On Thursday evening, July 15, just as a thunderstorm was rolling in, Tamara Real and Carl Rinne opened their home on Fountain Street to the Ann Arbor Ward 5 Democrats. As the former home to the Fountain Church of God in Christ, the venue is suitable for events like the candidate forum, which drew somewhere around 30 people – once all those who straggled in from the rain were counted.
The Ward 5 city council Democratic primary this year is contested by incumbent Carsten Hohnke and challenger Lou Glorie. City council representatives are elected for two-year terms and each of the city’s five wards has two seats on the council, one of which is elected each year.
In November, the winner of the Aug. 3 Democratic primary will face a Republican challenge in John Floyd, as well as an independent challenge in Newcombe Clark.
Glorie portrayed herself as an underdog candidate – a citizen activist who’s not as interested in leading as in collaborating with ward residents to find consensus.
Hohnke focused heavily on various accomplishments during his first two years in office and sought to distance himself from the idea that he is a career politician.
Of interest to readers who follow city council meetings closely, Hohnke left open the possibility of bringing back some kind of proposal for a historic district in the Germantown neighborhood, as well as reconsideration and approval of the Heritage Row development – but not for exactly the same project.
The informal, intimate venue of the Fountain Street forum was more relaxed than the League of Women Voters (LAW) event held earlier in the week, which was recorded at the Community Television Network (CTN) studios on South Industrial.
The LAW forum included candidates from Ward 1 and Ward 4, which are the other contested city council races in the Democratic primary. [Chronicle coverage of Ward 1 and Ward 4 forums: "Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Ward 1 Council" and "Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Ward 4 Council"]
The ground rules for Thursday’s event were mostly typical for local city political forums. Questions were read aloud by a moderator from cards filled out by audience members. Gus Teschke served as moderator.
Candidates alternated answering questions first. One somewhat novel feature for the Ward 5 forum was the opportunity for candidates to respond to each other’s answers. So for any given question, there was a chance for each candidate to speak twice. For many of the questions, Glorie and Hohnke availed themselves of that opportunity.
A coin toss determined that Glorie would have choice of order, and she allowed Hohnke to go first.
The hosts of the venue, Tamara Real and Carl Rinne, as well as the organizers of the event – Gus Teschke, Jennie Needleman, and Rita Mitchell – were all thanked at various points for making the forum possible.
The candidate’s responses to questions are ordered chronologically, but the sequence of topics has, in isolated cases, been altered to group items thematically.
Each candidate gave an opening statement.
Hohnke’s Opening Statement
Hohnke began by thanking the hosts and organizers of the forum. He went on to thank the attendees of the forum, saying that it is his privilege to be their representative. His introduction: “I’m Carsten.”
He then stressed that during his time on the council since 2008, they have been productive in solving problems, especially “big-picture issues” like the budget, zoning, and environmental issues. Hohnke said he is especially proud of the successful efforts he’s had with members of the community in providing real and impactful solutions “on the ground in our neighborhoods.”
He cited several examples: keeping Mack Pool and the Westside Farmer’s Market open; initiating a greenway and public art center at the 415 W. Washington site; expanding the recycling program; implementing improvements in the walking and biking infrastructure. Nonetheless, Hohnke continued, there is still significant work to be done. He stated that he is especially excited about opportunities to continue efforts that have already begun.
Lou Glorie’s Opening Statement
Glorie began by saying she is not an incumbent, but rather a citizen activist.
Alluding to a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters earlier in the week, she said she felt she’d “flubbed” a question, because she’d missed an opportunity to talk about economic development. She said she hoped to change the conversation about how we think about economic development – we’ve been “chasing growth,” she said.
Glorie said she was not just thinking about downtown development, but rather different forms of economic growth. She said that in the course of the evening, she hoped to be able to talk more about the difference between growth versus resiliency in our local economy.
Glorie characterized herself as an “underdog” candidate and described Hohnke as a “good person” and a “good guy,” though she said that there’d been some “slippage.”
Disposition of Parkland
Question: What is your stance on the long-term lease of parks to the University of Michigan? Do you support construction of large-scale buildings on parkland?
The question pertains to a proposed parking deck and bus depot that could eventually be a rail station – Fuller Road Station – located on a parcel currently designated as part of a park in the city’s master plan for parks. The parcel is currently a surface parking lot, leased to the University of Michigan. Recent Chronicle coverage: “PAC Softens Stance on Fuller Road” and “AATA Gets its Fill of Fuller Road Station”
Glorie on Parkland
Glorie began by identifying the question as relating to two specific issues: (i) a proposal to build Fuller Road Station – a parking deck and bus station that is envisioned possibly to become a train station; and (ii) an RFP (request for proposals) for private operation of part of the city-owned Huron Hills Golf Course. She said that a transformation of use of parkland should go before the voters – that had been the intent of the 2007 charter amendment, she said. The amendment, however, had been written specifically to protect parkland from sale.
