Ann Arbor city council doing stupid emailing during meetings

This was an amusing way to wake up this morning:

Some question appropriateness of mocking e-mail banter during Ann Arbor City Council
meetings in the AANews. Here are the opening paragraphs:

After his presentation to the Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw Audubon Society member Will Weber had every reason to think city officials shared his views about protecting birds during migratory season.

But while they publicly endorsed the efforts, the same City Council members who backed “Safe Passage Great Lakes Days” in March mocked its significance in e-mails that flew back and forth during the council meeting.

“The highlight of Hohnke’s legislative career a non-binding resolution to dim your lights to help birds,” Leigh Greden wrote in an e-mail to fellow council members Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall and Christopher Taylor.

Greden’s March 16 missive prompted a dozen messages in which the four council members made sport of environmental or wildlife protection measures that they had passed.

The article goes on to recount a couple other conversations in which Ann Arbor City Council members walk a fine line between being just human, childish and/or assholes. I think my favorite part of the story is how these emails came to light:

Sent from city e-mail accounts, the messages were released by the city in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

The Detroit-based law center was seeking communication about the city’s planned underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue. What it got, in addition, were a series of live e-mail exchanges among council members during three meetings in February and March.

So, what have we learned here today?

  • Be careful about your email because it never ever goes away, even if you think you deleted it. I worry about this with my colleagues, actually. I’ve been on committees where fairly private/sensitive information found its way into email. I’ve been guilty of sending some of those emails myself. I recently had a conversation with a quasi-administrator-type person about a way to get reimbursed for something (I ended up getting paid the old-fashioned way, taxes and all) and this person told me to erase all those emails because they might get us in trouble. (Deep sigh) Well, if Kwame taught us anything it should be that stuff like email and text messages simply do not go away. Oh, and I don’t think those emails would have gotten anyone into trouble anyway.
  • People just can’t resist back-channel discussions, even when they really REALLY should know better. So maybe we really shouldn’t be that hard on students who don’t pay attention 120% of the time, especially when the instructor is just standing there going blah-blah-blah.
  • Many of the folks on Ann Arbor city council kinda seem like Douchebags, and, according to this wikipedia entry, I believe douchebag is the correct slang term: “The term implies a variety of negative qualities, specifically arrogance and engaging in obnoxious and/or irritating actions without malicious intent.”

Anyway, besides the local political/humor angle, I will have to remember this for English 516 or maybe English 444, some kind of class where we talk about how uses of email can go wrong.

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