Shelby council may have violated Open Meetings Act.

January 12, 2016

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

During a public meeting Monday night, Jan. 11, 2016, the Shelby Village Council voted 5-1 — with one abstention — to fire Police Chief Robert Wilson. See related story here. Leading up to the vote, it is likely that the council, under the advice of its attorney, violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

The council voted 6-1, with Councilor Sharita Prowant voting no, to go into closed session to review Village Attorney John Schrier’s firm’s written opinion regarding Wilson’s internal investigation. Schrier works for the Muskegon law firm Parmenter O’Toole.

However, the Open Meetings Act is very clear when a public body can and cannot go into closed session.

Section 8: A public body may meet in closed session only for the following purposes:

(a) To consider the dismissal, suspension, or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, or to consider a periodic personnel evaluation of, a public officer, employee, staff member, or individual agent, if the named person requests a closed hearing. A person requesting a closed hearing may rescind the request at any time, in which case the matter at issue shall be considered after the rescission only in open sessions.

(e) To consult with its attorney regarding trial or settlement strategy in connection with specific pending litigation, but only if an open meeting would have a detrimental financial effect on the litigating or settlement position of the public body.

Other parts of the Closed Session clause deal with schools considering dismissing students, collective bargaining negotiations, purchase of real estate, hiring of employees (if they request confidentiality), and state legislature issues.

Neither paragraph (a) or (e) would seem to apply in the case of Chief Wilson. While there is a criminal investigation underway, that matter is being conducted by the Michigan State Police.

Since Wilson did not attend the meeting, nor did he request the issue be discussed in closed session, it appears the village council may have violated the OMA. The councilors who voted in favor of going into closed session could face misdemeanor charges with penalties of not more than $1,000 if they intentionally violated the OMA. They could also face civil action for actual and exemplary damages of not more than $500 plus court costs and actual attorney fees to a person or group of persons bringing the action.

OCP will be following up on this issue and is currently consulting with its legal counsel about possible legal charges. Calls to Mr. Schrier  were not returned.