City Council and the Values of Ann Arbor

"Bread feeds our body, and roses feed our soul."
Iraq Water Project

Laura Russello, executive director at Michigan Peaceworks, presented background on the collaboration between the nonprofit she leads and Veterans for Peace on the Iraq Water Project.

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 2, 2009): Whatever chance for controversy that might have been present in the Ann Arbor’s City Council meeting agenda on Monday evening was eschewed in favor of values statements. These expressions of values were reflected in many of the agenda items themselves. We’ve organized our account of the meeting in terms of values related to the following topics: water, the arts, land, energy, history, and democracy.

Ann Arbor Value: Water

Iraq Water Project (Clean Water): As a part of the section of the agenda called “Introductions” that starts every council meeting, Laura Russello, executive director at Michigan Peaceworks, presented background on the collaboration between the nonprofit she leads and Veterans for Peace, who joined together to work on the Iraq Water Project. As a result of the destruction of much of Iraq’s infrastructure during the Iraq war, Russello said that only 1 in 3 Iraqis have access to clean water. The goal of the project is to restore access to clean water. So far the national organization has raised $200,000 to repair six water treatment facilities in Iraq, Russello said.

She explained that the goal of Michigan Peaceworks is to help involve the entire community in the project led by Veterans for Peace so that it becomes a “human-to-human” issue. To that end, a variety of events had been organized, continued Russello, including a showing of the movie “Flow” at Michigan Theater, a rally on the University of Michigan campus, op-ed pieces written for the Ann Arbor News, with door-to-door canvassing planned.

Members had a poster depicting a water filter of the sort that the Iraq Water Project is raising money to send to Iraq. It consists of a sediment filter, followed by a carbon filter, with sterilization achieved through an ultraviolet bulb. About 30 of the units have been sent so far.

After presentations made during the “Introductions,” councilmembers sometimes ask questions to elicit more detail from the presenters. Mayor John Hiefte stated that he knew something about water filters and queried Russello about the filter’s processing rate. Eight gallons a minute, she said.

Russello asked for council’s support of the resolution on their agenda, saying that an endorsement from city council would help lend the local effort credibility.

Later, during council deliberations on the resolution, Tony Derezinski  thanked Michigan Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace from his perspective as “a veteran of an earlier unpopular war” and said that he was pleased to support it. Hieftje said he really appreciated the fact that they came and talked to him about the project, saying that it can have an immediate impact on people’s lives.

Outcome: The resolution, which featured a “resolved” clause commending Michigan Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace for their work on the Iraq Water Project, was passed unanimously.

Dreiseitl Project for Municipal Center (Storm Water): During public commentary reserved time at the beginning of the meeting, Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, spoke to the agenda item on  the professional services agreement with Herbert Dreiseitl to create a piece of public art for the new municipal building, which will integrate with the building’s storm water control system. The cost of the preliminary design is $77,000, which was on the agenda for authorization, with the project itself expected to cost around $700,000.

At a recent art commission meeting, some commissioners had expressed concern about some lack of support for the Dreiseitl project among the public. At its October 2008 meeting, there was some surprise expressed by commissioners about the large amount of money available to fund the project, as well as the rapid time line for the project’s selection. At a Sunday night council caucus in early February, Marcia Higgins had also expressed surprise at how much money had accumulated through the one-percent for art program, prompting her to wonder if a half-percent of all capital projects would be sufficient to meet the program’s goals.

Margaret Parker: Parker thanked the city council for its planning by putting the percent for art program in place and said that the Dreiseitl proposal was the first project to be funded through the program. She then gave some brief background on the mechanics of the funding, including the fact that funds from all capital projects that feed into the program can be pooled as long as they’re related to the same funding source. The funds need not be spent in the same year that they accumulate, she said, but they can’t be spend on anything other than public art.

She then began to walk council through the steps that led to the decision to commission Dreiseitl to create a storm water-based project for the new municipal center [which breaks ground in a few weeks, with preparations already underway around the Larcom Building.] First, she said, it was unanimously decided that the new municipal center was the place to focus time and funding. Second, the task force, consisting of many members of the community not on the art commission, had dtermined where in the municipal center the project would be sited. The site selected was the rain garden. With that, Parker’s time was up (three minutes is the time limit for public commentary), and she left the podium saying that she hoped council had read their “little packets and make the right decision.”

