Oct. 12 2011 12:00 AM

Secret ballot on Oliver Towers?


The chairman of the Board of Trustees of
Lansing Community College may have violated the state Open Meetings Act
in securing support of board members for making an offer to buy Lansing
city property.

Board Chairman Larry Meyer told Lansing
City Council on Monday night that he polled board members individually
by phone on where they stood on a cash offer to the city for the Oliver
Towers property.

A lawyer for the Michigan Press Association said Tuesday,
“If the decision to sell or the price came about through this polling
method, that is likely a violation.”

The attorney, Jennifer Dukarsky, said telephone polling is “a lot like a secret ballot.”

Meyer appeared before the Committee of the Whole to
extend an offer of $2.52 million in cash for Oliver Towers. The Bernero
administration has negotiated to trade the former senior citizens high
rise near LCC and a parking lot next to it to Davenport College for its
campus on the south side of downtown, subject to Council approval.

Meyer told the committee: “I polled
every member this afternoon. This decision was made this morning, I
polled every member and have concurrence with the exception of one that
was a voicemail and has not gotten back to me yet but I think that will
be fine too because he and I had talked earlier about this. So yes and
then we would have to go through the formal process of putting that in
the form of a resolution and moving that forward. That’s why I wanted
to make the point that we had discussed it informally and then I
followed up today with phone calls to each one of them for concurrence.”

In a letter to Bernero also dated Monday, Meyer wrote that the purchase of the property is “critical for the future” of LCC.

“Therefore, we hereby offer to purchase this property for
$2.52 million cash at closing, subject to the approval of the Lansing
Community College Board of Trustees.”

Meyer signed the letter, as did LCC President Brent Knight.

Asked by telephone Tuesday if his polling trustees violated the Open Meeting Act, he said, “That’s silly.”

“I had a conversation with each one of them and explained what was going on and got their opinion on it, that’s all,” he said.

 “There was no decision made” by phone. “We will have a meeting to formally put it forward when it comes.”

He also said: “There was no resolution before us. I was only asking a general opinion about that.”

“In our meeting three weeks ago, this was totally
discussed,” he said, adding that on the phone he was “just re-going
through and letting them know that there had been a new appraisal and
the new appraisal was actually under the appraisal that (the city) had
been talking about.”

Meyer spoke at a meeting at which the
Council committee split 4-4 on whether to send the city-Davenport trade
deal to the Council for consideration. Five yes votes were needed at
the meeting, which was attended by all members. The administration’s
proposal was at least delayed by the action. The administration was
pushing for a Council vote on Oct. 24.