Traverse City Record-Eagle

Region

April 20, 2014

Local officials: Email no way to conduct public business

(Continued)

Conducting public business at public meetings is the only way to hold government accountable to the public, Maxbauer said.

"It also gives the opportunity to the public to hear what commissioners are thinking, and it allows them to come forward and say ‘you know what; you’re wrong,’” she said.

 

'Teachable moment’

Tim Arends called NMC trustees’ email exchanges a “teachable moment” for area boards on how not to conduct public business. Arends, executive director of Traverse City Light & Power, spoke with his chairman, John Taylor, about sending out an email to all board members asking them to read the Record-Eagle article. But Arends reminded Taylor of the city’s practice to make sure all emails sent to board or commission members be labeled: “Do not reply to all.”

"It’s fine to disseminate information, but they can’t have a two-way conversation in person or through an email with a majority of board members,” Arends said.

Arends said city officials stress to their board members that they must constantly be vigilant to make sure their conversations don’t drift toward any topic that has the potential to become a meeting agenda item.

"You need to recognize in these volunteer positions you are dealing with lay people that don’t understand all of the ins and outs of the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act, and it’s up to management to educate its board members,” Arends said. “That’s very important.”

Light & Power officials just conducted open meetings and public access training during a regular televised meeting. Arends said they will use the tape of that meeting for new board member education.

Julie Puckett, vice president of Traverse City Area Public Schools’ board and an adjunct mathematics professor at NMC, was “a little bit surprised” when she read about the level of discussion that occurred between college trustees over email.

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