Ward 5 City Council: List Making

Newcombe Clark, John Floyd participate in Chronicle forum

About 30 people gathered in the cafeteria/auditorium of Wines Elementary School on Oct. 21 for The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Ward 5 city council candidate forum. Two of the three candidates participated: Republican John Floyd and Newcombe Clark, who’s running as an independent. Carsten Hohnke, the incumbent Democrat, chose not to participate.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (seated) and Newcombe Clark (standing) during the Oct. 21 Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

Rather than a standard Q&A, candidates were given 10 specific topic areas in advance, and advised that on the night of the event, they’d be presented with list-making tasks on some of these topics that they’d be expected to complete collaboratively. The Chronicle offers a separate opinion piece about the format of the event and candidates’ participation in it.

In this article, we report the interaction of Floyd and Clark as they worked their way through the tasks, which began with a warm-up: Winnow down the 10 topics to four, to be tackled in 10-minute chunks. They settled on these topics: (1) development of downtown city-owned surface lots, (2) economic development, (3) appointments to boards and commissions, and (4) quality of life.

The two men arrived at a strategy for the winnowing task that persisted through the roughly one-hour event: Each proposed some list items relatively uncontested by the other, followed by a consensus check. In each case, the list-making per se was dispatched relatively easily by the candidates. Then with a list of items written on the white board, they used it as a starting point for a related conversation.

The List-Making Tasks

The complete set of list-making tasks, provided on a handout to the candidates and the audience, were as follows:

1. City Services

The recently established Main Street Business Improvement Zone entails voluntary extra taxation by property owners to self-fund enhanced services – primarily sidewalk cleaning, and snow clearing. Concerning such zones, The Chronicle has reported Ed Shaffran’s thoughts this way: “Shaffran went on to speculate that this could be a precursor of ‘a la carte government’ as revenues to municipalities dwindled. He suggested that the concept of a BIZ could be extended to residential neighborhoods as well. The strategy for providing services, he said, could evolve to be a system where a minimum baseline level would be provided by government, with BIZ-like affiliations electing to augment (or not) that baseline level.”

MAKE A LIST of all the services you can think of in the total bundle of services currently offered to Ann Arbor taxpayers. Identify any that you think could be modified or reduced to some “baseline level,” with additional levels provided by voluntary special assessments for specific neighborhoods.

2. Development of Downtown Surface Parking Lots

Currently the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor are in the middle of discussions about the future of surface parking lots and the role that the DDA should have in developing them. Newcombe Clark, a DDA board member, has suggested that the city should consider selling some of the lots to the DDA.

MAKE A LIST of the questions that you as city councilmembers would want to make sure are answered to your satisfaction, before voting to sell city property to the DDA.

3. Funding of Public Art

The city currently has a formula for funding public art through capital improvement projects – 1% of the cost of such projects is earmarked for public art, capped at $250,000 per project. Newcombe Clark has called for “more, not less” public art, even while acknowledging there are problems with the program. John Floyd has characterized art as nice, but suggested the economic times require different priorities.

MAKE A LIST of specific pros and cons with the city’s strategy for using public funds to support art. Try to develop ideas to address the cons.

4. Transportation

Back when he was chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, David Nacht appeared before the city council and gave the council an update on AATA’s current programs and future plans.

MAKE A LIST of specific questions you’d like the current chair of the AATA board, Jesse Bernstein, to answer if he were to give an update next month to the city council.

5. Economic Development

There are myriad different organizations and people that could, broadly construed, be involved in the “economic development” of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

MAKE A LIST of all the ways that “economic development” is supported in Ann Arbor. Among them, identify those that we should enhance with public money.

6. Management Oversight

The city council is charged with evaluating the performance of two key posts in the city administration – the city administrator and the city attorney.

MAKE A LIST of activity-based as well as outcome-based criteria you think should be used to evaluate the job performance of the city administrator.

7. Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Study

The idea has been floated to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor to spur development there. It would include cooperation from the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ypsilanti.

MAKE A LIST of specific skill sets that should be represented on the board of the TIF authority, assuming that such a TIF district were established.

8. Board and Commission Appointments

For most board and commission appointments, the mayor makes nominations, with confirmation by the city council. It is rare that councilmembers deliberate on nominations or vote against them, with one notable recent exception being Sabra’s Briere vote cast against Anya Dale’s appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

MAKE A LIST of specific questions that you think should be included on an application form for the planning commission.

9. Burden of City Council Work

Based on documents from the early 2000s, city council compensation was increased to its current levels based partly on estimates that councilmembers spent 30 to 60 hours each week working on council-related matters and that service on the city council has become a full-time job.

MAKE A LIST of specific strategies that councilmembers could use – individually or collectively – to reduce the time commitment required to serve on the city council.

10. Quality of Life

Imagine that a department at the University of Michigan is trying to recruit an academic superstar, Professor X, to come to UM on a senior appointment – that is, a tenured job is being offered.

MAKE A LIST of places and people you would have the academic superstar visit, to illustrate what the community’s values are and what we are “all about” here in Ann Arbor.

Warm-Up Task

The warm-up task was to winnow down the 10 topics to four. John Floyd led off by suggesting,”Why don’t you start with your four, I’ll start with mine, and we’ll see if there’s any match-up.”

Clark suggested topics 2 [development of downtown surface parking lots], 3 [funding of public art], 10 [quality of life], and 5 [economic development].

Floyd selected 1 [city services], 10 [quality of life], 8 [board and commission appointments] and 5 [economic development].

