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Posted on Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 5:58 a.m.

Council e-mails: Ann Arbor residents file FOIA requests for more messages

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council last month rejected a proposal to create an online public database of past e-mails exchanged between council members.

Now several Ann Arbor residents have taken it upon themselves to file a flurry of Freedom of Information Act requests at City Hall, asking officials to turn over copies of hundreds of e-mails from the past three years.


Several residents showed up at the Sept. 21 Ann Arbor City Council meeting to support Mike Anglin's resolution to create an online database of e-mails exchanged between council members. Since the City Council rejected the proposal at that meeting, residents have filed a flurry of FOIA requests with city hall for the e-mails. Ryan J. Stanton |

Since Sept. 25, four days after council voted against Council Member Mike Anglin's e-mail database resolution, there have been at least a dozen separate FOIA requests by residents.

The city is still processing most of those requests and has until next week to respond. The result will be the unearthing of council member e-mails from at least 39 council meetings dating back to early 2007.

"The goal is to do what the city refused to do - to make them available to the public and let people look at them," said Ann Arbor resident Karen Sidney, a certified public accountant and frequent critic of the city's administration.

Sidney and several friends are organizing the effort. They plan to create a Web site to post them for the public.

"We're ultimately going after everything from when they started using laptops at meetings, which is late 2002," Sidney said. "A lot of people are interested in specific dates where maybe they're upset about some development in their neighborhood and they want to know what council talked about on that date when the development was before them during a meeting."

Ann Arbor resident Libby Hunter, a retired music teacher who has serenaded council with criticisms in song form several times this year, passed around a sign-up sheet at the Sept. 21 meeting where Anglin's e-mail resolution was rejected by an 8-3 vote.

Hunter said she's been aggressive in trying to get others to file FOIA requests. She said the group is keeping track of which meetings have been covered so there's no duplication of efforts. filed a FOIA request with the city this month to get copies of all FOIA letters received by the city asking for e-mails. Those who have submitted FOIAs in the last month include: LuAnne Bullington, Libby Hunter, Lynn Meadows, Phyllis Ponvert, Doug White, Karen Deslierres, Shirley Zempel, Daniel Cunningham, Gordon Bigelow, Peggy Rabhi, Laura Lee Hayes and Josephine Rood.

Ann Arbor resident Jack Eaton, a private attorney, said he helped the group craft the FOIA template being used and plans to FOIA some e-mails himself.

"What the e-mails have disclosed to us is they come to the meetings having already decided how they're going to vote and have already discussed it amongst themselves," Eaton said. "What we've seen so far causes us some alarm and we want to know the full extent of it."

The fact that council members have secretly traded e-mails during public meetings was brought to light earlier this year after Noah Hall, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, submitted a FOIA request seeking copies of e-mails from a Feb. 17 meeting.

The e-mails showed council members discussing the proposed Fifth Avenue underground parking structure project behind the scenes. Hall and others are now suing the city claiming that the decisions they made by e-mail violated the state's Open Meetings Act.

City officials said last month it would take bringing Laurie Foondle, the city's former FOIA coordinator, out of retirement to handle the workload of creating an online database of e-mails. Foondle has been working as special projects coordinator in the community services department.

"The requests for FOIAs in the last several months have gone up dramatically and it's having a significant impact on staff resources," said Jayne Miller, the city's community services director. "The volume and complexity of the FOIAs we’re getting are much greater, so it's consuming a considerable amount of staff time."

Miller said Foondle and one other worker in her office are spending almost 100 percent of their time processing FOIA requests right now. Workers in the city attorney's office and information technology departments also are working on the requests.

Anglin, D-5th Ward, said he supports citizens’ efforts to dig up council e-mails.

"There is no other alternative right now and people in the community have decided this is worthwhile," he said. "Apparently there's enough interest in the community to say, 'Let's take a look at this.'"

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



Tue, Oct 20, 2009 : 4:23 p.m.