Councilmember Margie Teall said she was excited by the fact that Dreiseitl had agreed to do the project. Councilmember Carsten Hohnke said he’d seen a presentation when Dreiseitl was in Ann Arbor last year for the Huron River Watershed Council’s State of the Huron conference. He said it would bring storm water control out into the open and would thus be both educational as well as aesthetically pleasing art.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Ann Arbor Value: Art

State Funding: In voting to fund the design of Dreiseitl’s storm water-based art installation, council gave a thumbs up to both water and art. But it spent a fair chunk of time on the subject of just plain art. The topic was first mooted by Shary Brown during public commentary reserved time, who encouraged city council to pass the resolution on its agenda calling on Gov. Jennifer Granholm to maintain Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs funding at a level of $6.1 million in fiscal year 2010. The funding is in jeopardy as the state looks for ways to cover budget shortfalls.

Shary Brown: Brown introduced herself as director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, which will be 50 years old this summer. The organization also  sponsors the Townie Party preceding the fairs. She pointed out that the art fairs draw .5 million visitors to Ann Arbor each year, who spend $5 million on hotels, $25.3 million on dining and $48.7 million on shopping. It would be short-sighted, she said, for the state to cut funding to the arts.

Kenneth Fischer: Fischer introduced himself as president of the University Musical Society and a proud member of Tony Derezinski’s ward (Ward 2). He said he was there to support the resolution supporting arts funding. He drew a connection between state funding and federal funding, saying that when the federal government looks at state funding levels and and sees no money, it has a negative impact on the likelihood of federal funding. [The idea is that the feds prefer to allocate monies where there is matching local support.]

Fischer recounted how the Michigan Economic Development Corp. had used the 2006 visit from the Royal Skakespeare Co. to leverage the arts to entertain out-of-state CEOs. He cited an assessment by Mary Kramer of Crain’s Detroit Business, who had written that the MEDC had “hit a homerun” with its investment.

Councilmember Teall said she was happy to see the resolution come before council and that she hoped it helped change some minds in Lansing. Councilmember Hohnke encouraged the public to visit and to look at the economic impact study to familiarize themselves with the impact of arts on the economy. It’s not direct, he allowed, but it’s significant.

Mayor Hieftje highlighted the language in the resolution, ticking through points like 2,600 jobs that are tied to the nonprofit arts sector and the $57 million in household income that the arts generate.

Councilmember Sandi Smith said that she did not envy Gov. Granholm’s position. She said that Ann Arbor was having difficulty, and in Lansing there would be a similar diffiulty. They’re going to have to go line by line, she said, and the arts seems easy to cut. She said it was ironic, because the state was giving money specifically for the arts through the Cool Cities program a few years ago. Continuing to fund the arts, she said, was going to help Michigan go forward.

Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo urged everyone who cares to put in a call, letter or email. [The website mentioned by Hohnke above provides a form for contacting Governor Granholm.] Rapundalo suggested contacting state Senate majority leader Tom George, saying that there are those who see the benefit from continuing to fund the arts. He said we need to get behind those folks.

Councilmember Mike Anglin stated his support of the resolution. He mentioned that the University of Michigan was going to be re-opening its art museum and urged citizens to contact their legislators.

Councilmember Derezinski said he saw some wonderful people at Monday’s meeting in support of the arts, like Margaret Parker and  Ken Fischer, a “resident of my ward” – an allusion to Fischer’s earlier statment that he was a proud member of Derezinski’s ward, which drew a few chuckles. Derezinski stated that the arts were a wonderful component of Ann Arbor that makes it unique.

Councilmember Sabra Briere was fairly brief. When they send this resolution off to Lansing, she said, they should remember that bread feeds our body, and roses feed our soul. Art, she said, is the roses. Briere was kind enough to send along to the The Chronicle the full text of the poem to which her remark alluded, “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim, published December, 1911 in American Magazine:

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for – but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler – ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Ann Arbor Value: Energy

Burning Coal: Council had on its agenda a resolution stating the city of Ann Arbor’s opposition to the continued burning of coal to generate electricity. The resolution was recommended by the city’s energy commission, and public commentary included remarks from the chair of that committee, Robert Black, who asked for council’s support of it.

