On July 18th and 19th of 2022, the Kalamazoo Township Board of Trustees violated the Open Meetings Act over the course of two days in which all seven members of this public body were present for strategic planning sessions. The Board failed to post these meetings, which is a violation of MCL 15.263(10).
On the day of the violation, Elections Coordinator Eric-John Szczepaniak informed Township Clerk Mark Miller and Township Manager Dexter Mitchell that the Board had violated this portion of the law, and that the public had a right to hear what was discussed over the course of these two days. Both the Clerk and Manager agreed that they had indeed, albeit inadvertently, violated the Open Meetings Act.
Szczepaniak recommended that the Township apologize to the public and schedule a prompt training in the Open Meetings Act to ensure that it is not violated once more. After two months of no action, Szczepaniak found himself contacting the authorities.
Read the police report here.
"I was not the one who was shortchanged here. The public was. Kalamazoo Township officials need to own up to this mistake and apologize" Szczepaniak said.
Despite the Clerk and Manager both acknowledging this failure, Township Attorney Roxanne Seeber now claims, on behalf of the Township, that the Board has done nothing wrong. In the police report, Seeber says this does not meet the definition of a meeting that needs to be posted under the Open Meetings Act.
"[Township Attorney Roxanne Seeber] said in short it was basically a leadership conference."
She is wrong. When a majority of a public body is present at the same conference, they may stay so long as they do not discuss matters involving their Township. This was not a conference as defined by law. The Board scheduled this retreat by and for themselves, discussed a host of Kalamazoo Township matters, and paid no mind to the fact that the public has a right to view their deliberations, even if there were no votes taken.
This question has previously been asked and answered by the Department of Attorney General. The Open Meetings Act Handbook, which is binding on the behavior of members of public bodies in Michigan, page 8 reads "when gatherings are designed to receive input from officers or employees of the public body, the OMA requires that the gathering be held at a public meeting."
This meeting was designed to solicit feedback from senior staff members at Kalamazoo Township. The language could be no clearer. Plenty of public bodies schedule longer sessions or "retreats" outside of their regular meeting times. The difference is these public bodies post these meetings, as required by law, and allow the public to attend and participate.
What's more is, as of December 23rd, 2022, Clerk Miller has illegally failed to respond to a FOIA request for documentation regarding these two meetings that was filed on November 21st, 2022. It is clear that Kalamazoo Township has a ton of work to do to govern with transparency and accountability. This community deserves better.
Eric-John Szczepaniak, CMC/MiPMC, was previously the Elections Coordinator and Document Manager in the Clerk's Department at Kalamazoo Township. He intimately knows the Open Meetings Act since he was subject to this law as a member of the Kenowa Hills Public Schools Board of Education (January 2017-August 2022). He holds Certified Municipal Clerk and Michigan Professional Municipal Clerk designations.
He resigned his position with Kalamazoo Township on November 15th, 2022 after being insulted by the Township Manager. He contests that the Manager acted in retaliation against him for reporting this crime committed by the Board of Trustees.
Eric-John Szczepaniak is a passionate public servant focused on building agency and ownership in communities. Visit ericjohn.org for more!