Detroit Councilman Kenyatta slams colleagues for violating the Open Meetings Act – twice

Six Detroit City Council members have been meeting in secret to hammer out a plan to avoid bankruptcy with deep budget cuts, Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said this afternoon.

Kenyatta pointed out that the six members – President Charles Pugh, President Pro Tem Gary Brown and council members Ken Cockrel Jr., Andre Spivey, James Tate and Saunteel Jenkins – presented to the media a plan that was never discussed publicly, a clear violation of the state law, media attorneys said.

The Motor City Muckraker first broke the story last month that a majority of council members were meeting privately to discuss public issues such as reducing services.

Kenyatta noted that the six members were meeting in private before presenting the illegally devised plan to the Detroit News and Free Press. Neither he nor Councilwomen Brenda Jones and JoAnn Watson were invited to the meetings.

“I haven’t seen the plan,” Kenyatta said. “You have a plan, which means you had to make a decision on the plan. You then had to make a decision to send the plan (to the media). That’s two decisions. The Open Meetings Act says no decision can be made unless it’s made at this table.”

The audience erupted in applause.

Council President Charles Pugh acknowledged the decisions were made in private but seemed unaware he and his colleagues were breaking the law, a crime punishable by up to a $1,000 fine. A second violation carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

The Open Meetings Act bars council members from “discussing any matter of public policy,” including budget plans, “even if there is no intention that the deliberations will lead to a decision on that occasion.”

Since council members weren’t discussing contracts, Pugh insisted, no law was broken.

“We weren’t discussing contracts,” Pugh said. “We were discussing the big picture, where we were in terms of cash and where we would be able to find cash savings so that we can be in control of the city and not someone else.”

It’s unclear why Pugh didn’t hold the meetings in public. Public meetings are required so residents can see how their elected officials arrive at decisions.

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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.    

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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.