OUR VIEW: Township should learn its lesson with likely OMA violation

We can’t end the story on Sunshine Week 2013 without making a comment on a recent Open Meetings Act controversy that took place at a Feb. 4 Big Rapids Township meeting.

There was good news and bad news.

The was good news was the board voted 5-2 to approve the sale of 7 acres of land at the township’s mostly-empty industrial park to Dynamite Trucking LLC. The lot was sold for $33,000.

The bad news was that most of the conversation on this land deal has taken place behind closed doors and out of public scrutiny.

Supervisor Bill Stanek told township residents who attended the meeting that the attorneys he consulted gave him differing opinions on whether the sale could be discussed in a closed session.

We’ll help set the record straight: It can’t.

There really isn’t a difference of opinion on this point. Without knowing exactly what was said during the closed session, it’s likely the board violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. Whenever there is a “question” on this point, the board obviously should err on the side of public discourse instead of negotiating in private.

The OMA clearly states a discussion on the selling of municipal land should be had in open session so that interested residents get a clear understanding of the terms. That didn’t happen.

While this probably makes some businesspeople uncomfortable, it helps protect the public good by ensuring that no “sweetheart deals” are being negotiated behind closed doors.

It seems Stanek got bum advice. When faced with such a situation, state law recommends that the body “recreate” the conversation in open session. Stanek and the trustees attempted to do that at the Feb. 4 meeting.

Ignorance of the law is no defense – for the board or its attorneys – and it’s clear the elected officials know they need to do better.

However, this is far from the most objectionable thing that the Big Rapids Township board has done over the years.

We encourage all township trustees to reread the OMA and Freedom Of Information Act and learn from this mistake.

 

 

 

 

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