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Posted on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 6:04 a.m.

More than 2,700 pages of Ann Arbor City Council e-mails available for viewing

By Ryan J. Stanton

Let's start off by pointing out this isn't breaking news, nor is it a typical news story. Rather, it's an organic effort by a news and information Web site to make available to the public, at no cost, e-mails traded between Ann Arbor City Council members during public meetings.

Several citizens have reacted to recent controversy over the e-mails by demanding the City Council create an online database where all messages traded between council members since 2002 would be available for public viewing. A majority of council members refused, saying it would be a waste of staff time and money. They instead encouraged citizens to pursue the e-mails through Freedom of Information Act requests.


Several citizens showed up to an Ann Arbor City Council meeting in late September in support of a resolution to create an online database of council e-mails. It failed.

That's been happening, and some of the fruits of those labors have come to As we obtain more and more sets of council e-mails, we're going to put them online for the public to view. Consider this a first installment.

What's this about? It's about transparency in government - something we in the media tend to champion. What were your council representatives talking about via e-mail when they voted on a particular issue? Now you can find out some of those answers.

Some of those who requested the documents clearly did so for political reasons and have been involved in local government issues for years. We're not interested in the politics of it - our goal is simply to provide the e-mails as a public service since they are a matter of public record.

Below are links to more than 2,700 pages of e-mails traded between council members on various dates between 2007 and 2009, including e-mails sent during meetings and in the hours before the meetings started. paid to have the hard-copy documents scanned and turned into searchable electronic PDFs so, for instance, you can do a keyword search for a particular issue that interests you - whether it's a specific development project or a street in your neighborhood.

Aside from what's already known - that council members scripted votes, took cheap shots at each other and quietly reached decisions on controversial matters by discussing agenda items via e-mail during meetings - there's nothing overly earth-shattering in the documents. Some of these e-mails already have been heavily scrutinized, but others have not yet seen the light of day. In any case, they're now available for all to see in their full and original context.

We've taken the time to scan through them and have created this roadmap. Give the e-mails a read for yourselves and let us know what you find.

Beyond the controversial e-mails, perhaps even more so than those, we found much evidence of council members performing their official duties and working hard on behalf of constituents to address their concerns in a timely manner.

We uploaded all the e-mails we got to the Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository, at Along with the e-mails we added, you'll find other meetings uploaded there by others in the community.

Read and judge for yourself.

Nov. 5, 2007:
• Page 2: Discussion between Council Members Leigh Greden and Margie Teall on the YMCA deal and talk of Mayor John Hieftje's wish that affordable housing units replacing Y units don’t have to be downtown.
• Pages 3-6: Discussion of pay raises for City Administrator Roger Fraser and City Attorney Stephen Postema, mentioning both men know what's coming.
• Pages 22-23: Discussion between Greden and Teall about the Y deal falling through. Teall says she understands that HDC probably “felt more than a bit coerced” into signing development agreements with deadlines.

Dec. 17, 2007:
• Pages 17-18: Discussion of who is voting and which way on a council pay raise and donating the raises to charity.
• Pages 62-70: Discussion between Greden and former Council Member Chris Easthope about Easthope’s campaign for judge. Talk about using a specific letterhead and discussion of a letter going out.
• Page 69: Greden e-mails Easthope a fake meeting script that's snarky and contains some name-calling.

June 2, 2008:
• Various discussions of A2D2 amendments, including height.
• Page 60: Discussion between Greden and Easthope of what appears to be a walking schedule for Easthope's campaign.

July 21, 2008:
• Pages 37-39: Discussion of Fraser going to an ICMA advisory group meeting in Washington, D.C.
• Page: 43: Greden discusses being on a podcast for

Sept. 8, 2008:
• Page 14: Council Member Sabra Briere and other city officials discuss the cause of sanitary sewer backups happening in the city.
• Page 74: A labor attorney criticizes the city for its "careless approach to human resources management."
• Pages 104-105: Briere explains why she planned to vote 'no' on a resolution for 42 North. Teall tells Greden she probably will vote with Briere, but says, "It's just not fair that she'll get the credit for defending Marcia's and my ward. I can't stand it."
• Pages 107-110: Greden and Easthope exchange e-mails calling Council Member Stephen Kunselman a fool.

