At Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting John Hendrickson was fuming. It wasn’t the debate about impact fees that provoked the Ward 2 representative’s ire, but the e-mails of his fellow council members.
“Not a lot of people know this, but some council members have broken the open meeting law,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson alleged at the meeting that other council members had sent e-mails to each other during several different meetings, which he said constituted debate the public could not readily observe and was thus illegal under state law.
Then on Wednesday at the Public, Safety and Health meeting Hendrickson had several signs placed in front of his laptop in reference to the content of the e-mails. One featured the word “moron,” while another said “Sermons given here,” in apparent reference to remarks about him made by Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler.
Council president and Ward 6 representative Ed Childers says the e-mail controversy is just the latest salvo in the ongoing debate over whether or not council should say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of their meetings. Several council members, Hendrickson included, unsuccessfully attempted to place the Pledge issue on the November ballot.
“I don’t know why the trigger got pulled this week,” Childers says. “It seems to be that some people want this to be an issue during campaign season.”
Ward 3’s Stacey Rye readily admits the council has discussed issues via e-mail during meetings. “It was nothing nefarious–it was all on public e-mail. If it had been on private e-mail I could see the problem,” she says.
Rye recalls one particular instance when council members were speaking to each other via e-mail during a committee meeting. Ward 1 representative Dave Strohmaier, she says, sent several council members a draft amendment to a proposal to make the pledge mandatory at meetings. Strohmaier’s amendment was then discussed openly, she says.
Strohmaier contends that council members routinely e-mail messages to each other during public sessions, even though they’re all in the same room together. “Without a doubt every council person has sent e-mail during a meeting,” Strohmaier says. He equates the action to leaning over and speaking to another member out of range of the mics.