Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 16, 2010): Looming budget decisions were a prominent part of the council’s meeting. Around a dozen speakers addressed the council during a public hearing on housing and human services needs – the input will be used by the office of community development in making recommendations for city general fund expenditures.
The approval of a contract extension for the city’s public art administrator generated a great deal of discussion – partly concerning the dollar amount of the contract – and was passed despite dissent from three councilmembers.
But the council postponed a resolution that would have cut the base salaries of the city administrator and the city attorney by 3%, and would have directed the administrator to cut the salaries of non-union employees by 3% as well.
Another prominent theme of the meeting was real estate and infrastructure. Council approved the acquisition of a property within the city limits – a portion of the Black Elk’s site on Sunset Road – using greenbelt millage funds. They also approved the capital improvements plan (CIP), modified to delete an item for the extension and shifting of a runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.
The council also appointed members of a citizens committee on Georgetown Mall, the former location of a Kroger grocery store, to provide input to the city’s nuisance committee.
City administrator Roger Fraser reported in his communications to the council that the University of Michigan would be shouldering a $450,000 cost associated with the construction of a transit center on the central campus – a cost that would ordinarily be carried by the city.
The real estate and infrastructure theme included UM in another way: The council approved a lease agreement with the university for 18 parking spaces next to Riverside Park, but not without some complaint from councilmembers about the dollar amount on the lease, which they felt was too low.
Those parking spaces also provided a connection to the budget theme unrelated to the dollar amount on the lease – the spaces were originally used by a Motor Meals program in the mid ’80s, operating out of Kellogg Eye Center. A representative of the program, know called Meals on Wheels, spoke at the public hearing on housing and human services needs.
Motoring with meals would presumably still be allowed even after final approval of a city-wide ban on cell phone use while driving. The council gave initial approval to that ban on Monday night. In order to take effect, the ban would need approval at its second reading before the council. The ban also prohibits cell phone use while bicycling.
Also on Monday, the council voted to discontinue the city’s bicycle registration program. The council had tabled a proposed revision to registration procedures at its previous regular meeting.
Several items on the agenda related directly to the overall budget climate.
Budget: The Directive
Before the council was a budget directive, in the form of a resolution, that would have cut salaries for the city administrator and city attorney by 3% and would have directed the city administrator to cut salaries of non-union workers by 3% as well. The pay cuts in the resolution would be effective starting July 1, 2010. It would also have eliminated the $560 travel budgets for each councilmember and the $1,000 travel budget for the mayor.
The measure was added to the agenda on Friday, after the Wednesday publication of the agenda on the city’s website.
Among the “whereas” clauses:
Whereas, The following members of city council have taken a leadership role in returning 3% of their base pay to the City of Ann Arbor:
John Hieftje, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo,
Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins and Carston [sic] Hohnke;
Not on the list is Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – though she told The Chronicle that she gave Fraser a check on the night that some others had also announced their commitment to return 3% of their council salaries to the city.
The parallel between a 3% voluntary council pay cut in 2010 is not perfectly parallel to a 3% pay cut for the two officials whose salaries the council has the power to set – the city administrator and the city attorney. Since 2007, the council has awarded one-time lump sum “bonus” payments to the two, leaving their base salary unchanged. But in December 2007, the city council voted to accept a recommendation from the local officers compensation commission to increase their own base salaries 3% each year in 2008 and 2009.
In terms of base salary, then, councilmembers would need to make a 9% sacrifice in order to make their own situation parallel to the city administrator and the city attorney.
While the city council’s authority to set those two employees’ salaries derives from the city charter, the “resolved” clause committing all councilmembers to give back 3% of their salaries to the city does not seem to have any legally binding basis:
Resolved, That all City Councilmembers commit to returning 3% of their base pay to the City of Ann Arbor;
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who sponsored the resolution with Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), opened deliberations by saying he’d be moving for a postponement. The intent of the resolution, he said, was to give clear direction to the city administrator regarding the budget. Briere seconded the motion to postpone.
