Detroit meetings must be public

A blog about urban austerity and fiscal crisis can’t help but get preoccupied with Detroit. There’s so much backstory here that it’s unavoidable to jump in to the middle. For now, I wanted to highlight the development of a twist in the state’s effort to declare a financial emergency in Detroit. The panel charged with determining whether such an emergency exists, paving the way for a state-appointed emergency manager, had been meeting in secret. Until February 7, that is, when a judge ruled that the meetings are subject to Michigan’s Open Meetings Act and must be open to the public.

The team hasn’t met since. It was supposed to announce its findings tomorrow, February 25.

Mason— Meetings of the state-appointed team reviewing Detroit’s financesare subject to Michigan’s Open Meetings Act and must be conducted in public, an Ingham County judge ruled Monday.

Circuit Judge William Collette issued an injunction barring secret meetings between state Treasurer Andy Dillon and the nine members of the team. The team’s findings will guide the state in determining whether to appoint an emergency manager in Detroit.

“It’s a great victory for openness and democracy today,” said Andrew Paterson, attorney for Robert Davis, who brought two lawsuits against the state to demand the activities of the financial review teams for the Highland Park School District and City of Detroit be made public.

Terry Stanton, spokesman for Dillon, said: “Treasury is disappointed with (Monday’s) decision, given the possible chilling effect it could have on a review team and the review process.”

I find the notion that public meetings would be “chilling” a bit ominous. What was going on in there?

The Governor has argued from the beginning that the team is not subject to Open Meetings requirements. The mayor’s take on it is less clear: “Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said “transparency is something that we believe in,” but added that sometimes with financial issues in the public realm it could bog down the process.”

Read: Meetings on Detroit’s finances must be open