Comments on: City Settles Lawsuit: Must Conduct Study it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: John Floyd John Floyd Thu, 01 Apr 2010 22:37:33 +0000 @7 David,

Thanks for the clarification. I had missed your meaning.

@11 Rod Johnson

Clever, but I have a hard time imagining hoards of screaming teenage girls lining up for “Noah Hall & the Plaintiffs”. Maybe if the girls are all trial lawyers.

By: Rod Johnson Rod Johnson Wed, 31 Mar 2010 00:27:23 +0000 Good band name too.

By: Mark Koroi Mark Koroi Tue, 30 Mar 2010 03:18:58 +0000 I believe that Noah Hall and the Plaintiffs can claim a well-deserved victory in this lawsuit.

By: Steve Bean Steve Bean Fri, 26 Mar 2010 02:52:16 +0000 @8: “BOC” = Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

@6: “Even if it turns out that they have got religion on computer use, it seems that we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt about that.”

Council had an opportunity to repair the trust that had been eroded by making more emails public, and they passed on it, choosing instead to put it behind them (if not necessarily us.) I like Dave’s suggestion as a belated compensation for that as well as its value to the public following the meeting.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 26 Mar 2010 02:06:53 +0000 Just to point out that BOC members do not have laptops. The things in front of them are just screens to be shown what is being projected.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Fri, 26 Mar 2010 02:06:09 +0000 Re: [6] ” Instead of passing increasingly arcane rules, that increasingly devious elected officials can find their way around, I still say, ‘Hang up and drive’.”

Just to clarify, my suggestion to use a single staff computer — with its screen connected to a projector — was meant as a specific implementation of the “Hang up and drive” approach. That is to say, it presupposes that councilmembers will not also use their own laptops to supplement that staff computer.

By: John Floyd John Floyd Fri, 26 Mar 2010 01:58:39 +0000 Dave,

There seems to be concern about which e-mail system council members use precisely because when using a private e-mail system, the public cannot check on what a council member is doing. The presumption, then, is that when council members think they can do something unobserved – like violating the Open Meetings Act – they will. As the distinguished and beloved editor of a well-known on-line newspaper once observed, it is OMA violations that are the real danger of council’s use of computers during meetings, not the opportunity to share their contempt for the public with colleagues – contempt they likely would feel even without e-mail. Instead of passing increasingly arcane rules, that increasingly devious elected officials can find their way around, I still say, “Hang up and drive”.

It is embarrassing that we have to wonder what our elected officials are REALLY doing when they use computers during council meetings. Even if it turns out that they have got religion on computer use, it seems that we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt about that. We have to keep them afraid that we might check on them. Makes me feel like I need three pints of beer.

By: LiberalNIMBY LiberalNIMBY Thu, 25 Mar 2010 02:52:02 +0000 I second the call for laptop-free council meetings. Perhaps someone could chime in and cite an instance where it was essential that councilmembers have their computers operating–meaning, for example, it saved 15 minutes of time–and I’d re-think my position. Even then, I’d suspect that that the cumulative damage to quality debate and decision making over the long term has got to outweigh the benefit of being able to Google a 50-cent word that the councilmember next to you just used.

Perhaps someone can dig up a study that demonstrates that laptop use during (what are supposed to be) intellectually demanding discussions is just as damaging to decision making as cell phone use is to driving? Since the latter equates to consuming 3 pints of beer, I’m confident someone could pass a compromise resolution like serving each councilmember 1.5 pints in exchange for closing their computer.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Thu, 25 Mar 2010 02:37:09 +0000 Re:[3] ” … beyond distributing bill amendments to council members, what is the justification for computers even being on during council meetings?” I’ll rephrase the question slightly: What useful, constructive purpose does a laptop computer for each councilmember serve during a council meeting? Rather than speculate and theorize, consider a photo of a laptop screen in use at a city council meeting: [photo]. In that April 2009 photo, Marcia Higgins is reviewing a frontage map in connection with deliberations on the A2D2 downtown rezoning package.

Higgins’ use of her laptop on that occasion is surely an example of useful and constructive use. Other examples could include reviewing the staff memos that are attached to various resolutions — they’re typically chock full of background information. The same information is also available to the public online as a part of the city’s Legistar system. So I think it’s pretty easy to make a case that there are myriad useful and constructive uses for laptop computers during a council meeting.

Returning to the point of the original question, however, which is about “justification”: Do the myriad useful and constructive uses of laptop computers justify their use during council meetings? The question presupposes there is some downside to their use during meetings. Some members of the community see a risk that councilmembers will exchange snarky email messages, or play Doom, or update their Facebook pages, or conduct deliberations via email. Councilmembers typically acknowledge that there is a risk, but that it’s extraordinarily small, given their revisions to council rules, and heightened public awareness.

Discussion in the community has focused on that kind of risk, to the exclusion of another kind of downside. It’s precisely the reliance on laptop computers by councilmembers for these myriad useful and constructive purposes that makes their meetings very difficult to follow — for anyone who does not have access to the electronic council packet as they watch the meeting. Imagine a world where there were no laptop computers and complete paper packets were provided to councilmembers. It would only be fair to provide copies of the material to the attending public as well, so that they could follow along. In our actual world, however, the only way you can follow along with the same access to information that’s available to councilmembers is to (i) stay home with your desktop computer and watch on CTN or else (ii) bring your own laptop plus wireless modem aircard — there’s no free wireless available in the council chambers. Rather than focus on the first kind of downside, I think we’d more usefully focus on the second — it’s not tied to our faith in a particular set of councilmembers, so is perhaps less fraught with controversy.

I think it’s a reasonable standard for any public meeting that the information upon which the body deliberates is as accessible to the public at the time of deliberation as it is to the members of the body.

That standard currently isn’t met by the Ann Arbor city council. Yet it is mostly met by the historic district commission and the planning commission. Both of those bodies use a single staff computer, hooked up to a projector, and the material in the staff reports is projected on the screen. Members of those bodies are reasonably well practiced in asking to look at various slides from different points in the presentation. Everyone is “on the same page” — commission members and public alike.

The city council could adopt a similar strategy. I suggested that in a previous column: [link]. It would require some adjustments to the layout of the seating to create projection sightlines (currently the mayor and city administrator have to move out of the way for presentations), and it might require some expenditures for different furniture or remodeling to the dais. I wonder if the needed configuration could be achieved with the 3% “give-back” of their salaries that councilmembers made: ~$5,500.

By: John Floyd John Floyd Thu, 25 Mar 2010 01:24:04 +0000 David, sometimes your knowledge & thoroughness is almost frightening.

In any case, it seems that use of a private e-mail account for public business depends upon both the good will and the memory of the user to be available to the public.

2nd Q (not rhetorical): beyond distributing bill amendments to council members, what is the justification for computers even being on during council meetings. Seems a bit like texting your buddies during class, instead of following the lecture. At the risk of repeating, “Hang up and drive”.

3) That any of this comes up at all suggests that this council lacks street cred.