Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign legislation by the end of the week that will allow city councils, school boards and other public bodies to continue to meet remotely, ending confusion that resulted in numerous cancellations of meetings.
The confusion began when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Monday, Oct. 12, that its nullification of all of Whitmer’s coronavirus orders went into effect immediately. The state’s highest court denied a request to keep Whitmer’s orders in place through Oct. 30.
The court ruled Oct. 2 that Whitmer did not have the authority to issue dozens of executive orders designed to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
One of the orders had allowed public bodies to hold meetings virtually. With that order declared void, public bodies were unsure if they could continue to meet that way.
Before the pandemic hit, public bodies were required under the state’s Open Meetings Act to gather in person.
The Oakland County Board of Commissioners suspended a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Chris Ward, the board’s chief of staff, said that committee and full board meetings are scheduled next week.
Senate Bill 1108 allows public bodies to meet remotely until the end of the year. Between January and March, if a member of a public body has a medical condition or if there is a state of emergency declared by a local body or the state, then public bodies can continue to hold remote meetings.
Both the state House and Senate have approved the bill.
"All indications are that Whitmer will sign by the end of the week," Ward said.
After meeting remotely for months, a number of city councils, township boards and school boards in Oakland County had resumed in-person meetings in the past two weeks.
Some are still limiting the public’s attendance at meetings in an effort to limit capacity. Citizens are allowed to comment in writing, with the correspondence being read into the record. In other cases, they can join the meeting remotely and share their comments directly with the board or council.
Other public bodies are not limiting attendance at meetings and are providing an adjoining room for citizens, who can still hear and see the proceedings on a screen.
Some public bodies, such as the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees, are holding hybrid meetings, where some members gather in their regular location and others join remotely.
Several governmental bodies in the area, including the county board of commissioners, are working on technological changes that will allow them to resume face-to-face meetings.
"As of right now, it's just functionally impossible for the board to meet in person. There is certainly a better way to do democracy, but we are doing the best we can by meeting remotely," said Ward.
Waterford Township Supervisor Gary Wall expected that a Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday evening would draw a crowd, as the body held a first reading of an ordinance to allow up to 10 medical marijuana facilities to open in the township.
The board held its meeting in person, Wall said.
There has been confusion about how to hold meetings and stay within the law, he said.
“The most important thing for us is to make sure the public has an opportunity to participate,” he said.
Several public bodies that are still meeting remotely canceled them this week over confusion about their legal right to do so.
In addition to the county board, these included:
- Troy Planning Commission
- Wixom City Council
- Sylvan Lake City Council
- Farmington City Council’s joint meeting with the Downtown Development Authority
Staff Writer Mark Cavitt contributed to this report.