Stories indexed with the term ‘public meetings’

Library Board Meetings Won’t Be Broadcast

At its May 16, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor District Library board voted on a resolution to begin videotaping its meetings for broadcast. Nancy Kaplan, the board’s newest member, proposed the idea at their April 25, 2011 meeting. At that same meeting, AADL staff told the board that limited resources and quality control issues were the reasons why they hadn’t chosen to videotape the meetings to date.

Only Kaplan and Barbara Murphy voted in favor of the resolution. It was defeated by a 2-4 vote, with trustees Rebecca Head, Jan Barney Newman, Margaret Leary and Prue Rosenthal voting against it. Ed Surovell was absent.

This brief was filed from the AADL board meeting at the downtown library on South Fifth Avenue. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Column: Lawsuit Aftermath – 6 Months Clean

At a Jan. 18, 2011 hearing, the 22nd Circuit Court judge Melinda Morris entertained two motions by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a lawsuit filed by The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

The lawsuit alleged that during a July 19, 2010 session held by the city council, the council had violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act – by voting to enter into a closed session to discuss written attorney-client privileged communication, but instead straying from that narrow purpose to reach a public policy decision about medical marijuana businesses.

It’s uncontroversial that the council did make a decision in an open session on Aug. 5, 2010 to develop an ordinance that would ensconce medical marijuana businesses in local zoning regulations, by first establishing a moratorium on establishing additional medical marijuana businesses. What The Chronicle essentially alleged was that the Aug. 5 decision to develop local legislation on medical marijuana businesses had already been determined at the July 19 closed session.

The first motion by the city of Ann Arbor was rejected by Judge Morris. The city had asked her to find that The Chronicle’s suit was frivolous, not managing even to state a claim, and further asked that sanctions and fines be imposed.

However, on the city’s second motion – which asked Morris to find that there was insufficient evidence of an OMA violation to warrant subjecting councilmembers and the city attorney to depositions, and that she should dismiss the claim – Morris ruled in favor of the city of Ann Arbor.

In reaching the conclusion that additional discovery of facts should not be allowed, Morris appeared to give significant weight to councilmember depositions affidavits, which they all signed, asserting that they had voted to go into the closed session on July 19, 2010 in part to discuss a May 28, 2010 legal advice memo written by the city attorney, Stephen Postema. All the affidavits further asserted that the council had not made any decision during the July 19 closed session. Morris also appeared to give significant weight to the idea that even if an OMA violation occurred on July 19, then it would have been “cured” by the council’s deliberations and decision made during their open session at the Aug. 5, 2010 meeting.

In this report, we will review some points of legal interpretation on which we disagree with Judge Morris, including the significance of a surprising omission in the affidavits signed by the city attorney and the mayor.

But we begin with the observation that since being served The Chronicle’s lawsuit six months ago – about a closed session conducted on the claimed basis of attorney-client privilege – the city council has not held a single closed session of that kind. That’s easily the longest closed-session-free span the council has achieved for attorney-client privileged-based sessions in more than two years.

That seems to reflect an implicit acknowledgment by the city attorney and the council that they’d been holding more of these kinds of closed sessions than were actually warranted. We gave serious consideration to filing an appeal in this case. The council’s apparent change in behavior has convinced us that our decision not to allocate additional financial resources to an appeal was the right one. Part of our goal was to rectify a specific pattern of inappropriate behavior on the council’s part, and we appear to have achieved that.

Compared to the possibility of establishing new case law on a specific point, we think a more general approach to reform of the Michigan Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act, through legislative efforts, is likely to yield stronger and longer-lasting improvements in these open government laws. [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: Snowfall of Information

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s 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.

Yardstick measuring Feb. 2, 2011 snowfall in Ann Arbor

Despite dire forecasts, snowfall amounts by Wednesday morning were closer to five inches than 13 inches. But some of the words in this article were written before the snowstorm ended. And as this photo shows, it was not hard to find some deeper drifts. (Photo by the writer.)

It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

Less often than I would like, I use a membership-funded co-working space on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor called The Workantile Exchange to write and edit the material in this publication.

But even when I do work there, I am not all that productive, if productivity is measured by the number of words I type. Of course, I do type some words there. Some of these very words you are reading right now were typed at the Workantile. But number-of-words-typed is not how I measure the Workantile’s value to me.

So how do I assess the value of what I accomplish there?

It’s like describing the result of a snowstorm. [Full Story]

DDA to Tie $2 Million to Public Process

At their Wednesday morning meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s operations committee decided to recommend to the full board that the DDA pay the city of Ann Arbor $2 million. The payment is not legally required of the DDA under terms of an existing parking agreement that was struck in 2005.

A draft of the resolution with the recommendation was to be sent to all board members for review late Wednesday. If the full DDA board approves the resolution at its next meeting on May 5, city councilmembers who are up for re-election this year may not have to campaign under the shadow of police and firefighter layoffs. The $2 million from the DDA would allow the city council some flexibility in amending the FY 2011 city budget, before it is adopted at the council’s second meeting in May. That budget was formally introduced at the council’s April 19 meeting and showed a roughly $1.5 million deficit. It also included some police and firefighter layoffs.

But how much of the $2 million will be put towards avoiding layoffs versus offsetting the deficit is far from clear. Two city councilmembers attended the DDA operations committee meeting: Sandi Smith, who also serves on the DDA board; and Margie Teall, who serves on the council’s sub-committee appointed for the purpose of renegotiating the parking agreement between the city and the DDA. Last year, the city council and the DDA board each appointed a committee for the purpose of renegotiating that agreement.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Smith said it was not certain whether layoffs could be avoided with the $2 million payment or if so, how many could be avoided. Smith’s contention that there was no guarantee the $2 million would avert layoffs came in response to one of several sharp questions put to his fellow DDA board members by Newcombe Clark. Clark began the discussion by asking if the $2 million was tied to anything.

In the course of the discussion, it was made clear that the $2 million would be tied neither to a promise of no layoffs at the city, nor made contingent in any way on specific progress towards a renegotiation of the parking agreement between the DDA and the city.  It would also not be tied to the implementation of any part of a “term sheet” that will form the basis of the city-DDA discussions in the coming months.

Key aspects of that “term sheet” are the idea that regular payments will be made to the city, that the DDA will assume some responsibility for parking enforcement, and that the city will be “held harmless” in any revenue loss associated with cessation of its enforcement activities.

But by the end of the discussion, Clark had eked out a victory of sorts: a provision in the draft resolution that ties the $2 million to a public process, from this point forward, for the city-DDA negotiations. They have been going on a few months now out of public view. In that regard, the resolution can be fairly be analyzed as a fresh commitment to the committee structure, with its associated expectations of public process, that the two bodies had already adopted, but not implemented for discussing the parking agreement. [Full Story]