Lansing City Council cancels virtual meetings as Supreme Court decision puts powers in question
Lansing City Council President Peter Spadafore has cancelled the body's public meetings this week amid uncertainty over a days-old Michigan Supreme Court decision that overturned numerous coronavirus-related executive orders from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Other local government leaders say they'll continue to meet remotely for now, citing an understanding that the executive orders won't be nullified until an appeals period expires — likely 21 days after Friday's court decision.
The state's top court ruled Friday that Whitmer lacked the authority to impose numerous executive orders, including one that authorized virtual public meetings by temporarily suspending part of Michigan's Open Meetings Act.
Related: Whitmer asks Supreme Court to delay COVID ruling, House to return to session
Officials: Effective date is uncertain
Local officials have sought clarity on when the Supreme Court decision takes effect, and Whitmer asked Monday for the court to delay the effective date until Oct. 30.
Meanwhile, bills with bipartisan support are pending in Michigan's Senate and House of Representatives to let local public meetings happen electronically under certain circumstances.
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Chris Johnson, legal counsel for the Michigan Municipal League, acknowledged the uncertainty about the effective date of the Supreme Court decision, but said 21 days from the decision is a likely time frame since that's the typical period for filing an appeal.
Ingham County has yet to cancel its virtual County Commission meetings since the county's attorney believes the court decision will take effect after 21 days, Commission Chair Bryan Crenshaw said. East Lansing's virtual meetings are likewise set to proceed this week, city spokeswoman Quinn Alexander confirmed.
But, amid the confusion, Spadafore said, he cancelled council meetings set for this week out of "an abundance of caution."
More: Vail says authority 'very clear' to keep Ingham COVID restrictions
Lansing could resume meetings under hybrid model
If state legislators don't legalize a workaround, Spadafore is working on resuming meetings with a partially in-person, partially electronic format. City Attorney Jim Smiertka believes that would be legal as long as a quorum — a five-member majority — of the council is meeting in person with their chairs spaced out. The three other council members and any members of the public would participate remotely.
Legally, people must be allowed to watch council meetings, and, during the pandemic, Lansing City Council has changed its procedures to let the public do so via Zoom. The council has continued to allow public comment by letting people call in to the virtual meetings.
Related: Face masks, social distancing still required in Michigan, top state official says
It may not be legal for the council to resume its meetings with a fully in-person audience, Spadafore said, since an order from Ingham County's Health Department prohibits most indoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
Even in the wake of the court decision, Whitmer has said temporary COVID-19 restrictions will remain in effect under other sources of legal authority. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, has imposed orders that mirror Whitmer's, including a mandate that people wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings.
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Ingham County issues local orders
Local officials across Michigan are issuing their own similar rules
Citing authority under public health code, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail imposed countywide orders this week that limit restaurant capacity, restrict gathering size, mandate employee health screenings and require face masks in many instances.
The city of Lansing is operating under a local state of emergency, as authorized by the City Council. Mayor Andy Schor said Monday he's looking into using emergency powers to enforce citywide restrictions aimed at curbing COVID-19.
Michigan's AG office: We will no longer enforce Whitmer's orders through criminal prosecution
Lansing postpones meeting that was interrupted by racial slurs, porn
Spadafore expects to release more information soon about the time and format of Lansing's postponed meetings. One discussion-only Ways and Means Committee meeting will be postponed once again after being rescheduled from Oct. 2 to Oct. 9.
Spadafore cut off the meeting's feed Friday after an unknown person used Zoom's screenshare function to show pornography and voice racial slurs.
More: Lansing retirees say they were 'blindsided' by city's planned health care changes
"It was disruptive and offensive," Spadafore said, adding he's asked the city's information technology department to provide additional guidance on preventing such incidents.
Council member Carol Wood, the committee's chair, had been leading the proceedings with tech support from council's office manager.
More than 100 people had tuned into the virtual committee meeting for more information about controversial plans from Lansing's administration to change health care for more than 1,300 city retirees so that they mirror plans offered to active employees.
Contact reporter Sarah Lehr at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.