Column: How a Skilled Politician Plays Chess

Pawns sometime get promoted to queens

[Note: This column grew out of an analysis of the July 6 Ann Arbor city council deliberations on site plan development for the library lot. At the start of those deliberations, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) proposed an amendment that specified some public participation and eliminated the time frame for a Request for Proposals (RFP).]

Chess players in a tournament have to play a series of games against opponents drawn at random. Top players don’t worry much about the draw – their tournament results ultimately depend on skill, not who they have to play against.

Similarly, skilled politicians are able to work for the public good – no matter who happens to sit across the table from them.

Based on a preliminary examination of the additional corpus of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Chronicle, it appears that Leigh Greden (Ward 3) would prefer to play his political chess when he can choose his own opponents and arrange outcomes in advance. In his own words, he likes to “script” outcomes for the public. And part of that scripting entails being the casting director – trying to control who sits across the table from him.

We’ve seen that pattern reported over the last few months in The Chronicle in connection with the “mutually beneficial” committee of the Downtown Development Authority. That committee will renegotiate the DDA’s parking agreement with the city of Ann Arbor sometime before FY 2011. Greden had objected to the membership of Jennifer Hall and Rene Greff on the DDA’s committee and resisted the appointment of a corresponding city council committee – until Mayor John Hieftje decided not to reappoint Greff to the DDA board and Hall removed herself from the committee.

Assuming Greden wins his primary election in August against Stephen Kunselman and LuAnne Bullington, he will serve on the city council’s committee that negotiates the parking agreement with the DDA. He apparently believes he’ll have an easier time of it without Hall and Greff on the DDA’s committee. He might well believe that Sandi Smith, who serves on both city council and the DDA board – and who replaced Greff on the committee – will just hand over the $2 million from DDA revenues requested by the city without discussion. What he might not have reckoned with is the fact that Smith has – in the nearly one year I have covered DDA and city council – shown an ability to think and speak for herself without being fed her lines.

What does this have to do with Mike Anglin’s proposed amendment on Monday night?

On Monday evening, after rejecting Anglin’s amendment, Greden stated he was willing to hear alternatives from “someone else at the table.” But apparently not from Anglin. Greden also wasn’t willing to come up with any amendments of his own to Anglin’s amendment. Why not?

The FOIA-ed emails reveal that when Greden is in an erudite mood, he thinks Anglin is “mentally unfit” for office. The FOIA-ed emails seem to suggest that Greden would prefer to communicate with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) about Anglin’s re-election chances than to figure out a way to work constructively for the public good with Anglin, a fellow Democrat.

Possibly as a consequence of his lack of regard for Anglin, Greden was either unwilling or unable to see the obvious commonality he had with Anglin Monday evening on the amendment to the resolution on the library lot site development process: He’d agreed with Anglin that there should be public input, and he agreed that the time frame was too constrained. It’s common practice to undertake amendments to amendments. But Greden missed the opportunity – he doesn’t seem to want to work with Anglin on anything, ever.

Sure, it was an opportunity missed by Anglin as well – he’d waded into the deliberations in a confrontational way, and Greden responded in kind.

But for Anglin, the potential downside was limited – his political goals seem focused on his own spot on city council. For Greden the potential downside was that “someone else” could take the opportunity to perform as a skilled politician.

Someone like Sabra Briere.

Based on the FOIA-ed emails, it’s clear that Greden thinks Briere wants to be mayor of Ann Arbor. If Greden doesn’t want her to be elected mayor someday, he needs to stop handing her opportunities to demonstrate her political skills.

It was Briere who led the council Monday night through the exercise of collaboratively crafting language for an amendment to Anglin’s amendment that achieved a unanimous roll call vote, including a yes from Greden. It was a fairly mundane, garden-variety political maneuver by Briere, devoid of flash, not some brilliant checkmate planned out move by move.

Chess players draw a distinction between their command of “book,” which is to say – encyclopedic knowledge of previous games – and their “over the board” ability, or their ability to analyze the pieces on the board in the moment. Briere’s simple move wasn’t a “book” move – it was just a matter of recognizing a situation “over the board.” That situation is this: Sometimes pushing a pawn one square ahead, without capturing or threatening any of your opponent’s pieces, is just the right move.

Because sometimes pushing a pawn gets you an extra queen.

Obvious good moves are easier to spot by attending to the pieces on the chess board and not the person playing them – “play the board, not the person” is good advice in chess as in politics. You always have control over the board, but not the person playing the opposite pieces.

