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Posted on Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 5:55 a.m.

Ann Arbor City Council e-mail scandal topic of 4th Ward race

By Ryan J. Stanton

A scandal over e-mails traded among Ann Arbor City Council members during meetings has already contributed to the ouster of one longtime council member.

Whether it will have any impact on another council member’s bid to keep her seat remains to be seen. Voters will decide Nov. 3 between Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, and independent challenger Hatim Elhady.

Higgins, who has served on council since 1999, is defending herself against charges by her opponent that she participated in backroom deals and snarky chatter with other council members during meetings.

Several of the e-mails that have surfaced involve messages traded between Higgins and Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward. Greden often started the electronic deliberations that led to quiet discussions of issues before the council, vote scripting and sometimes rude remarks about other people at meetings.

Greden was voted out of office in the August Democratic primary by six votes. Many residents leaving the polls cited the e-mail scandal as a reason for voting against him.

Higgins, 59, said she couldn’t comment on the e-mails because they’re the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against the city. But she said she doesn’t think her opponent makes a valid complaint.


Marcia Higgins

“This is really for the voters to decide,” Higgins said, speaking generally of the 4th Ward race. “I think all you can do is look at what I’ve done, how I’ve served them. I think this is a job you learn through experience and I’ve been a very active community member for a long time.”

Elhady, a University of Michigan student majoring in economics, called the e-mails immature.

“I’m 23 years old and I know that’s just unacceptable - inexcusable - for the incumbent and for any other council members involved in the e-mailing scandal,” he said. “I believe it is something they need to take responsibility for and apologize.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is suing Ann Arbor, claiming council members violated the Open Meetings Act by secretly trading e-mails with each other about a $50 million parking structure project. has obtained records from a Feb. 17 meeting that show Higgins and Greden exchanging several e-mails discussing the project and determining how they planned to vote on the issue.

“Please don’t vote with the moron,” Greden wrote to Higgins, referring to another council member.

“I’m not voting against the site plan. I probably (will) vote against Sandi’s amendment,” Higgins responded, referring to Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward.

“This is why we have time limits for speaking,” Higgins wrote to Greden a few minutes later while someone unnamed was making comments.

Elhady says Higgins has communicated poorly with 4th Ward residents. He said his top priority is restoring transparency and trust in city government.


Hatim Elhady

Higgins, an administrative assistant at the University of Michigan, lists her accomplishments as working with residents on the deteriorating Georgetown Mall, sponsoring legislation to create Dicken Woods, leading the downtown rezoning process and co-sponsoring legislation to create the Germantown historic district study committee. She has been chairwoman of the city’s A2D2 Steering Committee, which is working on new design guidelines for downtown.

Higgins said she is proud to have worked over the years on the reorganization of city government. She said top priorities now include updating the city’s zoning codes and addressing budget challenges.

“These are difficult times,” she said. “My No. 1 priority has been the budget for a long time and making sure we’re providing quality services for our residents, and that we have a reserve amount that keeps us solvent.”

Elhady, who will graduate in December with an economics degree, said he plans to lobby for better prioritization of city spending.

“That means choosing to fund necessities over luxuries,” he said. “A prime example of this is the Stadium bridge, our infrastructure, and the police-courts building. The police-courts building is a luxury. The Stadium bridge, our infrastructure, is a necessity.”

Higgins said said she’s working to get funding lined up for the East Stadium Boulevard bridge repairs, but funding from the federal government hasn’t been forthcoming.

Higgins and Elhady differ on their stance on a city income tax. Higgins has been among those who’ve pushed for putting it on the ballot; Elhady adamantly opposes the tax.

“I believe the answer is not more revenue. It is more efficiently allocating the dollars,” Elhady said.

“This isn’t a council decision,” Higgins said. “To me, that’s a very personal issue and putting it on the ballot is a way to decide what the voters want.”

Elhady, a political newcomer, has backing from a team of local political activists that includes Ann Arbor residents Karen Sidney, Patricia Lesko, LuAnne Bullington, Jack Eaton, Libby Hunter and Council Member Mike Angin, D-5th Ward. All of them have been working to dig up council e-mails through Freedom of Information Act requests. Lesko, who has been Elhady's campaign manager since late June, said today that though she has submitted FOIAs for e-mails, she is not part of the concerted effort that is in the works.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Nov 2, 2009 : 4:48 p.m.

