Local governments across Michigan are in limbo following a state Supreme Court ruling, uncertain whether they’ll be able to keep holding public meetings virtually.
The court last Friday, Oct. 2, struck down Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s authority to continue Michigan’s state of emergency amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s the state of emergency that has empowered Whitmer to unilaterally issue orders like allowing public bodies to hold electronic meetings since March.
After several months of livestreaming meetings using platforms like Zoom, elected officials around the state are now wondering if they’re going to be forced to return to in-person meetings.
“Things got even more interesting in this incredibly strange year,” said Ann Arbor City Council Member Ali Ramlawi as the issue came up during a virtual council meeting Monday night.
While the governor said Friday her orders remain in effect for 21 more days and the Michigan Municipal League has advised cities they can continue to meet virtually during that time, some elected bodies are moving to cancel meetings or return to in-person meetings due to a lack of clarity on the issue.
The Lansing City Council and Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners are among bodies that canceled their meetings this week due to the uncertainty.
“Our goal has been and continues to be that we serve as good stewards, not only of the work of running Washtenaw County government, but also good stewards of the health and safety of our staff and residents,” said Washtenaw County Board Chairman Jason Morgan, D-Ann Arbor.
“We’re postponing our agenda items until our next meeting out of an abundance of caution. We want to ensure we have clarity from the state of Michigan on our legal ability to meet virtually and we are still following the science and abiding by the orders of both our county and state health departments.”
COVID-19 is still a very real threat, added Washtenaw County Administrator Greg Dill.
“Until there is a vaccine or a cure, we will continue to take all the necessary precautions to keep everyone safe as we continue to handle (the) business of running Washtenaw County,” he said.
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Grand Blanc Township near Flint held its first in-person meeting in months on Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Supervisor Scott Bennett said the township decided to follow direction it received from the Michigan Townships Association and others in making the decision.
“We have business we need to take care of,” Bennett said, adding the township is following Michigan Department of Health and Human Services requirements.
“We’re following the guidelines for the number of people in the room,” he said, noting the township set up an overflow area in case more than 25 people showed up and it still has a livestream for those who don’t want to attend in person.
It went well Tuesday night, Bennett said.
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said state lawmakers are scrambling to address the issue of public meetings and he expects a