Conflict of interest

Asked March 12, 2015, 1:46 PM EDT

I am the chairman of my township's Planning Commission. Two members of the commission have a clear (they both admit this freely) conflict of interest with an agenda item. What is the statute that specifically applies to their level of involvement on this agenda item? They will not vote and have not in the past on this issue. However, should they sit in the audience, leave the room, or even speak on the issue via email?

Hillsdale County Michigan

1 Response

The planning act refers to how a conflict of interest should be handled here: http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-125-3815
As you read you will see that the statute allows planning commissions to set up their own rules within the bylaws on how a member engages related to the issue. In MSUE we advise members with a conflict to not participate in any way at all and if possible to leave the room during the handling of the matter. However, your board can determine the extent to which the members must "disengage". If the result of having two members actually leave the room results in having no quorum present you may want to ask for legal guidance. When I am asked for guidance on this issue I suggest to commissions that if having a member leave the room takes away from the quorum being present that the board have the member stay in the room, but remove themselves from the dias and not participate in discussion.
Here is a link to a pdf file that includes sample bylaws and a section on how a board could handle conflict of interest. If that does not come through let me know. http://lu.msue.msu.edu/pamphlet/Bclsam/pamphlet1E%20PlanComm%20ByLaws.pdf
Something else you said caught my interest. You asked if they should participate in email. None of your members should be participating in email deliberations over any matter that is before the commission. That is not permitted under the Open Meetings Act. One on one conversations might occur but even those conversations should carry forward to the full meeting so that all members have an opportunity to discuss the issues related to the matter before you. In particular, a member with a conflict of interest should not be participating in side conversations with members because of the interest.
I will gladly talk this through with you if you think it will help you manage the situation more confidently. These matters should not be treated lightly so I also encourage you to discuss this with legal counsel if you feel it may warrant that.
Good luck. Julie Pioch piochj@msu.edu