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AG opinion says Michigan's redistricting commission shouldn’t have met in secret to discuss voting rights

Michigan Citizens Redistricting Commission
Michigan Citizens Redistricting Commission

Michigan’s redistricting commission was wrong to go into a private session last month to discuss voting rights, according toan official legal opinionissued Monday by state Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The opinion relates to an October 27 closed-door meeting of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. The stated reason for the closed-door session was to discuss voting rights and the history of racial discrimination in Michigan with the commission’s legal counsel.

There could be some specific, narrowly defined instances where the commission could hold a non-public meeting, but Nessel’s opinion said the commission is not facing any legal challenges on those grounds. The opinion said, "One could imagine, for example, a discussion between the Commission and its counsel concerning litigation, or some other matter, that has nothing to do with the actual development, drafting, or adoption of the redistricting plans and could therefore be held in a closed session."

Spokesman Edward Woods III said the commission will hold a public meeting to discuss the opinion.

“The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission respects the AG’s opinion,” he said. “At our next meeting scheduled for Thursday, December 2, we will discuss it openly and transparently.”

The opinion was requested by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee.

“Glad to see that the official opinion now has been issued that seemed apparent to so many of us,” said Republican Senator Ed McBroom, who chairs the oversight committee.

“You know, the memos and the discussions of public bodies aren’t always easy to have in open session, but the Constitution is very clear that this body must stay in open meetings. So, (I) appreciate the opinion and look forward to seeing this mistake not made again.”

The Democratic vice chair of the committee is Senator Jeff Irwin. He said it appears the commissioners got bad legal advice.

“I think that’s exactly how people get too cute by half and make mistakes,” he said.

He also said the opinion should send a message to other public bodies that try to use technicalities to justify closed-door meetings.

“I’ve seen a lot of public bodies at the local level avoid OMA (Open Meetings Act) and do things that they shouldn’t have done because they have been creative about what it means to deliberate towards a decision, and I hope that this opinion from the AG just puts them on the correct path.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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