I have served on a few juries. It must have something to do with paying attention to details, but I am not sure. After 3 posts of telling you that discussing and researching the topic is not in violation of the Open Meetings Act and after posting that "A person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body" as defined by the Open Meetings Act, you accuse me of presuming guilt with no proof, evidence, and for no reason? That's all you can say? Let me get this straight, so far you have been wrong about what the purpose of the Open Meetings Act is for, you stated many times, wrongly I might add, that I keep insisting that discussing issues is a violaiont of the OMA, which you and I both know is not in violation. With all that, now you throw out there that I am presuming guilt with no proof, etc. Can you please point out my presumption of guilt? Again, the purpose of the FOIA is to see IF anything happened. I never said anything did happen. I was just merely pointing out why something like that would have been filed. According to your thinking "what ifs lead to nowhere." Based on that logic then what is the point of having any kind of investigation because "what ifs" is a waste of time and money? The purpose of an investigation is to find out if this "what if" is plausible or if that "what if" should be thrown out, etc. Wow with your logic, nothing would be investigated and we would live looking through rose colored glasses!

B. Corman

Tue, Oct 20, 2009 : 11:27 a.m.

I would hate to see you ever serve on a jury. You presume guilt with no proof, no evidence and for no reason. What ifs lead to nowhere and waste money and time. You are no longer searching for a needle in the haystack that you once thought was there; you are now trying to carve a needle from a piece of hay.


Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 5:19 p.m.

Wow, thanks for saying "Elected officials have always lobbied each other and discussed issues with each other." Which looks and sounds a lot like what I had written "The elected officials CAN research and discuss the topic at hand." That is not illegal nor is it in violation. Please show me where I said discussing it is illegal or in violation? So we agree on that! Now you are getting to the heart of the matter by saying "There has been NO emails that I have seen..." That is why the FOIA was filed. To SEE if there was a violation. What I had written earlier was "If the council members met beforehand, behind closed doors, and came to their decisions on how they were going to vote then that is in direct violation of the Open Meetings Act. Therefore, if a council member became upset because someone "changed" their vote then it is quite obvious that they already had an agreement on how they were going to vote." Now read it carefully, it says "if" they met behind closed doors and came to a decision." The key word is "IF" at this point neither you nor I know IF that happened. That is why a FOIA was filed to see IF that happened. AGAIN, so that we are clear, discussing it is not a violation of the Open Meetings Act. This is the third post I have said that!

B. Corman

Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 4:11 p.m.

@maallen- There is this little thing called a quorum that you just don't comprehend. Elected officials have always lobbied each other and discussed issues with each other before a vote in every branch of government. That is NOT illegal or in violation of the OMA or ever has been illegal or in violation of the OMA. You keep insisting that it is but it is NOT! There has been NO emails that I have seen released to date that shows a quorum. Two or three councilmembers discussing an issue IS NOT A VIOLATION OF THE OMA.


Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 3:48 p.m.

B. Corman, apparently you missed what I said "The elected officials CAN research and discuss the topic at hand, but they are NOT allowed to make decisions "behind closed doors." I don't quite understand why you keep saying "to want the elected officials to have NO knowledge or discussion of an issue before deliberation is plain stupid." No one is saying that. They have every right to discuss and research it. They just can't meet and make a decision on it and that is why the FOIA was filed. To see if that happened. Meaning, a decision was made without hearing the public's input. The Open Meetings Act defines a "meeting" as "the convening of a public body at which a quorum is present for the purpos of DELIBERATING toward or RENDERING a decision..." OMA simply states: "All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public." "All deliberations of a public body constituting a quorom shall take place at a meeting open to the public." And it goes on to say, "A person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body..." at the meeting. Therefore, the OMA is to hear the public. Heck, if it wasn't to hear the public then I wouldn't have had to participate and speak at so many of them! Again, based on what you had said earlier, "some previously released emails have shown some councilmembers getting mad at others for changing their votes at the table..." could be in violation of the OMA. That is the purpose of the FOIA. Again, to reiterate, no one is saying that they can't discuss and do research beforehand. I have no idea where you are getting that from. No one is saying that they can't have NO knowledge of the topic at hand. Even my original post addressed that.

B. Corman

Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 1:10 p.m.