When the resolution comes back for consideration, it could be more than a 3% that is put forward for discussion. A recent memo from CFO Tom Crawford to councilmembers, responding to questions from them, puts the savings to the general fund from a 5% reduction in the top three management tier salaries at $78,000. With a 10% reduction, the savings would be $157,000.
Outcome: The resolution giving the city administrator direction on the 3% pay cuts was postponed.
Budget: Housing and Human Services Needs Public Hearing
Representatives from several nonprofit agencies addressed the council, stressing the importance of funding for the missions of their agencies. Carolyn Grawi, of the Center for Independent Living, reminded the council that one-fifth of Ann Arborites have some form of disability – 20,000 people.
Danielle Mack spoke as a board member on behalf of Michigan Itinerant Shelter System-Interdependent Out of Necessity (MISSION) and a volunteer at Camp Take Notice. Ruth Blackburn spoke on behalf of Food Gatherers, pointing out that 88% of the food distributed by 150 agencies comes from Food Gatherers.
Beth Adams represented Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to the homebound from Monday-Saturday. She said the UM Health System provided the majority of funding, but that it was contingent on matching dollars. Ellen Schulmeister spoke on behalf of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, asking the council to make replacement of the housing units lost at the old YMCA building a priority.
Carolyn Hastings, of the Housing Bureau for Seniors, told the council that the housing bureau would be merging with the Meals on Wheels program. Kimberli Cumming spoke on behalf of the Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan – their wait list in January of this year of 67 people was the highest it had ever been, she said.
Michael Appel of Avalon Housing said they owned and managed 324 units of affordable housing in Washtenaw County, 282 of them in Ann Arbor. When they opened their wait list in 2009, he reported, Avalon received 505 applications in two weeks for 30 available units. He emphasized the importance of leveraging matching funds.
Citizens at large also addressed the council during the public hearing.
Jim Mogensen noted that around this time of year, when allocations to human services are made, he typically makes the point with his “red-ribbon” presentation that it’s only 1.7% of the city’s general fund. He noted that while sometimes human services are criticized for spending money on administration instead of services, there are only 12 people who work in the city/county office of community development – he observed that there were 12 people sitting around the table in front of him. Human services, Mogensen stressed, had been outsourced to nonprofit agencies. With regard to the frequent suggestion that various nonprofits consolidate and merge, he adduced the metaphor of an all-in-one business machine that faxes, emails, phones, prints, and copies. When they work, they’re great, he said, but when they don’t, you can’t do anything.
Thomas Partridge shared with the council the fact that he was elected president of his high school class in the same year that John F. Kennedy was elected president. He said that he supported what all the other speakers had said, but he would go further – by asking for a “bill of rights” for affordable and accessible housing, health care, transportation, and education.
Budget: Contract for Public Art Administrator
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had asked that an agenda item – extending the contract for the city’s part-time public art administrator, Katherine Talcott – be pulled out of the consent agenda for separate consideration. The extension runs from Feb. 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010, and amounts to $21,800, of which $19,800 is for fees and $2,000 for travel expenses.
Smith asked Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, if Talcott was handling more than just the one public piece of art to be installed as part of the new municipal building, or if rather it was “all about Dreiseitl.” Herbert Dreiseitl is the German artist who was commissioned to design the piece for the municipal building.
McCormick explained that it was not just the one main Dreitseitl sculpture that Talcott was handling – there were two other pieces that Dreiseitl had designed for the inside of the new building that still might be installed. There was also an additional $250,000 allocated for public art as a part of the building. In addition, there would be a public art component for the Fuller Road Station, McCormick said, as well as a project in West Park, for which an RFP recently was issued.