Maybe Briere does want to be mayor some day. But right now she’s running for re-election in Ward 1 as council representative. And her political skills would serve her and the community equally well, if she’s re-elected to that post. As for Greden, he confuses political skill with the art of avoiding interactions with those who might outwit him. If he can learn the difference, he might be able to serve the public interest better – provided the voters of Ward 3 decide to re-elect him.


  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 10, 2009 at 6:57 am | permalink

    I’m speechless. This is just the kind of analysis and reporting I’ve wanted from local Ann Arbor media for years. Something that is smart, pays attention to an institutional memory of local politics AND offers suggestions on how the process and government can best serve the voters. It’s not ‘cute’ A2 New editorial cartoons. Its reporting that cuts straight to the issue and to the heart. I don’t want any group hugs here but the Chronicle has restored my faith in the power of good the media is capable of doing. Thank you.

  2. July 10, 2009 at 7:18 am | permalink

    Amen to #1. I am equally overwhelmed. I have not read such intelligent, well-crafted political commentary in any other medium recently. Another A+. Thanks for the wonderful job, Dave!

  3. By Heidi Kaplan
    July 10, 2009 at 8:06 am | permalink

    Thanks, Sabra, for taking charge over what struck me as an interminable back and forth that inhibited community presence at Council votes later that evening.

    As one of Mike Anglin’s constituents, I appreciate his willingness to hold up legislative traffic to give the community a voice. However, it was disappointing to see him come to the table with so few plans or suggestions- just a an order that everything needed to be reworked from the beginning.

  4. By Kate
    July 10, 2009 at 8:08 am | permalink

    Thank you. Reading the Chronicle’s reporting has given me a whole new perspective on, and interest in, the city council.

  5. By my two cents
    July 10, 2009 at 9:01 am | permalink

    You all amaze me and not in a good way. Dave, you label this as a column, which in turn means opinion, however this piece is nothing more than a political piece endorsing Sabra Briere and bashing Leigh Greden. I encourage all to actually watch the meeting on CTN to see how this really played out.

    First of all Mike Anglin was doing nothing more than trying to add more bureaucracy to the process. The process was repeatedly explained to him and once again Mike just doesn’t get it.

    Fact: There is already a public hearing in place (in the standard process) to discuss the RFP’s after they are submitted.

    Fact: The council wants to have a wide open RFP process so that anything and everything can be submitted.

    Fact: Cm. Anglin’s resolution wanted to add another public hearing before the RFPs are submitted to discuss a wide-open process that is not limiting.

    What does he want to discuss? The process is not limiting how the public gives input? It is redundant and unnecessary to implement this amendment. After the RFP’s come in during the standard process, the public can look at them and give input on whether they like any of them or none of them. That is the proper and efficient method. I could understand Cm. Anglin’s argument if the RFP process was limiting and he wanted it more open to include some of the other interests that the public may have, but to insist the public give input on a wide-open process is just plain obstructionist and bureaucratic. How can you give input when you don’t know what the options are?

    Mike is just trying to put up a road block. His resolution was actually meaningless and he was only submitting it to try and score points for his campaign. Mike appears to be in favor of more meaningless bureaucracy in lieu of efficient government. I repeat again the process already includes a public hearing to discuss the submitted proposals, why waste time to have the public ponder possible proposals that may never come to fruition???

    As for your critique about why Cm. Greden did not actually amend the resolution. Why on earth would he want to? Why would anyone want to help sponsor more bureaucracy in lieu of efficiency. I have more respect for Cm. Greden because he did not do so. However, if you watch the meeting you will see Cm Greden throw it out there for anyone else to amend the resolution and instill bureaucracy, but no one wanted to. The smart political move was not to sponsor such a thing. The only one who did was Cm. Briere who thought she was saving the day, but in reality she was the one who made the bad political move. She helped create more bureaucracy and less efficiency. And no this was not in the name of transparancy or opening the process. The process has been transparant and has been comnpletely open.

    I do realize that the motion eventually passed, we now have another meaningless step in our process. Councilmembers always have to make decisions on whether to fight meaningless motions or just let them pass. I am just happy that most of the councilmembers were smart enough to see the truth behind this motion.

    My point is that this “column” missed the point of the entire discussion. It was not Leigh Greden who made the “chess” error, it was actually Sabra Briere. To me this is clear.

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 10, 2009 at 9:13 am | permalink

    My Two Cents–

    You should go back and read the just released FOIA emails to get a better understanding of the process. Council Member Greden was tossing out insulting mental illness references about Mr. Anglin , doesn’t seem to be willing to work with all of council and has this chip on his shoulder like he’s in some junior high school debate club.

