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The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)



Opinion No. 6077

June 16, 1982


Personnel of township volunteer fire department meeting to make recommendations on personnel matters

The personnel of a township volunteer fire department, not being authorized to make final decisions on applications for membership in the fire department, are not a public body required to meet in an open meeting under the Open Meetings Act.

Honorable William Faust

State Senator

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan 48909

Honorable John S. Mowat

State Senator

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan 48909

You have requested my opinion on a question which may be stated as follows:

Does the Open Meetings Act prohibit a township volunteer fire department from meeting in closed session and voting by secret ballot upon personnel matters, including the acceptance or rejection of applications for membership in the department?

The Open Meetings Act, 1976 PA 267; MCLA 15.261 et seq; MSA 4.1800(11) et seq, provides that meetings of a public body must be open to the public. The Open Meetings Act, supra, Sec. 2(a) defines a public body as 'any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council, which is empowered by state constitution, statute, charter ordinance, resolution, or rule to exercise governmental or proprietary authority or perform a governmental or proprietary function . . .'. OAG, 1977-1978, No 5183, p 21 (March 8, 1977), held that a body which does not have the authority to render a final decision on matters of public policy is not a 'public body' within the foregoing definition and, hence, is not subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, supra. Thus, in order to resolve the question you have raised, it is necessary to first address the issue of whether a township volunteer fire department has the authority to make final decisions concerning personnel matters.

Townships are authorized to establish fire departments pursuant to 1951 PA 33, Sec. 6, as amended; MCLA 41.806; MSA 5.2640(6), which provides in pertinent part:

'The township board of any township . . . shall have the power to establish and maintain a fire department; to organize and maintain fire companies; to employ and appoint a chief and such firemen and officers as shall be required for the proper and efficient operation and maintenance of the department; to make and establish rules and regulations for the government of the department, employees, firemen and officers thereof and for the care and management of the engines, apparatus, property and buildings pertaining to the department, and for the prescribing of the powers and duties of such employees, officers and firemen.' (Emphasis supplied.)

It should be noted that pursuant to a separate act, 1951 PA 57, Sec. 1; MCLA 41.751; MSA 5.2640(21), in a township having an organized fire department, any or all of these powers may be delegated by the township board to a fire administrative board composed of five individuals, none of whom may be a member of the fire department. There is, however, no similar legislation authorizing a township board to delegate its authority directly to the township fire department. What is more, delegation of authority to the fire department is effectively prohibited by 1951 PA 57, supra, Sec. 1, which expressly excludes members of a fire department from serving on a fire administrative board. Thus, a township fire department may not be authorized to make final decisions pertaining to employment nor as to any of the other matters described in 1951 PA 33, Sec. 6, supra. Final decisions on such matters must be made by either the township board or by a fire administrative board if duly established by the township board. Inasmuch as the volunteer fire department is not legally capable of rendering final decisions on matters of public policy, it is not a 'public body' subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, supra.

This is not to say that a township volunteer fire department is entirely precluded from meeting to discuss and vote upon personnel matters. Nothing in 1951 PA 33, supra, nor in 1951 PA 57, supra, would prohibit such meetings. It must be recognized, however, that in accordance with the requirements of these two acts, the final decision on all such matters must be reserved to the township board or to a duly constituted fire administrative board. The results of discussions and votes by the township fire department personnel are advisory only. The determinative action rests with the township board, or with the fire administrative board, as the case may be.

It is my opinion, therefore, that inasmuch as township volunteer fire department personnel are not authorized to make final decisions on applications for membership, or upon matters of public policy generally, they do not constitute a 'public body' subject to the Open Meetings Act, supra.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General

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