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Open Meetings Act – Can Emails Between a Quorum of a Public Body Violate the OMA?

By Tom Daniels – In a case of first impression, the Michigan Court of Appeals found that a series of e-mails exchanged between four members of a seven member township parks and recreation commission constituted a violation of the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”). Markel v. Mackley, 11/1/16, 2016 Mich App LEXIS 2004. The OMA requires that all meetings of a public body be open to the public. A meeting, under the OMA, is the convening of a quorum of a public body for the purpose of deliberating toward a decision. The e-mails in question discussed issues to be decided in subsequent public meetings of the commission.

Based on the content of the e-mails and what occurred at commission meetings, it was apparent to the Court of Appeals that a quorum of the commission had used the e-mails to deliberate and make final decisions on matters of public policy. As prior courts have held, public bodies must conduct their business and “make all of their decisions, and conduct their deliberations when a quorum is present at meetings open to the public.” Speicher v. Columbia Twp Brd of Trustees, 497 Mich 125 (2014)

This case does not stand for the proposition that all e-mail communication between a quorum of a public body constituted a meeting of that public body under OMA. However, if a quorum uses e-mail to discuss how an issue of public policy will or should be decided, those e-mails very likely constitute a non public meeting in violation of the OMA.

If you are interested in learning more about this case, the OMA or the Freedom of Information Act, do not hesitate to call Tom Daniels at (734) 665-4441.