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Thread: E-mails and Open Meetings Act

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    E-mails and Open Meetings Act

    In a recent FOIA request for a client community, they requested all of the e-mail interactions between Planning Commission members in regards to their application. We did not have any, however it did spark the question if e-mailed information and discussion is a violation of the open meetings act if the members copied were greater than the quorum number? Furthermore, for a FOIA request, do e-mails to/from Planning Commissioners need to be included if the municipality was not copied?

    I sometimes go a bit overboard and make all communications to/from Planning Commission members available as part of the record and anytime that anything regarding any PC decision comes past me electronically, it is read into the record as communication.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

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    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    I would think that most any amount of email exchange between members of the PC could be considered deliberation and subject to OMA. The type of communication is for the meetings, and I would say there shouldn't be ANY email messages between Planning Commission members regarding any action that will be required by that body. When I send anything to either PC or the C2 via email I alway include a disclaimer that any response should be to me directly and not a "reply to all". If it requires a follow answer, I again email the answer to the entire group.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    I would think that most any amount of email exchange between members of the PC could be considered deliberation and subject to OMA. The type of communication is for the meetings, and I would say there shouldn't be ANY email messages between Planning Commission members regarding any action that will be required by that body. When I send anything to either PC or the C2 via email I alway include a disclaimer that any response should be to me directly and not a "reply to all". If it requires a follow answer, I again email the answer to the entire group.
    SWMI is correct, well, at least pertaining to California Standard. Any communication between members of the commission is subject to FOIA. We do a similar disclaimer when we communicate with our commission. Here is a great example of what can happen when members start discussing items via email. It was a little comical because the streetscape project they referenced happen to be a project I worked on at my former firm. You can read the grand jury report here.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis;635504
    In a recent FOIA request for a client community, they requested all of the e-mail interactions between Planning Commission members in regards to their application. We did not have any, however it did spark the question if e-mailed information and discussion is a violation of the open meetings act if the members copied were greater than the quorum number? Furthermore, for a FOIA request, do e-mails to/from Planning Commissioners need to be included if the municipality was not copied?
    I serve on the board of a Special District and we cannot 'reply all', else it constitutes a meeting, and a meeting requires sufficient disclosure. All our communication to all the board at once goes through our management company, which is OK in CO, apparently. As for the blue text, IME the answer is yes - all communication is what the lawyers want.
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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    I would think that most any amount of email exchange between members of the PC could be considered deliberation and subject to OMA. The type of communication is for the meetings, and I would say there shouldn't be ANY email messages between Planning Commission members regarding any action that will be required by that body. When I send anything to either PC or the C2 via email I alway include a disclaimer that any response should be to me directly and not a "reply to all". If it requires a follow answer, I again email the answer to the entire group.
    That is how I have been looking at it thus far too, but thank you for the reassurance that I am not being overly careful.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    I would think that most any amount of email exchange between members of the PC could be considered deliberation and subject to OMA. The type of communication is for the meetings, and I would say there shouldn't be ANY email messages between Planning Commission members regarding any action that will be required by that body. When I send anything to either PC or the C2 via email I alway include a disclaimer that any response should be to me directly and not a "reply to all". If it requires a follow answer, I again email the answer to the entire group.
    Yes, virtually all email in my world is subject to disclosure except in very limited circumstances. So that is the FOIA issue.

    As for OMA, one way communication from you to them is OK. It is when they start communicating between each other that rules are breached for a walking quorum. For that reason, Reply All is a no-no. In fact, we usually send group emails to commission members using a BCC precisely so they can't do that.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Handy tables we use for "Right to Know" (our state's FOIA law) requests:
    Attached Files Attached Files
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

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    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    This issue is going to blow up in someone's face someday. I mean, if someone wants to FOIA my work emails, more power to them. But they can't control what I personally text or (if I used it) Twitter. I know that there is a cabal of my city's Council where I live that keep in constant communication with their personal cell phones and swap information back in forth. The fact that one of them is a planner and should know better makes it that much worse.

    If you know that this goes on at the local level, it makes you start thinking about all those conspiracy theories.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner View post
    Handy tables we use for "Right to Know" (our state's FOIA law) requests:
    Thanks NHP. my jurisdiction is set up differently and we don't have a BZA/ZBA/whatever, just a planning commission. However, the information is useful.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    My understanding is that all emails are subject to FOIA. However, simply sending an email to all members of a planning or zoning board would not be a violation of the open meetings law - at least not in my state. After all - it is not a violation of the OML to send packets to board members in advance of a meeting. However, you may have an issue if the emails transition from simple information dissemination to a discussion between board members of an application before them or that will be before them (especially if a majority of the board is cc'ed on the discussion emails.)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    No one knows where the boundaries are. I use my e-mail account for scheduling and official correspondence that would be open anyway. I get a stipend for my phone rather than take a city one. We had a school superintendent in Iowa recently have a bunch of e-mails released that she exchanged with some guy she was having an affair with. Some was pretty graphic. It amazes me that someone would use their work e-mail for such an exchange when you can use Hotmail. Gmail, etc.

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