So the candidates arrived at rapid consensus on two of the topics they would treat: 5 [quality of life] and 10 [economic development]. Of the topics 2 [development of downtown surface parking lots] and 3 [funding of public art], Clark suggested that he would prefer 2 [development of downtown surface parking lots]. Out of 1 [city services] and 8 [board and commission appointments], Floyd said he’d prefer 8 [board and commission appointments]. Floyd allowed that topic 9 [burden of council work] was tempting: How do we arrange for the city council to do less work?

In presenting the list-making discussions, for each list, we begin with the specific task description, followed by the contents of the white board, where the candidates wrote down their lists, concluding with a report of their conversation.

List 2: Development of Downtown Surface Parking Lots

Currently the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor are in the middle of discussions about the future of downtown surface parking lots and the role the DDA should have in developing them. Newcombe Clark, a DDA board member, has suggested that the city should consider selling some of the lots to the DDA.

Task: MAKE A LIST of the questions that you as city councilmembers would want to make sure are answered to your satisfaction, before voting to sell city property to the DDA.

Surface Lots: The White Board List

  • Why is the city not competent? Why not use the city’s normal processes?
  • Where would money from ultimate disposition of the lots go?
  • What are you going to do with the lots?
  • What are they worth?
  • Would they be sold singly or in groups?
  • Will A2D2 zoning apply?
  • Are we talking about raw land or developed land?
  • Is the DDA competent to do this?

Surface Lots: Candidate Conversation

Floyd wielded the dry-erase board marker and began by asking why the city is not competent to do this task. Floyd indicated that when he wrote the word “incompetent” he did not intend it to be pejorative. He followed up with additional questions: Why is it appropriate for this not to run through the normal city processes? Where would money from the ultimate disposition of the lots go? What boundaries would the DDA imagine placing on the end uses of the lots?

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (standing) and Newcombe Clark (pointing) during the Oct. 21 Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

Clark suggested rephrasing this last question as simply: What are you going to do with them? Clark suggested adding other questions. What do you think the lots are worth? Are you looking at the lots as singular lots or do you have a plan for multiple lots – even if it is phased over multiple purchases over multiple years? Do you expect A2D2 zoning to apply to these lots? Who owns them if you buy them, and for how long?

Floyd clarified that it would be important to distinguish between raw land versus developed land. In assessing the set of questions, Floyd said he did not see any of the questions that he would not want to have answers to: “I think these all make sense.”

Faced with an apparent consensus, Clark ventured that they should think about the potential downsides to the DDA selling property – he himself saw some. Floyd elicited from Clark clarification that he was talking about the downside to using the sale of surface parking lots by the city to the DDA as a mechanism for transferring money from the DDA to the city.

Clark then posed the question: Does the skill set currently on the DDA board reflect the skill set that is necessary to develop the lots? Clark noted that it was the converse of Floyd’s question about why the city is not competent to undertake this development. Essentially the question was: Is the DDA competent? Floyd came back to the distinction between raw land versus developed land. Floyd split the issue into two questions: (1) Is the DDA better at selling raw land? and (2) Is the DDA better equipped than the private sector to develop it, and then sell the developed land?

Clark then refined the question about the board’s skill set to be one about the board’s own skill set, versus the ability to hire others with the requisite skill sets. Asked by Floyd to try to condense that into a one-liner, Clark suggested: “Does the DDA know what they’re doing?” As a councilmember, Clark said he would want to know the DDA’s competency to undertake that kind of activity. Said Floyd to Clark: “I admire your bravery in asking the question!” Clark clarified [for anyone who may not have followed Floyd's humor] that he serves on the DDA board.

Asked by Ann Arbor Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan to think about prioritizing the questions they had put on the board, Floyd said his top question was why the city would not use its normal processes. Second, said Floyd, was the question about what the property is actually worth. Clark indicated that those were also his top two questions – or at least, his top question is what the properties are worth. He also stressed the importance of getting an answer to the question of what was going to be done by the DDA with the lots. He said he did not want simply to just sell land willy-nilly to the highest bidder – which the DDA could be. Based on the three questions that they identified as most important, Floyd said that he could live with any of the three as the top priority.

List 5: Economic Development

There are myriad different organizations and people that could, broadly construed, be involved in the “economic development” of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

Task: MAKE A LIST of all the ways that “economic development” is supported in Ann Arbor. Among them, identify those that we should enhance with public money.

Economic Development: White Board List

  • Ann Arbor SPARK
  • K-12 achools
  • University of Michigan
  • the arts
  • chamber of commerce
  • Michigan Economic Development Corp.
  • Downtown Development Authority
  • Washtenaw County
  • convention and visitors bureau
  • downtown merchant associations

Economic Development: Candidate Discussion

Clark, who wielded the marker for this task, began with Ann Arbor SPARK, which he explained as a joint private-public partnership that included the city and the University of Michigan, funded through the local development finance authority (LDFA). He said he sees Ann Arbor SPARK as a promoter and ombudsman for businesses looking to relocate or stay in the Washtenaw County region.

Continuing with list items, Clark wrote “schools” on the board. He also added the University of Michigan and “the arts” to the list. Floyd added the chamber of commerce, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Floyd noted that he would have said the DDA, but that Clark did not mention that, so he concluded that the DDA must not be doing things that included economic development. Clark responded by saying that the DDA was working on the establishment of a joint economic development and communications committee right now. Floyd indicated that he believed the county government also has an economic development agency – he was not sure how much of their work is in the city of Ann Arbor.

Clark suggested that they identify how public money flows to each of the entities on the list. Floyd, noting the entry of the arts on the list, said it prompted him to think of organizations and agencies, and noted that the restaurant community is a part of the economic development of the city. That suggestion evolved – in conversation with Clark – into the inclusion on the list of the four downtown merchant associations.

