In July of 2009, the Ann Arbor City Council was accused of violating the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Less than 15 months later, City Council is again being accused of violating the act. On Friday, The Ann Arbor Chronicle filed suit against the City of Ann Arbor for having a closed-door meeting on the moratorium for medical marijuana. Though it remains to be seen if the meeting was actually a breach of the act, City Council’s meeting violates the spirit of the law. City Council should be considerate of residents who want to stay informed on local issues and increase its efforts to be transparent.
The suit was filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court on Friday, according to a Sept. 20 article on annarbor.com. The suit focuses specifically on a meeting allegedly held on Jul. 19 during which City Council members discussed the medical marijuana policy with the city attorney general. Dave Askins and Mary Morgan — owners of The Chronicle — are claiming that council members are engaged in “secret decision-making.” City Council says that the discussions were protected by attorney-client privilege, but Askins and Morgan disagree.
This problem has been addressed before. In 2009, a group of local businesses sued City Council after it was revealed that some members had been sending private e-mails during public meetings. That lawsuit ended in a settlement and an amendment to the rules of the Council that prohibits the use of electronic communication to discuss city matters during meetings. But the debacle apparently didn’t impress on City Council the importance of transparency.
City Council still needs to be reminded that it has a responsibility to incorporate Ann Arbor residents’ opinions into their decisions. Issues important to local residents shouldn’t be discussed without the input of the people they will affect. By leaving residents out of a meeting regarding the medical marijuana moratorium, City Council is denying them important information. The lawsuit should be a wake-up call to council members that they aren’t independent agents.
Though it’s still unclear if the meeting to discuss the medical marijuana moratorium counted as a breach of the Open Meetings Act, city council members shouldn’t feel comfortable with closed-door meetings of any kind. The Michigan Open Meetings Act is meant to protect residents’ right to know what is going on in their local government. City Council is still violating the spirit of the law. By holding meetings — even if they are informal and don’t technically break the law — City Council is perpetuating the sentiment that it is a restricted entity. This feeling of entitlement is dangerous in a democratic society because it lessens demands for public accountability. City Council should feel obligated to include the public in all of its discussions to show residents that it is working for them.
City Council must enact a policy of total transparency during meetings and they need to follow the spirit of the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The suit that The Chronicle has filed should stand as a reminder to City Council of its responsibility to Ann Arbor residents.