A reader has pointed out to us that an ad taken out by Elhady's campaign in the Sunday, Nov. 1, print edition of identifies Ethel Potts as a supporter of Elhady and references her as an Ann Arbor Planning Commission member. In fact, she is a former member of that body.

Marvin Face

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 3:44 p.m.

A bit off-topic but I'll chance it. What I find interesting is the splintering of the democrat party here in Ann Arbor. There has been, over the past two years or so, a dramatic uptick in party infighting and the creation of distinct factions. Rather than rallying together for a common cause and pulling in the same direction, it seems to be tearing itself apart.. Some feel they are the "true progressives", some view themselves as more centrists. Each contoversial issue and each election cycle seems to split that party further apart.. I can't help but wonder if this is due to the fact that we have a one-party system in Ann Arbor. If you take the long view, you can see the day coming where the democrat party will not be able to recover from this and there will be a change. Perhaps it will start with a longtime democrat not being happy with the party or unable to gain candidacy and declare as a Republican and win.. It sounds far fetched in a town where G.W. Bush could even be elected if he were registered as a democrat, but I can see the day coming as I watch the increased fighting among people who used to be on the same side.

Patricia Lesko

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 9:37 a.m.

BCorman, What was "admitted" was that Hatim Elhady is taking his run for City Council seriously, as seriously as, say, Ned Staebler, who has hired a campaign strategist to make sure his bid for state office goes as well as it possibly can. That strategy includes media strategy. Picking and choosing how a candidate will give an interview is common. Why don't you just give the White House a buzz and set up the kind of interview YOU WANT with Obama? Call Carl Levin's office and tell his staff what you want. Call Pam Byrnes or Rebekah Warren. Get your.$35 cents out and call Andy Labarre who handles Rep. John Dingell. Elected office is a serious job, and people who take it seriously, take their interactions with the press deadly seriously. I'm a Jew, gay, and 24 years-old than this student-candidate, and I am CONVINCED he is worth the donation of my time and professional efforts: Elhady is committed to progressive politics. He's thoughtful, serious, incredibly bright, and extremely disciplined. People who run for elected office seriously, and who want a chance to win, strategize. You seem very interested in the process, so I hope you do step forward sometime soon.


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 12:46 p.m.

@B.Corman, aahh, got it. Your statements about what Elhady said were exaggerated and not to be taken literally, nor seriously. You stated, "After interviewing candidates for an election, a typical newspaper runs an article comparing/contrasting candidates and their viewpoints. This article was supposed to be that article considering how close it is to the election." "This article was supposed to be that article......?" How the heck did you come up with that statement? The title clearly states what the article is about. But yet you think it was supposed to be about comparing the two candidates. Again where in the world did you get that idea? Why do you overlook what the title says? Typically, there is a purpose to a title for an article. It lets readers know what an article is about. And here you are complaining about how the article "concentrated almost entirely on emails." Well, that's a shocker! Considering that is what the title said the article was about!

B. Corman

Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 11:24 a.m.

@maallen-it is hyperbole based on his statements. After interviewing candidates for an election, a typical newspaper runs an article comparing/contrasting the candidates and their viewpoints. This article was supposed to be that article considering how close it is to the election. They don't write a biased account of an exhausted topic when the readers want real information about the candidates. This is what Judy was trying to do over at the chronicle (see link in post above). But this transparent, and open candidate chose not to be so transparent and open. Makes you wonder why? hhmmm?


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 11:06 a.m.

@B.Corman you said " In fact your story concentrated almost entirely on emails and nothing else." Ummm.... Corman, you did see the title of the article didn't you? It was "Ann Arbor City Council e-mail scandal topic of 4th Ward race." So why would you expect it to be a story on something else? That is called "truth in advertising." I would have hated to read the article and find out that it didn't have anything to do with the title! Yikes! Now, I don't know who Elhady is from Adam, but Mr. Corman since you are making accusations that Mr. Elhady said this or that can you please back them up? You said that Mr. Elhady said "I know best." Where did he say this? You also stated that Mr. Elhady said "the public does not need to know my viewpoints." Can you please show me where and when he said this?