SPARK gets money from the obvious sources as well as from the University of Michigan, said Clark. K-12 public schools, said Clark, get property tax money. UM receives state money. The arts does not get a lot of public money, Clark said, although there is the Percent for Art program in the city. But he noted that statewide, public arts support has dried up. The chamber of commerce, Clark noted, is a nonprofit. Mention of the chamber of commerce triggered a thought for Floyd of an organization to add to the list – the convention and visitors bureau. As far as funding, Clark noted that the convention and visitors bureau has its own tax. The DDA captures taxes, Clark said, and receives parking revenue. The county collects taxes. The downtown merchant associations receives revenues from memberships and also grants from the DDA.

Clark suggested that on the list they might identify the top three that should receive more money than they currently do, and to identify in what way additional funds should be allocated. Floyd said his top pick would be the schools. He said he agreed that the schools are an economic development resource – an important one. The schools are not, however, an economic development organization agency in the way that people conventionally think about it. But in thinking about which items on the list are most deserving of additional public funds, Floyd thought the schools are.

Clark said that he would agree with Floyd. In a city like ours, he said, which is not a major metropolitan area, the schools get most of their money from property taxes, which depend on property values. There is therefore a relationship between property values and how good our schools are. Floyd responded by saying that Clark was describing the old model – the new model is to get revenue from sales taxes and lottery tickets, with a small local supplement.

Clark raised the question of whether the state revenues being put towards the schools are sustainable. He said he had seen demographic information that indicates 75-80% of Michigan residents do not have children. In Washtenaw County, he said, 6% of the population are 20-35 years old. He allowed that Vivienne Armentrout [who was in the audience] would disagree with him on that. However, he contended that we do have a demographic problem when the funding model is based on the number of kids coming through the door. The kid count will go down unless we have more kids being born here or families with kids moving here, he said. The trend was not in that direction, Clark cautioned.

Floyd said he sees the schools as economic development engines in two ways. One is that they are where we grow our next-generation of entrepreneurs, doctors, and plumbers. The second way is that if someone is considering relocating here and they have children or hope to have children, that’s an advantage in moving here. He concluded that he sees the schools as a place where we grow our own talent and – at least for some portion of the people who would consider relocating here – the schools are an attractant.

Looking at other items on the list that need additional public support, Floyd said that he felt that the University Michigan could use more support. It’s not about economic development per se, Floyd said, it’s about making school more affordable for students who live here. That meant, Floyd said, that the reason he thinks the University Michigan should receive additional public support was a little bit off topic.

Floyd said he was not sure he would provide public funding for many of the other items they put on the board. Clark said his top priority for additional public funding would be the arts. Not because he thinks it’s the most important of the list, but because he thinks that it is the most underfunded on the list. Partly due to prior conversations that he and Floyd had had about the Percent for Art program in the city and Clark’s complaints with how it’s currently being administered, Clark suggested that a compromise would be to improve the funding from the private sector. The DDA previously had a program for facade improvements – the Performance Network and the Michigan Theater, and other organizations in the arts community that have buildings, could use money for that.

Clark came back to the fact that he put the arts as his No. 1 priority for additional funding because the funding is currently so low. Floyd told Clark that he would “throw him this bone” – if we were to add another group, that would be his next one. After the arts, Clark said, his next priority would be the county – we can’t live in a bubble, he said. The analogy Clark gave for the county is that they can’t turn the hose on the fire without having to use some water on the flower beds. The strength of Ann Arbor and strength of Ward 5, Clark said, is based on the strength of Ypsilanti and the strength of the county – something Floyd agreed with by saying “Absolutely.”

Clark spoke of raising the sea level for those most in need. In terms of the list, Floyd said he would probably put the arts third and county fourth. Floyd told Clark that Clark was adding things in the same order that he would add them. As far as having to pick four – schools, University of Michigan, the arts, the county – those are the four that Floyd said he would pick.

Task 8: Board and Commission Appointments

For most board and commission appointments, the mayor makes nominations, with confirmation by the city council. It is rare that councilmembers deliberate on nominations or vote against them, with one notable recent exception being Sabra’s Briere vote cast against Anya Dale’s appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

Task: MAKE A LIST of specific questions that you think should be included on an application form for the planning commission.

Board/Commission Appointments: White Board List

  • What are your qualifications?
  • What is your interest?
  • What are your existing relationships, including social?
  • What is your prior experience in this setting?
  • What other relevant life experience do you have?
  • What other public service are you doing?
  • How do you add to the team?
  • What is your time availability and commitment?
  • Demographic information as allowed by law.

Board/Commission Appointments: Background

In the course of the conversation between the candidates, the question of the rationale behind Briere’s vote on Dale’s appointment arose. Briere, at the time, had identified a specific connection that caused her concern, namely Dale’s role as an employee of Washtenaw County, as a potential conflict. From The Chronicle’s report of the May 17, 2010 city council meeting:

AATA Board: Council Deliberations

In a final business of the evening, mayor John Hieftje asked for confirmation of Anya Dale to replace Paul Ajegba on the AATA board. Ajegba did not seek re-appointment. Hieftje had nominated Dale at the previous council’s meeting. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that Dale’s position with the county as a planner creates a possible conflict. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that he had received emails on Dale’s nomination with concerns about the number of different commissions on which Dale serves. He added that he felt the process for the nomination should become more transparent.

