Conan Smith, chair of the county board, began Wednesday’s meeting with an announcement: “This will be the last administrative briefing.”
Washtenaw County commissioners and staff gather around a conference table at the Feb. 23 administrative briefing.
Administrative briefings have been held for about a decade, taking place a week before the board’s regular meetings, which are scheduled for the first and third Wednesday of each month. They are public but informal, held in a small conference room at the county’s downtown Ann Arbor administration building – not in the boardroom. The meetings, which usually last no longer than an hour, are focused on reviewing the upcoming agenda for the back-to-back Ways & Means Committee meeting and regular board meeting the following week.
Several commissioners say they benefit from the discussions that emerge at these briefings. But Ronnie Peterson, who has never attended because of his objections to the format, has been a vocal critic, calling them “backroom” meetings where deliberations occur that he believes are too far out of the public eye – even though they conform to the Open Meetings Act.
He raised the issue again at the Feb. 16 board meeting, which resulted in a lengthy debate about whether administrative briefings and the board’s budget retreats are sufficiently accessible to the public. The outcome of that debate was a vote at the Feb. 16 meeting to hold future retreats after the board’s regular working sessions – both would be televised. However, an attempt to relocate and televise administrative briefings failed, with support only from Peterson, Kristin Judge and Wes Prater.
On Wednesday, Smith – who on Feb. 16 argued for keeping the administrative briefings unchanged – said that after discussions with county administrator Verna McDaniel, they had decided to eliminate the briefings in favor of a weekly agenda-setting meeting with staff and just three commissioners: Smith, as board chair; Rolland Sizemore Jr., chair of the Ways & Means Committee; and Yousef Rabhi, chair of the working sessions. Because the meeting will not involve a quorum of commissioners, it will not be required to be open to the public. [Full Story]