Investments: Housing, Bridges, Transit

Ann Arbor city council also remands email rule to committee

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 19, 2010) Part 2: In Part 1 of this meeting report, we focused on the city’s budget process, parking issues and the University of Michigan commencement exercises.

In Part 2, we wrap up other topics of the meeting. One common theme was capital investments in the community’s physical infrastructure of various kinds.

Michael Nearing city of Ann Arbor engineer

Michael Nearing, city of Ann Arbor engineer, was available for any city council questions on the East Stadium bridge project. (Photo by the writer.)

The council allocated a total of $313,000 for three different permanent affordable housing projects in Ann Arbor.

The city’s East Stadium bridge replacement project received discussion in the form of a resolution that authorized the city to go after state funding for the third time in the last three years. The anticipated construction start for fall of this year has been postponed until spring 2011 – the earlier date had been tied to the city’s application for federal funding, which was rejected this February.

The ongoing construction of the police/courts building, directly adjacent to city hall (the Larcom Building), received some tangential discussion in the form of an explanation from Roger Fraser about the recent closure of city hall due to elevated carbon monoxide levels. The police/courts building was also the subject of public commentary that prompted some extended remarks from the mayor – which were covered in Part 1 of this report.

Another construction project that will likely factor into the upcoming primary election campaigns is Fuller Road Station. The city-university collaboration to build a combined parking deck and bus station, which might eventually serve as a commuter rail station, was taken up during the council’s communications time. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje both responded to some cautionary remarks made by Mike Anglin (Ward 5), which he made based on a recent park advisory commission meeting.

In business related to ethics and rules, the council voted on two occasions to excuse the participation of Taylor in a vote, because of a conflict of interest posed by his employment with the law firm Butzel Long. They also satisfied the requirement of a recent lawsuit settlement that they formally consider a rule about their use of government email accounts – by voting to remand consideration of the issue to council’s rules committee.


The issue of affordable housing was addressed during public commentary as well as in specific items of council business. One item considered by the council bundled $313,000 of support for three different initiatives: support for the recently re-organized Ann Arbor Housing Commission ($138,000); one to support the efforts of the nonprofit Avalon Housing in connection with its merger with the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. ($50,000); and a foreclosure prevention initiative involving the county treasurer’s office, the Michigan State University Extension, Housing Bureau for Seniors, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan ($125,000).

The council also voted to swap out a previously approved allocation for emergency shelter that had been drawn from an inappropriate fund.

In its final item of business related to housing, the council appointed a resident member of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC). That comes the wake of the council’s recent decision to replace the entire commission.

Housing: Public Commentary

Speaking as a member of the city’s housing and human services advisory board, Barbara Eichmuller asked the council to pass their resolution that allocated $313,000 to maintain existing affordable housing in Ann Arbor, as well as to prevent tax foreclosures. It’s costly and time consuming to replace units, she said. She urged the council to support the Ann Arbor Housing Commission as it transitions to a new business model. As a Realtor, she said, she sees every day how painful foreclosure can be. She concluded that it was a wise use of the money.

The vice chair of the housing and human services board, David Blanchard, also addressed the council on the issue of the $313,000 proposed as a housing trust fund expenditure. He described the programs as really important and salient. The funds need to be released now, he said. The AAHC has come and asked for the money – it’s essential for them to be able to retool. Avalon had come and explained that the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. merger has produced a real strain on them.

Preserving basic housing stock is part of a basic strategy, Blanchard said, and foreclosure prevention needs to take place now. The county’s blueprint to end homelessness has been around for years, and looking back, there hasn’t been an increase in actual affordable units, he cautioned. What we have, he said, is “a band-aid” – there’s no other way to get around it. He spoke of the need to weather this crisis and cautioned that there won’t be a great explosion in funding in the next few years.

By way of background, Blanchard recently served as legal counsel for the case of Caleb Poirier, a resident of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed encampment of homeless people. Poirier was charged with trespassing as a result of the tent encampment’s location. The charges were eventually dropped. Poirier was in the city council audience Monday night to hear Blanchard and Lily Au – who’s an advocate for the camp – deliver their remarks to the council.

Delivering a monologue during public commentary, with herself in the role of a homeless person, Lily Au began: “I’m homeless, I have a mental illness.” In that role she described how a volunteer had driven her to Ypsilanti, she had little money left on her Bridge card, and the Delonis center serves only one meal on Saturdays and Sundays. The contents of her backpack, she said, included a Bible, which she read to sustain herself, plus her medication. She reported that Camp Take Notice had accumulated $200, but it can’t be spent, because that’s money set aside for moving, in case the Michigan State Police raid the camp. The camp is located near the interchange at I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. Referring to the parking issues on the council’s agenda, Au said that she would like to become a car, because at least then she’d have a good parking structure to live in.

