As reported in the Harbor Country News, when City Clerk Lori Vander Clay was asked why the city was discontinue live streaming of public meetings, she replied “Because it’s a cost to us, $4,000 a year. It was a staff decision; we didn’t renew the contract.” Regarding why the City Council didn’t make this decision in an open meeting, she said, “We weren’t required to…..”
According to the Michigan Municipal League, the Council-Manager form of government requires that all legislative and policy powers are vested in the city council and the council employs a professional administrator to carry out the policies it develops. At a Council meeting in 2014, the Council voted through a new policy to video stream every public meeting and authorized the budget to support it. It was left up to the City employees to carry out the directive. As far as legally overruling a policy set by a council, that duty is vested in the City Council who are required by law to make their decision at a public meeting.
City Clerk Vander Clay is incorrect, she is required by her legal duty to follow policy set by the City Council and does not possess any legal grounds to change policy on her own. But since the Council didn’t object to the rogue takeover by an employee of a City Charter power vested in them, the violation lies with them. Vander Clay’s power play was a violation of the City Charter and the Open Meetings Act.
The City Council’s decision to spend approximately $10,000 on audio/video equipment to provide live stream of all public meetings was to fulfill a campaign promise of more transparency. The elected officials voted through the policy at a public meeting making it imperative that the only individuals who can change that policy are the council members who are accountable to the citizens who elected them. And although City Clerk Vander Clay would like to do away with the democratic process, Abraham Lincoln addressed this in the Gettysburg Address when he stated democratic government is of the people, by the people, for the people. What was good for President Lincoln and the last 155 years should be good enough for City Clerk Vander Clay and the elected officials who are actually in charge of the democracy in the City.
While the City employees are violating the city council policy to post the live stream meetings on the City’s website, they are also violating Section 3.14 of the City Charter that states that proceedings of the Council must be posted within fifteen days after each Council meeting. Let’s face it, the employees do not want to be accountable for their actions. Too often, a private citizen will make reference to an archived meeting video that contradicts the current actions of both the Council and their employees that can be awkward and embarrassing for them. Or a private citizens will rely on an archived video to support their claims against the City or its employees that can cause a reprimand or dismissal of an employee. The employees might feel no remorse in violating State laws, the City Charter and local policies but they are no fools, if they can work without public scrutiny, they are accountable to nobody leaving the City ripe for abuse.