Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (June 17, 2009): The AATA board led off its monthly meeting by going into an executive session to discuss terms of the contract they’re negotiating with the future CEO of the organization, Michael Ford, and emerged with a resolution to make a written offer.
Other positive news coming out of the meeting was scant, compared to three disappointments. First, Arborland management seems committed to not allowing AATA to use a bus stop located on its property inside the shopping plaza. Second, the LINK downtown circulator bus, which the Downtown Development Authority recently elected not to fund in the fall, won’t be supported by the University of Michigan, either. Finally, the north-south connector feasibility study, which appeared finally to have all four partners on board with their funding, was postponed by the AATA board when questions were raised about the price tag on AATA’s share – $320,000.
Dawn Gabay, interim director of the AATA, reported on the latest status of negotiations about the Arborland bus stop location. She said that discussions have taken place with the management company, on behalf of the property owner AmCap, Inc., which is headquartered in Stamford, Conn. Gabay said, “The management company says the owner is adamant that they will not change their decision.” Contacted by The Chronicle by phone on Friday, a representative from AmCap declined comment.
AmCap’s decision was for the AATA to cease using the Arborland parking lot as a bus stop location. Gabay noted that customers are beginning to respond. She said that Borders, a tenant in the Arborland plaza, had issued a statement of support for continuing the bus stop at the Arborland location. In part, that statement reads:
Borders supports the work of the AATA and is disappointed with Arborland’s decision to remove this park-and-ride stop. While the stop and resulting parking needs of riders did at times present challenges to patrons of our store looking for parking near our location, these challenges were not insurmountable … Unfortunately, we were informed that the decision to remove the stop was final, and that Borders had no opportunity to influence or change it, despite our attempts to work out viable alternatives.
The section of Washtenaw Avenue near the intersection of Washtenaw Avenue and Pittsfield Boulevard has been identified as the most likely place to put in new bus stops.
But complicating matters, said Gabay, is the fact that a construction project along Washtenaw Avenue is scheduled to start immediately following the art fairs, which end July 18. That construction project involves a water main replacement.
Board chair David Nacht suggested that the AATA entertain the idea that “we pay some money.” He noted that the owners of the property were in business and had some interest in making money. If the park-and-ride stop was perceived to have a negative economic impact on their business, he reasoned, they might reasonably be interested in adequate compensation for their losses at some price.
Gabay indicated that the owners had no interest in a financial arrangement of the kind that Nacht was describing. Nacht pointed out that eviction from Arborland represented a significant inconvenience to AATA bus riders as well as a considerable expense, anyway. Based on that consideration, he said, he was comfortable with payment of some kind of reasonable rent. He said he recognized that it’s private property and that the AATA was not in a position to demand access, but he hoped that, in the interest of public spiritedness, the owner might be receptive to some good-faith willingness on the part of the AATA to pay some rent.
Gabay replied that the landlord had said that money was not currently an issue and it had never been an issue.
Board member Rich Robben – noting that the arrangement to use the Arborland parking lot for a bus stop had been in place for 30 years – wondered if there was perhaps some principle of de facto possession. Board member Sue McCormick supplied the relevant legal term: adverse possession. But she indicated that the principle would not apply, because the ATAA had been operating under the terms of an agreement, not under a casual or implicit arrangement.
Nacht said that, based on what he knew from the first year of law school, an adverse possession case had to be based on a property use that was open, notorious, hostile, and continuous. None of those elements seem to apply here, he concluded.
“What’s the game plan if they stick to their guns?” Nacht wanted to know. Gabay indicated that detouring buses through neighborhoods (during the road construction period) would generate complaints from neighbors. Nacht asked if the anticipated challenges would require communications with the city of Ann Arbor at the level of the city council and the mayor. Board member Sue McCormick, who is director of public services for the city, indicated that staff-level communications would be adequate.
Noting that the AATA had recently been kicked out of another shopping center – Maple Village – Nacht wondered, “Is this a trend?” Gabay indicated that it was not a trend. Prior to the board meeting, Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for AATA, told The Chronicle that the AATA enjoyed good working relationships with other shopping centers, highlighting the Briarwood Mall and the two Meijer locations. During the art fairs, Briarwood serves as a park-and-ride location for a special AATA shuttle to bring art fair visitors into downtown Ann Arbor.
North-South Connector Feasibility Study
The board considered a resolution to approve $320,000 of funding for the north-south connector study.