By way of historical background, the rhetorical device relying on the idea that Ann Arbor has better housing for cars than for people can be traced back at least as far as Tim Colenback’s public comments at the council’s Sept. 21, 2009 meeting:

Colenback went on to enumerate some of the city’s parking structures, saying how pleased he was to have so many great places in the city where he could “house his car.” He asked that the city think of making the same commitment to housing people as it does to housing cars.

Housing: Funding Allocation

The item before the council bundled $313,000 of support for three different initiatives. At a January 2010 meeting devoted to the subject, the city council council was made aware that they’d possibly be asked to support a re-organization of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) with an allocation of up to $138,000, which they approved on Monday night. From Chronicle coverage of the Jan. 11 meeting: “Housing Commission Reorganizes“]:

The options for addressing the $138,163 difference, [consultant Kerry] Laycock said, included using AAHC reserves, looking at funds held by affiliated nonprofits, using in-kind services from the city of Ann Arbor, and the sale/lease of maintenance vehicles as a part of the outsourcing contract. But Laycock gave city councilmembers a heads-up on Monday night that the AAHC could be asking them for money from the Ann Arbor general fund as well.

The second item bundled into Monday’s council resolution went to support the efforts of Avalon Housing in merging with the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. – that support was a housing trust fund allocation of $50,000. The merger of Avalon with WAHC was planned originally to take place during 2008-2009, but as the staff cover memo to the resolution describes, one of the major players’ support, which had been assumed, has not materialized:

[...] Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), which was a key partner in the commencement of this merger, has taken increasingly conservative underwriting standards and is unwilling to invest in projects that they previously would have funded.

The 114 units of affordable housing maintained by WAHC, and now absorbed by Avalon, are distributed among three locations: Gateway Apartments – a 43-unit complex located on West Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti – and two Ann Arbor locations, at 1500 Pauline and 701 Miller.

Although the Washtenaw Urban County has continued to support other Avalon-administered properties, at a recent meeting the Urban County executive committee reallocated $740,000 in funds previously designated for Gateway – moving $640,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley for housing purchases and rehabilitation, and $100,000 to the Ypsilanti Housing Commission for Parkview Apartments, a 144-unit complex. [Chronicle coverage: "Urban County Allocates Housing Funds"]

The third program bundled into the city council’s resolution was $125,000 of support for a foreclosure prevention initiative involving the county treasurer’s office, the MSU Extension, Housing Bureau for Seniors, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. According to the cover memo accompanying the resolution, the city’s contribution of $160,000 to the program in FY 2009 served 410 mortgage and tax foreclosure clients for a cost of an average $390 per household. Preventing foreclosure is analyzed as more cost effective than providing housing and human services to people after they are forced to leave foreclosed properties.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who sponsored the resolution, pointed out that the trust fund was being tapped to support permanent housing, not for human services. The money was all going to maintain currently existing permanent affordable housing, she said, urging her colleagues on the city council to support it.

An attempt by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) to separate out the three projects for separate votes got no traction from his council colleagues. His motion to amend the resolution in a way that would separate them out failed, because no one seconded the motion.

Kunselman indicated that he thought it was the first time the city council had ever given support to Avalon for its merger activities with WAHC. Mary Jo Callan, who heads the joint city/county office of community development, clarified that 18 month ago when the merger began, the council had authorized $195,000 for merger activities. That evening’s resolution brought the total to $245,000, she said. Kunselman asked if this was all that would be expected. Callan indicated that for these particular activities, yes.

Kunselman observed that the council was making an investment in low-income housing where Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) had not been willing to re-invest and that it was past the date when they thought it would be wrapped up. Kunselman noted that according to a staff report, there would be $95,000 of unobligated funds in the housing trust fund. He wanted to know if that projection for the unobligated portion included the interest-only payment from the purchase on the YMCA lot. If so, Kunselman wondered if at some point the interest-only payment would come from the city’s general fund.

Kunselman allowed that the Burton Road project, which had previously been forecast to eat up a lot of the housing trust fund, will probably be unobligated. But Kunselman said it still made him “queasy,” because the general fund is supporting it. He expressed concern that there seemed to be no long-term plan and that the city was filling in gaps where the “heavy-hitters” are backing off. [By "heavy-hitters," he was referring to MSHDA]. Kunselman said that he was not sure he saw this as a good plan. He also wondered about the $130,000 for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, indicating to city administrator Roger Fraser that he thought Fraser planned to put the amount into the budget. Fraser responded by saying he’d have to look at the issue.

Outcome: The resolution to allocate $313,000 to the three affordable housing initiatives was unanimously approved.