Hieftje indicated that he hoped that Dale would use her position on the environmental commission to create a synergy. Anglin agreed that having expertise and experience with two different bodies would be useful, and gave the example of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wearing “two hats,” serving on both the city council and the DDA board.

Anglin said he would support this specific nomination, but said he would like to see the council ask in a more effective way: Who would like to serve? Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) weighed in with his support for Dale as a nominee based on his experience when he’d crossed paths with the city council’s liaison to the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked when the next AATA board meeting was – it’s not until towards the end of June. He asked if it was not possible to postpone the confirmation and have both Dale and Roger Kerson, who was also being nominated that night, come to the council and introduce themselves. [Kerson, who was nominated to replace Ted Annis, is public relations director with the United Auto Workers (UAW). He'd entertained a run for a Ward 5 city council seat in 2008, but ultimately decided not to run.]

Responding to Kunselman on the suggestion to delay, Hieftje conveyed some irritation and said that he would like to see the nomination of Dale confirmed that evening and have a process followed that the council had used for years. He added that Dale rides the bus.

Outcome: Dale was confirmed, with dissent from Briere. Rapundalo left before voting. The nomination for Kerson will come for confirmation at the council’s next meeting.

Board/Commission Appointments: Candidate Conversation

Floyd now wielded the dry-erase board marker. He began by writing down some of his own suggested questions. What are your qualifications? What is your interest – why do you want to take what you do and do it on the board? Do you have social or business or political relations with people on the city council – if so, who and what are they?

Clark wanted to know if Floyd would characterize what he was talking about as simply “potential conflicts.” Floyd said not necessarily. They settled on “existing relationships.” Clark suggested that a question should be: Please describe the skill set of the board and commission members and how you fit into that team with your skill set. Floyd suggested the phrasing: How do your skills merge with the current board? Clark offered: How do you add to the team that is in place?

To the list Clark added: What is your available time commitment and your willingness to commit to that? Clark said he wanted demographic information to the extent that it’s appropriate by law – in terms of having a diverse board. Floyd suggested: What is your prior experience in a similar setting? Floyd also suggested more of an open question: What life experiences have given you insight into this area? As an example, Floyd said someone might say they used to live in Boston and they had a particular kind of park there and it was a really great park.

Clark then paused to ask a question of the moderator about the reason for Sabra Briere’s vote against Anya Dales’s appointment to the AATA. Clark said he knew Dale personally – he went to high school with her. In his mind, Dale would be a logical choice for the AATA. So he was curious to know what reason Briere had given at the time. The answer Clark got from the moderator was that it was not a long and detailed deliberation, but that Briere had indicated she had concerns about the number of different organizations and committees that Dale served on. Clark observed that Briere had not had a problem with Clark serving on the DDA board, even though he served on several other boards.

As a suggested list item, Floyd offered: Are you on other public bodies? Floyd noted that it’s a question of having a small number of people on a large number of public bodies, and Clark concurred that board nepotism is always a problem. They settled on “other current public service” as a way to summarize the idea.

At this point, about four minutes into the 10-minute task, Floyd and Clark were advised by the moderator that the list of items they had produced up to that point would probably work for any board or commission and were not specific to the planning commission. Clark also observed that many of the questions were already on the current application form.

Clark then indicated that he wanted to pursue the question of Anya Dale’s appointment to the AATA board, allowing that he was perhaps breaking the prescribed forum format. He described her as an outspoken proponent of best practices when it comes to transit-oriented development. Our transit plan for the city has been turned down a couple of times for grant requests, Clark said, based on the rationale that it was unfocused and contradictory. The transit plan that the city had just recently adopted last year, Clark continued, calls for transit-oriented development – except in cases where the character or use of a neighborhood could be threatened. Dale works in this area, Clark said, alluding to Dale’s work on the Washtenaw Avenue Corridor study. If we want better transportation, Clark said, transit-oriented development best practice is part of it – this is what the Urban Land Institute says, that’s what Dale’s degree says, that’s what best practices say. However, Clark added, there is an acceptance or a compromise that along key corridors, you have to put larger buildings and you have to increase the density to justify more bus routes and perhaps a train.

He said he did not want to put thoughts into Sabra Briere’s vote, but he felt that Dale’s position on the AATA board could be controversial relative to advocacy for best practices as it relates to density.

Floyd pointed out that it’s a “delicate thing” to have a public nomination in a community the size of Ann Arbor – it’s very hard to vote against someone you’re going to encounter in the grocery store or the library. At the same time, if we’re going to have a public approval process, you can’t chastise people because they decided not to approve someone, he said. If they’re not allowed to disapprove someone, why have the vote? Clark agreed with Floyd: “Absolutely.” Floyd continued by saying that otherwise the process is just another empty form which we sometimes have this suspicion of in our present government. So whatever Briere’s motives were in this one place, Floyd said, if we are not going to allow her to vote no, whatever her reasons were, there’s really no point in having a vote.

In response to Floyd, Clark asked whether we have a right to know what Briere’s reasons are, since she’s a public official. If the reason is other board commitments, then many people, himself included, would be restricted from any board. Floyd said he would answer the first part of Clark’s question by saying elected officials are accountable for everything they do. They might be afraid to tell someone their reasons – for example, if they think that the person is genuinely incompetent. You don’t necessarily want to be on the record talking about someone in your community that way.

Floyd came back to the idea that if we do not allow people to vote how they feel, then we have an empty process. It’s a delicate balance, he said, between trashing people who live in your community or whom you don’t want on a board, and having a process be empty.