She said she could understand why the University of Michigan is interested in putting a parking structure on that piece of land. She suggested that the city should simply sell the land to the university for fair market value – the $4-5 million the land might bring, she said, could support the parks system. The voters could approve the sale of the parkland to the university, she said, which would be an honest way to respect the spirit of the city’s charter.
Hohnke on Parkland
Responding to Glorie’s remarks that the question should be put to a vote of citizens, Hohnke said he didn’t know what question would be put before voters. There’s no lease arrangement involved with Fuller Road Station, he said. He characterized the planned Fuller Road Station as a collaborative project between the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), and the University of Michigan. But there is “no lease on the table,” he pointed out.
He added that he didn’t know what he would ask voters in this situation other than to understand the issue and contact a council representative with their views. On the subject of transit systems, Hohnke continued by emphasizing the need to address the issue of the thousands of commuters who work at the UM hospital. Moving to a multi-modal solution, he stressed, is exactly the kind of progressive solution we want.
He added that the federal government had begun to make a commitment to rail transportation, citing a $30 million grant that Dearborn was recently awarded. He concluded that Ann Arbor would be able to continue its ability to attract state and federal funding with creative proposals to move the state forward. Ann Arbor would not be spending a lot of general fund money on Fuller Road Station – or even any, he quickly added.
Glorie’s Follow-Up on Parkland
Glorie reviewed some of the history of the site proposed for Fuller Road Station, saying that it had for a long time been a soccer field. The parks department had then leased the property to UM for use as a surface parking lot, she said. It was a temporary use of the land, she said, contrasting that with the permanence of a five-story parking structure as proposed for Fuller Road Station.
Glorie also expressed some skepticism that it would become a train station. She was also not convinced, she said, that the location was best suited for a train station. It’s a busy intersection already, she said, and she wondered if it was really the best place for people to try to board a train.
Hohnke’s Follow-Up on Parkland
The surface lot at the proposed Fuller Road Station site, Hohnke responded, has been there for 20 years, and was originally intended to protect the natural environment surrounding it. [Editor's note: Specifically, oak trees.] Transportation experts have already determined that particular place is suitable for a transit station, he said. Such issues, Hohnke said, must remain a community conversation and he contended that the Fuller Road Station was still in the “early stages.” If we want to push forward as a progressive community, we must, Hohnke urged, make choices and take opportunities. The Fuller Road Station, he said, is such an opportunity.
Question: What would you tell residents about how well parks are protected in the city?
The background to the question is that: (i) Fuller Road Station is planned for a site that is currently designated as part of a park in the city’s master plan for parks – though the site is now used as a surface parking lot; and (ii) the city charter was amended by a referendum in 2007 to explicitly disallow sale of parkland without placing the question on the ballot. The city’s current plan for Fuller Road Station does not contemplate the sale of the land. At its July 6, 2010 meeting, the city council expanded the list of possible uses of public land specified in the zoning code to include transportation facilities. See Chronicle coverage: “Land Uses Expand; Plan Regs Relaxed.”
Hohnke on Parkland Protection
Hohnke began by saying that the question seemed to be about being sure that for any one particular park, how can we be sure that the city won’t go in and try to build something there. He said that one can always picture pessimistic and cynical scenarios developed out of the worst of what our city ordinances convey.
Hohnke pointed out that the voters had a chance replace half the council every year during elections. So if something were suggested for parks that people objected to, then the people’s voices will be heard during elections, he said.
Returning to the Fuller Road Station, Hohnke characterized it as a spot where a surface parking lot had been for 20 years that is in the best location in Michigan and in Ann Arbor to provide significant environmental and quality of life benefits and improve multi-modal transportation for everyone. He cautioned against being afraid of what might happen in the future. No one, he said, would suggest to suddenly turn parks into condominiums – he didn’t think there was anybody in the community who would support that. For example, he said that the logic is just not there for building something in Virginia Park.
Glorie on Parkland Protection
Glorie introduced the topic of a recent change to the zoning code that enumerates what the allowable uses are for parcels zoned as public land (PL). [The change, enacted at a recent city council meeting, was from an item that listed a municipal airport as a possible use to a more general notion of a transportation facility, with an airport in the set of examples given.] She caught herself as she first indicated that the original language had prohibited airports on public land. Re-starting, Glorie indicated that the original language actually gave more protection to the parks than the new revised language that refers to transportation facilities. As an example, Glorie said, “No one is going to put an airport in Virginia Park,” but she suggested that someone might find it feasible to put a bus hub in Virginia Park.
Glorie concluded that we could not rely a hope that everyone will have the good will to do what we think they’ll do. That’s why it’s important to write laws carefully. She picked back up on the language of the 2007 charter amendment requiring a voter referendum on the sale of parkland. She said she’d warned the mayor at the time that parkland needed to be protected not just from sale, but also from transfers of use. She concluded that she’d like to see the charter amendment “beefed up.”