B. Corman

Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 10:10 a.m.

Ryan, has it occurred to you that Elhady's refusal to talk to other media sources besides you is not a complement but rather makes you look biased. Elhady spoke with you because he knew you were sympathetic to his false accusations and would print them regardless if they had merit. In fact your story concentrated almost entirely on emails and nothing else. While Higgins may not have given you a shorter amount of time for the interview, given her difficult situation I would think that any time would have been appreciated by you. A candidate who runs a platform of transparency and openness and then intentionally hides from the press, which is in fact hiding from the public, should be held accountable. Lesko admmited that this was strategy, not a error, on the chronicle comments. It is disingenuous and hypocritical. Elhady is now consistently showing his true colors. He does not want to listen or communicate with constituents. He just wants to fool the public long enough into thinking that he actually has principles when now we know he does not. Elhady says: No, don't let the voters have a say about the income tax, i know best. No, I won't talk to the press...the public does not need to know my viewpoints. I will supply them with rhetoric about ethics and transparency and openness even though I don't actually stand for any of it. What ever happened to truth in advertising. should stand behind journalistic standards instead of saying "well WE got the interview so who cares". You should have a higher standard and you should care that you wrote an extremely biased article about a candidate who has proven to be disingenuous and a hypocrite.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 11:28 p.m.

@B.Corman now we get to the root of the matter. You are correct when you say "IMO two people talking with email is equivalent to two people whispering at the table or getting up from the table to have a private discussion." It is your opinion. Now, you seem so sure that there was no violation, but yet have no proof. As I keep telling you, the FOIA was filed to see if there was any violation. But you keep insisting that there wasn't. How do you know? Were you there all the time?

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 8:27 p.m.

@CDBF That video is two minutes of a lengthier interview we did with Elhady in our office last week. I won't try to tell you how sausage is made, but every news video you've ever watched has been diced and sliced and chopped down to the highlights from at least 10x the amount of footage you see. Hopefully it serves as a good introduction to the candidate in case you've never met him. We did similar videos of all five candidates who ran in the primary. There would be a video of Marcia Higgins right next to Elhady's had she not declined our offer for a video interview. And no, we have not endorsed any candidate in this race.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 7:54 p.m.

So, Ryan's video was news? Was it an interview? It certainly was heavily edited. It played more like a political commercial to me. Has endorsed Mr. Elhady?

Patricia Lesko

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 4:17 p.m.

Thanks, Ryan.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 3:55 p.m.

Please note that I added a sentence at the end of the story to clarify that Patricia Lesko, who has been Elhady's campaign manager since late June, told today that though she has submitted FOIAs for e-mails, she is not part of the concerted effort that is in the works.

David Cahill

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 2:56 p.m.

Well, all I can say is that if every court that has considered the issue has concluded the law was violated, "in a fight between you and the world, back the world." 8-)


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 2:02 p.m.

E-MAIL SCANDAL???This is so not newsworthy...are people trying to be more like Detroit by having an electronic "scandal"? If the politicians have done something illegal, put them on trial, if they've done something unethical, vote them out...but stop already with all of the drama!

B. Corman

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 12:33 p.m.

@David Cahill- IMO two people talking with email is equivalent to two people whispering at the table or getting up from the table to have a private discussion; both which have always gone on at every level of open meetings in the past, in local, state and federal government. Our council has not done anything differently than any other civic body. You keep insisting that they are violating the OMA; this is not true for how the act is currently written or interpreted. Claiming that a court might overturn the current interpretation is wishful thinking and not based on current facts or logic.

David Cahill

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 11:53 a.m.

B. Corman, let me say a bit more about the Open Meetings Act. Before the lawsuit over the underground parking structure, which includes OMA claims, I met with Noah Hall, who run the Great Lakes Environment Law Center, and is an attorney. He said our meeting was not confidential. He said the GLELC had done collected the various court rulings in all the states that had "sunshine acts" similar to Michigan's Open Meetings Act. He said that in every state in which courts had ruled, they had decided that such secret e-mail exchanges at a public meeting *did* violate the sunshine act in that state. Michigan doesn't happen to have a court ruling that addresses this issue. But, if Mr. Hall is right, then Michigan courts will probably conclude that secret e-mail exchanges, even though a quorum does not participate in the exchanges, are violations of our own OMA.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 11:42 a.m.