Clark said he also thinks there is a delicate balance – and he admitted he sometimes fell outside of that balance, in his interest to understand rationale and decisions. It creates a perception of contrarianism. If he were a councilmember, he said, and Briere gave that as a rationale, Clark said it would be in the best interests of his constituents to say to her: You are entitled to your vote, but I need more clarification for your reasoning because that doesn’t hold a lot of water. It was appropriate in that instance, especially, he said, in light of the possible controversial nature of Dale’s connection to advocacy of best practices in transit-oriented development.

Floyd agreed that Briere owed her constituents any explanation they wish – he said he was not sure he would take one of the city’s goals – namely transportation – and elevate that among all other possible goals. Transit needs to be balanced among other things that also matter to people here, he said. Floyd also suggested the possibility that someone might disagree with the majority should not be a reason for excluding someone from serving on the city council. On the whole, he said, he thinks we get better decisions when we have more than one point of view. If everyone always agrees on everything, then something is probably wrong, Floyd concluded. There is such a thing, he allowed, as being civil and being principled in the stances that you take. It helps the process, Floyd said, when people do make their reasons clear. If we are afraid of having contention in the public arena, he said there’s not much point in having a public arena.

Clark asked whether good cities have the transportation systems and good downtowns and good taxicab and cable commissions, for example, or whether good boards and commissions make a good city? A good downtown takes work, Clark said. A good transportation system takes work. And that’s not political, he said – there are best practices for achieving those things. Clark said he doesn’t think that just because Ann Arbor is good, that we’re going to have a good downtown. “I don’t think it’s just a given.”

Floyd came back to the idea that he would not elevate transit as the single most important thing in a city of 120,000 people. If you’re in Chicago, he said, where the population is closer to 8 million people and on a Saturday afternoon it can take you an hour to go to the grocery store – it used to take that long when he lived there, he said – yes, transit matters dramatically. But when you’re in a small college town, it’s less obvious to him, Floyd said, that it matters that dramatically.

If we became the population center of the state, Floyd said, like Detroit once was and still is, transit would matter more. But Floyd pointed out that Ann Arbor’s streets are laid out downtown for a town of about 20,000 people – it was laid out around the turn of the century. If you try to cram 1 million or more people into that space, he noted, we would need some other kind of arrangement than we have now. The city simply isn’t currently laid out to handle it. Floyd said he did not agree with the idea that transit should drive everything that happens.

Task 10: Quality of Life

Imagine that a department at the University of Michigan is trying to recruit an academic superstar, Professor X, to come to UM on a senior appointment – that is, a tenured job is being offered.

Task: MAKE A LIST of places and people you would have the academic superstar visit, to illustrate what the community’s values are and what we are “all about” here in Ann Arbor.

Quality of Life: White Board List

  • [Clark] 8-Ball Saloon
  • [Clark] planetarium at the UM Exhibit Museum of Natural History
  • [Clark] Pool crashing at Huron Towers
  • [Clark] Palmer House
  • [Clark] Floor 6 of UM Ross Business School
  • [Clark] Black Elks on Friday nights
  • [Clark] Westgate shantytown
  • [Floyd] Wines Elementary during a school day
  • [Floyd] John Floyd’s minister
  • [Floyd] West Park
  • [Floyd] YMCA
  • [Floyd] Shakespeare in the Arb
  • [Floyd] Ken Fischer [University Musical Society]
  • [Floyd] Main Street on a Friday night
  • [Floyd] Old West Side
  • [Floyd] a north side neighborhood [Orchard Park]
  • [Floyd] Devonshire Road

Quality of Life: Candidate Conversation

Clark began by saying that he would betray his age for a lot of the items. The first item he suggested elicited a laugh from the audience – The 8-Ball, a bar located underneath the Blind Pig nightclub on South First. Next on Clark’s list was the planetarium at the UM Exhibit Museum of Natural History. Clark’s third item was “pool crashing at Huron Towers.” Asked to elaborate, Clark explained that you take the bridge from the Arb over the Huron River late at night and jump into the swimming pool at Huron Towers, because there is no guard and it is heated, he said. And you can get to it publicly. Floyd quipped that he could imagine many tenured faculty wanting to go pool crashing.

Next for Clark was the Palmer House, because it shows what’s possible in the city in terms of housing. He explained that the Palmer House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, built for Professor Palmer and his wife Mary Palmer – who Clark said had brought modern yoga to Ann Arbor back in the ’50s by bringing B.K.S. Iyengar to Ann Arbor. If you’ve ever been lucky enough, Clark said, to hold salon in the Palmer House when Mary Palmer had one of her specifically designed outfits and sat at her piano and sang in Japanese to you around every piece of meticulously Frank Lloyd Wright-designed piece of furniture and pottery – it’s “otherworldly,” Clark said, but very much what Ann Arbor is.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (seated) and Newcombe Clark (standing) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School. Despite appearances, Floyd did not invite Clark to sing "I'm a Little Teapot." Clark was describing an overhang at the Ross Business School, that during a thunderstorm makes you feel like you're standing next to God.

Clark said he would avoid putting things like The Big House (Michigan Stadium) and the Fleetwood Diner on the list. Rather, there’s a place on the sixth floor of the new University of Michigan Ross Business School, Clark said, where there is a glass overhang that has windows on all three sides and the roof. In a thunderstorm, he said, it’s “like standing next to God.” It is a beautiful thing, he said, and it is well worth the $130,000 he’s spending to attend school there. Except, he noted, it does leak. Asked by an audience member if it was publicly accessible, Clark said it was, but cautioned people not to tell everyone because it’s best enjoyed alone.

