Impact of e-Mail Limitations

The potential for an e-mail message to create an illegal walking quorum has traditionally limited the use of e-mail as a mode of communication between members of a governing body. In a five member governing body, an e-mail conversation between two board members can easily be transmitted to a third member, which constitutes a majority and which can violate the law. This can also occur by mistake by simply selecting "reply to all" on and a group broadcast message.
This restriction on e-mail use was necessary to avoid abuse and the use of electronic media to develop private agreements by a majority of board members hidden from public knowledge. However, the inablity to use contemporary communication technologies also limits the ability of governing bodies to make the best possible decisions.
Optimal decision-making requires involved and detailed discussions between several different perspectives which can be difficult to have within the structure of a formal meeting. It is the detailed exploration of these differing perspectives that produces shared understanding, identifies common ground, and finds mutually agreeable and integrative approaches. However, such detailed discussions can be quite time consuming, touch on many topics, and take place over an extended period of time. The meeting framework of scheduled time-bounded meetings with set agendas mandated by the open meeting act do not provide the ideal structure for such discussions. The time bounded nature and set agendas of such meetings can actually preclude such discussions from taking place, and decisions are reached based on limited information and absence of true shared understanding. These are not ideal results.
An appropriate application and use of contemporary communication technology can enable these discussions to take place outside of the formal meeting setting while still supporting the full disclosure needed for trasnparent and open government.