Open up collective bargaining sessions
March 28, 2012 (letter to Lansing State Journal)


Essays & Letters

Collective bargaining sessions are exempt from Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, and they shouldn’t be. Decisions are made there that can have a huge financial impact on a school or municipality. They can also alter policies, or even statutes. In an August 31, 1984 opinion (#6244), Attorney General Frank Kelley wrote that “public employers and their affected employees [have] the right to, in effect, negotiate a statute out of existence . . . through collective bargaining.”

The Open Meetings Act allows anyone, including the media, to attend most public meetings, and it requires minutes to be recorded and made available to the public.

A little sunshine might have prevented Lansing’s early retirement of 1992, when 144 City employees - including the mayor, city clerk, budget director and finance director - retired with generous bonuses. This is from a January 11, 1993 article in the Lansing State Journal:

[W]hen the council tried to put off the entire deal, it was told that would be an unfair labor practice, because the Teamsters had negotiated in good faith. . .

The council discussed the plan in two private meetings before voting on it. Michigan Open Meetings laws allowed the closed meetings because the topic related to union negotiations . . .

Council members were told not to discuss the plan with anyone and any notes they took were collected after each meeting, [council woman Ellen] Beal said.

As recently as January, Lansing’s Police and Fire Retirement Board was considering a “20-and-out" proposal, a one-time window of a few months during which firefighters could retire after only 20 years of service. Normally, they need 25. The proposal has now been abandoned, but Board meeting minutes leave the impression that the Board attempted to take the proposal out of the control and responsibility of the city council and conceal it from the public by claiming it was being bargained with the firefighters union, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). Although the October minutes say “the administration” was considering the proposal at that time, the January minutes say that Mr. Bryan Epling of the IAFF told the Board that "he believed that the Early-Out Incentive could be part of the collective bargaining."

Specifically requiring collective bargaining sessions to be subject to the Open Meetings Act would stop these abuses.


By city ordinance, the Board of Trustees of the City of Lansing Police and Fire Retirement System consists of two members of the Police Department, two members of the Fire Department, a member of the City Council and a resident of the city appointed by the Mayor. The Mayor and City Treasurer are ex-officio members. The police members are Sergeant Thomas P. Fabus, Jr. and Detective Bradley S. St Aubin. The firefighters are Captain Robert J. Hecksel and Lieutenant Robert P. Oleson. The city resident member is Edward Benson. The city council member is Carol Wood. The ex-officio members are Mayor Virg Bernero and Treasurer Antonia (Amy) Kraus. Meetings are held at 8:30 am on the 3rd Tuesday of the month in City Council Conference Room on the 10th floor of City Hall.