Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council Emails: "Childish," "Chit-Chatting," or Criminal?

7. June 2009 • Nancy Shore
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A recent FOIA by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center of City Council emails has revealed that many Council Members engage in back and forth email exchanges during Council meetings.

These exchanges were first reported in the Ann Arbor Chronicle and appeared in a recent Sunday issue of the Ann Arbor News.

The content of some of these emails has been called “Childish” by some and merely “Chit-Chatting” by some on the City Council. There are also concerns that some of the emails represent a violation of the Open-Meetings Act since some of them discuss items being voted on at Council Meetings.

So what’s your verdict?

  1. Childish, and arrogant. Disappointing but not surprising.

       —anArboran    Jun. 7 '09 - 06:53PM    #
  2. Ok, let me be the first to tell you what is going to be the spin. Oh, we were just kidding around, it’s so hard being an elected official, we meant NO disrespect of course, and while we are really really sorry IF we offended anyone, we didn’t break the law.

    I can see the followup replies from the offenders now…

    Arrogant, out of touch and rude. Not to mention dishonest. Let’s see some members reply to those charges.

    Let the games begin with more FOIA requests for the Court-Police building, the Per Cent For Art program, the Stadium Bridges communications…

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 7 '09 - 07:19PM    #
  3. Here is the accompanying News article on the Open Meetings Act Implications of the e-mails.

    Also, the “some” link in Nancy’s initial posting leads to a vigorous News editorial, which includes a clever political cartoon showing four Council members as small children – complete with a pacifier.

    The News articles did not mention the total amount of e-mails that Noah Hall received as a result of his FOIA request. There are roughly 250 pages of e-mails, created during the February 17, March 2, and March 16 Council meetings combined.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 7 '09 - 08:13PM    #
  4. Karen Sidney forwarded us a document with some of the emails (500k PDF) — it’s been circulating on local mailing lists and the Citizen’s News Service for a couple days. It’s not the full list, but it has some emails not covered (or linked to) by the News. Hopefully the City can use this as a way to earn some more awards.

       —Matt Hampel    Jun. 7 '09 - 08:24PM    #
  5. There is a guide to open meetings laws in Michigan from the Citizen Media Law Project with a run-down of the Michigan OMA law. It’s unclear whether email between members of a public body constitute a meeting:

    “Governmental bodies may hold meetings by by written, telephonic, electronic, wireless, or other virtual means. However, an electronic meeting is still subject to the notice requirements and must be held at a designated place and time. While the law is not certain on this point, it appears that email communications between members of a governmental body may constitute a meeting if they involve deliberation on public business. “

    There a vigorous Open Meetings Act dispute going on right now at the national level, stemming from a small town in Texas where some city council members accused of meeting in secret are fighting back for their right to communicate freely with each other on First Amendment grounds. I collected some news clippings from Texas papers on the issue, which has reached the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jun. 7 '09 - 09:17PM    #
  6. So Marcia Higgins emails a city official during a council meeting to find out who is running against her and the city official replies with the candiate’s home address?

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 7 '09 - 09:24PM    #
  7. Gimme a break, this is childish and juvenile behavior, but criminal, I think not. It was stupid of all of them to put such things in writing, however everyone who has worked at a job that has instant messaging or email knows that this sort of thing goes on in every single workplace, especially if there is an IM system in place. With that being said, I don’t condone what they have been doing; they should have known better.

    However, me being me, I am going to put out another viewpoint for you to think about.

    As you know, these emails were requested via the FOIA by Noah Hall who wants to sue the city claiming that the new parking structure violates environmental laws because it causes cars to drive towards the structure which raises co2 emissions. (However he fails to take into account that these same cars will be on the road somewhere else in the city and overall traffic will not be increased). Most would agree that this is a frivolous lawsuit and a rather silly claim. Since he can’t win his argument using facts and reason he needs to resort to throwing everything at the wall and see what sticks.

    This sort of banter among the councilmembers has been rumored about for a while. Why now? Why all of a sudden do these email exchanges come out now? If the councilmembers don’t take offense to it, isn’t it just internal banter among them?

    These emails were not made public in order to make our city governmental processes better. They were made public with an ulterior motive in mind. A motive to sway a decision on a particular project.

    In my opinion, Hall has asked for these emails for the sole purpose of either:

    1. Punishing the councilmembers by embarrassing them for voting yes on the structure

    2. Blackmailing (by embarrassment) the councilmembers into changing their votes if the issue comes before council again.

    I find this a dangerous precedent if this is accomplished. If this project gets overturned due to this drama, is that the appropriate outcome that should happen? Is that Ok with all of you, that possibly, a popular and well thought out outcome can be overturned due to one person’s private agenda?

    If the purpose of releasing these emails now is to simply “punish” the councilmembers, do we really want that? Do we really want our elected officials worried that something they wrote in an email may be embarrassing and they will need to vote a certain way so not to piss off someone? In my eyes this goes way beyond lobbying and well, is a sort of blackmail.

    I know many of you think that this is politics and anything goes and that the councilmembers did write these things so they can be used at any time against them. I personally find it distasteful that the “sport” of democratic politics in this town can actually affect the outcome of so many projects and the lives of the average city resident.

    I am not condoning the emails or the councilmember’s actions. However, I am strongly questioning the intent of the people who “leaked” this email story and the outcome that might result from all the drama.

    That the Ann Arbor news chose to run this on the front page of the Sunday edition proves that the AAnews cannot tell the difference between news and drama. It should have been on the front page of the entertainment section.

       —Diane    Jun. 7 '09 - 10:48PM    #
  8. As usual, Diane hasn’t a good grasp of investigative journalism. It ran on Sunday, because it’s the most important local story of the week, and the editor accompanied it with an editorial, as well as an editorial cartoon because it’s a story that raises a variety of questions. The first question is, of course, if they’re bordering on the edge of violating the Open Meetings law in the batch of emails the News FOIAed initially, have they broken the law at other meetings?

    There is a sidebar that tells us the News has FOIAed other batches of emails. They’re investigating whether our Council members conduct business in secret. That’s illegal. Chris Taylor’s response on the AA News site should tell you exactly how scared he is (and, I imagine the lot of them are).

    The only problem with Taylor’s comment is that he blames the News for damaging his reputation. He did that when he opened Greden’s emails, and responded to them. He was a fool, and got caught. Fools in public office who get caught find their faces plastered across the pages of local newspapers. He referred to his Burns Park constituents as “dim bulbs.” The News story is the beginning of the price he’ll pay the price for his flippancy. If he is found to have violated the law (Open Meetings) I’m sure someone will file a charge with the Bar Association.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 7 '09 - 11:09PM    #
  9. Investigative journalism is supposed to cover behind the scenes stories that are relevant to an actual newsworthy event or behind the scene conspiracies. If uncovering juvenile banter is your idea of investigative journalism, I can live without it. This is a witchhunt to try and take out the councilmembers whose votes you don’t like.

    As for the open meetings act, only time will tell if they violated it in some fashion. However, keep in mind that if the council did violate it, they all violated it including those councilmembers who you may like. Even if they did not participate, they knew what was going on and allowed it to continue. That could make them an accessory. This is not a cut and dry issue that the council knowingly and maliciously ignored. That many lawyers disagree on what constitutes a violation of the public meeting act shows you that there is a gray area.

       —Diane    Jun. 7 '09 - 11:29PM    #
  10. Diane-

    I’d like to respond to a few of your comments about our work at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center ( We submitted a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the proposed parking structure to learn more details and information about the project itself and the process the city used in deciding to approve of the project.

    The city’s response included some useful information, but appeared to be incomplete. During the city council’s meeting on Feb 17, 2009 when the project was discussed and approved, several city council members referred to emails going around about the project. However, as detailed in our comment letter, the city’s initial response to our FOIA request did not include these emails. So we submitted several additional FOIA requests for all city council member emails during several city council meetings.

    In these subsequently provided emails, we saw a pattern of potentially problematic email communications between some council members during public meetings (when all substantive communications should be open to the public). After we raised this issue in our comment letter, the media diligently asked to see the emails to verify the documents for themselves, and we provided them. On any matter, we will always provide public documents that we obtain through FOIA to anyone, for any reason and at no cost. I’d be happy to share them with you if you would like.

    Quite simply, our motivation in submitting the first FOIA request was to learn more about the project itself and city’s decision. Our motivation in the subsequent FOIA requests was to obtain responsive information that the city failed to provide in our first FOIA request.

    The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center routinely submits FOIA requests to local, state, and federal governments and agencies to become more informed about projects and decisions with potential environmental implications. We often assist other environmental organizations and local citizens in this work. For example, we have been submitting FOIA requests to the state Attorney General’s office and Department of Environmental Quality regarding several proposed coal plants in Michigan and have assisted local environmental groups with a FOIA request to the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority in connection with the Detroit waste incinerator.

    Our position on the foundational importance of FOIA and open government follows that of President Obama, who stated in a memo to federal agencies his first week after taking office:

    “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.’ In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.”

    Noah Hall
    Executive Director
    Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

       —Noah Hall    Jun. 8 '09 - 12:07AM    #
  11. I have to say that I’m not surprised by all the e-mailing that goes on during Council. It has been a joke in our house for ages that the best way to get a response from anyone on Council is to e-mail them during Council meetings. When our neighborhood was at Council regarding 828 Greene, I saw Greden passing notes to other Council members and the developers of the project. I can’t imagine easy access to e-mail would make that behavior less prevalent. I am surprised though at the lack of civility and professionalism exhibited in these messages by many members of Council.

    It is extraordinarily disappointing, juvenile, unprofessional, and frankly stupid (setting aside the legal issue) not only that these e-mails were sent, but also that no one is apologizing for it. It is embarrassing that some Council members can’t manage to make it the four or five hours every two weeks without making fun of either their co-workers or their constituents. It is especially embarrassing for Greden, Higgins, and Teall who should be (and unfortunately are) setting the tone for the newer Council members. Come on kiddies, you are paid professionals. Pay attention to what people are saying, that is why you are there. Make a note on your hand to tease people afterward.

    Council meetings have existed since the 1800s without e-mail so I see no reason to have it while the meeting is in session. It is absolutely distracting whether it is related to the issue at hand or not. I would be all for disabling internet connections on Councilmembers’ laptops during meetings. Everyone should be able to download the documents to their laptops as needed prior to the meeting. This would keep the availability of the laptop and the documents on it, but remove the temptation to throw virtual spitballs at the other Council members. Have one central mailbox for any constituent e-mail during sessions that could be read off in public as appropriate by a non-voting staff member. New documents should not need to be downloaded anyway as all information is supposed to be available to the public prior to the meetings.

    Mostly, it would be good to see a City Council that actually has people who act like adults on it. Perhaps now is the time to start electing students: the ones I’m around are considerably more professional than this.

       —Juliew    Jun. 8 '09 - 12:48AM    #
  12. I have to kinda wonder what they are texting each other, as well.

       —TeacherPatti    Jun. 8 '09 - 01:02AM    #
  13. Funny, no one learned from Kwame K. Public is public, and just because it doesn’t seem so at the time, what they are saying is not private…
    Foolish, stupid, and not very inspiring.

       —emilia    Jun. 8 '09 - 01:19AM    #
  14. I especially appreciate Juliew’s comments. I’ll be commenting on my blog as well but I’d like to share a perspective from my prior experience as a county commissioner. When our administration building was renovated, it was suggested that we could have internet connections and laptops at our desks. I spoke against it (and I don’t remember any commissioners speaking for it). Unless things have changed, that is still the case – there are screens at each seat so that the commissioner can see what the television audience sees, but it is not interactive.

    I have always felt that part of the “job” is to give both one’s colleagues (who are elected representatives and deserve respect) and the public one’s full attention. One method of demeaning people is to show inattention when they are speaking. I’ve been amazed at the council members who feel comfortable chatting by email or otherwise when members of the public (or other council members) are speaking.

    The discipline of sitting still and paying attention to the proceedings for hours at a time is indeed part of the “professional” obligation of these elected officials.

    Juliew’s point about documents being supplied during the meeting is also a good one – I’m surprised that they consider that lawful.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 8 '09 - 01:56AM    #
  15. Jeepers—I wasn’t even thinking of Kwame. D’oh! How quickly I have blotted that out of my mind!
    Thanks for bringing up that good point, Emilia.

    I was just thinking of how my husband has found all sorts of goodies on the phones of people who are terminated at the company where he works. He tries to tell folks—this phone/computer/whatever is NOT YOURS! It belongs to the company (or in this case, the city).

    Hey, did anyone else get an email from their city councilperson? I got one from one of mine.

       —TeacherPatti    Jun. 8 '09 - 03:22AM    #
  16. Not I. But then, my councilpersons are Higgins and Teall, and they see no problem with this.

       —juliew    Jun. 8 '09 - 04:11AM    #
  17. I would expect this kind of behavior from democrats.

       —Marvin Face    Jun. 8 '09 - 04:38AM    #
  18. There should be a civil action for declaratory relief commenced to determine the legality of these correspondences.

    Such an action could help establish the legal parameters of the Open Meetings Act; especially if the case went to the Court of Appeals and resulted in a published decision, thereby becoming binding legal precedent.

    In any event, the councilpersons in question need to issue a public response to this controversy.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 8 '09 - 04:46AM    #
  19. Re Post #6: To the extent that an officeholder uses or authorizes the use of government facilities for campaign purposes, this violates Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

    There is a process promulgated in the Michigan Administrative Code whereby a citizen has standing to file a grievance with the Michigan Bureau of Elections of the Office of Secretary of State to obtain a review of whether there is a violation of the MCPA.

    To the extent there exists evidence that this alleged event occurred, a form may be downloaded from the Secretary of State website, filled out and filed with the Secretary of State. There are election analysts at the Bureau of Elections that may assist grievants in the process.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 8 '09 - 04:59AM    #
  20. Mr. Hall – I understand why you originally made the FOIA request, but I am questioning your motivation because of what you did with the information and why. No matter how ridiculous I find your potential lawsuit regarding the parking structure, I understand that you are trying to make an ACADEMIC statement regarding emissions and probably never intend to actually bring a lawsuit or win a lawsuit. I understand that some feel they need to push the envelope to get points across to the public and that sometimes the tactics need to be unconventional.

    However, with that said, I think your release of the juvenile and silly banter between the councilmembers actually hurts the credibility of you and your company.

    There is nothing in the emails that I have read in the paper or in the email strings linked above that shows any open meeting act violation. Comments between a few of people, whether during a meeting or in between meetings are not unlawful. The content may be inappropriate, but not illegal. Asking a specific question of a few individuals is not a deliberation. Elected officials in all levels of public service from congress to state government to our local city officials all discuss things individually before the final deliberation where the decision is made. To think that this does not happen is just naiveté.

    There is no integrity in your statement:

    “Quite simply, our motivation in submitting the first FOIA request was to learn more about the project itself and city’s decision. Our motivation in the subsequent FOIA requests was to obtain responsive information that the city failed to provide in our first FOIA request.”

    If your true intent was to find out additional information from emails related to the parking garage discussion, you would have received the emails, read them, realized that nothing was relevant and moved on. But no, you chose to release them publicly for the sole purpose of embarrassing the councilmembers. So I question what your true intent is. The information you were seeking is not there, so why release the email? If not to punish them or blackmail them then why release them?

    If your original intent was to call intention to you cause you have done your company a disservice because now it appears you are propagating a political smear campaign.

       —Diane    Jun. 8 '09 - 05:08AM    #
  21. FWIW, I have been on the fence regarding the library parking lot issues. On the one hand, I thought the potential lawsuit seemed a bit “out there.” On the other hand, I have long suspected that the mayor and what I see as his handpicked team on the new council have extensive plans for how A2 should be developed, and that these plans are very much to the benefit of the real estate and business interests in town.

    I’ve also long suspected that the apparent arrogance of these councilmembers was a fact, but I’ve reserved judgment until now.

    I completely disagree with Diane. Whatever the motivations may be, I think Noah Hall has done a service to the citizens of A2 with this FOIA request. It is long past time for the sunshine to reveal what’s happening in city hall.

    I’m really disgusted by this group of politicians.

       —anArboran    Jun. 8 '09 - 06:08AM    #
  22. To put Councilmember Taylor’s “Yep ;-)” response in perspective, I’ve scanned and created links (see below) of other emails that occurred around that email so everyone can interpret the documents first-hand (the best way).

    Anyone interested can read the documents and reach their own conclusions, but it seems to me that Councilmember Taylor did not respond to Councilmember Greden’s comment regarding the constituency of the 5th Ward. It looks like Councilmember Taylor’s “Yep ;-)” response was to a comment about being left off of a “Green Coalition”, not to Councilmember Greden’s comments regarding “dim lights” in “the 5th Ward.”

    The difficulty in understanding multiple contemporary email discussions between multiple people, even with the benefit of a paper record made public when requested pursuant to FOIA, demonstrates one of the many good policy reasons why such email discussions should not occur.

    Email discussions between multiple people can be difficult to understand when printed as individual pages. As documents are not usually sequentially numbered when produced pursuant to FOIA, it’s not clear what order they follow. Further, some councilmembers produced their copies of emails, while others either did not keep such records or did not produce them. Thus, the reprinted email discussions can be incomplete or out-of-sync.