Housing: Funding Allocation Swap

An item that received no discussion – but served as a reminder of the allocation for emergency shelter that the council had approved at its Nov. 6, 2009 meeting – amounted to a book-keeping adjustment. The city council had appropriated a total of $159,500 in Ann Arbor Housing Trust Funds (AAHTF) for that purpose. However, a city attorney review determined that provision of an emergency rotating shelter is not an eligible AAHTF activity.

So the part of those funds designated for that purpose – a $30,500 contract with the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County – was swapped out Monday night for Ann Arbor city general funds.

Outcome: The re-allocation of the funds for the rotating shelter was unanimously approved.

Housing: Appointment of Housing Commissioner

As part of the city council’s decision on March 15, 2010 to replace the city’s housing commission board, the council restored two of the commissioners to the five-member body, one of whom was the commissioner who satisfied the legal requirement that one member be a resident of the housing stock administered by the commission – Deborah Gibson. However, Gibson, who’d been re-appointed to the board for only a one-month term, resigned in light of the council’s action, which forced the city to find a replacement for her on an accelerated schedule.

Mayor John Hieftje said at Monday’s meeting that 1,500 letters had been sent out, and that they’d received 18 applications. After winnowing through them, Sasha Wombley Womble had been nominated. Ordinarily, appointments are made in a two-step process, with the first step being the nomination, and the second step the confirmation at a subsequent meeting. Hieftje asked that the council confirm Womble’s appointment in a one-step process, because the housing commission board was to meet on that Wednesday.

Outcome: The council confirmed Sasha Wombley’s appointment to the housing commission board in a one-step process.

Construction Projects

The city council entertained discussion of a major construction project by approving a third attempt to secure funding from the state of Michigan for replacing the East Stadium bridges. The bridges span the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks and South State Street. Another planned major construction project – Fuller Road Station – received some discussion during council communications, hinting that the primary election campaign season could be starting to warm up. Reduction of warming was a benefit touted during public comment in support of porous pavement to be used in a Sylvan Avenue project. And the council received awards for two construction projects already completed.

Construction: East Stadium Bridges

The item before the council was an authorization to apply for funding from the state of Michigan’s local bridge program, administered by the local bridge advisory board (LBAB). The application is based on the understanding that the LBAB may have up to $6 million to award for FY 2013 for projects across the state. The city intends to apply for $3 million to support the East Stadium bridge replacement project, which carries a price tag of $23 million.

A timeline overview of some of the bridge’s history:

  • 1917: Bridge is built.
  • 1973: Voters approve a millage to fund a bond to repair the East Stadium bridge. The proposed bond sale on the ballot included $800,000 for creation of a citywide bicycle system using existing streets and new pathways, and $360,000 designated for repair of the Stadium bridges. At the time the debate centered on whether the new bridge design should accommodate a wider roadway for State Street. On the same ballot was a transit millage, which passed as well – the same millage that supports today’s AATA.
  • 2006: City of Ann Arbor is awarded $766,000 from Michigan’s local bridge program, but the city allowed the award to expire a year later, because the amount did not go far enough towards funding the project – the alternative to expiration would have been to spend the MLBP money towards bridge reconstruction.
  • 2006: The city pays $1,249,467 to Northwest Consultants Inc. (NCI) for preliminary design engineering for the comprehensive bridge project that included bridge replacement, a transmission water main, storm sewer, and a South Main non-motorized path.
  • 2007: After a biannual inspection of the bridge, weight limits were reduced on the span. The limits were set as follows: 31 tons (reduced from 38 tons) for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 39 tons (reduced from 48 tons) for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 44 tons (reduced from 54 tons) for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers)
  • 2007: On Sept. 18, 2007 and Oct. 2, 2007 at Pioneer High School’s cafeteria, informational workshops are held on a comprehensive project to address replacement of the span over State Street as well as the one over the railroad, including non-motorized improvements (i.e., sidewalks) extending along Stadium Boulevard to Main Street and south along Main to Scio Church road. Those workshops  are well attended, especially by members of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club, which is located near the bridges.
  • 2007: On Dec. 29, 2007 there are reports of “medium-sized pieces of concrete” falling off one of the 16 pre-stressed concrete box beams supporting the roadway.
  • 2008: Early January re-inspection by city staff and bridge engineering consultants leads to the short-term recommendation of a traffic control order further reducing weight limits: 19 tons for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 24 tons for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 26 tons for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers).
  • 2008: In March, the vision for a comprehensive renovation of the bridges meets with a funding setback. The Michigan Department of Transportation awards only $760,000 for the project, though the total cost was estimated at that time at around $35 million.
  • 2008: On Oct. 22, 2008 Northwest Consultants Inc. performs biennial inspection.
  • 2009: In early February, the engineering consultant for the bridge, Northwest Consultants Inc., is called back to re-examine the bridge. A 7/8 inch deflection of the beam is found. [Chronicle coverage: "Discontent Emerges at Caucus" and "Building Bridges"] Bridge safety rating has dropped to 2 on a scale of 100.
  • 2009: In March, traffic is rerouted so that it’s limited to the northern lanes, and does not pass over the beams showing deflection. [Chronicle coverage: "How the E. Stadium Bridge Gets Monitored" and "Council Gets Update on Stadium Bridges"]
  • 2009: On Sept. 15, 2009 the bridge inspection consultant, Northwest Consultants Inc., inspects the East Stadium bridge over South State Street, and recommends removing the five southernmost beams.
  • 2009: On Oct. 5, 2009 the city council authorizes expenditure to remove five beams.
  • 2009: On Oct. 28, 2009 and again on Dec. 1, 2009, public meetings are held to discuss design.
  • 2009: In November, five beams are removed from the bridge.
  • 2009: In November, the state’s local bridge advisory board awards no funds for the Ann Arbor bridge project, citing the lack of any other non-city funding available for the project. [Chronicle coverage: "State Board: No Funding for State Bridges "]
  • 2010: In February, the US-DOT announces the final recipients of the federal TIGER grant – they do not include the city of Ann Arbor.

