On looking for an official public meeting notice and not finding it
I missed the special meeting of the Ann Arbor DDA board today. That's OK; our government reporter Ryan Stanton was there to cover it with his story: Ann Arbor DDA takes two steps forward on Fifth Avenue underground parking structure project.
But how I managed to miss it, and what it took to find the public posting that announced the meeting, is a story worth relating.
I showed up at the DDA offices at a few minutes after noon, and I saw that the meeting room had been set up - but no one was there. Puzzled, I walked back to the offices to see if anyone was there and was told the meeting time of this special meeting was 1:30 p.m. Typically, DDA meetings involving the full board are held at noon.
I asked the obvious question: How was I, as a member of the public, supposed to know this? There was no notice of a public meeting posted in the DDA offices, no agenda, not even a sign that said "next public meeting at ...". I was told these notices were published at city hall.
City hall is only a few blocks away from the DDA, so I went there to look. I saw the big glass board that has all the notices of meetings in it, but there was no notice of today's meeting - just a notice of all of the annual meetings for that group, with a phone number to call for special and committee meetings. So I called, and the person I talked to in person at the DDA - Joan Lyke - said she'd be right over to help me find it.
If you haven't been to city hall in some time, you wouldn't know there's a tack board to the left of the entrance on the wall as you come in. On this tack board, you'll find all manner of notices - notices of lawsuits, legal notices, meeting announcements, meeting cancellations, and for all I know (though I did not verify) it would be reasonable to find notices of vegan potlucks or dinette sets for sale.
It's kind of like city government's very own version of Craigslist, all available for public perusal, paper tacked up to look at or take with you or leave something there. And when Joan came by, she helpfully and graciously pointed out that the DDA special meeting notice was there for anyone to see - as long as you knew to look at the far right of the tack board, down behind a taxicab board notice.
To be fair, it's a small matter. I could have looked at the DDA's Web site, which clearly stated the date. I could have asked the DDA to send me notices by email. It's entirely possible it was in my inbox or I had seen it somewhere online. But not everyone in this town has email, or even has access to the Internet in any convenient way, and some of those people might have their only convenient way of figuring out what's happening next by reading about it in print or looking on the official public notice board.
A bit later, I stopped back at city hall to speak with City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry. When I told her my confusion about the official notice, she noted the big glass cabinet with meeting notices was new and the old process had every legal meeting notice tacked up on the tack strip. She also said that the clerk's office would be happy to update the board for any organization with a notice by telephone or by email from the group's representative.
Let me make some what I hope are helpful suggestions, not in the spirit of criticizing municipal government for the sake of criticizing municipal government, but rather to point out some small changes that would work within existing procedures.
First, the Ann Arbor DDA should post all of its meeting notices in its own offices as well as at city hall. It's within both the letter and the spirit of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which says:
"15.264 Public notice of meetings generally; contents; places of posting. Sec. 4. The following provisions shall apply with respect to public notice of meetings: (a) A public notice shall always contain the name of the public body to which the notice applies, its telephone number if one exists, and its address. (b) A public notice for a public body shall always be posted at its principal office and any other locations considered appropriate by the public body. Cable television may also be utilized for purposes of posting public notice."
The principal office of the Ann Arbor DDA is at 150 S. Fifth Avenue, Suite 301; so notices should be posted there as well.
The second small procedural change is that the office of the city clerk is ready and willing to update the main meeting board if staff from the various city boards and commissions are willing to send those notices to the office. It would be a service to the city and its citizens if the official, glass-walled meeting notice case was complete and accurate, and the city stopped using the tack board for official notices.
I'm not sure what to do with the unofficial posting tack board, but it looks like a good place to advertise your next concert.