At its Sept. 21 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to attach to the official meeting minutes any emails sent to and from its members during its future meetings. The rationale for this move – as reflected in the whereas clause of the resolution – was to “help the public monitor compliance with the amended rules.”
What amended rules? At its previous meeting on Sept. 8, the council had amended its rules to restrict emails sent by its members during meetings to two kinds: (i) messages to city staff, and (ii) messages to other councilmembers that propose language for resolutions or amendments to resolutions. No restrictions were put in place on reading emails received during city council meetings.
In adopting the Sept. 21 resolution – but at the same time rejecting a proposal to release council meeting emails dating back to 2002 – councilmembers emphasized the need to look to the future and not dwell on the past.
However, the rule changes, together with the resolution passed on Sept. 21, suggest that Ann Arbor’s city council has fundamentally failed to give adequate thought to the future of open government in Ann Arbor. Instead, we appear to be moving into the future in a way that formally ensconces a flawed understanding of the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Act.