Ed, I actually disagree. No where in the OMA does it say the public PARTICIPATES in the DECISION. It allows for a public hearing so that the elected officials can take in the public viewpoint or information and use this viewpoint/information when making their decision. The public does not vote, the elected officials vote. We live in a republic, where out elected officials make decisions on behalf of their constituents; not a democracy, where 51% of the public who bothers to care at the time makes a decision. That is why I say that the purpose of the OMA is to witness, not to participate. Maybe it is only semantics, but if you want to say that the OMA secures public participation in the OMA, it is really only to guarantee them a place to speak DURING the process not to decide IN the process. I still think it is simply ignorant to actually believe anyone, whether it is a board member, committee member, elected official etc., comes into a discussion without knowing somehwhat which way they are going to vote beforehand. The process works, because simply as I said before if new relevant information is presented that is persuading, the elected officials do change their minds. We get better decisions and better government with informed and educated elected officials.

B. Corman

Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 12:29 p.m.

@maallen-The OMA says that they cannot meet in a QUORUM and make a final decision before the deliberation. They are allowed to discuss with each other on a one on one basis and to formulate thoughts and opinion on an issue. The reality is that most people do know before they sit down at the table how they are going to vote, but always know they have the option to change their mind. To think otherwise is simply naive. To want the elected officials to have NO knowledge or discussion of an issue before deliberation would be detrimental to the city and all public processes. NOTHING would ever get done and postponed indefinitely due to not enough information. Do you really think congress or our state government shows up to vote without having individual discussions beforehand? The purpose of the OMA is not to hear the public; that is the purpose of a public hearing. A public hearing is used to help the elected official understand the publics viewpoint on the matter and to incorporate that information into their decision if relevant. The purpose of the OMA is to have a public record of the reasoning used by the elected officials in how they made their final decision. This is final deliberations, not total thought process. It is a record to show the public why the elected official voted a specific way and the arguments used to persuade others to their thinking. There is not requirement that says the thought process should be or is regulated. Maybe if people such as you understood this concept, then the rest of us in the city would not have to put up with this nonsense. The OMA is not there for you to participate in, it is there so you can witness why a decision is made.


Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 10:42 a.m.

B. Corman, it seems that you are not aware how the Open Meetings Act works. The elected officials CAN research and discuss the topic at hand, but they are NOT allowed to make a decision "behind closed doors." Which seems to have happened based on what you wrote "Some previously released emails have shown some councilmemebrs getting mad at others for changing their votes at the table; votes that were lobbied for and against before deliberation." That in itself is a violation of the "Open Meetings Act." If the council members met beforehand, behind closed doors, and came to their decisions on how they were going to vote then that is in direct violation of the Open Meetings Act. Therefore, if a council member became upset because someone "changed" their vote then it is quite obvious that they already had an agreement on how they were going to vote. So, if that was the case, then what would be the purpose of hearing the public speak? The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to hear the public, the people that voted them into that position, hear what they have to say and then come to a decision on how to proceed forward based on what the public said and their own research of the topic. In no way, shape, or form can the council members meet beforehand to decide on how they are going to vote. That happens during the Open Meeting in front of the public. That is the purpose of the FOIA request.


Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 8:57 a.m.

I don't understand why council wouldn't release the e-mails, if there is nothing to hide?? Maybe council should adopt the Mary Woods amendment(she was Nixon's secretary would erased tapes for him) These "of the record" chats are illegal and should have the light of day shone upon them!!! Gheez and their mostly Democrats...they should be ashamed!!!

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 6:45 a.m.

I wonder what the council has to hide? To think these people are beyond corruption is naive. Especially given that so few votes are needed for them to get reelected that they really aren't accountable to their constituents and they know it.


Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 10:30 p.m.

While I can understand why people might think this is a waste of time and money, I can also see why these emails should be made public especially those written DURING counsel meetings. We'll see where this goes but I have to say, I'd rather have transparency than a return, even if its virtual, to a backroom deal-making process.


Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 9:03 p.m.

Maybe this is a waste of taxpayer money, but isn't that what government does best? I would much rather have my tax dollars spent on making my government more transparent then most of what my government does. Besides isn't this kind of spending good for the local economy? Asking for transparency in local government is not too much to ask for. Go ahead and blow my $


Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 7:05 p.m.

Blake_138....exactamundo...can I get a wake up call when there is actually some "news"....not "olds"...

Matt Hampel

Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 12:54 p.m.

