Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 6, 2011): Ordinarily the slot on the council’s agenda for nominations and appointments to various boards and commissions generates little conversation during the meeting – by the public or by the council.
However, considerable public commentary at the council’s Tuesday meeting – held a day later than usual due to the Labor Day holiday – was connected to appointments to the city’s medical marijuana licensing board. Advocates for access to medical marijuana tied their remarks to that agenda item, though none of the speakers had any apparent issue with the proposed constitution of the board. Instead, they expressed concerned that a recent court of appeals ruling makes the legality of certain dispensary operations uncertain.
On the council’s side, the unusual focus on appointments came during the usually perfunctory vote on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority appointments. That vote was drawn out by a request from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) to separate out the three appointments for separate roll-call votes. The votes on the reappointment of John Mouat and the new appointment of Nader Nassiff were unanimous. But Kunselman wanted to cast a lone vote of opposition against the reappointment of Joan Lowenstein to the board.
The other non-unanimous vote of the evening came on the reconstruction of a pedestrian bridge over Malletts Creek in the Lansdowne neighborhood. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked his colleagues to indulge him in a two-week postponement on that project, so that he could achieve a clearer understanding of the public-private character of the project and its potential legal liabilities. His colleagues, who indicated they were already familiar with the longstanding issue of the bridge, were disinclined to grant the postponement. So Derezinski voted against the $120,000 project, which will be paid out of the city’s major street fund.
In other street fund expenditures, the city council approved a roughly $550,000 increase in the amount of its contract with Barrett Paving Materials Inc. to undertake additional street repair projects in the 2011 construction season. Progress on the scheduled projects had been sufficiently rapid that it was possible to add the additional work.
Land purchase and lease was the topic of three items on the agenda. In one, the city authorized a $100/month month-to-month lease of part of the city-owned 415 W. Washington building to the Kiwanis Club for storage for the club’s warehouse sale. The council also approved the use of $82,500 from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage to purchase an Eden Court parcel located next to the Bryant Community Center. And the council held a closed session under the exemption in the Open Meetings Act that allows for such a session for the purpose of land acquisition.
In other business, councilmembers gave initial approval to a change in the city’s pension ordinance, approved the allocation of some money already budgeted for human services, and OK’d the allocation of community events funding.
In his communications time, Kunselman foreshadowed an upcoming issue for the council – the relationship between the street millage and the public art program. First Kunselman offered to fill the slot as council liaison to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. Derezinski had stepped out of that role in order to serve on the city’s public art commission. At Tuesday’s meeting, Kunselman also reiterated his position that the city’s public art program takes money from dedicated millages in a way that is not legal. In response to his comments, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) encouraged Kunselman to take the action he felt was appropriate to rectify that situation.
Among the proclamations made at the start of the meeting was one honoring Jonathan Bulkley for his service to the University of Michigan, the state of Michigan and the nation. Bulkley had addressed the council at its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting in support of the council’s resolution on the greenway – he’s a board member of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy.
Med Marijuana Board Appointments
On the council’s agenda was a resolution to confirm appointments to the city’s medical marijuana licensing board: Patricia O’Rorke, James Kenyon, John McKenna Rosevear – all members of the public – and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) from the city council. The fifth member of the board, who is required to be a physician under the city’s medical marijuana licensing board bylaws, has not yet been nominated.
Medical marijuana was the topic of public commentary from a half dozen speakers at the start of the meeting.
The Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to its medical marijuana licensing and zoning ordinances at its June 20, 2011 meeting.
At the city planning commission’s meeting on Sept. 8, Wendy Rampson – head of the city’s planning staff – indicated that applicants for licenses are welcome to submit information to the city in connection with license applications, but staff have ceased their review activity pending further direction.
The pause in activity and the concern from members of the public at Tuesday’s council meeting were prompted by a recent court of appeals ruling that has been interpreted by some to mean that dispensaries are not legal. [.pdf of the McQueen case ruling]
Medical Marijuana: Public Commentary
Shelly Smith introduced herself as a Washtenaw County resident for several years. She said the McQueen case ruling was not good for the city or for Michigan. First, if the decision is upheld, then on top of the many who are unemployed already, you would have to add 100 more in the immediate area plus five empty buildings and, she estimated, $30,000 in lost rent.
