City of Ann Arbor turns down request for meeting minutes, again

The City of Ann Arbor has dozens of citizen boards and commissions, with members appointed by the mayor, that conduct some of the decision making parts of city government. Most of these boards toil in utter obscurity, with no one in attendance at meetings other than the minimum required board members and staff.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this obscurity, there are some interesting things to be discovered by reading board minutes and board packets from these groups. For instance:

The Local Development Finance Authority is the city body that allocates economic development funds from tax capture to development organizations, primarily Ann Arbor SPARK. As of the latest board packet, there is no treasurer to this organization, as none of the existing board members were willing to serve in that role. There is one open position on that board as of this writing.

The Sign Board of Appeals meets only when citizens or businesses have an appeal to decisions made under the city's Sign Ordinance. This body only has 4 members seated, with 3 vacancies. As a result, that board did not elect officers and did not approve the most recent minutes of a previous meeting. The Sign Ordinance is said to be up for review, according to the draft minutes that I looked at, but the Sign Board had not seen that draft.

The Zoning Board of Appeals meetings to hear appeals to the city's zoning laws. Here was the most unusual result that I had from a series of Freedom of Information Act requests: the draft minutes of the last meeting, in December, were not available when I asked for them, and the city turned down a FOIA request for those minutes. Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, draft minutes are to be made available within 8 days of a public meeting being held. I appealed that decision – and it's appalling that I should have to go through the FOIA appeals process just to read meeting minutes – and was given the minutes the day after my appeal. This Ann Arbor Chronicle civic news ticker has the results of that meeting, which was controversial and resulted in the rejection of neighborhood appeals to the City Place development decision.

Is it unusual for a public body to turn down requests for meeting minutes? It's happened to me before, when I had to go through a protacted series of requests to get minutes from the Historic District Commission. The first time you do this, it's an exciting process of delving into the fine points of carefully worded language to appeal a city decision. The second time, it's just tedious and frustrating to have to go all the way to the city administrator just to get minutes to read. I suppose I'll keep earning my title of "municipal irritant" one way or another, even without attending the meetings.



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