Robert Black: Black introduced himself as the chair of Ann Arbor’s energy commission and advocated for the elimination of the burning of coal to generate electricity. He stressed that there was a certain urgency to the issue, and said that the council’s stand was needed because of Ann Arbor’s role as leader. Ann Arbor  is being watched, said Black.  He pointed out that Dave Konkle, until recently the energy coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, was in Washington D.C. working with international organizations on the issue. Black said that $20 billion goes out of the state to pay for energy.

Mayor Hieftje led off council deliberations by saying he believes that no more coal-fired plants should be built, and that there was no such thing as “clean coal.” The increased levels of mercury in Great Lakes fish, Hieftje said, were in large part due to the burning of coal. Given that Michigan has the 14th best wind resource in the country, Hieftje concluded that there was no need for the seven new coal-fired plants that were currently proposed.

Councilmember Briere noted briefly that the other side of burning coal is mining coal, which is itself a problem.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Earth Day, Earth Hour: Council considered a resolution endorsing Earth Hour, an initiative from the World Wildlife Fund that  asks all citizens, businesses, government agencies, and commercial and non-commercial establishments to turn off all non-essential lighting for one hour beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Sat., March 28, 2009.

Councilmember Smith noted that the time specified was local time, and that Earth Hour would move progressively around the world. She said that it would include streetlights on Main Street plus the lights in city hall.

Councilmember Briere noted that the more lights that go off, the better the chance to see the sky.

Councilmember Marcia Higgins was concerned about the practical side of turning street lights off.  “Are we turning them all off? Have merchants been made aware?” The answers seemed to be “No” and “Yes,” respectively.

Councilmember Hohnke talked about the Earth Hour effort reflecting a “global vote” for global climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009. [The Chronicle learned later that Hohnke is pursuing the possibility, via city staff, of getting data from DTE to measure the impact of Earth Hour locally.]

Mayor Hieftje said that when the lights did get turned off on Main Street for Earth Hour, it would represent an even further reduction from the already small amounts of  energy used  by the LED lighting system.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Ann Arbor Value: Land

Greenbelt: The city’s Greenbelt program stems from a millage passed by voters in 2003, which raised funds to purchase additional parkland and to preserve land within the greenbelt district. A central strategy in land preservation is through the purchase of development rights on working family farms. Before Monday’s council meeting, around 750 acres had been protected through the Greenbelt program. Tom Partridge is one of the program’s critics. During his turns at public commentary, he often calls for the money that is spent on greenbelt acquisitions to be spent on other areas instead. With a purchase of development rights for 146 acres through the Greenbelt program on council’s agenda, Partridge rose to comment, and revealed that he has not changed his mind on the question.

Tom Partridge: Partridge reaffirmed the need to stimulate the economy in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and southeast Michigan by taking steps to access federal stimulus money and other public funds. He called for directing public money away from buying up farmland, instead putting it towards a transportation system. He also called for reform of the general practice that puts conditions on certain pools of funding, restricting their use on capital projects as opposed to operational expenses.

Councilmember Hohnke said that the acquisition on the agenda meant that more than 400 acres of operating farmland between Ann Arbor and Dexter had been preserved. He described the acquisition as “going to the sweetspot for the vision of the greenbelt, and emphasized that Ann Arbor taxpayers contribute less than 50% of the cost, with the remaining percentage coming from federal taxes and Webster Township.

Mayor Hieftje put the land acquisition in the context of local agriculture becoming increasingly important.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Plastic Bags: Council had on its agenda for the third time a proposed ordinance that would ban the use of plastic bags by retail establishments – the bags with handles used to bag groceries, for example. One of the reasons for such a ban that has been cited by the proposed ordinance’s sole sponsor, Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo, is the litter stemming from such bags. As partly a litter issue, we group it in the “Land” section of the meeting report.

Rapundalo moved for a postponement to June 1 to allow city staff to have a little more time to take in information and to have a discussion with retailers. Rapundalo asked Bryan Weinert, the solid-waste coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, to give an update on staff efforts. Weinert said that on March 22-23 staff would be meeting with retailers to get feedback on the already-drafted ordinance. He said there would be information on city’s website and a public information survey, acknowledging that there was some controversy surrounding the issue.  Weinert said that based on feedback from the public and merchants, staff would bring forward a recommendation. Weinert did not state what the range of possibilities for such a recommendation would be.

