public bodies can review employee applications in private, if so requested by an applicant.

“However, all interviews by a public body for employment or appointment to a public office have to be conducted in an open meeting,” the act states.

City council member JoAnn Holwerda said she didn’t think city officials violated the act, but if they did commit a violation, it was unintentional.

“We were just going by what was past practice,” she said.

City attorney Joan Swartz McKay said some terms in the clause about conducting interviews are open to interpretation, including the term “public body.” McKay said she’s researching the issue and crafting an interpretation of OMA for the city council.

“It will be up to the city council to determine where to go from there,” she said.

Johnson said on Oct. 11 the personnel committee would select a candidate to recommend to the full city council during a council meeting today. He would not release the names of the candidates.

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