Second, it’s a decision that goes against democratic principles – the majority of citizens voted to have safe, legal access to powerful natural medicine. Third, it restricts access for patients who have chronic pain. It’s the first time in years they’ve had access to a quality of life that is not too expensive, she said.
Mark Passerini told the council that the controversial court decision had forced tens of thousands of patients statewide back to a state of limbo. The intent of the Medical Marijuana Act, he said, was to afford patients safe access. Experience has shown that it’s unrealistic for patients to have to rely on a sole caregiver for their medicine. It takes a seasoned cultivator four months to grow one plant – four months during which that patient might have to do without their medicine. Most caregivers are also not willing to bear the expense or gain the expertise to make edibles, tinctures or topicals – those are all different means of delivering medicine to patients. What if their caregiver is out of town? What if there’s a power outage and the crop fails?
Are the 100,000 patients in Michigan just flat out of luck? he asked. The Medical Marijuana Act should not be regarded as something that was short-lived, but rather something that is a model for the future.
He noted some recent headlines from across the country. At the end of July, in Seattle the mayor and city council enacted a measure to regulate the existing 70 storefront medical marijuana dispensaries. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that explicitly acknowledged the legality of local cannabis distribution centers. Colorado has licensed over 700 dispensaries. The New Jersey governor said that he was moving ahead with the state’s medical cannabis program, despite threats from federal authorities. A bill in Illinois is expected to pass in the next six months, which specifically calls for a dispensary in each of Delaware’s 59 senate districts. Lansing mayor Virg Bernero called the McQueen ruling “a terrible setback” and said that the court subverted the will of the people, Passerini reported.
Cocaine is a schedule 2 drug but marijuana is a schedule 1 drug alongside heroin, PCP and meth. That classification – as a drug that has no medicinal value – contradicts countless studies and research, 16 different state laws and the medical professional, Passerini said. It also contradicts a U.S. patent for the medicinal qualities of cannibis, he said: patent number 6630507. Passerini asked the council to continue with the licensing process and not to take any steps backwards.
Koos Eisenberg told the council she’s been an Ann Arbor taxpayer since 1995. And since April she has been a medical marijuana patient. Having medical marijuana dispensaries in Ann Arbor is important to her based on three concepts, she said: (1) security and safety, (2) education, and (3) alternatives to caregivers.
The additional security offered by dispensaries includes the fact that they’re covered by cameras. Only patients are allowed into the facility. The product is tested for quality, and she does not have to be a part of the “drug culture.” With respect to education, she said she’d learned about different strains of medical marijuana that are appropriate for her medical needs. She’d learned about options like “vaporizing,” which are safer for her lungs. Ann Arbor dispensaries also give her a chance to meet and talk with other patients. She has easier access to dispensaries than to her caregiver, she said. Her caregiver has been robbed. She expressed the hope that a just, safe and advantageous solution could be found for everybody.
Francesca Loria told the council about a conversation she’d had with friend who is a University of Michigan doctor. Her friend had acknowledged the benefits of cannabis in connection with glaucoma and cancer, she said. But the conversation made her realize there was a deep-seated prejudice against medical marijuana for other purposes. Her physician friend would not prescribe it, Loria reported, and would instead opt for prescription drugs for pain. Why would you need a prescription, when there’s a plant? she asked. She quoted statistics on the number of deaths annually due to prescription drugs and alcohol, but contended that the number of deaths caused by marijuana is zero. There are countless stories about people who’ve been helped by a plant, she said.
Dori Edwards introduced herself as a retired Waldorf instructor, who’d moved to Ann Arbor 15 years ago. It was the only place in Michigan that reflected her liberal ideals, she said. She appreciated the fact that the city of Ann Arbor was going to help. After the McQueen ruling, her Treecity Health Collective shut its doors. She had to turn away patients in wheelchairs and walkers. She had to say “I can’t give you any medicine.” One patient told her he would have to drive to Detroit, where he used to get it. She applauded council for taking a stand. She told the council that Treecity’s policies are within the law and that Treecity tries to regulate product so that it’s clean. She thanked the mayor for the speed with which he’d appointed the licensing board.
