Detroit City Council violates state open meeting law by meeting in private with media

Six of nine Detroit City Council members appear to have violated the state’s Open Meetings Act today by meeting in private with editors, columnists and reporters at the Detroit Free Press. A similar meeting is scheduled at the Detroit News.

State law prohibits a majority of council members from discussing government issues outside of a public meeting. The idea is to ensure that all debate on public policy is done in the open.

The Open Meetings Act prohibits “a quorum of a public body that meets to discuss matters of public policy, even if there is no intention that the deliberations will lead to a decision on that occasion.”

During the Free Press interview, council members talked about an array of issues, from the future of Belle Isle to efforts to avoid a state emergency manager. Check the Free Press for more information.

So what happened to the other three council members?

“Clearly we were not invited, and neither was the public” Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said. “I think it’s clearly a violation of the Open Meetings Act. They have a quorum present, and they are discussing present and future agendas, and no one posted a meeting notice.”

Kenyatta didn’t know about the meeting until contacted by Motor City Muckraker and said he would not have gone because the gathering is illegal. Others who didn’t attend were JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones.

Kenyatta plans to address the issue with Council President Charles Pugh, who appeared to speak a lot during the meeting.

Of all the possible violations of the Open Meetings Act, this certainly is one of the most bizarre – and paradoxical.

Although council members appear to have broken a law intended to make government more transparent, those of us who followed the meeting via Twitter learned a lot more about our elected officials’ positions on a number of important issues.

We salute the Free Press for hosting the meeting and for asking tough questions.

Should we shake our fists in outrage at council members?

There may be more worthy fights.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.