Stories indexed with the term ‘open meetings’

Monthly Milestone: A Different Beast

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.

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The May meeting of the University of Michigan board of regents was remarkable for a rare display of discord. It’s the only time I can recall that this particular board has publicly voiced disagreement with the administration. It’s the only time I can remember some unscripted debate unfolding among regents on a substantive issue – the issue was a resolution recognizing the right of graduate student research assistants to unionize.


Bezonki, like The Chronicle, is a different kind of beast – he's sometimes surprised by what he reads in the newspaper. This is a preview panel from the upcoming June edition of The Chronicle's comic – a monthly nod to the time-honored tradition of the Sunday funnies. Bezonki is created by local artist Alvey Jones. (Image links to Bezonki archive.)

After the meeting, I happened to be leaving at the same time as UM president Mary Sue Coleman. As we walked down the hall together, I told her that despite the tension and clearly deep disagreement on this issue, I had found it refreshing to see an actual public debate at the meeting. It simply never happens.

Whatever disagreements exist among regents – or between regents and the administration – seem to be aired privately. When tuition rates are set, some regents will read statements of polite disagreement, before casting their votes of dissent. But most action items are approved unanimously, with little if any comment. I told Coleman that I realized the meeting had been at times uncomfortable, but that I appreciated the debate.

She gave me a withering look. “I’m sure you do,” she said, crisply.

Her pointed disdain took me aback – though I should have seen it coming. From her perspective, she’d been delivered a very public defeat on an issue she is passionate about, grounded in her personal experience. She seemed weary. But her comment also revealed a view of the media that’s more prevalent and more justified than I like to admit. It’s a view of reporters as hungering for headline-grabbing, website-traffic-sucking stories – and if the facts don’t quite deliver the juice, well, there are ways to spice up reality. There’s a reason why news gathering is sometimes called “feeding the beast.”

From that perspective, Coleman perhaps heard my remarks as the comments of someone who was hungry for more drama of regents mixing it up in front of the plebeians. Ouch.

So on my drive home from UM’s Dearborn campus – where the regents meeting was held – I thought about why the exchange had touched a nerve for me. For one, I’m dismayed that elected officials and other civic leaders are so often reluctant to hold difficult discussions in public. The board of regents is not the only body that does its business like a tightly choreographed kabuki dance. But as a journalist, I’m angered when irresponsible actions by those who earn a livelihood as part of the news media give public bodies a cheap excuse to be even more closed-off. [Full Story]

Column: Email and Open Meetings

As we reported more than a month ago, a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center – in connection with a possible environmental lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor – yielded records of email correspondence between Ann Arbor city councilmembers made during some of their regular council meetings.

In that article, we indicated that the “the content seems to fall into two categories: (i) adolescent humor, and (ii) apparent ‘backchannel’ discussion of issues before the council, which raises more serious concerns.” The content of some of those emails has now been published in various forms in other media outlets.

We begin our own treatment of this episode in city politics by providing historical context for the Ann Arbor community’s concern about city council email exchanges during council meetings – one that predates the FOIA requests by GLELC.

In that context, we’d like to consider one of the email exchanges in more detail and use it to illuminate ethical issues surrounding the use of electronic communications during official meetings. And on that basis, we’ll explore some possibilities for the use of technology to push information to the public, instead of using it to screen decision-making processes from the public. In addition to the ethical and informational issues, there are legal questions that arise from these FOIA-ed materials. Those legal questions relate to possible  violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, as well as the city’s preparedness to meet the requirements of FOIA when electronic records are requested. [Full Story]