Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

April 27, 2014

Editorial: Community deserves better from NMC

This is not, as North-western Michigan College officials are trying to frame it, some “feud” with the Record-Eagle. It’s about the NMC board’s flagrant disregard for state law and contempt for the people they’re supposed to serve.

In January a board committee was set to discuss the board’s oft-vehement refusal to audio or video record their meetings. The Record-Eagle editorially criticized NMC’s lack of electronic record-keeping on many occasions. After voters trashed an NMC millage request in August, the issue returned and a committee was to discuss it Jan. 21.

A day before that meeting, board Chairman Doug Bishop wrote an email to fellow committee members Cheryl Gore Follett and Susan Sheldon that he did not see a “demonstrated need” to record meetings and wanted to discuss the issue in a way that kept the Record-Eagle — and thus the public - in the dark ahead of a Jan. 27 full board meeting.

The committee agreed that next day to recommend no change in policy.

But six days later, with no public meetings in between, the full board reversed that course and agreed to record meetings. Emails obtained by the Record-Eagle show that in that week at least six of the college’s seven elected trustees privately deliberated and finally agreed upon a plan to video record meetings.

Those emails and phone calls constituted a textbook violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, the law that requires public boards to conduct public business in public and not by private emails, telephone, or other means.

“My review of the emails indicates that a quorum of the board was deliberating on an issue outside of an open meeting,” said Robin Luce-Herrmann, a Michigan Press Association attorney. “A quorum of the board deliberating outside an open meeting is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

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