Programs & Services

Legal Defense Fund Top 25: Case 21

Open Meetings Act & Freedom of Information Act
Herald Newspapers v City of Bay City

463 Mich 111 (2000)

Issue: Open Meetings Act (OMA) & Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Bay City’s charter provided that the city commission shall appoint a fire chief upon the recommendation of the city manager. When the fire chief position became vacant, the city manager appointed a five-person committee to assist him in making his recommendation to the commission. The committee screened the candidates and narrowed the pool to nine. Two withdrew and the committee interviewed seven and recommended three for second interviews with the city manager. The city manager interviewed the three final candidates and made a recommendation of one to the commission. That candidate was hired by the commission. None of the meetings and interviews of the manager’s committee were conducted as open meetings.

The local newspaper sued, claiming that actions of the city manager and his committee were required to be conducted in public under the OMA. (The paper also claimed that the city violated the FOIA for failing to release the identities and other information of the seven finalists.) The circuit court held for the city; the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the city commission and the city manager, acting together, constituted a public body for OMA purposes.

Why did the LDF get involved?
The Court of Appeals’ decision that the city manager is a public body under the OMA when making recommendations to the commission would have disastrous consequences for local government.What action did the LDF take?
Filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals

Filed an amicus brief with Michigan Supreme Court

What was the outcome?
The Michigan Supreme Court held that an individual executive such as a city manager acting in an executive capacity is not a public body for purposes of the OMA, nor was the committee that the manager formed. The Court also found that, in this particular situation, the city commission had not delegated the city manager the responsibility to make a recommendation since that authority was given directly to the city manager by the charter. (The Court also held that disclosure of the information requested about the final candidates would serve the policy underlying the FOIA).

Who prepared the amicus brief?
Don M. Schmidt
(Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.)

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