At Monday’s council meeting, Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked Homayoon Pirooz to take the podium – he’s head of project management for the city. She led off by asking him to explain what the local bridge program is.

The Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) makes funds available to cities every so often through the local bridge program, not every year, explained Pirooz. The city’s application last year was for the FY 2012 budget, and the city did not receive approval, he reminded councilmembers. Since that time, he said, the city of Ann Arbor has been in constant communication with MDOT, and MDOT has encouraged Ann Arbor to apply again – for FY 2013. So Ann Ann Arbor is applying for $3 million from the local bridge program.

The city has been working on additional funding strategies, Pirooz reported, and since June of last year there have been some successes and some disappointments. The major disappointment was Ann Arbor not being selected for the federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant, which would have paid for almost all of the project.

Among the successes that Pirooz reported was $8 million that the city could “almost count on” as part of an earmark in the federal surface transportation fund. There’s also an MDOT transportation enhancement grant, which could mean as much as $1.5 million to fund the non-motorized improvements that are part of the project. That would bring the non-city share of the $23 million project to $12.5 million. The design is expected to be complete this summer.

The construction, which had originally been announced to start in the fall of 2010, said Pirooz, had been tied to the application requirements of the TIGER grant.

Teall asked if the city was still going after some other federal grants. Pirooz said that there had been some talk of a “mini-TIGER grant” and the city would apply for that if it becomes available.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that a formal announcement hasn’t been made of the second round of TIGER funding, but that Congressman John Dingell believes a second round of funding will happen.

If the construction starts in March of 2011, Teall wanted to know how long it would last. Pirooz indicated that it would depend on whether the bridge was completely closed to traffic during the construction period. If the bridge is completely closed to traffic, he said, the construction would take around 18 months. If one lane is left open, that would add six months to the schedule, he said. Teall confirmed with Pirooz that the longer the project takes, the more it will cost.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) confirmed that this would represent the third attempt to get funding from the state’s local bridge program. Kunselman also confirmed that the letter from MDOT indicates that the reason the city did not receive money during the most recent round of funding was that the city had no outside funding for the project.

Kunselman wanted to know why the city’s position was any different now than before, with respect to outside funding that had actually been secured. Pirooz indicated that the city was in the process of securing it, citing the $8 million in surface transportation funds. Kunselman confirmed with Pirooz that the $8 million was not “for sure.” Pirooz allowed that “nothing is for sure.”

Kunselman wanted to know what the city’s chances are. “Better than last time,” said Pirooz. Last time, he added, the city had ideas about sources, and the city told MDOT that, but the city couldn’t say how much from each source it could expect. Someone has to offer part of the funding and then the city can go after the other parts. Last time, the state’s local bridge program didn’t want to be the first award of money. This time, explained Pirooz, the city can tell the state that $8 million in federal surface transportation funding is in the works and that a $1.5 million transportation enhancement grant is in the works.

The tone of the conversation has changed, said Pirooz. Asked by Kunselman if the money had been promised, Pirooz said that no, it would not be wise for anyone to make that assumption. He estimated that the chances for getting funding from the state’s local bridge program was 70-80% this time, when last time it had been perhaps 30-40%.

Kunselman asked about the plan for the city to use two years worth of its street repair millage. City administrator Roger Fraser explained that the use of the street repair millage to fund the entire project had been the “fall-back plan.” Fraser said the city staff is trying to do “anything but that.” If the city was forced to do that, Fraser said, then “we’ll have a serious conversation with you.” That conversation would come as early as this fall, if the city can’t obtain the dollars.