    Here are links to four relevant pages of emails regarding Councilmember Taylor’s comment:

    Download Greden_3_16_8_16.pdf

    Download Greden_3_16_8_29.pdf

    Download Taylor_3_16_8_21.pdf

    Download Teall_3_16_8_16.pdf

    (I made this post on the A2 News story as well, but it does not seem to have gone through, probably due to my lack of Sunday-night tech savvy….)

       —Noah Hall    Jun. 8 '09 - 06:31AM    #
  23. What I do not understand is the March 2, 2009 e-mail by Leigh Greden that refers to “a new award for Sabra” and then calls it “the Golden Vomit Award”.

    Why was this e-mail sent only to six other councilpersons, but not Sabra Briere, Mike Anglin or the Mayor?

    What of Ms. Briere merited the “Golden Vomit Award” and why is the award named such?

    I was able to view the e-mails referenced at Post#6 relative to commuications between Janice Beaudry and Marcia Higgins and I discerned two separate possible improprieties by Higgins.

    One, Higgins apparently used a city-owned computer to obtain information for campaign purposes. Secondly, this was done apparently during a council meeting, when she was at work and therefore on city time.

    I definitely believe that these councilpersons owe the public an explanation.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 8 '09 - 06:50AM    #
  24. I don’t know what’s more offensive, the behavior or the excuses trotted out by the council members to defend their behavior. There’s no excuse for it, it’s unprofessional and because they were using city e-mails and computers to behave they way they did, they have only themselves to blame for their childish comments being exposed to the public. It’s clear that these so-called adults can’t behave any better than teenagers so like teenagers who abuse the privilege of having access to the Internet, their access should be cut off. As Vivienne stated, there’s no reason for them to have Internet access during their meetings and at least with this group, the harm and abuse of that access far outweighs any benefit that comes from it.

       —John Q.    Jun. 8 '09 - 07:25AM    #
  25. A political smear campaign implies spreading falsehoods. The Councilmembers’ emails speak for themselves.

    Hall didn’t compose or send the emails. He didn’t even release them; the AA News did that. In one of the emails, Greden tells his email posse he has VERY good political instincts. If he had, he would have apologized. Chris Taylor would have apologized, as opposed to demanding a retraction from the newspaper.

    The editorial cartoon in the News today says it all. Greden with a pacifier, Carsten and Chris Taylor in those cute little hats. The blue bow, I think, suits Margie to a T. If Higgins, Teall, Greden, Taylor, Derezinski, et. al were your employees, you’d fire them for wasting time, company resources, and making the mistake of believing that treating the public with unbridled arrogance is acceptable.

    The News and Ann Arbor Chronicle have FOIAed emails from months of Council meetings. Did the Mayor’s slate break the law and subvert the Open Meetings Act? I expect we’ll read follow up pieces in the News. This is prize-winning journalism we’re seeing. The sensationalism comes from the sheer arrogance of the Council members involved.

    This all reminds me of Tina Fey’s spectacular Sarah Palin send-ups. All Fey did was use Palin’s own words. The News is simply publishing exactly what Hohnke, Greden, Higgins, Teall, Derezinski and Taylor wrote.

    I think they all deserve one last Golden Pandy. Maybe the “Green Coalition” of Carsten, Sandi Smith and Margie T. could pass a final resolution to save the sea turtles in the Huron. Tony D. could pander to the Iraqi veterans (heck, ALL veterans). Greden could send one last “Hey babe” email letting his friend know he was “on email for a few hours” during a Council meeting.

    Oh those mavericky mavericks!

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 8 '09 - 07:29AM    #
  26. The important aspect to note is that the released e-mails only represent a tiny percentage of all that have acccumulated over the numerous council sessions. Just imagine all the outrageous stuff that has not yet been released.

    These are better than the Watergate tapes. And there should be a Pulitzer Prize nomimnation for editorial cartooning!

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 8 '09 - 07:48AM    #
  27. Question for council members (all of them): What have you learned—in particular, about yourself—from this experience?

       —Steve Bean    Jun. 8 '09 - 08:59AM    #
  28. I too find the whole thing childish and disappointing. I haven’t read all the emails (nor do I plan to). But I see 2 types of comments.

    Some comments are what one council member debut in the ones that I have seen, some of the comments seem like what Higgens said, “we get teased in a collegial way,” and the object of ridicule are the people in the banter.

    Others of the emails seem much more mean-spirited and ridicule people not part of the conversation. The “dim lights” and “golden vomit” comments stand out here.

    For those of you who have looked over more of the comments, do you see differences among the Council members? The News reporting makes Greden look particularly bad, IMO, and Taylor doesn’t look too hot with his “dim lights” comment. Is that found in the rest of the documents?

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jun. 8 '09 - 07:28PM    #
  29. The real question is how is this going to, if at all, impact the upcoming City Council elections.

    Leigh Greden faces a Democratic primary election challenge from a credible former councilman – Steve Kunselman – and another candidate.

    Does anyone have any opinion whether Mr. Greden may be more vulnerable due to this e-mail issue?

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 8 '09 - 08:08PM    #
  30. In the email copies I’ve seen, the Council members routinely participating in the mean-spirited discussions and ridicule are Greden, Teall, Higgins, Hohnke, Taylor and Derezinski. Rapundalo is copied on many of the comments. Sandi Smith on some of them.

    Though it’s hard to believe, they are ALL participating. One gets the impression from the emails it’s business as usual to mock constituents, those who speak before Council, resolutions, each other not to mention Anglin and Briere. It’s just sickening to think these people have responsibility for our city, its services and budget.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 8 '09 - 08:11PM    #
  31. Mark,

    To me, the real question is whether they broke the law and violated the Open Meeting Act. If they did, being re-elected will be the least of their concerns. Greden, Derezinski and Taylor are lawyers. One imagines getting nailed for Open Meetings Act violations would impact their careers and jobs.

    Does Chris Taylor sit in meetings at Buzel Long, mock his clients and compete for the Golden Pandy with the BL homies? Does Leigh Greden do the same thing at Miller Canfield, and send “Hey babe” emails while his clients are talking to him about their legal issues? Or is this dishonorable behavior limited to their OTHER paying job?

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 8 '09 - 08:22PM    #
  32. “To me, the real question is whether they broke the law and violated the Open Meeting Act.”

    One would think so but OMA violations are rarely treated as serious infractions of the law. Their impact is almost always felt more heavily in the political arena than the legal one.

       —John Q.    Jun. 8 '09 - 09:53PM    #
  33. I think that an OMA violation was the basis or a major point of Ypsilanti Township’s lawsuit against the county regarding the police services contracts. That lawsuit was ultimately resolved in favor of the county, but the OMA allegation apparently carried a certain weight.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 8 '09 - 10:00PM    #
  34. What about Marcia Higgins emailing the city clerk on a city laptop (and during a council meeting) asking if anyone had filed to run against her and the clerk replying with the person’s name and home address? What are your thoughts on that?

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 8 '09 - 10:06PM    #
  35. The county board did not violate the Open Meetings Act.

    That specific claim got very detailed attention only because all of the other claims by the plaintiffs were dismissed.

    The meeting in question (board leadership committee) was held with notice and public comment and all other requirements of the OMA.

    The plaintiffs argued that because the person taking the minutes at that meeting was not a deputy county clerk, the meeting somehow violated the OMA, though the OMA does not address this.

    My predecessor as county clerk did not have a staff person to cover leadership meetings, so the minutes were taken by a county admin staffer.

    The board leadership committee no longer exists.

    The whole thing gets even more ridiculous when you consider the substantive issue: then-Sheriff Minzey was asking for money with which to sue the county. The board leadership committee saw no reason to put that request on the board agenda.

    Soon after, it was put on the board agenda and rejected, presumably fixing any conceivable OMA problem.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 8 '09 - 10:39PM    #
  36. Yes (regarding the county and Ypsilanti Township et al.), sorry, I didn’t intend to give any credence to their OMA argument, but only to make the point that it was used. I thought that the BOC was scrupulous about following the letter of the OMA, with posting, open doors, and minutes. The OMA was an argument used in court, however.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 8 '09 - 10:52PM    #
  37. RE:35 Larry, on ‘Bob Guenzel’s Update on Police Services’, the County Administrator states that Judge Costello ruled that the County did violate the Open Meetings Act. He also gives a different description of the (alleged) violation than you. From the webpage,

    On the Open Meetings Act claim, the Judge held that the County did violate the Open Meetings Act when its Leadership Committee met to discuss Sheriff Minzey’s request for the County to pay for a separate attorney in this matter. Although the Judge acknowledged that the County held the meeting in a public place, kept minutes of the meeting and posted notice of the meeting, he concluded that the County’s notice of the Leadership Committee meeting was deficient because it didn’t indicate that a quorum of the Board of Commissioners would be present at that meeting and could thereby pass law. Judge Costello wrote that, while he doesn’t believe that the Open Meetings Act requires such information, one recent Court of Appeals did rule that such additional information must be on the Open Meetings Act notice. Accordingly, Judge Costello indicated he was bound by this decision to hold the County in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

    Larry, is this a different case or do your and Guenzel’s interpretation of the court’s ruling differ?

       —Michael Schils    Jun. 8 '09 - 11:30PM    #
  38. It’s the same case. Judge Costello’s interpretation of that detail was overruled by the Court of Appeals.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 8 '09 - 11:34PM    #
  39. Larry, you are technically incorrect. The Court of Appeals did not overrule Judge Costello’s ruling that the County violated the OMA. The reviewing court merely ruled that the issue was rendered moot because the County re-enacted the decision at a later meeting. I would guess you were relying on the same source as the Ann Arbor Chronicle was, for their initial article. As you can see by the red-lined and blue text in the article, the statement that the OMA decision was reversed was later edited, probably by someone who had actually read the CoA opinion.

    That will be $300 for that bit of legal consultation I just gave you, Larry. But I’ll tell you what – since I’m not really a lawyer, I’ll give it to you for half Price! :-)

    But seriously, I doubt that I could have done any worse than the attorneys for the townships. The opinion points out their “shotgun approach” as they raised many issues, but hardly provided support for any of them. But the worst thing, is that they didn’t even bother to give the court a total they were asking for, regarding the OMA claim. Instead of specifying an exact amount, the townships’ attorneys used non-precise terminology like “50 percentage-ish”. Such vagueness was no help to the court in determining the “actual” attorney fees, so the court declined to make the finding on its own. From the CoA’s opinion (and from the article),

    ”It is incredible to this Court that the Townships could have expended sufficient time and effort in pursuing this one claim to justify their contention of entitlement to over $300,000 in attorney fees and costs, particularly given their inability to substantiate the primary claims underlying this cause of action.”

    So Larry, there was indeed an OMA violation, but the attorneys just dropped the ball. I see the townships took the case to the Michigan Supreme Court , where it is now pending. They should get some better attorneys if they hope to even stand a chance, although that probably wouldn’t matter much at this late stage.

       —Michael Schils    Jun. 9 '09 - 02:59AM    #
  40. I wonder if the City Council is going to utilize electronic mail at their next scheduled meeting?

    I suppose it would be fully compliant with the Open Meetings Act if they just used a JumboTron to publiclly display the correspondences.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 9 '09 - 03:30AM    #
  41. For those like Diane and the offenders on Council who don’t think this is worth discussing, what would your response be if the comments were being made by city staff on city laptops or computers and the comments were about residents or Council members?

       —John Q.    Jun. 9 '09 - 05:05AM    #
  42. Umgrad 1234

    I’m curious if you’ve read the emails that Mr. Hall has linked to in comment 22.

    For anyone who fears having to wade through a long string of messages, please know that the links will take you to sets of 3 or 4 emails, each only a line or two long; it won’t take more than a moment to see, directly, what those emails were about—and they clearly support the account Chris Taylor gave in his letter to McGovern (on the www.mlive site).

    UMgrad, those emails clear show the ‘Yep, ;-)’ was not about constituents. It was a jesting response to being left of a list, as Chris stated in his comment/letter to Judy McGovern. The ‘dim bulbs’ statement did not come from Chris.

    You’ve relentlessly bashed Chris as having talked about people behind their backs, but the emails show that’s not the case. What’s more, you’ve implied that Taylor does or might do the same with clients at his place of work. Being wrong about his conduct as a councilman when that conduct is being discussed is one thing, but going after his professional conduct when there’s nothing on which to base that is recklessly malicious.

    I’m not defending the note-passing aspect of this affair, I can agree with you and others here, that there’s not only no need for such, but every reason to avoid it. And if—IF—there’s a violation of the OMA, that’s serious. BUT—let’s not burn people in effigy just because sloppy reporting connected them with twitter-like chat that included some people with bad judgement.

    Instead, let’s stick to the facts; let’s (please!) read the emails linked to in comment 22—OR those you’ve raised about a presentation for developing the lot near the library. These are legitimate grounds for discussion—but mixing them with unfounded attacks on people’s professional conduct taints your possibly valid concerns.

       —Schneb    Jun. 9 '09 - 05:48AM    #
  43. Schneb,

    I’ve read the emails. The conduct was NOT Twitter-like. It was unprofessional, dishonest and mean-spirited. He got caught, and is trying to salvage his political career and, I suspect, his social standing. Whether or not he succeeds will be up to the “dim lights” in his Ward who supported him.

    The “dim light” statement most certainly DID come from Chris. He is listed as the sender of the email on March 16th 2009 at 8:15 p.m. He had the laugh at the expense of his Ward 3 constituents with Teall, Greden and Hohnke. ONE minute later Greden chimed in that most of the “dim lights” lived “mostly in the 5th Ward.”

    As for his “professional” career, he gets paid to sit on Council; he was caught acting unprofessionally and irresponsibly for THREE months of his six months on Council. When the remaining emails are released, we’ll see if the lot of them have been carrying on like this for the ENTIRE time they’ve been on Council.

    Taylor deserves no pity or sympathy, nor does Greden, Derezinski, Higgins, Teall or Hohnke. What those emails show is unbridled arrogance, meanness and incredible disdain for voters, citizens who spoke in front of Council, the trust of elected office and the promises Taylor, Hohnke and Derezinski made on their campaign web sites about “open, honest and transparent” discourse.

    I read an email from a Third Ward constituent who called for Taylor to resign. I read an email apology from Greden sent to a select group of Third Ward voters that was just as dishonest and duplicitous as the emails he sent during Council meetings. He couldn’t even be sincere and honest while making amends. It boggles the mind.

    Is this penchant for skirting the spirit (and perhaps the letter) of the OPA a systemic, long-running problem? The rest of the emails will tell us the answer.

    Until then, one has to wonder why the people of Ann Arbor deserved such disrespectful treatment at the hands of these people, and whether or not they behave the same way in their day jobs. Because if it seems beyond the pale to wonder if Taylor, Higgins, Teall, Hohnke and Greden compete for the Golden Pandy while sitting in meetings at the offices where they work, I can’t imagine why; they did it while sitting in TELEVISED City Council meetings every two weeks for months.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 9 '09 - 06:53AM    #
  44. I really do not believe that anyone will be going to jail, or even criminally charged, as a result of these e-mails as intent to violate the law will have to be shown and, further, these fellows are too well-connected to face criminal charges locally.

    But in my estimation, there is a serious legal question as to whether the Open Meetings Act has been violated and, as to Marcia Higgins, whether Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act has been violated.

    I would like to see some person or official initiate civil or administrative proceedings to test the legality of this questionable conduct.

    I believe the real impact may come from voters who will have a say whether the perpetrators of this tomfoolery should be returned to their respective City Council seats.

    I can say that Mr. Derezinski has had a distinguished legal career in the State House as well as in private practice and I doubt his career wil be damaged by this unfortunate episode.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 9 '09 - 07:04AM    #
  45. I find it surprising that no one on City Council has yet responded to or commented herein on this thread, despite the numerous requests, (e.g. Post #27).

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 9 '09 - 07:58AM    #
  46. “most of the “dim lights” lived “mostly in the 5th Ward.” “

    That’s some awfully selective quoting, of extremely brief notes sent by people with divided attention. Reading the scans linked above, it’s not even obvious to me what they meant.

    “he gets paid to sit on Council”

    Part time, and not a whole lot.

       —Bruce Fields    Jun. 9 '09 - 05:40PM    #
  47. Bruce, Mr. Taylor is paid to attend Council meetings and attend to city business while he’s there. He’s not paid to abuse city computers or resources, use those resources to engage in petty attacks and gossip while he’s there. If he’s unable to do both at the same time, that’s a sign that he should have been paying more attention to his job, not chatting with his fellow council members. I don’t care if he’s only paid $1 a meeting. He chose to run for Council and he knew the pay and responsibilities when he ran.

       —John Q.    Jun. 9 '09 - 07:09PM    #
  48. John Q is a respected voice of reason in this forum, but I have to take issue with the harshness of his judgment here.

    I can’t and don’t defend sniping and gossip behind the backs of public commenters or colleagues. But I hardly think that (away from the in-meeting context) sending a frivolous or joking message rises to the level of “abuse” of city computers.

    In my experience, all current members of City Council are serious about what they do, and I don’t think its fair or accurate to say that their council work suffers from lack of attention to city business.

    These officials stand naked, their human faults on display: arrogance, secretiveness, rudeness, humor at others’ expense, jealousy, lying, and ignorance of the consequences. In our self-righteous rage, we forget that these same people still have the positive qualities that motivated us to entrust city decision-making to them.

    Yes, these are all bright people who should have known better. But taking the jokes out of the city email system will not make them go away, now or ever. Politics is a team sport, and someone who only glares at every teasing comment is going to become isolated and unproductive in a legislative body.