Follow-Up from Hohnke on Parkland Protection
Hohnke added some further clarification to Glorie’s comments on the recent change to possible uses of land zoned PL: Both airports and other transportation facilities are allowed to be built under the ordinance – airports are an example specified as allowable on public land. He continued by saying that we have a need for public infrastructure and public land is meant to support that public infrastructure.
Question: What do you think of the potential for a convention center constructed on the Library Lot paid for by public funds?
The background for this is the question of what, if anything, should be built on top of the city-owned Library Lot – currently the construction site for an underground parking structure. The city issued a request for proposals last year, with the idea that if one of them were approved, the underground garage design could be tweaked to accommodate certain design features.
The responses were all presented in a public forum, and the committee tasked with reviewing them subsequently winnowed them down to two proposals. Along the way, a citizen-generated proposal for a community commons was eliminated from further consideration, then added back to the pool, then finally eliminated. The two finalist proposals selected by the review committee were for hotel/conference center projects.
The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority authorized money to hire a consultant to evaluate the financial merits of the two proposals, but that consultant has not been hired. The committee has not met in several months. The window of opportunity to make any design tweaks in the underground parking garage passed back in the spring, and the sense of urgency that drove the committee’s initial work has ebbed. A starting point for Chronicle coverage: “Hotel/Conference Center Ideas Go Forward.”
Hohnke on the Library Lot
Hohnke began by simply saying no. He said he didn’t see any reason to use city funds to support development of a convention center there. The proposed area, along Fifth Avenue next to the Ann Arbor District Library, Hohnke pointed out, is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the city, if not the entire state.
He said he doesn’t think we should put the city’s finances at risk to support a project on the site. Hohnke said he does not have the business expertise to evaluate if a hotel would be a viable project. If no public investment were being made, that would not be part of his evaluation of the project. Hohnke added that if public finances were being used, he would need to become “pretty darn good at understanding” whether the proposal would support any bond payments. Investing public money into a project, he said, is not something the city needs to do.
Hohnke said he is not convinced that any of the proposals that had been submitted are good ones, and it’s important to remember that a request for proposals does not need to be acted on by the city. If none of them meet the satisfaction of the community, there’s no need to accept one, he stressed.
Hohnke continued that he would like to see a renewed effort of community conversation – starting from a blank slate, with no preconceptions. What is the best solution for this vital parcel right in the center of our community?
Glorie on the Library Lot
Glorie said she was not in favor of a hotel or a conference center, or anything of that nature for the Library Lot. She said the reason was that the area already faced “dead zone” challenges in the form of the Federal Building and the back end of AATA’s Blake Transit Center.
She said that she personally favored a town square on the lot – in spite of the fact that Josie Parker [executive director of the Ann Arbor District Library] is not in favor of that kind of proposal. Glorie said that the synergy with the library would be “stupendous.” She imagines events like puppet shows, theater, poetry reading, and similar activities in a town square kind of amenity. She stated that the parcel could be the civic heart of Ann Arbor – cities need such spaces in order to be cities.
[In this Glorie was echoing sentiments that have been expressed by Alan Haber on multiple occasions when he has spoken to the city council on the topic of the Library Lot and a specific proposal for a community commons there, which he has helped support. Haber was in the audience for Thursday's candidate forum.]
Glorie noted that a group of citizens had done some research on the financial viability of conference centers across the country and generally those centers were “losers,” so she would not be in favor of such a proposal in any case. Any community conversation needed to be opened up to the whole community, she said, not just the usual suspects – not a narrowly defined task force.
Hohnke Follow-Up on Library Lot
Hohnke stressed that the community conversations begin with a blank slate. But it’s important to remember, he said, that if we want to protect our near downtown neighborhood, there is “a flip side to that coin.” Without prejudging what should happen there, he suggested that the Library Lot is an appropriate place for dense, mixed-use development. That can be part of that parcel as well as some open space. If we’re going to work hard to protect near downtown neighborhoods, Hohnke said, we cannot automatically shut down any possibility of development at the Library Lot.
Glorie Follow-Up on Library Lot
A community decision to retain the lot as mostly open space, Glorie said, would not preclude some small-scale development. It might be an ideal space to have small businesses – for example, lining the north end of the lot could be cafes and bookstores and a place to buy magazines and newspapers. On a floor above that, there could be space for residential units, she suggested.
Well-designed parks of that nature, she said, attract economic development from a wide radius.
Question: Will you call for and allow city council to consider the proposal for a community commons on the Library Lot, which the advisory committee refused to consider?
Glorie on Community Commons
Glorie answered in the affirmative and said she believed it was something for the community to decide. She said she believed the advisory committee erred in following the RFP too closely. They made a lot of accommodations to “the two winners,” she contended. It should be opened up to the community, she said – it needs to be a very broad-based community conversation.