The north-south connector feasibility study will determine whether the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors could be enhanced as a “signature corridor” in terms of the Transportation Master Plan Update, using either existing buses, bus rapid transit, or streetcar systems. The study includes four partners: the AATA, the University of Michigan, the DDA, and the city of Ann Arbor.
The study has a history of nearly a year at this point. The current cost-sharing arrangement evolved from a $250,000 estimate for the project cost and the following cost-sharing arrangement:
- AATA – $100,000
- University Of Michigan – $50,000
- DDA – $50,000
- City of Ann Arbor – $50,000.
When the bids came back from contractors, it was apparent that the $250,000 estimate was too low, and the price tag grew to $640,00. The respective contributions from each of the four partners were then adjusted in a way that split the cost equally:
- AATA – $160,000
- University Of Michigan – $160,000
- DDA – $160,000
- City of Ann Arbor – $160,000.
The city of Ann Arbor and the DDA then raised concerns about the relative proportions of the price to be paid by city tax dollars compared to the University of Michigan, and their shares were reduced so that combined, the total city and DDA shares equaled the UM share:
- AATA – $320,000
- University Of Michigan – $160,000
- DDA – $80,000
- City of Ann Arbor – $80,000.
Under this latest arrangement, the Ann Arbor city council and the DDA had authorized their funding of $80,000 at their most recent board meetings. The University of Michigan had already authorized its share.
Deliberations began with board chair David Nacht asking some clarificational questions about who was involved with the project. From Chris White, who is AATA’s manager of service development, Nacht elicited several pieces of information. The consulting company that is to undertake a study is URS. The office they’d be operating out of was Minneapolis. URS is used frequently by the University Michigan and had personnel in town frequently for that work. However, AATA has never contracted with URS before. Asked specifically what “human being would be leading the study,” White indicated that Eli Cooper, who is the transportation program manager for the city of Ann Arbor, would be heading up the project locally. The project manager from URS for the study would be Rick Nau.
Nacht then moved to table the resolution, saying he was “completely uncomfortable” with the allocation of that amount of stimulus money to a nonlocal company – noting also the uneven burden assigned to the AATA – and stated that the board should have been alerted more clearly in a memo from staff about what was being requested.
Board member Charles Griffith said that he wanted to offer a slightly different view, saying it shouldn’t matter whether the split among partners was even. If the project itself was a problem, he said, that’s what they should focus on.
The use of stimulus money was a quick way to get the project done, Griffith said.
Nacht confirmed with board member Ted Annis that the planning and development committee had not voted on the matter. Nacht said that if the committee had voted on it he would be somewhat more comfortable. Annis, for his part, said “I’ve seen a lot of money fly out the door for studies.” He said that he wanted a clearer statement of what the study was for, what outcomes were expected, and what the AATA planned to do with the study “besides put it on the shelf.”
Griffith then produced a copy of a document from the performance monitoring and external relations committee showing the $320,000 allocation on a list of projects it had considered, but noted it had not been singled out for discussion. Here’s a link to a scan of the relevant page of that committee’s February notes: $320,000 for north-south connector.
On revelation of that document, Nacht noted that because the stimulus money is on the list, that made him feel a lot better. Still, Nacht said, “I’m offended that a public board that I chair would spend stimulus dollars on a bunch of Minneapolis consultants. I want every one of those dollars spent here in Michigan.”
Sue McCormick noted that it was not actually stimulus money that would be spent. Rather, by using the stimulus money for other projects, the AATA had freed up other money to use for the north-south connector study.
Griffith then suggested that the study itself might well have no direct economic impact, but that once they got a project built that it would mean a tremendous amount of investment in the area. To get the economic stimulus of building the project, he said, it was necessary to undertake a study of this quality.
The board then explored the consequences of postponing, given that the board does not have a regularly scheduled monthly meeting in July. Chris White said that he would need to inquire whether URS would honor the pricing in their initial proposal.
Outcome: The board tabled the resolution. If the board does not convene a special meeting, the next opportunity to approve the allocation would come on August 19, 2009.
As we reported previously, the Ann Arbor DDA chose not to renew its part of the grant funding that supports the LINK, which is a downtown circulator bus.
The AATA board did not have a resolution before it on the LINK, but news that the DDA had chosen not to renew funding was a matter of concern.
