Housing Commission advised on authority

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Attorney Laura Katers Reilly addresses the Ontonagon Housing Commission at a special meeting Monday.

ONTONAGON — The Housing Commission heard from attorney Laura Katers Reilly at a Monday special meeting to clear up disagreements over closed meeting requirements and on the authority of the commission.

The Marquette-based attorney from Kendricks, Bordeau, Keefe, Seavoy & Larsen explained that a housing commission can be created by a municipality if one is needed to manage public housing projects, which Ontonagon did. Once created, Reilly said, the commission may then hire employees for day-to-day operations, although it is not mandated by law to do so.

“The statute provides that the commission may — not shall or must — but may, employ employees to carry out the commission’s necessary roles, and they delegate certain powers or request that those employees carry out those powers. But ultimately the legal responsibility for running the housing project belongs to the commission, and that cuts both ways. The commission takes the good and the bad,” Reilly said. “All responsibility rests at the feet of the commission.”

She later stated she usually saw housing commissions run from a policy level, with the day-to-day operations being left to the employees hired by the commission.

Often commission members have day jobs and cannot volunteer the time, she explained. A housing commission director often is hired to oversee these operations and any other employees.

The employee roles and authority themselves are approved by commission vote. The same is true for individual commission members taking individual action.

Reilly then addressed proper open/closed session meeting procedures, particularly when dealing with an employee discipline situation.

“When the body is meeting to deliberate to a decision, when there is a quorum of that body present that is an open meeting,” Reilly said.

Anyone can come to such a meeting, but there are specific situations, such as when dealing with employee discipline, when a body may go into closed session after stating the legal reason.

Notably, in a disciplinary matter, the closed-session meeting must be approved by the employee being disciplined.

“If the employee doesn’t want you to go into closed session, it’s an open meeting. It’s not a reason to go into closed session,” Reilly explained.

Commission member Rich Ernest asked if an employee has a right to have others, like a lawyer, in a closed-session meeting.

Reilly explained that the housing commission had complete control over who could be in a closed session and could even exclude the employee being disciplined.

She said Freedom of Information Act requests do not typically apply to these closed meetings.

TOMORROW: The Ontonagon Housing Commission discusses potential payroll procedure shortcomings, conflict of interest rules and personnel employment policy.