Hohnke on Community Commons
“We have a lot of work to do,” Hohnke began, describing the process of the community conversation on the Library Lot. He indicated a reluctance to bring a particular proposal forward, but said that he was uncertain what the question actually was asking. Was it a request to re-enter the community commons proposal into the field of candidate proposals? From the audience, Alan Haber, who’d help bring the community commons proposal forward, indicated to Hohnke that this was, in fact, what the question was asking. No, Hohnke replied, that’s not something he would do.
The evaluation that led the advisory committee to reject that proposal for the Library Lot was based on the fact that there was not a financially convincing case for it, Hohnke said. He then noted that the country is going through its worst economic recession in 80 years. The state is in a 10-year recession. We can’t support a park in that vital part of Ann Arbor without a financial plan, Hohnke said – it is simply not currently a financially sustainable option.
Glorie Follow-Up on Community Commons
Glorie suggested that initial funding for a park could be found by selling the land for the Fuller Road Station to the University of Michigan.
Hohnke Follow-Up on Community Commons
Hohnke called Glorie’s suggestion “creative” and said that the city must get the most out of its partners on the Fuller Road Station project. The problem, Hohnke said, is that a sale would not yield the kind of resources that would continue in perpetuity. There needs to be sustainable revenue tied to the Library Lot site itself, to the existence of that space.
Financial Interest in Development
Question: Do you or any member of your family have any financial interest in any developments in the city?
The question seemed to be getting at an issue that Hohnke had himself raised at the city council’s June 15, 2009 meeting:
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations on the City Place site plan approval by indicating to his colleagues that he had brought information to the city attorney’s office concerning a possible conflict of interest on his part with respect to the City Place project. He stated that councilmembers had the analysis provided by the city attorney’s office and indicated he was prepared to accept their recommendation, if any, on the topic. [Council rules require members to vote on any resolution before them, unless their colleagues request by a majority vote that a councilmember recuse himself/herself.] No one moved that Hohnke should recuse himself.
The nature of the connection is described by Vivienne Armentrout on her blog Local in Ann Arbor as a business relationship between Hohnke’s wife and the owner of one of the houses on the site of the proposed City Place/Heritage Row site.
Glorie on Financial Interest
Glorie began by saying, “Not at the moment.” She then responded lightheartedly, saying that she’d spoken to Alex de Parry the previous day. [De Parry is developer of the proposed, and currently rejected, Heritage Row project on South Fifth Avenue, which includes the renovation of seven houses and construction of three additional buildings behind them.]
Glorie reported that she’d offered to buy de Parry’s houses on Fifth Avenue – if she won the lottery. The line drew a laugh from the audience. [The Chronicle took part in the conversation reported by Glorie, which took place downtown on the northwest corner of Fourth and Liberty.]
Hohnke on Financial Interest
In light of Glorie’s possible lottery win and subsequent purchase of de Parry’s properties on Fifth, Hohnke said he was looking forward to seven open houses in a row. [Glorie is a real estate professional with Keller Williams Realty.] Hohnke indicated that neither he nor any of his family members have any financial interest in developments in the city.
Question: What is your thought about the proposed historic district and historic districts in general?
Background to this and a subsequent question about a project called Heritage Row are recent council decisions affecting a neighborhood south of William Street along Fourth and Fifth avenues. The council voted to reject establishing a historic district in that area at its most recent meeting on July 6. The council had voted to reject a residential development project called Heritage Row at its meeting before that, on June 21. Heritage Row proposes to renovate seven houses on Fifth Avenue and construct three new apartment buildings behind them.
Complicating the council’s decision-making is an already-approved project for the site called City Place. City Place would demolish the seven houses and replace them with two apartment buildings.
At the July 6 city council meeting, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) brought back Heritage Row for reconsideration, but the council rejected it again, voting along the same lines as they did on June 21. The rationale is that without a historic district, the seven houses would be afforded some measure of protection by Heritage Row, which plans for their restoration.
Then later at the same July 6 meeting, Hohnke was on a path to bring Heritage Row back for reconsideration for a third time total – apparently he intended to change his vote against the project, which would have given it the 8-vote super-majority it needed. During a brief break in the proceedings, a conversation with Sabra Briere (Ward 1) appeared to change Hohnke’s mind, and he withdrew his motion to reconsider the project.
For an overview of the issue, see Chronicle coverage: “S. Fifth Ave: Historic District, Development.”
Hohnke on Historic Districts
Hohnke began by stating that he had sponsored the resolution for a historic district study committee for the Germantown area, and had worked hard to get support for the district. Apart from the particulars of that proposed district, he said, historic districts are a vital part of what makes Ann Arbor so special. Hohnke mentioned going on walks with his wife and son from his west side house into neighborhoods on the Old West Side. Such preservation, he said, attracts people to Ann Arbor.
