Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
To: State Department Directors and Autonomous Agency Heads
From: Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Date: March 13, 2020
Re: Public Meetings of State of Michigan Public Bodies During the COVID-19 Emergency
As governor, one of my most solemn obligations is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Michigan residents, particularly in times of crisis. It is a core and critical duty of the executive branch to respond quickly and effectively to emergent threats to the public health, safety, and welfare of Michiganders, and to faithfully execute the laws of this state in a manner consistent with that priority.
With Executive Order 2020-4, I declared a statewide state of emergency due to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a new strain of coronavirus that had not been previously identified in humans, can easily spread from person to person, and can result in serious illness or death. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to provide essential protections to vulnerable Michiganders and this state’s health care system and other critical infrastructure, it is crucial that all Michiganders take steps to limit in-person contact, particularly in the context of large groups.
One of the cornerstones of public engagement in governmental activities is the ability to participate in the meetings of public bodies. The Open Meetings Act (“OMA”), 1976 PA 267, as amended, MCL 15.261-.275, sets forth guideposts to ensure that the public has meaningful access to the meetings and decision-making processes of certain public bodies. The OMA requires that “[a]ll meetings of a public body shall be open to the public and shall be held in a place available to the general public,” and “[a]ll decisions of a public body” and “deliberations of a public body” must take place at a meeting open to the public. MCL 15.263(1)-(3). It further provides that “[a]ll persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting except as otherwise provided in this act” and “shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body.” MCL 15.263(1), (5). Finally, the OMA provides that “[a] meeting of a public body shall not be held unless public notice is given as provided in this section by a person designated by the public body.” MCL 15.265(1).
The OMA promotes governmental accountability and fosters open and responsible governmental decision making. In conducting its business during this time of emergency, state government must ensure that it preserves these important governmental objectives without unduly compromising the public health, welfare, and safety of this state.
Acting under sections 1 and 8 of article 5 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, I direct the following:
This directive is effective immediately and will remain in effect until further notice.
Thank you for your cooperation in implementing this directive.