Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 15, 2010) Part 1: In its main business of the evening, the city council took the last in a series of steps towards converting the city’s twin-tote curbside recycling program to a single-stream system.
Part 1 of this report will not include single-stream recycling. Part 2 of the meeting report will focus on that issue, and will be somewhat delayed, in order to increase the possibility that an information request from the city for relevant data can be included in that article. [In this, we thus take a dual-stream approach.]
Aside from the single-stream recycling issue, the council addressed a range of other disparate topics.
The council undertook a wholesale replacement of the housing commission board, a move that will see the return to city service of recently-departed community services area administrator, Jayne Miller. She’s one of the new appointees to the housing commission board.
The council also approved a resolution urging Google to select Ann Arbor as a site for a fiber optic network. Accompanying that resolution was a public hearing during which seven people – two from Ypsilanti – spoke in support of the city’s bid, which also enjoys the support of the University of Michigan.
The city’s new fire chief, Dominick Lanza, was sworn in, though his start date comes a few days in the future – March 22, 2010.
Payment of $55,000 was authorized for a recently completed environmental study connected with a proposed runway extension at the Ann Arbor municipal airport – a study that came in for sharp critique during public commentary. The council recently deleted the runway extension from its capital improvements plan.
The council approved an estimated total expenditure of $54,700 from its alternative transportation capital improvements fund as part of an agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation that will make various improvements to about 9.8 miles worth of non-motorized facilities – bike lanes and signs. The agreement is necessary in order to qualify for $250,000 worth of federal stimulus money for the project, which has been awarded to the city.
In other – more motorized – business, the council postponed consideration of a possible ban on cell phone use while driving in the city. The ban would also apply to bicycling.
Still, cell phone use while driving will be impossible on several different city streets in the near future. The city council approved a raft of street closings for some of the city’s annual events.
Ban on Cell Phone Use While Driving
The possible postponement of consideration on the cell phone ban was fairly well-publicized, and only two people spoke at the hearing – both of them against the measure.
Mayor John Hieftje announced at the start of the public hearing that consideration of the ordinance would likely be postponed and told everyone that the public hearing would be continued to the meeting when the council considered the ordinance for a vote. Because it would be the same public hearing, the mayor said, people who spoke that night would not be allowed to speak at the subsequent meeting.
Cell Phone Ban: Public Hearing
One city resident told the council that he did not understand why the local city council was debating the issue, given that there were laws pending in the state legislature that were meant to address the same issue. Why there should be a 6-square-mile difference [an allusion to the city of Ann Arbor's rough geographic area] did not make any sense to him, he said. He pointed out that there are already state laws in place against distracted driving that were simply not enforced. He told the council that based on his review of some of the studies that had been provided to the council, he found the results to be inconclusive.
The resident contended that even Paul Green of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute – who had indicated in one of the reports that some restrictions on cell phone use were applicable – was not in favor of a blanket ban. [Green had appeared at the last meeting of the council to offer some expert analysis of the issue.] The speaker pointed to research gaps and characterized the various meta-analyses as “all over the map.” He allowed that there was a moderate impact on driving from cell phone use, but contended that the results were really all over the place.
From the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, Nancy Jo Merdzinski spoke against the measure on behalf of the board. First, she said that the issue was more appropriately addressed at the state level to ensure uniformity. Second, she said that a local ordinance prohibiting cell phone use while driving would be perceived as unfriendly and unwelcoming. Finally, the board felt it would have a negative impact on economic development, she said.
Cell Phone Ban: Council Deliberations
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) led off discussion by saying that the conversation stimulated by the proposed ordinance had now focused on the data – there was a great deal of data, he said. He stated that it was his view that a little more time to review the data would be useful, and moved to postpone the resolution.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) inquired whether there would be substantive changes in the ordinance when it eventually came back before the council. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated to Higgins that the modifications were being undertaken by the city attorney’s office, and they had to do with two-way radios. The ordinance language already accommodated amateur radio operators, he explained, and there was an interest in making sure that city workers and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority workers would also be accommodated.