    I think of myself as highly principled and intolerant of corruption in public officials. However, in a case like this, I am reluctant to take the smug moral high ground. All of us have said things we regret, or have carried on whole conversations we regret.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 9 '09 - 07:57PM    #
  49. Well said Larry.

       —diane    Jun. 9 '09 - 08:47PM    #
  50. Larry K.,

    The spirit of your post is very welcome.

    I have to disagree with several of the points you present, however. The “positive qualities” to which you refer were, for all intents, a “public face.” These emails show the true colors of our Council members. Campaign literature from several of the Council members caught conducting side conversations abounds with high-minded sentences about “transparency and honesty” in public discourse.

    However, talking behind a person’s back is neither transparent nor honest. If you think a resolution is a waste of your time, say so in public. Carsten and Teall chose to send mocking emails, instead, to their “group.”

    These people may have presented a serious face to you, but their behavior when no one was looking (or so they thought) makes clear that the business of running our City is something close to a big joke on everyone (particularly the voters). It makes clear that they feel perfectly entitled to disrespect their constituents and lie.

    The emails (all 250 pages of them that cover three meetings) make clear that public comment before Council is a farce, and that our Council members consider the work of environmentalists, activists and themselves unworthy of honest comment and respect. The emails make one other thing abundantly clear: They weren’t paying attention when they should have been. Teall was busy declining her Golden Pandy and Derezinski busy making snotty comments about Sabra Briere.

    They weren’t deliberating in public; they were sending secret emails back and forth. Carsten asks Sandi Smith if the DDA would object to a postponement on the parking garage. Since Sandi somehow channels the entire DDA Board, she answers him (by email). Greden sent an email to Rapundalo and Derezinski with the exact words they should say in their comment calling for a committee on zoning.

    It’s not about their jokes; it’s about their behavior, the chilling lack of respect shown to the people who put them in office, and the appalling inability to deliberate openly and honestly. I would argue this impacts the city every day in a myriad of ways. Politics should be a team sport, on this we agree. Those emails show quite clearly that there are some seriously dysfunctional team members whose characters and judgement were recommended to voters by the Mayor, Rebekah Warren and others. Every single candidate backed by Hieftje is caught up in this mess. Every one.

    It’s incomprehensible, I know. But there it is. So what do we do?

    If they broke the law, we file complaints. If their constituents think they’d be better represented by other people well, then, Greden, Higgins and Rapundalo will go this year, and next year Hohnke, Taylor, Derezinki, Teall and Smith will be ousted (unless they find themselves recalled or forced to resign).

    I totally agree that we all have instances in which we’ve said or done things we regret. The difference here is that this behavior has gone on for the new Council members for months, and for others for YEARS without a shred of regret or a moment’s hesitation.

    Council members who didn’t knuckle under were, as Leigh Greden dubbed it, “Groomed“—completely cut off and excluded by the group. Ask him about it sometime. Ask Kim Groom.

    You are obviously a high-minded politician (though I have always wondered why you donate money to local politicians whose elections you oversee ;-), and I think what you’re trying to say is that we should put this behind us and move on.

    I don’t think that would serve anyone’s best interests except Greden, Teall, Hohnke, Smith, Derezinski, Rapundalo and Taylor. All of their emails need to come out, be examined, and the voters need to get some answers and use them to decide the upcoming elections.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 9 '09 - 09:11PM    #
  51. “These emails show the true colors of our Council members.”

    Not really.

    Everyone who works with the public a lot has heard conversations like these. I’ve heard bitterly sarcastic comments about students from superb, caring teachers. I think they just find themselves forced to spend a disproportionate amount of energy on a minority of difficult people. So there’s complaining. Sometimes a lot. And if they think they have a private forum, they’re too lazy to qualify the complaints (“I’m talking just about X and Y here, the others were great”), the way they would in public.

    But I don’t accept that the fact that they’re constrained in public means that what they say in private is somehow the real person. To do that is to define them exactly by the words they thought the least about.

    It was dumb to assume they had a private email channel, they deserve some criticism for that, and they should cut it out, obviously. But to judge their quality as representatives I’ll put more weight on their public words and actions.

    (And I’d prefer Koroi’s jumbotron solution to abolishing laptops or wireless; it ties people’s hands to require that they anticipate every reference that might be useful during a long meeting.)

       —Bruce Fields    Jun. 9 '09 - 09:54PM    #
  52. UMGrad1234 said: “I read an email apology from Greden sent to a select group of Third Ward voters that was just as dishonest and duplicitous as the emails he sent during Council meetings.”

    I got one of those emails. Does that mean I’m in a select group? That’s pretty funny to think that I’m in a select group of anything but, if true, I have to wonder WHY only certain people received the message??

       —TeacherPatti    Jun. 9 '09 - 09:56PM    #
  53. Re Post#48: Larry, I have a problem with the fact these e-mail statements, such as “Golden Vomit Award”, are subject to being archived for posterity as part of the official record of the Ann Arbor City Council.

    If councilpersons wish to make such statements during council recesses or their own time, that is their right to do so as individuals. During public sessions they are acting in an official capacity and such behind-the-back conduct is wholly objectionable; further, this conduct has gone on for months. Would we want our own children to witness this behavior when we expect them to respect and emulate our civic leaders? I should think not.

    A public apology should be in order from the offending parties.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 9 '09 - 10:41PM    #
  54. UMG: All of their emails need to come out

    No argument with that. Indeed, I expect others will follow this example and submit FOIA requests for all other public officials’ email.

    MK: A public apology should be in order from the offending parties.

    Very much agreed.

    UMG: I have always wondered why you donate money to local politicians whose elections you oversee ;-)

    It’s hard for a politician (like me) to always sit on the sidelines.

    Election law assumes that every actor is partisan. Every step of the process, from precinct to certification, is designed to balance partisans with opposite partisans.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 9 '09 - 11:25PM    #
  55. The ‘Dim Lights’ they see may be the head lights of the freight train coming from down the tunnel at them, but not only from the 5th ward.

    I think it is clear we need to see all the emails before we make any final judgments although it doesn’t look very good with what little we have seen to date.

       —Vin Caruso    Jun. 10 '09 - 04:47AM    #
  56. Here are two follow-up stories from the AA News: Greden’s apology from yesterday’s paper and Teall’s apology from today’s paper.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 10 '09 - 05:57PM    #
  57. And here is a column by McGovern that was posted June 7 on but apparently didn’t make it into the hard copy version of the News.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 10 '09 - 06:09PM    #
  58. The “Hey,babe” e-mail by Leigh Greden was directed to one Amy Wilson.

    Does anyone know who she is?

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 10 '09 - 08:18PM    #
  59. Why does that matter? Are you now going to tear apart and disparage this person for your own entertainment?

    I gotta tell you, the councilmembers are not who I have lost respect for because of this story, but rather certain individuals on this blog who used to post intelligently but are now delighting in this drama.

       —Diane    Jun. 10 '09 - 08:51PM    #
  60. I don’t think anyone is delighting in this embarrassing behavior by the council.

    In response to Larry’s earlier point, my disgust with this issue started long before these e-mail came to light. When I first heard that members of council were e-mailing each other during meetings, I knew that it meant nothing good. There was no good reason for members to be e-mailing each other during a meeting and to me, it was a sign of disrespect to every other person attending those meetings. Knowing the contents of those e-mails only reinforces my initial reaction.

    To the use of the computers, they are given laptops and access to the city network to conduct city business. It’s not a personal toy to play with when they are bored and to entertain each other when they should be listening. I’ll make the same point I did before, if these e-mails were by city staff about council members and the public, would the defenders or the offenders be so quick to dismiss them? I think not.

       —John Q.    Jun. 10 '09 - 10:55PM    #
  61. Re Post#59:Absolutely not. I was just wondering whether this Amy Wilson person was a city employee and whether this was simply an attempt at humor rather than flirtation during City Council business.

    I am personally acquainted with Mr. Greden and have no doubt that he is a sincere, able, and hardworking councilmember.

    These e-mails, however, do show a lapse of judgment of the various councilpersons who have chosen to engage in this conduct

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 10 '09 - 11:09PM    #
  62. Here is the beginning of the Chronicle’s coverage of this matter. It is a column by Dave Askins. At the bottom of the column are links to the raw texts of the e-mails received by Noah Hall in response to his FOIA requests.

    According to the column, the Chronicle has made another FOIA request for e-mails, and the City’s deadline for response is June 15.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 11 '09 - 06:14PM    #
  63. Re: 61. And it shows good judgement on the part of the council members who didn’t engage in the conduct.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 11 '09 - 06:57PM    #
  64. RE:63

    No, it shows they are outsiders who aren’t allowed to sit at the cool kids table.

       —Marvin Face    Jun. 11 '09 - 07:40PM    #
  65. “Give me Internet acccess or give me death!” to paraphrase the quote of American patriot Patrick Henry (and later musician Jello Biafra).

    This mess is rightfully being played to the hilt by the opponents of the “Gang of Seven” that rules City Council. They will no doubt try to capitalize politically regarding this embarrassing situation in upcoming City Council elections.They are simply relishing the citizen outrage and disapproval expressed recently and are banking it remains fresh in voters’ minds by the time upcoming City Council elections roll around.

    The previous posts regarding the potential violations of the Open Meetings Act and Michigan Campaign Finance Act pale in comparison to the fallout and humiliation that the Gang of Seven has brought upon itself from the disclosure of these communications.

    As to Leigh Greden, the cartoon rendering of him with ruddy cheeks, sideways cap and a pacifier while clutching his cherished computer keyboard will likely be his trademark image in the eyes of the public, just as Richard Nixon’s raising of his hands in two “V” symbols became associated with the Watergate scandal.

    Greden’s citation of the “Golden Vomit Award” (also called the Golden Barf Award) is a phrase I have not heard since college; it is a prize at a party bestowed upon the partygoer who has had the most violent episode of regurgitation (usuallly after drinking) on that particular night. Greden’s reference to this award begs the question of what Sabra Briere may have done, unknown to the public, to warrant the presentment of such an honor.

    Don’t worry, Sabra. The stigma against public upchucking by elected officials was removed after President George W. Bush threw up some twenty years ago in Japan during an official function. Some referred to this incident as one of the most significant and memorable events of his presidency.

    All kidding aside, Leigh Greden’s continued political career may depend on his ability to defuse the fallout and implement effective damage control in the upcoming weeks as he has a tough primary election down the road.

    Fortunately for Councilman Taylor he will not have to worry about elections this year as his term is not up until 2010. Taylor, however lost political points by angrily attacking the Ann Arbor News for reckless falsehoods in his initial response to the Judy McGovern publication. Taylor, however, cannot complain about the editorial cartoonist rendering of him in a U.S. Navy uniform, as many have found it becoming, to say the least.

    “Every single candidate backed by Hieftje is caught up in this mess. Every one.”(Post No. 50). Yes, that is correct. This fact also underscores the political reality that the Gang of Seven is just an instumentality of the Mayor’s office and does little to serve the interests of citizens and little to advance the platform of the Democratic Party they purportedly represent. It is a clarion call to change via dismantling of the political grip the anti-citizen Gang of Seven has on Ann Arbor municipal government.

    This is why many are supporting candidacies of those allied with such entities as GO Ask Voters , Huron Valley Greens and the ICPJ. These organizations clearly seek to advance values and goals that can be agreed upon by most Ann Arbor citizens. Marcia Higgins’ general election opponent recently declared his support for the GO Ask Voters charter amendment referendum, for example.

    The Gang of Seven is inimical to the interests of Ann Arbor citizens and should be swept out of office.

       —Kerry D.    Jun. 15 '09 - 01:31AM    #
  66. Re Post#64: Wow! Has the City of Ann Arbor taken any corrective action as a result of this hullabaloo to ensure that City Council’s e-mail activities do not run afoul of the Open Meetings Act?

    It woud seem to me that the City Attorney should be providing some guidance in these matters to ensure statutory compliance.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 15 '09 - 07:29PM    #
  67. Corrective action? It’s still not clear how serious the abuse of email by Council members was. The messages FOIAed by the News covered three meetings in 2009. What remains to be seen are the results of the next FOIAs, some of which go back to August 2008. It’s possible we’ll see Chris Easthope and Joan Lowenstein caught up in this mess, as well.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 15 '09 - 09:34PM    #
  68. As mentioned in today’s Ann Arbor Chronicle, Sabra Briere mentioned to the Mayor at yesterday’s council caucus that she had recently discussed with other councilpersons the need to address prospective amendments in City Council rules to address the proper utilization of electronic mail correspondence.

    Surprise! Surprise!

    Thankfully, City Council members have been reading the Ann Arbor News and Arbor Update to divine the public opinion regarding this matter.

    Hopefully, certain City Council members will refrain from childish comments at the upcoming session.

    I speculate that all will be very circumspect relative to e-mail etiquette at this upcoming meeting.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 16 '09 - 03:10AM    #
  69. It’s nice to know the etymology of the Golden Vomit Award.

    Does anyone know the origin of the Golden Pandy Award? “Golden” is fairly clear – awards are frequently called golden, such as a golden trowel award for gardening.

    Since the Golden Pandy Award is given for pandering, why is it pand-y instead of pand-a? Panda is closer in sound to pander than pandy is. Also, panda calls to mind an image of a cute little bear.

    We may soon find out the answers to this and other similar fascinating questions. Yesterday was the deadline for the Chronicle to receive the e-mails it FOIAed back to last September.

    How many pages of e-mail will there be? For the three meetings of e-mails already released, there were about 250 pages. Since there are ordinarily two Council meetings per month, the Chronicle should be receiving e-mails for twelve Council meetings. There is no reason to think that the 250 pages for three meetings is not typical. The Chronicle should have gotten e-mails for four times as many meetings as the meetings for which e-mails have already been released.

    Ergo, we should be expecting four times as many pages. That’s 250 × 4 = 1000 pages.

    The mind boggles.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 16 '09 - 05:44PM    #
  70. When I finally got around to reading the actual email messages, I was SHOCKED at how innocuous they were. I was expecting something truly nasty or explicit that would make me lose all respect for the people involved. Instead, I can imagine saying similar things (if I were feeling witty and upbeat that day) and it would never cross my mind that anyone would be offended. (Are you all really offended? Really?)

       —S.    Jun. 17 '09 - 12:18AM    #
  71. I’m offended that public officials would use public computers paid for by the taxpayers to send insults about fellow council members and residents during a public meeting when they are being paid to do their job. Let me know where you work that you can engage in that kind of activity on work time using work resources where your bosses (the voters) would consider it as much ado about nothing.

       —John Q.    Jun. 17 '09 - 12:24AM    #
  72. What I have noticed about the emails is that they serve as a sort of mirror or test for each person experiencing them and one’s own experience or perspective can have a major influence on how one perceives them. For example, I wrote a blog entry about nastiness and insularity among public officials. Others focus on the lack of a work ethic or on the legality of the messages re the Open Meetings act. Yet others noted the callous attitude toward constituents. A number react with the “what’s the big deal” as in #70. Saddest of all from my perspective were remarks in a comment thread on Ann Arbor Chronicle that said (paraphrase) – haven’t you engaged in side conversations during a boring meeting? (I regard the attention and concentration of elected officials during a meeting as one of the core responsibilities – your literal responsibility is to hear everything and act on it.)

    My conclusion from all this is that the real message received is from interpretation, not of the literal words, but of “reading between the lines”, and each person gets a different meta-message.

    Like David, I’m waiting for the rest. I’ll read them obsessively.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 17 '09 - 05:38AM    #
  73. Vivienne, your comments are disturbing. You will read them obsessively? Why? To what end? Nothing that has been released so far shows any violation of the OMA in spirit or form. The released emails are juvenile at the least and inappropriate at best and in no way illegal. This endless witch-hunt, trying to find a needle in the haystack, is not productive for our city government or the city in general. It is in fact harmful. It is a form of intimidation and can silence people.

    When you threaten people with embarrassment because of irrelevant and superficial comments in order to force elected officials into voting a specific way or punishing them for prior votes, it is a form of corruption, extortion and/or blackmail. While you and others are waiting with bated breath for your next installment of “Days of our Ann Arbor Lives”, our democratic process could be suffering. I never thought I would ever see the day when “so-called” democrats in Ann Arbor would stoop so low to use Bush-Cheney tactics to push their private agenda through.

    What is more disturbing is that the AAnews , which is supposed to be a reputable, mainstream paper, would allow themselves to be the vehicle used for this corruption. These emails are not news, they are gossip and entertainment. Your anticipation in awaiting the next batch shows just that. I find it sad.

    I can’t believe that a small group of people (the email releasers/Noah Hall etc.) can try to corrupt my city government so easily while the press not only watches, but also participates!

    This is not a scandal no matter how much you, the AAnews and others want to make it one.

       —Diane    Jun. 17 '09 - 06:56AM    #
  74. Diane: What about Marcia Higgins e-mailing City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry on a city-owned computer during a City Council session to inquire whether anyone had pulled petitions against her? And Beaudry responding with the name and residence address of Hatim Elhady? And then Higgins asks Beaudry on another e-mail to keep her abreast of news of any other prospective opponents.

    Is this appropriate behavior for a City Council member?

