OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa County residents have filed a civil lawsuit claiming the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act when it ousted the county administrator, health officer and axed the Diversity and Inclusion Department in its first meeting of the year.
The complaint filed Wednesday says that nine members backed by conservative PAC Ottawa Impact made secret decisions before being sworn in that were not on the initial agenda posted for the Jan. 3 meeting. Because the items weren’t on the agenda, the lawsuit argues, commissioners denied community members the opportunity to speak on those issues.
In February, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she could not file criminal charges, saying that she did not find “actionable violation,” though she believes the new commissioners violated the spirit of the Open Meetings Act. She said members did not technically violate the law since they were not sworn into their positions when they met about the secret agenda.
The civil suit argues the Ottawa Impact members were acting as a “de facto public body” from Nov. 9 when they were elected until Jan. 3 when they were sworn in. Therefore, the suit argues, they were subject to the Open Meetings Act.
The civil lawsuit asked the court declare all Jan. 3 decisions invalid and to say that the commission violated the Open Meetings Act. It also asks for attorneys’ fees.
Nessel has proposed amending the Open Meetings Act in two ways: First, to require public bodies to post notice of and an agenda for a public meeting at least 48 hours in advance and to limit bodies’ ability to modify that agenda except in urgent circumstances. Second, she says the definition of the term “public official” should be changed to include people who have been elected or appointed to public office but not yet been sworn in.