At the AATA board meeting, Dawn Gabay indicated that the University Michigan, which had previously been a partner in supporting the LINK, would continue to operate the transportation service as a shuttle, using its own buses between Oxford Housing – which houses more than 300 UM students – and central campus. [It's worth noting that the UM buses are free for anyone to board and ride – whether an affiliate of the university or not. Their exact location at any time can be tracked online with the Magic Bus system.]
Nacht wanted to know why the DDA had “killed the LINK.” Nacht pointed to a June 14, 2009 Michigan Daily editorial on the subject, which he described as “unbelievably thoughtful and coherent.”
Chris White indicated that the DDA’s transportation committee, which had been formed at the beginning of the year, had been handling the DDA’s analysis on the question. White indicated that the DDA did not feel that the LINK was meeting the DDA’s goals for the service and was not serving the demographic that it wanted to target. Nacht said, “I don’t want to see this thing disappear. It’s a core function of what we provide.” He asked if it might not be possible to find the $80,000 it would take to make up for the DDA funding so that the AATA could do the thing it was supposed to as an agency, namely, actually run a bus.
Annis wondered if this was not perhaps a case of having too many cooks in the transportation kitchen. Nacht expressed his interest in seeing the LINK continued.
If the LINK were to be continued, then it would likely also be without funding that the University of Michigan has provided historically.
To get an idea of what that funding has been, here’s the cost of service funding for the LINK circulator from September 2008 to April 2009:
$145,385 University of Michigan $131,267 State operating assistance $ 10,000 AATA advertising revenues $ 71,023 AATA operating subsidy $ 71,023 Downtown Development Authority
On news of the DDA’s decision not to renew funding, the University of Michigan has already made plans to replace the service that the purple LINK buses provided as a way for students to get to class on Central Campus. Speaking with The Chronicle by phone, David Miller, who is executive director for parking and transportation services at the university, confirmed that plans had been put into place to use its own buses – modifying existing routes – to provide the same service previously provided by the LINK. Miller said that it was more cost effective to integrate that service into its already-existing routes than to pay the AATA to provide it with the LINK.
The fact that the LINK went into the downtown area as well didn’t contribute directly on the university’s educational mission, Miller said. Also a consideration, said Miller, was that The Courtyards – a new student housing development on Broadway near Plymouth – would be coming more fully online next year, and there would be increased demand for service to that location. And in a tough budget environment, Miller said, it meant that his department needed to be as efficient as possible in allocating transportation resources.
CEO Search: Michael Ford’s Contract Offer
Board chair David Nacht opened the meeting by entertaining a motion from board member Sue McCormick to alter the agenda so that the board could go into an executive session immediately following the period allotted for public comment.
The purpose of the closed executive session would be to discuss details of the contract with Michael Ford, with whom the board is currently in negotiations to hire as its CEO. Nacht noted that an exception to the Open Meetings Act in this case could be allowed only to review the contents of an employment application when the applicant explicitly requests that the meeting not be open. “He has done so?” asked Nacht. “He has,” replied McCormick.
So the board then went into closed session.
Emerging from closed session, the board passed a motion setting forth the terms of a contract for Michael Ford, supporting his appointment as the chief executive officer of the AATA, with the expectation that he would assume responsibilities on July 6, 2009 or soon thereafter. The motion passed unanimously. Nacht said that this was the final written offer to Michael Ford, concluding, “We hope he’ll accept.” Board member Paul Ajegba participated in the meeting via conference call, but recused himself from the vote on the resolution.
The Chronicle has observed that on occasion, Ajegba has recused himself from certain votes tied in some way to the Michigan Department of Transportation – he’s manager for the Oakland County Transportation Service Center for MDOT. It’s not obvious why the recusal took place in this case, so we’ll follow up with a clarification.
American Civil Liberties Union: Surveillance on Buses?
In his general communications at the start of the meeting, Nacht indicated that he had been contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington County with an inquiry about the nature of audio and video taping on AATA buses. Nacht said that later in the meeting he wanted there to be a discussion, held in public, about the topic.
When that point in the meeting came, Nacht wanted to know, “Are we spying on people?”
Dawn Gabay, interim director of AATA, clarified that the AATA was not, in fact, spying on people. She said that there was audio and video taping equipment aboard buses that was used exclusively for the review of incidents and accidents. The material that was recorded, she said, was not downloaded or archived or otherwise examined.
If there was no specific reason to view the material or listen to it due to an incident or an accident, she said, that material was taped over – typically every 35-40 days. It was clarified that no one is watching the material in real time, and that it was not used by law enforcement who simply wanted to listen to what people were saying to each other aboard the bus. Gabay stressed that there had to be a specific reason to retrieve the footage to watch it based on some incident or accident.
