CADILLAC — As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year, communities in Michigan have had to consider how to meet without running afoul of public health guidelines or the Open Meetings Act.
The rules conflict.
People aren't supposed to be getting too close and indoor gatherings are supposed to be well below capacity.
For Cadillac, that means a public meeting in council chambers in the city's municipal building would be hard to pull off if even a small crowd showed up to speak, as is their right.
But the Open Meetings Act makes it difficult to hold remote meetings without good reason; one of the reasons, however, is a state of emergency, according to amendments to the Act.
"This local state of emergency runs concurrent with the amendments that were made to the Open Meetings Act," said City Attorney Mike Homier. "You're not required to continue holding virtual meetings but it does give not only the public body—the City Council—flexibility to continue holding virtual meetings, but also any of the city council members who may not be available can attend virtually.
Without the declaration of emergency, city council members would only be allowed to attend virtually if the member has a medical condition that prevents them from attending in person or if they are a member of the military and are deployed.
Cadillac has chosen to declare a state of emergency through the end of 2021.
The declaration means that the city can meet remotely without violating Michigan's Open Meetings Act.
It doesn't mean the city has to meet remotely, however.
"By no means does this mean that the city council needs to continue to meet virtually throughout that entire period of time," said City Manager Marcus Peccia. "Should of course there be a loosening of the restrictions with respect to social distancing and specifically in-person meetings, we can certainly revisit."