Rapundalo stated that he did not want to have to take the resolution back to an additional first reading. [The resolution has already been returned to a first reading one time, so what Rapundalo is hoping to avoid is the need to hear the resolution as a first reading for the third time.] Rapundalo said that the revisions were not going to change the substance of the ordinance.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) responded to a point that had been made during the public commentary about legislation that was currently pending at the state level. Derezinski acknowledged that there was a state-level legislation pending, but contending that none of that legislation is preemptive – it does not preclude a local municipality from authorizing its own ordinance. He also pointed out that other communities in Michigan have already enacted such ordinances.
[Senate Bill 468 contains a clause that allows local municipalities to pass and enforce ordinances on cell phones and driving, but only if those ordinances are substantially the same as SB 468: "(4) This section supersedes all local ordinances regulating the use of a communication device while operating a motor vehicle in motion on a highway or street, except that a unit of local government may adopt an ordinance or enforce an existing ordinance substantially corresponding to this section." ]
Outcome: The postponement of the ban on cell phone use while driving was unanimously approved, with dissent from Higgins.
Several people spoke at the public hearing on the council’s resolution urging Google to select Ann Arbor as a test site for a fiber-optic network. The deadline for community applications is March 26. Two of the speakers at the hearing, who all expressed support for selection of Ann Arbor is a test location, were from Ypsilanti, a city directly east of Ann Arbor.
Google Fiber: Public Hearing
Steve Pierce introduced himself as a resident of Ypsilanti and co-founder of Wireless Ypsi. He told the council that he was excited that Ann Arbor was making a proposal and characterized it as good for the region. Pierce said that we need to change the way we look at telecommunications policy. He congratulated councilmembers and the staff members who had worked on the proposal.
Washtenaw Community College’s chief information officer, Amin Ladha, applauded the city’s effort, especially in the current condition that Michigan is in. He said Google’s fiber network would encourage business investment and development. He told them that Washtenaw Community College would support the effort, because it was in the interest of the community.
Wes Vivian introduced himself as a decades-long telecommunications consultant, and told the council that for the last 15-20 years it’s been clear that either the telephone companies will migrate to fiber-optic networks or face domination by cable television companies. That process has begun, he said – AT&T has installed fiber in many communities.
If Google “coughs up the money” that’s great, Vivian said, but we need to find a way to implement this anyway – even if Google decides not select Ann Arbor as a test site. Fiber, he said, was part of the necessary infrastructure of a city – like a street. It wasn’t necessary to provide a system, he said, but just a hole in the ground or a hole in the air.
Dominic Serra of the Southfield firm Internet 123 told the council that they may have heard about his company’s connection with 20/20 Communications in a newspaper story over the weekend. He told them that Internet 123 owned around 750 miles of fiber network in Michigan, and that they were supporting Ann Arbor’s proposal to Google. He told them that if there’s anything they can do, Internet 123 was at the city’s disposal – they are 100% behind the effort.
Brian Robb told the council that he was speaking for himself, not as an Ypsilanti city council member – he supported the Google fiber effort. He told them he would be bringing a resolution before the Ypsilanti city council reflecting that.
Amy Mah told the council that she was really excited about this plan, as were friends of hers who did not live in Ann Arbor.
Chris Leeder, a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan School of Information, told the council that there was a great deal of excitement among UM students and in his department in particular.
Google Fiber: Council Deliberations
Before the council was a resolution that urged Google to choose Ann Arbor as a location for a test of a fiber-optic system that would include fiber to the home (FTTH) – offered to residents at a competitive rate.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) gave background on the request for information that Google had issued, describing the data capacity of the fiber-optic system as one gigabit per second, or roughly 100 times as fast as the typical currently-available Internet service. The proposal that the city was putting together, Taylor said, was a joint effort between the city of Ann Arbor and University of Michigan. The partnership was intended to make Ann Arbor’s response as strong and as powerful as it can be.
