TCAPS officials: closed-door vote did not violate law

Record-Eagle/Keith King Gary Appel

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials contend board members did not violate Michigan's Open Meetings Act when they adjourned a meeting behind closed doors.

Board members went into closed session toward the end of their Dec. 15 board retreat to conduct interim Superintendent Paul Soma's periodic personnel evaluation.

Meeting minutes show the board returned to open session at 9:20 p.m. and unanimously voted to adjourn the meeting at the same time, but members of the public -- who'd been ushered out of the room for the closed session -- were not invited to rejoin the closed-door meeting.

"We did adjourn the meeting. Why do you want to come?" board Treasurer Scott Hardy asked a Record-Eagle reporter after the meeting. "Let me ask another parliamentary question. I didn't think anybody was out here, actually."

Lisa Swem, an attorney with Thrun Law Firm, which serves as TCAPS' legal council, said board members must declare themselves back into open session before making a motion to adjourn, whether members of the public are present or not.

"They would have to be in open session," she said.

Swem was in Traverse City on Monday to train board members on Michigan's Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act and afterward spoke in generalities about closed session requirements.

TCAPS board President Gary Appel, who chaired the Dec. 15 meeting, did not return multiple calls for comment.

TCAPS spokeswoman Christine Guitar acknowledged the adjournment occurred behind closed doors but contended it did not violate OMA.

"School boards often move simultaneously from a closed session to adjourn a meeting because there's no other additional public business on the agenda," she said.

Guitar said officials provided two opportunities for public comment before the closed session, and the only thing left to do after Soma's evaluation was to adjourn.

"There was no public participation point after the closed session," she said. 

Robin Luce-Herrmann, an attorney who represents the Michigan Press Association, disagreed with Guitar's interpretation of state public meetings laws.

"I think that it's clear that you have to come out of a closed session, come back into the open meeting, and then take whatever action is appropriate," she said. "A closed session is only to deliberate."

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