Oct. 13, 2008:
• Page 5: The city's forestry staff discusses with Council Member Marcia Higgins and Teall a tree planting program in response to some 8,000 street trees that were lost due to the emerald ash borer.
• Page 7: Talk of a millage to fund a countywide transit plan.
• Pages 10-11: Hieftje trades e-mails with a resident about a nuisance property at 942 Woodlawn. Hieftje recommends the city look into "building a case" against the tenants.
• Pages 28-29: Hieftje trades e-mails with city staff about an incident in which a city employee "drove a Bobcat with the blade down through a portion of Black Pond Woods." City officials said the parks staff "were apologetic and felt horrible about the damage caused."
• Page 97: Greden reveals, "I say little when the public is present - especially when 70% of them are from Burns Park!"
• Page 100: Higgins tells Greden he looks "bored to death!"
• Page 102: Greden shares a copy of "The Public Official's Guide to Duties of Office" with other council members.

Oct. 20, 2008:
• Page 5-6: Chris White of the AATA tells Council Member Mike Anglin that the transit agency may get kicked out of Arborland Mall.
• Pages 38-39: City officials make plans to have pizza and beverages during their work session.
• Pages 46-47: Developer Dan Ketelaar talks about scaling back 601 Forest from 524 to 175 units.
• Page 50: Fraser tells council members about a trip to Richmond, Va. He notes, "Richmond's conference center is less than 10 years old and part of an effort to rejuvenate the heart of an aging downtown ...." He adds, "It was interesting to compare their experience with our own."
• Page 53: Higgins offers annual evaluation comments about Fraser, questioning his involvement in SPARK. It says Fraser "is adequate, but not exciting" and has made little progress in some areas.
• Page 76: Higgins tells Council Member Stephen Rapundalo she "can't take this anymore." Rapundalo responds, "I just told Joan that I was going to walk over to Sgt. Logghe and ask for his gun." Higgins says, "Please aim for my head."
• Pages 91-92: Details of one-time lump sum payments for Fraser and Postema, also giving them each of them discretion to cash in up to 150 hours of unused vacation time.
• Pages 94-97: Greden predicts losing his position on council. Higgins says they could "go to new movies on Monday nights."

Nov. 6, 2008:
• Page 28-29: Hieftje gets an e-mail from a constituent who asks, "How in heavens name can the city of Ann Arbor allow its road system to become the 2nd worst out of almost 1,800 communities in this state?"
• Pages 46-48: Greden e-mails Fraser a memo summarizing Fraser's performance for 2008 and goals for 2009.
• Page 50: Greden e-mails Postema a memo summarizing Postema's performance for 2008 and goals for 2009.
• Page 55: Greden expresses sadness to see Easthope leave the council. Easthope says it will be a "loss of beauty" in the council room. Greden contends it will be a "loss of fatness."
• Page 77: Higgins tries to call a committee meeting to discuss council rules, committee assignments and other matters. Greden complains it would be a "waste of time" and suggests, "Can't we do all that over email?"
• Pages 86-89, 92-94: Easthope asks if he gets "the pandy" for a proclamation pandering to the Ann Arbor Police Department.

Nov. 17, 2008:
• Pages 5-11: Discussion of Project Grow funding.
• Pages 15-18: Discussion of stop work order for Blue Tractor.
• Pages 78-79: Briere writes a long e-mail to Greden when she is unhappy with her committee appointments, discusses how they don’t get along and how she’ll “never be popular."
• Page 157: Discussion of what happens if a developer owes the city money.
• Pages 195-200: More discussion of the "Pandy" award.

Dec. 1, 2008:
• Page 4-6: A discussion of zoning and density in the South University district.
• Page 21-22: Hieftje responds to an e-mail from a resident and makes a case for more density downtown.
• Page 26: Eli Cooper tells city officials he's exploring options for providing commuter parking along Fuller Road to support an east-west commuter rail service.
• Pages 180-181: Discussion of tranquilizing herds of deer in the city and moving them to other areas.
• Page 210: Greden raises concerns that too much money is spent on "the fancy certification" for LEED.