When asked by Kunselman if the project would start this fall if the local street repair millage had to pay for all of it, Fraser stressed that the fall 2010 construction start had been based on a requirement of the TIGER grant application. It will now be a spring 2011 construction start, but funding needs to be in place by the end of the year.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked at what point the $8 million of federal surface transportation funding becomes certain. Pirooz indicated that in the process, the first step was WATS (Washtenaw Area Transportation Study) approval, and that’s been done. The next step, said Pirooz, is for SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) to approve it, which the city believed it would. Once that happens, said Pirooz, the city had a promise that the surface transportation program would pay the $8 million. The one last piece is the federal highway bill – the surface transportation program is part of that, and it’s still in the Congressional approval process. As long as there’s a highway bill, said Pirooz, the $8 million will happen. There’s a “slim to none” chance that the highway bill won’t happen, he said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the authorization to apply for funding from the state’s local bridge program to help pay for the replacement of the East Stadium bridges.

Construction: Fuller Road Station

Eli Cooper has presented the Fuller Road Station project on several occasions to different public bodies, most recently at an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Gets Its Fill of Fuller Road Station"] Cooper also presented an update on the project to the city’s park advisory committee (PAC) at its March 16, 2010 meeting.

The city council appoints two of its own members as non-voting ex officio members of PAC: Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

At Monday’s city council meeting, during his communications time, Anglin reported that when Cooper had made his presentation at the March 16 PAC meeting, a lot of concerns were raised – noting that it is the park advisory commission, and that naturally they’re passionate about the parks – “as they should be,” he said. The city/university were working together, said Anglin, to build what most people see as a parking structure. Anglin said he shared some of their concerns, but also sees the larger vision [of a train station for commuter service] that could take place. The fact that there’s no guarantee that the train will become a reality is a concern to many people, he noted, especially at a time when the city is cutting expenses.

Taylor indicated that compared to Anglin, he had a somewhat different take on the PAC meeting, as far as the nature of the concerns that were expressed there. He suggested that among PAC members the main focus of concern was whether the city was getting a “sufficient deal” as expressed in the memorandum of understanding. The equity of the deal between the city and university was something that everyone would need to keep an eye on, Taylor said.

Mayor John Hieftje took up the issue of Fuller Road Station, saying that a question from the previous night’s caucus about when a specific set of information would be posted on the city’s website had been looked at by city staff. He also took the opportunity to respond to Anglin’s remarks on Fuller Road Station, pointing out that the last time the council had voted on it, Anglin had supported it.

Construction: Plymouth Green Crossings

The item that came before the council was a request for a change in the PUD agreement for the Plymouth Green Crossings project. What the change did was swap out a proposed restaurant for 26 temporary parking spaces plus 11 motorcycle spaces. At a planning commission meeting in February, the change received support of all five commissioners who were present, but fell short of the six votes needed to win an official “recommendation” from that body. [Chronicle coverage: "Plymouth Green Crossings Gets Every Vote, Still One Short"]

During public commentary at the city council’s Monday night meeting, Jim Mogensen told the council that the project had an interesting history. He said he first learned about it from a clerk’s report and he noticed that the project was going to need a water permit from the MDEQ. Mogensen said he just happened to be in the city hall building, and he asked Jerry Hancock about it, who said, What project?  [Hancock is Ann Arbor's stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator.]

Any citizen can call for a public hearing, Mogensen said, which he did. And that caused a delay, which gave Hancock some additional time to review the plan. Now there’s a bunch of underground detention tanks – which were required of the developer – that would not have otherwise been required. He asked the council to think about the tanks – whether it’s a parking lot or a restaurant, eventually the tanks will fail. If it’s a substantial building on top of the tanks, what do you do?

The other part of the project involves payments into the affordable housing fund by the developer, which the developer has experienced difficulty making, Mogensen noted. When a developer of a property has a problem, Mogensen observed, society will sort out the solution for the developer. What happens, though, when a tenant has a similar problem?

Outcome: The city council voted unanimously without discussion to approve the amended Plymouth Green Crossings PUD agreement.

Construction: Porous Pavement on Sylvan Avenue

Sylvan is a short one-block-long street running east-west, nestled into the upside down”V” formed by State and Packard streets, near Yost Ice Arena. At the city council’s Oct. 5, 2009 meeting, the city council had already approved an expenditure for $54,271 to pay for engineering services (from Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc.) for the Sylvan Avenue porous pavement project.

At that meeting, Margie Teall (Ward 4) had requested that it be pulled out of the consent agenda for individual consideration. Nick Hutchinson, a civil engineer with the city, fielded questions from Teall, in whose ward Sylvan Avenue is located. At that time Hutchinson indicated that the project should be finished in the spring of 2010.

