New Normal: Open meetings conducted electronically
MARQUETTE — In a time when Americans are being encouraged to employ social distancing to help stem the spread of COVID-19, the act of governance faces its own very real challenges.
Government meetings are required to be accessible to the public according to the Open Meetings Act, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is making that possible via electronic communication, at least temporarily.
Whitmer enacted a public order on Thursday, that allows public bodies subject to the Open Meetings Act — including boards, commissions, committees, subcommittees, councils, authorities and non-profit boards — to “use telephone or video conferencing methods to continue meeting and conducting business during the COVID-19 public health crisis so long as they follow certain procedures to ensure meaningful access and participation by members of the public body and the general public,” a press release from Whitmer’s office states.
“We are taking every measure we can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect Michigan families, but recognize that public bodies still have an obligation to conduct business as usual,” Whitmer said in the release. “During this crisis, we must ensure that public officials can do their job to meet the needs of residents, while also ensuring that meetings remain open, accessible and transparent to the public.”
According to the release, public bodies must meet the following criteria when holding a public meeting electronically:
≤ Ensure two-way communication for members and the public to hear and address each other.
≤ Provide adequate notice to the public of the meeting.
≤ Post a public meeting notice on their website.
≤ Permit participants to record or broadcast the public meeting.
≤ Allow participants to address the public body during a public comment period.
The order also temporarily authorizes public bodies, departments, and agencies to use technology to enable remote participation in public comment and hearings, and temporarily excuses school boards from monthly meeting requirements, the release states.
Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.