TRAVERSE CITY — Interaction with, and accountability to, community members are critical aspects of being a public servant.
An annual training session put on by Grand Traverse County aims to instill some of the keys to public interaction and accountability in newly elected and appointed officials.
Grand Traverse County commissioners and appointees to a county board, commission or authority in their first year of service are required by county policy to receive the training. County board members received the training during their orientation in December.
The session is scheduled for Thursday from 1-4 p.m. in the second-floor training room of the Governmental Center. It will be led by county Deputy Civil Counsel Kit Tholen. The session is open to the public and members of other local municipalities are encouraged to attend, Tholen said.
“It follows pretty closely with what has been done in the past,” said Tholen, who took over the presentation this year. “I’m doing it my way and I’m adding some stuff in, taking some stuff out.”
Topics that will be covered include the Open Meetings Act; Freedom of Information Act; conflict of interest rules; ethics for public officers; board rules and parliamentary procedure; contracts with public servants; incompatible public offices, the county appointment policies; and more.
“I think it’s important for anyone who serves on any boards,” said veteran Commissioner Sonny Wheelock Jr. “It just gives people a better understanding of how meetings are supposed to be conducted and what it means to be FOIA-compliant.”
Wheelock, who is in his 11th term and not required to attend, said he doesn’t plan to go to the training.
Several of the topics relate to recent situations faced by county commissioners.
Commissioners started their 2019-20 term with hours spent deliberating the validity of a Dec. 19 vote by former Commissioner Tom Mair to appoint his wife, Susan Odgers, to the Traverse Area District Library Board.
It took two meetings of the new board, hours of discussion, a rescission of Odgers’ appointment, written legal opinion, declaring the Dec. 19 vote invalid, a 6-1 vote to appoint her and a lawsuit against the county — later dropped — before the topic began to settle.
The controversy brought forward the topics of ethics and conflicts of interest, which led to the formation of a committee to review the county ethics’ policy.
The lawsuit related to the procedure used to appoint Odgers connects with the county appointment policies and requirements to remove an appointed individual from office.
Most recently, at the beginning of March, commissioners changed eight sections of the board rules — how the agendas for regular meetings are set; rights and duties of board members; and permitted topics, who can speak on what and for when public comment can be given.
Many of the changes gave more power to the chairperson.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify when county commissioners received the training. — April 11, 2019