Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board special meeting (Jan. 3, 2013): The board had a single item on the agenda for a special meeting that had been announced on Dec. 27. That item was to convene a closed session as allowed under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act – to consider pending litigation.
AATA board members: Clockwise from left bottom: Roger Kerson, Sue Gott, David Nacht, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Anya Dale, Eli Cooper. (Photo by the writer.)
After about two hours in closed session, the board emerged and voted unanimously to reject – for a second time – an advertisement that had been submitted by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman for placement on the sides of AATA buses. The ad included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid” and a graphic that depicts a scorpion-like creature.
Both the text and the image figured into reasoning for the board’s decision to reject the ad – based on a new advertising policy that the AATA board adopted in November. [See Chronicle coverage: “AATA Adopts New Advertising Policy”]
The board’s resolution stressed that there were two reasons for rejecting the advertisement, either of which the board considered to be sufficient on its own to warrant rejection. First, the proposed ad violates the policy’s provision against political advertisements. Second, the advertisement is likely to hold up a group to scorn or ridicule, according to the board’s resolution – by dint of the enclosure of the word “Israel” in quotes, and the inclusion of the image. [.pdf of new ad policy, with changes indicated]
The AATA board reconsidered the advertisement using the new policy because of a court order issued on Dec. 17. [.pdf of Dec. 17, 2012 court order] That order came from judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, who’s presiding over the case. The reconsideration of the ad is part of the injunctive relief that Goldsmith is proposing, having ruled in favor of Coleman on his request for a preliminary injunction. Granting the preliminary injunction was based on Goldsmith’s finding that the AATA’s old advertising policy was in part unconstitutional. Coleman’s requested relief, however, was for the AATA to run the advertisement. Goldsmith has not yet explicitly ruled on that request.
Under the court order, the AATA had until Jan. 4 to notify Coleman of its decision on the re-submitted advertisement.
A status conference scheduled for Jan. 9 will focus on whether the injunctive relief that’s been granted thus far is sufficient, and will allow the parties to talk to each other and the judge about how they’d like to move forward. The lawsuit, filed in late 2011, has not yet proceeded to trial. However, the legal standard of review for granting Coleman’s motion for a preliminary injunction is based in part on the likelihood that Coleman would prevail, if the case were to go to trial.
Public commentary at the Jan. 3 special meeting of the AATA board was focused on the possible conflict of interest that judge Goldsmith has, given his membership in various Jewish organizations. [Full Story]