A common misconception surrounding historic districts, he continued, is the assumption that they prevent change. Even if Germantown had become a historic district, he said, density can still be significantly increased within the district, though he would not be in favor of such an increase in density. He said that historic districts are positive for the community and he pointed out that historic is not always synonymous with inflexible. He finished by stating his disappointment that the proposal failed by a narrow margin.
Glorie on Historic Districts
Glorie began by saying it was “a shame” that the historic district had not been approved. That had been an opportunity to protect not just seven houses but an entire neighborhood. So an already-approved project for the site – City Place, which entailed tearing down seven houses – might still go forward. The neighbors are between a rock and a hard place, she said. Should they encourage the council to go ahead and reconsider and approve the Heritage Row project, which proposed to renovate the seven houses and build three buildings behind them? Or should they “go for broke” and just hope that no lender would provide backing for the City Place development?
Historic districts, Glorie said, are a great tool for protecting neighborhoods. The goal is not to preserve things in amber, she said, but rather to help neighborhoods continue to be lively and convivial places. The structure and form of a physical neighborhood contributes a lot to the way we live, she said. There’s a difference, she said, between a neighborhood where people need to go out of their garages to enter their houses, and there are front porches to sit on, compared to other neighborhoods where people drive into an attached garage, go into their houses and go into their back yards. Older neighborhoods should be used as an example for any new development, she concluded.
Heritage Row and City Place Conundrum
Question: Heritage Row and City Place – which one? What about other developments? Will you support Heritage Row if it is brought back before the council? How do you get what’s best for the city?
Glorie on Heritage Row
Glorie indicated that right now her answer was that neither Heritage Row, nor City Place was a good solution. She characterized Heritage Row as a “Disney-esqe” version of the street. City Place, she described as “god-awful ugly,” and she prayed it would not be built on the street.
If she’s elected and Heritage Row is brought back for reconsideration, she said, she’ll vote no.
Hohnke on Heritage Row
Hohnke began by noting that he’d voted no on Heritage Row. The challenge surrounding such developments, Hohnke said, is the underlying zoning problem that does not serve the community well. He described City Place as a shotgun, loaded and pointed at the neighborhood. One solution to protect against City Place, he said, was the historic district that he fully supported and proposed. He reiterated his disappointment that the historic district had not been approved. He hopes that remains as a potential option, he said.
Hohnke stressed that it was important to make progress and move forward in a way that is best for everybody in the long term. If Heritage Row were to be brought back and reconsidered with no changes to the project, he said he was not sure what might prompt him to change his vote. He’d laid out his arguments at the council meeting on why he felt it didn’t meet the standards under the PUD zoning ordinance, so he said he didn’t see how he could reach a different conclusion.
Hohnke emphasized the need to work together with the community and the developer for something that could work for everybody. One example of this cooperation, Hohnke said, was the Near North project. It’s been a long process with Heritage Row, he said, and looking back, it’s now much better than it was originally. It still was not sufficient, Hohnke said, but it’s “moving in the right direction.”
Question: How do you fell about increased density in areas outside of downtown?
Glorie on Density
Right now, Glorie began, we’re making significant changes to our zoning ordinances. One of those sets of changes concerns the city’s zoning codes on area, height, and placement (AHP). The proposed changes, Glorie said, would reduce the setbacks for a good number of properties in residential areas. The other set of changes relates to R4C zoning, she said. Things also get “tricky” for neighborhoods because there are R4C districts all over the city. The controversy in the neighborhood south of William Street where the historic district had been proposed and where Heritage Row/City Place were proposed had resulted from the R4C zoning in the area, she said.
Another example of R4C zoning, she said, was the Black Elk’s Lodge. She described the development proposed there, which the city council ultimately rejected, as a “narrow escape.”
The R4C study committee, she said, had done its work outside of the awareness of most people – she stressed that she was not saying the work had been done in secret. She wanted to highlight that it was just not on most people’s radar and that we needed to pay attention to that work. She indicated that she was not in favor of all the recommended changes for the AHP.
Hohnke on Density
Hohnke agreed that R4C zoning is an important issue. The classification of many areas as R4C, Hohnke began, is an issue that has led to many problems, as he’d pointed out in connection with the Heritage Row/City Place project.
The underlying zoning is, he said, 50 to 60 years old and reflects a development philosophy that the community does not actually want.
The R4C zoning districts make up a large chunk of the ring around downtown Ann Arbor, and are especially important for quality of life in the near downtown area, Hohnke said. The result of that R4C study process, he said, will be important as far as preserving the quality of life in near downtown neighborhoods.
Hohnke characterized the area, height and placement changes as dealing primarily with commercial areas outside the downtown. Reducing setbacks is an important part of that set of changes, he said – most urban planners see it as smart planning for commercial areas. He cited the relocated CVS on Stadium Boulevard near Liberty as an example, saying that the building was moved closer to the street, and as a consequence it became much more pedestrian-friendly. Putting parking at the back or at the side of buildings is a good idea, he said. The Stadium Boulevard corridor could be used as an overall model, Hohnke believes, saying that the street has transformed to a much better place. Hohnke concluded by stating that he believes the area, height, and placement requirements are “largely on the right track.”
