“Good morning, everybody!” came the voice over the speakerphone. Executive assistant Karen Wheeler, of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, had just dialed up board member Jesse Bernstein so that he could participate in the executive director search committee meeting Friday morning at AATA headquarters on South Industrial.
Bernstein, along with other committee members Sue McCormick, Paul Ajegba and Rich Robben, met to formally vote on forwarding to the full board the names of two final candidates for the executive directorship of the AATA. The Chronicle previously reported that the number of candidates has been winnowed down to five. That position has been open since Greg Cook’s resignation in early 2007.
At the meeting, in the resolution on which the committee voted, the candidates were referred to as [A] and [D]. Ajegba, chair of the search committee, explained that everything the committee had done in the process was meant to strike a balance between the privacy requests of the applicants with the requirements of the Michigan Open Meetings Act. He described the challenge as “walking a fine line.” Reference to the candidates by letters was part of that balance, he said.
Queried by The Chronicle, Ajegba said that none of the local candidates for the position had been selected by the committee to be among the top five, which had been narrowed by the search committee from 10 selected by the headhunting firm out of a total field of 62. The reduction of the set of candidates from five to two had been made at a meeting of the full board on March 11, which falls under the requirements for public notice specified by the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Asked by The Chronicle how that public notice was made, the committee deferred to Dawn Gabay, interim executive director of the AATA, who said that it had been posted on the bulletin board at the front door of AATA headquarters.
Questioned by John Mulcahy of the Ann Arbor News about why the candidates’ anonymity was more important than the public’s interest in knowing their names, Ajegba said that for one of the candidates [D] there was some question as to whether the candidate would continue as a candidate after discussion with his current employer.
Out of respect for the possibility that the candidate could lose his job over publicly being announced as a candidate, and still not be offered the AATA position, leaving him jobless, Ajegba said the AATA was not releasing his name. He also asked the media present to “help us out” and not publish the name if we did manage to find it out. [Editor's note: At the time of typing this sentence, The Chronicle is not aware of the candidate's name.]
In the event that candidate [D] chooses not to continue, another candidate, [C], will be substituted, because the committee wishes to have two candidates for final consideration.
What’s next? The full board, at its next regular meeting on March 18, will formally vote on whether to accept the committee’s recommendation of the two candidates. At that point (but possibly sooner) the names of the two candidates will be announced.
Interviews of the candidates by the full board will take place on March 25, a meeting which will be open to the public. Specifics of the interview format have not yet been determined, said Ajegba.
Gabay has told The Chronicle that she will give us and other media a call before next Wednesday as soon as the candidate’s names are available – possibly as soon as this afternoon (Friday).
An Editorial Note on the Open Meetings Act: The posting of a notice on its front door bulletin board at least 18 hours in advance of a special meeting of the board satisfies the AATA’s legal obligations under the Open Meetings Act. However, it’s not a place we visit except once a month for the regular board meetings. And we think that whether The Chronicle is alerted to such a meeting should not depend on whether someone on the AATA staff remembers or decides to notify us – why should they alert us as opposed to any other media outlet or the general public? And it should not depend on staff remembering or electing to send out a general press release.
So we have now filed the required written request with AATA, as specified in the Michigan Open Meetings Act, in order to ensure that in the future The Chronicle is notified in a timely way of special meetings of the board. Here is the relevant section of the act:
15.266 Providing copies of public notice on written request; fee.
Sec. 6. (1) Upon the written request of an individual, organization, firm, or corporation, and upon the requesting party’s payment of a yearly fee of not more than the reasonable estimated cost for printing and postage of such notices, a public body shall send to the requesting party by first class mail a copy of any notice required to be posted pursuant to section 5(2) to (5).
(2) Upon written request, a public body, at the same time a public notice of a meeting is posted pursuant to section 5, shall provide a copy of the public notice of that meeting to any newspaper published in the state and to any radio and television station located in the state, free of charge.