Outcome: Postponed for a third time by unanimous vote.

Solid Waste: As it relates to space in landfills, we include two resolutions regarding the new commercial recycling program in the section on “Land” values. The first of these resolutions was for a waste collection contract with Waste Management of Michigan not to exceed $900,000 per year, and the publication of the ordinance laying out the new franchise system for commercial recycling.

Councilmember Teall, who had worked on the development of the new commercial recycling program, called Bryan Weinert, the city’s solid-waste coordinator, to the podium. Weinert explained that the Waste Management contract addressed the refuse collection side of recycling.

Queried by Councilmember Higgins, Weinert said that to combine the recycling into a single stream where paper and other material was mixed together (for commercial or residential) would require upgrades to the materials recovery center, but that such an approach could eventually be rolled out and was a part of the solid waste plan.

Higgins said she’d received some calls from constituents concerned that moving to a national contract would push smaller operators out of business. Weinert said that an inventory of dumpsters was done and that there were only a very few dumpsters that were handled by anybody but the top three or four haulers. Higgins was given the assurance that businesses like 1-800-GOT-JUNK would continue to do what they do.

During deliberations on the ordinance, Councilmember Leigh Greden said that he thought it was amazing that in a fiscally challenging environment, the city was able to move forward with the commercial recycling initiative. He reiterated a sentiment he’d expressed at an earlier council meeting, when he said that the commercial recycling program was “one of the hallmark things we’ll do this year.” He concluded by saying, “This is an amazing feat.”

Mayor Hieftje said that the issue of low tipping fees in Michigan would need to be addressed, because that was what allowed Canada to dump garbage in Michigan cheaply.

Outcome: Unanimously passed.

R4C Zoning in the Central Area: The ordinance before council called for a direction to city planning staff to begin looking at zoning nonconformities in the central area of Ann Arbor and to work with the public to provide council with recommendations for potential ordinance changes to the residential districts within the the central area. It was brought for consideration by Councilmember Derezinski, who is council’s representative on the planning commission.

Councilmember Higgins expressed some concern that this new direction – together with the A2D2 initiative and the re-evaluation of area height and placement outside the central area –  meant that every piece of zoning legislation in the city was now under review. She wondered about the impact on staff and how the timing of the various initiatives would come together.

Jayne Miller, community area services director, said that for A2D2, there would be a council working session on Monday, March 9, 2009. At council’s March 16 meeting there would be a resolution to begin public process on area, height and placement outside the downtown, Miller said. Based on staff committments, Miller said she thought a committee could be assembled in the summer with work to begin in the fall.

For the work on area, height and placement, Mayor Hieftje announced that each ward needed a resident as a representative on the committee, and that councilmembers needed to identify a representative from their wards to join a collection of representatives from planning comission, city council, and commercial property owners. Hieftje asked councilmembers to move with haste, because the committee would be established at the next council meeting.

Outcome: Unanimously passed.

Ann Arbor Value: History

Ann Arbor District Library: The evening began with a presentation from the AADL about a historical collection of minutes from city council meetings dating from the early part of the 20th century. The Chronicle has already published a more detailed account of the historical online minutes project.

Women: In her communications to her council colleagues, Sabra Briere noted that March is Women’s History Month and briefly called their attention to two women: (i) Virginia Watts, who in 1878 was the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1885, and (ii) Ella Bareis Prochnow of Ann Arbor, who in 1930 was the first woman in Michigan to own and manage an automobile dealership.

Ann Arbor Value: Democracy

Citizen Participation: On council’s agenda was a revision to the recently passed citizen participation ordinance, which requires developers to meet with residents in the vicinity of a proposed project early in the planning phase. The ordinance as originally passed allowed for no exceptions, and the revision called for exceptions to be granted for  single-family residential annexation and zoning petitions of less than two acres. During public commentary, Tom Partridge criticized what he saw as an attempt to curtail public participation.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge declared that he opposed the enactment of the ordinance and that he was opposed to all similar ordinances that curtailed public access. He said that it had been a theme of Hieftje’s administration to limit public commentary and to take up matters in closed-door sessions on subjects that should be laid out in detail. He called on council to enact an ethics policy for city government that addresses access by the public to public hearings. He said that public commentary should be possible without requesting the name, address, phone number and topic of speakers.

