Indexed Video and the Open Meetings Act

Video of council meetings now embedded in online agenda
Screen capture of video embedded in council agenda

Screen capture of item by item indexed video links embedded in council agenda.

Monday night’s meeting of the Ann Arbor city council was a test of stamina, with a public hearing and council deliberations on the A2D2 zoning ordinances pushing the meeting’s end time well past midnight.

The Chronicle’s meeting report will be presented in a separate article. [Spoiler: The A2D2 zoning ordinance was eventually passed – with an unaltered maximum building height limit of 150 feet in the D1 areas of South University.] In this piece, we highlight how readers who are interested in a blow-by-blow account of those deliberations will now more easily find the exact spot in the online video where those deliberations take place. [Video for the Nov. 16 meeting has not yet been uploaded.]

We then use the indexed video links to aid in our presentation of an uncorrected error in the Nov. 5 meeting minutes, which were accepted by the council last night – an error that in this case could amount to a violation of the Open Meetings Act. On a related issue, we use the embedded indexed video links to highlight an additional possible Open Meetings Act violation in the official noticing of a special meeting that immediately preceded the regular meeting of the city council on Nov. 5.

Embedded Video Links

Starting with the Nov. 5 meeting of city council, Community Television Network (CTN) and the city clerk’s office began indexing the video of each city council meeting that is recorded during live broadcast on CTN’s Channel 16. The indexing allows for the embedding of links for each online agenda item, corresponding to just the footage related to that item.

It’s made possible by a collaboration – at the city of Ann Arbor’s request – between the software vendors for the city’s online agenda system (Daystar Computer Systems Inc, which supplies Legistar) and CTN’s online video (Leightronix).

Clicking on the link marked “Video” located next to an agenda item causes a video player to pop over the Legistar agenda interface, which can then be played as many times as a viewer would like.

Use of the Video: Regular Meeting Nov. 5

At its regular meeting on Nov. 5. 2009, the Ann Arbor city council went into closed session towards the end of that meeting to consider the performance evaluations of the city attorney, Stephen Postema, and city administrator Roger Fraser. The Chronicle initially misreported the reason for the closed session as relating to pending litigation and attorney-client privileged communication and/or land acquisition.

The Chronicle’s error is to some degree explained, but not excused, by the fact that the purpose for the closed session stated on the evening’s published agenda was to discuss matters related to pending litigation and attorney-client privileged communication and/or land acquisition, not a performance review. [Either purpose could justify a closed session under the Open Meetings Act.]

The inaccuracy concerning the purpose of the closed session persisted in the official minutes of the Nov. 5, 2009 meeting, which were accepted by the council at its Nov. 16, 2009 meeting.

A link to the council agenda allows readers to navigate to the closed session item to see how the motion was made to go into closed session (direct linking to just the video snippets appears not to be possible): [Legistar Agenda Nov. 5 Ann Arbor regular city council meeting]

The video shows that the purpose for the closed session was not misrepresented at the council table – city attorney Stephen Postema can be seen and heard offering clarification that the session was only devoted to the performance reviews, not anything else. [Mike Anglin's (Ward 5) motion at the beginning of the meeting to revise the agenda to include a closed session covering both the performance reviews and pending litigation, attorney-client privileged communication and/or land acquisition is accurately reflected in the official minutes.]

The Open Meetings Act requires that an explanation of the purpose of a closed session be recorded in the minutes of a meeting. As they currently stand, then, the official minutes of the Nov. 5, 2009 council meeting could be argued not to meet that OMA requirement with respect to the closed session held to discuss performance evaluations.

Use of the Video: Special Meeting on Nov. 5

The Chronicle certainly heard the remarks of the city attorney made at the regular meeting on Nov. 5 clarifying the purpose of the regular meeting’s closed session. We understood those remarks – erroneously – to refer to the purpose of the closed session during a special meeting that had been held at 6 p.m. just before the council’s regular meeting.

A half hour before the special meeting took place, The Chronicle verified that the physical paper notice of the meeting, which was posted in the glass case in the lobby of city hall, was accurate with respect to the closed session’s purpose.

But online, the special meeting was initially given public notice with an agenda that did not reflect a closed session for the purpose of evaluating performance. Instead, the agenda reflected a closed session to discuss pending litigation and attorney-client privileged communication and/or land acquisition. The digital artifact of that initial notice can be found in the .pdf file containing the “published agenda” of the special meeting, which persisted online up until the time of the special meeting.

On entering council chambers to attend the special meeting, The Chronicle alerted the city attorney, Stephen Postema, of the disparity between the actual purpose of the closed session and the agenda published online.

When the meeting began, Postema thus indicated to the mayor that the agenda needed to be “corrected.” That interaction can be viewed by first navigating to the Legistar agenda for the special meeting and using the embedded video link: [Legistar agenda Nov. 5 Ann Arbor special city council meeting].

Subsequently, the online “published agenda” was corrected: [revised Nov. 5 special meeting agenda]. The date stamp on that file indicates Nov. 5, 6:17:14 p.m. – after the special meeting started.

The Open Meetings Act requires that notice of special meetings – which must be made at least 18 hours before the meeting – include the general nature of the business to be discussed at the special meeting. The online notice of the special meeting of Nov. 5 did not accurately reflect the purpose of the closed session, thus could be argued not to meet the OMA requirement on notice for special meetings.

One Comment

  1. By Rod Johnson
    November 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm | permalink

    I have to chuckle at “spoiler.” In the old days you would have been taken to task for burying your lede–now you get in trouble for *not* burying it. :)