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 17 '09 - 08:08AM    #
  75. There must be something in the next batch of e-mails worth discussion. How otherwise to explain Diane’s beyond over-the-top comments. She accuses Vivienne of threatening people with embarassement when she’s made no such threats. She equates revealing the boorish behavior of Councilmembers with “Bush-Cheney tactics”. I don’t ever recall any Bush-Cheney actions that involved releasing the e-mails of public officials. As best as I can recall, the problem with Bush and Cheney is that no one could ever see their e-mails. Her most ridiculous, over-the-top, unjustified statement is to say

    “When you threaten people with embarrassment because of irrelevant and superficial comments in order to force elected officials into voting a specific way or punishing them for prior votes, it is a form of corruption, extortion and/or blackmail.”

    It’s an outlandish claim, one that tars public citizens with the accusation of criminal behavior and one that’s made without a shred of evidence (assuming one accepts the claim that embarrassing public officials with their own stupid comments is a form of corruption, extortion or blackmail, which I categorically reject). I can only guess that you are so desperate to divert our attention that there must be something that you desperately don’t want us to see.

       —John Q.    Jun. 17 '09 - 09:46AM    #
  76. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the first wave of the counter attack (I’m guessing) for whatever is about to be released in the latest FOIA request. The A2 News, people critical of the moronic behavior and embarassed by the 4th grade level antics of some of the council reps are going to be the evil ones.

    Not the ones who may have broken the law, may have used their time at council meetings to ignore speakers or cut deals under the table out of the public eye.

    Thanks Diane! It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. Lol.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 17 '09 - 02:24PM    #
  77. Diane G., you’ll need to learn a little more cool if you are going to be involved in politics. As John Q. noted, I wasn’t threatening anyone and indeed I meant my comments to be reflective.

    Actually, I misspoke. I won’t review the emails obsessively, that was mere hyperbole. A more accurate statement would have been “I’m rather curious to see what the next batch will reveal.” Forgive me – it was late and I had a headache resulting from the late-night visit from the lawn mower repair service (we have to buy a new one).

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 17 '09 - 04:22PM    #
  78. Vivienne—

    Suggestion: Larry’s on Jackson Road!

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 17 '09 - 04:28PM    #
  79. I was surprised when the county clerk (#48) took part in the “counter attack” Alan suggested (#76), dismissing some of the messages as “frivolous” and “joking”, and calling criticism of the emails “self-righteous rage”. He also said that he wouldn’t take the “smug moral high ground” regarding the disclosed emails; that a successful politician is not one that “glares at every teasing comment”; and he closed by saying “all of us have said things we regret”.

    This seems like a significant political gamble for a public official to come out against passing judgment on the disclosed emails, especially considering they may only be the tip of the iceberg, with much worse to follow.

       —Michael Schils    Jun. 17 '09 - 05:03PM    #
  80. Actually Vivienne, you guys actually need to read the thread; go back to my comment # 7. I am repeating my exact same comments. You can spin all you want but the truth is nothing but gossip has been reported or “investigated”.

    I take personal offense to anyone who says that this is not an attempt to change votes or alter the council. It is obvious to all exactly what is going on. However, many of you seem to think that this behavior is ok, I do not. It is out and out corruption in my mind. I said it back in post#7 and I say it again.

    So, Vivienne I was not necessarily referring to you but the people who have started this farce in the name of a FOIA request.

    So Vivienne, maybe you should think about your comments and collect all the facts before posting. Your comment was actually very telling not necessarily misspeak (word?).

    For all you conspiracy theorists out there, I do not know what will come out next, but usually when someone “leaks” this type of sensationalistic story the worst stuff is presented first. I am going with that premise.

    Once again, it amazes me how some of you always think this is an inside job (Alan) when someone disagrees with you. You are all so arrogant.

       —Diane    Jun. 17 '09 - 05:19PM    #
  81. Diane, politics is about votes, pressure on politicians to vote for or against an issue, blame for politicians who vote in particular ways, politicians deciding to vote based on the many signals they get from all sides, etc. I’ve been there. It is uncomfortable but it comes with the job. A politician’s voting record is the most public and legitimate basis for judgment that exists. I’m sure you’ve written or called your state and national reps about an issue at some point.

    I don’t know what moved you to make this connection (pressure on votes) to the email story; perhaps your buds are feeling pressure that I don’t know about.

    Calling it “corruption” to try to influence votes through public comment is strange indeed. But I’m glad I was only part of a class of people receiving your blast, not the sole target.

    And no, I’m not obsessing over the emails. I’m more concerned about the real issues in the city and the emails are a not very surprising sideshow.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 17 '09 - 05:42PM    #
  82. I think you just confirmed what I said in post # 76 Diane. Thank you. No further questions of this witness your honor.

    To cut and report # 74:

    “Diane: What about Marcia Higgins e-mailing City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry on a city-owned computer during a City Council session to inquire whether anyone had pulled petitions against her? And Beaudry responding with the name and residence address of Hatim Elhady? And then Higgins asks Beaudry on another e-mail to keep her abreast of news of any other prospective opponents.

    Is this appropriate behavior for a City Council member?”

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 17 '09 - 05:50PM    #
  83. Diane,

    I don’t think you are an ‘insider’. You explained your past political background at one point several weeks ago and I take you at your word. But your defense of the upcoming FOIA releases, I predict, will mirror the talking points that are coming. Never said you had advance copies of the talking points passed to you by the ‘offending parties”.

    Having said that, you are totally wrong about everything else. Lol.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 17 '09 - 05:58PM    #
  84. Vivienne there is a difference between putting pressure on politicians (holding them responsible) for their votes and purposely digging up dirt to embarrass them into not voting that way again (or else). I can’t believe you and others refuse to see that. These emails have nothing but juvenile, embarrassing remarks in them. How is any of that related to information or conversations on the parking structure?

    The initial intent of the FOIA request was to see if there was additional information that was not made public about the PS discussions. Nothing was found, but gossipy emails. They were released anyway, with the full knowledge of what the outcome would be; embarrassment. The embarrassment is a form of punishment and a warning to not do that again or we will dig deeper. Because the outcome does not match the initial intent, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the FOIA requesters wanted to punish the council. This is corruption because they are trying to taint the vote using embarrassment rather than fact or opinion.

    To say that gossipy email is news, is just plain spin. Many of you may relish in the entertainment, but I worry about the actual effect that this will have on ALL our elected officials in this area. This story has lasting affects on our democratic process that none of you will even consider.

    I won’t be posting anymore. AU used to be a reputable blog where actual discussions used to take place, but has since turned into a vessel for hate mongers, so I am choosing to no longer participate.

    Last thing I will say is that “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.

       —Diane    Jun. 17 '09 - 07:27PM    #
  85. “What about Marcia Higgins e-mailing City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry on a city-owned computer during a City Council session to inquire whether anyone had pulled petitions against her?”

    Err, anyone can ask who’s running for office—that’s public information.

    And I don’t think it’s necessary that she carry an extra laptop around to ask that question with, either.

       —Bruce Fields    Jun. 17 '09 - 08:15PM    #
  86. Thanks for answering for Diane and Ms. Higgins.

    With a city owned laptop while she’s sitting in a city council meeting?

    Guess we’ll see if this is a violation of the law over the coming weeks.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 17 '09 - 08:51PM    #
  87. Diane, I’m sorry that you feel abused. I hope that you will eventually feel comfortable in commenting on other issues, since you have the knowledge and perspective. I agree with one thing, though, we’ve beaten this one to death and I won’t be commenting any more on this subject unless there are significant new findings.

    Alan, I have to agree with Bruce. Marcia Higgins was unwise and indiscreet to use her council time and laptop to make a personal request of the clerk, but I see no violation of law.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 18 '09 - 02:02AM    #
  88. I disagree. As I set forth at Post#19, Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act(MCL 169.257) forbids a person acting on behalf of a public body to use or authorize the use of government facilities for campaign purposes.

    The language of the statute specifically forbids use of computer hardware and software, office space and equipment in general.

    In the instant case, the e-mail exchange between Marcia Higgins and City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry was for the apparent purpose of giving Higgins a heads-up on potential challengers to her incumbency in the upcoming City Council elections. It was clearly not for City Council official business. Sabra Briere has publically stated after the current hullabaloo broke that City Council members were advised from the get-go that their computers were only to be used for official City Council business as opposed to personal use.

    Electronic mail accounts are an item of substantial value the City of Ann Arbor apparently pays a service provider to furnish with taxpayer dollars. Higgins’ opponent is not a city official and would have to set up his own e-mail account for his campaign committee at his committee’s cost if he wanted to contact municipal officials regarding election information, so there is clearly a public policy interest against officeholders like Higgins using a City of Ann Arbor electronic mail account, a city-owned computer in City Council chambers, while City Council is in session and we are purportedly paying Marcia Higgins a salary as an elected official to attend these sessions.

    I am not alone in my interpretation that Section 57 may encompass use of publically-funded electronic mail accounts.

    The University of Michigan has promulgated policy statements regarding compliance with applicable law in these matters.

    The College of Literature,Science and the Arts Implementation of Policy and Staff Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Committments pronouncement dated January 8, 2007 sets forth:

    “A staff member may not use University resources (including electronic mail accounts) to support or oppose a political candidate… [t]his is a violation of State Law for which there are individual fines and penalties (Michigan Campaign Finance Act section, MCL 169.257)….”

    A knowing violation of MCL 169.257 is a misdemeanor that may result in imprisonment for up to one year and a fine not exceding $20,000.00.

    I believe that there is at least a reasonable arguable basis that there has been a violation of the aforesaid subsection, however the “knowing” element is usually a difficult matter to prove. The Secretary of State usually tries to introduce promulgated policy manuals fron the relevant governmental entity to attempt to prove the alleged offender knew their conduct violated the Act.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 18 '09 - 03:23AM    #
  89. As Bruce stated, the information about who had filed or taken out petitions is public. I could have gotten the same information by emailing Jackie Beaudry. She is very good at returning emails. Jackie would not have been supporting a candidate by freely disclosing public information. The use of city computers for personal emails is a more general problem that was demonstrated in many of the council emails but this is the type of “crime” seldom prosecuted except for egregious purposes.

    Moderation in all things is good. Let’s stop making monumental accusations based on small transgressions. For one thing, when you cry “wolf” at every tiny opportunity, you degrade the language and the public forum so that it is not as useful for real offenses. Save and direct the outrage where really merited.

    I really didn’t want to talk about this any more, and I’m not a Marcia supporter, but I’m still for fairness. I like the Ann Arbor Chronicle dictum. “Be Generous.”


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 18 '09 - 05:33AM    #
  90. Was Higgins transgression a major one? No. Was it a violation of campaign finance laws? Probably. If you don’t think so, please answer whether any of the following are violations:

    1) Marcia Higgins mails a request to the City Clerk requesting the names of potential Council candidates using city letterhead and a postage paid for by the city.

    2) Marcia Higgins uses a city phone to call the City Clerk requesting the names of potential candidates.

    It’s clear that #1 and #2 would violate campaign finance laws and the same is true of the use of e-mail in this case. In the case of Council members using city resources for political purposes, I would argue that it’s better to err on the side of being overly zealous in applying the strict letter of the law as opposed to letting small transgressions slide. It doesn’t mean that it has to be blown up into a huge issue. But it should be made clear to the Council members that the city resources should not be used for anything that appears to be related to campaign purposes.

       —John Q.    Jun. 18 '09 - 06:16AM    #
  91. Vivienne,

    I do NOT think this is a major issue in comparision to others facing the city. I only brought it up because of the continued discussion that the released council emails were just silly fun and childish but nothing criminal, which is the spin here. There are other things addressed in the documents other than ‘pandy’ awards, including the email from my council rep Higgins. That is why it continues to be brought up—to refute these messages were just people playing around and nothing more.

    I’m sorry Diane took her ball and went home. Seriously, I really appreciate and enjoy her comments. I think we even agree on a few other issues. But I don’t think any discussion of this fiasco is blackmail either. Or that the group that made the original FOIA request was doing anything sinister.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 18 '09 - 02:33PM    #
  92. Individuals expressing themselves chilishly and inappropriately are typically protected under the First Amendment, including City Council members.

    The point of my prior posts on this thread is that a fine line is drawn when there are violations or potential violations of legislative enactments such as the Open Meetings Act and/or the Michigan Campaign Finance Act and that City Council, the City Attorney’s Office and other applicable governmental departments must employ the utmost care that these laws are not violated, which is not only detrimental to the effective functioning of municipal government but engenders distrust and apathy among the local citizenry.

    I am personally acquainted with most members of City Council and say they are all a hardworking and intelligent bunch – without question. I also have enjoyed the expression of counter-viewpoints herein and, by golly, if I am in error or out of line – let me have it.

    In the end I believe that the importance of the considerable public discussion about these issuesis that they will foster greater accountability by local government toward its citizens. And that is a good thing.

    I truly appreciate all who have contributed to this thread and hope to see more posts in the future.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 18 '09 - 08:21PM    #
  93. “In the end I believe that the importance of the considerable public discussion about these issuesis that they will foster greater accountability by local government toward its citizens. And that is a good thing.”

    If the coverage today in the A2 Chronicle is any indicator, the Monday council meeting was filled with reps paying attention, talking to one another, expressing caution about potential conflicts of interest and….generally appearing to be performing their elected duties in a cooperative and open way.

    So Mark, you might be right.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 18 '09 - 10:27PM    #
  94. Question for you all. The chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission has a gmail address as her contact point on the City of Ann Arbor website. Would any communications she made via this address be subject to a FOIA request? If not, why would official city business be conducted under a private address and posted on a city site?

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 19 '09 - 05:26PM    #
  95. Alan, it’s because she’s a private citizen acting in a volunteer capacity, not an elected official or paid government employee. My understanding is that her emails are not subject to FOIA, unless they are sent to/from a government email address, in which case the other government party could be FOIAed, wherein her messages would become public (as mine did in this case, and which I understood was a possibility, by the way.)

       —Steve Bean    Jun. 19 '09 - 06:48PM    #
  96. “My understanding is that her emails are not subject to FOIA, unless they are sent to/from a government email address, in which case the other government party could be FOIAed, wherein her messages would become public”

    I wouldn’t assume that. I don’t think it’s ever been litigated in Michigan. If she’s doing government business on her Gmail account, I think a strong case can be made that it’s subject to FOIA.

       —John Q.    Jun. 20 '09 - 12:32AM    #
  97. Re Post#87: Thank you for yor input, Vivienne. I agree that the Ann Arbor News and other sources have done a magnificent job in bringing these e-mail problems to public scrutiny where it belongs and the “reformed” attitude at the latest City Council meeting is evidence that this public attention corrected a problem that required the deserved attention it received.

    My primary beef is that at both the city and county levels of government there has been and remains serious uncorrected problems of electronic mail account abuses by personnel that have not gotten the atttention they deserve.

    There have been rampant rumors that many city personnelon a regular basis have made improper uses of government e-mail accounts, especially for personal purposes. To the extent this may violate city guidelines, I believe the city should audit these computer e-mail records, or at least a sampling of these records to confirm this and impose disciplinary action upon the violators. The good thing about e-mail as opposed to telephone or fax uses is that electronic mail leaves a nice trail of proof.

    There has also been discussion about the sheriff’s department and the misuse of that department’s e-mail system. One of the recent discussion threads on ArborUpdate indicated that one of the deputies that was named as a defendant in the Clifton Lee, Jr. wrongful death lawsuit had directed highly inapproprite electronic mail corrrespondence to deputies as well as supervisors making light of police brutality. What has been done about this problem in that department.

    There have also been stories of problems regarding an attitude by some circuit court personnel that Court communication facilities was OK to be used for non-court purposes. There was a situation where county administration had received a complaint that a certain circuit court judge had allowed his office facilities to be available for other-than-court uses. That judge was confronted and apparently acknowledged that it would stop in the future. The bad news is that the Freedom of Information Act carves out an exemption for judicial entities so the public does not have this as a tool to shed light on suspected misuse or misauthorization of court resources to advance personal or other improper objectives. I would encourage those having supervisory authority over these operations to investigate such suspected problems and likewise take needed corrective action.

    Greden, Teall. Taylor and Hoenke have been deservedly “raked over the coals” over their imprudent use of the electronic mail accounts supplied them by the City of Ann Arbor, but there are many more “players” at the municipal and county levels that committed misuse and misauthorization of publically-owned communication facilities, such as e-mail and other systems who have not gotten the public scrutiny that City Council has.

    I would encourage the Ann Arbor News to expand its coverage of these abuses across the spectrum of city and county government. The abuses are there and have already been partially documented in piecemeal fashion. A comprehesinsive review is justified and shall be fruiful; many “big shooters” would be embarrassed by the results of such a probe.

       —John Dory    Jun. 20 '09 - 09:15PM    #
  98. Re No.97: You hit the nail on the head, John.

    City Council is not the only local government entity that has electronic mail abuses. FOIA all the city and county departments and boards and you will see some interesting stuff.

    I applaud the staff at the Ann Arbor News that gave us this story, but it is also my sincere hope tha they continue with publishing FOIA responses so we, the public can understand what is going on.

       —Junior    Jun. 20 '09 - 11:09PM    #
  99. John,

    I agree with much of you wrote. However, raking Hohnke, Higgins, Rapundalo, Teall, Greden, Taylor, Derezinski and Smith over the coals, as it were, isn’t really the point. The point is to identify abuses, ascertain whether those abuses were illegal, deliberately deceptive, and clean house, if necessary. Once the offending parties are gone (if that’s what happens), we need safeguards to make sure that those in office conduct the public’s business honestly and within the limits of the law.