McCormick confirmed for Smith that Talcott was a 1099 independent contractor, referring to her tax status. Asked by Smith to elaborate on the travel expenses, McCormick said it was intended to go towards a once-a-year professional gathering, but would need to be approved by McCormick. The travel money would not be automatically awarded, she said.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that in light of another item on the agenda, which directed the city administrator to cut non-union salaries by 3%, he wanted the public to be aware that the art fund is being used to pay for labor [Talcott's] and that it draws on funds that pay for other labor – for example, solid waste, the parks acquisition and maintenance millage, and the street repair millage. Kunselman noted that he voted against the award of a contract at the council’s Dec. 21 meeting. “The art program is not so benign that it doesn’t have an effect on other funds,” Kunselman warned.
Kunselman concluded by telling mayor John Hieftje that he wanted a roll call vote on the item. [Some agenda items require a roll call vote, e.g., items changing the city budget or a vote to go into closed session. But for any item, any councilmember can insist that a roll call vote be taken.]
Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she supported the contract. She said that was simply what it took to bring a significant piece of art to the city. Installing a piece of art like that into a building required the expertise of someone who’s done it before, she contended. Teall confirmed with McCormick that the authorization of the travel budget did not mean that the money would necessarily be used.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) conceded a certain level of ignorance about the contract, but noted that Talcott – at an average of 32 hours per week – was expected to work more than half time. Briere said that seemed excessive because there were not that many opportunities for installation of art projects. Why, she asked, was 32 hours per week needed? McCormick replied by saying that some weeks Talcott would work more and some weeks less. In response from a follow-up question from Kunselman, McCormick said that the six-month-at-a-time contract approach – as opposed to a three-year contract, say – was part of a “feel-it-as-we-go-along approach.”
Kunselman also inquired of the city attorney about a directive that the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC) had received from staff that no art program money could be spent on website design. From Chronicle coverage of the art commission’s Jan. 12 meeting:
The issue of city rules came up again during a report from the public relations committee, which had been working on AAPAC’s website. The committee – Cathy Gendron and Marsha Chamberlin – had been hoping to redesign the AAPAC website, which is separate from its page on the city’s website. However, city officials have told them that no Percent for Art funds can be used on website design, so they’re focusing their energy on how to revamp the city web page. “It won’t be elegant – or anything like we envisioned,” Gendron said.
City attorney Stephen Postema told Kunselman that he was not aware of the directive.
Outcome: The contract for the part-time public art administrator was approved, with dissent from Briere, Kunselman and Higgins.
Real Estate and Infrastructure
A raft of different items were tied together by the theme of real estate and infrastructure.
Infrastructure: Capital Improvements Plan (CIP)
After a long discussion at the council’s previous meeting on Feb. 1 concerning the capital improvements plan – which resulted in the plan’s second postponement – the council approved the plan Tuesday with no discussion. At the Feb. 1 meeting, the council had approved an amendment that deleted a runway extension project at Ann Arbor’s municipal airport from the plan.
Outcome: The CIP was adopted – and thus did not include the runway project.
Greenbelt Acquisition: Black Elk’s Property
At their Feb. 1 meeting, councilmembers had voted to postpone the authorization of the use of greenbelt millage funds to acquire part of a parcel belonging to the Black Elks. [The parcel can be looked up on the county's GIS system under parcel number: 09-09-20-404-004.]
The postponement had come amid concerns that the appraisal had not been done recently enough. On Tuesday, there was no council discussion at the table.
Outcome: The authorization was approved, with dissent from Stephen Rapundalo. [Marcia Higgins, who had raised the concerns about the appraisal at the previous meeting, had left the meeting by this point.]
Real Estate: Riverside Park Parking Spaces
Before the council was a lease agreement with the University of Michigan for 18 parking spaces next to Riverside Park, totaling $10,998. The rent for each of the 18 parking spaces is equivalent to the rate the university charges for its “Blue” employee parking permits ($611/space), which are located in the vicinity of Riverside Park and the Kellogg Eye Center.
By way of background, in FY 2009 UM paid the city of Ann Arbor a total of $29,890 in property rental. Of the nearly $9 million total received by the city in payments for services from UM, the largest part is due to basic services – $3.9 million and $3.4 million for water and sewer, respectively.