Dec. 8, 2008:
• Page 3: Discussion of budget ideas.
• Pages 41-42: Discussion of City Place - simultaneous site plans - and Germantown.
• Pages 44, 51: Discussion of South University, A2D2.
• Pages 60: Greden says, “Damn anti-development people!”
• Pages 74: Briere makes comments on council rules.
• Page 108: Greden takes a shot at Briere's council rules.
• Pages 113-116: Letter to the DDA from the Michigan Environmental Council regarding the Calthorpe report.

Dec. 15, 2008:
• Various discussions about the creation of a Germantown historic district.

Jan. 5, 2009:
• Page 6: Complaint from a resident about snow and ice on city sidewalks and no response.
• Pages 16-20: What makes or doesn't make the seven homes historic that would be razed for City Place.
• Pages 21-23: Rapundalo calls a meeting to discuss an "unauthorized procurement of plasma screens at the Wheeler Center."
• Pages 29-32: Discussion of forming a City Place study committee.
• Pages 38-39: Washtenaw Contractors Association asking for help being competitive on bidding for work.
• Page 85: Heiftje makes reference to being interested in the city exploring "becoming its own utility."
• Pages 318-319: Hohnke asks Greden, "Are you following this logic?" Greden responds "No. But you're voting with it by voting against postponement."
• Pages 320-322, 332-336, 344, 354: Discussion of voting with "morons" and the "Forrest Gump" of City Council.
• Pages 326-327, 369: Discussion about council members exceeding speaking limits.
• Page 364: Greden announces, "This is absurd. I've been on facebook for half an hour."
• Page 368: Teall asks Greden, "What's so funny?" Greden responds: "Email between Carsten, Taylor, and I complaining about all the damn questions about the road projects."

Jan. 20, 2009:
• Page 5: Rapundalo asks who leaked info to the news about the purchase of plasma TVs. No one takes credit for it.
• Pages 10-35: City retirement system annual report.
• Page 49: Graffiti ordinance discussed. Also, the graffiti ordinance and “Rock” clean-up are discussed on pages 73, 99-101. City officials reveal they spent $2,662 to clean up the Rock, which is always painted at Hill and Washtenaw.
• Pages 53-55: Snow removal process discussed.
• Pages 61-66: City Place developer and neighbors communicate.
• Pages 77-78: Underground parking structure discussed.
• Pages 132-140: Discussion of postponing controversial airport environmental presentation.
• Pages 164-169, 172-175, 183-185: Discussion of forming a subcommittee of council members and DDA members. Lots of discussion of who the council wants and who they don’t want.
• Pages 186-194, 196-198: Discussion of how council members are voting on an item and whether they have the votes.

Feb 2, 2009:
• Page 22: Hohnke asks Greden, "Has Rapundalo heard from the leaker?" Greden says Rapundalo may try to have IT trace the e-mail to find out who leaked information.
• Pages 153-154: Discussion of the police-courts building. Greden says if the city paid $100,000 more in rent, it would have to cut another $100,000 from parks, police.
• Page 192: Higgins asks the clerk via e-mail during a meeting who has pulled petitions to run for City Council.
• Pages 198-199: Hieftje explains what changed his mind and made him support the police-courts building.
• Pages 200-201: Discussion of the need for more parking downtown.
• Page 204: Hohnke tells Taylor during a meeting he likes his campaign literature. Taylor writes back, "U know it, baby!"
• Page 213: Former Council Member Joan Lowenstein says government spending (i.e. the police-courts building) is necessary to stimulate the economy. She names five political activists who oppose the project and calls them "turtles who want to bring their heads into their shells."
• Page 215: Council Member Sandi Smith lists her reasons for supporting the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue.
• Pages 219-220: Council members get an earful about problems going on at Courthouse Square.
• Page 231: Talk of creating a public planning process for the Fifth and Division area of downtown.
• Page 233: Greden tells Hieftje, "I thought you were going to hold on Ranzini's re-appt to EDC....."
• Page 260: Hohnke asks Greden, "When do we start talking?" Greden responds, "I'll double check with Mayor." Greden also predicts Anglin won't be in office for long.