    I don’t care if Mr Greden hates everyone on city council or has favorites. I DO expect him to put his personal feeling in check (no pun intended…) when he works on city business. From this meeting and others, as well as the volumes of email communications, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

    On the other hand, Ms. Briere seems to be able to acomplish things, even working with people who have insulted her behind the scenes.

    That is the sign of an effective politician. Greden, from all the evidence here, is not.

  7. July 10, 2009 at 9:23 am | permalink

    I don’t agree that public process equates to bureaucracy, and “efficiency” is overrated in decision-making, especially when you are making long-term decisions affecting Ann Arbor’s future. Regardless of what some council members were claiming, the vision of what the public truly wants from that lot has not been sought. (If I am wrong, could you please direct me to the actual document summarizing the conclusions? Thank you.)

    How can MTC possibly say that the process has been transparent and completely open? The important description and specification of the RFP is being turned over to the city administrator (aka the bureaucracy).

    I heard some council members saying that the normal RFP process includes public hearings. First, I dispute that that is standard, though I’d love to have it shown where such a process is laid out. Second, the public has very little opportunity to weigh in on a project once it gets to the public hearing stage, which is usually held on the same night council votes. Unless council votes to postpone a decision, all the public can really do at that point is to complain or endorse. Even when public informational meetings are held prior to a decision, there is relatively little opportunity to comment about the broad purpose of a project.

  8. By my two cents
    July 10, 2009 at 9:34 am | permalink


    My understanding is that this is not a resolution that will be voted on that is sent directly to council for a vote where the public hearing is held the same night.

    My understanding is that the RFPs will be submitted to the city and then presented to the public at some sort of public hearing/meeting (whatever the terminology) for discussion and input. The public input will be collected, analyzed and given to council. I am not exactly sure of how the next step would work, but am assuming the number of proposals would be narrowed down due to the feedback and then council would vote to keep one or none of the proposals for the site.

    Having any kind of public meeting/hearing on a subject with no facts, data or information just creates bureaucracy. It would just be a room full of people complaining about what they don’t want when they have not even seen the options. The broad purpose of the project can be addressed when looking at the various proposals. I just don’t know how one can say no to everything beforehand when you don’t actually know what the options are.

  9. July 10, 2009 at 10:01 am | permalink

    Planners know how to do this. You begin with presenting the types of uses the site could be put to, perhaps by listing some of the prior suggestions. A municipal/public building of some kind? Hold some area for expansion of the downtown library? Housing? Market rate or subsidized? If public space is involved, should it be a small decorative landscaped piece of paving, or a fully green (turfed) park area? What about that famous ice skating rink? Is this location suitable for retail enterprises (considering the distance from the rest of the commercial zone)?

    Some of the information from the hearings and discussions surrounding the library expansion would probably serve as a basis to begin. I assume that retaining the ground level as a surface parking lot would be stated as off the table.

    Or – maybe this is a good opportunity to talk about whether Ann Arbor really needs, wants, or should pay for a conference center.

    Once a number of possible uses have been identified, then an RFP could be issued that delineates them, and the public interest in each. Why ask developers to spend thousands of dollars just to put a tentative idea forth that may be rejected as an unwanted use?

  10. By Dave Askins
    July 10, 2009 at 10:03 am | permalink

    Typically, my approach to writing a column is to let the column itself be “my say” on the issue, without responding to comments that reflect a different opinion.

    In the case of My Two Cents’ comments above, however, the dramatic disconnect between the sentiments expressed there and the content of the meeting warrants a clarification.

    In fact, the deliberations did not deal with “adding bureaucracy” to the system. Greden himself said that he had no view on whether the additional public process should come before the RFP process or after it — Greden’s complaint was not in adding bureaucratic steps, but rather in the lack of specificity in Anglin’s proposal.

    Further, My Two Cents’ alternative analysis omits the entire discussion of the time frame — Greden was in agreement with Anglin that the time frame in the resolution needed to be addressed. Anglin’s proposal was to eliminate the time references, while Greden wanted the RFP issuance to be delayed with a longer window for response, and he wound up supporting the amendment that had those features. Greden could have found that common ground with Anglin and built on it. But he chose not to.

    If My Two Cents’ critique of Briere that she “added bureaucracy” to the system is accurate, then that would need to apply equally well to all the councilmembers who voted for the compromise amendment. As a matter of fact, the language of the compromise amendment makes explicit that no new steps are being added: “consistent with usual practice,” is the applicable phrase.

