Members of municipal legislative bodies like city councils, county commissions and school boards aren’t supposed to conduct the public’s business in private. Every state has its own version of a public meetings act that lays out its own requirements for open meetings.
In the age of email and e-groups, city council and school board members can talk about public business in closed-loop email chains that are just shared amongst themselves. These have been found to violate open meeting laws. A discussion or deliberation that occurs through e-mail is just as much a discussion or deliberation as a face-to-face meeting.
The members of the Ann Arbor City Council were recently exposed by the Ann Arbor News has having systematically sidestepped this expectation.
As the newspaper writes:
An examination of e-mails exchanged among various Ann Arbor City Council members during public meetings from late 2007 through last year shows that private discussions were regularly held in the course of council sessions.
Ann Arbor’s politicians were conducting personal political campaign activity via email during city council meetings, “jockeying over the politics of City Council salary increases” and in other ways discussing public business with each other during public meetings but via email.