Michigan bill would keep local officials ‘remote’ from public
Local officials work in the public square. Not in a square on Zoom.
The plan to amend the Open Meetings Act in Michigan has yet to be submitted to the legislature. But Sen. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, revealed that it will focus on local units of government, and not the legislature.
That’s not good news.
While lawmakers at all levels should show up for work, a case could be made for remote voting for Michigan lawmakers. Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman did just that in 2017, arguing that lawmakers should spend more time in their home districts, and less in Lansing.
“One new idea could reverse the erosion of confidence,” Lehman wrote. “We should amend the state constitution to permit lawmakers to cast legislative votes from their home districts, not just from inside the Capitol building.”
Lansing is far from many parts of the state. Serving multiple days a week can require far-away lawmakers to spend days at a time in Lansing.
Every night spent under Lansing skies is a night away from home. A night away from family, away from the people who sent them to Lansing, and away from the values they were sent to uphold. It can be easy for a lawmaker to forget they’re representing anyone but themselves and their party’s interest.
Think of former House Speaker Rick Johnson, a Republican from humble LeRoy, population 3,700.
Johnson got himself a taste of power and became a fixture in Lansing for two decades. He journeyed from lawmaker to lobbyist to federal informant in a plea deal owing to his admitted corruption as a medical marijuana regulator.
There’s much to avoid in Lansing. But allowing local lawmakers to vote by Zoom makes no sense. Local communities don’t carry the corrupting influence of Lansing. What exactly is the official being spared, except contact with the public?
Isolation is the greater risk for a local official. It’s tough to go to the park or the grocery store and be confronted by neighbors. It can push some people into an echo chamber.
That’s a drawback of the job. Showing up to meetings is the job.
Local officials work in the public square. Not in a square on Zoom. Sen. Veronica Klinefelt’s plan would be the end of the public meeting in Michigan as we know it.
Michigan needs public servants, not elites unwilling to breathe the same air as their townspeople.
Human nature indicates the Zoom era would go badly. Absent a global pandemic, officials would hop on Zoom because it was too hot, too cold, or because they got off work late. There would be a sniffles outbreak any time there was a tough vote.
It’s too easy to stay home. It’s too easy to hop online and avoid conflict. That’s why the Open Meetings Act denies pubic officials the easy way, and why it should.
The pandemic is over, folks. You want to lead your community? Show up to work, and look your neighbors in the eye.
James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.