    One could reasonably argue that the amendment on public process was meaningless because it simply made explicit that which we’re already committed to do anyway — but that was an issue addressed in deliberations: Higgins cautioned that the explicit inclusion of language referencing public process might imply that this was not the usual practice. We would not want to find ourselves in a situation where public input was not included just because a resolution failed to include it explicitly.

    In the end, councilmembers saw value in the explicit inclusion of the public process language — in contrast to My Two Cents’ view.

    Finally, the complaint that a piece labeled a “column” cannot fairly include an analysis of the political skills of our elected representatives is, to my mind, among the most curious sentiments ever expressed in a Chronicle comment.

  11. By my two cents
    July 10, 2009 at 10:12 am | permalink

    Dave, As an observer to the meeting (over CTN) I can only tell you that this is how it played to me and probably many others. As for holding them all accountable I did say this in my post:

    “I do realize that the motion eventually passed, we now have another meaningless step in our process. Councilmembers always have to make decisions on whether to fight meaningless motions or just let them pass. I am just happy that most of the councilmembers were smart enough to see the truth behind this motion.”

    One needs to pick their battles.

    You column does not contain analysis in contains biased opinion. There is a difference.

  12. By jack sprague
    July 10, 2009 at 11:31 am | permalink

    Full marks. This is the sort of thing I expect out of the national desk , not the local. You write a $100 article in a $20 town … (hey – I like A2 but it isn’t Detroit’s great corruption stories and it isn’t the Washington stage. )

    Delightful read.

    It’s disappointing on the surface to see the outcome of the activity was to inhibit the ease at which local government can act. However, my first instinct is to believe government action of any sort is ill-advised and so I applaud anything that stands in the way of of a taxing authority actually dispersing funds. Let’s have more of that !

  13. By UMGrad1234
    July 10, 2009 at 12:33 pm | permalink

    Mytwocents has a reaction that is, I think, completely disconnected from the facts of this piece.
    This was a splendid, thoughtful and damning indictment of Leigh Greden’s lack of respect for his elected office, and the 30,000 constituents represented by Mike Anglin. Those emails Greden sent are like so many links of the heavy chain he has forged over the past six years. Like Jacob Marley, partner in Scrooge & Marley, he wears that chain now wherever he goes and whenever he speaks.

    The FOIAed emails show quite plainly that Greden lied to his own constituents AND those of other Council members about plans to build atop the lot. So did the Mayor when he emailed a constituent on February 17th, just a month after seeing the “surprise” plans referred to above at the January 11th retreat, that, “Given the state of the economy and the tight credit markets It seems like any development proposals are quite a ways off….” Hieftje cc:ed this deliberately misleading email to Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski and Chris Taylor.

    Sandi Smith arranged a secret meeting at the DDA (referred to my Mike Anglin as a “private meeting”) on January 20th. In her email to Roger Fraser and all of the Council members, she writes, “I also want to investigate the ideas about what could be built on top of the structure and the possibilities for cost savings. The meeting will be this Friday, January 23 at 3 pm, at the DDA office.”

    Then, we have Leigh Greden’s February 17th email to the head of a neighborhood association. Greden writes, “Although I am not your Councilmember, please allow me to respond. I think there’s some confusion here: the parking garage has nothing to do with what goes on top. We can -and should – build the garage now when construction costs are cheaper and the parking is needed. We can decide later – in one year or ten years – what goes on top. Simply put, there is no connection between the two.”

    I would suggest that Mytwocents actually read Leigh Greden’s FOIAed emails that Dave Askins has posted on The Chronicle web site. Then again, could be that Mytwocents is the screen name of someone whose picture or name appears on Leigh Greden’s campaign web site. In which case, the point is to attack Askin’s piece in the hopes of changing the subject from the lies Leigh Greden, Marcia Higgins, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Margie Teall, Carsten Hohnke, Stephen Rapundalo and John Hieftje got caught telling thanks to the FOIAed emails, to whether or not Askins has written a piece of junk analysis.

    Maybe this will help:

    1/11/09: Council Retreat (plans for development of library lot site presented to Council, but withheld from public present. FOIA for copies of plans was refused.)
    1/20/09: Sandi Smith sends email to entire Council and Roger Fraser for meeting about building on library lot (no public notice of meeting, no public attendance at meeting, no minutes of meeting)
    2/17/09: Hieftje emails constituent, as well as Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski and Chris Taylor, that development of the public parcel atop the library lot “is quite a ways off.”
    2/17/09: Greden emails constituents that there are no plans to build atop library lot
    4/17/09: Hohnke emails constituent no plans will be formulated to build anything atop library lot without “extensive” public input. He “will demand it.”
    June 2009: Sandi Smith announces at Council meeting that she will bring resolution to solicit RFPs to build atop library lot
    July 2009: Sandi Smith and Marcia Higgins introduce resolution to seek RFPs to build atop library lot

    See any pattern here?