    This email scandal isn’t nearly finished, and it shouldn’t be. Apologizing isn’t going to provide a remedy that protects the public interest from elected officials who are either arrogant, stupid, corrupt, dishonest or all four.

    There are emails FOIAed from February 2009 that show the Mayor lying to a constituent who wrote to him about the planned convention center. Hieftje writes that there are no plans to build ANYTHING atop the library lot. He copied Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere, Chris Taylor and Tony Derezinski on that email.

    Leigh Greden did EXACTLY the same thing on the SAME day to a different woman who wrote to her Council member (Greden answered the question directed to that different Council member) expressing her opinion against a convention center. Greden lied and told the woman there are NO plans to build anything atop the library lot in the foreseeable future.

    Carsten Hohnke emailed a constituent that nothing would be built atop the library lot without significant input from the public. He would “demand it.” Uh, huh. He sat there this June and said nothing when Sandi Smith said she was bringing a resolution to invite RFPs for building atop the library lot.

    In Febraury, Sandi Smith emailed a constituent and told her that there were NO plans to build anything atop the library lot. A few minutes later, Sandi sent an email to her Council colleagues inviting them to a meeting at which they would discuss what should be built atop the library lot, including discussing the “convention center.”

    All of these Councilmembers were at the January 2009 Council retreat where Roger Fraser presented…..plans for a convention center (plans which have been withheld from the public, including those present at the meeting). At the first June 2009 Council meeting, Sandi Smith announced her intention to propose a resolution to seek RFPs concerning what to put atop the library lot.

    If they lie to us, deliberately mislead us and do so repeatedly, this is not representative government. It’s a cabal disguised as a bunch of Democrats (well, Higgins, Greden and Rapundalo aren’t that well disguised). It’s embarrassing to the Council people AND their supporters. It’s also costing taxpayers millions every year in graft in the form of DDA “partnership” grants, debt payments on hair-brained parking garages and Court houses, lost core services and higher taxes hidden in the form of water, sewer charges and fees.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 21 '09 - 07:24PM    #
  100. A point that I have not seen addressed in this long thread (may have missed it) is the process and the technical requirements for answering FOIAs. There are some restrictions on how they may be used. One can’t, for example, just ask a question. “Tell me how much has been spent to buy paper towels.” It has to be a request for documents dealing with specific issues. There are various excuses for not complying with the request, including that the item asked for is from private communications not related to deliberations. As I understand, this was the excuse given for denying a FOIA for the convention center plans mentioned at the council retreat.

    Also, the agency is allowed to charge a reasonable amount for the cost of complying. When I was at the county, usually there was no charge, but the city has always charged for copying. They had a certain number of free pages but that has been reduced. However, for assembling email and other information I have heard that the estimate has had staff time added onto it, to the thousands of dollars. I don’t know how this recent request worked out, whether the GLELC simply paid it, or was able to negotiate a better deal. Such charges are inhibitory to the use of FOIA by ordinary citizens.

    Another question is how materials are archived and indexed. Somewhere in the midst of all this current fuss I heard that the city had to ask councilmembers to surrender copies of their emails. Not a very comprehensive approach – you’d expect that a centrally stored archive would be better. When I was on the BOC, I inquired at one time about archiving of emails and I was told that they were wiped from the server as soon as they were downloaded to an individual computer. Wonder if that is still the case?

    And then there are the redactions – the dreaded magic marker. Usually applied for confidential lawyer-client and financial negotiations, but often it is just the stuff you want to know.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 21 '09 - 08:11PM    #
  101. Whew! I have just wasted a good late Sunday evening reading comments #1-100, above! What bothers me the most is that I don’t recall any of these sideline commentators speaking before, let alone even writing, members of City Council within at least the past year or two on behalf—pro or con— on any substantive issue before Council and our city—local issues such as high-rise student apartment buildings, Central Area development, urban density, A2D2, AATA, affordable housing, let alone national issues such as immigration rights, torture, unemployment, access to health care, and other real issues confronting us, our nation, and our President! Would that at least some of you also take on some real issues in addition to your defense of FOIA and (some of you) tar-and-feathering your political opponents. Their in-meeting email banter is childish and inconsiderate. So let’s get on with it and start DOING something that contributes to the real issues so many of those less fortunate (i.e., those who have no access to emails and blogs) are struggling with! And while we’re at it, let’s have the guts and integrity to at least identify ourselves by our full REAL names and associations—“transparency”— not our email code names, e.g. UMGrad1234 a.k.a. pdlesko a.k.a. Pat Lesko, or Diane whomever (although I like her insights!) or John Q. (“Public?)—there just might be some “connections” the rest of us should be aware of! Thanks for protecting our civil liberties. Now get off your blogs and DO something!

    Bob Snyder
    President, South University Neighborhood Association, and Member, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights

       —Bob Snyder    Jun. 22 '09 - 06:53AM    #
  102. Bob:“Diane” is widely believed to be Diane Kurz, a recent mayoral appointee to the City of Ann Arbor Energy Commission who works at the University of Michigan.

    I have no idea if Pat Lesko is UMGrad1234, but Mrs. Lesko is a spokesperson for GO Ask Voters and a recent City Council candidate in the First Ward against Sandi Smith.

    John Q. has been an utter mystery to all.

    I do agree that that immigrant rights violations in Washtenaw County have been a major topic of concern and should be addreesed by our civic leaders. Let us know what we can do.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 22 '09 - 07:11AM    #
  103. ““Diane” is widely believed to be Diane Kurz”

    Widely believed? By who?? I doubt it.

    In any case, unless someone’s full name is unusually relevant to the topic at hand, please drop it.

       —Bruce Fields    Jun. 22 '09 - 07:47AM    #
  104. Mark,

    I always knew “Diane” could be counted on to tow the gang of seven’s line, now I know why. She stated above that she would no longer participate in this discussion due to the claim that the ArborUpdate staff was remiss in publishing “gossip” for the purpose of embarrassing the council members into changing their votes. In view of the analysis by UMGrad123 above this line of reasoning is a joke at best and deliberate obfuscation at worst. Since when is lying to the public o.k. (they claim there are no plans on the same day they are making plans!)? So, Diane, do you care to explain yourself on this? Why should the council majority be shielded from having their malfeasance exposed? Please don’t tell us that our leaders know better than us and we need them to lie to us for our own sake!
       —ChuckL    Jun. 22 '09 - 08:10AM    #
  105. Many people aren’t able to contribute using their real names, or don’t feel comfortable doing so, because of professional or other obligations. Assumed names allow these folks to participate. It’s also an Internet tradition to use pseudonyms.

    We ask (and check) that people use a consistent pseudonyms, and most of those folks you reference have been around for years. It’s bad form to guess at who’s who — in no small part because guesses are, for the most part, way off the mark and unverifiable.

       —Matt Hampel for AU    Jun. 22 '09 - 08:17AM    #
  106. I would rather have people contributing to the discussion under (consistent) pseudonyms than not contributing at all.

    I think it’s better to post under your own name. The risks are wildly overrated. But if that’s not your choice, I respect it.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 22 '09 - 09:40AM    #
  107. Sorry to continue this off-topic discussion, but I can verify that Diane Kurtz is not correct. The real Diane has also posted with almost identical arguments with a letter (in her full name) to the Ann Arbor News. (She is on a different board.) Pat Lesko will never use a pseudonym. She is proudly secure in her opinions. (And will be writing a column for I’d like to know who UMGrad1234 is too – his/her comments are usually well-informed and well placed (i.e., coincide with my own opinions). But Matt and Larry have it nailed. Let it be.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 22 '09 - 03:29PM    #
  108. As Bruce said,

    In any case, unless someone’s full name is unusually relevant to the topic at hand, please drop it.

       —Matt Hampel for AU    Jun. 22 '09 - 05:35PM    #
  109. Full (real) names are only relevant if the reader cares to know anything about the veracity of the stated opinions and whether they have a history of (un)substantiated claims or bias. But perhaps that’s what bloggers prefer—freedom to declare anything and attack anyone without being held responsible! Sort of like the spate of right-wing looney-claim TV attack spots. Then again, even Rush Limbaugh tells us who he is!

    Bob Snyder

       —Bob Snyder    Jun. 22 '09 - 06:18PM    #
  110. Bob,

    Actually, I was hoping the neighborhood groups would get off their listservs and do something! All joking aside, the AADems have a Ward Chairs system. The Ward Chairs are elected, and hold meetings regularly. Your neighborhood group could ask 3rd Ward Chairs Heidi Herrell and Letita Kunselman to have a meeting where you could ask your Council representatives to explain their emails.

    Dems in your association could ask Conan Smith, Chair of the AADems, to launch an investigation and, if necessary, craft a resolution to censure those AA Dems who are judged to have lied to constituents, subverted the letter or spirit of the Open Meetings Act, etc….

    So, why on earth don’t the city AADems step up and clean up this mess? ‘Cause you know what? Political inbreeding is one of the problems in Ann Arbor, and part of the root of this mess. Rebekah Warren and Conan Smith endorsed Carsten. Does Conan have the cojones to look into Carsten’s conduct on Council? Actually, I’m not holding my breath for Conan Smith to suggest any action. He posted a comment about this scandal to AAChronicle that would make Dick Cheney proud, and should make your skin crawl. Conan is all for secrecy. Let’s see what he says about honesty and transparency when he runs for Mayor next year.

    Those elected officials on Council may be our neighbors, our friends, recipients of our campaign donations and campaign help, but if they lied (and emails released suggest they do so on a regular basis when constituents write to them), they have betrayed the public trust and need to resign (or be forced to resign). Otherwise, we are handing a bunch of chronic liars (I know, I know, some would say this is THE definition of a career politician) a checkbook with a balance of $390 million dollars in taxpayer money and a license to steal it from us, cut or core services, lie to us about what they’re doing, and then pretend that we’re crazy, vindictive, mean or just plain “misinformed” (Hieftje’s favorite term to explain why critics of his leadership should be ignored) for pursuing an investigation into their conduct.

    So, Bob, why not get your group to call Leigh Greden and Chris Taylor onto the carpet? Show Leigh his emails where he has lied. Show Chris the email where he has referred to you and your association members as “dim lights.” Listen to them, and then, vote on whether you want your Ward represented by such men. Then, the rest of us in the city can see whether you folks in the south university area are really “dim lights,” or are content to be represented on Council by a guy whose pants should be continually aflame.

    As for Hieftje, he was quoted in the Ann Arbor News as saying that if someone does something stupid, they should apologize. He endorsed every one of those Council members caught up in this web of deceit. I missed Hieftje’s apology. (See political inbreeding, above). Of course, he was caught lying via email, as well.

    The AA News FOIAed more emails, and the FOIA was partially denied because to release those emails would be an invasion of privacy. Ask yourself: what, on earth, could a Council member be emailing DURING A COUNCIL MEETING that would be an invasion of privacy if released to the public? Kwami argued his text messages shouldn’t released for the same reason.

    Finally, chew on this, the city employee whose job it was to respond to FOIAs has left his job with the city, and I heard that though Council members are told to retain ALL emails, some of our usual suspects deleted their emails. Those emails were, however, retrieved from the server.

       —UMGrad1234    Jun. 22 '09 - 06:58PM    #
  111. Bob Snyder — never afraid to hide his light under a pseudonym — lives in the First Ward.

    He’s already let his members of Council know how he feels about that oh so polite email communication pattern, and how much he appreciates mature heads and positive interactions among colleagues. <written with tongue firmly lodged in cheek. cannot talk past tongue now.>

    One can only hope that any invasion of privacy experienced as a result of the FOIA request would be an invasion of innocent (that is, not CITY) privacy. Some of the emails requested during the latest round were for the entire day, and from members of Council work addresses; I don’t know what might have been involved that would trigger the ‘privacy’ excuse.

    But please — keep holding our feet to the fire on this and any other issue. We members of Council are answerable to you who elected us. While some of the public feel this is a petty issue, if we cannot answer your questions to your satisfaction, it becomes a significant issue. And that is issue enough.

    I’ve read all the emails released so far. I’m still minding my manners.

       —Sabra Briere    Jun. 22 '09 - 07:37PM    #
  112. Sabra, any comments on the apparent Mitchell Ozog candidacy?

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 23 '09 - 01:56AM    #
  113. As I suspect any curious mind would do, I ‘googled’ Mr. Ozog, and believe I learned that he’s an artist, a Mason, and has been a Republican precinct delegate.

    I have no other information about his interests or concerns, if indeed I found the right person through Google.

    If he files as an Independent, we will all learn more about his strengths and views of how Ann Arbor could better serve its citizens. That’s the most desired outcome, after all. And this all belongs on the Council Races page . . .

       —Sabra Briere    Jun. 23 '09 - 02:51AM    #
  114. The City has released a second batch of Council e-mails, for the dates of September 15, September 22, and October 6, 2008. Here is a highlight, followed by my notes.

    From: Greden, Leigh
    Sent: September 15, 2008 7:36 PM
    To: ‘Chris Easthope’
    Subject: .

    Adams did their billboard proposal. Since you’re not present, you must vote yes.


    From: Chris Easthope
    Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 7:39 PM
    To: Greden, Leigh
    Subject: Re: .

    If they give me free advertising


    From: Greden,Leigh
    Sent: Monday, September 15, 200 7:39 PM
    To: Chris Easthope
    Subject: RE: .

    Are you already out drinking?

    [Note: On September 15 City Council had a “work session” at which no votes were taken. Adams Outdoor Advertising did a slide presentation on electronic billboards. Council member Easthope, who at the time was running for Fifteenth District Judge, was not present, but he was on e-mail with Council member Greden.]

       —David Cahill    Jun. 23 '09 - 05:20PM    #
  115. I have the solution! Make all councilpeople use a city-issued Twitter account to which anyone can subscribe!

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 23 '09 - 07:05PM    #
  116. That would be hilarious.

       —Bruce Fields    Jun. 23 '09 - 07:14PM    #
  117. “Are you already out drinking?”

    That would explain a great deal…lol.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 23 '09 - 07:21PM    #
  118. Here is another highlight, from the “Golden Pandy” series:

    From: Easthope, Christopher
    Sent: Monday, October 05, 2008 8:24 PM
    To: Lowenstein, Joan; Rapundalo, Stephen; Teall, Margie; Higgins, Marcia
    Subject: GP (Golden Pandy)

    On an otherwise lame night Leigh Greden has shamelessly pandered to the fire department…so early voting goes to him


    From: Teall, Margie
    Sent: Monday, October 06, 208 8:25 PM
    To: Easthope, Christopher; Lowenstein, Joan; Rapundalo, Stephen; Higgins. Marcia
    Subject: RE: GP

    Oh, I’m glad to see the GP back! Yes…Leigh has my vote! I just want to hear his acceptance speech.


    From: Easthope, Christopher
    Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 8:26 PM
    To: Teall, Margie; Lowenstein, Joan; Rapundalo, Stephen; Higgins, Marcia; Greden, Leigh
    Subject: RE: GP

    didn’t want to leave him out of the consideration


    From: Greden, Leigh
    Sent: Monday, October 05, 2008 8:28 PM
    To: Easthope, Christopher; Teall, Margie; Lowenstein, Joan; Rapundalo, Stephen; Higgins, Marcia
    Subject: RE: GP

    Oh please, SB (Sabra Briere) took the cake with that speech about the African American museum. She pandered to African Americans AND historic preservationists all at the same time.


    From: Easthope, Christopher
    Sent: Monday, Ocrober 06, 2008 8:29 PM
    To: Greden, Leigh; Teall, Mragie; Lowenstein, Joan; Raundalo, Stephen; Higgins, Marcia
    Subject: RE: GP

    Hmmm..that would have to be considered but…the Academy is more swayed that you would actually put your pandering in resolution form


    From: Teall, Margie
    Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 8:31 PM
    To: Easthope, Christopher; Greden, Leigh; Lowenstein, Joan; Rapundalo, Stephen; Higgins, Marcia
    Subject: RE: GP

    There he goes again!!


    From: Lowenstein, Joan
    Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 8:33 PM
    To: Teall, Margie; Easthope, Christopher; Greden, Leigh; Rapundalo, Stephen; Higgins, Marcia
    Subject: RE: GP

    Pandering to salt. Pretty desperate.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 23 '09 - 07:28PM    #
  119. Here is the last part of the “Golden Pandy” highlight:

    From: Greden, Leigh
    Sent: Monday, October 05, 2008 8:33 PM
    To: Lowenstein, Joan; Teall, Margie; Easthope, Christopher; Rapundalo, Stephen; Higgins, Marcia
    Subject: RE: GP

    I was pandering to McCormick, not salt….!

    [Note: From Council member Teall’s comment at 8:25 PM above, it appears that the Golden Pandy award goes back substantially before October, 2008. Sue McCormick is the City’s public services administrator, and is in charge of the people who salt the roads.]

    Sorry, Arbor Update has been having technical problems with something in this text, so I had to enter it in pieces. Thanx to juliew for helping me work around the problem.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 23 '09 - 07:31PM    #
  120. So this is a long term ONGOING award? Lol. Well thank goodness Ms. Lowenstein and Mr. Easthope aren’t sitting on the bench right now and emailing other judges during a trial…

    But this is getting to the point of not being funny.

    Have copies been posted online yet?