I'm generally in favor of government transparency, but I don't understand how this digging is helpful. The real benefit might be as an archive for some historian 20 years now, or maybe a College-level municipal government class. Or as a case study in distributed work for a media theorist.


Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 12:07 p.m.

I agree with B. Corman, well said.

Cartman's Conscious

Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 12:04 p.m.

Quick! Wipe the server and then start using clandestine meetings in smoke filled backrooms.

Marvin Face

Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 11:14 a.m.

I'm pretty much outraged at this unbelievable waste of taxpayer money so that these folks can get their jollies at reading some silly emails. I imagine that these same folks voraciously read the latest breathless tell-all novels out there that dig up all the dirt on Hollywood B-list celebs.. What these folks don't understand is that they are forcing more of the discussion behind closed doors and out of public view. Council (and others) will increasingly have their conversations in private, arrange votes in private, and they will make darn sure that nothing of substance is emailed or stored electronically.. I am fine with all this. I don't want or need to see how the sausage is made. I just know that there are people out there that need to know EVERYTHING and that while they might get to read some emails now, they will have less and less to see in the future.. Seems pretty selfish to me.


Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 11:10 a.m.

I second what B. Corman writes about the email issues. I am not so upset about Ann writing about it, though. We should make each council person keep a thought log on each of the issues that are before them. They would go something like this. Monday 8-13 I will vote for the issue. Tuesday 8-14, met with constituents, will vote against the issue. Wednesday, 8-15, talked to my Doctor, will vote for the issue again, blah, blah, blah. It used to be that smoke filled rooms, Larcom building hallways, elevators, and offices were where our elected representatives talked about issues before them on their way to the final vote. Now they have used email and their thoughts to each other are part of the public record and their discussions will be unearthed, even if it breaks the city budget. Memo to all council members, be sure to destroy all post-its and note pads before leaving the council chambers (you may have to eat them). They could be used against you by the PC FOIA watchers who have nothing else to do in their lives but uncover the deep council conspiracies and un-PC leanings of the members.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 9:30 a.m.

It's too bad that council didn't pass the Anglin-Briere resolution. It called for an orderly rollout of this material. Ultimately the cost of this approach will probably be higher.

B. Corman

Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 9:28 a.m.

This ridiculousness has got to stop. Stop wasting my tax dollars on your silly vendetta. To actually say that our elected officials cannot research, discuss or consider a decision before they come to the table is just plain stupid. IMO. Jack Eaton and others in the story have got to stop their personal vendetta; this vendetta now affects the rest of us because of the silly waste of dollars. I WANT the elected officials to think about, research, and even change their minds back and forth until they are sure of what are the consequences and benefits of a decision before they come to the table. The table is for the elected officials to lie out their reasoning pro or con for their decision. The table is where the public gets to throw in their opinion and try to persuade the elected official. The table is for the last chance for each councilmember to persuade other councilmembers to agree with their viewpoint. In fact some of the released emails have already shown this. Some previously released emails have shown some councilmemebrs getting mad at others for changing their votes at the table; votes that were lobbied for and against before deliberation. Doesnt that SHOW that the councilmembers are independent and, that they are listening to discussion and considering all arguments. The table is NOT for learning about an issue for the first time so it can be postponed indefinitely. Nothing would ever get done. Without discussion beforehand, our governmental decisions will be voted on at whim without actual education or real discussion. The OMA act is about watching the final decision take place, it is about hearing the reasoning behind the elected official's decision. It is NOT about being the thought police in the heads of the elected official, watching how many times a person toggled back and forth on the decision, what they considered and whom they talked to. I am tired of these 10-15 people making such a large issue about this. And I am especially tired and quite disappointed in for their constant and continuous coverage of this issue. These 10-15 people should not have such a large public presence in your newspaper. They are conservative politicos purposely trying to rip our government apart. We the residents will suffer if we continue to put up with their nonsense. The students who were protesting for their right to party have a bigger presence in society (numbers of people) supporting them, but I doubt their cause will get almost daily coverage at as the FOIA requesters do. Students dont sell newspapers. I am definitely considering canceling my subscription.


Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 9:16 a.m.

This is a waste of time and money and will put a chilling effect on the communications between council members. The wackos need to relax and let the council do their work.