  14. By my two cents
    July 10, 2009 at 1:50 pm | permalink

    UMgrad, Nothing like sticking to the topic of the thread. Once again when you can’t win your argument with logic and fact you throw everything in including multiple lies to try and persuade people.

    And neither my picture nor name appears on Greden’s web site, however I do support him and am proud of it.

  15. By Tom Whitaker
    July 10, 2009 at 2:16 pm | permalink

    Personally, I don’t give much credence to any of the comments that are posted here anonymously. They are likely either posted by the subjects of articles, who are just trying to defend themselves, or by their supporters or detractors who are simply seeking to spin things without being personally held up to any public scrutiny for their comments. It’s particularly annoying when two anonymous posters engage in a tiresome back and forth, even when I might agree with one or the other of them. I think it cheapens the discussion and I would even suggest that the Chronicle start requiring real names–at least first names–in order to leave a comment. One only needs to read a few of the comments on MLive to see how bad anonymous posting can get.

    “Once a number of possible uses have been identified, then an RFP could be issued that delineates them, and the public interest in each. Why ask developers to spend thousands of dollars just to put a tentative idea forth that may be rejected as an unwanted use?”

    As both the originator and responder to numerous RFPs, I want to reinforce Vivienne’s comment in [9] above. In this economy, developers and contractors do not have a lot of money to spend on RFP responses, let alone ones that only have a few vague parameters. This is not the time when developers are out looking for that special opportunity to build their lifelong dream project. The same councilmembers and citizens who bemoan the difficulties developers face in Ann Arbor, should ask some of their developer friends how likely it is that they would respond to a totally wide-open RFP in this town, with no idea about how the public will react. Even normal RFP responses, with specific parameters outlined in the RFP, are a gamble.

    In fact, the City is 1-2 on recent large RFPs for City-owned sites (YMCA and 415 W. Washington). Developers responding to the 415 W. Washington site spent $10-20k or more on responses complete with renderings and detailed analysis. They have got to be ticked that all that effort was wasted when the City failed to award anything and will likely force them to do it all over again in the future (if any are still willing). The other project on First is on indefinite hold due to lack of money. So what indeed is the hurry?

    Vivienne is right, that this is exactly why we have urban planners. Why not have a few public meetings, or a survey, and maybe a design charette in order to at least narrow down the range of ideas and parameters to a point that developers won’t be taking a total stab in the dark?

    Knowing that there is at least one complete proposal already out there ready to go (conference center), and with the initially proposed rapid window for issuance and response to this RFP, it’s no wonder why people are suspicious that many councilmembers, the DDA, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. may have already made up their minds about this. The way they fought to avoid additional public input before the RFP goes out didn’t help. What if the only response received to the RFP is the one for the conference center or perhaps multiple responses that are ALL for conference centers? You think people are suspicious now…

  16. July 10, 2009 at 4:19 pm | permalink

    BRAVO! I am signing an ad contract right this minute to make sure I am doing all I can to keep this kind of REAL reporting and analysis alive and well in Ann Arbor.

  17. By Will Stewart
    July 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm | permalink

    Well done, HD. Nice to see someone holding some feet to the flames. Cheers to the Chronicle for showing that real, hard-hitting journalism can thrive in the digital space.


  18. July 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm | permalink

    Just curious. Why is “my two cents” afraid to use a real name. At least for me, it calls into question the integrity of the comments. Kind of makes you wonder if there is an agenda that is being masked.

  19. By Dave Askins
    July 10, 2009 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    A note on anonymous commenting on The Chronicle.

    It’s an explicit part of our commenting policy to allow people to use a screen name that is not their real name — for any reason. We only ask that people choose one and stick to it — something that My Two Cents has done. Anonymous commenters should expect as one consequence of their choice to post anonymously is this: what they have to say in a comment will be evaluated by other readers based on the merit of the content of that comment. That can cut both ways: anonymous comments get neither the positive nor the negative association that an author’s name might carry in the “in real life” community.

    The principle of “play the board, not the person” introduced in my column extends to commenting policy in this way: We’d ask that commenters respond to the content of others’ remarks and not to the person who’s written them. In the case of anonymous comments, it means that The Chronicle would prefer not to see a commenter’s choice to comment anonymously as a way to dismiss the merits of their comments. It’s certainly fine to think to oneself, “That person posts anonymously, so I don’t care what they have to say” — we have no view as to what private thoughts people should hold. But making an explicit issue of anonymity in the course of a comment thread tends not to be terribly productive.

