Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 21, 2014

NMC officials: We didn't break law

(Above is a video clip from the Northwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees meeting on Monday.)

TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College officials said they did not violate state open meetings laws when they exchanged a series of emails before NMC trustees reversed course on a vexing policy question without public discussion or discourse.

Emails obtained by the Record-Eagle through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, and detailed in an April 17 report, show at least six of the college's seven elected trustees and other NMC officials privately deliberated whether to televise their monthly board meetings between Jan. 20 and Jan. 27.

The non-public, electronic debate eventually prompted some trustees — who adamantly opposed video taping meetings — to reverse course and agree with others who pushed for meeting recordings.

The change-of-heart began shortly after a policy sub-committee met on Jan. 21 and said they found no need to record meetings. Emails from that week showed frequent discussions between board members and a stated a desire to achieve unanimity before a public meeting scheduled for Jan. 27.

"I've been confident personally since receiving the letter that no one on our board of trustees has ever had any intent to violate the law, and that despite what anyone else may opine or print, there has been no violation of the law," NMC board Chairman Doug Bishop said during a Monday meeting.

Record-Eagle executives alleged trustees' non-public deliberations amounted to “repeated violations of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act” in March 26 letters to Bishop and NMC President Tim Nelson.

Traverse City-based attorney Charles Judson, who is representing NMC, said trustees' email exchanges did not violate state open meetings laws for two reasons.

First NMC's policy committee was an "advisory committee" only; its recommendations needed to go before the full college board for action and implementation, Judson said. Second an individual public board member may "informally canvass" other board members to find out where votes are on a particular issue without violating OMA.

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