One of the main criteria that Google will be using to choose a location, explained Taylor, was the ease and efficiency of implementation in their chosen test site. It was in that context, he said, that the council was offering their resolution. He pointed out that to the original sponsors of the resolution, four other councilmembers had asked to be added: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), and Margie Teall (Ward 4). [The original sponsors were Taylor, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2).]
The part of the resolution that speaks to ease and efficiency of implementation is the following clause, which Taylor read aloud: “RESOLVED, That if so selected, the Ann Arbor City Council shall direct City Staff to take all lawful measures to expedite and accommodate the safe and efficient installation of the Google FTTH network;”
Taylor concluded his remarks by noting that the city’s response will stand on its own, but that Google is interested in the community response to the proposal, as well. He directed people to visit a2fiber.com where they can find information about nominating the city of Ann Arbor, becoming Facebook fans – there are more than 11,000 fans at this point– following the proposal on Twitter, and creating videos for YouTube.
Hohnke thanked Taylor for his work, as well as the city and university staff for preparing the application. He cited the effort as a good example of the city and the university working together. He said that Ann Arbor was well-positioned to make its proposal. He encouraged people to visit the a2fiber.com website at the currently “slow, crawling pace of 10 megabits per second.” Hieftje wrapped up remarks at the council table by noting that in his travels through the city, he’d noticed a great amount of excitement about the Google fiber initiative.
Outcome: The council unanimously passed the resolution urging Google to choose Ann Arbor as a test location for its fiber-optic network.
Housing Commission Board Replacement
Before the council was a wholesale replacement of the city’s housing commission board. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), the council’s liaison to the housing commission board, reminded his colleagues of a January work session on the housing commission. He reminded them that the “marching orders” for the consultant who had been hired several months ago were to consider all options. [Chronicle coverage: "Housing Commission Reorganizes"]
That included everything from spinning off the housing commission entirely to developing an even closer relationship between the city and the housing commission. Over the last few months, Derezinski said, it had become clear that changes needed to be made at the level of leadership and governance. He allowed that an interim director had made a substantial difference at the level of managment, but that on the board there was a need for leadership and vision.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked how the council could be sure that the new board would not also have difficulty with their decisions, the same way that the current board did. He also asked how much support the city was thinking of providing to the Ann Arbor housing commission.
City administrator Roger Fraser responded to Kunselman by reminding the council of the report that had been made to them in January 2010 – that had been a forecast of required financial support. The housing commission needed to think about ways to generate more money than they were getting from HUD, said Fraser, referring to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
The problem was that they were not imagining a future with anything except HUD dollars. The goal of the reconfiguration of the housing commission, he said, was to be able to position the commission to seek grants, in addition to HUD funding. That would require leadership on the board. The city would be asked for around $135,000 to carry the housing commission for one year while that transition took place.
Fraser then listed out the members of the newly constituted board that the council was being asked to appoint:
- Mark McDonald – a property manager for large multifamily residences who understood issues of maintenance and customer care;
- Jayne Miller – who spent the last two years of her service to the city of Ann Arbor as community services area administrator, investigating issues associated with the housing commission, and who had expressed an interest in finding a way to continue her connectedness to the board even after leaving employment with the city. [Miller now heads up the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority.]
- Marta Manildi – who has been on the board since last September and has not yet had an opportunity to have an impact.
- Deborah Gibson – a resident commissioner currently on the board, who’ll be reappointed to a one-month term. They’ll be canvassing for a replacement.
Asked by Anglin whether the interim executive director, Marge Novak, would remain as a permanent executive director, Fraser indicated that this was one of the decisions that the housing commission board needs to make but has been unable to make.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the replacement of the housing commission board.