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jun. 23 '09 - 08:25PM    #
  121. I would like to emphasize that City Council should not be alone in bearing the brunt of public criticism regarding what appears to be improper use of taxpayer-financed electronic mail accounts.

    In 2006, I was among an enthusiatic group of supporters of the 2006 write-in candidacy of Patricia Gravel-Henkel, a young and energetic Harvard Law School graduate who sought to oppose judicial incumbents Melinda Morris and Timothy Connors for a seat on the Washtenaw County Circuit Court. Ms. Gravel-Henkel was openly critical of the operation of the court, especially of Judge Connors.

    Patricia proceeded to register a campaign committee, establish a campaign website and have volunteers distribute flyers in her support.

    What we ended up seeing was that circuit court facilities were being openly authorized via Secretary of State filings as campaign committee resources. Judge Morris’ campaign committee filings are downloadable at the Secretary of State website at Judge Connors’ campaign committee filings are downloadable at

    Judge Morris’ committee listed a circuit court e-mail account of Valerie Scriven, who had been disclosed in a circuit court public website as her “judicial coordinator”; the Secretary of State website lists her as the campaign committee treasurer of Morris. Circuit court telephone and fax numbers that appear in publications as part of Judge Morris’ office “doubled” in the Secretary of State filings as Morris’campaign committee contact information.

    A similar situation occurred with Judge Timothy Connors’ campaign committee filings. The electronic mail address “” that appears in published sources as a circuit court facility also appears on Secretary of State records as contact information for the Committee to Retain Judge Timothy P. Connors. As in Judge Morris’ committee filings, Connors’ campaign committee listed publically-disclosed circuit court telephone and fax numbers assigned to his judge’s office as campaign committee contact information.

    Both Morris’ and Connors’ campaign committees gave an office address that coincided with the circuit court’s address. Morris’ campaign committee went as far as to utilize the circuit court’s published post office box on her campaign committee’s filings as the committee’s mailing address.

    The unraveling of these “dual uses” was largely as simple as placing the campaign committee information disclosed in the filings and running it through a search engine on the Internet.

    Although we did not have a very good chance of seeing Morris or Connors beat in 2006, we were able to gather several hundred votes in Ann Arbor and bring to public attention criticisms on the operation of the circuit court.

    I believe that the incumbents’ committees’ authorization of circuit court resources was not appropriate and deprived Patricia of a level playing field.

    The Ann Arbor News should cover all the improper electronic mail uses that have occcurred in government facilities, not just City Council.

       —Kerry D.    Jul. 3 '09 - 06:50AM    #
  122. I hope some of the information from the council emails will be made public before the August primary but that date is coming up quickly.

    And Kerry D. I wouldn’t hold my breath on the Ann Arbor News or doing any reporting of any importance.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 6 '09 - 05:07PM    #
  123. since ive been out of town ive not had a chance to review this thread until now..a few observations: -an early post noted the kwame k. e-mail precedent as an example of how little of a cyber nature is private anymore…thus the council computerizing is a sign of at least a level of political naivete, no matter how innocuous ,and indeed healthily cathartic ,such communiques may have seemed at the time….

    -on that ‘catharsis” point, knowing some who regularly appear before the council with repetitive inane comments on topics that have nothing to do with local matters, on the level of forgiveness of human frailties i think that playing grand theft auto or downloading porn would be understandable in the circs.

    apropos of which,the sanctimony expressed by some here is a bit disingenuous. A case in point is #65, by a frequent-on-AU-shill of the recently repudiated BIGots at the coop. that post makes alot of the “tut-tutting” here ring a bit hollow (e.g. the green party, under it’s current leadership, expressing “values everyone can agree on”…yeah right! obviously the writer confuses ann arbor with tehran ,gaza or waziristan)

    theodore d. katz aka

       —goilem    Jul. 8 '09 - 04:36PM    #
  124. Literally thousands of pages of Council e-mails were recently released to the Chronicle and other requesters, including (I think) the AA News. The News is dying, and the Chronicle hasn’t yet given the contents of the e-mails coverage.

    To fill the gap, the Ann Arbor Alliance of Neighborhoods has begun posting excerpts of these e-mails on its Web page.

    So far, they have posted excerpts from September 15, September 22, and October 6, 2008; September 8, October 13, October 20, November 6, and December 8, 2008; and February 17, 2009.

    The February 17 excerpts alone (which run to 12 pages) show that the decision on the underground parking structure bonds was orchestrated behind the scenes. They also show that the code name “the moron” has been given to a Council member – in secret.

    The Alliance website says “More of these, soon.”

       —David Cahill    Jul. 8 '09 - 10:36PM    #
  125. Thanks for the link David. I just skimmed the documents but the exchanges on the underground parking structure shows several members of council have outright lied to the public.

    And, from reading some of her literary contribtuions here, if I were a certain 4th Ward council rep, I wouldn’t be tossing out the word ‘moron’ so freely either.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 8 '09 - 11:46PM    #
  126. Re Posts #69,#124 and #125:

    “Since the Golden Pandy Award is given for pandering, why is it pand-y instead of pand-a?…”

    There is already a prize established by the World Wildlife Fund called the Golden Panda Award to honor the year’s best wildlife film; it has been around for many years and I suspect that the City Council members who created the Golden Pandy Award did so by allusion to the Golden Panda Award.

    I do not believe “the moron” is necessarily a “code word” as I only see it one time – in an electronic mail correspondence from Leigh Greden to Marcia Higgins on February 17, 2009 at 9:23 in the phrase “[p]lease don’t vote with the moron.” The preceding e-mail correspondence several minutes earlier was critical of “SB”, so its possible that Leigh was referring to Sabra Briere, but we do not know for sure.

    I agree there are many misspellings and typographical errors that can be attributed to Marcia Higgins on these e-mails.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 9 '09 - 02:53AM    #
  127. Mark, check out the recently-posted highlights of the January 5 meeting. There are several pages of attacks on Mike Anglin by Leigh Greden, including stuff about his mental fitness.

       —David Cahill    Jul. 9 '09 - 09:10PM    #
  128. You mean comments from Leigh Greden like:

    “You guys let him slide by with his incompetence. It’s like having Forrest Gump on City Council.”

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 9 '09 - 09:36PM    #
  129. “This is absurd. I’ve been on facebook for half an hour.”
    —Leigh Greden

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 9 '09 - 09:38PM    #
  130. “Yeah good point. When Sabra gives him a box of chocolates, I’ll pat him on the head and says “stupid is as stupid does.””

    — Leigh Greden

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 9 '09 - 09:40PM    #
  131. Maybe “the moron” and the “Golden Vomit” award winner could sponsor a resolution to have the city release all the Councilmember’s emails since, say, they began using laptops during Council meetings?

    Reading these posted FOIAed emails makes clear that Lowenstein and Easthope played ball via email. Have secret deliberations via email been going on for years? It would make sense to think so, since Higgins, Teall, Rapundalo, Greden, Hieftje, Lowenstein, Easthope, Wendy Woods, etc…were on Council for years.

    To what extent email has been used to defraud the public, we all deserve to know.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 10 '09 - 12:58AM    #
  132. What is clever is how Leigh juxtaposes the famous “Life is like a box of chocolates…” line from the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump film with the proverbial practice of Sabra Briere supplying chocolate candy at council caucuses.

    Leigh also borrows the hackneyed “stupid is as stupid does” line from the Gump character. This line itself is a variant of “handsome is as handsome does” quote from the J.R.R. Tolkien book “Lord of the Rings”, which is to convey the theme that acts speak louder than physical appearances.

    One unexplored dimension of these electronic mail correspondences is that it has revealed a sardonic wit of Councilperson Greden that would justify a legitimate inference that he could have made a credible comedy screenwriter had he not chosen law as a profession.

    One other facet of this thread that has not been addressed is that neither Mike Anglin nor Sabra Briere have disclosed whether or not they are offended by these ramblings of Mr. Greden or, rather, are finding it as humorous as Leigh appears to find it. If they do, I would think that much of the extensive criticism against Leigh would abate.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 11 '09 - 03:01AM    #
  133. Here is an e-mail from Robert Snyder which has been sent to Mayor/Council and others:

    Dear Mayor Hieftje, City Council Members, and voters who have been dragged into the “Council not-so-Civil Email War”!
    There is a growing neighborhood citizens’ frustration with what seems to be a top-down, “let them eat cake” approach to citizen ideas and input regarding almost anything that comes before City Council — listen but not hear or acknowledge, let alone incorporate the citizen-outsiders’ ideas into the City’s leaders’ already set plans. There is an aura of arrogance and disdain for perspectives other than one’s own, or the ruling clique’s. What’s more troubling is the unearthing of meeting after meeting of Council members’ on-the-job email chatter, deal-making, and downright offensive and mean-spirited put-downs of their colleagues.
    The Ann Arbor News’ brief foray into some of this behavior about a month ago elicited a mixture of indignation, apology, and “we’ll never do it again” replies. But, again, what the News featured on its front page was mainly the childishness and rudeness of some of the Council members who good-naturedly typed and sent zingers to their buddies across the table. The question of lining up votes during Council time, on the City’s laptops and Internet, has raised questions of possible violation of the Open Meetings Act. Presumably the City Attorney as well as outside legal counsel are looking into this.
    Thanks to the FOIA and research by the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the Alliance of Neighborhoods, and just plain interested individuals, more email chatter written during multiple City Council meetings is being exposed. The Alliance website currently has 12-plus Council meeting email extracts going back to September 2008 to the present. The Citizens’ News Service says: “Are you curious about the secret email messages that Ann Arbor City Council members send to each other during public Council meetings in which all communications are supposed to be open to the public? Now you can read what they say in private when they should have been listening to public comments and their colleagues conducting council business.”
    Illegal as it may be to line up email voting deals under the Council Chamber’s table, rude as it may be to not even feign listening to their constituents and Council colleagues while exchanging snipes with each other and about others, the nastiest part is the cruel and derogatory comments made repeatedly about a small minority of Council member “outsiders.” Comments such as “moron”, “Forest Gump on City Council” (at least Forest was a kind and respectful person), “mentally unfit to hold office” are made throughout the email extracts of January 5, 2009. Ditto for February 17, and a dozen or so other Council meeting dates. More than one Council member — more like four or five — acted in a boorish and inexcusable manner over the Internet while supposedly attending to the City’s business! It is disappointing that the Mayor, who himself does pay attention to the public commentary and doesn’t appear to engage in laptop chatter, hasn’t both publicly and privately denounced the illegal and ill-mannered behavior of the Council members who have abused their office privilege as well as common collegial etiquette. Does the impending August Dem primary have anything to do with not calling the question? Please speak out — now — against this unacceptable behavior, John!
    Even though it’s just the Dems bad-mouthing their fellow Dems (remember Will Rogers’ pithy response about not belonging to any organized political party? “I’m a Democrat!”), let’s hope that at least one or more of our elected representatives, as well as those running for office, and the majority of the voting public will have sufficient courage and indignation to point out the (Democratic) Elephant(s) in the Room. Let’s hope that the voters will take note and be heard at the polls. Voting for representatives who listen to, solicit input from, and respect members of the public as well as all of their fellow council members, would be an appropriate response when it comes to choosing Council representatives for the coming two years. The best reward for bad behavior is to not reward it!

    C. Robert Snyder, Ph.D.
    President, South University Neighborhood Associations (SUNA)

       —David Cahill    Jul. 14 '09 - 05:15PM    #
  134. I, for the most part, agree with Dr. Snyder.

    What needs to be explained, however, is the role of the City Attorney’s office in this mess both before and after the Ann Arbor News’ revelations.

    To the extent the City Attorney was aware of the installation of electronic mail and computer devices at City council meetings, he should have published recommendations to the Mayor and City Council as to proper and improper uses of such devices so as to ensure compliance with the Open Meetings Act. There have certainly enough published legal resources on this issue that the City Attorney would have been kept busy in digesting the applicable legal authorities and making reasoned conlcusions and recommendations for the Mayor and City Council to follow.

    Sabra Briere has already disclosed that upon her ascension to her First Ward
    City Council seat in 2007 she was advised that the computers were to be used for strictly for official municipal purposes and the e-mail generated therefrom was subject to FOIA disclosure to the public. There has been no concurrent averment that she was advised about possible Open Meetings Act implications arising from the use of these electronic mail accounts.

    Dr. Snyder has raised the important question is what has the City Attorney and/or outside counsel, if any, done to address the aftermath of the Ann Arbor News story? I agree it is important to assess blame and recommend appropriate remedial measures. Such an investigation would likely be very embarrassing to a number of high-ranking city officials, damage the ability of certain officeholders to get re-elected in upcoming contested races and could raise counter-attacks that the City Attorney did not do their utmost to make adequate recommendations in the get-go to avoid the possible Open Meetings Act violations in the first place. He states “presumably” the City Attorney is looking into these potential Open Meeetings Act violations.

    Don’t count on it, Bob.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 14 '09 - 07:17PM    #
  135. The City Attorney works for City Council, not the people of Ann Arbor. A Council member (say, the only one who has said in public he would sponsor a resolution to call for the release of all of the emails) would have to direct the City Attorney’s office to look into the matter of the emails. Any citizen can file a complaint against Council members/Council for Open Meetings Act violations.

    My guess is that Greden, Higgins, Teall, Hohnke, Smith, Taylor, Rapundalo, Derezinski and Hieftje are holding their breath praying people don’t figure out that the City Attorney isn’t looking into possible vote-rigging and the misuse of city property. They are also counting on Sabra Briere big time to protect them, because it would surely piss them off to no end if she actually did something other than thank citizens for their outrage and assure us she would never do anything so stupid as to send an email to about, say, why she was voting a particular way on a particular resolution. Well, oops, she did that already.

    Bob Snyder’s letter was spot on! Now, let’s see a neighborhood group step up and file a formal complaint.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 14 '09 - 08:50PM    #
  136. While the City Attorney may work for the Council, he has an ethical and legal duty to the City as an organization. He/she is responsible to make clear to Council members that when their actions are heading off into a gray area, that they are duly warned about the legal dangers they may face. If the Council wanders off into a minefield of their own choosing, the City Attorney may not be able to stop them. But there should at least be a warning about the hazards present.

       —John Q.    Jul. 14 '09 - 11:15PM    #
  137. I thank Mr. Snyder for his e-mail to the Mayor.

    I also agree with the primary thrusts of Posts Nos. 134,135, and 136.

    In other words, what was City Attorney Steve Postema’s role when these possible Open Meeting Act violations were occurring on a regular basis session after session? Did he know? If so, how did he respond?

    More importantly, what is he doing now to investigate and ameliorate these apparent problems?

    Bob Snyder has hit the nail on the head that this disgusting behavior on the City Council electronic mail system should be loudly denounced by the Burgermeister, despite the fact the offenders are not only members of his own party, but former candidates that he campaigned for, and in the case of Leigh Greden, someone who he actively supporting in a primary election slated to occur in only few weeks.

    It’s amazing that when this story first broke in the Ann Arbor News there was swift and strong recriminations – against those who were responsible for unearthing and disclosing to the public this sordid tale. The good faith of Noah Hall was called into question – to which he responded with a verbose e-mail on this thread. There was the immediate response of Mr. Leigh Greden that he had no apologies for what he termed “banter”. Mr. Christopher Taylor, an attorney at one of Michigan’s most prestigious law firms, sent an e-mail directed to Ann Arbor News reporter Judy McGovern alleging reckless falsity in her work couched in legalese implying liability for defamation. She made no retraction.

    Now over five weeks later, the alleged offenders on City Council have retreated from their initial display of righteous indignation and their amen corner has also become curiously silent as hundreds of pages of other electronic mail correspondences have been released that cover numerous other City Council sessions; these correspondences are not very flattering for the authors of these e-mails.

    The most disappointing, disturbing, and disgusting aspect of this entire sad story is that Mr. Greden, at his City Council computer, week after week, had no qualms about denigrating the developmentally disabled – those members of our society that his own legal profession of which he is a practicing member strives to protect. Not too long ago, our Chief Executive made an isolated remark that tended to slight such citizens and public opinion and the media was all over him, resulting in an immediate public apology. However Mr. Greden to this day has given no such apology since these most recent e-mails have come to light.

    I would agree with Post No.133 that there should be a formal complaint filed for alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act to test the legality of this conduct.

       —John Dory    Jul. 15 '09 - 02:24AM    #
  138. Let’s not forget whom Leigh Greden sent his emails to. It would be a shame to forget that Marcia Higgins, Margie Teall, Tony Derezinski, Sandi Smith, Stephen Rapundalo, Chris Taylor and Carsten Hohnke RECEIVED Greden’s emails during Council meetings, but they also sent their own Pandy nominations, vote counts, and pleas to stave off postponements.

    I actually read a group of emails from Marcia Higgins to her fellow Council members where she threatens to grab the gun of the officer present at the Council meeting and shoot people, because a Council member from Ward 5 she doesn’t like very much was speaking. They all just played right along.

    Greden is being flayed alive (politically), but let’s not lose sight of the fact that virtually our entire City Council participated in this lunacy and habitual secret deliberations during open meetings. Higgins, Teall, Smith, Derezinski, Taylor, Hohnke, and Rapundalo are all involved.

