Unintended consequences have a knack for sneaking up on us.
Regardless of how you feel about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, we all witnessed an unintended consequence of the Michigan Supreme Court’s declaration that all those rules put in place since April are invalid.
Yes, the decision rolled back the governor’s controversial mask mandate, and a bunch of other restrictions on public gatherings. But those almost all were reinstated in some form or another pretty quickly by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services through public health orders.
The parts leftover have had some pretty noxious consequences — specifically executive order allowances for public boards to meet remotely. The governor’s orders allowed public boards to meet via virtual meeting platforms — so long as the public was allowed full access — in the midst of the pandemic, an adjustment to difficult circumstances that ensured public business continued despite the ongoing public health emergency.
The governor’s order recognized extenuating circumstances and allowed for our institutions to continue operating in full view of the people they serve.
That’s where the unintended consequences come in. Rolling back those executive orders means the legislature needs to pass new regulations quickly to ensure our governments continue operating. Both the state House and state Senate did as much — passing Senate Bill 1108 earlier this week. That proposal, now waiting for the governor’s signature, would allow local governments to continue meeting virtually through December 2021 as needed. It also outlines a number of important requirements that ensure public notice, participation and access to those meetings.
In the meantime, a number of local governments have canceled sessions, postponing public business, until the measure passes. The rules vacuum created by the court’s decision and a relatively slow legislative reaction is frustrating. It means some important decisions and discussions will be delayed, hopefully not to the detriment of our communities.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not the folks who will be caught advocating for weakening of our state’s Open Meetings Act. And we appreciate face-to-face public meetings.
But in our current context, a little flexibility seems appropriate.
After all, we’re in a time of unprecedented change, and unintended consequences abound.