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