Comments on: Budget, Bridge, Ball Fields, Booze, Bugs it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Dusty Lake Dusty Lake Sat, 16 May 2009 03:12:26 +0000 Hmmm Grad. You are side stepping the ethics involved here. You made the claim. Why is it different if a city council member takes contributions from a union they ultimately have responsibility over than when any other Democratic candidate does it?

I believe people can separate the campaign contribution from the policy decision.

But please answer. Is the governor guilty by your standards? How about the President?

By: UMGrad1234 UMGrad1234 Sat, 16 May 2009 00:24:04 +0000 Dusty,

Let’s not get too far afield. I agree with Vivienne that talking about campaign finance as it pertains to Ann Arbor is useful; I found Vivienne’s comments interesting. I’ll leave state and national campaign finance reform to a time when The Chronicle writes a piece about state/national politics. :-)

As for Marcia Higgins, in 2005 when she ran opposed, the average donation to her campaign was $125. That year, she took $2,000 from the Firefighter’s PAC, or 40 percent of the total money she used. It was the single largest donation to her campaign.

One doesn’t really need to see how she votes to judge the quality of her ethics where money is concerned. One need only wonder what she does when others offer her money, say developers who have projects in the pipeline? She took $2,000 from a union with which the Committee she chairs deals, votes and negotiates. Leigh Greden took $1,000 from the same PAC. Carsten Hohnke and Sandi Smith took $750 each. Tony Derezinski took $500 and Taylor $200. They are all responsible for the firefighters contract.

As Vivienne pointed out when the Firefighters came ‘a callin’: she would be responsible for their contract. She managed to do what was ethical. We agree that it’s not illegal to take PAC money; the circumstances in which our Council members accepted it, however, it raises questions about their ethical standards. Heck, the Mayor took a donation from a developer to whom he then turned around and voted to award a $250,000 incentive as a board member of the DDA.

This stuff is front page news in other cities, folks. In ours it’s business as usual and taxpayers get the shaft because of the shoddy ethical standards of the people like Marcia Higgins.

Maybe I missed my incentive check from the city, and it’s making me cranky. Maybe I’m somewhat sick and tired of being perceived as a cash cow by people who are infatuated with throwing around and throwing away our tax dollars on hair-brained schemes that benefit their campaign donors and political pals.

Ann Arbor News Building: 90,000 square feet (cost $9.7 million)
Ann Arbor Municipal Building: 100,000 square feet cost to taxpayers $90 million)

As I’ve said before: why don’t we just collect the property tax money, put it into a big pile and burn it. At least we could all join in on the fun and make s’mores for our kids as the pile goes up in flames.

If I can’t get an incentive like the developers, I’d settle for a gew parking spaces in one of the downtown garages. They get those, too.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 15 May 2009 22:15:26 +0000 This discussion on campaign finance is useful because it is a major problem for our democracy. There is indeed a question of undue influence when interest groups (as PACs or individuals) make contributions, but in my opinion this does not necessarily mean that the politician is “bought and paid for”. Unless there is an obvious quid pro quo, it should not be assumed that money has bought outright ownership of the representative’s decisions. (A lot of what happens in Congress seems to come pretty close.)

There is a subtle influence, though. I could digress about how opinions of campaign supporters can also be influential. Politicians are vulnerable and are continually having to jockey for moral and political support, of which money is only a part. It is only human to try to please people who support you, without any openly dishonest impulses being involved.

With regard to the Firefighters, I was invited to be interviewed by them. I returned the call and said that I did not feel comfortable in accepting either an endorsement or a donation, since I would have responsibility for their contract if elected. But I assured them that I wanted to hear from them and would be happy to meet with them after the primary. They subsequently endorsed and gave money to my opponent. (I have no reason to suppose that he has been unduly influenced.) Truthfully, I think the Firefighters and other municipal unions are wasting their money by giving these donations. They were described as “huge”. Since city council elections are starting to cost about $20,000 for each candidate, I wonder what constitutes “huge”?

By: Dusty Lake Dusty Lake Fri, 15 May 2009 21:27:40 +0000 Grad: I didn’t say that council members did not approve union contracts only that they do not negotiate them. You said they “negotiate” and “sit across the table.” This is not the case.

Voting up and or down on a contract seems different by a degree or two than actually negotiating with the union.

It is but a degree or two that separates a council member who accepts union PAC money (when they oversee the union) from a governor, president or state or federal legislator who does the same, even if that money makes up a large percentage of their campaign funds.

Saying that the Governor is not guilty of selling influence (isn’t that what you are worried about) by taking money from a state employee union but a council member is guilty with a city union because it’s a higher percentage of their funds, won’t wash.

It is the same as saying someone is less guilty of murder if they only kill one person because the other killer took 3 lives.

If you are going to indict council members on this then you are indicting all candidates who take money from unions that they have final say over. This includes a great many Democrats and of course as I said, the Republicans

By: My two cents My two cents Fri, 15 May 2009 20:16:51 +0000 UMgrad1234 – You seem to think that most people cannot be impartial as elected officials. You imply that by taking a contribution from a constituent/PAC that obligates the elected official to vote the way of the contributor. I say again as I stated in post 12 above that:

“When we contribute to a candidate we are supporting the person’s judgment not buying their vote.”

I think your opinion regarding the “slimy, conflict of interest” shows us what type of character you have vs. what type of character the elected officials who sit on city council have. When you make a contribution to a campaign do you actually believe you are buying their vote? Do you actually believe that your contribution should sway their vote on anything? You shouldn’t.

Do you actually think the contribution by a PAC has more influence than a contribution by a voter? If an activist contributes to a candidate and the issue that the activist supports is brought up to council for consideration, is that slimy and a conflict of interest too?

