City violated meetings, records acts in hiring fire chief
MICHIGAN–Applicants for Bay City fire chief were interviewed and screened at closed meetings and information about the seven semi-final candidates was not disclosed to The Bay City Times in violation of the state Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act, a state appeals court in Lansing unanimously ruled in late February.
The court found that the Bay City manager and a committee formed to assist him in finding a candidate for fire chief were “public bodies,” that the interviews they conducted constituted “meetings” and that there is no exemption in the Open Meetings Act that would permit a municipal public body to conduct closed interviews.
The personal privacy exemption in the Freedom of Information Act does not prevent release of the names, current job titles, cities of residence and ages of the semi-final candidates, the court held. Disclosure of the fact that a person is being interviewed for a high level public position is not information of a personal nature and would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, the court said.
The Bay City Times did not request that the fire chief appointment be invalidated. The case was remanded so the circuit court could enter a judgment that Bay City violated the state Open Meetings and Freedom of Information Acts.
In May 1996, The Bay City Times’ request for information related to the city’s search for a new fire chief was denied by the search committee. The newspaper then filed suit in circuit court in Bay City. The circuit court ruled that there had been no violation of the Open Meetings Act or the Freedom of Information Act and the newspaper appealed. (The Herald Company v. Bay City; Media Counsel: Scott Strattard, Saginaw)