Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Three For Ward 3

Voters choose on Aug. 2 for city council: Kunselman, Ault, or Issa

Mid-July was busy for the three candidates in the city of Ann Arbor’s Ward 3 Democratic primary. Incumbent Stephen Kunselman, along with challengers Ingrid Ault and Marwan Issa, attended forums on back-to-back evenings on July 12 and 13.

The first took place at the Malletts Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, organized by the Third Ward Committee of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party. The second was hosted by the local League of Women Voters and filmed at the Community Television Network studios on South Industrial Highway. The winner of the Ward 3 Democratic primary will face Republican David Parker in November.

Stephen Kunselman, Ingrid Ault, Marwan Issa

Ward 3 Democratic primary candidates at the CTN League of Women Voters forum on July 13 (top to bottom): Stephen Kunselman, Ingrid Ault, Marwan Issa. (Photos by the writer.)

The Malletts Creek event was conducted in a town hall format, with questions asked straight from the audience (not written down on index cards). The sequence of questions was determined by moderator Carl Akerlof, who picked members out of the audience.

Due to that format, the Mallets Creek forum may have more accurately reflected what issues are on Ward 3 voters’ minds – though there was considerable overlap between the two forums. This report focuses mostly on the Malletts Creek event.

Before the questions started, the candidates mingled with attendees and with each other. Issa sought some insight from Kunselman on the ins-and-outs of campaign yard sign placement. They can’t be in the right-of-way, Kunselman explained – that’s probably why some of Issa’s signs had been removed by the city. Ault asked Kunsleman: “Do you want to work on the reunion with me?” The two graduated 30 years ago in the same class from Pioneer High School.

Their ties to the community was a theme of all three candidates’ opening and closing statements, which also included other themes familiar from a candidate forum in June hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party.

Kunselman stressed a focus of local government on the basics of health, safety and welfare, as opposed to economic development. That contrasted with Ault’s emphasis on her experience working with small, locally-owned independent businesses as executive director of Think Local First – she said she felt that government has a role to play in that. Marwan Issa allowed that he was young (27 years old) and it was his first time running for office, but stressed that he would bring a new vision, and a sense of urgency and energy.

The topics of questions from attendees ranged from garbage collection, to the city’s pension system, to the use of city-owned real estate. For this report, we’ve pulled out some of the highlights.

Opening and Closing Statements

In the time allotted for opening and closing statements, the candidates all stressed their connection to the community.

Ingrid Ault described herself as a townie who grew up in Ann Arbor and who used to walk into town to visit the Quality Bakery. She said she had a long record of service and is currently working for Think Local First, a nonprofit that supports local, independently-owned businesses. [link to Nonprofit Enterprise at Work directory listing for TLF]. She said that government has a role to play in that. She cited communication as a strength, saying she would take everyone’s comments seriously. She promised she would respond to every email that she gets. She told audience members that they are the under-tapped resources of the community.

Ault said she understands the issues that small businesses and homeowners face, and is interested in thoughtful discussions about solutions. She said she fears that safety services will decline unless the city finds solutions. She told the audience, “I’m your visionary.” She said she was tired of hearing that “We can’t do that, because of X, Y or Z,” and wanted find ways to move at least one little step forward.

Stephen Kunselman thanked his challengers for making it a race, noting that it’s his fourth election campaign. [His previous experience in three-way Ward 3 races is 2-0. He won the 2006 primary, also contested by Jeff Meyers and Alice Ralph. And he won the 2009 primary, contested by LuAnne Bullington and incumbent Leigh Greden. His one defeat came in a two-way race against Christopher Taylor in the 2008 primary, which accounts for his one-year hiatus from council council.]

Kunselman allowed that his status as a seasoned veteran could be considered a negative by some people, but concluded, “It is what it is.” He stressed the need to continue down a path of health, safety and welfare. He felt the city had gotten a bit off track by trying to engage in economic development activity as opposed to health, safety and welfare. He feared that as bad as the cuts to city personnel were this year, next year will be worse. He stated that the cuts in the fire and police departments shouldn’t have to happen. He pointed to the $140 million worth of debt that is recorded on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s annual report, saying “We’ll be paying for that.” That debt drags down the city’s ability to pay for personnel and fix streets, he said.