The 18 parking spaces next to Riverside Park had been on council’s agenda back in July 2009 – for a total lease amount of $2,232 – but was deleted. [Compare the July 2009 lease to the version approved on Tuesday: July 2009; Feb. 2010]
Opening remarks on the resolution by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) put that nearly five-fold increase in perspective, however. She stated that UM charges a low amount for parking – only $50 per month for a blue sticker. She said that 18 spaces would not make or break anything, but she wanted it to be a piece of the dialogue when the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s parking report was presented to the city council in April.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked why the city was not getting the equivalent of a service vehicle parking space – the amount the university charged its own departments was $749 for service vehicles, not $611. He moved an amendment to change the amount to $749, but withdrew it after city administrator Roger Fraser weighed in. Fraser said the city had negotiated the agreement in good faith – going back to UM at this point would make it difficult to maintain that good faith. Fraser asked that the council approve the resolution “with encouragement to do better next time.”
The parking spaces have a history related to the Meals on Wheels program. From the memo accompanying the resolution:
The University of Michigan received approval from the City in 1985 to construct a short-term parking lot at this location for a Motor Meals program operating out of the Kellogg Eye Center. In exchange, the University provided funds to the City for improvements to Riverside Park to help solve riverbank erosion problems.
Real Estate/Infrastructure: Central Campus Transit Center
In his communications to council, city administrator Roger Fraser said that in connection to the UM Central Campus Transit Center, around $450,000 in costs that would ordinarily be carried by the city, would instead be paid by UM, with no expectation that it would be repaid. The item is part of the city’s capital improvements plan, which the council approved the same night. In the CIP it’s described as “desirable,” with $1.9 million in non-city funding required.
The Dec. 8, 2009 meeting meeting minutes of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s planning and development committee describes progress on the transit center this way:
Chris White reported that design of the Central Campus Transit Center is nearly complete and construction is scheduled to begin in May. The University of Michigan is preparing a joint use agreement between the University and AATA which was expected to be received any day.
During public commentary at the end of the meeting, Jim Mogensen addressed the topic of the new Central Campus Transit Center. He noted that the UM Regents would be meeting on Thursday, but because of changes to the bus schedule, it would be hard for him to attend. Referring to Fraser’s announcement that UM would be paying a $450,000 cost that the city ordinarily would be paying, Mogensen said, “Look, it’s not free. The UM invests.” Mogensen warned that some of the urban service would likely be re-allocated to serve the transit center, noting that his usual bus stops at the Michigan League, but not the Blake Transit Center.
Referring to budget materials the council had been provided, Mogensen noted that UM seemed to expect the city to be happy that they actually paid for their water and sewer services. He advised the council that UM was not completely omnipotent – they’d forgotten to install an autoclave on one occasion and had been fined by the Department of Environmental Quality.
Real Estate: Georgetown Mall Committee
The council appointed members of a citizens committee on Georgetown Mall, formerly anchored by a Kroger grocery store, to provide input to the city’s nuisance committee. The mall has been vacant since the fall of 2009 and neighbors are concerned about the potential negative impact on the area.
Members of the committee are: David Porter (King George area), Frank Schwende (Page Avenue), Mary Krasan (King George), Jeanne Horvath (Georgetown Condo Association), Catherine McClary (Washtenaw County Treasurer).
The Georgetown Mall area had been a campaign issue in the Ward 4 November 2009 elections – it was the topic of a question at a candidate forum in which Hatim Elhady and Marcia Higgins participated.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered if the six-month time period for the committee’s work was enough. Margie Teall (Ward 4), who’d helped bring the resolution forward, said she thought the time could be extended if necessary. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was concerned that the property did not become “the next Michigan Inn” – a reference to an abandoned property on Jackson Road, which only recently was demolished, with plans for redevelopment.