Chuck Ream reported that his medical marijuana business had been robbed by masked men with guns. He said his employees would have called the police, but the robbers were themselves police. He described the police as “thugs, pure and simple” who were trying to protect their jobs. Ream blamed much of the activity on the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice grants, which he said need to be eliminated. He told the council that no warrant was shown and no charges were filed. But the police stole the license application that he was preparing to submit to the city, he said. The council should defend the city charter or resign, he said. He then quoted from the city charter:
(d) No Ann Arbor police officer, or his or her agent, shall complain of the possession, control, use, giving away, or sale of marijuana or cannabis to any other authority except the Ann Arbor city attorney; and the city attorney shall not refer any said complaint to any other authority for prosecution. (e) No Ann Arbor police officer, or his or her agent, shall complain and the city attorney shall not refer for prosecution any complaint, of the possession, control, use, giving away, sale or cultivation of marijuana or cannabis upon proof that the defendant is recommended by a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional to use or provide the marijuana or cannabis for medical treatment. (Amended by election of November 2, 2004
Ream attributed the raid on his business to a call from a “crazy lady” to the police, who had referred her to LAWNET [the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team]. But that should not be possible, he said, based on the city charter. The officer at the raid said it was due to two people who had expired registry cards – if that was the case, they should have been given a ticket, he said. Ream told the council that slavery is gone, women can vote, children can go to school instead of working in a factory – it would soon be the case that access to medical marijuana will be seen the same way. The mayor needs to get back on board and not make any more damaging statements, Ream said. It’s now time to implement what the voters said they wanted.
Medical Marijuana Licensing Board: Council Deliberations
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) sought input from city attorney Stephen Postema. Postema described the city’s ordinance as allowing dispensaries when they are compliant with state law. However, in his remarks Postema indicated the unlikelihood that a dispensary could be compliant with the state law. He cited the McQueen decision as well as the county prosecutor’s press release, which explained that the prosecutor’s office would rely on that ruling in determining whether to prosecute.
However, Postema said that whether the council should appoint a board is a policy issue for the council to decide.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he thought the Medical Marijuana Act would continue to be around and would continue to be interpreted, so it’s appropriate to have that advisory board. Postema indicated that he felt the Supreme Court was unlikely to change the law. But he stressed that the courts are not the last word in our legal system. He ventured that the the law might be changed through the legislature or a citizen’s initiative.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the city’s ordinance does not deal with different business models for dispensaries. What the court of appeals had ruled out, she said, was patient-to-patient sales. Ann Arbor’s ordinance requires people to follow state law. It’s not something that will go away, she said.
Briere indicated that she felt the council should obey its own ordinance by appointing the licensing board. Whether anyone can legally be granted a license is a separate issue. The licensing board doesn’t act except through the council, she said. Mayor John Hieftje said he was in favor of going ahead with the appointment of the board.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to appoint four members of the medical marijuana licensing board.
Communications: Housing, Art, Street Millage
Some of the council communications were related, though they came at different times during the meeting.
During the initial communications slot on the agenda, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that the mayor had asked for volunteers to replace Tony Derezinski (Ward 3) as the council’s liaison to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. As a former housing commission liaison, Kunselman said he’d be willing to step up and serve.
By way of background, Derezinski had agreed to serve on the city’s public art commission as a replacement for Jeff Meyers, who resigned this summer. But in order to take on that responsibility, Derezinski said, he needed to step down as housing commission liaison.
From Sabra Briere (Ward 1) came the heads-up that in two weeks she hoped to bring a resolution of intent for how the city expects to account for and spend the money from the street millage, which the city is asking the voters to renew at the Nov. 8 general election. [One possibility is that such a resolution of intent might exclude the street millage revenues from use by the city's Percent for Art program.]
During his council communications slot at the end of the meeting, Kunselman addressed the question of the city’s Percent for Art program. He observed that city staff had been quoted in the media about the legality of the city’s funding methodology for the program. [One percent of all capital improvement projects is set aside to be spent on public art, capped at $250,000 per project. That includes projects paid for with dedicated millage funds like the street millage and the parks and capital improvements millage.]
Kunselman acknowledged that Briere had indicated she’d be bringing forward a resolution of intent for how the street millage money would be spent, if voters where to re-approve it in November.
Kunselman said the state law indicates a need to have a clear statement on how a dedicated millage will be spent. He dismissed any explanations that had been given to justify the spending, based on states other than Michigan.
He noted that within Michigan, Tuscola County had offered the following explanation in a document posted on its website:
The Board of Commissioners does not have the legal authority to remove funds from the special purpose millage accounts for any purpose other than what the voters in Tuscola County approved the funds to be spent on. Simply put the Board of Commissioners can not reallocate funds from one account to another.