Kunselman called himself an independent voice on the council. He said that in years past, he’d heard the perception that decisions had already been made before they reached the council table – that’s not happening any more, he said.

Marwan Issa told the audience he was truly honored to be running to represent “this great ward.” He said he was running because of a concern for transparency and accountability. He wanted to know who’s in charge. Like Kunselman, he pointed to the $140 million of debt recorded on the DDA annual report and asked, “Who’s accountable for that?”

Countering the possible perception that he is not experienced enough, Issa stated, “I know I’m young,” but went on to talk about bringing a new vision, a sense of urgency and energy. Issa said he understands what it would take to make Ann Arbor the best place it can be.

Topic: Land Use

The use of land – particularly city-owned land – found its way into several questions from the audience. Candidates fielded a general question on parks, a specific question on Fuller Road Station (a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station that’s proposed on a parcel currently designated as part of the city’s park system) and the future of the Library Lot (the top of the underground parking garage currently under construction on South Fifth Avenue.)

Land Use: Parks

Ault said she was a huge supporter of parks, she uses them, they’re a treasure. She told the audience they could count on her to continue support for the parks. There had been talk about rolling general fund support for parks into the parks millage, she noted – she was not sure that’s a good idea, and said she was undecided on that.

By way of background, the talk to which Ault alluded was the result of an information request from Marica Higgins (Ward 4) made at a May 9, 2011 city council work session on parks funding. The work session covered much of the same ground as a park advisory commission meeting held on April 26, 2011. Both the council work session and the advisory commission meeting reviewed how the administrative policy on parks funding works, which was approved by the city council in 2006 as part of the pitch to voters for a renewal and combination of two separate parks millages. That combined parks maintenance and capital millage was approved for six years. It would need to be renewed on the November 2012 ballot to continue longer than that.

In broad strokes, the 2006 administrative policy stipulates that general fund support for parks will not be diminished disproportionately, relative to other areas of the city budget. So Higgins’ inquiry about the millage level required to support parks entirely through that millage is essentially a question about a scenario that would render the 2006 policy moot. As a follow-up to the city council request for information, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – gave park advisory commissioners an update at their May 17, 2011 meeting:

[city parks and recreation manager Colin] Smith also reported on an item related to current budget talks. At a May 9 city council work session, some councilmembers had asked what the parks budget would look like if all operations were funded by a millage. It would take roughly $9 million – about twice what the current millage covers. This gives the council an idea of the scope of parks operations, and Smith said he only mentioned it to PAC as a point of information. He said he was sure there’d be more questions regarding that in the future.

At the Malletts Creek forum, Kunselman noted that he had served as the council’s representative to the park advisory commission for a brief time. He’d helped with the skatepark effort at that time. Kunselman noted that Washtenaw County is helping with that project. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "Plans for Skatepark, Recycling, Mental Health"] He said he’s a big proponent of active recreation, because that translates into opportunities for youth. The city needs to make sure the parks are maintained, he said. The millage should only be used to pay for parks, not police, he concluded.

Issa observed that neighborhood parks are not as clean as they should be. When it comes to funding for the parks, a millage is a good way to provide for it, but the city shouldn’t try to use the millage for other purposes, he said.

Land Use: Fuller Road Station

The introduction of the Fuller Road Station concept to the public can be traced at least as far back as January 2009, when the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, presented a concept drawing at a meeting of neighbors at Northside Grill. At the time, the city was trying to encourage the University of Michigan to reconsider its plans to build parking structures on Wall Street.

The city’s strategy was to get the university to consider building its planned parking structures on the city-owned surface parking lot, just south of Fuller Road, near the intersection with East Medical Center Drive. It would allow the university to participate in the city’s hoped-for transit station at that location. The university has leased that parking lot from the city since 1993, though the land has been considered part of the parks system.

