When meeting time is also mealtime

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - A survey of what's on the menu — literally — when public officials in northern Michigan gather for meetings turned up such fare as continental breakfasts, pizza and full-course meals, according to the Traverse City Record Eagle.

The Record Eagle said that Northwestern Michigan College board members partake of a full-course meal with dessert prior to their meetings, catered either by culinary arts students or a restaurant management firm that contracts with the college. In April, the Record Eagle reported, trustees ate beef Wellington.

Board members of a regional bus service receive pizza and salad, while Traverse City Area Public Schools has shifted away from a full meal to boxed lunches and munchies. All meals are paid for by taxpayers, the Record Eagle reported.

The Eagle said there is a difference of opinion on whether the free food must be shared with the public. Grand Traverse County Administrator Dennis Aloia said it must, which is why the county board receives only coffee, and makes it available to anyone attending its meetings, the Record Eagle reported. Aloia pointed to state treasury department guidelines which state that spending money on food must be for a "public purpose," not private use, the Record Eagle reported.

But NMC college spokesperson Paul Heaton told the Eagle that, "We have not been able to turn up anything in state law or policies that say we cannot provide meals for trustees, or that we have to provide food for anyone who attends a meeting."

The Bay Area Transportation Authority allows visitors to help themselves to pizza and salad, the Record Eagle reported, and visitors at school board meetings can receive a boxed lunch.

The Traverse City Record Eagle, "Officials dig into free meals at meetings," May 12, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible Public School Districts," Dec. 3, 2002