Editorial: Whistleblowers help keep doors openPublished 10:56pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Niles Township residents have expressed frustration and concern over the ongoing drama in their local government. The petitions, the recalls, the arguing — eventually, some work has to be accomplished.
Well, apparently some work has been accomplished; unfortunately, it was behind closed doors.
Berrien County Judge John Dewane ruled last month that the board violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act when it held closed meetings Feb. 22 and March 7. The judge granted the township summary disposition on two counts due to governmental immunity. Dewane left pending the three counts against Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt, Treasurer Jim Ringler and township attorney Mary Lasata-Spiegel. Township resident Shane Daniel filed a lawsuit against the township and these three individuals.
The closed meetings involved board members discussing a complaint made by Zoning Administrator Stefanie Woodrick against Ringler. Woodrick claimed Ringler tried to intimidate her into making illegal zoning changes that would have benefited Ringler, who works as a real estate broker.
When government officials hold closed meetings, they are illegally conducting business that affects citizens. As public officials, they serve the taxpayers. Transparency is key in running an effective board.
According to the Open Meetings Act, “All persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting except as otherwise provided in this act. … All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public. All deliberations of a public body constituting a quorum of its members shall take place at a meeting open to the public…”
Meetings must be publicly posted, and include the name of the public body and the address of the meetings.
Public officials know what constitutes a closed meeting. There are exceptions for holding closed sessions, and this matter did not qualify. There are no acceptable excuses in this situation. Citizens have the right to know what is being discussed by their government.
We applaud township resident Shane Daniel for being the whistleblower. Daniel has set an example for other citizens to continue holding their government officials accountable.