Outcome: The Georgetown Mall committee was appointed with unanimous support of the council.
Infrastructure: Stadium Bridges
During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser expressed his hope that the following day, the U.S. Department of Transportation would announce an approval of Ann Arbor’s TIGER grant application for $21 million to replace the East Stadium bridges. Depending on the outcome, Fraser said, “we’ll either fall flat on our faces, or stand up and run around the block a few times.” [The following day, it was announced that Ann Arbor did not receive TIGER grant funding for the bridge project. TIGER is an acronym that stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.]
During public commentary reserved time, Arnold Goetze addressed the East Stadium bridges problem. He suggested that the city could save $10 million out of the road fund by building an at-grade crossing at the State Street and Stadium Boulevard intersection, instead of rebuilding the bridges.
Goetze expressed skepticism that the city would be awarded a TIGER grant for the bridge replacement, noting that nationwide there had been $50 billion worth of applications for just $1.5 billion in available funding. He’d sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation about Ann Arbor’s TIGER application, he said, and didn’t think that Ann Arbor would be “getting that TIGER by the tail.”
Responding to skepticism that the Ann Arbor Railroad would allow an at-grade crossing, he suggested that eminent domain could be used to force the issue. He pointed out that even though the savings would not accrue to the general fund, but rather to the city’s road fund, that was still taxpayer money, which if saved, could be returned to them.
In response to Goetze’s comments, Margie Teall (Ward 4) called Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, to the podium for rebuttal. She said the city had actually made quite a bit of effort at communications with the railroad and that they’d put in writing that they would not allow an at-grade crossing at that intersection. She said the city did not believe that eminent domain was a legal possibility in this case. She cited timing and signalization issues as another main obstacle to an at-grade crossing, concluding with “it’s not an option that’s available to us.”
Real Estate: Library Lot Development
Two people spoke on the Library Lot RFP process during public commentary time: Alan Haber, who used reserved time at the start of the meeting, and John Floyd, who spoke during open time at the conclusion of the meeting.
Alan Haber: Haber said he was persevering on the question of the Library Lot development. [Haber helped put together a proposal, the Community Commons, in response to the city's issuance of a request-for-proposals on the lot.] The Ann Arbor Democratic Party had passed a resolution, he said, addressing concerns about the process for determining the future of the lot, which had not been transparent or responsive to the citizens. He alerted the council to a League of Women Voters event on Feb. 24 to be held at the Ann Arbor City Club from 7-9 p.m. On Saturday, Feb. 20, Haber reported, there would be a meeting at 4 p.m. at Hathaway’s Hideaway, where the possible merging of the two open space proposals for the Library Lot would be discussed.
John Floyd: Floyd thanked the council for their decision on the capital improvements plan, and said that he appreciated the concerns for process that Tony Derezinski and Stephen Rapundalo had expressed during deliberations on the CIP at the council’s Feb. 1 meeting. Referring then to the city’s RFP process currently underway for the development of the Library Lot, Floyd asked Rapundalo about meetings between members of one of the proposers – Valiant – and city officials a year before the RFP was issued. Floyd wanted to know what effect those meetings had on the integrity of the process. [The last scheduled meeting of the RFP committee, on Tuesday, Feb. 16, was canceled.]
During his communications, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) reminded everyone that the Library Lot does not belong to the library. Alluding to the two remaining development proposals under consideration by the RFP review committee – both hotel/conference centers – Anglin said that hotel occupancy in the area is around 45-50% and that increasing hotel capacity would amount to moving money around. It would be damaging one business, Anglin said, to help another.
Use of Cell Phones While Driving, Cycling
The council considered two bicycle-related issues: (i) a ban on driving/cycling while using a cell phone and (ii) a discontinuation of the city’s bicycle registration program.
