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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

 

Meetings, Minutes, etc.

Question:
Can a council member abstain from voting without disclosing the reason? Is the abstention counted as a yea or nay?

Answer:
It depends. State law does not require village or city council members to declare the reason for an abstention. However, many home rule city and village charters require the council member to do so, and the Charter Township Act (MCL 42.7) requires members of the township board to receive the unanimous approval of the other members of the board to abstain.

An abstention is neither a yea or nay vote, and therefore, not counted. It upholds the will of the majority. If the member does not leave the council chamber, they are included in the quorum count.

Question:
How does one go about making changes to minutes that were approved several months ago?

Answer:
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, if the existence of an error or material omission in the minutes becomes reasonably established after their approval – even many years later – the minutes can then be corrected by means of a motion to Amend Something Previously Adopted, which requires a two-thirds vote, or a majority vote with notice, or the vote of a majority of the entire membership, or unanimous consent.

Question:
What is the difference between a public hearing and a special meeting?

Answer:
A public hearing is that portion of a meeting designed specifically to receive input from the public on a single issue. It may be required by ordinance or statute. The time, place and subject of the hearing must be posted as required by the ordinance or statute and only the posted subject can be discussed. The hearing may be before, during or after a regular meeting or may be at a special meeting called specifically for that purpose.

A special meeting is any meeting of the governing body other than those called for by the charter. It may be a meeting of the full body or of just a subcommittee. Your charter will outline the process for calling a special meeting and the Open Meetings Act requires the date, time and place of the meeting be posted at least 18 hours before the meeting.

Question:
Can tapes of council meetings be disposed of as soon as minutes are transcribed and approved?

Answer:
Tapes of meetings (for whatever purpose) fall under the definition of a public record and cannot be disposed of unless there is an approved disposal schedule. If your city or village has adopted Schedule 8, an MML publication, Records Management for Michigan Municipalities : A Suggested Retention and Disposal Schedule (Now available online!), the tapes may be disposed of when minutes have been approved. If you want to dispose of them under a different schedule, contact the Archives Section of MI Department of State (517-373-1400) for forms and instructions on submitting an alternate disposal schedule or access their web site for records management information for local governments at www.sos.state.mi.us/history/archive/local.

Question:
Can the council discuss an item not on the agenda?

Answer:
There is no law prohibiting discussion of an item not on the agenda. The Open Meetings Act (1976 PA 267, MCL 15.264 and MCL 15.265) outlines the time required for proper notice of regular and special meetings. Although it specifies that the name, address and telephone number of the public body be included in the notice, it does not require a listing of specific items to be discussed. However, a number of cities and villages, either through their charter or their council rules, have agreed that items not on the agenda may not be considered by the council. Some permit the agenda to be amended during the meeting. Your city clerk and/or your city attorney will be able to guide you as to your requirements.

Question:
How long can the public speak during the public comment portion of a council meeting?

Answer:
It is up to the council to determine the policy. Some communities limit each person to two minutes, in other communities the limit is five minutes. Some municipalities set aside a total of 15 minutes for proponents, and 15 minutes for opponents on a specific issue. One community even sets a timer, and when it goes off, the citizen must quit speaking. The length of time for public commentary should be established in your council rules. We have sample council rules in our resource center, as well as on the web-site.

Question:
Is there a requirement of how long a public hearing has to be kept open? We often hold a public hearing during the regular council meeting. If no one appears to speak at the scheduled time, how long must we wait before proceeding with the remainder of our agenda?

Answer:
Unless you have something established in your council rules or charter, we know of nothing in state law that sets a specific amount of time. Normally the mayor gavels the public hearing open and asks if there is anyone who wishes to speak. If no one does, the hearing is declared closed. Public hearings are often held during council meetings. You do need to make sure the hearing is open at the time advertised. Again, you need to check your charter and any rules the council may have adopted.

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