Though University spokespeople initially denied The Michigan Daily access to a copy of the December Board of Regents meeting minutes last week — an action which may violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act — spokespeople are now classifying the incident as a “misunderstanding.”
A request from The Michigan Daily last Friday to view a copy of the proposed minutes from the regents’ December meeting was denied by a University spokesman. But after reviewing internal processes and legal obligations, University spokespeople say the request was denied, not as part of a formal policy, but instead because of an internal misunderstanding.
Section nine of the Michigan Open Meetings Act — a law that governs what public entities are obligated to do when holding board meetings — mandates when copies of both proposed and approved minutes must be released to the public.
“Proposed minutes shall be available for public inspection not more than 8 business days after the meeting to which the minutes refer. Approved minutes shall be available for public inspection not later than 5 business days after the meeting at which the minutes are approved by the public body,” the act states.
While the University complies with the act’s requirements regarding approved minutes, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald denied a request to review a copy of the proposed meeting minutes on Friday, nearly a month after the December meeting.
Fitzgerald told the Daily on Friday that it is “standard operating procedure” not to place proposed minutes from Board of Regents meetings online until the next month’s agenda is posted and that the Daily could not view the document until it was placed online.
However, after the Daily cited the University’s obligations under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, Fitzgerald and University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham revised their responses to the Daily.
In a joint interview with Cunningham and Fitzgerald yesterday, the two called the University’s previous statement the result of a misunderstanding.
“The procedure is that we provide the draft minutes upon request and then we post them on the web the Monday before the meeting under the agenda,” Cunningham said. “It was just a misunderstanding.”
Cunningham said it was possible that the Daily’s initial request was misunderstood.
“The only thing I can think of is maybe there was a confusion about (the proposed minutes) being on the web and (staff) were thinking that’s what (the Daily) meant. I really don’t know,” Cunningham said.
However, Cunningham said later in yesterday’s interview that the proposed minutes weren’t released because the staff member who handles the regents minutes was out of the office and that no one in the Office of the Vice President and Secretary of the University was in a position to determine whether or not the document could be released.
“It’s a very small office. They would be released,” Cunningham said. “There must have been a misunderstanding because (the staff member who handles regents meeting minutes) wasn’t there.”
“Frankly, no one ever asks for them,” Cunningham continued. “What people do ask is, ‘What happened?’ and then we always say what happened.”
The December meeting of the Board of Regents included several routine items — all of which were approved — including renovations to Couzens Hall, renaming the University’s Women’s Hospital and sending an annual appropriations request to the state.
Asked whether any back up plan exists for handling requests in the absence of the assistant secretary of the University, Fitzgerald said yesterday that he believed there was.
“I’m sure there’s a back-up plan for (when the staff member is out of the office), but keep in mind that nobody asks for the minutes,” Fitzgerald said. “When that specific request came in there wasn’t really a back-up plan because we never get any requests for the minutes.”
“This request had never come up that anyone can remember, of asking for a copy of the minutes,” Fitzgerald continued. “Even though we have a process and a procedure, with (the staff member) being out this wasn’t part of (the staff member’s) backup normal protocol.
Cunningham said she would be “shocked” if a similar situation happened in the future.
“Maybe people are going to start asking for the minutes. I don’t know,” she said.
“I’m sure if they do, we’ll have them ready.”
However, Cunningham said no plans were underway to prepare for a similar situation — should someone else request a copy of the minutes when the staff member who handles the regents minutes is gone.
“They’re staying with the same thing,” Cunningham said.