At that October 2009 meeting, several benefits of porous pavement were drawn out. Many of them were the same as those mentioned at Monday’s meeting by Vince Caruso during public commentary. He noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considered it best practice: it reduces heat in the summer, it’s quieter under traffic load, requires less salt and plowing during the winter, because as the snow and ice melt, the water drains straight through.

The project’s budget is $481,245, drawing funding from the street reconstruction millage ($159,983) and the stormwater maintenance fund ($321,442). The stormwater funding portion of the project will be repaid as a loan secured by the office of the Water Resources Commissioner [formerly called the Drain Commissioner].

Before the council on Monday night was the approval of a construction contract with ABC Paving Co. for $343,875.

Outcome: The council approved the construction contract with ABC Paving Co. for $343,875.

Construction: Awards

The city council bore witness to the presentation of two awards from the Michigan chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA). As part of their Project of the Year Awards, the city of Ann Arbor had won an award for the Huron Parkway-Nixon Road intersection improvements. The project won in the category of transportation projects under $2 million. The city also won an APWA award for the Harvard Drain and Nichols Arboretum stormwater enhancement project. The arboretum project won in the the environment category for projects under $2 million.

Making the award on behalf of the APWA was Evan Pratt, who is familiar to the city council as a member of the city’s planning commission. Pratt stressed that he was not part of the awards committee for the APWA. The APWA’s 29,000 national members, Pratt told the council, includes 800 members of the Michigan chapter.

Construction: Carbon Monoxide Levels

As a part of his city administrator’s report, Roger Fraser told the council that on the previous Wednesday afternoon [April 14], the carbon monoxide (CO) monitors in the building had started to ring shortly after 1 p.m., and that city hall – the Larcom Building – had quickly been cleared. They asked the fire department to come measure with their more sensitive equipment and firefighters had confirmed elevated CO readings in Larcom and the adjacent police/courts building currently under construction.

Speculation on Wednesday afternoon was that those CO emissions had come from several factors. There were strong winds out of south, and at the base of a hole where an excavator was working there were 8-inch uncapped wire feeds. Also, while work is being done in the basement, there is an opening in the south side of the building. The working theory was that diesel fumes were being sucked into the building through the wire feeds and the opening in the basement via the stair towers that have their base in the basement.

Overnight, there were clear CO levels, said Fraser. And the 6 a.m. test indicated clear readings. Staff had been told the day before that unless they heard otherwise, the plan was for everyone to come in to work as usual. After 7 a.m., the CO alarm went off again. “We were dumbfounded,” said Fraser. It turned out that a propane-operated skid loader working in the basement was emitting high levels of CO and was probably causing previous CO readings, not the excavator. Propane-operated equipment is not supposed to emit CO, said Fraser. The city has done additional sealing work and has looking into the issue of the skid loader, Fraser said.

City Charter and Council Rules

The city council considered a rule on email, and demonstrated in actual practice how a charter provision governs council conduct.

Charter and Rules: Email Rule Consideration

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who chairs the city council’s rules committee, asked that a resolution be added to the agenda that would formally direct the council’s rules committee to take up the issue of a rule on the councilmembers’ use of government email account to do its city business.

Whereas, The Council has agreed to consider the following amendment to the Council Rules: “City Council members will use their City e-mail accounts when sending e-mail communications about substantive City business, to the extent feasible. This rule does not cover communication to constituents or residents or communications regarding political activity.”

Whereas The Council considers it appropriate to have the Council Rules Committee review this Rule further;

RESOLVED, The Council formally considers this Rule and directs the Council Rules Committee to review the Rule further.

The consideration of the rule stemmed from a requirement in the terms of recent lawsuit that the city settled. [Chronicle coverage: "City Settles Lawsuit, Must Conduct Study"] The settlement agreement specified that:

21. As the City Council has previously been reviewing e-mail usage policies, the City Council will further consider the following amendment at the April, 2010 Council meeting(s), “City Council members will use their City e-mail accounts when sending e-mail communications about substantive City business, to the extent feasible. This rule does not cover communication to constituents or residents or communication regarding political activity.”
22. The Plaintiffs recognize that the City Council will address this through the council process and that this Agreement is not dependent on any particular result, other than the Council formally considering this possible amendment in some manner in April, 2010. The parties recognize that such a rule, even if adopted, is not binding on any subsequent Council and each new City Council enacts new rules after each general election.

There was no consideration by the council at Monday’s meeting in terms of a debate or discussion of the merits of amending their set of rules in the manner so specified. The scant discussion centered on an explanation from city attorney Stephen Postema that there was no requirement under the settlement terms that the council do anything with the rule. But Postema asserted that it was appropriate for the council to look at the rule. Postema did not repeat a previous statement he’d made to the media that to his knowledge the council used the government email system for their city business. Instead, he said he knew that councilmembers generally used the system, but allowed that there are difficulties in using it.

