The Michigan Court of Appeals has determined that the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) did not violate the Open Meetings Act (OMA) during the 2017 selection of its current Superintendent, Nikolai Vitti. In A Felon’s Crusade for Equality, Honesty, and Truth v Detroit Pub Sch Comm Dist Bd of Educ, Case No. 343881 (Nov. 14, 2019), Plaintiff argued that DPSCD Board of Education violated the OMA (1) by allowing a committee to make decisions without complying with the OMA, (2) by rubber‑stamping the recommendations of the committee, and (3) by failing to comply with the OMA in narrowing the list of superintendent candidates and, ultimately, in selecting a superintendent.
First, the court determined the Board’s committee was not subject to the OMA because it was only delegated authority to review information and make recommendations to the Board. In other words, the committee’s authority was to investigate, not to deliberate or decide. The committee recommended a firm to the Board for the superintendent search, but it did not curate the list of interested firms before presenting them to the Board. Consequently, the committee was not subject to the OMA.
Second, the court did not rubber‑stamp the committee’s recommendations. The Board accepted the committee’s recommendation regarding a search firm only after a presentation in an open meeting, and then only after discussion was also held in an open meeting.
Third, the court rejected Plaintiff’s arguments that (1) the Board violated the OMA by reducing its number of final candidates to three in closed session, (2) the Board violated the OMA by referencing the 10 qualified candidates by number instead of name prior to interviews, and (3) the Board violated the OMA when several Board members visited the final candidates’ then‑current places of employment. Specifically, the court stated that the number of final candidates was reduced to three after discussion and a 4‑3 Board vote in open session, and there was no evidence deliberations or a decision occurred in closed session. Moreover, the court opined that the OMA does not require candidate names to be revealed until the interviews actually occur. Finally, the court concluded that the Board members who visited the candidates’ places of employment were engaged in fact‑gathering, rather than private interviews with the candidates – the latter would have triggered OMA obligations, but the former did not because there was no deliberation or decision‑making. Having dispensed with the last of Plaintiff’s arguments, the court dismissed the appeal.
The case provides excellent analysis of OMA requirements relative to the use of committees, including where superintendent searches are involved. Readers who wish to read the opinion for themselves may access it here.