Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 11, 2014

PR specialist: Other governments need open meetings training

TRAVERSE CITY — A local public relations specialist retained by the Northwestern Michigan College said some area government bodies need a refresher in transparency.

Gregg Smith, of the Traverse City-based Lawton Gallagher Group marketing and communications firm, said many local government boards need training in Michigan's Open Meetings Act, but Smith was unable to name a specific board that could benefit from such a refresher.

"Frankly, I haven’t followed it that closely," Smith said on May 9.

The act requires public bodies to conduct nearly all business at public meetings. Record-Eagle executives alleged NMC trustees violated the state law when they privately communicated about whether to record their board meetings between Jan. 20 and Jan. 27.

Many public agencies, including Grand Traverse County, the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Light & Power and Traverse City Area Public Schools, provide their board members training on OMA and the Freedom of Information Act -- which gives citizens the right to review public records -- at least once during their public careers.

NMC board members previously said they received no formal training when they joined the board, but that could change soon.

NMC attorney Charles Judson during an April board meeting contended that trustees did not violate open meeting laws, but the board could benefit from OMA and FOIA training sessions.

Judson also suggested college officials establish guidelines for trustees’ email communications and retention of records, something he's preparing for the college board's policy sub-committee.

Bishop during the same board meeting said trustees never "had any intent to violate the law," and no violation of the law occurred.

He declined to comment last week when asked if trustees continue to communicate over email as they did at least between Jan. 20 and Jan. 27.

"I don't think that's a legitimate question," Bishop said. "I said, to paraphrase it, I think there are ways to define our email policy so that we avoid even the appearance of any misunderstandings, and that's what I'm looking for an email policy to provide. I think certainly we can always improve."

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