One of the issues that such a rule might address is the city of Ann Arbor’s failure under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to produce electronic communications by city councilmembers or other public officials that are sent using non-government email accounts. In The Chronicle’s most recent experience on April 13, 2010, the city failed to produce such records at least in part because the city does not consistently request of public officials that they produce writings from their non-government email accounts, which could be responsive to FOIA requests.

Despite a lack of discussion, by using the statement, “The Council formally considers this Rule …” the council can rely on the statement as a performative utterance to satisfy the requirement of the settlement agreement. Performative utterances, as explicated by J.L. Austin in his seminal work “How to Do Things With Words,” are sentences that are neither true nor false, but which are used to perform some act upon the world. Standard examples of these kinds of sentences include:

  1. ‘I do’ in a marriage ceremony.
  2. ‘I name this ship the “Queen Elizabeth.”‘
  3. ‘I give and bequeath my watch to my brother’ as in a will.
  4. ‘I bet you sixpence it will rain tomorrow.’

Some things are not achievable with a performative utterance, of course. For example, “I hereby lift this piano” does not effect a piano lifting.

Mayor John Hieftje was keen to emphasize that the settlement agreement would not cost the city anything, because the environmental study, which is also a requirement of the settlement, was being performed in-house.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the remand of the email rule to its rules committee.

The council’s rules committee will be adding the consideration of an email rule to its current work plan of developing an ethics policy for the council.

Charter and Rules:  Glacier Hills and Jolly Pumpkin

Some of the ethical considerations under which the council does its work are prescribed not by council rule or by an ethics policy, but by the city charter. Applied on two occasions Monday night was the following charter provision:

4.4 (f)  Except as otherwise provided in this charter, each member of the Council present shall cast a “yes” or “no” vote on each question before the Council, unless excused therefrom by a vote of at least six members.

The reason for excusing Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) from voting on those two occasions was also charter-based:

4.4 (i) A member of the Council shall not vote on a question in which the member has a financial interest, other than the general public interest, or on any question involving the member’s own conduct. If a question is raised under this section at any Council meeting concerning the eligibility of a member of the Council to vote on any matter, such question shall be finally determined by the concurring vote of at least six members of the Council, not including such member.

Specifically, Taylor explained to his council colleagues, his law firm Butzel Long represented a potential beneficiary of the council’s action in two cases.

First, Butzel Long represents Jolly Pumpkin. So the council voted to excuse Taylor from the discussion on a resolution that allowed for a new outdoor service area for the Main Street bar.

Outcome: The new outdoor service area for Jolly Pumpkin was unanimously approved.

Second, Butzel Long provided the bond counsel for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in connection with an EDC project that Glacier Hills had applied for – it includes $23 million in bonds. So the council voted to excuse Taylor from the discussion of that project, which was approved. As part of the resolution, two people were added to the EDC board: Dan Slee and John A. Rasmussen, who are representative of neighborhood residents and business interests likely to be affected by the project.

Outcome: The resolution to approve the EDC Glacier Hills project was unanimously approved.

During public commentary at the end of the meeting, Stephen Ranzini, a member of the city’s EDC, thanked the council for passing the resolution and reminded the council to use their leverage with business owners, because the EDC had been allocated $17 million in tax-free bonding authority as part of the federal stimulus package. The Washtenaw County EDC, for which Ranzini also serves as vice chair, had been awarded another $33 million in tax-free bonding authority, said Ranzini. He noted that neither the city nor the county EDC had received any applications for funds – despite Ranzini’s attempts to to communicate through Ann Arbor SPARK, and through personal meetings. [See Chronicle coverage of Ranzini making the same point to the Ann Arbor DDA and of a recent Washtenaw County Economic Development Corporation meeting.]

Street Lights

Pulled out of the consent agenda for specific consideration was an item that approved a contract with DTE to convert 58 conventional streetlights to LED  fixtures. The location of the lights is the Hill-Packard-East University neighborhood, which was chosen in part in response to concerns about safety raised by some University of Michigan students in 2008.

As part of the contract, DTE is dropping the annual charges for the streetlights from $11,887 to $6,293.  The annual savings of $5,594 would result in a four-year payback on the city’s share of the $22,288 conversion cost. The city and DTE are splitting the conversion costs 50-50.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) called that kind of collaboration “exciting” and asked Andrew Brix to take the podium. Brix is the city’s energy programs manager.

Brix said that the city had been at the forefront in moving towards LED back in 2005. They’d been working with DTE on the issue. The state Public Service Commission had ordered DTE to produce a proposal for a uniform tariff for LED lights, Brix said, but they were “not there yet” based on what they submitted.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked about the safety issue and how the LED bulbs addressed it. Brix explained that the LEDs would produce “whiter” light and better color conditions. “You’ll be able to make out color,” he explained.