Glorie Follow-Up on Density
Gloire said she agreed with Hohnke as far as AHP applied to commercial areas. Where she disagreed was for residential areas. She noted that some people might not have a place for a garden and their best place for a garden might be in the front of their house, which could possibly not meet a maximum setback requirement. She called for somewhat more flexibility in the setbacks.
Arts and Culture
Question: Arts and culture are an important part of Ann Arbor’s identity. What measurable actions will you take to ensure that arts and culture will thrive and survive in Ann Arbor?
The Chronicle’s most recent coverage of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission: “Art Commission Acts on Dreiseitl Proposal.” Background on the greenway and art center discussed by the candidates: “City Restarts 415 W. Washington Process.”
Hohnke on Arts and Culture
Hohnke began by emphasizing the importance of arts and culture to the community in adding to the quality of life, but also to the economic vitality of the community. One measurable step he said he had taken was to sponsor a resolution to work on 415 W. Washington, across from the new YMCA, with two goals in mind. One goal is to turn the land into part of a greenway system in the Allen Creek floodplain. The other goal, he said, is to take the existing structure – which served historically as a county maintenance facility dating back to the 1920s – and transform it into a public arts center. There are various grant opportunities available, Hohnke said, for historic preservation, flood mitigation, and public art.
We also need to continue to support the Percent for Art program, Hohnke said, characterizing it as a “critical injection” into the vitality of the arts in our community.
Glorie on Arts and Culture
Glorie noted that the 415 W. Washington project is interesting – she and Vicki Honeyman had approached the mayor several years ago and told him that they’d like to see the building become a space for artists, and the area around it become a sculpture park or something of that nature. So she is glad to see that effort now underway, she said.
There is something that the city council didn’t do with their resolution that would have put some “teeth” into it, Glorie said. That was to “flat out say, ‘We are reserving First & William, the 415 W. Washington site, and the 721 N. Main site, for public use.’” Those are three parcels the city already owns, she said. First & William is problematic for building anything – it should be a park.
The 415 W. Washington parcel, she said, would be appropriate for an art center, but needs to be analyzed in terms of the city’s ability to manage flooding. For 721 N. Main, she envisioned flea markets, farmers markets, book sales and the like. That would be temporary use that would not put a lot of burden on the watershed, while expanding space for artists and artisans to sell their goods.
Question: How should city council address the $190 million pension fund deficit?
Glorie on the Pension Fund
The first step, Glorie said, was to start budgeting for it. The city had been ignoring the issue for years. The city need to stop adding to the problem by taking a look at how long it takes in order to be vested, she said. Now there are people who are vested in the pension fund after five years, which she felt was too short – she suggested that 10-15 years might be a more appropriate minimum time for vesting.
Hohnke on the Pension Fund
There’s no question that increasing legacy costs are a significant challenge for Ann Arbor as well as other communities, Hohnke said. He pointed out that Ann Arbor had a basically fully-funded pension system, which took a significant hit in 2008, when the economy “fell off the cliff.” There’s a lot of catch up we’ll have to do, he said. Solving these problems, he added, will require continual hard work. He suggested that we have to continue to invest in the pension system, and work with the city’s partners – city staff, and unions. We need employees to do more to help share the burden, he said, for health care and for the pension fund.
Glorie Follow-Up on the Pension Fund
Glorie noted that in Washington D.C. there’s currently discussion of forcing the Social Security system to take some hits, and those proposals need to be opposed vigorously. People need Social Security, and if pension funds are decimated because of the investment climate, she said, then “people are going to be screwed.”
Question: How much money do you expect to spend in the primary election? How much money have you spent in past elections?
Background to the question is the increasing amounts that city council candidates are spending on their races. From a Dec. 21, 2008 piece by Judy McGovern for The Ann Arbor News:
In the 5th Ward, Democrat Carsten Hohnke beat primary and general election opponents to win an open seat. The first-time candidate spent about $20,500. Of that, about $8,180 was his own money and remains a loan to be repaid by his political action committee.
That race was the most costly of the city contests this cycle. But the 2nd Ward race wasn’t far behind.
The successful candidate in the 2nd Ward, Tony Derezinski, spent $14,700 to win the Democratic primary. Total spending was close to $31,260.
Derezinski’s primary opponent, Stewart Nelson, loaned his PAC around $6,600.
Hohnke on Campaign Finance
Hohnke began by saying he’d have to ask his treasurer, but ventured that it was somewhere in the range of $4-5,000. It requires resources, he said, to communicate with neighbors in the ward and that he was including as many people as possible.