The transit station is envisioned as directly serving east-west commuter rail passengers. A day-trip demonstration service that was to launch in October 2010 never materialized. But a recent announcement earlier this year, that some federal support for high-speed rail track improvements would be forthcoming, has shored up hopes by many people in the community that the east-west rail connection could become a reality.

The council has already approved some expenditures directly related to the project. It voted unanimously on Aug. 17, 2009 to approve $213,984 of city funds for an environmental study and site assessment. Of that amount, $104,742 was appropriated from the economic development fund. Per the city charter, as a budget appropriation, the measure required eight votes. Kunselman was not a member of the council at that time.

On Nov. 5, 2009, on separate votes, the council approved additional money for the environmental study and site assessment and to authorize a memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan. Kunselman was also not yet a member of the council at that point – his first meeting of his current term was Nov. 16, 2009.

The controversy on the project involves the status of the land where the proposed Fuller Road Station would be located. It’s designated as parkland, but formally zoned as public land (PL). In the summer of 2010, the possible uses for land zoned as PL were altered by the council, on recommendation from the city planning commission, explicitly to include transportation facilities. Any long-term use agreement with the university is seen by many as tantamount to a sale of parkland. A sale should, per the city charter, be put to a vote of the people.

On the Fuller Road Station, Ault said she was undecided on the issue. She’s still gathering input, she said, including talking to the Sierra Club about the issue. [The city council has been addressed on multiple occasions over more than a year by representatives of the Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club, including recently on June 6, 2011 by Nancy Shiffler, who's currently president of that group.] Ault said that mass transit is key to growth. She expressed concern that the city’s youth will leave unless transportation amenities are available. She mentioned that Sylvan Township is excited about the prospects of countywide transportation.

Kunselman said he’d love to have a train station, but wanted to know how the city is going to afford it. A parking structure, he said, is not mass transit. The University of Michigan should be taking care of its own project. [Kunselman is employed by UM as an energy conservation liaison.] Kunselman was critical of the fact that the project is divided into phases – he contended that the master plan for the whole project in all of its phases is not there. In addition, he said, he had no idea where the $10 million city of Ann Arbor share for the initial phase is coming from. At the League of Women Voters forum the following night, responding to a question about parks, Kunselman said he felt that if the project was so wonderful, it should be put to the voters.

Issa responded to the Fuller Road Station issue by saying that morning traffic is very congested. He felt the project will alleviate some of the traffic. If it works out that more people can be brought into the city with fewer cars, then he’s for it.

Land Use: Municipal Airport

An extension of the runway at Ann Arbor’s municipal airport has been included in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) for the last two years, but has been amended out by the city council before its approval both years. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Airport Study Gets Public Hearing"]

Kunselman said he’s been opposed and will always be opposed to the extension. The airport is functioning just fine and he sees no reason to extend the runway. Federal money for the project is not free, he explained, saying that it comes with an obligation to keep the airport open long into the future.

Issa allowed that he loves to see big planes land and it’s great to see them fly, but feels that the 10-minute drive to Willow Run airport is not too far.

Ault expressed no enthusiasm for an extended runway, and suggested that what it boils down to is the ability for big jets to land bringing in guests for University of Michigan’s football games.

Land Use: Greenbelt

Candidates were asked for their thoughts on continuing the city’s greenbelt program. By way of brief background, the 0.5 mill levy for the city’s greenbelt program, lasting for 30 years, was approved in 2003. The strategy is to preserve open space by purchasing land or acquiring development rights. The use of the funds is overseen by the greenbelt advisory commission and subject to the city council’s approval. [The Chronicle offers regular coverage of the city's greenbelt advisory commission.]

Kunselman described the greenbelt program as having been very successful so far. He noted that the recent decline in property values has meant that there is more opportunity to buy land. He explained to the audience that the city council’s role in the program is vote on properties that are recommended by the advisory commission. One of the important considerations is to make sure other municipalities are participating in the acquisition of land.