Fire Chief Appointment
The theme of fire department services was first introduced at the meeting by Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who reported a recent positive personal experience. He’d called 911 in connection with a medical emergency on behalf of a woman with shortness of breath. He reported that the fire department arrived within three minutes, followed by the rescue squad. “That’s what we pay for,” he said. Anglin cited that kind of fast 911 service is one of the benefits of living in a city, as opposed to out in the townships.
The fire chief was not present for the actual appointment – it was later explained that his belongings had arrived with the moving van from Tennessee right around the time the council meeting started. He was able to join the council for his swearing in later in the meeting.
In introducing Dominick Lanza, the newly-appointed fire chief, Fraser said he was delighted – “you don’t know how delighted” – that he was able to announce Lanza’s selection and appointment as fire chief. Lanza served for 33 years in the Fort Lauderdale area as a firefighter and as an assistant commander in an organization that was actually a part of the sheriff’s department. Since 2007, he has been retired in Tennessee, but retirement did not fit him very well. “If you’ll shake his hand, I’d really appreciate it,” Fraser said.
Outcome: Lanza was appointed by a unanimous council vote and sworn in as new fire chief for the city of Ann Arbor.
From the March 4, 2010 offer letter sent to Dominick Lanza, the terms of his employment are as follows:
- Position – Fire Chief – Exempt Professional Position #403390, Level 2
- Salary – $ 108,000/year, paid bi-weekly
- Vehicle Allowance – $400/month
- Cell Phone Stipend $83/month plus the Data standard plan at: $53/month
- Date of Employment – March 22, 2010 (Tentative)
- Medical Insurance & Other City Sponsored Benefit Plans: Your coverage under such plans will become effective on your date of hire. A benefits summary is included with this letter. A full explanation of benefits will be explained once you start your employment with the City.
Environmental Assessment on Runway Extension
Before the council was the authorization for payment of a $55,000 cost for an environmental assessment associated with a possible extension of the runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. The council recently deleted the runway extension from its capital improvements plan.
EA on Runway Extension: Public Commentary
During public commentary reserved time, Andrew McGill described an environmental assessment study – which had been conducted in connection with a possible extension and shift of a runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport – as “deeply flawed.” He cautioned councilmembers that “you may want to actually hold your noses” in receiving the report, though he acknowledged that the study had been completed and that they needed to pay for it. He described the report as unprofessional, saying that it did not draw on any academic or environmental expertise and that it was not possible to extract correct conclusions made by the report from the data included in it. The consultant on the study, JJR, refused to contact the author of the major FAA study on bird strikes, contending it was “irrelevant,” McGill said.
In the study, McGill continued, there are 38 species of birds identified, but it does not mention any Canadian geese. He pointed out that there are goose-crossing signs in the immediate vicinity of the airport. He suggested that the reason for the omission was that the FAA becomes alarmed at any mention of Canadian geese in such a report. He reminded the council that it was a Canada goose that brought down Sully’s plane. [The reference is to Chesley Sullenberger – "Sully" – the pilot of the US Airways plane that crash-landed on the Hudson River over a year ago.] McGill asked the council to contemplate what they would do with the report now that they are paying for it. He suggested that they should simply throw it out.
EA on Runway Extension: Council Deliberations
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) began council deliberations by asking the Ann Arbor municipal airport manager, Matt Kulhanek, if it was true, as McGill had contended, that there was no mention of geese, and if so, why not.
Kulhanek clarified that the list of 30 birds in the report were species of birds in the vicinity that were endangered. Christoper Taylor (Ward 3) confirmed with Kulhanek that the absence of geese in the report was because the report did not seek to characterize which birds were in the vicinity of the airport, but rather which birds that are endangered are in the vicinity of the airport.
Outcome: The authorization for the funds to pay for the study was passed unanimously.
Before the council was an ordinance authorizing issuance and sale of sewage disposal system revenue bonds to the Michigan Municipal Bond Authority in the amount of $1.32 million. By way of background, there’s a difference between the city’s stormwater system – into which the street drains flow – and its sanitary sewer system, into which toilets flush.