Floyd said he would pick a few items that are very personal to him, not because his experience is so special, but because it is something particular – and you can get a sense of a place by looking at particulars. He said that he would bring someone from out of town to Wines Elementary School during the day – the same school where the candidate forum was being held. Floyd said he would introduce the person to his son’s fifth grade teacher and have them sit in class and watch what goes on.

Floyd said he would also take the person to meet his minister, not because they share his faith, but to introduce them to someone he knows who is in that part of Ann Arbor – who can give them a sense of what goes on in Ann Arbor from the standpoint of organized religion. Clark, who was at that point wielding the dry-erase marker, asked Floyd have to summarize that list item. Replied Floyd “My minister – Paul and Stacey Duke.”

Floyd said he would take the person to West Park, especially now that it has been reworked, to get a sense of what the older part of town is like. He would take them to the YMCA and show them the sort of facilities are that are available to the community, and who’s in there and what goes on there.

Floyd allowed it was only a seasonally possible activity, but suggested taking a person to one of the Shakespeare in the Arboretum performances. Another suggestion from Floyd was some out-of-town symphony at Hill Auditorium. Floyd said he would have the person meet Ken Fischer – the head of the University Musical Society, who is responsible for a large fraction of the professional touring art performances that go on in the city.

Clark added some additional items – Funky Kingston, every Friday night in the basement of the Black Elks Lodge. In clarifying the location of the Black Elks Lodge on Sunset, Floyd noted that is down the hill from his house. Clark described it as “quite a Friday night party.”

Clark said he would take the person to the area behind Westgate Shopping Center, to the shantytown that no one knows about, he said, unless you have enough presence of mind to look to your right as you drive past the Jackson Road intersection. Clark said he thinks it’s interesting that as we’ve doubled in population in the county over the last 30 years – in his neighborhood where his mother bought her house for $36,000 in 1984 and last refinanced it at $290,000 – our population has changed, he concluded. What we think Ann Arbor is isn’t the same as it was in the ’60s, Clark said – or the ’80s or ’90s.

Responding to this sign in the Wines Elementary candidate forum audience, Newcombe Clark said he agreed that the rent is definitely too damn high.

Looking at a sign held by two audience members, Clark agreed, “The rent is definitely too damn high!” Clark said that if he earned what his mother earned, if he had kids now – he noted that he’s now older than his mom was when she had him – he couldn’t afford to raise his kids here. He could not afford to put his kids through the school system, he said. People still live like this, he said – and even if we put them behind our shopping centers, or rail against them as “the other,” they are still us, he said. Even though we’ve become older and richer and whiter over the last 30 years, there are costs and consequences to that socially, he cautioned. He encouraged people to go take a look at how other people live.

Floyd added to the list Main Street on a Friday night. Floyd also added the Old West Side – one of the city’s historic districts. Floyd said that he would go through the neighborhood that is across from the former Pfizer property – Orchard Hills subdivision, out by the water tower on Plymouth Road. That would allow the person to see what a neighborhood looks like that is not the Old West Side, Floyd said. He also said he would drive the person down Devonshire Road to get some sense of what the range of options is in the community for housing. At that Clark observed, “We are at different stages in our lives, aren’t we!”

Floyd noted that the task had specified a tenure-track faculty member, which is generally someone who has a Ph.D. and has published a number of papers and has done a postdoc or two and a fellowship – you might get a whiz kid who is 27, he said, but you’re more than likely looking at someone who is in their early 30s. And by that stage of life, a person is in a household-formation mindset.

Clark responded by saying that he knew a German academic who is 28. Clark said that he himself is 29 and he will graduate from the business school in a year and a half: “I want this town to be my town as much as I want it to be your town.” Floyd, though, said if we are looking for an academic superstar, the first thing you have to know about Ann Arbor is that it is not Chicago. “It’s not Minneapolis. It’s not San Francisco. It’s not Boston. It’s not New York. It’s not Austin, Texas.” It’s a community that does not have all the things going on that a metropolitan community of 1 million people will have. That’s the reality of what is here, Floyd said. Ann Arbor does have a lot of things you won’t normally find in a community of 110,000 people, but if what you want is a metropolitan area, this is probably not where you want to put down your roots, he cautioned.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Oct. 21 Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

The problem with the state of Michigan, Floyd continued, is that we don’t really have a metropolitan area where people will want to put their roots down. He told Clark that he did not think the two of them were far apart conceptually. Floyd said he did not think it was a good idea to turn Ann Arbor into a kind of place with 1 million or 2 million people. You’d have to bulldoze the entire city that is here, Floyd said, and build from scratch.

Floyd said he understood what Clark was saying. If you are 20-something and you are on the make and want to find your mate, establish a career and find out who you are – Ann Arbor is probably not the ideal place for that. That was one of the reasons that he had left Ann Arbor when he was 24, Floyd said. He finished up all of his schooling and went to Chicago and lived there for a long time.

In a different stage of life, Floyd said, he had returned to Ann Arbor. Floyd said he understood that there are people who don’t want to have to leave Ann Arbor to have the advantages of a large city here, but you would have to make a large city here. Floyd pointed out that Grand Rapids has double the size of the population of Ann Arbor, but even then, Grand Rapids is not a place that people go when they want the bright lights of a big city. Even if we doubled Ann Arbor’s size, he warned, it would still not hold the attraction of an urban center. If you tripled Ann Arbor in size, it might begin to approach being an urban center.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (seated) and Newcombe Clark (standing) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

Clark responded to Floyd by saying that there was already enough on the white board that drew him to Ann Arbor – there’s just not a job. That’s the bigger problem for someone his age, Clark said. Ann Arbor is not only competing with Portland or Chicago, Clark said. We are competing with Venice, Florence, Rotterdam, and Hikone – Ann Arbor’s sister city in Japan. Those are cities that people actually move to. But people in the U.S. or in Holland or Japan do not wake up and say, I’ve really got to move to Ann Arbor, unless they are saying, I’m going there for a couple of years for school or for my postdoc. Clark said that Ann Arbor does not need to be a city of 1 million people, but it needs to recognize that there are social, economic and political costs to having a population of just 120,000 people. But more importantly, there are costs of having a population of 120,000 of the same kind of people, he said – the same age, the same race, the same socio-economic class. We lack diversity, Clark said. That has more of a cost than being small or being big, he said.