Issa alluded to the perceived balance by some voters who supported the greenbelt millage – between preserving open space outside the city and increased density inside the city. The increase in building inside the city is not happening fast enough, he contended. The city needs more of a vibe and needs to attract more businesses.

Ault noted that the city actually offers a tour of the greenbelt properties, which she had taken. Some of the properties, she said, you can go visit and be a part of. It’s actually for the public, and the public has a chance to use it. [Greenbelt properties typically remain private land and are open to the public only on certain occasions, such as the tours that Ault described. Greenbelt funds are generally used to buy development rights to the land – not the land itself. Chronicle coverage of a 2008 version of the greenbelt bus tour: "View from the Bus: A Tour of Protected Land" ]

Land Use: Library Lot

The Library Lot, despite its common name, is not owned by the Ann Arbor District Library. It’s city-owned land, just north of the library, on which a roughly 640-space underground parking garage is currently under construction. The result of the city’s request for proposal process (RFP) to develop the top of the structure was terminated by the council in April of this year – without selecting any one of six proposals for the lot. At that same meeting, the council approved a resolution directing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to organize a public engagement process that would lead to alternate uses of some city-owned parcels, including the Library Lot. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Council Focuses on Downtown" and "Downtown Planning Poised ... to Pause"]

Issa stated that the use of the city’s property is up to the citizens. The Library Lot is a great opportunity, he said, to make office space for a kind of business start-up hub. It would help Ann Arbor be more welcoming to new businesses by offering competitive office space rental rates in the downtown.

Ault noted that the land itself is extremely valuable. She said that in the downtown area, retail businesses continue to close. She also cited Dobson McComber as an example of a business that has left the downtown area. [The locally owned company was sold to the Hylant Group several years ago and moved out of its offices at Main and Miller. The business is now located at the Domino's Farms Office Park.] There’s been an erosion of business from the downtown, she contended. She suggested that whatever is built on top of the parking structure, retail should go on the ground floor.

Kunselman responded with a theme he’s consistently repeated while serving the council: Local government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the private market place. As a graduate of the University of Michigan’s master of urban planning program, he said he could appreciate good urban design. He suggested taking the example of Tuebingen in Germany. [Tuebingen is a sister city to Ann Arbor. Several officials from that city recently visited Ann Arbor through the sister city program – Kunselman hosted a planning official from Tuebingen during that visit.] That means having a master-planned site that includes the mass and scale of the structure to be built there. The city should simply put deed restrictions on that site and let the market determine what goes into the building, Kunselman said.


One question from the audience was about collaboration among community stakeholders – the Ann Arbor District Library, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ann Arbor Public Schools, University of Michigan, etc.

In his response to that question, Stephen Kunselman wrapped the Library Lot back into his remarks. Kunselman said it’s important to look at the role of each of the entities. It’s not possible sometimes to “just collaborate.” There’s a lot of overlap between city interests and university interests, he said, but the university doesn’t have water mains or sanitary sewers. As far as collaboration with the public library, he said there’s an opportunity to build a new library on top of the Library Lot. The library could then sell its property to the private sector and add to the tax base.

Marwan Issa wondered why the city wasn’t working harder with the University of Michigan. He suggested that as a first step, representatives from the city need to sit down with the university and say, “Listen guys, we need to work on making Ann Arbor better, bringing in more organizations and businesses into the city.” There needs to be better coordination.

Ingrid Ault said that collaboration is imperative and stated that it’s something she does all day long in her capacity as executive director of Think Local First. She said it’s important to figure out what person is important to put in the room. She spends a lot of time cataloging issues. She said that not any one person has the answer – it’s the community.

Downtown Development Authority

Candidates were asked what change is needed in the city’s relationship to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. By way of very broad strokes background, the city and the DDA recently agreed to a new contract under which the DDA continues to manage the city’s public parking system. It was a difficult negotiation lasting well over a year. It resulted in an 11-year deal that gives the city 17% of gross revenues from the public parking system.

