Note: This page covers information specific to Michigan. For general information concerning access to government meetings see the Access to Government Meetings section of this guide.
The Michigan Open Meetings Act provides the public with a right of access to the meetings of a large number of government bodies at the state and local level in Michigan. The law entitles you to notice of these meetings and gives you the ability to inspect and copy meeting minutes. For more detailed information about the Michigan Open Meetings Act, consult the Michigan Legislature's helpful guide, The Michigan Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Open Government Guide: Michigan.
What Meetings are Covered?
What Government Bodies Are Covered?
The Michigan Open Meetings Act covers the meetings of public bodies. The law defines a "public body" as:
any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council, that is empowered by state constitution, statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, or rule to exercise governmental or proprietary authority or perform a governmental or proprietary function; a lessee of such a body performing an essential public purpose and function pursuant to the lease agreement; or the board of a nonprofit corporation formed by a city under [Michigan law].
Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.262(a). This broad definition includes state boards and commissions within the executive branch of state government and the state legislature and its committees. On the local level, it includes the governing bodies of all cities, villages, townships, charter townships, and county government. It also covers local school districts, boards of trustees of public colleges and universities, and special boards and commissions created by law, such as public hospital authorities, road commissions, health boards, and zoning boards. The unifying requirement is that the public body must exercise governmental authority or perform a governmental function. For this reason, it is not clear whether advisory committees that do not take final action on public business are covered by the Open Meetings Act. The Act does not apply to federal government bodies or to the judiciary.
Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.263(7) exempts certain public bodies when they are deliberating on the merits of a case:
- the Worker's Compensation Appeal Board;
- the Employment Security Board of Review;
- the State Tenure Commission
- the Michigan Public Service Commission; and
- an arbitrator or arbitration panel appointed by the Employment Relations Committee or selected under Michigan law.
Consult the Open Government Guide: Michigan for additional information on what public bodies are covered.
What is a Meeting?
In addition to determining what government bodies are covered by Michigan law, you'll need to figure out which of their gatherings or activities constitute an "meeting" for purposes of the law (and therefore must be open to the public). Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, a "meeting" is any gathering of a quorum of members of a governmental body to discuss or take action regarding official business or policy. A quorum is a just a simple majority of the members of the public body. The term "meeting" also applies to information-gathering and fact-finding sessions called by the governmental body where a quorum of members are present and the session relates to the body's public business. The Open Meetings Act excludes a gathering that is "a social or chance gathering or conference not designed to avoid this act." Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.263(10).
Governmental bodies may hold meetings by by written, telephonic, electronic, wireless, or other virtual means. However, an electronic meeting is still subject to the notice requirements and must be held at a designated place and time. While the law is not certain on this point, it appears that email communications between members of a governmental body may constitute a meeting if they involve deliberation on public business.
What Are Your Rights?
The Michigan Open Meetings Act gives "the public" the right to attend the meetings of public bodies, with exceptions for closed sessions discussed below. Michigan law does not limit access to meetings to a specific category of people or a profession, such as "the traditional press." Anyone may attend. A public body may not put conditions on attendance, such as requiring you to give your name or other information. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.263(2)-(4).
The Open Meetings Act gives you the right to speak or comment during a meeting of a public body, subject to rules established by the public body for the maintenance of order. A public body may not exclude you from an open meeting except for breach of the peace committed at the meeting. The state legislature may set rules that limit the right of comment to prescribed times at hearings and committee meetings only. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.263(5),(6).
The right to attend meetings is not necessarily meaningful without proper notice of those meetings. To address this issue, Michigan law requires public bodies to give notice of their meetings. The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to publish notice of their regularly scheduled meetings within ten days of the first meeting in each calendar or fiscal year. The notice must contain the dates, times, and places of the public body's regular meetings, as well as the name of the public body, its telephone number if one exists, and its address. The public body must post this notice at its principal office and any other location deemed appropriate. Publishing notice through cable television is permitted. If a public body does not have a principal office, the notice should be posted in the office of the county clerk for a local public body or the office of the Secretary of State for a state public body. If the public body amends its schedule, it must post notice of the change within three days. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.264; Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.265(1)-(3)
Public bodies may also hold "special" meetings, which are meetings not on the regular schedule. For these meetings, they must post notice at least 18 hours before the meeting. This requirement does not apply to the special meetings of subcommittees of a public body or conference committees of the state legislature. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.265(4).
