Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 24, 2013

Local officials question withholding of road agendas

Some on GT Road Commission board opt against releases


TRAVERSE CITY — Some officials questioned an abrupt decision by the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to withhold agendas before their public meetings.

The road commission previously posted agendas online and emailed them to a list of subscribers. But commission officials and employees this week said they are no longer publicly releasing meeting agendas, including the agenda for tonight's session.

The decision to withhold board agendas apparently came from some, but not all members of the road commission board.

Grand Traverse County Commission Chairman Herb Lemcool said public bodies should be as transparent as possible. He said the county board will discuss the road commission's refusal to release agendas "if not at the next meeting, then in the near future."

"They need to follow Robert's Rules of Order and make sure what they are doing is for the community and not for themselves," Lemcool said.

Blair Township Supervisor Pat Pahl said he was "baffled" by the commission's decision to withhold agendas.

"They are a public body; they work for the taxpayers. Why wouldn't you want the taxpayers to know what you are discussing," Pahl said.

Road Commission Manager Jim Cook said board members made the decision to withhold agendas.

"Their opinion is if you want to know what's going on at the meeting you should attend the meeting," Cook said.

That stance does not extend to all road board members. Some said they weren't aware of the policy change.

"What is going on?" Road Commissioner John Nelson said. "(Cook) is not talking about me. I'll put it that way."

Grand Traverse County, Traverse City Area Public Schools and Traverse City post agendas and packets comprised of information relevant to agenda items online before meetings.

"We want to give (the public) the information the commissioners are looking at before the meeting so they are all looking at the same thing," County Administrator Dave Benda said. "It's only fair, right?"

Benda would not comment on the road commission's new agenda policy.

"That's their issue," he said. "They are going to have to deal with the public on that one."

Citizens should have access to agendas before meetings so they can decide if they want to attend meetings, Nelson said.

"I can't imagine why you would not want to release agendas," Nelson said, adding, "maybe there are good reasons I don't know about. It's beyond me what the reasons may be."

Road Commissioner Bill Mouser, the board's newest member, also was unaware of the change.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Mouser said.

Road Commissioners Dave Taylor and Marc McKellar would not comment for this article. They referred questions to Commission Chairman Carl Brown.

Brown did not return several messages.

The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires public entities to post only notice of a meeting's time and place before it occurs. The Michigan Freedom of Information Act states citizens have a "right to subscribe to future issuances of public records which are created, issued or disseminated on a regular basis."

Some subscribers who previously received agendas by email expressed displeasure with the commission's new policy.

"I see this as a less transparent position that the public will not appreciate," Joanne Tuck, a county Human Resources employee, said in an email to a subscribers list maintained by the road commission.

Pahl also emailed the subscriber's list maintained by the road commission. He strongly disagreed with withholding meeting agendas and said agendas "should be posted on your website so I can see if anything pertains to Blair Township."

Cook said he did not know if withholding the agendas from the subscriber list violated freedom of information laws.

"That's a good question," he said.

Jennifer Dukarski, an attorney with the Michigan Press Association, said the road board's decision might be a violation of state law.

"It begs the question of whether they will be compliant with that provision of FOIA in the coming the months," she said.

Karrie Zeits, the road commission's attorney, said she was unaware of the decision to withhold agendas. She decline comment for this story.

The road commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at 1881 LaFranier Road.