    If there are remaining questions or clarifications on this, I’d prefer to have those relayed to me via email, as opposed to argued back and forth in this thread.


  20. By johnboy
    July 11, 2009 at 2:30 am | permalink

    Rene Greff – Congrats on deciding to support the Chronicle. Please be tasteful in your advertising. Not glaring, blinking and obnoxious like those real estate ads.

    Dave Askins – Huh?

  21. By johnboy
    July 11, 2009 at 2:36 am | permalink

    BTW – I don’t use my real name in the comments section because I have been in AA for close to 40 years, worked in a number of “meet the public” type of positions and have developed many friends and a few “not so” friends and would rather have people respond to my comment and not my name.

  22. By Bob Snyder
    July 11, 2009 at 7:37 am | permalink

    I strongly concur with comments made by, and attributable to, Tom Whitaker (#15) –not much credence can be placed in attack-comments made by “Anonymous”, e.g.”My Two Cents”, “Johnboy”, “UMGrad1234″. For all we know, y’all are just various pseudonyms for one or more of those on Council who have been acting in such an inexcusable manner over the internet while supposedly attending to the City’s business! I am disappointed that the Mayor, who himself does pay attention to the public commentary and doesn’t appear to engage in laptop chatter, hasn’t stepped up to the plate and, both publicly and privately, denounced the illegal and ill-mannered behavior of certain of his Council members! Does the impending August Dem primary have anything to do with not calling the question? Please speak out, John!

  23. July 11, 2009 at 2:03 pm | permalink

    I live in the 3rd Ward and this whole thing makes my stomach hurt, particularly comments re: Mr. Greden’s comments on mental illness. I rode Dave’s totter last year (uh, something that sounds dirty, but isn’t :)) to talk about the stigma of and misconception of mental illness. I really am not happy to read about it coming from an elected official.

    Personally, I can’t get to that voting booth fast enough.

  24. July 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm | permalink

    PS: So I’m not thought of as posting under a pseudonym….my last name is Smith. I just don’t go by TeacherPattiSmith because then I get to hear “OMG, like the singer!” “Why don’t sing for us!” “Are you the singer ha ha ha”. (Really, if I sang for you, your ears would bleed and you would peel your sing from your arms).

  25. July 11, 2009 at 2:14 pm | permalink

    Just to give Mr. Greden some sort of relief, I think the word attributed to him in local blogs(and interpreted as applying to Mr. Anglin) was “moron”. So he was using disability as an epithet, not mental illness.

    Patti, you do sing sweetly, just in a different medium.

  26. By my two cents
    July 11, 2009 at 3:35 pm | permalink


    Calling someone a “moron” or saying other things along those lines are idioms. They are not direct attacks on mental illness. You are reading misinformation in the blogs that people are spreading. There was no attack on mental illness unless you actually believe that Mike Anglin has a mental illness or is a “moron” by the psychiatric definition.

    Calling Anglin a “moron” is an insult not an attack a mental illness.

    I think the real attack on mental illness is actually labeling these types of idiomatic statements as an attack on mental illness. This sort of spin is shameful.

  27. By lulugee
    July 11, 2009 at 6:02 pm | permalink

    Back to Dave’s article. Yes very well written and it offers an interesting metaphor for council interactions. While “gaming” does indeed seem to be the operational mode, it is distressing, at least to this citizen, that the city’s future is being decided by gamers. The rules of the game are not written anywhere, but arrive of the moment –especially when a new player comes to the table, naively believing that representing citizens isn’t a game at all. One almost feels that they are “playing by sense of smell”. But there appears to be a dominant strategy. For many council seasons now, it’s been common knowledge that some of the councilors first honed those “skills” of theirs on Council Rep. Kim Groomes. She came to council thinking to represent her constituents. She found not one kindred spirit on council. Instead she was reviled for slowing things down with her questions.

