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Posted on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 11:15 a.m.

New rule bans e-mail exchanges between Ann Arbor City Council members during meetings

By Ryan J. Stanton

In recent months, the quiet exchange of e-mails between Ann Arbor City Council members has led to a lawsuit against the city, a council member being voted out of office and a flurry of debate over the legality of unseen electronic deliberations during public meetings.

Now it's the subject of a new council rule: No more e-mails, with few exceptions.

The City Council voted 11-0 on Tuesday to approve changes recommended by the council's Rules Committee. Under a section about council member conduct, the rules now state: "During Council meetings, members shall not send electronic communication to persons other than City Staff; provided however, that members may send draft motions, resolutions, and amendments to all members."

That rule goes on to read: "Members shall not respond to member-distributed draft language via electronic communication. All draft language sent by electronic communication during Council meetings shall be read into the record prior to discussion by Council."

Essentially, the rule puts an end to the sometimes snarky and joke-filled e-mails some council members have made a habit of exchanging with each other during meetings. It also puts an end to behind-the-scenes deliberations in which council members have traded e-mails discussing items pending before the council.

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and two local businesses last month filed suit against the city, alleging that council members violated the state's Open Meetings Act by secretly e-mailing each other during a discussion on the proposed $59 million underground parking structure being built on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

"The committee had quite the discussion about it," Councilwoman Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, said of the e-mail issue. She said it was something brought to the attention of the Rules Committee.

Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, another member of the Rules Committee, pointed out the rules don't address matters of ethics. She said a separate ethics policy would be needed if desired by the council.

"This is not about how council members conduct themselves, and I wanted to make that clear because I think there are some people in the public who are expecting council rules to deal with ethics," Briere said.

Councilman Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, will mark an end to his six years on the City Council in November - in part thanks to e-mails he exchanged during council meetings over the past year. Several voters in last month's primary, in which Greden was ousted by challenger Stephen Kunselman by six votes, said they were voting against Greden because of e-mails he sent.

Greden has apologized for the e-mails and acknowledged a lapse in judgment. The e-mails were made public by the news media through the Freedom of Information Act.

Kunselman has vowed to bring forward an ethics policy when he takes office to restore the public trust in city government.

Councilman Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, reminded fellow council members Tuesday night that he plans to bring forward a resolution about e-mails at the next council meeting Sept. 21. He's asking the city's staff to create a free online database where citizens can sift through all e-mails traded by council members dating back several years. He said it's about one thing: transparency.

Ryan Stanton covers government for He can be reached at or 734-623-2529.



Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 10:34 a.m.

Why not focus on real and serious issues instead of Mickey Mouse "issues" that just make the self important busy bodies feel like they're important? It's 2009. 10 years from now... shoot, 5 years from now this will be a wacky quirk of history that will make modern day folk shake their head. I know! Let's have a resolution that hooks everyone on council up to lie detectors so we can tell in real time what they're really thinking! This issue has been and always will be Wingnut silliness. Maybe next we can pass a resolution to keep Terri Shiavo on life support.


Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 9:24 p.m.

Why not just speak openly and honestly amongst each other and the public on the topic under discussion?


Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 8:26 p.m.

This is silly... these people are adults and to think that banning emails will be effective is childish. Why not start passing notes to each other if you cant send a message electronically.


Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 3:45 p.m.

I'm a voter in what is now Kunselman's district. I attended a city council meeting, before the story about the emails came out, and when it did, it was no surprise. The behavior of the members at that meeting, particularly Greden, left little doubt in my mind that those who took time to attend the meeting were being put down. Body language told the story. Juvenile behavior, at best. Insulting to those who cared enough to attend the meeting. (Illegal, too, it turns out). Some people were glad to have Obama elected because he was seen as a serious adult. Sending snarky emails and snickering behind people's backs is typical of middle school kids. It's good to have a grownup representing me now at the national and this very local level. May we have more in the future. With our collapsing economy and its severe impact on the function of our government, one thing we need is some gravitas. Bring on the grownups, please.

Marvin Face

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 3:26 p.m.

This policy is lazy-mans council work. Extremely low hanging fruit if there ever was any. I expect more of this cherry-picking in the future from Kunselman, Briere, and Anglin as they busy themselves with policies like this (chickens, ethics, etc.) that they understand. Who will do the complicated and dirty work of council now? The work that has to be done out of public view? The heavy lifting?


Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 2:43 p.m.

I'm underwhelmed by their gesture. Let's hear the debate and how long it takes for council to establish an ethic policy.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 11:53 a.m.

""The committee had quite the discussion about it," Councilwoman Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, said of the e-mail issue. She said it was something brought to the attention of the Rules Committee." Ms. Higgins still refuses to comment on why she emailed the City Clerk during a Council meeting requesting information about who had filed to run against her in the August Democratic Primary and the November election, using her city owned laptop for her personal political campaign. If we have one million dollars to pay for the German water garden at the new Police-Courts building, why not the funds to open up all past council emails to public view?


Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 11:09 a.m.

I noticed that last night's City Council meeting wrapped up at a more reasonable hour. I wonder if that is because there was no electronic banter to distract from the business - and real communication - at hand?

Matt Van Auker

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 10:27 a.m.

Go, Kunselman, Go!!! I can't believe we let them get away with that.

Duane Collicott

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 10:27 a.m.

I'm glad they had the sense to use the term, "electronic communication," rather than "e-mails." This rules out what would have been the the loopholes of IM, Facebook, etc.