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AG Nessel Releases Findings from Review of Ottawa County Board of Commissioners

LANSING – Today, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a letter to the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners detailing the department’s findings after completing an extensive review into the new Board’s compliance with the Open Meetings Act (OMA). In the letter, Nessel admonishes the behavior of certain board members for their lack of transparency and good governance, and for violating the trust placed in them as elected officials by their constituents.

The letter comes in response to numerous complaints about the Board received by the Department from concerned Ottawa County residents ranging from potential violations of the OMA MCL 15.261 et seq., to potential violations of the Board’s and County’s rules and policies, to general concerns about a lack of transparency; namely, that prior to the January 3, 2023 meeting, commissioners-elect held clandestine meetings, created a secret agenda, and carried out extensive actions outside of the public’s view.

“Incoming board members clearly held secret meetings, outside of public view, prior to taking office in an effort to execute their will without interference,” Nessel said. “While this behavior does not violate the current standards set forth in the Open Meetings Act, it is the antithesis of transparency and good governance.”

The Department has not determined at this time that the Board’s actions violated the OMA, or other potentially applicable laws. To this end, the Attorney General will be proposing amendments to the OMA that would:

  1. Require a public body to include an agenda for a public meeting at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting and limit the ability of the public body to modify that agenda during the meeting, except in exigent circumstances; and
  2. Define the term “public official” to include a person who has been elected to public office, but has not yet taken his or her oath of office or otherwise began his or her term.

“I will also be evaluating whether other laws governing local units of government should be amended to require additional transparency, ethical conduct, fidelity to a government’s own rules and policies, and accountability to their citizens,” Nessel added.

Ottawa County citizens can take the following actions if they have continuing concerns about the Board’s conduct:

  • A citizen has the right to commence a lawsuit against a public body under the OMA to challenge the validity of a decision of that public body made in violation of the act.
  • A citizen may also obtain a court order compelling a public body’s compliance with the act or enjoining further noncompliance. A citizen who succeeds in a lawsuit filed under the OMA may recover court costs and actual attorney fees.
  • Citizens may contact the Audit Section of the Community Engagement and Finance Division of the Michigan Department of Treasury for concerns about the expenditure of municipal funds, the Treasury Department can be contacted at 517-335-7469 or by sending a letter to 430 W. Allegan Street, Lansing, Michigan 48922. The State Treasurer can also refer the results of audits to the Department of Attorney General for review as to possible criminal prosecution or the filing of a civil lawsuit.
  • The Michigan Election Code, MCL 168.951 et seq., provides for the recall of elected officials, including county commissioners, for conduct during their current term of office through a recall petition process. For elected officials with two-year terms, a recall petition can begin after an officer has held their position for six months but cannot be filed in the final six months of the official’s term.

The Attorney General also recommended the Ottawa County Board, and local governing units across Michigan review the parameters of the OMA. An OMA Handbook is available on the Department’s website. Citizens may file a complaint with law enforcement, for concerns about potential future violations of the OMA.


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