Floyd countered by saying that Ann Arbor has a black population that is approximately the same as the U.S. average, and an Asian population that is larger than the U.S. average. He said he would love to see where the data came from about only 6% of the county population being between 20 and 35. Floyd said he was skeptical that you could ever turn Ann Arbor into a community that people would move to from any of the places that Clark had mentioned – if someone wanted the things that were in those cities. If you like living in Venice, Floyd said, there’s nothing here for you – and won’t ever be. Clark, alluding to the well-watered landscape of Venice and Rotterdam, pointed to pool crashing in Huron Towers on the board and equipped: “This is a lot of fun!”

Clark allowed that Ann Arbor’s demographics are similar to the rest of the country, but said that 90% of the country is losing population – losing people – to the other 10%. It’s not that Ann Arbor is worse than the majority of the country, he said. It’s that Ann Arbor is not better than other places in the country. There’s a part of the country that is better, and it has nothing to do with being in the Sun Belt or other factors, Clark said.

Floyd asked if Clark was simple talking about growth in terms of the number of bodies. Floyd came back to the point that he felt that Ann Arbor is representative racially of the national picture – he allowed that we might not have as many Hispanics. In crude numbers, though, Floyd said we have a large Asian population and at least the national average black population. Floyd said he was not sure what it is that Clark thinks we are not doing, other than not growing in numbers as much as other places.

Clark replied that what he was trying to say is that being the best in Michigan is not enough anymore. Being at the top of a pile depends on what pile that is, he said. Ann Arbor could be buried in the coffin with the rest of the state, and have the pillow– it would thus be the most comfortable, but still be buried six feet under. Clark said he disliked the idea that “it’s pretty good here relative to the rest of Michigan.” Ann Arbor, Clark said, has the resources to be the best, but it would take some effort to get there. Floyd responded by saying he’d been to Florence and that he did not think Ann Arbor would ever – no matter what you ever do here – compete with Florence for people who want what Florence has.

Floyd told Clark that what he understood from Clark is a kind of “underlying hunger” that many of us have in Michigan for a functional and vital central city. Michigan doesn’t really have a city like that, Floyd said. Ann Arbor might be the closest thing Michigan has to one, but it is not realistic for Ann Arbor to think of itself as being the economic and population center of the state. It would be like having the population around Detroit picking up and relocating 40 miles down the road to Ann Arbor, Floyd said. He could not see that happening. We’ve been waiting for a half century or more for Detroit to reinvent itself, Floyd said, and maybe it will never happen.

Floyd said he chose to move home when he was living elsewhere, because of the many things that Ann Arbor has. You can go pool crashing, he said, and it does have the Palmer House, and it has all this stuff, plus it doesn’t take an hour and a half to go to the grocery store. Floyd said he lived with his children about a mile from the elementary school where the forum was being held, and when his little one turned nine at the end of second grade, Floyd said he let him ride his bike to school. He would never consider letting that happen almost anywhere in Chicago – even in most of the suburbs of Chicago. But you can do that in Ann Arbor, he said, and that’s why you might want to be in Ann Arbor instead of Rotterdam or some other place that is enormous.

Floyd said he thought he understood what Clark’s hunger was. Clark responded by saying that what he was after was not simply a greater number of people. In Ann Arbor, Clark said, we sometimes suffer from a Gilligan’s Island Syndrome – given our choices of Ginger, or Marianne, or the millionaire’s wife, you make do and you make choices. Clark said he is tired of the city that just makes do and makes choices and is happy just to be better than our neighbors. That’s a world we don’t live in anymore, Clark said. We cannot compete with that mindset.

Asked Floyd: “What are we competing for?” Clark’s answer: “A sustainable future, growth, happiness.” Floyd followed up: “How much growth?” Clark said he is not talking about growth in terms of number of people. Floyd said it sounded something like self actualization. Clark’s response: “Sure, why not?” Floyd said that to him, it sounded more like Mary Palmer’s yoga than where the bus lines run or whether we have rail-based transit.

Asked by the moderator to wrap up the topic by identifying some of the top items on the board, Clark said that the Black Elks Lodge parties are becoming one of his favorites. He agreed with Floyd’s suggestion of Main Street on Friday night, saying “That’s my neighborhood.” He also agreed with Floyd’s suggestion that Ken Fischer was somebody good to meet with.

Floyd said that he would come back to one of his original choices of bringing a person to Wines Elementary. He also identified Shakespeare in the Arb as among his top picks. He agreed with Clark’s selection of Main Street on a Friday night. Floyd rounded out his top four with a drive down Devonshire Road for its range of different architecture – with newer, post-World Ward II construction at the lower end, and through the history of 20th century architecture all the way out to Washtenaw Avenue.