The council considered and approved on first reading an ordinance that would ban cell phone use while driving and bicycling in the city. To take effect, the ordinance would need to be approved at its second reading, which will likely take place at the council’s March 1 meeting, along with a required public hearing.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) who had worked to bring the measure before the council with his Ward 2 colleague, Tony Derezinski, stated that it “truly is a public safety issue.” He noted that seven states have a ban, as well as several localities, including Detroit. Seventeen states, Rapundalo continued, have bans against bus drivers using cell phones, and 21 states have bans against cell phone use by novice drivers. Rapundalo reported that there were over 50 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing that there were a wide range of risks associated with cell phone use while driving.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had some concerns about the wording of the ordinance that addressed the use of GIS devices. Rapundalo assured her that it had been modeled on language from other communities. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed some concern about the inclusion of bicycling in the ban, raising the possibility that kids on bikes would be cited under the new ordinance. Rapundalo indicated that he thought police officers would exercise reasonable judgment.
By way of background, hand-held cell phone use while bicycling is already against the law, so officers are already exercising their judgment on this. From The Chronicle’s report of the Jan. 4, 2010 city council meeting:
In reviewing the Michigan Vehicle Code as background for this report, The Chronicle noticed a section that’s tangentially relevant to a possible city ordinance on cell phone use while driving. At the council’s Aug. 6, 2009 meeting, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) mentioned a resolution he and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) had asked the city attorney’s office to develop, prohibiting cell phone usage while driving. At the time there was some speculation about whether the new ordinance would apply to bicycles.
There is already a section of the MVC that would seem to preclude cell phone use while bicycling:
257.661 Carrying package, bundle, or article on bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, moped, or motorcycle.
A person operating a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, moped, or motorcycle shall not carry any package, bundle, or article that prevents the driver from keeping both hands upon the handlebars of the vehicle.
Outcome: The ban on cell phone use while driving and cycling was passed on first reading. Passage at second reading is required before enactment.
Bicycle Registration: Repealed
At the council’s previous meeting, a resolution that would have revised the city’s bicycle registration program was tabled amid concerns about the program’s value:
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) reported that some additional data called the actual value of the registration program into some question, and he convinced his colleagues to table the measure. The additional information was this: From September of 2007 to the present, 39 stolen bikes had been recovered and returned to their owners – but in none of those cases had the bicycle registration program been instrumental. The return of those bicycles had been the result, Hohnke reported, of regular police work.
On Tuesday, the council considered and passed on first reading a repeal of the city’s bicycle registration program. In scant discussion of the item, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he had some bicycles in his “bone pile” he’d like to check registration numbers on before all the records were destroyed.
Outcome: The resolution that repealed the city’s bicycle registration system passed unanimously. To take effect, the resolution will need to be approved on second reading as well, after a public hearing.
Other Council Business
In his communications to the council, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) announced that in response to an initiative by Google to conduct experimental “fiber-to-the-home” projects in various communities, there had been a lot of excitement and that “we are not immune to that excitement.” He indicated that Ann Arbor SPARK, the University of Michigan and councilmembers were putting together a response to Google’s request for information (RFI). [It's possible that Taylor's reference was to a meeting described on Twitter involving former UM president Jim Duderstadt.]
From Google’s corporate blog:
We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.
Liquor License for Packard Pub
The council considered the award of a liquor license to BW&R Go Blue LLC, which does business at 640 Packard Street as Packard Pub. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), chair of the city’s liquor committee, reported that the petitioner had addressed the concerns the committee had raised.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) stated that he did not believe the neighborhood would benefit from a proliferation of licenses and that he would be voting against it.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who also serves on the liquor committee, described the move as “pro-business,” with Packard Pub employing 30 people. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he appreciated the concerns expressed by Taylor, and had shared them previously with respect to other establishments, but that problems had not materialized. He said he was excited that a restaurant was going into the space, and that he remembered the old South Side Grill that used to be in that spot.
Outcome: The liquor license for Packard Pub was approved, with dissent from Taylor.
Speaking during the public hearing on the revision to the taxicab ordinance, Thomas Partridge called for an amendment to ensure greater accessibility of services to seniors and handicapped people. He called for a “bill of rights” for transportation riders.