Feb. 17, 2009:
• This is the meeting where council members deliberated on the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure project by e-mail. The city is now being sued over these e-mails, claiming their electronic discussions violated the state's Open Meetings Act.

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



Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 2:56 p.m.

WTH! Why did you have to scan in all the emails? Why didn't you get them in electronic format? It would have been faster and less expensive to have the emails provided in digital format. If the City of Ann Arbor is claiming that the emails cannot be provided in electronic form, then they are using that excuse to make it difficult for the public to access the documents. The Michigan Freedom of Information Act does not require a governmental body to create a record where one does not exist. However, it seems that the city created a paper record when the digital document already exists.

Sandy Brode

Sat, Nov 7, 2009 : 1:31 p.m.

Ryan-Kudos to this work and staff effort! This investigative reporting is a great read and journalism!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 3:46 p.m.

With respect to the OMA violation, I wonder what the status of the lawsuit brought by Herb David and JG is? I like the term apparition better, but that is ok. No need to apologize, just don't haunt me. And as one of my bosses told me years ago, don't be sorry, be right!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 2:42 p.m.

Sorry, Dr. I should have more respect for the dead, or do you prefer deceased? One thing is for certain, our city leaders are not nearly as salacious as the former ones in Detroit. I'd love to see Kwame's e-mails.

Marvin Face

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:52 p.m.

Boring. Thanks for wasting taxpayer money on this FOIA crap so you can read some emails. I certainly won't be wasting my time reading a single one.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:35 p.m.

I traded e-mails with Mayor Hieftje today. He passed along a staff report refuting the MITA claim that Ann Arbor has the "2nd worst" roads in the state, as one resident (above) complained in an e-mail. I'll forward a copy of the report on to anyone who e-mails me, but here's a highlight: "The MITA uses the Michigan Asset Management Councils 2007 PASER ratings to evaluate all of the Citys Federal Aid system roads. They conclude that Ann Arbor is the 2nd worst municipality with 187 lane miles of roads in poor condition (Table A- 60%* of our federal aid eligible roads). Our review of the MITAs report uncovered a number of flaws with their reporting which supports our intuitive rejection of their conclusions."

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:46 a.m.

@observer Thanks for the catch. It was Teall to Greden, not Greden to Teall, which makes sense. I have corrected it to say: Pages 104-105: Briere explains why she planned to vote 'no' on a resolution for 42 North. Teall tells Greden she probably will vote with Briere, but says, "It's just not fair that she'll get the credit for defending Marcia's and my ward. I can't stand it."


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:40 a.m.

Mr. hawker of oxyclean, a judge or jury decides if it is against the law, lawyers just advocate whether it is or is not on behalf of their client.

Sabra C Briere

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:35 a.m.

I followed the links and read for myself. The references above are a little confusing. It was TEALL, not Greden, who wrote that she'd have to vote with Briere on 42 North. She didn't. Briere wrote to Greden concerning Council committee appointments on a THURSDAY. Greden responded on the following Monday, a Council meeting day. That must be how the exchange was captured in the FOIA request. Both emails took place well before the Council meeting, by the time stamp.

Tom Teague

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:33 a.m.

Thank you for taking the time to put the emails in.pdf format and post them on the web. This grew out of a good piece of reporting at the News and is a good example of how FOIA can work. It's more insight into how our Council works, pizza orders and all.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:51 a.m.

@B. Corman, once again is not making old news into todays news.... If you had read the introduction pertaining to the emails you would have seen clearly that stated "this isn't breaking news, nor is it a typical news's an organic make available to the public, at no cost, emails traded..." also stated that emails were sent on various dates, including during meetings and in the hours before the meetings. Also they state "beyond the controversial e-mails" that already have been heavily scrutinized, there is much "evidence of council members performing their official duties and working hard on behalf of constituents to address their concerns in a timely manner."

B. Corman

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:34 a.m.

