School Board Cancelled Due to Supreme Court Ruling – Is City Council Next?

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Superintendent Dori Leyko (left) at the May 11, 2020, virtual meeting of ELPS School Board and City Manager George Lahanas at the July 9, 2020, virtual meeting of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

A sudden cancellation of the ELPS School Board meeting scheduled for yesterday evening has people asking – what about City of East Lansing meetings, including tonight’s scheduled Council meeting?

According to statements made by City Manager George Lahanas at a City meeting that went on as scheduled at 6 p.m. last night, the new City Attorney is looking into that question.

East Lansing’s school board meeting was cancelled late in the day Monday after the Michigan Supreme Court in a 6-1 vote rejected Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s request to have more time to deal with the fallout of the Court’s Oct. 2 decision invalidating all of her current Executive Orders.

Whitmer’s Executive Orders had overridden a key section of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, which requires in-person meetings. Her orders had allowed virtual (online) meetings. But the invalidation of her orders means that type of meeting is now illegal.

The Michigan Supreme Court has now determined that Whitmer overreached her constitutional authority. She must now work with the legislature if she wants to temporarily or permanently change the Open Meetings Act.

Since the Court’s Oct. 2 decision, local and state health officials have been scrambling to put in place health orders to replace many of Whitmer’s orders. (This has created substantial confusion, particularly in East Lansing where there are multiple Covid-19-restriction zones.) But health officials have no authority to change the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Health officials can only limit how many people can meet in a given setting, including at a public meeting. Because health officials have in fact limited gathering size and because public meetings must be open to as many members of the public as want to attend, local governmental bodies may effectively not be able to meet until Whitmer and the legislature come to some solution.

New City Attorney Mike Homier alluded to this very problem in his remarks at City Council last week, saying these issues would have to be figured out going forward.

MLive reports that the Flint City Council cancelled its meeting last night, one among many cancellations around the state. But at 6 p.m. last night, just after School Board was cancelled, the City of East Lansing went ahead with its first meeting of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, after months of delays. (ELi will be bringing a report on what happened there.)

It was at that meeting that City Manager Lahanas said the City Attorney would be making a determination soon.

Taking to Facebook at about 6:30 p.m. yesterday, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg to explain the situation.

“The Health Department’s rules are still in effect in regards to public gatherings, face coverings etc.,” she wrote. “However the Health Department does not have the authority to make changes to the Open Meetings Act which is why the Board of Education canceled their meeting for tonight.”

Gregg went on: “We are currently consulting our City Attorney in regards to Council and local commission meetings so it’s possible that [Tuesday’s] Council meeting might have to be rescheduled. Obviously with an indoor gathering limit in effect an in person meeting could not be truly public because we would not be able to guarantee that everyone who might want to speak would be allowed in.”

There is a bill at the State house, SB 1108, passed by the Senate and allowing cities and townships to resume virtual meetings through the end of 2020. But the House has not yet passed it.

Gregg and others are urging people to call their State Representatives in support of the bill.

This week there are a total of ten meetings scheduled in East Lansing Government:

  • Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission (Monday, Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.)
  • City Council (Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.)
  • Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Public Policy and Market Development Committee (Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 1:30 p.m.)
  • Planning Commission (Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.)
  • East Lansing-Meridian Water/Sewer Authority (Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 a.m.)
  • Age-Friendly Community Committee (Thursday, Oct. 15 at 8:30 a.m.)
  • DDA Executive and Finance Committee (Thursday, Oct. 15 at 11:30 a.m.)
  • DDA Project and Infrastructure Committee (Thursday, Oct. 15 at noon)
  • Arts Commission (Thursday, Oct. 15 at 5 p.m.)
  • Housing Commission (Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m.)

All have been announced as virtual meetings. (Read more about what’s expected at some of these meeting’s in ELi’s report from Saturday.)

This is a developing story and may be updated.

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