You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 7:32 a.m.

Mike Anglin proposes creation of online database of council member e-mails dating back to 2000

By Ryan J. Stanton

E-mail exchanges between Ann Arbor City Council members during public meetings could soon be a thing of the past.

City Councilman Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, announced at Monday's meeting that he will be bringing forward a resolution to ban the practice. In addition, he will ask the city's staff to create an online database where members of the public can sift through all e-mails traded by council members dating back to 2000.

In response to Anglin's comments, Councilwoman Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, said the city's Rules Committee will be bringing forward proposed changes to City Council rules for consideration Sept. 8. She said some of the concerns Anglin raised are addressed in the rule changes.


“I think the Rules Committee is going to say, 'No more e-mailing, period,' which would be good,” Anglin said. “But with the old e-mails, what we're looking at is, rather than people FOIA the exact e-mail, this would say that we as a council have agreed to let the public have this.”

City council members have been the subject of public scrutiny in recent months for e-mails exchanged during public meetings. The emails became a campaign issue in the primary and were often cited by opponents of Councilman Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, who was ousted by just six votes.

A new lawsuit against the city alleges Ann Arbor council members violated the state's Open Meetings Act on Feb. 17 when they traded e-mails with each other that discussed whether they supported postponing a downtown parking garage project until the environmental impact could be determined.

“It was determined through this private e-mail discussion which City Council members opposed postponement and which members supported postponement and what would be the likely result of a vote on the matter,” the lawsuit states. “Having made these determinations in private, a motion for postponement was never brought or publicly discussed and voted on by the full City Council in open as required by the Open Meetings Act.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center joined with two downtown businesses to file the lawsuit, which claims the city also violated the Freedom of Information Act when, in response to a FOIA request, the city refused to provide the e-mails.

Council members went into closed session Monday night to discuss next steps in the lawsuit, which was filed last week.

“When the e-mails first appeared, it was just jocular, but now there is a lawsuit against the city based upon them, so I think it's very important for us to move forward and hopefully we can improve transparency,” Anglin said. “We have over a $7 million budget in IT and we probably have the potential to find these (e-mails dating back to 2000).”

Councilman Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, said he appreciates the intent of Anglin's proposal, but he questions the cost. In the spirit of transparency, Rapundalo added that he presumes Anglin will be turning over e-mails he's sent using his private e-mail account.

Rapundalo noted Anglin's notice to the city clerk about putting forward an e-mail resolution came from a private account.

"In the spirit of transparency, that should be available as well," Rapundalo said.

Anglin said he thinks there's a high level of public interest in the e-mails and making them available without the public having to FOIA them is good open government.

“I think there's a question mark. People are saying, 'Is this a serious thing, or is it not?' And that's an important thing to clarify,” he said. "What is the cost of a good democracy?”


Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 2:06 p.m.

In my post I meant ONE MEMBER of Council, not SOME MEMBERS of Council had a 6% decrease in his property taxes (while most houses in his immedidate area had INCREASES). I didn't look up all ten members, just one. Sorry for the typo.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 9:14 a.m.

To insure we have a transparent government, I too believe that the emails should be released. I'm unfamiliar with the current law at the state and municipal levels, but we need to make sure that the conducting of government business does not shift to private email accounts. The Anchorage Superior Court recently ruled that Gov. Palin's use of private email accounts to conduct state business was legal because there was no law on the books to prohibit their use [See NYTimes article.]


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 8:51 a.m.

You first, Mr Rapundalo. Put your private emails out before you ask anyone else. Council will build a new $50 million city hall, and a $55 million parking structure, give really nice perks and parachutes to top administrators and even with a $7 million budget in IT, it would still be TOO EXPENSIVE? Like the Burns Park Senio Center? Since when has city council found things to be too expensive? How much does it cost to restore some trust in government? Mike is probably the one council member with the least to lose. His constituents support him in his efforts.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

So we don't have an money for democracy Mr. Rapundalo? That's funny, my Summer propety taxes actually increased this year, even with falling property values. Not sure why some members of council's Summer taxes DECREASED 6%. Maybe, 'in the spirit of transparency', you could look into that for us?

glenn thompson

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 5:57 p.m.

In response to Kate, I believe there are state requirements for local governmental electronic record keeping. I don't remember the time period, but I am sure it is years, not months. Mr Rapundalo's diversion is of course, just that. The issue is emails during Council meetings. At least a few months ago it was impossible to get a web connection from the council chambers other than through the city system. Therefore any communication between council members during the council meetings would pass through the city server and should be archived. This is all I believe Mike Anglin requests.

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 5:17 p.m.

Perhaps could file a FOIA request for all email messages dating back to 2000 and post them on their site.


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 3:27 p.m.

Email from as far back as 2000? Not likely. I think most organizations keep email records for 6 months to a year? Perhaps it's different for government email...Either way, it's a simple process to retrieve email messages - cost shouldn't be an issue at all. As far having an online archive of the materials, a simple database would suffice/be cheap...just need the space for it and the initial set-up.

Duane Collicott

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 12:35 p.m.

If the cost is a problem, I think we could easily find a collection of citizen geeks who would do this as volunteers and would be more than capable of doing it.

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 11:34 a.m.

"Councilman Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, said he appreciates the intent of Anglin's proposal, but he questions the cost." Rapundalo questions the COST? You must be kidding! After wasting council meeeting time with his third grade messages, on a computer WE bought with our tax dollars, he thinks it will cost too much to release past messaages? What about the lawsuit he is now responsible for by his secretive email--if the city loses or even if it wins, who pays for THOSE costs of his poor judgement? Rapundalo is part of the problem and still doesn't get it.