Legality of meeting questioned
Sunday, January 26, 2014 6:00 PM
MENOMINEE - The Menominee County Board of Commissioners is keeping Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hass busy.
In less than two days, its members have asked Hass to look into the wording of the contract the county has with the Teamsters and the Sheriff's Department regarding hiring temporary employees and later, whether it can change the current full-time administrative assistant position to something more like a part-time board secretary.
Also, in a written request from Commissioner Bernie Lang, Hass was asked to investigate the legality of one of the two special meetings held in one week - the one called Friday.
The board had already met in special session Wednesday to discuss a request from Sheriff Kenny Marks to hire three temporary, part-time corrections officers to deal with staffing shortages.
Thursday, Commissioners Jan Hafeman and Charlie Meintz were requesting another special meeting, this time to "discuss and/or act on the administration assistant position."
The board has its own rules for calling a special meeting. Two commissioners are needed to request the meeting, and the agenda must be posted 18 hours in advance.
But the board is also governed by state statute and has incorporated Robert's Rules of Order in its bylaws and rules. Robert's Rules of Order state that special meeting should only be called for matters that need to be dealt with prior to the next regular meeting (which is set for Tuesday), and that the agenda should be very specific.
Members of the group calling the special meeting also are not allowed to amend the agenda to add new action items, nor are they allowed to discuss items not listed on the agenda.
Both Lang, Commissioner Larry Schei and Brian Neumeier, a former Menominee County administrator, raised questions Friday about the legality of the meeting.
Despite those concerns, the board proceeded in discussion of possible elimination of the administrative assistant position, which was not mentioned in the call for the meeting. It also was not on any previous agendas for either the county board as a whole, or its personnel or finance committees.
County Administrator Brian Bousley was not working all last week; he was out of the office for family reasons. Preparation of the agendas for both special meetings (Wednesday and Friday) were done by Sherry DuPont, the administrative assistant, with assistance from County Clerk Marc Kleiman. More information was sought Thursday to clarify the intention of the special meeting, but it was not forthcoming from either Meintz, the county board chairman, or Hafeman, who initiated the call.
Neumeier, after pointing out his concerns Friday that the board might be violating its own rules and policies if it was looking at disciplining or terminating an employee, added, "Clearly at this point in the fiscal year, there is no financial crisis to justify calling a special meeting to discuss one position in the county." He suggested the board adjourn the meeting before it proceeded with potentially creating a "hostile work environment, and exposing the taxpayers of this county to unnecessary liability."
Lang said, "You don't just call a special meeting because you feel like it. Robert's Rules outlines the procedure. The purpose of (a) special meeting is to decide urgent matters. What is urgent today that couldn't wait until Tuesday? Also, the reason for the meeting should be clear. The explanation on this agenda is very thin. Is the reason discipline or financial? I can't tell from the agenda. Therefore, I request a legal opinion - is this a legal meeting or not? Hass, (attorney David) Stoker or Bousley should have been involved or possibly all three."
He gave Meintz a copy of a document he had written.
Meintz asked Hass, who was sitting in the courtroom, "Is this a legal meeting?"
Hass responded he had not been involved in the process of setting up the meeting and was not prepared to answer Meintz's question.
"So, was it posted correctly?" Meintz asked. "I wasn't involved at all ... I can't answer," Hass said.
Schei made a motion to adjourn the meeting until the board could get a legal opinion. "I don't think we need to have another lawsuit in the county," he said.
Lang seconded, and after much confusion about whether it was an amendment or an additional agenda item, the board voted down the motion, 5-3, with Lang, Schei and Commissioner Gerald Piche voting in favor of amending the agenda to request a legal opinion on the legality of the action item. Piche had also asked, prior to the vote, if it would make more sense to adjourn the meeting, since many didn't know the direction the meeting would take.
The reason behind the meeting only became clear after several members of the public, including former commissioner Gary Eichhorn, indicated support for the board taking action to curb administrative costs, something they attributed to meetings held more than three years ago to establish new commissioner districts.
Robert's Rules of Order states "the only business that can be transacted at a special meeting is that which has been specified in the call of the meeting."
The board discussed more than the administrative assistant position at the meeting. It discussed, in part, the responsibilities of the administrator and several commissioners made critical comments specifically about the work being done by Bousley, who was not present; and the budget process.
During the lengthy discussion period, which finally ended in a vote to ask Hass to look into the legality of altering the full-time administrative assistant position to part-time, one commissioner voiced his displeasure in the actions of some of the commissioners whom he said discuss their concerns with issues such as the administrator and administrative assistant, outside the meetings.
Commissioner Jerry Piche said that he thought it was wrong to do so, and suggested commissioners take up their concerns with the two county employees directly.
He also indicated that some commissioners have tried to "create consensus" with other commissioners by calling them on the telephone.