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Public comment not allowed at open meeting

May 16, 2012
By JACKIE STARK - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - A group of 35 people sat in silence during the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees special meeting Tuesday afternoon, as no public comment was allowed.

Just after the meeting was brought to order, Trustee Gilbert Ziegler asked Board Chairman Brian Cloyd why public comment wasn't a part of the meeting.

"We're not required to (have public comment) and we want to move this as expeditiously as possible," Cloyd said. "We do have posted on our webpage the comments that were written in and we are requesting people to make comments at the July meeting."

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Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which dictates rules for the boards of all public bodies in the state, public comment must be allowed at all formal meetings of any public board.

Cathy Dehlin, general counsel for NMU, said because of a 1999 Michigan Supreme Court ruling in which Michigan State University was sued for a violation of the OMA, university boards are not always under the purview of that act.

"There is a provision in the Open Meetings Act that, in a public meeting, you need to have public comment. That's absolutely in the Open Meetings Act. However, the court has told us that due to the Michigan constitution, the Open Meetings Act does not directly apply to how the board conducts its day-to-day business," Dehlin said. "Instead we look to the constitution that says that decisions need to be made in an open, formal session, open to the public, which it was today."

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Ziegler voices his concern over the speed at which NMU interim President David Haynes was appointed. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser).

A motion was made by Trustee Stephen Adamini to allow faculty and administration present at the meeting to have one minute each to address the board.

The measure failed, with a 4-4 vote. Adamini, Ziegler, Trustee Rick Popp and Trustee H. Sook Wilkinson voted in favor of it.

Just after the vote was taken, the board recessed into closed session to consult with Dehlin.

Board Vice Chairman Jack LaSalle said the special meeting was held, in part, to alleviate confusion surrounding Haynes' appointment and specifically addressed Ziegler's concern on the lack of public comment.

"There's been a lot of confusion around what we did. That's why we're here, to lay it to rest," LaSalle said. "Everyone should understand, pursuant to the Open Meetings Act, this meeting of the Board of Trustees is not governed by the Open Meetings Act. And number two, the rules that govern this meeting, a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, have been in place a very long time and we did not change the rules, Mr. Ziegler, to not allow people to speak at special meetings of the board."

According to the board's bylaws, at least two weeks' notice is required for a person to be allowed to address the board. In a situation in which at least two weeks' notice cannot be given, it is up to the chairman of the board - after consulting with the university president - to decide whether to allow the comment.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.



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