Any rainwater that is directed into the sanitary sewer system through footing drains represents an unnecessary load on the sanitary system, because that water does not require treatment, but gets treated just the same. In the past, increased flow to the sanitary sewer during storms has resulted in the backup of sewage in homeowners’ basements. The city has a program in place to systematically disconnect footing drains from the sanitary sewage system. [Background on the footing drain disconnect program: "Drain Disconnect Time For Homeowners"]
On Monday night, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had three questions concerning the issuance of the bonds. First, he wondered whether it was reasonable to tap some of the $56 million in cash reserves in the sewer fund rather than to issue the bonds. Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, pointed out that the bonds came with a special, low rate through a state revolving fund. It’s part of a program the city has for the drain disconnect program.
Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, pointed out that the city was undertaking an unprecedented capital project with the replacement of its wastewater treatment plant. The replacement of the solids-handling facility construction had a price tag of around $42 million, she said, and reconstructing half the liquids-handling facility amounted to another $70 million, she added.
While the cash balance in the sewer fund looked large, she said that was simply the result of reserving incrementally over the years for this major capital project. That balance had been achieved through incremental 3-4% rate increases. Prompted by Hieftje, McCormick confirmed that the original wastewater treatment plant had been built in the 1930s and that around $40 million had been saved towards the replacement project.
Anglin also had a question about whether bond fees would be assessed by the city. McCormick clarified that bond fees are not a project-allowable expense when the city bonds through state.
She also confirmed for Anglin that for this project, none of the funds would go to the city’s Percent for Art program.
City administrator Roger Fraser offered the further clarification that the bonds in question that night supported footing drain disconnection – not construction of the wastewater treatment plant – and that the nature of the work precludes any installation of art.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked how many footing drain disconnects had been performed so far. McCormick said she did not know off the top of her head but that she could get that information for Higgins.
In general terms, Higgins said the city had started work in the southwest part of the city and had completed much of that work, as well as some work in the northeast areas. And McCormick indicated that the city would continue on a priority basis with homes in the original five study areas where there had been basement backups of sewage. She said the city was not done yet.
Another point McCormick made was that the city was under a consent order from the state to remove a certain amount of stormwater flow from the sanitary sewer system. She also said it was a standing policy of the city council that if additional connections to the system were allowed for new construction, then that new construction was required to mitigate their peak load connection by 125% of the added load to the system. Finally, she said, the point of the footing drain disconnection program was to recover capacity and affordability to make sure that only the water that needed to be treated was actually treated.
Fraser added that the sewage system has a limit, but demand continues to grow. Considering the desire – at least in some minds in the community, he allowed – for the city to grow its population, it was important to maximize the capacity of the system. Part of maximizing the capacity includes removing water from the system that does not, in fact, need to be treated.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the authorization of the issuance of the sewage disposal system bonds.
The council approved issuance of a downtown development district liquor license for Tomukun Noodle Bar. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who chairs the council’s liquor committee, noted that the city council had already approved the issuance of the license, but that a new reviewer at the MLCC did not care for some of the wording and that’s why it had been returned to the council. The wording issue had been addressed, said Rapundalo.
Outcome: The liquor license for Tomukun Noodle Bar was unanimously approved.
Golf Task Force
The council reappointed members of the city’s golf task force – Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated that March 1 had become the annual renewal date for the task force. This year there were some minor changes to the makeup of the task force, made in response to some neighborhood groups who had wanted a role on it, he reported. To that end, a spot for a resident neighbor had been added. One spot for someone with golf expertise had been reduced – that still left two people on the task force with familiarity with golf operations and with golf course design.
Asked by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to clarify what the task force did, Rapundalo clarified that the task force looked at both of the city’s golf courses – Leslie Golf Course and Huron Hills Golf Course – and that their purview included both marketing as well as fee structures for the two courses. The overall goal of the task force was to try to reduce the amount of general fund support that the two courses required. The next meeting of the task force, Rapundalo indicated, would focus on the budget and in particular the possibility of a public-private partnership for the Huron Hills course.