Kunselman noted that he’s said it time and time again: The city’s public art program illegally takes money from millages, because the program doesn’t serve the purpose of the millages.
Despite comments city staff, Kunselman said, there is no policy. Until the community gets an opinion from the city attorney as required by the city charter, he said, he would continue to say it’s illegal. Tuscola County has put its view in writing to give their voters confidence, Kunselman said.
Following Kunselman’s remarks, Briere encouraged him to take appropriate action to get his concerns addressed.
On the agenda was a resolution to reappoint Joan Lowenstein and John Mouat to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and to appoint Nader Nassif.
When the reappointments came before the council, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked that the vote on their confirmations be split.
The vote on Nassif was not deliberated.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to appoint Nader Nassif to the DDA board.
For Lowenstein, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who also serves on the DDA board, said that everyone is very familiar with Lowenstein through her previous service on the city council and planning commission. She described Lowenstein as thoughtful and generous with her time. Smith said she was eager to have Lowenstein serve another four years. Mayor John Hieftje, who also serves on the DDA board, said that Lowenstein really digs into things and does a great job. He said Lowenstein was an excellent chair last year. Kunselman did not comment.
Outcome: The council voted to reappoint Joan Lowenstein to the DDA board, with dissent from Kunselman.
For John Mouat, Smith described how she had enjoyed working with Mouat over the last four years. He’d taken over the chairmanship of a new committee – the transportation committee. She described his skill set as an architect of municipal buildings as valuable for the DDA board. She concluded that she highly supported Mouat as a member of the DDA board. Hieftje echoed Smith’s sentiments. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) drew out the fact that some of the appointments to the DDA board have certain criteria – some positions are reserved for those who work for a downtown business, for example. From the state statue Act 197 of 1975:
Not less than a majority of the members shall be persons having an interest in property located in the downtown district or officers, members, trustees, principals, or employees of a legal entity having an interest in property located in the downtown district. Not less than 1 of the members shall be a resident of the downtown district, if the downtown district has 100 or more persons residing within it.
Hieftje noted that Nassif had a law office downtown, so he was not an at-large appointment.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to reappoint John Mouat to the DDA board.
Lansdowne Pedestrian Bridge
Before the council for its consideration was approval of a $120,000 change to its fiscal year 2012 budget to include an expenditure from its major street fund to reconstruct the pedestrian bridge in the Lansdowne neighborhood. The bridge, located in Ward 4, connects Morehead and Delaware drives.
The bridge has been a topic of neighborhood concern dating back at least to the 2010 Ward 4 Democratic primary race between Margie Teall and Jack Eaton, a race won by the incumbent Teall. The neighborhood association owns the structures under the bridge (a “weir” or short dam-like structure), while the city owns the bridge itself. Based on remarks from a candidate forum from that year, the pedestrian bridge has now been out of service for about three years.
The resolution altering the major street fund budget was sponsored by Ward 4 councilmembers Teall and Marcia Higgins.
Lansdowne Pedestrian Bridge: Council Deliberations
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) wanted more information to come forward before voting. He noted that there were private-public issues as well as a potential liability issue for the city. He said he would like the council’s indulgence to wait another two weeks. So he moved to postpone the issue. The motion nearly died for lack of a second, but Sandi Smith (Ward 1) finally raised her hand.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked how a two-week delay would affect construction timing. Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, explained that the project would start next spring or summer, so a two-week delay would not have a negative impact. Higgins said the issue has been worked on for 12 years and the issues are known. [The bridge is in her ward, and she faces a general election challenge from Republican Eric Scheie.]
Derezinski countered Higgins by saying that if it had taken 12 years, the two additional weeks was not too much to ask. Mayor John Hieftje said he’d had an opportunity to learn about the issue and did not feel the need to postpone. He called it unfortunate that there’s not more information in the staff memo.
Outcome on postponement: The motion to postpone failed, with only Derezinski supporting it.
Outcome: The council voted to approve the Lansdowne bridge project over Derezinski’s dissent.
Additional Allocation for Street Repair
The council was asked to approve a $550,040 increase to the contract with Barrett Paving Materials Inc. – the contractor that handles street repair work for the city. The money will be spent on additional work that can now be done because, according to the city, the 2011 street repair work is ahead of schedule.
