More than 2,700 pages of Ann Arbor City Council e-mails available for viewing
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.
That's been happening, and some of the fruits of those labors have come to AnnArbor.com. 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.
AnnArbor.com 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 http://a2docs.org. 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:
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Pages 3-6: Discussion of pay raises for City Administrator Roger Fraser and City Attorney Stephen Postema, mentioning both men know what's coming.
â€¢ 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:
â€¢ Pages 17-18: Discussion of who is voting and which way on a council pay raise and donating the raises to charity.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Page 69: Greden e-mails Easthope a fake meeting script that's snarky and contains some name-calling.
June 2, 2008:
â€¢ Various discussions of A2D2 amendments, including height.
â€¢ Page 60: Discussion between Greden and Easthope of what appears to be a walking schedule for Easthope's campaign.
July 21, 2008:
â€¢ Pages 37-39: Discussion of Fraser going to an ICMA advisory group meeting in Washington, D.C.
â€¢ Page: 43: Greden discusses being on a podcast for A2ethics.org.
Sept. 8, 2008:
â€¢ Page 14: Council Member Sabra Briere and other city officials discuss the cause of sanitary sewer backups happening in the city.
â€¢ Page 74: A labor attorney criticizes the city for its "careless approach to human resources management."
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ Pages 107-110: Greden and Easthope exchange e-mails calling Council Member Stephen Kunselman a fool.
Oct. 13, 2008:
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Page 7: Talk of a millage to fund a countywide transit plan.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ Page 97: Greden reveals, "I say little when the public is present - especially when 70% of them are from Burns Park!"
â€¢ Page 100: Higgins tells Greden he looks "bored to death!"
â€¢ Page 102: Greden shares a copy of "The Public Official's Guide to Duties of Office" with other council members.
Oct. 20, 2008:
â€¢ Page 5-6: Chris White of the AATA tells Council Member Mike Anglin that the transit agency may get kicked out of Arborland Mall.
â€¢ Pages 38-39: City officials make plans to have pizza and beverages during their work session.
â€¢ Pages 46-47: Developer Dan Ketelaar talks about scaling back 601 Forest from 524 to 175 units.
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Pages 94-97: Greden predicts losing his position on council. Higgins says they could "go to new movies on Monday nights."
Nov. 6, 2008:
â€¢ 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?"
â€¢ Pages 46-48: Greden e-mails Fraser a memo summarizing Fraser's performance for 2008 and goals for 2009.
â€¢ Page 50: Greden e-mails Postema a memo summarizing Postema's performance for 2008 and goals for 2009.
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ 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?"
â€¢ 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:
â€¢ Pages 5-11: Discussion of Project Grow funding.
â€¢ Pages 15-18: Discussion of stop work order for Blue Tractor.
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ Page 157: Discussion of what happens if a developer owes the city money.
â€¢ Pages 195-200: More discussion of the "Pandy" award.
Dec. 1, 2008:
â€¢ Page 4-6: A discussion of zoning and density in the South University district.
â€¢ Page 21-22: Hieftje responds to an e-mail from a resident and makes a case for more density downtown.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Pages 180-181: Discussion of tranquilizing herds of deer in the city and moving them to other areas.
â€¢ Page 210: Greden raises concerns that too much money is spent on "the fancy certification" for LEED.
Dec. 8, 2008:
â€¢ Page 3: Discussion of budget ideas.
â€¢ Pages 41-42: Discussion of City Place - simultaneous site plans - and Germantown.
â€¢ Pages 44, 51: Discussion of South University, A2D2.
â€¢ Pages 60: Greden says, “Damn anti-development people!”
â€¢ Pages 74: Briere makes comments on council rules.
â€¢ Page 108: Greden takes a shot at Briere's council rules.
â€¢ Pages 113-116: Letter to the DDA from the Michigan Environmental Council regarding the Calthorpe report.
Dec. 15, 2008:
â€¢ Various discussions about the creation of a Germantown historic district.
Jan. 5, 2009:
â€¢ Page 6: Complaint from a resident about snow and ice on city sidewalks and no response.
â€¢ Pages 16-20: What makes or doesn't make the seven homes historic that would be razed for City Place.
â€¢ Pages 21-23: Rapundalo calls a meeting to discuss an "unauthorized procurement of plasma screens at the Wheeler Center."
â€¢ Pages 29-32: Discussion of forming a City Place study committee.
â€¢ Pages 38-39: Washtenaw Contractors Association asking for help being competitive on bidding for work.
â€¢ Page 85: Heiftje makes reference to being interested in the city exploring "becoming its own utility."
â€¢ Pages 318-319: Hohnke asks Greden, "Are you following this logic?" Greden responds "No. But you're voting with it by voting against postponement."
â€¢ Pages 320-322, 332-336, 344, 354: Discussion of voting with "morons" and the "Forrest Gump" of City Council.
â€¢ Pages 326-327, 369: Discussion about council members exceeding speaking limits.
â€¢ Page 364: Greden announces, "This is absurd. I've been on facebook for half an hour."
â€¢ 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:
â€¢ Page 5: Rapundalo asks who leaked info to the news about the purchase of plasma TVs. No one takes credit for it.
â€¢ Pages 10-35: City retirement system annual report.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Pages 53-55: Snow removal process discussed.
â€¢ Pages 61-66: City Place developer and neighbors communicate.
â€¢ Pages 77-78: Underground parking structure discussed.
â€¢ Pages 132-140: Discussion of postponing controversial airport environmental presentation.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Pages 186-194, 196-198: Discussion of how council members are voting on an item and whether they have the votes.
Feb 2, 2009:
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Page 192: Higgins asks the clerk via e-mail during a meeting who has pulled petitions to run for City Council.
â€¢ Pages 198-199: Hieftje explains what changed his mind and made him support the police-courts building.
â€¢ Pages 200-201: Discussion of the need for more parking downtown.
â€¢ Page 204: Hohnke tells Taylor during a meeting he likes his campaign literature. Taylor writes back, "U know it, baby!"
â€¢ 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."
â€¢ Page 215: Council Member Sandi Smith lists her reasons for supporting the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue.
â€¢ Pages 219-220: Council members get an earful about problems going on at Courthouse Square.
â€¢ Page 231: Talk of creating a public planning process for the Fifth and Division area of downtown.
â€¢ Page 233: Greden tells Hieftje, "I thought you were going to hold on Ranzini's re-appt to EDC....."
â€¢ 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:
â€¢ 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 AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.