The revision to the taxicab ordinance would require that large companies – operating more than 10 cabs – be full-service. Here, “full service” means that service needs to be provided 24 hours round-the-clock, that a lost-and-found be available, and that it be possible to file a complaint with someone other than the driver during regular business hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the revision to the taxicab ordinance.
In a related item, Margie Teall (Ward 4) made a plea for new members to the taxicab board – two or three are needed, she said. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was assigned to be the city council’s current representative, but is unable to attend its meetings, which are scheduled during the workday. [Kunselman's day job is energy management liaison at UM.] But in order to change the meeting time, the board needs to meet and must achieve a quorum to make the decision to change the meeting time.
Sandwich Board Signs
The council considered an ordinance that would have regulated, through a permitting system, the placement of sandwich board signs. The idea was to provide a legal framework for the signs, which many businesses already use.
Speaking during the public hearing, Kathy Griswold raised concerns about possible interference of such signs with sight distances. If the system were to be complaint-driven, she warned, there could be delays in getting signs removed that obscured sight lines.
Also during the public hearing, Susan Pollay, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, read a brief statement on behalf of the DDA, saying that sandwich board signs are part of what makes for a vibrant downtown experience. She suggested that the system be adopted without permits and then reviewed after one year to determine if there was adequate compliance.
Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living pointed out that sandwich board signs can pose a problem for people with disabilities – for the blind, the signs are in unexpected places, and for those who use wheelchairs, the signs can pose access issues. Grawi cautioned that vibrancy did not necessarily mean cluttering.
Opening council deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who sponsored the resolution, told her colleagues that it had been a long time getting before the council, but that she felt it was still not ready for public review. The effort had started with good intentions, she said, but did not end there. She told her colleagues that she would like the measure to be defeated so that the question of signs in general could be examined, not just sandwich board signs.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) agreed with Briere, and cited as most prominent among his concerns the potential problem posed to people with disabilities in navigating the signs. He recommended that the full body of the city’s disability commission be engaged as the matter was considered in the future. He also wondered how much opportunity business owners had had for input. Rapundalo’s conclusion: “Not ready for prime time.”
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) concurred in objecting to the ordinance, saying there were too many opportunities for unintended consequences. He asked about signage not related to a business – it raised free speech issues, he cautioned.
What would the effect of defeating the measure be on those who were already using such signs? The city attorney’s office is recommending that the ordinance – which does not allow use of such signs – be enforced. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) expressed her concern that business owners be made aware that there would be enforcement efforts starting.
Outcome: The sandwich board sign ordinance was unanimously defeated.
Special Parking Rate: Payment on Entry
The council heard a brief presentation from Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and deputy chief of Ann Arbor’s police department, John Seto, on a proposed new pre-paid parking rate for special events and busy evenings. Pollay explained that the special rate – which would allow a motorist to pay $5 on entrance to a structure/lot – would reduce delays on exiting.
The pay-on-entry system could also be implemented after 9 p.m. as needed. Pollay described how sometimes patrons trying to exit the Maynard Street structure might be lined up to the third story of the structure trying to exit – not a pleasant way to conclude what was likely an otherwise pleasant evening.
Seto was on hand to attest to the idea that congestion and frustration at not being able to leave smoothly had a potentially negative effect on public safety. On some occasions, Seto said, the gate arms at the Fourth and William structure had simply been lifted in the interest of more rapidly dissipating crowds leaving at 2 a.m. at the conclusion of Studio 4′s night. Pollay described how the system would be implemented: Signage would be posted explaining the $5 entry fee, with information about available nearby alternatives. After 9 p.m., the gate arm would go up automatically on exit.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know what the actual mechanics of the after-9 p.m. implementation would be like: If someone arrives at 8:30 p.m., they take a ticket as usual, so what happens at 11 p.m. when the driver exits? Pollay’s answer: The gate arm would just go up. The typical motorist entering after 9 p.m., Pollay said, pays about $4.75 – it is not conceived as a revenue generator, but rather as a customer service.