In the minimal deliberations on the revisions to the ordinance, Mayor Hieftje called the ordinance itself “revolutionary in Michigan,” saying that it goes a long way towards the goal of including the public. He stressed that the revision to the ordinance that night was  just a tweak.


Stadium Bridges: The topic of the safety of the Stadium Boulevard bridge over State Street warrants separate coverage, as opposed to relegation to a “Miscellaneous” section. It’s worth noting, however, that at council’s meeting, Sue McCormick, the city’s public services director, gave council an update on the situation with the bridge, which she said was being monitored closely. We hope to be able to provide more details as the city reaches what McCormick described as a “decision point” in the next 30 days about proceeding with a repair or waiting for funding to materialize for a complete reconstruction. For some limited coverage of the topic, see this previous Chronicle article on the bridge.

Michigan Inn: City attorney Stephen Postema announced that the former Michigan Inn on Jackson Road could see demolition this month.

Present: Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje

Next Council Meeting: Monday, March 16, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. Note: Council will be holding a working session on March 9, 2009 at its usual time and location, to discuss the downtown plan and the A2D2 zoning, recently passed by planning commission. [confirm date]


  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    March 10, 2009 at 9:16 am | permalink

    Hmmm…the Michigan economy is falling apart, the streets are being to look like the surface of the moon, the Stadium bridges need to be ‘monitored closely’ and the entire meeting this week was focused on turning out lights, clean water in Iraq, what a great idea tossing $700K to an artist with no Michigan roots, and making sure we resolve the plastic bag issue. Got it. While all these issues are important, the current council is more like some do good social club that a functioning public body dealing with 2009 issues of importance to Ann Arbor. And thanks for my assessment statement yesterday, where my home value went down by $2k while my taxable value went up by $4K. More money for non-local artists and less for roads and bridges. Got it.

  2. March 11, 2009 at 7:49 pm | permalink

    I think it’s fairly ridiculous to see money going to an artist that’s not local, especially since the project is at City Hall. Maybe they should rethink that idea — it’s almost as if they made it so esoteric that only the German artist would do, and because it seems fast-tracked, I have to wonder about motivations and connections. A case of blinders if you ask me, and it seems that only now we are aware of it. I think it’s shameful that with this economy, council couldn’t have been more sensitive to such an issue, and not put forth a RFP for a public art piece.

  3. March 12, 2009 at 6:57 am | permalink

    It really isn’t a case of being esoteric for its own sake. AAPAC and the Task Force on Public Art and City Council were all in agreement about Dreiseitl because he’s one of the only artists in the world who incorporates the engineering of storm water management into artwork. The three pieces will all deal with water runoff in a beautiful and interesting way while managing the runoff – something that both state and city law require.

    Timing is also an issue because the 1% for art set-aside passed with a relatively short time-frame in relation to the building schedule for city hall. Any art project that was going to be integrated into the construction schedule – and since this one deals with storm water management it has to be integrated – needed to happen quickly. The Art Commission spent a lot of time looking at alternatives but the time factor and Dreiseitl’s unique expertise made him a perfect choice here. Ann Arbor will end up with something really extraordinary that people will come for a long way to see.

    Full disclosure – I am an artist and do some public art but am in no way qualified to do pieces which would handle storm water management.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    March 13, 2009 at 10:36 am | permalink

    My point is, one, this was rushed through and two, Dreiseitl in ONE of the artists who can do this. Who are the others? There isn’t ONE from the Midwest, Michigan or Ann Arbor? Was one not found because of the rush to get this done? From following the process, this was a slam dunk and now, after the face, the Commission is trying to justify it with cute cliches about how we all love ‘art’, la la la. The paper the Commission issued in response to the complaints was insulting, both to the public and to any other artists who could have acomplished this project.

    I think the Commission needs members who aren’t such art snobs.

  5. By LauraB
    March 13, 2009 at 2:39 pm | permalink

    It is “shameful” to see money going to an out of town artist! The UM does this all the time and they are a state school! Despite there being great local musicians they use our money to bring in foreign orchestras! Their fancy new art museum is full of foreign art worth millions! We have great bands here but even the Ark (they get state arts money) brings in bands from Canada and Ireland!