    Questions!? That’s all it takes. Ask a few little ol’ questions and earn the eternal enmity of the cool kids pitching pennies behind the bleachers. In the years since Ms. Groomes vacated her seat, the game’s gotten meaner and every new council rep knows what to expect if he/she lets an inconvenient question escape into the public arena.
    I respect and value Sabra Briere’s abilities. She knows how to keep her eye on the prize. To praise Ms. Briere, for her mastery of the game, does not mean, however, that this is the only way to play it. We might well need someone, at this point, to come along and knock all the pieces off the board. That’s why we have more than one person in the world–we need diversity of opinion as well as strategy. There is even a place for the kind of gaming Mr. Greden is so good at—it just shouldn’t be the dominant mode. The biggest problem that Mike Anglin poses to the other players is that he just wants to represent his fellow “dim lights” of the 5th Ward. He knew what he was getting into. And he probably has the minerals to withstand the blows and the guts to ask “at long last…have you no shame” (Very bad form).
    One brief comment about the actual issue—the Library Lot. The Library Lot is the last chance Ann Arbor citizens will ever have to create a truly civic, communal place in the Downtown. It is not as if the council majority and the mayor have not heard this already. Since Calthorpe, citizens have been saying this is THE place for a town square or plaza. The 60 day deadline for RFPs, I suspect, is mainly beneficial to Mr. Fraser’s super secret development team. I suppose that the rushing of the RFP process is another demonstration of superior gamesmanship. Meanwhile, the citizens are locked out once again, though we’ll be granted the opportunity to “have some input”. But we don’t have to wait for some begrudging “oblige”. There is nothing preventing us from getting together and deciding what we want. Ya don’t need a $200k charette to see which way the wind blows. Lou Glorie

  28. By Tom Whitaker
    July 11, 2009 at 7:39 pm | permalink

    The “wide open” RFP Council ordered sounds more like a design contest. Why not make it official? Allow anyone to submit an idea, with some sketches and display them in the library and online. The public can view them and vote on them. Contest winners, in a variety of categories would get prizes.

    A committee of planners, architects, reps of Council, DDA, and the various citizen committees and associations, etc., can then narrow things down and issue an RFP that incorporates the best ideas that come from this public contest.

  29. By Peter Nagourney
    July 11, 2009 at 9:33 pm | permalink

    Mike Anglin’s proposed amendment and the subsequent discussion concerning citizen participation reveals the inadequacy of the city’s approach to securing public input. Currently, input comes after developers, city staff, and Council have assembled proposals: at that stage citizens can only respond, and their comments or suggestions have no influence.

    If the city wants citizen input about a project they need to receive it before the proposal stage. This could take many forms:

    • citizen focus groups guided by trained independent facilitators (not City or DDA or C of C staff or developers)

    • creative opportunities for submission of informal ideas and “amateur” proposals

    • the Charleston, SC model, in which a city staff planner meets monthly with a Citizen Council made up of representatives from neighborhood associations to discuss neighborhood issues and create a link between staff and citizens

    • informal (or, better yet, institutionalized) interactive forums to allow full presentation and free discussion of ideas worthy of development into specific proposals; these to be held in a neutral space – not in the hierarchical Council chambers

    • the “visioning” sessions Planning Department used years ago to gather and formalize citizen participation before specific plans were requested/submitted.

    If the provision for public participation is to be more than a way for citizens to blow off steam, then we should create a real forum for input preceding any proposal stage, and create a mechanism for the best citizen ideas to be seriously considered along with those submitted by developers, Council and city planners. Only after this pre-proposal stage, when citizens have genuinely had input about a project, should proposals be presented for citizen reaction (not input).

  30. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 12, 2009 at 6:56 am | permalink

    One, guessing we need to decide if comparing someone to movie character Forrest Gump and quoting the phase ‘stupid is as stupid does’ is a slap at the mentally ill or just rude and annoying and in bad taste. And two, why didn’t Greden show for the Democratic Party council debates this weekend? Usually to place chess, you need to show up.

  31. July 12, 2009 at 9:44 pm | permalink

    From #11: “One needs to pick their battles.”

    They needn’t be battles, and they needn’t be “debates”, as council member Greden seems to prefer. They could be open, thoughtful, respectful discussions. The difference between debate and discussion is that the goal of discussion is consensus. It isn’t always achieved, but it’s the goal, and it tends to lead to better outcomes for more stakeholders.

    Re: #29, I agree that the public hearing mechanism is flawed in that it comes so late in the process.

    As far as existing opportunities for input, I’ll point out that citizens can communicate with their council reps on any issue or concern at just about any time via phone, letter, or email, if not in person (e.g., at council caucus meetings.) So maybe it would help to make a distinction between public input and public discussion, where the latter allows ideas to be shared and be evaluated by others and includes or takes place in the presence of multiple council members, or is at least reported publicly.

    Another opportunity to share ideas with the public is (or was, anyway) through a letter to the editor at the News. Now it’ll need to be here or at the A2Journal,, or another local blog.

