Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 2, 2014

Editorial: Secretive governance a problem with college

Maybe it was a miracle. Or ESP. More likely it was a cynical violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act and a fraud upon the public.

On Jan. 21, a three-member Northwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees committee unanimously rejected a proposal to videotape, televise, or otherwise keep an electronic record of board meetings, agreeing with committee member and board Chair Doug Bishop, who said, “I don’t see a need for it.”

Fast forward to Jan. 27, when — with no public meetings in between — the board made a rather remarkable 180-degree turn, sort of. They unanimously voted to request a new policy to require video recordings of meetings and make those recordings available online — though the meetings wouldn’t be televised, because as Trustee Bill Myers put it, “it’s during the dinner hour” and he didn’t know how many people would tune in.

But the board curiously went from nothing on Jan. 21 to something-ish on Jan. 27, all with essentially zero discussion.

In fact, Bishop said at the Jan. 27 meeting that Trustee Bob Brick, who wasn’t present, also was in favor. How Bishop knew that Brick gave thumbs-up to a new policy that flew in the face of the Jan. 21 committee stance is yet another mystery.

Unless, of course, board members discussed the issue by e-mail, telephone, or some other nonpublic means well outside the public eye. So-called “round-robin” policy discussions, however they occur, are illegal in Michigan. The Record-Eagle subsequently filed state Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mails between trustees, administrators and NMC President Tim Nelson that addressed a meeting recordings policy. Those e-mails are public record and ought to tell quite a tale.

The Jan. 27 vote completely reversed the policy committee’s recommendation. At the time, trustees said the public hadn’t expressed any interest in the issue. After the vote to adopt the policy, Bishop said he received several calls, both pro and con. He didn’t elaborate, but one can’t help but wonder who’s “con” to government transparency and accountability.

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