    Greden isn’t a lone malignant tumor on Council. We have a widespread problem. It has cost us, literally, and when the Mayor tells us we need a city income tax to fix the mess the Council emailers have gotten us into, beware. Hieftje is endorsing Leigh Greden for City Council—the candidate who updates his Facebook page (and emails his Council pals about it) during Council meetings.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 15 '09 - 04:28AM    #
  139. OK Folks. The righteous indignation is getting kind of tiring. So a bunch of democrats think they’re better than everyone else and do something stupid. There’s a story there? I’m shocked, shocked to find that people say things about each other behind their backs!

       —Marvin Face    Jul. 15 '09 - 06:59AM    #
  140. right on marvin…on other AU threads we see a spate of posts by the likes of “badr” ( blaine coleman and wife, mozhgan savabiesfahani) and ‘kerry d’ who, with henry herskovitz, are the types who’ve been ‘spamming’ the city council over the years with their 1-issue, locally irrelevant anti-israel crap just as they try to hijack any and all blog threads and organizations ( e.g. the green party)…and there are other local cranks who’ve done similar things re their pet hobbyhorses…i cant overly “sanctimonize” when council members vent a bit on their computers or otherwise zone out at such occasions of terminal’s just human ( when i was a dept chair at administrative meetings my thing was doodling , caricaturing deans and presidents or fantacizing about a nap under the meeting table… and business still got done…

       —goilem    Jul. 15 '09 - 02:43PM    #
  141. “I actually read a group of emails from Marcia Higgins to her fellow Council members where she threatens to grab the gun of the officer present at the Council meeting and shoot people, because a Council member from Ward 5 she doesn’t like very much was speaking.”

    Sorry I missed that passage…

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 15 '09 - 02:45PM    #
  142. Here is a link to an e-mail correction article in yesterday’s AA News. It doesn’t break much new ground. I am posting it because Arbor Update will outlast the AA News, and I think there should be a lasting record of its coverage.

       —David Cahill    Jul. 15 '09 - 07:36PM    #
  143. The following is a letter I sent to the Mayor. His response and other materials related to the Council emails can be found on the Alliance of Neighborhoods web page:

    “Dear Mayor Hiefje,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to Mr. Snyder’s letter. The issue of Council emails is of great concern to many of us who have appeared before Council to try to persuade the Council to take a particular stance on controversial issues. It is important enough to me that I write in partial response to your letter.

    I believe you mistakenly believe that the emails exchanged between Council members during Council meetings involved only childish or immature behavior. This would constitute a failure to acknowledge all of the communication between Council members that has been revealed by the FOIA disclosures. I encourage you to obtain copies of all of the disclosed emails and review them for yourself.

    Of particular offense to many of us is Council member Leigh Greden’s apparent claim that he “scripts” meetings or debates. Neither your comments to the Ann Arbor News nor Mr. Greden’s apology to constituents and activists addresses the possibility that his activities included attempts to control the content of debate and the outcome of contentious issues. If indeed he did engage in that conduct, voters deserve to know which meetings and what issues were involved. Further if he has engaged in such conduct, we should expect some assurances that he will not violate the public trust by doing so in the future.

    Separately, Mr. Greden’s apologies have not specifically addressed the insulting remarks he repeated made about Council member Mike Anglin or the insulting remarks he made about former Council member Stephen Kunselman and Mr. Kunselman’s mother. I would distinguish between the juvenile comments frequently made by Council members, such as references to the “Golden Pandy Award”, and comments that are personally derogatory. I hope you see that distinction, as well.

    I think a minimal effort to address the issues raised by the private email communications between Council members during public meetings would include seeking a neutral, outside legal opinion. The public would have greater confidence in the legal opinion of an attorney with no on-going ties to the Council. Perhaps private communications during a public meeting with more than a quorum in attendance does not raise cognizable Open Meetings Act questions. And perhaps inquires during a Council meeting about who has pulled candidate petitions to run against an incumbent Council member does not violate election law. A neutral opinion would have more credibility on those issues.

    Of equal importance in addressing the violation of public trust, I believe this Council needs to draft, discuss and adopt strict ethics standards for all Council conduct. Of course, email communications should be expressly regulated. Rules regulating non-quorum meetings of Council members need to be adopted. The emails imply the existence of conduct of the kind that requires immediate disclosure and regulation.

    The question of community involvement involves more than I can possibly address in this email, today. Nonetheless, I believe the Council has not done a good job of including public input early in decisions and will discuss that briefly.

    In the A2D2 discussions, there is broad concern that after including citizen input in the Calthorpe study, the City has moved further away from that vision with each passing year. Now, the City of Ann Arbor doesn’t even get a mention on Calthorpe’s web page. Could it be that they too are disillusioned with what happened to their study?

    The Area, Height and Placement project is probably a better example of citizen participation under this Council. The planning staff met with hundreds of “stakeholders” when formulating the AHP proposal. When the staff brought the proposal to a Council working session in September 2008, a staff member admitted that none (zero!) of the stakeholders were neighborhood representatives. Now we get to attend meetings that present the ideas of the real stakeholders and hope that we can have some small impact on the planning of our neighborhoods. It is described as citizen participation, but it appears to be just for show.

    Similarly, the recent discussion about what will be built on the library parking structure demonstrated the Council’s unwillingness to hear what citizen want before the developers’ ink hits the paper. While we should be talking about concepts (park versus convention center) we will instead talk about the choices presented by proposals submitted by developers. That simply short circuits the process, skipping the debate over whether there should be a development to what that development will be. But again, it will have “public participation”.

    In conclusion, the Council members involved in the emailings have failed to fully address the problems suggested by the FOIA disclosed emails. Those emails suggest that attending public hearings is pointless because the outcome has been scripted. Further, any citizen participation built into the process seems designed for appearances rather than for substance. I hope you will encourage the Council members who engaged in this conduct to fully address these concerns. These Council members were, after all, each endorsed by you. More importantly, I hope the Council as a whole will draft and adopt strong ethics standards.

    Jack Eaton”

       —Jack Eaton    Jul. 17 '09 - 12:35AM    #
  144. The responses by the Mayor to Dr. Snyder and Mr. Eaton make the following references to City Attorney Steve Postema:

    “The city attorney has studied emails sent during council meetings and, in his opinion, no laws were broken.”

    “….I have discussed the legalities of the emails in question with him on at least three occaisions.”

    The Mayor tried to state that Postema’s high moral character should allay any suspicions that he colored his opinions for political reasons.

    This is not however the test. To the extent any conflict of interest exists, Postema should recuse himself from issuing any legal opinion unless the city expressly waives the conflict issue.

    Mr. Eaton states: “A neutral opinion would have more credibility on those issues.” I agree.

    I am still waiting for someone to commence a court action to test the assertion that Open Meetings Act violations occurred. Perhaps a non-profit legal services group could file such an action.

    I also believe the Mayor himself has somewhat of a conflict of interest to the extent he appears pictured on Leigh Greden’s campaign website at the same time that Councilperson Greden is taking most of the heat from the public from electronic mail controversy.

    As to the matter of posssible violation of election law correctly raised by Mr. Eaton, I would note that the proper vehicle for determining whether a violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act occurred is any citizen filing a grievance with the Bureau of Elections of the Michigan Secretary of State in Lansing pursuant to procedures established in the Michigan Administraive Code.

    If the City Attorney has issued a formal opinion of legality, I would hope that the mayor would share it with the public so as to restore citizen confidence, which appears to have been shaken by these revelations.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 17 '09 - 01:57AM    #
  145. Has Councilperson Taylor issued any public apology for his behavior on e-mails?

       —Kerry D.    Jul. 19 '09 - 04:54AM    #
  146. Nope. He said that the emails he was sending were “taken out of context.” He never meant to call his own constituents “dim lights.” We needed to see more of the emails he sent during that particular sequence in that particular meeting to understand just what he was doing.

    Of course, only a “dim light” would neglect to notice FOIAed emails show Taylor has been sending infantile babble to his Council Gang of Seven during public commentary, and during Council meetings, since he took office.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 19 '09 - 05:27AM    #
  147. I would have hoped that Leigh Greden would have used Arbor Update or a similar medium to deliver an apology to all for his mean, petty, uncalled-for, and vitriolic comments against several of his colleagues. They did not deserve such behind-the-back humiliation.

    The fact that John Hieftje is openly campaigning for this individual is not a good reflection upon the Mayor, as well.

       —Kerry D.    Jul. 20 '09 - 06:30AM    #
  148. The fact that Hieftje endorsed every candidate that got snared by Noah Hall’s email FOIAs is blowing back on him.

    Greden has a nice little quote from Hieftje on his campaign postcard. “Leigh Greden, is one of the most hard-working members of Council.” Hard-working at what, I wonder? Greden has a nice little picture with Hieftje, Jean Carlberg and Susan Baskett, a school board member. Obviously, Baskett has no problem endorsing the poster child for bullying, dishonest and disrespectful behavior—just the behavior the School District she represents hopes to model for all Ann Arbor students.

    What a trio of supporters: The Weird Sisters and Richard III endorse Iago. I can’t wait to see how the play ends.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 20 '09 - 04:23PM    #
  149. There are four articles about the e-mails in today’s Ann Arbor News:

    Judy McGovern’s main article about private conversations.

    An article about e-mails concerning funding for affordable housing.

    An article about e-mails regarding pay raises.

    An article about political campaigning.

    And the beat goes on….

       —David Cahill    Jul. 22 '09 - 12:20AM    #
  150. One thing I found kind of funny is that Judy McGovern has been trying, according to her article, to reach Leigh Greden since July 14th and the only response has been around midnight in a message that he has been too busy campaigning to respond. If Greden really wanted to avoid her all he would have to do is say “no comment” but he is simply compounding the problem by his own clearly evasive behavior. Greden, in other words, has brought more attention to the electronic mail story by his own inane responses to it.

    As a legal matter, Greden probably violated the letter, if not the spirit, of the Open Meetings Act and election law by virtue of the conduct that has been set forth in Judy McGovern’s articles that were published today. As a practical matter, however, the most that Greden would ever get if any legal action were ever to be taken would be a mere “wrist slap”.

    Greden however missed a Democratic party candidate forum awhile back that was attended by over 50 citizens, it remains to be seen if he shall attend tomorrow’s forum in which the Third Ward candidates are expected to appear and field audience questions.

    Monica Conyers of the Detroit City Council, who has pled guilty to felonious conduct, was more open with the public than Greden has been. Greden has been his own public relations nightmare by ignoring and avoiding the matter instead of addressing it head-on, apologizing to all, and moving on, thereby creating and maintaining an atmosphere around himself akin to “felon’s guilt”.

    I personally believe that Leigh will likely win the August 4th primary, but that he has taken a big hit to his credibility primarily not to any illegality, but due to the grand extent of his own habitually childish e-mail comments and his clumsy and ineffective responses and evasions since this story broke.

    His own campaign website, last I checked, did not address the e-mail issue at all. Too bad. Maybe an apology would help his image in the Third Ward.

    Give us all a break, Leigh, (I know you have likely been reading up on this thread to gauge public opinion). Make a public apology to all and get this matter behind you. You owe it to the people of Ann Arbor.

       —Jerry Gilbert    Jul. 22 '09 - 03:38AM    #
  151. After reading all of the coverage in today’s News, I am disappointed that all Judge Easthope has to say is “no comment.” In the emails released to date, we have now seen him campaigning on the public dime and joking about being willing to trade his vote for a free billboard during his judicial campaign. Is this the tip of the iceberg?

    Judges must be held to a higher standard – at least voters can tell Leigh what they think of him next month!

       —cadams    Jul. 22 '09 - 04:40AM    #
  152. Wow. From a PR standpoint, Judge Easthope’s reply of no comment is almost as bad as Leigh Greden intentionally avoiding the reporter.

    The apparent ease the council members showed in rigging the pay raise vote is an indication of the familiarity they have with such a maneuver. Their “official” votes are just re-enactments (for show, to the public) of their pre-arranged votes.

       —Michael Schils    Jul. 22 '09 - 06:10AM    #
  153. Let’s not forget the earlier email release and Easthope actually joking about how the FOIA didn’t apply to judge’s emails…So he knew EXACTLY what he was doing at the time.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 22 '09 - 02:21PM    #
  154. Leigh Greden lied in his front page News apology: “I am embarrassed to admit that the minority of the email my colleagues and I exchanged during council meetings are, for the lack of a better term, childish banter.”

    Vote-rigging is not childish banter. Campaigning with Chris Easthope for Easthope’s judgeship in the middle of council meetings isn’t “childish banter.” They are both illegal activities, and demonstrate quite clearly the dishonesty of all involved. Is Greden on the take, as well? Is it a stretch, after reading that Greden, Higgins, Kunselman, Hieftje, Lowenstein and Easthope rigged votes, to imagine Leigh Greden trading political favors for money?

    There are FOIAed emails from February 2009 in which Greden lies to his own constituents, as well as those of other Council members, about plans to build atop the library lot. The Mayor and Greden sent almost exactly the same lies about Council having absolutely no plans to build atop the library lot, on the same day, to different constituents.

    Coincidental similarities, or conspiring to mislead the public? Read the emails and decided.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 22 '09 - 06:33PM    #
  155. Grad: Anyone who reads this knows your style, attack! But there is no evidence the mayor or then council member Kunselman had anything to do with any of the emails. Kunselman isn’t even mentioned.

    In the pay raise set of emails. Greden and Easthope appear to agree not to talk about it. Greden says he “thinks” the mayor is for it, so he’s not sure. The mayor voted for it straight up, no back room deal.

    Easthope says he told the mayor he wouldn’t ask for a roll call vote. Nothing there either. Neither the mayor or Kunselman are implicated as doing anything funny in any of this.

    The fact that someone put forward a concept for the top of the parking structure is no secret, it was reported last winter. That does not mean there is a plan to build on the lot. Every council member knows about this so it means nothing that two members would reply that there were no plans. A concept was put forward, so what?

    Council just put out a request for proposals, they all voted for it.

       —David Lewis    Jul. 22 '09 - 08:58PM    #
  156. Re #153: That is no joke about the Michigan Freedom of Information Act exempting judicial operations from disclosure. It is an exception that judges and court administrators actually love because it stifles the public from discovering improper and embarrassing behavior.

    There have been suspicions in the past about inappropriate conduct occurring in the Circuit Court and Friend of Court in Washtenaw County that have resulted in citizen investigations; some of these are detailed on

    An official of the registered political action committee People Against Corruption served at least one FOIA request to substantiate such suspicions but received a response that the documents sought were statutorily exempt under FOIA. I have heard that another activist attempted to obtain Friend of Court documents but had the same denial issue due to the statutory exemptions for judicial operations contained in FOIA.

    This leaves the citizen who wants to learn how his tax dollars are being spent at the judicial level with only two real choices. He or she can file a request for investigation with the Judicial Tenure Commission is he or she has reason to believe that judicial misconduct is suspected or he can seek to initiate a similar request with the State Court Administrative Office, the state agency that oversees statewide court operations.

    All Washtenaw County Circuit Court proceedings are recorded audiovisually, however one citizen who attempted to obtain audiovisual tapes of a certain circuit court judge to present as evidence before the House Judiciary Committee had a circuit court order issue blocking his access to those tapes. The website has all the details.

    It is my belief the the judicial exemption to FOIA is overbroad and unnecessary;it should be rescinded by the Michigan Legislature as it hinders effective investigation and thwarts tranparency.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 22 '09 - 09:57PM    #
  157. David,

    Call Steve Kunselman and ask him about the 601 N. Forest vote. He will tell you (as he is telling anyone who’ll listen) that he SAW Greden and Teall vote rig (Teall, says Kunselman, was asked to vote yes, so Greden could safely vote no, and the project would still be approved). The question, of course, is if this is true, why Kunselman said nothing at the time.

    The July 21 AANews piece reports the following:

    E-mail exchanges that traveled around the council table Dec. 17, 2007, counted noses, trying to determine who would vote to
    accept the raises, and discussed a strategy to limit the political benefit to any council members who tried to reject them.

    7:32 p.m. – Leigh Greden to Marcia Higgins: “SK (Stephen Kunselman) is with us on the pay raise.”

    7:34 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Welll (sic) that’s 5 of us. Anyone else?”

    As for building atop the library lot. Hieftje sent an email on 2/17/09 in which he writes, “I understand your concerns and I can tell you that at this time we are a long ways from making any decisions on what might go on top of the parking structure. At some point a planning/brain storming conversation will begin. Given the state of the economy and the tight credit markets It seems like any development proposals are quite a ways off.”

    He’s lying. Council, at this point, had already met a month earlier at the DDA office in secret to discuss what to build atop the library lot. Sandi Smith called the meeting via email on January 20th, 9 days after the Council retreat.

    Hieftje is desperate for people to “move on.” He’s really not speaking from a neutral position, however, since he’s endorsing Leigh Greden. My guess is that there are more emails on the city server that compromise Hieftje even more severely. We don’t need to “move on”; we need to dig even deeper.

       —UMGrad1234    Jul. 23 '09 - 12:55PM    #
  158. Did Leigh Greden show up at last nights forum? If so, did he field any questions on these issues?

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 23 '09 - 08:08PM    #
  159. Re No. 157: Is Steve Kunselman making the 601 Forest vote a public campaign issue?

    I don’t even see a website up for him yet.

       —Jerry Gilbert    Jul. 24 '09 - 01:26AM    #
  160. [off-topic]
       —Guzu    Jul. 24 '09 - 02:40AM    #
  161. Mark, the Chronicle meeting Twitter stream has an answer to your question.