Hohnke said he felt the question was likely referring to the record-breaking amount of money he’d spent in getting elected the first time in 2008. He defended the amount, saying that he was in a more difficult position last time, in running against a candidate who had a lot of name recognition [Vivienne Armentrout], eight years of experience serving on the county board of commissioners, who was a “fantastic candidate and who knew a lot about campaigning.” He said that he had to do a lot of extra work to make sure to get his message out. He also added that his was the only race that had a Republican challenger [John Floyd], which meant that the race went on for longer, through November.
Prompted by an audience member to answer the second part of the question, Hohnke indicated that in his first campaign he’d spent “just under $20,000.”
Glorie on Campaign Finance
Glorie began by highlighting the implicit disparagement of her candidacy in Hohnke’s remarks by saying lightheartedly, “Well, gee, I only merit $4,000??” The line drew a laugh from the audience. Hohnke responded in good-natured fashion, saying, “I already have my yard signs!”
So far Glorie said she’d already spent around $2,000 and expected to spend $1,000 or $2,000 more.
Other Ward 5 Candidates on Campaign Finance
By way of comparison, Newcombe Clark – who recently filed successful petitions and who will appear on the November ballot for the Ward 5 city council seat as an independent – wrote in response to an emailed query from The Chronicle that it’s uncertain how much he’ll spend, but it could be $40-60,000.
John Floyd, who will appear on the November ballot for Ward 5 as a Republican, wrote that he thinks a winning campaign for Ward 5 could be financed for half what Hohnke spent last time, or less. That translates to $10,000 or less.
Question: Would you support a watershed study of Allen Creek?
Glorie on Allen Creek
Glorie said she would support such a study – the sooner, the better. Ann Arbor sometimes suffered from a certain “exceptionalism,” she said, believing for example that a flood could not wash away a neighborhood. She characterized the Allen Creek drainage area as “overbuilt” with impervious surfaces, and contended that the city needs an honest study of the Allen Creek watershed.
Hohnke on Allen Creek
Hohnke said he didn’t know if he’d support a study. Many other community members have more expertise in that field, he said. He thinks it’s important to attack the issue from a number of angles – by experimenting with pervious pavement, as on Sylvan Avenue. He gave examples of projects at West Park and Pioneer High School as other angles of attack. He said he’d need to have more conversations with Vince [Caruso, who was in the audience] as well as with Jerry Hancock [Ann Arbor's stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator] to understand what kind of study was being requested, and what it would cost. He believes there’s no question that this issue is primary to Ward 5 and deserves attention.
Something Hohnke said he’d found interesting about the Near North project was that removal of structures from the floodway could count as a public benefit in evaluating a project against the standards of the PUD ordinance. Two structures are to be removed from the floodway as a part of that project, Hohnke said.
Stadium Bridges and Roads
Question: Why wasn’t the Stadium bridges project shovel ready when stimulus funds became available? Why is Miller Road such a mess?
Hohnke on Stadium Bridges and Roads
Since he was elected to the city council in 2008, Hohnke began, the council had directed city staff to apply for various grants for the Stadium bridge – Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grants, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants, Michigan’s local bridge fund – what he called standard approaches to maintaining and rebuilding infrastructure. This is how the Broadway bridges were rebuilt, he said, and how the Huron Parkway bridge was rebuilt.
He went on to say that at the state level, all attempts to replenish the state transportation fund have “fallen on deaf state Senate Republican ears.” He said he supported an increase to the state gas tax so that we don’t leave $1 billion in federal transportation funding on the table.
The Stadium bridge, he continued, needs to be and will be repaired starting by March of next year. It would, however, be unwise to leave $12 million on the table if the city is too quick to tap into its own local funds, Hohnke added. That would mean that we would not be able to address projects like Miller Road as easily, he cautioned.
A line needed to be drawn in the sand, he said, and he felt like March was the right place to draw the line.
Glorie on Stadium Bridges and Roads
Glorie said that the city’s grant application process reminded her of a line from the “Airplane!” movies – a guy waiting in a car for a woman outside the airport, at the beginning of the movie, who after the final credits are shown concludes, “I’ll give her 10 more minutes and that’s it. [The exact movie line, apparently, is "Man in Taxi: Well, I'll give him another twenty minutes; but that's it!"]
That, Glorie said, is how she feels about the Stadium bridges. We’ve been waiting and waiting for the state or the federal government to help us out. She agreed that this is normally what we should do, but noted that pieces of concrete had been falling off the bridge – not any longer, because that section of the bridge has been removed.
It seems like an urgent issue to her, she said. She noted that the street and road repair millage has an undesignated fund balance of over $19 million. If we spend the money on the bridge, she said, the fund will be replenished by the millage that yields $8-9 million per year.
Hohnke Follow-Up on Stadium Bridges and Roads
Hohnke noted that the street and road repair millage fund balance was partly attributable to the timing of when the taxes are collected, and partly due to the fact that the city kept a year’s worth of the millage on hand as a reserve – as most cities would.