Planning and Development Staff
Roger Fraser introduced Ralph Welton as the city’s new chief development official, and Lisha Turner-Tolbert as project & programs manager.
Wendy Rampson will be taking over as planning manager. The reorganization of planning and development eliminates one full-time management position – the job formerly held by Mark Lloyd. Rampson’s previous responsibilities in systems planning – the service unit headed by Craig Hupy – will be filled by Connie Pulcipher, who previously worked in planning and development.
Other Public Commentary
Aaron Miller: Miller introduced himself as a senior at the University of Michigan and the liaison between the Michigan Student Assembly and the city council. He reported that he’d met with the city’s public services area administrator, Sue McCormick, as well as Nancy Stone, the public services area communications liaison. He said they’d explored the possibility of having students serve on various committees. He said he was looking forward to a meeting with city administrator Roger Fraser. Miller said that many students were interested in seeing Ann Arbor continue to grow and prosper.
Kathy Griswold: Griswold said she was making a formal request that a meeting be held on the King’s School crosswalk issue – the situation involves a mid-block crossing that could be moved to a four-way stop, if a short section of sidewalk were installed. [Griswold has requested such a meeting at multiple council meetings and caucuses over several months.] She stated: “Everyone involved looks a little stupid.”
Tom Partridge: Partridge delivered an “open message” to President Obama, the U.S. Congress, the Michigan delegation, and all elected officials, to come home to Michigan and stand up for the Midwest, and for the most vulnerable among us – seniors and disabled people. He reminded people that John F. Kennedy had visited the University of Michigan and had been followed by Lyndon Johnson. He called for a commitment to a new Great Society – one that would support affordable housing, transportation, health care, and education.
Sacha Platt: Platt brought complaints about policies and practices at Avalon Housing units and what he contended was the refusal of Avalon staff to document problems. He described his experience in dealing with staff as “If you’re not happy with our organization, you can move.”
Lily Au: Au spoke in support of building affordable housing. She criticized the failure of the city to provide replacement housing for the 100 units that previously existed in the old YMCA building at Fifth and William. She indicated that the residents of Camp Take Notice – a homeless tent camp – had recently been visited by Michigan State Police with the possibility that they would need to move their location again.
Likely in response to Au’s remarks, Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, was asked to the podium to give the council an update on the efforts that had been undertaken this season to provide additional shelter for the homeless. Shulmeister said that 25 “permanent resident beds” had been added to the warming center at the Delonis Center, bringing the total to 75 beds, and that 25 beds had been added to the rotating shelter sponsored by local faith communities for a total of 50 beds. She said that on average about 35 people used the rotating shelter.
Blaine Coleman: Coleman began by saying that everyone knows why he carries a sign that says “Boycott Israel” – Israel had recently massacred 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza. He was there, he said, to ask the city council to pass a resolution boycotting all Israeli products. He stated that he knew the council would eventually do this. He asked councilmembers how they felt about having appointed Neal Elyakin to the city’s human rights commission, when Elyakin was a member of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. He queried Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) individually. [Councilmembers do not typically engage in back and forth with speakers during public commentary.] Coleman then suggested that perhaps members of the media present might have better luck at getting answers from councilmembers.
Mozhgan Savabiesfahani: She began by thanking mayor John Hieftje for correctly pronouncing her name. She noted that there’d been no response yet to her and others’ requests that the council pass a resolution to boycott Israel. She wondered what it would take to get council’s attention. She declared that she would try singing a song. She described the content of the lyrics as including the pride of the Palestinians, how they miss their vegetable gardens and how they carry their lives in their hands every day. After concluding the performance of the song, she declared that she knew that the city would boycott Israel. She wondered what else she could do to get the council’s attention – next time she might dance.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Next council meeting: Monday, March 1, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]