However, the DDA’s raison d’être is not to administer the public parking system, but rather – according to the DDA’s mission statement – to make “public improvements that have the greatest impact in strengthening the downtown area and attracting new private investments.” The streetscape improvements that are currently nearing completion on Fifth and Division in downtown Ann Arbor are one example of the kind of projects the DDA can undertake.

The funding mechanism for those improvements is tax increment finance (TIF) capture in the downtown district. In broad strokes, the taxes on an increment – between the initial value of a property and the value after new construction – are captured by the DDA, instead of being distributed to the authorities that levy the taxes. Those taxing authorities include the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw County and Washtenaw Community College.

This spring, city staff noticed that the ordinance establishing the Ann Arbor DDA provides a kind of cap on the amount of taxes that the DDA is allowed to capture in its TIF district. Up to this point, that cap had not been observed. When that aspect of the ordinance was highlighted, it resulted in a repayment by the DDA of over $400,000 to other taxing authorities. That repayment could increase, depending on how the ordinance is interpreted. [See Chronicle coverage: "Column: Tax Capture Is a Varsity Sport"] The newly observed cap, plus the conditions of the new parking agreement – which call for transferring 17% of gross public parking revenues to the city of Ann Arbor – have put the DDA under considerable financial stress.

Stephen Kunselman has campaigned partly on the idea of increased oversight of DDA finances – as a result of his pressing the issue, the DDA has published past annual reports that it was required to publish by state statue. He objected to the inclusion of a provision in the city-DDA parking contract that provided for the DDA’s control of parking rate setting without city council veto, and has called the DDA a “shadow government.”

At the Mallets Creek event, Kunselman began by saying that the DDA board members are all very nice people. But over the years, he said, they’ve become insular and prone to “group think.” He noted that they are appointed by the mayor [subject to city council approval]. The DDA is spending money based on a future 10-year plan. In contrast, he said, the city is not able to predict two years out. So that’s a big gamble, he cautioned.

In his turn, Marwan Issa continued the criticism of the DDA. Issa contended the DDA board members can do whatever they want, because they’re appointed, not voted into office. So they’re not held accountable, he said. It’s too much power for the DDA if they can decide on future projects. The responsibility should fall back on the city council. About city councilmembers, he said, “If they screw up, we can boot them out.”

Ingrid Ault stated that she has applicable experience – she served as interim executive director of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority. Responding to Kunselman’s poo-pooing of the DDA’s 10-year plan, she stated that the DDA has the expertise to put together a 10-year plan. She allowed that there’s room for improvement. But she said the downtown looks different and better than it did 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, the parking decks were crumbling, she said, but now a good parking system is in place. The DDA has been doing a good job, she said. [In late 2009, Think Local First, the organization that Ault leads, received a $6,000 grant from the DDA to study the feasibility of introducing a local currency in Washtenaw County.]

Pension Plan

Candidates were asked a general question about the city’s pension obligation. A follow-up question on pension issues by another attendee was overruled at that time by the moderator – he said he wanted to cover as many different topics as possible. That decision was met with a few hisses from the audience.

Stephen Kunselman noted that the city’s unfunded pension liabilities had gone up with the market crash in 2008. [Some Chronicle coverage from that era: "Fiscal Restraint Required in Light of Sinking Asset Values"] The city council is not directly involved with labor negotiations, but the staff is negotiating with unions. He allowed that there’s a lot he does not know, but said that the city doesn’t have as many people paying into the pension system as it previously had – due to reductions in staff numbers.

Marwan Issa stated that the city needs to take a serious look at this. He noted that private businesses are switching from pension systems to 401(k)-type plans.

Ingrid Ault told the audience that it’s good news that the city’s pension system is now back up to 90% funding. She also pointed to the city’s A++ bond rating as a positive point. But the city does have challenges, she allowed. Everybody needs to be participating. She wants to talk about what’s possible, not what can’t be done. The city will succeed with citizen involvement and hearing citizen participation, she said.