Members of the golf task force will be Stephen Rapundalo (city councilmember), Julie Grand (park advisory commission member), Doug Davis (current commercial operations expert), Bill Newcomb (Ann Arbor citizen with demonstrated golf operations expertise), Ed Walsh (Ann Arbor citizen with demonstrated golf operations expertise), Steven Rodriguez (Ann Arbor citizen with group golf play experience), Barbara Jo Smith (at-large Ann Arbor golf courses patron), and John Stetz (Ann Arbor citizen and member of a neighborhood association adjoining a golf course).
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the renewed and new appointments to the golf task force.
As a part of his communications to the council, city administrator Roger Fraser, announced that the new parks and recreation activities guide has now been published. The Huron Hills Golf Course front seven holes opened last week and Leslie Golf Course is set to open on March 25.
Non-motorized System Expansion Project
The council had before it a proposal to authorize $54,700 from its alternative transportation capital improvements fund as part of an agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation that will make various improvements to around 9.8 miles worth of non-motorized facilities – bike lanes and signs. The agreement is necessary in order to qualify for $250,000 worth of federal stimulus money for the project, which has been awarded to the city.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wanted to know where the process stood. Were construction drawings already done? Pat Cawley, with the city’s project management department, indicated that the bids had been opened last week. The project had begun life in 2007 as one that was not federally funded. When the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act stimulus funds became available, he said, the city was able to push it forward as a shovel-ready project.
Smith wanted to know if there were any opportunities for changes to the plans or for public engagement.
Cawley said there was some room for changes – given the three-year history of the project, some of the information on which the construction plans had been based could be out of date, and accommodation would need to be made. On public engagement, he said there had been a meeting back in 2007, and that now the city would focus on providing information to the community. He said that a suggestion from the Greenway Conservancy had been incorporated to include signage about the greenway along Ashley and First streets.
Outcome: The non-motorized improvements were unanimously approved.
The council authorized a number of street closures.
- March 20, 2010: A2A3 Box Cart Race/Soap Box Derby [S. University from Oxford to Walnut, and Linden from S. University to Geddes] [Chronicle coverage of last year's event: "Box Cars Zoom Down South University"]
- April 3, 2010: Monroe Street Fair [Monroe Street between Oakland and Tappan]
- April 8, 2010: Take Back The Night (Rally and March) S. University Ave. from Church Street to S. State Street; S. State Street from S. University Ave. to E. Madison Street; E. Madison Street from S. State Street to Thompson Street; Thompson Street from E. Madison Street to E. William Street; E. William Street from Thompson Street to S. Fourth Ave.; S. Fourth Ave. from E. William Street to E. Liberty Street; E. Liberty Street from S. Fourth Ave. to S. State Street; and S. State Street from E. Liberty Street to the UM Diag ]
- April 11, 2010: FestiFools [S. Main Street from William Street to Washington Street; and Liberty Street from Ashley Street to South Fourth Avenue] [Chronicle coverage of last year's event: "Favorite Fools"]
- May 2, 2010: Burns Park Run [Baldwin Avenue from Wells Street to Cambridge Road; Cambridge Road from Baldwin Avenue to Martin Place; Martin Place from Cambridge Road to Wells Street; Wells Street from Martin Place to Lincoln Avenue; Lincoln Avenue from Wells Street to Cambridge Road; Cambridge Road from Lincoln Avenue to S. Forest Avenue; S. Forest Avenue from Cambridge Road to Granger Avenue; Granger Avenue from S. Forest Avenue to Baldwin Avenue; Baldwin Avenue from Granger Avenue to Brooklyn Avenue; Brooklyn Avenue from Baldwin Avenue to Lincoln Avenue; Lincoln Avenue from Brooklyn Avenue to Shadford Road; Shadford Road from Lincoln Avenue to Woodside Road; Woodside Road from Shadford Road to Scottwood Avenue; Scottwood Avenue from Woodside Road to Norway Road; Norway Road from Scottwood Avenue to Ferdon Road; Ferdon Road from Norway Road to Wells Street; and Wells Street from Ferdon Road to Baldwin Avenue]
- June 4-5, 2010: Annual African-American Downtown Festival [East Ann Street from North Main Street to the Hands On Museum driveway near North Fifth Avenue (local traffic access maintained) and North Fourth Avenue from Catherine Street to East Huron Street]
Other Public Commentary
Several people spoke during public commentary at the meeting, either at the beginning of the meeting when time must be reserved in advance, or at the end of the meeting, when no reservation is necessary.
