Ann Arbor City Council tweaks rules regarding council emails again
Ann Arbor City Council members may have been a bit overzealous in their attempts to be transparent about emails exchanged during council meetings.
After tightening the rules around emailing during council meetings over the past two years, council members realized even third-party communications unrelated to city business were showing up as public record in the council's meeting minutes.
Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, gave an overview of a new change in the council's rules this week, saying there's been "an overabundance of communication" included in the meeting minutes. He said that has included emails about social matters, constituent matters and other third-party matters entirely unrelated to the meetings.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The council voted unanimously at Monday's meeting to tweak its rules to state that electronic communication sent and received by a council member during a meeting will be included in the minutes, but the minutes won't include electronic communication received by a council member that clearly does not relate to the subject matter of the meeting.
"What will be different is if your spouse writes and says, 'What time will you be home?' it won't be included," said Mayor John Hieftje.
Before the changes approved Monday night, any email received by a council member during a meeting was included in the published meeting minutes. Taylor said that didn't seem fair to residents who might be emailing council members about sensitive matters unrelated to the meeting with no reasonable expectation that their email would be made public.
Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, clarified for the benefit of the public that the change does not pertain to emails sent by council members.
"If a council member sends an email during the meeting, that and the email chain will still appear in the minutes," she said.
Following a City Council email scandal in 2009 that led to a lawsuit against the city and contributed to a council member being voted out of office, there was a flurry of debate in the community over the appropriateness of electronic deliberations during council meetings.
Council emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in 2009 revealed evidence that council members scripted votes, took cheap shots at each other and quietly reached decisions on controversial matters by discussing agenda items via email during meetings.
A new rule implemented by the City Council in 2009 effectively banned the exchange of emails during meetings with few exceptions.
The council tweaked its own rules again in 2010 and added language that council members must use the city's email system — not personal email accounts — for city business.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.