       —MattH    Jul. 24 '09 - 08:27AM    #
  162. Last year, it took me weeks of emailing with CTN to get them to consider posting these debates online. I hope it happens faster this year (the Municipal Center Art Design Presentation is already “online”, if you get CTN’s crummy proprietary video system to load it. I couldn’t.)

       —MattH    Jul. 24 '09 - 08:31AM    #
  163. As a cable commissioner I’ve been pushing CTN to provide Google or YouTube videos of all council and commission meetings. Their response has been that there have been no requests for such an offering and so they are reluctant to allocate resources to do so. If you would like the option of accessing the city’s meetings via those video services I highly recommend sending letters and emails letting CTN know your desires.

       —Jeff Meyers    Jul. 24 '09 - 08:41AM    #
  164. Jeff, any word on CTN working with AT&T Uverse to broadcast its programing? I still get to pay my local tax each month on my bill but CTN isn’t available.


       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 24 '09 - 03:00PM    #
  165. Re no. 159: Questions about 3rd ward websites have come up a couple of times. Here they are:

    Stephen Kunselman

    Leigh Greden

    LuAnne Bullington

    I’ve been informed that there is a 3rd ward council debate on July 28. It is at the Mallett’s Creek Library (on Eisenhower) at 7:00 p.m. Although the announcement I read didn’t say so, I believe that this is the 3rd ward Democratic organization’s event.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 24 '09 - 04:37PM    #
  166. Alan-

    We have unsuccessfully tried to convince AT&T to assign the city its own channels and they refuse to do so. Instead they want to implement an onorous series of menus that provide substandard service that CTN cannot effectively regulate for quality control (audio sync, etc). And they want us to pay them for this service. As you may know the MI legislature passed a new cable bill a couple of years ago that essentially gutted local municipalities of any oversight in favor of competition. AT&T, in many ways, wrote that legislation. Since then cable fees have not decreased nor become more ‘competitive.’ I’d suggest you email members of the legislature to voice any displeasures you may have, especially since they ignored the overwhelming concerns of cable commissions across the state when passing the bill.

       —Jeff Meyers    Jul. 24 '09 - 06:05PM    #
  167. So what kind of money are we talking for AT&T to add CTN to their service? CTN does have a $1 Million yearly budget from the local cable bill tax that inclues Comcast and AT&T bills. While you are right on the menu options, etc, I’ve gone through the process and pulled up other cities to check out the process and it’s not totally user friend but not impossible either.

    Trust me, I pay far less for AT&T services, get better quality and experience way better customer service from them than I did from the years of abuse at the hands of Comcast. While maybe you are correct in the money, etc. I’m just curious what costs are involved.


       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 24 '09 - 06:48PM    #
  168. I should probably make this the last post since we’re off topic here. I’m glad you enjoy the service you get from AT&T but overall fees in MI have increased, not decreased. I can’t comment on which company provides better service or a better deal. Unanimously, the commission found AT&T’s PEG service for city channels unacceptable. Most importantly, CTN would have no way to actually monitor feeds except to watch it thru their service 24 hrs a day. Even then, any sync issues would be quite difficult to correct. I don’t want to go any deeper into the tech issues because I am not qualified to do so. Also, while I don’t recall the costs, they were asking A2 to pay high rates to be put in a menu queue that we found unacceptable (“not impossible” isn’t a good enough standard for the fees they want to charge). So, the short answer is: until AT&T offers the city direct channel options and better ability to monitor our own channels we probably will not be signing a contract with them.

       —Jeff Meyers    Jul. 24 '09 - 09:55PM    #
  169. [off topic, removed]
       —Guzu    Jul. 24 '09 - 10:41PM    #
  170. I apologise for going off topic and appreciate the information Jeff has provided.

    Back to the topic at hand.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 24 '09 - 11:09PM    #
  171. [off topic, removed]
       —goilem    Jul. 25 '09 - 04:25AM    #
  172. Re Posts #161 & 165: Thank you for the respective links.

    It appears Steve Kunselman is the only candidate who directly raises in his campaign website the issue of potential illegalities with respect to the City Council electronic mail correspondences that were released by the city attorney pursuant to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

    I notice that Leigh Greden has promised at the League of Women Voters forum that these issues will not happen again.

    Mr. Greden also called Ann Arbor the most tranparent city.

    Yes, Leigh, thanks to Noah Hall. But even he took flak early on by way of attacks on his motives by those trying to defend the City Council members whose e-mail conduct was called into question.

    Its good to see Leigh stepping up to the plate and denouncing this type of e-mail behavior and guaranteeing no recurrences of such behavior.

    This shows character on his part.

    It’s what America is built on.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 25 '09 - 05:13AM    #
  173. [off topic, removed]
       —Henry Brysk    Jul. 25 '09 - 06:32PM    #
  174. [off-topic, removed]
       —goilem    Jul. 25 '09 - 08:27PM    #
  175. “I apologise for going off topic and appreciate the information Jeff has provided.”

    Seemed like a pretty interesting digression to me!: new thread.

       —Bruce Fields    Jul. 25 '09 - 09:23PM    #
  176. [off-topic]
       —Henry Brysk    Jul. 26 '09 - 03:30AM    #
  177. [off-topic; note: meta-commentary to, please.]
       —Mike    Jul. 28 '09 - 03:01AM    #
  178. Re Posts #127,128,&130:

    What I find ironic is that a recent article in the July 10, 2009 version of the Ann Arbor News, it was reported, as part of City Council candidate profiles that Mr. Greden had previously served on the board of directors of the Michigan Mental Health Association.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 28 '09 - 09:34PM    #
  179. It seems that the Ann Arbor City Council e-mail imbroglio has made national news.

    The Sunshine Review Gazette, a periodical that promotes transparency in government did a story on City Council that critically examines Marcia Higgins, Leigh Greden and the various events that already have been reported locally.

    Here’s the link: [link]

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 12 '09 - 06:36AM    #
  180. A lawsuit was filed yesterday involving the e-mails. The plaintiffs are Herb David Guitar Studio; Kiki Properties, LLC; Jerusalem Garden; and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. The defendant is the City of Ann Arbor. This is a Washtenaw County Circuit Court Suit. Case number is 09-945 CZ. It was assigned to Judge Archie Brown.

    The focus of the suit is the proposed underground parking structure and City Council’s deliberations about it. It is claimed that e-mail exchanges during the February 17, 2009 Council meeting violated the Open Meetings Act. It is claimed that the City did not provide all the e-mails on request, and made unauthorized deletions, violating the Freedom of Information Act.

    The suit alleges that the construction of the parking structure will be a nuisance, damaging the nearby business owners. It also alleges that the vibrations, noise and dust of construction will be a trespass on their properties. It is also claimed that the construction of the parking structure violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

    The suit asks the Court to declare that the City approved the project in violation of the Open Meetings Act and that the nondisclosure of documents violated the Open Meetings Act. It also asks the Court to enjoin Council members from engaging in any further private e-mail discussions during public meetings regarding the project or its funding.

    The suit asks for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the City from constructing the project until a comprehensive study of its environmental impacts and possible alternatives is made.

    This suit deserves its own Arbor Update article. The complaint alone (not including exhibits) is 28 pages long. Sorry, all I have is hard copy.

       —David Cahill    Aug. 12 '09 - 07:38PM    #
  181. Great to hear that the ambulance chasers are now involved.

       —Marvin Face    Aug. 12 '09 - 08:15PM    #
  182. Will we see the usual “blame game” from Mayor and Council? Hieftje was quoted in the Ann Arbor News as saying he was confident the City would beat back any and all legal challenges. Let’s see how Ward 4 voters react to Marcia Higgins’ involvement in the email scandal and, as a result, a lawsuit.

    I predict Marcia gets the boot in November. She and Leigh Greden can email each other while they watch Council meetings from the comfort of their own living rooms. Then, I hope, Washtenaw County Dem Chair Graham Teall tells the little lady, Margie, to give it a rest. She’s embarrassing him, professionally, big time.

    Mayor is using the Scott Rosencrans method with Diane Giannola. We’ll see her toss a hat in the Ward Four Council race thanks to having caught, like Scott, “the bug” after having “served” on those nifty board and commission spots saved for those who will do the bidding of John Hieftje without question. Let’s hope those who help blast Marcia out, will work to keep Giannola off Council.

       —UMGrad1234    Aug. 12 '09 - 10:00PM    #
  183. If the mayor and some on council hadn’t broken the law, there would be no need for a lawsuit. I’m guessing before this is over, there might even be a couple of recall campaigns against some council reps taking place.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Aug. 12 '09 - 10:53PM    #
  184. I’ve created a thread on the new lawsuit. Thanks to Dave for sending in a synopsis.

       —Matt Hampel    Aug. 13 '09 - 01:21AM    #
  185. Re no. 183: There were those voices for recall last year over the unpopular police/court project but cooler heads prevailed and instead a concerted movement put their noses to the grindstone and succesfully got the voters to come out and dump Leigh Greden and retained Mike Anglin, an Ask Voters First leader, in a landslide.

    After the August of 2008 primary election, Ask Voters First opponents pointed to the fact that all AVF supporters lost to the supposed unpopularity of the goals of the group and some were even to go so far as to suggest Mike Anglin may be in trouble in the August 2009 primary, but of course that did not happen and Mike is now in the catbird’s seat politically.

    Judging by voter interviews of those in the Third Ward, the e-mail controversy has stirred up significant public sentiment against the City Council members who engaged in conduct that may have violated the Open Meetings Act and/or Michigan Campaign Finance Act. Now that Leigh Greden has been successfully voted out of office, the attention of local activists should be focused on Councilwoman Marcia Higgins, who already had major problems with constituency relations for several years prior to the breaking of the e-mail controversy in June of this year. If Higgins can be defeated in November then there will be a 7-4 ratio of Hieftje insiders to mavericks.

    The good aspect of the lawsuit is that it will continue, during its pendency, to put a spotlight on improper City Council practices and cast a pall over those City Council members who have had their names associated with both childish and legally questionable conduct. These council persons, including Teall, Hohnke and Taylor will face re-election next year while likely being embroiled in court proceedings, including depositions and/or hearings.

    Enter the affable but ultraconservative Archie Cameron Brown, the Engler-appointed Republican judge that has been assigned to hear the case. Brown created a national controversy several years ago when he ended the longtime practice in Washtenaw County of allowing unmarried couples to adopt children; this was seen as a major blow to the powerful local LGBT community who could rely upon the local judiciary to grant adoptions to their ilk. After court challenges to Brown’s conduct were rejected, the LGBT community vowed to politically oppose Brown, which never really materialized above write-in oppostion in 2004.

    Judge Brown has not been hesitant about stepping on toes to enforce his conservative agenda.

    As chief judge he went toe-to-toe with the County Commission in several matters, including his takeover of Judge Ann Matson’s courtroom and his huffing and puffing before the County Commission that the Commission failed to provide reasonable facilities for the circuit court. He lost both of those battles as well as his chief judge’s position later to Judge David Swartz.

    His political influence was put to the test when he actively stumped for Margaret Connors (the wife of fellow Engler appointee Judge Timothy Connors) in her run for a District Court judicial seat. Margaret Connors lost badly in the August 2008 primary despite being the most heavily financed candidate and having active support of all five circuit court judges.

    The irony now is that this lawsuit sets the stage of a two-way showdown in which Republican conservative Judge Brown now will sit in judgment of a City Council that is completely controlled by the same local Democratic party interests that have opposed his positions for so long. Conversely, there has been considerable chatter for a number of months that local Democratic Party activists may organize a “Dump Archie Brown” movement next year when Brown faces re-election to coincide with Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer’s widely heralded campaign to remove conservative Republican Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young in the 2010 elections in the same manner as Justice Taylor was bounced in 2008.

    The fireworks are going to be flying for sure in the upcoming year on these matters. Stay tuned!

       —Junior    Aug. 15 '09 - 09:13PM    #
  186. So, having just paid my Summer tax bill, which of course increased from last year, even with dropping home values, I found it amusing that ONE council member actually has a 6% DECREASE in his tax bill in July.

    Funny how ‘the spirit of transparency’ works sometimes.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Aug. 19 '09 - 05:39PM    #
  187. Fifth Ward Council Member Mike Anglin has announced that he will propose disclosure of all Council emails without cost to the public.

    Please write to the Mayor and Council Members and express your support of Mr. Anglin’s proposal. Today, I sent the following message by email:

    Mayor Hieftje and Council Members:

    I support Mike Anglin’s proposal to disclose to the public without cost all Council Members’ emails from 2000 to the present. I ask that you vote in support of his proposal at Council’s next meeting.

    The content of emails between Council Members remains as a source of community distrust of its leaders. I expect that the Council rules committee will make proposals to address the use of emails, prospectively. That prospective action leaves unanswered the question of what matters were discussed in past emails and how long we will revisit the issue as individual FOIA requests maintain a trickle of disclosure for many months to come. Complete disclosure will allow the Council to remove the appearance of secrecy and start fresh with an era of transparency under its new email policy.

    Additionally, I believe it is time that we all fully acknowledge the significance of the August 4 primary election results. Third Ward Council Member Leigh Greden was able to attract only 36% support in his reelection bid. He is a capable political strategist. He provided extensive constituent service. He was a three term incumbent. Yet, his failure to fully account for the scope of his email misconduct (it was not merely childish behavior) and his refusal to respond to media inquiries on the subject surely cost him the election. Mr. Greden will likely return to public office after a period of Nixonian political rehabilitation. How better to begin that rehabilitation than to disclose all of the emails council members have exchanged over the years.

    For other Council Members, disclosure will allow the candor missing from Mr. Greden’s half-hearted apologies and dismissive denial. Voters have demonstrated their displeasure over Council’s conduct and its failure to address the appearance of secrecy in its deliberations. Council can restore public trust by being forthright and open with voters about everything that was said in those past emails.

    While there will be a cost associated with compiling, redacting and converting the emails to a digital form, the value of restoring public trust justifies the expense.

    Mr. Anglin’s proposal is not made merely on behalf of the voters of the Fifth Ward. Mr. Anglin is representing voters throughout the City when he proposes openness and transparency. Mr. Anglin, a one term incumbent facing a well-organized, capable opponent, was able to increase voter turnout and attract 65% of the vote on August 4, in great part because he was not embroiled in the email scandal. I recommend that other Council Members follow his good-government leadership.

    Thank you.
    Jack Eaton

       —Jack Eaton    Aug. 20 '09 - 08:04PM    #
  188. I support Mr. Anglin’s proposal.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 20 '09 - 08:10PM    #
  189. The City Council’s Rules Committee is proposing changes to the Rules of Council. One of the changes addresses the Council’s use of email during Council meetings. The proposal is posted on the Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository –

    The email rules prohibit most emails between Council Members during meetings.

       —Jack Eaton    Aug. 27 '09 - 09:04PM    #
  190. Anglin’s proposal to disclose all Council emails without cost to the public did not pass. (As reported by The Ann Arbor Chronicle here . A2Politico has an interesting take on the inside politics here )

    The cost of publishing the emails was cited as the main reason for voting against it. It’s funny how government officials are so very cost conscious when it comes to exposing their own dirty laundry.

    Another reason given was the need to look forward instead of backward. This line of argument has been popular lately, and has been most notably used as a reason not to investigate the CIA for torturing and killing people under the previous administration.

    Maybe I should try to use that line the next time I get pulled over by a cop. “But officer, I ask that you look forward to how I drive in the future, rather than dwell on how I drove in the past.”

    I doubt if I will get very far with that argument.

       —Michael Schils    Sep. 23 '09 - 07:16PM    #
  191. Michael,

    Thanks for the mention of A2Politico’s analysis.

       —A2Politico    Sep. 23 '09 - 08:30PM    #
  192. Leah Gunn warned us that a person who posts under a pseudonym “lacks any credibility” so I will have to ignore you right now. (For the impaired, that was SARCASM.) But I’m still going to link to your articles.

       —Michael Schils    Sep. 23 '09 - 10:12PM    #
  193. The Ann Arbor Chronicle has a good analysis regarding why the resolution that passed WILL NOT prevent future OMA violations, and why it is necessary to prohibit all electronic communications during city council meetings.

       —Michael Schils    Oct. 2 '09 - 09:01PM    #
  194. That is a good analysis and I believe the only way you are going to definitively prevent Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations is to have the circuit court order injunctive relief after rendering a decision on what constitutes a violation of OMA. That way the City Council cannot plead ignorance as to what constitutes a violation.

    It is important to note that no less a figure than former Ann Arbor Democratic Party Chairman appeared at City Council during the Public Commentary period to support the initial measure supported by Councilpersons Anglin and Briere to release all e-mails without cost to the public.

    I believe that Mr. Colenback realizes that the Democratic Party in Ann Arbor has been hurt politically by this scandal and full disclosure is necessary to aid in restoring citizen confidence in municipal government.

    City Council’s rejection of the initial proposal smacks of a possible cover-up thereby serving the interests of those councilpersons who have something to hide in the undisclosed e-mails. It is tantamount to President Nixon telling the public to forget disclosing the White House tapes in the interest of “looking forward” (the Mayor’s quote).

    I believe that there is something to hide in those e-mails that have not been disclosed and that City Council’s only reason in failing to disclose is self-preservation.

    On a side note, Councilman Leigh Greden was conspicuously quiet during Council deliberations on this matter. He is one person who has lost his seat over this scandal and whose elected political career may be over.

       —John Dory    Oct. 5 '09 - 01:34AM    #