    The A2 Summer Fest is all local money and they bring in foreign acts!

    We need to form pickets! To the ramparts! Alan and Mark, will you join me!

  6. By ted ancil
    March 14, 2009 at 11:49 pm | permalink

    What a novel idea, look for ideas from someplace else once in a awhile. Come to think of it, maybe we could use some broadening of our horizons. This place can be provincial.

    Of course people should buy local but then there are occasions when you need to go beyond local and bring in something fresh. Kind of like the gene pool.

    The Europeans have been working on both art and storm water control a lot longer than we have. They are excellent in both areas.

  7. By Dusty Lake
    March 15, 2009 at 10:11 am | permalink

    I liked the issues addressed at this meeting. Seems like they took care of business. Helping the peace movement bring clean water to Iraq; voting against coal,(yes!)voting to support art (yes!), etc. When council addresses issues like this it does not mean they are not paying attention to everything else that is going on.

  8. March 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm | permalink

    Seems likely there’s something amiss with with the selection of public art when the guiding criterion is that the artist is *an expert on storm water management* !)

  9. By LauraB
    March 16, 2009 at 11:38 pm | permalink

    Fred: This is an integration of storm water control and recycling into the building and the sculpture. The artist/architect who was selected by the local resident members of the arts commission is renowned as the best at this work on the planet.

  10. March 18, 2009 at 9:27 am | permalink

    Laurab — what you are saying is completely consistent with my point. You are saying the artist was the best one to fit the criteria. My point is that it sounds kind of, well, unartistic, to choose public art with knowledge of storm water management as a leading criterion. It’s a silly criterion.

  11. March 18, 2009 at 9:54 am | permalink

    It’s not a silly criterion – it’s a wildly creative and innovative approach to handling runoff and adding water features. The idea of taking environmental issues like handling storm water and making them integral to a site and beautiful is pretty new but it’s a great idea and is leading to a number of really exciting changes in landscape architecture, art and site design. This is a far more sophisticated approach than simply building a pond for runoff or a native garden like the one at the new Y – and both of those are fine but what Dreiseitl does goes much further and will be beautiful as well.

  12. March 18, 2009 at 10:11 am | permalink

    Leslie — for all I know, it will be a beautiful piece of public art — the city of Ann Arbor has every right to choose “storm water management” as the theme of its public art — just as Wall Street chose the running bull and Washington, D.C. chose the national memorials. I personally would choose another theme, but ok.

    What bothers me more is that a funding vehicle was created that allows city officials to make a very substantial and arguably quite extravagant outsourced purchase in a time of severe hardship, and that the structure of the funding vehicle insulates the expenditure from any effective present-day review in the light of current circumstances.

    It’s the opposite of zero-based budgeting. Because the money is already tucked away, it has to be spent. *That* is messed up.

  13. By Diane
    March 18, 2009 at 10:30 am | permalink

    Fred-you could always say that we are in economic hardship, whether the timing is 10 years ago, 5 years ago, today or next year. As long as we have taxes, some will say we should never spend any money. They assume any expense by the government is unnecessary if they do not, cannot or will not see the value of an intangible investment

    This building is being built now and the storm water management art needs to be created along with the construction. We cannot create it later and then install it. If the money has been budgeted why not just do it now.

    A city is made up of more than just buildings and infrastructure; it is made up of culture, lifestyle, entertainment, reputation etc. These items are intangible items but still are important for the city to invest in. These sorts of investments have major impacts on whether businesses and people relocate to this area.

  14. March 18, 2009 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    Diane, most of what you say is true in the abstract, but in the here and now, $770,000 is a lot of money to send overseas to buy a public sculpture.

    I think the city of Ann Arbor would suffer no harm whatsoever if the new building was constructed without a storm-water-themed piece of public art, and I suspect a lot of voters feel the same way.

  15. By LauraB
    March 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm | permalink

    And there are also many who believe every building should have some art especially one that will serve the area for 50 or more years. Because this feature will be plumbed into the building there will never be another opportunity.

    It is incredibly important to not cheat those who will follow us buy cutting back on what is artful, beautiful and unique because of the crisis of the day. This economy will pass but art will last.