Using your logic, if a candidate takes a contribution form anyone they cannot longer be trusted because their vote has been bought. Our political system relies on contributions by supporters so that the common person can run for office. Your system (no contributions) will only allow the well-off to run.

By: jcp2 jcp2 Fri, 15 May 2009 19:55:49 +0000 If we are looking only for candidates that do not need to take contributions to run a competitive and successful campaign, then aren’t we restricting ourselves to candidates that are extremely wealthy?

By: UMGrad1234 UMGrad1234 Fri, 15 May 2009 18:39:31 +0000 Hi Dusty,

This was posted by Leigh Greden to ArborUpdate:

Labor changes
I am a member of the City’s Labor Negotiation Committee, and we have implemented a comprehensive plan to reform the pay, benefit, and management structure for both union and non-union City employees. These changes are necessary to save money and bring the City’s compensation system in line with other public and private sector organizations. Consider the following:

The City began a new partnership with the Firefighters Union, and we recently approved a two-year retroactive labor contract with the Union that dramatically reformed the Fire Services Unit. The City may now call on neighboring townships for assistance in fighting fires (a process known as “mutual aid”). This practice had been forbidden in prior union contracts even though it can save lives by increasing the number of firefighters on-call to fight fires. The new union contract also reformed department work rules and compensatory time programs to save money and give the City more flexibility in managing the department. Similar changes were included in the union contract that was recently approved with the Police Officers’ Union.

Here’s a link to the complete entry: link

Who was the Council member who told you that members don’t oversee negotiations or vote on the contracts? The five members of the Committee vote and make recommendations on contacts. That’s why there’s a Committee with Council members on it.

As for “public knowledge…..” yes, it’s public knowledge. Buried in archived files. Marcia Higgins, Leigh Greden, Rapundalo, Smith, Derezinski, Taylor and Hohnke took large donations from a PAC on whose members’ contracts they vote and (some) oversee negotiations. It’s a conflict of interest and slimy. Lots of legal things are slimy; I’d just like to see Ann Arbor have city Council people who have a bit of moral fiber where money is concerned.

By: Dusty Lake Dusty Lake Wed, 13 May 2009 23:12:44 +0000 Hi Grad: I suppose we all have our opinions about campaign contributions but it is expensive to run for office and candidates at all levels have to raise money. If we had a system of public financing of elections it would be different.

I would just point out that democratic candidates have been taking donations from unions forever so it is hard to blame any one candidate without blaming all. I don’t believe it is ethically right to let some off the hook because the percentage of the donation is smaller than what other’s took.

If city council members are guilty so are the Pres. most of the US and State House and Senate and the Gov. (All Dems.) The Republicans have their cash cows as well.

As for disclosure, as Steve pointed out why? This is all public knowledge.

Also, from conversations I have had with a council member on this point, council members don’t negotiate with the unions at all and it would be bad practice if they did. The city has an HR person and an attorney who does the negotiations.

By: UMGrad1234 UMGrad1234 Wed, 13 May 2009 21:52:55 +0000 PACs are, of course, perfectly legal. Politicians are forever challenging each other to refrain from taking PAC money (it happened in the Mich. race for Governor recently, I believe). The issue in other communities is that the local newspapers actually do investigative journalism in the realm of politics. Ours consistently has not. So, Google the terms “City Council” and “PACs”, and you’ll come up with oodles of news stories about City Council members in a host of other cities and their PAC donations; those donations raise questions from journalists, and this serves the public interest.

Taking PAC money at the local level is treated by journalists in other cities exactly how it should be—with a healthy dose of objectivity and lots of questions about the influence such donations can buy. Anyone who thinks large donations are not made to buy influence is somewhat missing the point of political donations, I think, and missing the point of PACs in particular.

Marcia Higgins ran in 2007 opposed and took 40 percent of the the total money she raised from a single PAC. It just so happens that, in her role as a Chair of a Council Committee, she also negotiates contracts with the union representatives of this same PAC. She sits across from people who’ve handed her the single largest donation of her campaign and negotiates, sets policy, etc….Does she represent the interests of her contributor of the taxpayers? One would have to evaluate her votes and the contracts she recommends to Council. These things ought to be scrutinized very carefully.

It just so happens that Leigh Greden, Rapundalo and Higgins all sit on the same Council Committee that negotiates with the union representatives of the same PAC, and all took what amounted to huge donations from that same PAC.

That’s a clear conflict of interest, and it’s even more problematic that Marcia Higgins, Rapundalo and Greden see no reason to recuse themselves or to speak openly about the PAC donations as they go about representing the best interests of the taxpayers.

By: My two cents My two cents Wed, 13 May 2009 13:21:06 +0000 Stewart – Should all elected officials give back contributions given by citizens/activists when the elected official votes the way of the contributor?

You seem to think that a contribution buys you a vote. It does not. A contribution supports a candidate who you feel will represent the city and you in the best way. There is no guarantee any vote will go your way. There is no recourse to get your contribution back if the vote does not go your way (except for not contributing to them in the next election).

When contributing to a candidate one must realize that the only person who will vote 100% the way the want or expect is themselves.

So, I think that your accusation that elected officials have been “paid off” is completely unjustified and just plain wrong. These contributions are small and do not make or break any of the candidates. The PACS have a right to contribute to candidates who they feel better represent them just like any other citizen. This does not mean that the EOs owe the PACS anything more than the average citizen. Sometimes one’s opinion may be in the majority sometimes one’s opinion may be in the minority. Ethical elected officials balance public opinion along with facts and knowledge to reach a conclusion and an opinion.

When we contribute to a candidate we are supporting the person’s judgment not buying their vote.