TRAVERSE CITY — Always err on the side of transparency when it comes to government operations.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney delivered that message to dozens of local public officials who showed up at the Governmental Center on Thursday for refresher courses on government transparency laws.
Elected and appointed board members from all levels of local government peppered Cooney with questions about open meeting laws, public documents, and more during two training sessions.
Cooney’s responses and message throughout his seminar were clear.
“We’re there to do the work of the public,” he said.
Garfield Township Treasurer Jeane Blood Law called Cooney’s presentation “a refresher course everyone should go through.”
“Whether it’s new or old for you, you learn something new every time,” she said.
Attendees asked numerous questions of Cooney that focused on what types of communications are allowed between board members outside of open meetings. Michigan’s Open Meetings Act forbids quorums of public boards from deliberating and reaching decisions in private.
Cooney told officials to always be cautious when discussing public business outside open meetings.
“You don’t want to be out on the fringes of the Open Meetings Act, because, like I said, it will be narrowly interpreted against you,” he said.
Georgia Durga, director of the county’s Commission on Aging, specifically asked Cooney about electronic communications. She said Friday she has a simple message for Commission on Aging board members about communications:
“Just talk at a committee meeting or a board meeting,” she said. “There’s no reason not to do that.”
More than 70 officials signed up for the training sessions, county records show, but attendance likely was closer to 60, an increase from the roughly 50 individuals who attended Cooney’s open government courses in 2012 and 2013.
Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn attended part of the Thursday afternoon session and said he thought officials were more interested this year because of recent Record-Eagle reports about Northwestern Michigan College.