    I wonder if all this might become moot if council members would simply acknowledge in public the suggestions that they’ve received and what consideration they’ve given them, rather than saying little or nothing (and appearing to ignore or disregard them.)

  32. July 12, 2009 at 9:48 pm | permalink

    “and it tends to lead to better outcomes” (quoting myself)

    By “it”, I meant the effort to reach consensus, not necessarily consensus itself.

  33. By UMGrad1234
    July 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm | permalink

    #22 The Mayor most certainly did speak out about the “behavior” of the Council members whom you peg as “ill-mannered.” Last August, he ENDORSED Hohnke, Taylor, Smith, and Derezinski. This year, he’s endorsing Leigh Greden. At the AADems debate last year Hieftje dismissed Stew Nelson and Tom Wall’s allegation that there was a problem with secrecy in the way Council members decided issues. In fact, last summer, Greden AND the Mayor went on the record deriding the notion of “secret” deliberations by a small group of Council members.

    This summer, Greden garnered endorsements from his fellow AA News editorial cartoon pals Teall and Taylor and, of course, resident Third Ward dinosaur Jean Carlberg along with Hieftje. Evidently, the lot of them find nothing greasy or grimy with endorsing a candidate who hangs out on Facebook during City Council meetings and on the public dime.

  34. July 13, 2009 at 11:02 pm | permalink

    My Two Cents,

    Okay, thanks for clearing that up. I presumed a different word was used. While “moron” used to be used to describe a mental deficiency, yeah…not so much any more. Thanks!

    Vivienne, you are so sweet..thanks :)

  35. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 14, 2009 at 6:44 am | permalink


    You should read the entire set of FOIA emails. I know…it’s not a pleasant task but seeing the words in their original context is…interesting and give you a better sense of the tone and feel of Greden’s intent.

  36. July 14, 2009 at 3:19 pm | permalink

    Dave, I add my thanks for the service you are providing to our community. Your reminder to “play the board, not the person” is helpful. Keeping our minds focused on the substance of an issue or argument, rather than on our like/dislike of the speaker, is the first step in restoring a civil tone, and adult behavior, to our civic life. The second step is voting in in the August 4 primary. The third step is the re-introduction of contested general elections, even if that means making city elections non-partisan.

    Item #1 sets the tone for public life in our still-small community. Items #2 & #3 restore accountability to a presently un-accountable council.

    While it is true that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote under the joint ‘screen name’ of “Publius” when urging New Yorkers to support the proposed US constitution in 1789, I am nonetheless viscerally disquieted when people in our community are afraid to reveal themselves. Anonymity makes it easier to foster a trash-talk culture.

    By the way, Two-Cen’, is it true that you are Lee Greden’s mother?

  37. By a2eastsider
    July 15, 2009 at 11:40 am | permalink

    #36, I agree with you and am absolutely *not* in favor of trashing people anonymously. I feel that it is cowardly, bad behavior. Offering one’s opinion regarding an issue is another matter. I have written to the Ann Arbor News a few times using my name as one must, and have been treated to anonymous, threatening, hate mail from people who didn’t share my opinion. Because of this, I am glad the the Chronicle accepts feedback from people using screen names.

    I am also SO glad that the Chronicle is providing so much content regarding our public meetings. It is great to have these meetings reported on and summerized in a way that our community has definitely been missing for many years.

    That said, this piece was more of an OpEd piece than a journalistic article. In my opinion if it walks, swims, and quacks like an OpEd piece, then it probably is. That said, I don’t think it deminishes the content, but feel it should be read in that context.

  38. By Dave Askins
    July 15, 2009 at 11:46 am | permalink

    Re: “That said, this piece was more of an OpEd piece than a journalistic article.”

    Its status as an opinion piece is reflected in the headline “Column: …” as well as in its Section assignment, “Opinion.”

  39. By a2eastsider
    July 15, 2009 at 1:01 pm | permalink

    Right you are. It just didn’t appear that people were reading it with that in mind based on some of the comments.

  40. By Karen Sidney
    July 15, 2009 at 6:37 pm | permalink

    The Greenway Task Force used U of M graduate students to facilitate public input. In my opinion, they did an excellent job of keeping the process unbiased. It was a win win. The students got real world experience and the city avoided the cost of a consultant.

  41. July 15, 2009 at 7:42 pm | permalink

    Yes, there is apparently a UM program that teaches people to be facilitators. It seems to be somewhere between a professional training and an affiliation club. I went to the GW TF meeting Karen is referring to (a couple of years ago) and also recently a sustainability conference at the UM where these folks moderated break-out sessions. No axe to grind, just completely straightforward and professional.