A question from the audience addressed an issue that Stephen Kunselman has championed over the last two years – getting the city attorney, Stephen Postema, to make public his legal opinions, in accordance with the city’s charter. [Chronicle coverage: "Getting Smarter About City Charter"]

Ingrid Ault said she found the lack of transparency troublesome. Many times, she said, the public is informed too late on important matters. She then turned her response to an implicit criticism of Kunselman for not keeping constituents up to date, by pointing to Christopher Taylor’s emailed updates as the kind of model she would follow. [Taylor is the other representative of Ward 3 on the city council.] She said she would also emulate Sabra Briere on the council and would like to hold a coffee hour – she’d try to hold a coffee at two different locations. [Briere – who represents Ward 1 and is not challenged in this year's primary, or as yet in the general election – holds a weekly coffee hour at Northside Grill, when constituents can meet with her.]

Kunselman focused on the original question of the attorney’s opinions, not the issue of constituent updates that Ault had introduced. He told the audience he was intimately aware that the city attorney has not been making public his written opinions. [Kunselman has pointedly and publicly asked for an opinion to be made public on the legality of the city's public art program, for example.]

Kunselman observed that there might be an opportunity with the hiring of the new city administrator. Kunselman felt that if the city administrator were to ask explicitly for an opinion from the city attorney, then there would be no question that the city charter requirement would be triggered, which stipulates that the opinion would need to be filed with the city clerk’s office. He ventured that it might be necessary to take a vote of the city council directing the city attorney.

Marwan Issa said that if the council is not holding the city attorney accountable, then they need to do that. As for the city administrator hire – the original question from the audience had alluded to that – Issa said he was sad to see the search did not look inside Ann Arbor. That’s a big mistake, he said.

Solid Waste

More than one question concerned solid waste – recycling and trash.

Solid Waste: Curbside Trash Collection

On July 11, the city council held a work session on the possibility of reducing the solid waste millage and franchising out residential trash collection. The uniform and unambiguous response from councilmembers on that occasion was that they were not interested in pursuing that proposal. But they were somewhat amenable to the possibility of maybe exploring different tweaks to the way that trash carts are set out.

One of the questions asked at the Mallets Creek forum expressed some worry about one of those tweaks – the idea that all carts would be placed on one side of street. What about those who have mobility issues? What about icy roads in the winter?

Stephen Kunselman stressed that these are just ideas. Yes, the city staff are putting ideas out for the city council to chew on. But he stressed that it’s only when those ideas come to the council table for a vote that it gets serious. He noted that the projections on the city’s solid waste fund show an $0.5 million deficit by 2017. At the forum, Kunselman echoed the general sentiment from the council’s work session, which was that this does not represent a dire situation requiring urgent action.

He drew a comparison of potential changes in trash collection to the way a proposal to turn off some streetlights had been handled [as part of the budget the city council approved in May 2010 for FY 2011]. He’d voted against that proposal, he said. [His wardmate Christoper Taylor had voted for it.] And when the initial pilot program was met with strong resistance, the council voted to reverse course and not pursue the streetlight program.

Marwan Issa said that whether it’s trash collection or streetlights, it all needs to be be more transparent. The council needs more information and there needs to be transparency. The city staff need to be held accountable, he said.

Ingrid Ault described the city council role as very important. Decisions like those on trash collection need public input, she said. She added that she would hear the smallest voices. Transparency is needed, she said. Public discussion is a starting point. She told the audience they could count on her to hear their voice.

Solid Waste: Recycling

The city’s recycling program has received heavy coverage in recent weeks, because a proposal that would have increased the value of the contract held by Recycle Ann Arbor for curbside recycling was initially rejected by the council, but then taken back up for reconsideration and postponed. The council will again consider that issue at its Aug. 4 meeting, after the primary election.

