On May 15, 2009, the Ann Arbor Chronicle covered a potential lawsuit by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center seeking to stop construction of the Library Lot Parking Structure. An "editorial aside" at the end of the article noted that material obtained under FOIA included e-mails amongst members of Ann Arbor City Council during Council meetings.
Hall’s letter mentions that material as possible Open Meetings Act violations. Having read through it, 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.
Over the next several months, the direct concern over potential Open Meetings Act violations related to the Library Lot structure grew into more generalized concern about Councilmembers performing vote-counting or vote-swapping by e-mail during meetings, discussing potential parliamentary options, or otherwise appearing to conduct business sub rosa. Even this, though, was eclipsed by outrage in parts of the community about snide comments and jokes traded amongst the Councilmembers at each others' expense.
Councilmember Leigh Greden, facing re-election against former Councilmember Steven Kunselman was the target of much of this criticism - whether this was tactical or coincidental, Kunselman defeated Greden by 6 votes in the August 2009 Primary, with some crediting the e-mail outcry as the swing issue. Independent candidate Hatim Elhady also made the e-mails a campaign issue in his race against Marcia Higgins in the November 2009 General Election.
Since that time, the Chronicle, AnnArbor.com, and various individuals have posted about 40 packets of Council e-mails to a2docs.org, primarily for single days or weeks, gained through FOIA requests. While City Council considered a proposal to create a searchable online database of all Council e-mails sent since 2002, the proposal was rejected as overly costly, particularly in the face of limited staff time.
Contents of E-mail packets
AnnArbor.com and the Chronicle have provided summaries / tables of contents for some of the packets. For example:
Kerrytown parking lot snow removal, Baptist church parking lot, parking signage, Burns Park sidewalk ice removal, underground parking garage, E Stadium pothole, street light at JCC bus stop, uncleared sidewalks, COLA for retirees, funding for E Stadium bridge, moratorium on new street lights, Pfizer tax appeal, pedestrian street crossing right of way, Davey tree inventory, Cicchella municipal health care proposal, Dhu Varren wetlands public meeting, Pizza Pino complaint unspecified, AAPD crime stats, "wantonly hacking down" city tree (inventory stops at p 93)
- AnnArbor.com, 6 November 2009: Leigh Greden apologizes to Ann Arbor City Council colleagues for his role in e-mail scandal
- AnnArbor.com, 25 October 2009: Ann Arbor City Council e-mail scandal topic of 4th Ward race
- Ann Arbor Chronicle, 10 June 2009: Column: Email and Open Meetings
- Ann Arbor Chronicle, 15 May 2009: Ann Arbor to Face Environmental Lawsuit?