Asked by Margie Teall (Ward 4) what kind of fixtures were chosen, Brix said it was the same fixture used on Nixon Road – it was DTE’s choice, but the city was happy with it, he said.

Mayor John Hieftje noted that it’s difficult to work on something owned by someone else and that the city had to win DTE’s cooperation.

Brix broke down the statistics for streetlights: The city owns 800 streetlights outside the downtown. The other 5,500 are owned by DTE.

Christoper Taylor (Ward 3) said he wanted to “pile on the praise” for DTE taking the step. He also noted that in connection with the A2Fiber response to Google’s request for information, DTE had been a “100-percent partner” on the project.

Hieftje allowed that he’d been impatient at the pace that the LED conversion has been moving forward, but that from DTE’s point of view, they are setting a precedent, so DTE is reluctant to go too fast.


Resident Kathy Griswold addressed the council once again on the topic of moving the mid-block crosswalk at King Elementary School from its mid-block location to a four-way stop intersection about 300 feet away. She reported that she’d sent an email that day to Todd Roberts, the superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public School system, asking him to email city administrator Roger Fraser stating his support for the move.

Griswold noted that the parents of children attending the school are instructing their kids to cross at the intersection, but that the school crossing guards can’t guard that crosswalk – they can only serve at the mid-block location. A request made under the Freedom of Information Act, said Griswold, had revealed over 50 emails, but the project had come to a halt in the fall of 2009. It seemed mysterious, she said. She expressed the hope that she’d only be at council a few more times talking about the crosswalk.

How many times has Griswold addressed the council on the King School crosswalk issue? Here’s a (possibly incomplete) chronology:

  • 2009 Aug. 16 city council caucus [link]
  • 2009 Nov. 5 city council meeting [link]
  • 2009 Dec. 21 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 Jan. 4 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 Feb. 1 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 Feb. 16 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 March 15 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 April 5 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 April 18 city council caucus [link]

Also crosswalk related, during his communications time Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) reported out from the WATS policy committee that there would be a presentation on HAWK (High Intensity Activated Crosswalk) signals at the next meeting. The city is looking at the possibility of a HAWK signal for the crossing at Third & Huron, near the Ann Arbor YMCA.

Other Commentary

Appearing briefly during public commentary to thank the council was the new executive director of the Leslie Science Center, Greta Brunschwyler. She thanked city administrator Roger Fraser and said she look forwarded to continued partnership.

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: May 3, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Mark Koroi
    April 25, 2010 at 9:34 pm | permalink

    It is good to see Taylor recusing himself from consideration of the two projects cited above due to his association with Butzel Long. This recusal is consistent with ethics and good government.

    I have a question as to why Butzel Long would be hired as bond counsel in the first place if one of their attorneys sat on City Council.

    Bond counsel services are considered to be a highly lucrative specialty of the law that often brings in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in fees for a single bond issuance. I understand Miller Canfield had been previously bond counsel to the city during the Ingrid Sheldon administration and Dykema Gossett was the bond counsel for Ann Arbor in recent years and provided such services for the municipal bond issuance associated with the police/court project. Why was not Miller Canfield or Dykema Gossett retained? Who was the impetus for retaining Butzel Long for this project? Is it a good idea to retain the legal services of law firms who have employees on City Council?

  2. April 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    It was interesting to learn just how much the city has already spent on (not) fixing the bridge. Ok, let’s try for state and federal funding one more time … but if I were on council, I would have refused to vote in favor of it unless there was a binding commitment that if this last effort fails, bridge repair will go forward by a date certain.

  3. By Deborah Gibson
    April 27, 2010 at 12:48 am | permalink

    Hopefully, Roger Fraser will support financing from the city’s general fund for the AA Housing Commission. I certainly did not see it in his town hall presentation. After all, the city supported the consultant’s analysis at $117,000 to reorganize the AAHC. All of those recommendations for additional management, financial, and non-union maintenance staff will cost money that is not currently budgeted.

    The Housing Commission could also use the Housing Trust Fund contribution from the Chicago developer of the proposed $20 million student housing project. How much would that be, exactly? Of course, that is only if the city approves of housing U of M students.

    The AAHC Public Housing and Section 8 Housing Vouchers provide for more than 50 per cent of the low income, very low-income, and extremely low-income units in Ann Arbor for years. They deserve to be included in the city’s annual general fund appropriations. The previous 8 years’ disastrous structurally imposed loss of our federal dollars’ operational support should be replaced through city’s general fund and Housing Trust Fund pledges over several years.

    A consultant’s analysis may create a reorganization of the AAHC structure, but for those families on the waiting lists for low income housing,those units have yet to be funded or created to meet increasing demands.