As basic background, the city began a single-stream recycling program in July 2010, using an expanded set of materials and large, wheeled carts that can be emptied with an automatic arm. It replaced a dual-stream system using 11-gallon tote bins, and is the piece of the recycling program handled by Recycle Ann Arbor. A couple of months later, a coupon incentive program launched under a contract with a different vendor, RecycleBank.

Chronicle coverage of the council’s July 18, 2011 meeting includes the presentation of data strongly suggesting that the increase in the total amount of recycled material collected is mostly due to the larger carts and expanded set of materials, not the coupon incentive program, which has relatively low activity among residents.

Based on councilmember comments at that meeting, it appears likely that the council could end the RecycleBank contract and re-allocate money from that contract to Recycle Ann Arbor’s contract.

In response to the question about the recycling program, Marwan Issa said it was not perfect, but more people have become aware of it. The more people that become aware of it, the more of a difference it will make, he said.

Ingrid Ault said the single-stream recycling system has some wonderful benefits. She allowed that it’s not perfect and there’s room for improvement. The coupons that residents can earn through the incentive program are a benefit, she said. She has used them at the People’s Food Co-op.

Stephen Kunselman explained that the recent issue the council has been dealing with is that the projections for the increase in materials collection were overly optimistic. [Recycle Ann Arbor is paid in part based on total tonnage collected.] Kunselman reminded the audience that he’d voted against the contract for the coupon incentives. He said if the city needs to save $200,000, then one place to look is the $200,00o annual contract for the coupon incentives.

Working with the Group

Candidates were asked how they would work with the  group serving on the council to make progress on the projects they want to bring forward.

Marwan Issa responded by saying that sometimes there may be a sense of being bullied to vote one way or the other – that is, either join the party or look like the crazy guy. He included in his response a criticism of the new parking contract between the city and the DDA: Who thought it was a good idea to give the DDA full authority to raise rates, he asked?

Ingrid Ault said it’s important to keep an open mind. You have to be willing to listen to others. She said that her stances have changed. Sometimes people hear someone’s first statement and then stop listening. She promised she would not do that. She’d listen that way with the city staff, other councilmembers and constituents.

Stephen Kunselman said the biggest thing is to have trust and respect for those with whom you’re cooperating – whether it’s spending money, setting policy or laying people off. You have to be honest and forthright as you explain yourself, he said. He said he felt he’d done well in being an independent voice and expressing an independent viewpoint on the council. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he doesn’t, he said, but it’s important not to hold grudges.

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  1. By Mark Koroi
    July 25, 2011 at 12:13 am | permalink

    The question of transparency is a good one relative to the City Attorney opinions.

    The Ann Arbor City Attorney has the highest salary of any city attorney employed in the State of Michigan. He earns close to double what some other city attorneys are earning. Accountability and absolute profesionalism is required from all holders of this office.

    City attorney opinions are in some instances confidential for good reasons. A city attorney recommending a lawsuit settlement offer to City Council would not want it known, for example, that he believed the city had a weak defense and large damage exposure to a claimant against the city; that type of advice should obviously be kept confidential. Confidentiality should be waived in other areas.

    There are other types of opinions I believe that should be made open for the benefit of the public interest. An example would be the city attorney’s opinion, if any, on E-Mailgate issues. Did he believe any of the challenged correspodences violated the Open Meetings Act ot the Michigan Campaign Finance Act?

    There needs to be a mechanism in place where the public can review city attorney opinions in a reasonably transparent manner.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 25, 2011 at 10:07 am | permalink

    “The DDA has been doing a good job, she said. [In late 2009, Think Local First, the organization that Ault leads, received a $6,000 grant from the DDA to study the feasibility of introducing a local currency in Washtenaw County.]”


  3. July 25, 2011 at 10:23 am | permalink

    Re #1: Since the city attorney serves at the pleasure of Council (which is, effectively, the Mayor), apparently his workarounds to the charter and the principle of transparency are satisfactory to his customer.