Meridian Times staff writer
MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP – Local officials who participated in the Feb. 6, township meeting accused of breaking the spirit of the law, if not the letter of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act on a request from Wal-Mart.
Trustee John Veenstra said, “We went into closed session and discussed their extension request. And then we came out of the closed session and standing out in the lobby, after all of the citizens had gone home and the cameras were off, we did vote 4-2 to grant them their extension request from three years to four years. I thought it would have been proper to wait until the next meeting and vote to do that extension in open session, rather than doing it standing in the lobby when all the citizens had gone home. In effect, it was a secret meeting,”
A motion at the township meeting for a closed session was to, “Move that the township board go into a closed session for legal opinion with township attorney.”
In a manner of speaking, the board members fulfilled the requirements of the law under “Michigan’s Open Meetings Act” which states, “the purpose for which the closed meeting is being called has to be stated in the meeting when the roll call is taken.” The second provision for a closed session holds, “to consult with its attorney about trial or settlement strategy in pending litigation, but only when an open meeting would have detrimental financial effect on the public body’s position”
However, the topic of the closed session was not in the motion. The reason behind the closed session was to consult with the township attorney on an extension requested by Wal-Mart on additions to their store.
Trustees did not have any input from citizens while voting.
Voice mails left by the Meridian Times were not returned.
“It’s all within the law,” said Department Secretary Sandy Otto.
“There’s no ramifications to the community to give them the option to take a year for Wal-Mart to decide what they’re going to do,” said Otto.
Whether or not the council saw any foreseeable ramifications to granting or accepting this request, citizens were not made aware of the reasons behind the request and this is why Veenstra objects.
“I think it at least violates the spirit of the “Open Meeting Act” if not the letter, but unfortunately that’s become a common practice in Meridian. For example, we annually extend the manager’s contract. We had a closed session to discuss the manager’s evaluation, which is permissible under the “Open Meetings Act.” However, after we had that discussion of the manager’s evaluation in the closed session, we voted that the closed session was over, and we stepped out in the lobby and declared that we were back in open session, and even though it was not on the agenda (all citizens were home, no one knew we were having the meeting) and voted to extend the managers contract. I say that that’s absolutely improper, it’s a violation of the open meetings act,” said Veenstra.