Jim Mogensen: Speaking during the public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Mogensen noted that he was not associated with the request from the ACLU about surveillance on the AATA buses. But he drew a connection between the video surveillance that is done on AATA buses and a Department of Justice grant allocation made the previous Monday night (June 15) at the meeting of Ann Arbor’s city council. For that grant, digital recording equipment is being installed in patrol cars. Mogensen made the point that eventual strings could be attached by the federal government to a grant paid for the digital recording equipment that would require the city of Ann Arbor to provide the information recorded with it. So he suggested that the AATA contemplate the possibility that any municipality using federal funds could be required to turn over its security tapes. He concluded by simply saying it was be a good idea to think it through.
Ted Annis reported out from the planning and development committee that they’re now at the point where they’re looking to spend around $500,000 on hiring a consultant for the WALLY project. (This is a proposed north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and points north – it’s a different project from the north-south connector inside Ann Arbor.) It was a bit disconcerting to him, Annis said, to hear some of the updates from project coordinator Tom Cornillie. The estimated 1,000 riders a day, he said, might be high, while the capital expenditure of $33 million might be low. Said Annis, “The numbers don’t make sense to me, yet.” David Nacht said that he continued to have an open mind and was glad that Annis was asking that kind of question.
Purchase of Service Agreements
Gabay reported that conversations had begun to discuss alternatives on reconfiguring routes in Ypsilanti in light of that city’s financial condition, which suggested that the new purchase of service agreements would represent a hardship.
Jim Mogensen: Mogensen addressed the list of AATA goals and objectives that was available in printed form, but which was not included in the board’s electronic meeting packet. He noted that among the priorities listed were long-term downtown transit, park-and-ride lots, the situation at Arborland, and an intermodal facility on Fuller Road. Those priorities, he said, suggested a focus on commuters as users of the transportation system. He urged the board to try to reconcile the tension between serving urban area dwellers – who pay for transportation through their taxes – and commuters who drive into the area. He gave a specific example related to his own personal circumstance: Currently he can take the Number 2 bus into town, but he could imagine that a reconfiguration of routes designed specifically to make commuting more deficient could easily result in a new configuration – one that would require him to take the Number 22 bus to the Green Road park-and-ride lot and from there take the Number 2 into town.
At the conclusion of the meeting, after the board had discussed the situation at Arborland, Mogensen suggested that the Arborland bus stop location served two purposes: (i) it was a park-and-ride, and (ii) it was a connecting location. So in coming up with alternative solutions, it’s important, he said, to consider the impact on people who use the location to make connections versus people who use the bus for commuting. The contrast is between people who use buses to get around versus people who use buses just to get to work.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge criticized the time limit of two minutes for public commentary at the start of the meeting as well as the requirement that comments be focused only on agenda items. [Public commentary at the end of board meetings is not restricted by topic.] Partridge criticized the goals and objectives document because it didn’t give enough priority to countywide bus transportation. He said that he found lacking in the set of goals and objectives any items meant to improve para-transit service.
Rebecca Burke: In her report from the Local Advisory Council, Burke said that the bus stop accessibility project was taking a case-by-case approach with reports from members about problems at particular bus stops. She also said that the LAC was continuing to work on its code of conduct. And finally, she said that a resolution from the LAC that had been proposed to the LAC executive committee to unify the two entities had been rejected.
She also said there was renewed concern that there is not a continuous LAC liaison in place, and she extended an invitation to board chair David Nacht to attend its August meeting.
Sandra Holley: Speaking at end of the meeting, Holley addressed several of the issues that the board had considered that evening. On the subject of surveillance and buses, she said that a bus is a public space, and that you know surveillance is going to happen, just like it happens in any department store. The important thing to bear in mind, she said, was the importance of due process and handling of the tapes. With respect to the imminent hiring of Michael Ford, she expressed concern that the AATA had a lot of different projects currently going on, and he would have a lot on his plate from the very start. So she suggested that it was important that someone shadow him in order to bring him quickly up to speed. On the subject of the LINK, she said that while it might well serve the students from the University of Michigan, they are the main consumers in Ann Arbor and the service should be evaluated in that context.
Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Rich Robben, Sue McCormick, Ted Annis, Paul Ajegba (by speaker phone).
Absent: Jesse Bernstein.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave. [confirm date]