2018-11-08 / Views

Embrace public comment; which beats indifference

There are open meeting violations and there are open meeting violations.

We’ve learned of three questionable activities during or leading up to public meetings. The Enterprise joins other newspapers as being hypersensitive toward ensuring public access to its government’s business as well as opportunities to participate.

Two of the activities involved poor chairmanship by local leaders. And the third case was so technical in nature that it deserves little more than an explanation today with an asterisk for the future.

Still, the Open Meetings Act is essential for effective local governance. So we provide our views below:

 In Northport Village, three members of the Village Council voted last Thursday to abruptly stop their meeting because its agenda was posted on the village website under “meetings and agendas,” and not public notices. Village administrator Barb Von Voigtlander said she usually places notice of the village’s monthly meetings in the “calendar” folder on the site — but not this time. The calendar folder links to the public notice folder.

Regardless, a schedule of village meetings was published earlier this year in the Enterprise. And the meeting agenda was tacked to a bulletin board at the Village Office.

Even Will Harper, the council member who brought up the issue, wrote afterwards that the oversight “makes little difference.” We found no intent. The council voted 4-3 to continue with its meeting, a decision that makes sense. More attention to detail is needed in the future.

 In Empire Village, president Sam Barr “gaveled down” a resident who sought to speak during public comment at the Oct. 18 meeting. Mary Sharry had views about the hiring of a new clerk, but was prevented from expressing them by Mr. Barr. The former clerk has filed a lawsuit over her dismissal.

“I was going to say that the council needs to be careful if they plan to hire someone who was involved in the lawsuit they’re embroiled in,” Ms. Sharry told the Enterprise.

A Michigan Attorney General opinion states that a public body can’t limit the subject or issues addressed by people attending public meetings.

That means gavels should be used sparingly, if at all, during public comment. Citizens have an important role to play in governance.

 In Leland Township, no Open Meetings Act violation occurred on Oct. 8. However, supervisor Susan Och clearly stepped beyond her role in seeking to rate the words made by residents during public comment .

For background, Lake Leelanau resident Martha Encherman has been trying to shed light on a project to rebuild a boathouse that was torn down in the Lake Leelanau Narrows. Egan Cypher, wife of township Zoning Administrator Tim Cypher, has been issued a permit to rebuild.

Ms. Encherman has been lobbying for residents to attend Township Board meetings to show their concern. After a report leading off public comment by the township librarian about a leaky roof, Ms. Och opined that “his comment is good without saying any slanderous language and stuck to the facts.” She was clearly attempting to stop folks from speaking their minds about the boathouse project. Their thoughts would be considered “bad” public comment, we presume, as opposed to views that the Township Board should hear.

* * *

We’ve sat through too many meetings that went unattended other than by a lonely reporter. We’ve heard elected officials many times lament over a lack of participation by constituents.

But what about thoughts that might bristle the Township Board or Village Council? Doesn’t that beat apathy every time?

The chair persons of meetings should embrace public comment of all persuasions. Local officials make wiser decisions after considering a kaleidoscope of thoughts expressed by constituents.

So let’s embrace the voices of residents who love this place enough to speak out — good, bad, but certainly not indifferently.

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it is now absolutely clear

it is now absolutely clear that the Editors of the Enterprise cannot read--or choose to misrepresent what they do read. Interesting that the editorial does not quote from ANY AG opinion that supposedly "states that a public body can’t limit the subject or issues addressed by people attending public meetings." There is no such AG Opinion. I explained this, at length, in a letter to the editors (too long to publish). The lengthy letter was sent precisely because i anticipated that an editorial was in the offing. I guess I should have anticipated that the Editors weren't interested in accuracy, just proclaiming a false proposition. But I will not continue. I learned, some time ago, not to engage in arguments with a business that buys ink and paper in bulk.