The Ann Arbor City Council voted on several resolutions at its meeting Monday, including the adoption of revised Council rules and protocols for releasing public documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
Resolution to adopt revised Council rules
Councilmembers passed a resolution to revise multiple Council rules, including those governing limitations on speaking times. The final resolution included several amendments that were successfully tacked onto the original proposal.
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) proposed an amendment, which passed with six votes, to eliminate a section of the rules that cap councilmembers’ speaking time at 25 minutes. Eaton argued the cap is unnecessary.
“It’s pointless to try to stifle debate to arbitrary time limits,” he said. “We should all be more respectful of each other’s time.”
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) opposed the amendment, but not because he disagreed with Eaton’s proposal. Warpehoski said he would like to give the current time limit a try and evaluate its effectiveness.
Similar to Warpehoski’s position, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) said the time limit was manageable.
“I think this would be a mechanism that staff could easily take care of,” Taylor said. “They could do so in a nonjudgmental manner. They would communicate that to me. They would communicate to the councilmember.”
However, Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) supported the amendment because he said the time limit infringes on his role as a representative.
“I was elected twice on behalf of constituents,” he said. “To stifle (debate) as a representative of constituents, I think it is not democratic.”
Along with Eaton’s amendment, Warpehoski proposed an amendment, which the Council also passed, to limit councilmembers’ speaking time on a given question to three minutes the first time and three minutes the second time. The previous rule allowed councilmembers to speak five minutes the first time and three minutes the second time.
Resolution to revise FOIA policy
Councilmembers Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Sumi Kailasapthy (D–Ward 1) and Eaton sponsored a successful resolution to direct City Administrator Steve Powers to revise the city’s Freedom of Information Act policy, which provides a guide to making records available to the public. In early 2013, Powers provided revisions to the city’s policy regarding release of public documents. Along with these revisions, Dave Askins, former editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, which no longer publishes, provided feedback to the draft revisions in 2013.
Along with its efforts to revise the policy, the Michigan Legislature considered multiple amendments to the Michigan FOIA during 2013 and 2014, but no changes were adopted as law.
“In keeping with the Republican legislature, they didn’t really accomplish anything on those points,” Eaton said. “I think it’s time for us to revisit our FOIA policies.”
The city resolution permits Powers to “renew his efforts” to revise the release of public documents, with the aim of increasing transparency. Some members have expressed interest in a policy that would waive fees for the media, appoint a FOIA officer for the city and the Council and create a process through which denials of FOIA requests can be appealed.
During the public commentary portion of the meeting, Ann Arbor resident Katherine Wilkerson discussed the fatal shooting of Aura Rosser by Ann Arbor police on Nov. 9 and argued that the Ann Arbor Police Department was not entirely transparent in the aftermath.
“Now, 22 days after its awful occurrence, the continuing secrecy surrounding this homicide is an affront to the people and to principles of democracy and justice,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson cited the fact that in the Ferguson, Mo. incident, Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a Black, allegedly unarmed teenager, was identified six days after the shooting.
“The standard excuse for concealing the identities of cops that kill citizens is for the safety of the cops,” Wilkerson said. “Michigan’s Freedom of Information law allows that, but only supported by substantial justification and explanation, not merely by conclusive reassertions.”
Even though Wilkerson said she knows Michigan’s FOIA law can conceal the identity of a police officer with justification and explanatory support, she asked the Council what such justification exists for not identifying the officer in this particular case.
“What substantial justification and explanation exists to maintain the secrecy of the officers involved in the killing of Rosser?” Wilkerson said. “Is this what Chief (John) Seto means when he touts the importance of community to us as the police?”