I don't care about the OMA in this instance. What the people of Ann Arbor want and deserve are elected officials who are honest and not afraid to really say where they stand on an issue and not hide behind the FOIA or figure out ways to skirt the OMA. We deserve elected officials who will honestly say that they haven't made up their mind or need more discussion instead of hemming, hawing and talking around the issue when they have already decided. We deserve elected officials who will debate out in the open instead of those who prefer to pass notes and rig politically expeditious votes to cover each others backsides.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 10:55 a.m.

Mr Corman. Thanks for sharing the link the Chronicle story. As a general rule of thumb, it's good for readers to have a variety of sources of information. I will say, however, that the Chronicle's account is entirely the opposite of what we experienced at Elhady was more than willing to come in and sit down with us (see the video interview embedded above), and it took great efforts on our part just to get Higgins on the phone for 10 minutes, and she wasn't able to speak face to face with us. Of course, we understand her predicament and are sympathetic. But I'm surprised to hear the Chronicle had trouble talking to Elhady.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 10:41 a.m.

Is this an unimaginable scenario? Hieftje: "Hey, there are too many of us here talking about this issue". Greden; "Yeah, someone has to leave so we don't have a quorum and have to take minutes". Marcia, could you leave the room for a few minutes?" Greden: "You told us how you're going to vote in this in the email you sent a few minutes ago, so it's ok if you leave. At least the moron and the other dim bulbs won't be able to FOIA this conversation". Taylor: "Dim bulbs, yeah, heh heh". Greden: "Close the door behind you, Marcia. Oh, and delete that email so nobody will be able to read it, ok? Now, where are those buildings and that money?"

B. Corman

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 10 a.m.

@David Cahill- no, David, a quorum was not present by email where the discussion was alleged to take place. For a more realistic and a fresher perspective on the race read the chronicle below: I think it truly shows you the type of person Elhady really is.

David Cahill

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 9:45 a.m.

B. Corman, a quorum *was* present during the public Council meeting. The secret e-mail exchanges were during that meeting, so the Open Meetings Act applies. Don't blame for the pro-Elhady coverage. Its reporters are doing a professional job. If they feel that the e-mails are the big issue, then that's probably what they're hearing from grass-roots Fourth Warders. I will note that Elhady hasn't been running on the e-mails, according to what is on his web site.

B. Corman

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 8:47 a.m.

Here we go again...a group of ten people are still trying to run our city in to the ground by backing an inferior candidate so that they can unseat someone who actually does the work. Elhady does not even care enough about the voters to give them say on whether Ann Arbor should have a vote on income tax, where YOU get a say. Do you really thinks that represents a person who wants to listen to the voters? Listening to the voters is just another tag line by this group of ten who are trying to push their private agenda using Elhady as their puppet. And now this group of ten appears to be using the as their puppet also. To allow a false accusation to be constantly thrown at a candidate when there is no violation is not good journalism. There is NO quorum present. There needs to be a quorum present for this to be considered in violation of the OMA. Why do you always omit that from your story? There has been no OMA violation; there never has been one. This group supporting Elhady is just trying to make it look like there was one for their own political purposes. They are the ones playing the political games. They have gone from looking for a needle in the haystack to trying to carve a needle from a piece of hay. Ann Arbor, don't be fooled.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 8:36 a.m.

The comments below are an indication of what Higgins, Greden and others think about other council persons (MIke Anglin, the "moron") and of people who speak before council. None of these people have the guts to actually say these things in public much less face to face. They would rather smile and say nice things in public while they say nasty things about other people on their city owned and operated computers. This is the ultimate in arrogance. Wouldn't we be better served by electing people who actually speak openly, honestly and with respect for others instead of talking out of both sides of their mouths? Please dont vote with the moron, Greden wrote to Higgins, referring to another council member. Im not voting against the site plan. I probably (will) vote against Sandis amendment, Higgins responded, referring to Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward. This is why we have time limits for speaking, Higgins wrote to Greden a few minutes later while someone unnamed was making comments."

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 7:49 a.m.

Ward Boundaries


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 7:39 a.m.

How can I find out what district I live in?