Fix OMA for members and public

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many things to light — some not so good, like a tendency to insert politics where it doesn’t belong. Some pretty good, like a participation spike in government when meetings were remote.

While there are few things we are nostalgic about from the pandemic, Michigan Association of Counties is looking to return to where we were before it — when board members could vote remotely so long as a quorum of members is physically present.

The Michigan statute hopped around, allowing remote voting pre-pandemic, then allowing full remote meetings during the pandemic, then scaling back to in-person, no-remote voting… to a time before computers?

Trying to turn the clock back makes little sense, as nearly everything has changed. Remote options are a part of doing business for many of us.

A Gallup survey in June 2022 found that eight in 10 people are working hybrid or remote, while only two in 10 are entirely on-site, as reported in Forbes. An AT&T study in the same article predicted the hybrid work model is growing, not shrinking, and that it would rise from 42% in 2021, to 81% in 2024.

We agree with MAC that pre-pandemic rules make more sense, and think it may encourage a wider and more diverse array of candidates for board positions — as it has in the corporate world.

But we also would like to see more Open Meetings Act live-streaming, as it also increased the diversity of people participating in their government. There were hiccups, sure. We can’t forget the hot mic declarations, the meeting hacks, the display of weaponry that probably wouldn’t have happened if everyone had been gathered in a room together. But if the same OMA standards apply between in-person and online meetings, the pandemic showed this was more doable than we realized.

Already, we are taking baby steps in this direction.

Last year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made recording or videotaping public meetings part of the Open Meetings Act. But more transparency needs to be incorporated — especially in smaller communities with little oversight.

Government works better with many eyes and robust participation. What’s good for the public should be good for the board member.


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