During public commentary reserved time, Libby Hunter offered a song, as she has on several previous occasions. She suggested that it was a very old melody that some people might recognize. ["Blessed Assurance" composed by Phoebe P. Knapp, 1839-1908.] The lyrics were a critical comment on the process that the city uses to make spending decisions.
Main Street BIZ
Ed Shaffran appeared during public commentary reserved time as chair of the Main Street BIZ initiative to thank the council for their support. He reported that the vote among property owners in the proposed district had resulted in greater than 95% support. He told the council that it was their support that allowed the group to go forward with a proposal. He specifically thanked mayor John Hieftje, city clerk Jackie Beaudry, Kevin McDonald from the city attorney’s office, and city assessor David Petrak. Shaffran closed his remarks by summarizing the goal of the new business district: “We’re willing to tax ourselves to make downtown look better.”
Lily Au told the council that their resolutions that invested $245,000 to help low-income people find housing was a good step. [The resolutions were passed without comment from the council.] She alerted them to the fact that Camp Take Notice, which is a homeless tent city located near the intersection of Ann Arbor-Saline Road and I-94, had to rebuild the camp after a recent snowfall.
Au told the council that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) had given the campers a warning that they needed to depart the premises within 30 days or they would be evicted. That was three weeks ago, she said. She said people often ask why those people don’t simply go to the Delonis Center. She told the council that there is not enough accommodation there. She also noted that the rotating warming shelter that is operated by the faith community would end at the end of March. She described a pattern that would repeat itself: the police would evict the campers, they would hide, and build again.
Marcia Federbush criticized the council’s decision, made in December 2009, to appoint Neal Elyakin as a member of the city’s human rights commission. She cited Elyakin’s membership in the Friends of the Israeli Defense forces as incompatible to his membership on the city’s human rights commission. For the road commission, she allowed it would not be an issue, but for the human rights commission, which dealt specifically with these kind of issues, it was relevant. It was the Israeli Defense Forces, Federbush said, that had brought the massacre of 1,400 in Gaza a little over a year ago, using pilotless drones, and white phosphorus. About Elyakin, she contended that “When the world sees yellow, he insists it’s blue.”
Henry Herskovitz began his remarks by saying that he felt most people knew who he was and what he did: exercise his First Amendment rights by holding signs on public sidewalks. He told the council that he actually did not enjoy doing that. On the contrary, he rather disliked it. He did not like being out in the open exposed, even to the point that he did not like waiting for buses. The bus drivers can see him, but he cannot see them. He said that he had previously sworn that he would never do what he’d seen other peace activists do.
But that had changed 10 years ago when he had accompanied a friend on a trip to Iraq to help deliver medical textbooks. In the course of that trip he visited a hospital in Basra in southern Iraq. The hospitals, he reported, were in terrible condition – due to sanctions imposed at the time by the United States.
In the hospital, Herskovitz said, there was a “terrorist” – and he knew that the man was a “terrorist” because he matched the various portrayals that he had seen in mainstream media. Herskovitz said that he started to take pictures of the boy in a hospital bed next to the “terrorist” and that the “terrorist” was crying. Herskovitz said he realized then that the man was the dying boy’s father and that he was crying over the fact his dying son was being used as a photo opportunity. Herskovitz said he came back to Ann Arbor 10 years ago and picked up a sign.