Janelle-The majority of what is listed above is all business conducted outside of the meeting, during the daytime. There are conversations with staff and constituents. It shows the councilmembers doing their jobs. As far as I can tell, the conversations that did take place during the meetings have mostly been released before, except for the Sabra Brieres conversations and the discussion of her votes. (However, I have not been through every single email string so I may have missed a few.) So once again is making old news into "todays" news but insinuating that regular work emails during the day are part of the "emailing during a meeting" issue. If you did not open the emails and look at the times sent/received you would think that all those emails happened during meetings. Although all emails are FOIAable, FOIAd emails showing normal everyday business is not news.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:29 a.m.

@B. Corman if you would have read the introduction said quite clearly that "this isn't breaking news, nor is it a typical news's an organic make available to the public, at no cost, emails traded..." These are emails that the public have every right to see. It's called transparency in government. And all is doing is providing the emails for the residents. It's not old nor is it hardly irrelevant.

Janelle Baranowski

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:07 a.m.

B. Corman, I think it's great is making the emails public. As Ms. Bien said, it's a great use of the online format. It's not like it engulfs a section of the newspaper to the detriment of other news. Personally, if I had gone to council meetings with a concern, I would want to know if the council members were mocking me. I have no intention of reading all the emails, but I'm sure there's many citizens who would be interested. Most citizens don't have the time to pursue FOIA measures. That's why we have reporters; it's their job. Many times you will see questions in the comment section from readers, with researched responses from the writers. You couldn't get that from a print paper. is making the most of the online format. That's a good thing.

Janelle Baranowski

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:44 a.m.

Laura Bien, my thoughts exactly. All of the school budgets have huge line items with no breakdown. How can community members participate in the debate if they don't know the specifics? I would like to see all budgets include a line by line breakdown, as well as a report similar to those found in the county budget. Each department explains what they do, how they could save, what they can do better, and their goals for improvement. If every school administrator did a report, explaining their value to the school district, there probably wouldn't be so many people shouting for their jobs to be on the chopping block. Instead, all we hear from them is teacher layoffs, program cuts, high teacher/student ratios, etc. etc. Enough with the rhetoric, lets see some facts and figures. Janelle

B. Corman

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:42 a.m.

Kerplunk! That was the sound of Sabra Briere falling off her pedastal. One interesting new thing that has come out is that Briere also participated in the email banter during council meetings where she discussed how she was going to vote. Hhmmm...I wonder why that info has never come out before? Could it have been "accidentally" ignored or deleted? This email stuff is so ridiculous. It is nothing but page after page of the councilmembers doing their jobs. The caddy stuff that is listed above has all been released before. Why, do you keep harping on a story that is old news and meaningless? Do you really want to become the tabloid of Annarbor? Your pre-election coverage was horrible and now you are trying to increase readership by once again harping on an old and irrelevant topic. Breaking News! Councilmembers use email to talk to each other!! is past its three month mark which is enough time for the paper to evolve into what type of newspaper it wants to be. Obviously it is tabloid and not news.

Laura Bien

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9 a.m.

Out. Standing. This is a superlative use of the online format, and a fantastic public service. "We're not interested in the politics of it - our goal is simply to provide the e-mails as a public service since they are a matter of public record." Thank you. This is terrific. Now, perhaps the same for the school budgets? Thousands of minds objectively scrutinizing the budgets and brainstorming constructive ideas might be a real asset in helping work with the schools to find good workable solutions to the budget cuts to come. There are so many talented and creative people in the community. This would be a good way to tap into some perhaps unheretofore considered perspectives and ideas, and contribute towards solutions.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:35 a.m.

" Pages 38-39: City officials make plans to have pizza and beverages during their work session." Are you KIDDING ME!? This is unbelieveable. PIZZA! These are elected officials making nearly minimum wage, and they are talking about pizza. What a shame. This truly shows a lack of leadership. I can tell this pizza issue is just scratching the surface.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:30 a.m.

Spoken like a true insider... fearful of light being cast into the dark non-smoking corners of Ann Arbor City Hall.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:19 a.m.

This is folly and nothing more