  1. October 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm | permalink

    I was startled that Mr. Clark referred to me in his comments. It was presumably because we have exchanged comments on the subject on previous Chronicle posts. I don’t have any special knowledge on the subject of demographics, I only go by the published census figures for Washtenaw County [link], which show percentages of the total county population to be 11.4% for ages 20-24 and 14.9% for 25-34. I don’t know where he gets the 6% figure, but I suggest that he do a little more research before quoting it again.

    By the way, the figure of 120,000 population for Ann Arbor is too high – estimates from 2005-2007 are for 113,000 [link]

  2. October 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm | permalink

    What an amazing encounter! I bet the two candidates learned a great deal about each other as well as the audience. The “stage” was perfectly set and “actors” played their parts with aplomb. The wouldn’t have opened up more even if they were sitting on a Teeter Totter.


  3. By Mark Koroi
    October 29, 2010 at 6:10 pm | permalink

    I would like to thank Mr. Floyd for taking the time and effort to be the only Republican running for City Council this year.

    I am disappointed that no other Republicans (or any other party except Democrats) appear on the City Council ballot.

  4. By DrData
    October 29, 2010 at 7:39 pm | permalink

    I also raised the issue of Clark’s demographic numbers. I would not have raised the issue had it been in the ballpark. Perhaps he was using 2000 data or it was the larger Detroit metropolitan area – which would dilute the young adult population somewhat. But, his response did not clarify matters and I cannot find any scenario that comes up with that number or close to that number.

    On a technical note to go with my Name, the ACS data are not supposed to be used for population counts:

    Here’s the quote from the Census Bureau:

    Although the American Community Survey (ACS) also produces population, demographic and housing unit estimates, it is the Population Estimates Program that produces and disseminates the official estimates of the population for the nation, states, counties, cities and towns and estimates of housing units for states and counties.

    So, if you look at the ACS2008 population for the city of Detroit and compare it to the Pop Estimates number there is a big discrepancy. ACS (2008): 777,493 Estimates (2008): 912,632

    Starting with the 2009 release, the ACS is using some sub-county estimates so that there isn’t this wide discrepancy for cities that do not span an entire county. Cleveland/Cuyahoga County is another comparison with pretty wide discrepancies. between ACS population and the Pop Estimate number.

    We’ll find out with the 2010 Census, we’ll have a better handle on the population of Detroit city.

    And, in the case of Ann Arbor, the ACS/Pop Estimates are quite close to each other. Armentrout’s number is more on the spot than 120,000. But, 120,000 is closer than that 6% number, which started the comment in the first place.

  5. October 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm | permalink

    What a wonderful event! The idea of list-making followed by discussions turned out to be a fine way for us to learn about what each of the participating candidates think.

    I hope the Chronicle does this again. And again.

  6. October 29, 2010 at 8:44 pm | permalink

    @DrData, thanks for the info. The ACS is what comes up most easily if you search.

    I’m looking forward to December 31 and the “real” numbers.

  7. By John Floyd
    October 30, 2010 at 12:40 am | permalink

    @3 Mr. Koroi

    Thank you for your kind remarks. My guess is that others are waiting for someone to show that it can be done.

    As to the discussion at the end, Mr. Clark seems to have some deep, inexpressible longing – because I kept trying to get him to tell us what his vision was, and all he could seem to come up with was that it was NOT growth in numbers. He never quite seemed able to say what it was we were lacking, just that he was unhappy with our community as it is.

    As to Mr. Clark’s statement that we are competing for sustainability, growth and happiness, the only one that makes sense to me is growth. I don’t think that sustainability or happiness are things that we compete for. Your sustainability does not make me less sustainable, and the idea that we compete for happiness, as if there were a finite amount of happiness in the universe, does not sound like something we would pick up in a yoga class. This leaves us with growth. Growth, to me, does sound like something one does compete for: if we draw population from some other city, they go down, we go up.

    Does anyone know why we are doubling the capacity of the city’s sewer system?

    I am surprised at how much this election conversation reminds me of Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street”.

    Chronicle: good job, and thank you again for something creative and informative that serves the greater good.

    John Floyd
    Republican for Council
    5th Ward

  8. By Rod Johnson
    October 30, 2010 at 9:50 am | permalink

    I think you’re niggling over a minor infelicity of wording–if you replace the word “compete” with the word “strive” everything makes perfect sense, and it’s disingenuous to act otherwise.

  9. By Pete Richards
    October 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    Revealing and illustrative, far too rarely do we see how a candidate might act as they work to represent their constituents. Daring and creative attaboys to Chronicle and candidates Clark and Floyd.

    Councilman Hoehnke, you are asking for reelection; where were you and why did you choose to not participate? I’m a longtime ward 5 voter and would appreciate your response.

  10. By John Dory
    October 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm | permalink

    Pete, don’t hold your breath.

    I was disappointed that Hohnke did not appear, nor give any valid excuse for not appearing.

    Give him a “zero” for effort.

    It is one one the reasons I am supporting John Floyd.

    John has taken the time to appear at City Council meetings and act as an advocate for the citizens of Ann Arbor.

    Even Newcombe Clark has actually gone through the motions of a campaign and gone toe-to-toe with the Mayor, which I appreciate.

    Floyd’s and Clark’s enemies in this campaign are straight-ticket Democrats. It may all but guarantee Hohnke’s re-election.

  11. By Jack F.
    November 2, 2010 at 10:36 am | permalink

    I’m voting straight Democratic in the 4th Ward but ‘unchecking’ the box for my worthless council rep and a couple of others. If I would in the 5th I’d vote for Clark though Mr. Floyd has made several interesting points during his campaign. Hohnke is a coward and is hiding behind in the bushes, inspite of his claims to have been ‘available’ during the Primary campaign. Pathetic.