  16. March 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm | permalink

    Look, I enjoy public art and, in fact, the majority of my interests revolve around dramatic art, but the people who are defending this particular project are avoiding the central issue: is *$770,000* on outsourced public art a prudent investment, right now? Why not 7 $100,000 projects to 7 local artists for 7 locations? right: the money is already allocated. If it weren’t, no one would consider spending 770,000 on this right now.

    Also, no one has answered the aesthetic question: why should we focus our public art on the storm water management theme? The only reasons I hear are 1) that’s where the $ come from and 2) A2 wants to be green. Those are reasonable arguments, but they’re not *artistic* arguments.

  17. By LauraBBB
    March 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm | permalink

    That sounds like a legitimate question but you are a little late.

    The answer is that a dedicated group of local residents (artists among them) who have been working on this commission for years made the decision to have the project tie in with the environmental values of the community and they chose the most renowned person in the world to do it.

    You might have influenced this decision if you had been following it, the meetings are open to the public and there is time for public comment and conversation. Like a lot of things, the people who work on them make the decisions.

  18. March 19, 2009 at 9:59 am | permalink

    I would have no objection to the decision or the process if the commitment was made at a more financially opportune time and was commensurate with the city’s resources.

    As it is, the decision makers are putting themselves in the same tone-deaf stance — “the decision can’t be reviewed” – as the execs who received bonuses at AIG. Under the changed circumstances — I now favor asking questions about how to “claw back” the money, and, at the very least, I propose that we reduce the public arts subsidy going forward to 0.1 %.

    The Ann Arbor District Library made a much wiser decision several months ago and shelved the idea of building a new downtown library until *after* we emerge from the worst recession in 50 years…

  19. By UMGrad1234
    June 8, 2009 at 8:40 am | permalink

    The title of this posting takes on a WHOLE new meaning now that Councilmembers’ emails from this meeting have been released. City Council and the VALUES of Ann Arbor.

    Dave Askins reports: “Later, during council deliberations on the resolution, Tony Derezinski thanked Michigan Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace from his perspective as “a veteran of an earlier unpopular war” and said that he was pleased to support it.”

    From: Leigh Greden
    Sent: March 02, 2009, 8:16 p.m.
    To: Derezinski, Rapundalo, Higgins, Teall, Hohnke, Taylor

    “The winner of the Golden Pandy Award, by unanimous vote of the committee, with nobody else even coming close to his performance: Tony Derezinski for pandering to veterans.”

    Dave Askins reports: “Councilmember Carsten Hohnke said he’d seen a presentation when Dreiseitl was in Ann Arbor last year for the Huron River Watershed Council’s State of the Huron conference. He said it would bring storm water control out into the open and would thus be both educational as well as aesthetically pleasing art.”

    From: Leigh Greden
    Sent: March 02, 2009, 8:16 p.m.
    To: Derezinski, Rapundalo, Higgins, Teall, Hohnke, Taylor
    Subject: Oh wait….

    Never to be outdone, Councilman Hohnke is demanding a re-count on the Pandy vote. His pandering to the artists is rivaling Derezinski’s pandering to the veterans.”

  20. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 8, 2009 at 10:42 am | permalink

    And from Judy McGovern’s blog on Mlive yesterday about the ‘disaster’:

    “In a March 16 exchange with Council Member Margie Teall, Council Member Leigh Greden dealt with a political hot potato while council guests and rank-and-file citizens stood at the mic and talked about community events and problems.

    The subject is Ann Arbor’s public art program and the move to spend perhaps three-quarter of a million dollars for an installation at city hall. (Previous coverage.)

    7:29 p.m. Greden to Teall – “Did Taylor call you? The art thing is a disaster. We need to find a way to clean it up.”

    7:31 p.m. Teall to Greden – “…stop calling it a disaster.”

    7:35 p.m. Greden to Teall – “Margie, I have *very* good instincts. We haven’t had a PR mess like this in quite some time. This has stretched into the masses. Taylor says Ned and Bernstein were complaining. The public sees it as a very simple analysis: Cops before art. Roads before art.”

    That’s not the analysis Greden offered when he complained about News’ coverage of the issue. Instead, he argued that there was no controversy… and certainly no “disaster.”"