You can request that a public body notify you by mail in advance of all noticed meetings. The public body may charge you a reasonable fee for the cost of printing and mailing. Newspapers published in the state and radio and television stations located in the state may request notice by mail for no charge. It is not clear whether non-traditional journalists and online publishers could take advantage of this no-fee notice provision. You should renew your request for notice by mail yearly in order to ensure that you continue to receive notices. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.266.
Minutes and Recordings
The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to record minutes of their meetings and to make them available to the public for inspection and copying for a reasonable fee. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.269. Public bodies must keep separate meetings for closed sessions (below), and these minutes are not open to the public, unless a court orders them to be made publicly available. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.267.
For information on your ability to use recording devices at public meetings, see Michigan Recording Law.
An Exception: Closed Meetings or Sessions
The general rule is that all meetings of public bodies must be open to the public. If a public body wants to hold a closed session, it must identify a specific statutory exemption. Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, a public body may hold a closed session when it is dealing with one of ten subject-area exemptions found in Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.268. The ten exemptions are for meetings:
- 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;
- to consider the dismissal, suspension, or disciplining of a student if the public body is part of the school district, intermediate school district, or institution of higher education that the student is attending, and if the student or the student's parent or guardian requests a closed hearing;
- to engage in strategy and negotiation sessions connected with the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement if either negotiating party requests a closed hearing;
- to consider the purchase or lease of real property;
- to consult with the public body's attorney regarding litigation;
- to review and consider the contents of an application for employment or appointment to a public office if the candidate requests that the application remain confidential;
- to hold partisan caucuses of members of the state legislature;
- to consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute;
- to hold a "compliance conference" conducted by the Department of Commerce pursuant to state law; and
- to review the specific contents of an application, to conduct an interview with a candidate, or to discuss the specific qualifications of a candidate in the process of selecting a president of an institution of higher education, but only under certain circumstances.
The exemptions make it permissible for a public body to close a meeting, they do not require the public body to do so. To close a session, a public body must identify the exemption justifying closure and vote to close the session by a two-thirds majority on the record during an open meeting. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.267.
For more information on the exceptions to the Michigan open-meetings requirement, see the The Michigan Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act Guide and the Open Government Guide: Michigan.
What Are Your Remedies If You Are Denied Access?
If you know in advance that a meeting will be closed, and you believe that closure would violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, you should make a written demand for access on the chairperson of the public body or its attorney. The demand should remind the public body of its obligations under the Open Meetings Act and ask it to identify the statutory exemption it is relying on to close the meeting. If the public body refuses your demand for access, you can sue in a Michigan circuit court. If you are successful, a court may order the public body to make the meeting in question (and other future meetings) open to the public. If you win such a lawsuit, the court must award you attorneys' fees and costs for the action.
You may also sue to have a court invalidate past actions of public bodies taken in violation of the Open Meetings Act, but only if you file suit within 60 days after the approved minutes for the meeting in question became available. You can also sue to obtain disclosure of the minutes of an improperly closed session and to get civil damages from members of the public body, but no sixty-day time limit applies to those kinds of cases. If you decide to sue, there may be public interest organizations that would be willing to take on your case for free or for a reduced rate. Please see the Finding Legal Help section for details on finding legal representation.
The state may pursue criminal penalties against members of a public body who violate the Open Meetings Act.
If you show up at a meeting and the public body tries to exclude you from it, you do not have time to get a court order. You should remind the presiding officer (or whoever is denying you access) that section 15.263 of the Michigan Compiled Laws requires that the meetings of public bodies be open to the public unless there is a specific statutory exemption. You should insist on your right to attend unless the presiding officer can identify for you the statutory authority for closing the meeting. If the public body still insists on excluding you, you have no choice but to leave in an orderly fashion. You may then consider filing a lawsuit.