Kathy Griswold spoke, as she has on many previous occasions, about the issue of moving a crosswalk near King Elementary School from its mid-block location to a four-way stop intersection. She kidded the council, following up on the council discussion of endangered species of birds near the airport, by alluding to a duck and her ducklings hosted at the school – they might try to use the crosswalk mid-block and they should be protected. Switching to a more serious tone, Griswold told the council that she’d been using CTN video equipment to record activity at the crosswalk – after taking the CTN training to use the equipment.
Griswold said that at this point she was waiting for a response from the city to her request that a meeting be held. She described how she’d received a call from a neighbor, which she’d relay to the mayor, who’d handed off the issue to the ward’s two councilmembers, Tony Derezinski and Stephen Rapundalo. She described the situation as a “communications traffic circle.”
Brad Mikus called the council’s attention to the pension fund report attached to their information packet. He called the $80 million loss on investments in the report “a big number.” He also called the council’s attention to the fact that according to the report, 10% of the funds are to be invested in alternative assets: hedge funds, timber, and high yield fixed income instruments. Focusing on the phrase “high yield fixed income instruments,” Mikus characterized them as “junk bonds.”
Mikus also called the council’s attention to a number of receivables that are over two years old, including one from SBC for around $100,000. That was money sitting there that could be collected, he suggested.
Council Communications and Updates
In her communications from council, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) suggested that the council look at the scheduling of their July 19 meeting and consider shifting it to July 20. The Townie Street party is scheduled for July 19, and she thought that many council members would like to attend.
Smith also alerted the community that the U.S. Census forms would be delivered in the next few days and she encouraged everyone to fill out the form. It was a secure process, she assured everyone.
Mayor John Hieftje reported that over the weekend he attended the funeral service of a former mayor of Ann Arbor – Sam Eldersfeld Eldersveld, who was mayor from 1957-1959. Hieftje described Eldersfeld as having built the University of Michigan political science department. At the St. Andrews service, Hieftje said, there were three former mayors and a lot of nice memorabilia from city history on display.
Stephen Rapundalo, during his communications, announced that on Friday at 9 a.m. Terumo‘s Ann Arbor campus would be having a dedication ceremony to celebrate the firm’s growth. He encouraged council members to attend, saying that Gov. Jennifer Granholm and representatives from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. would be on hand.
City administrator Roger Fraser announced that at their April 19, 2010 city meeting, the council would be presented with the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011. However, at the first meeting in April they would receive a hard copy of the budget. At the April 12, 2010 work session, said Fraser, the content of the budget book would be walked through and representatives of Ann Arbor SPARK and the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) would be on hand to answer any questions.
The board of review, Fraser said, has begun its work on tax assessment appeals. They have expanded the process to include two boards, he reminded the council, which can process appeals simultaneously. The additional capacity is needed to process the increased number of appeals.
Street sweeping, Fraser also announced, has resumed for the season. “It’s that time of year.”
As an update on the municipal center construction going on along Fifth Avenue just outside of city hall, Fraser reported that demolition in the basement of city hall resulted in some dust and smells in the building that affected first-floor workers, and that they had been temporarily relocated. The new elevator tower on the west side of the existing city hall building would begin soon, he reported. That would result in a squaring off of the upside-down-cake appearance of the building on that side. Fraser said that if Phase 2 of the renovation plan were to ever be implemented, at that time the men’s and women’s bathrooms would be renovated.
Fraser announced that the city has reduced its number of temporary workers to the point that it is no longer cost-effective to have Manpower administer that operation. This will be brought back in-house.
In response to a question from Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Fraser explained that some, but not all of the temporary workers would be brought on as city employees.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, , Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Margie Teall, Sabra Briere.
Mayor John Hieftje announced that councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) were absent due to the flu. Later Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had to leave the meeting somewhat early to tend to a sick family.
Next council meeting: April 5, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]