He reiterated that it was important to take the opportunity for obtaining $12 million in federal funds, so that those local street repair dollars could be put towards projects like Miller Road.
Glorie Follow-Up on Stadium Bridges and Roads
The problem she has, Glorie said, is that in 2001 the total fund balance in the street and road repair millage fund was $9 million and now it is around $25 million. There’s a balance that keeps accumulating and we’re not spending the money on road repair. Having levied an extra tax and collected extra money to spend on good roads, she said, the quality of the roads do not meet our legitimate expectations. That’s something the city council needs to oversee better, she said. [That concluding line earned the only actual applause of the evening.]
Question: Would you describe yourself as a career politician – why or why not? How long are you looking to serve on the city council?
[Though candidates were allotted five minutes for their closing remarks, Hohnke tried to wrap up his comments quickly to allow time for additional questions. The question about being a career politician thus came directly from an audience member and was asked only of Hohnke. Possible background to the question is some speculation that Hohnke might be interested in eventually running for mayor.]
Hohnke said it never occurred to him to think of himself as a career politician. He said he’d become involved in his community at a young age, growing up in Ann Arbor. He gotten involved in PIRGIM and then went off to graduate school working on affordable housing solutions. He said said he’d always thought of himself as “one to be engaged in my community.” A couple of years ago, he decided that the way he thought he could do that best and the “way the stars aligned,” he said, took him to the city council.
He said that he was really excited at the actual change he’d been a part of, citing the pedestrian island at 7th and Washington, and getting halfway to adding a skatepark to the city’s recreational facilities. He said he’d be happy if the residents of Ward 5 would continue to support him on the city council. He concluded by saying he didn’t think of himself as a career politician.
Each candidate gave a closing statement.
Hohnke’s Closing Statement
Hohnke thanked everyone all around. “It is my privilege,” he said, “to serve the Fifth Ward.” Hohnke said he works hard to make sure that his constituents are involved, making time for phone calls and emails throughout the week. Ward 5, he said, is an incredibly active ward. He continued, saying he is proud of working with members of the community, making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, keeping Mack Pool and the Farmers Market open, protecting fire and police services, implementing a management plan for the Huron River, and making it easier for downtown merchants to conduct business.
But he noted there’s a lot left to do. He said it was an important election. We must, Hohnke stressed, look forward and make a long-term commitment that allows us to grow and strengthen the common values we all share: a dynamic economy that provides opportunity for everyone; a more sustainable and broad transportation mix; and a protected natural environment. Working together we can continue to make Ann Arbor a vibrant community, he said, with strong neighborhoods anchored by a strong downtown, surrounded by open space and connected by a vibrant transportation system.
Glorie’s Closing Statement
Glorie began by saying that she’d received several emails about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It has turned a lot of people around, she said, making them feel like their government is no longer working for them. The government, she said, was seen to be “pussy-footing around” with the oil companies, afraid to do anything to damage an oil company’s profits, while oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
What she heard from a lot of people in Ann Arbor, she said, is something similar – that our city government is moving beyond our control. We have many processes in place that have involved too few people, she said. Various task forces, boards and commissions that are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council have involved too few people, she said. Examples she cited were the DDA and AATA boards.
Glorie noted that the process was for the mayor to nominate and for the city council to approve the appointments. She drew a parallel to the “advice and consent” clause of the U.S. Constitution describing the Senate’s role in the appointment of various public officials. It sounds like a rubber stamp, but she said that what the Constitution states is that the president makes appointments with the advice and consent of Congress.
It’s time for our city council to take a more active, “feisty” stance on various appointments, she said. Glorie characterized the various appointed bodies – boards and commissions – as a “parallel government” to the elected government. It’s important to regain more democratic control of the appointed part of the government, she said.
She then described her own style as “not leadership” – and she allowed that her supporters hated it when she said that. But she said the fact is that every idea she’d ever had has been improved by collaboration with other people. So she said she’d be asking a lot of her fellow citizens in Ward 5 – she’s be asking them to collaborate with her, and to be a part of the process.
A small group of people who work on an idea can develop “a form of autism,” so she called for including a larger group of people. Policy should not be developed by experts or schools of public policy, she said, but rather from collaboration with citizens. “We don’t need experts to design policy for us.” She ticked off some principles for development of policy: (i) government has no justification except to provide services for citizens; (ii) democratic process is essential in any sustainable society.
She concluded by quoting Leonard Cohen: “It’s over, it ain’t going any further.” The superhighway to growth that we’ve been on for centuries, she said, is over. She thus returned to the theme of some of her opening remarks, when she talked about the difference between growth and resiliency.
She allowed that it was something that no one wanted to think about, “because this is huge,” but she called for the start of that conversation.
Hayley Byrnes, an Ann Arbor Chronicle intern, contributed to this report.