The proposed additional work will be done on: (1) the outbound lane of Miller Avenue between Seventh Street and Chapin; (2) on North Division Street between Ann and Detroit streets; and (3) on Oxford Street between Hill Street and South University Avenue.
The work on Oxford Street could start either during the 2011 construction season or in 2012, depending on how talks go with the University of Michigan about the university’s contribution to the project.
Part of the approval authorized by the city council included $80,000 worth of crack-sealing work to be done yet this year on several different streets.
The city’s original contract with Barrett Paving Materials Inc. was for $3,710,953.
At the council’s meeting, Liz Rolla, senior project manager with the city, reviewed the streets and the repair activities that are planned to be done with the additional funds. She noted that some of the additional work had already been done – on Spring Street. She suggested that some councilmembers might remember the gnomes and flamingos that had been placed by neighbors on a particularly bad stretch of pavement.
About the work on Oxford Street, Rolla noted that it was paved as a residential street, but now has bus traffic. The University of Michigan had agreed to contribute to the project in proportion to its street frontage.
Rolla noted that crack sealing can give a street another 3-5 or up to an additional 7 years of life.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the additional money for street repair.
Lease of 415 W. Washington to Kiwanis
On the agenda was a resolution to approve a month-to-month lease with The Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor Foundation Inc., effective Sept. 7, 2011 for the bay of the 415 W. Washington building. That building is just down the street from the Kiwanis building at the southwest corner of First and Washington, where the club’s resale shop is located.
The Kiwanis Club needs the additional space for its warehouse sale. The club will pay a rental rate of $100 per month during the life of their tenancy.
A hint that some kind of agreement between the city and Kiwanis could be in the works came at the council’s Aug. 15 meeting, when Kiwanis board member Kathy Griswold mentioned the possibility during her public commentary.
At that time, Griswold had indicated that although nothing had been promised, it was possible that the city might be able to provide an alternate location for the Kiwanis Club’s warehouse sale, previously held at Airport Boulevard Building #837.
The 415 W. Washington building and land parcel are the focus of a renewed effort by the city, begun in February 2010, to redevelop the land. The effort includes city staff, councilmembers and advocates for the arts and for the Allen Creek greenway. The council received an update on that effort earlier this year. The group involved in trying to redevelop the land had identified funds that had allowed the hiring of a grant writer, and it was hoped that $100,000 could be found to support further studies.
During the brief deliberations, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) complimented the staff in their work to make the lease happen. Mayor John Hieftje said he was happy that Kiwanis would be able to use the space. He described it as a raw space, that works for storage. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed what Hohnke said, describing Kiwanis as a wonderful organization, which is evident to people who see the work they do at the weekly rummage sale on a Saturday morning, he said.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the lease of 415 W. Washington to Kiwanis.
Acquisition of Eden Court Property
The council was asked to appropriate $82,500 from its open space and parkland preservation millage to acquire the property at 5 W. Eden Court. The Eden Court property is immediately adjacent to the city’s Bryant Community Center, located in a neighborhood south of I-94 and east of Stone School Road.
The 2011 taxes on the property were estimated at $1,400, which would be eliminated from the city’s tax base, once the property becomes public land. The parcel could be used to expand the community center’s programming services. It could also be used in other ways in support of the city’s park and recreation system.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Joan Doughty of the Community Action Network (CAN) to answer some questions about the Bryant Community Center. In 2008, the nonprofit CAN took over the community center, Doughty said. She described how CAN has outgrown the space – they have to use shifts for the after-school program. Older kids arrive first, have a snack and do homework, then go home. Younger kids then arrive, have their snack and do homework, and then the older kids return. There’s no room for an office and or food distribution, she said.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she supported the center, but was concerned when the city removed affordable housing and did not add to its stock. Smith wanted to know if there was enough space on the existing site to add to the facility. Doughty said there was not room. Doughty acknowledged that yes, it’s hard to lose affordable housing. She described how the person who is moving out is happy to be leaving because of the drainage issue in the neighborhood – he’s not too happy to be living there. The loss of one housing unit means the ability to serve additional people, she said.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that the proposal before the council was a purchase of property, but to make it functional, additional funds would be needed. Where would that money come from? Sumedh Bahl, community services area administrator, explained that federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds would be used.
Kunselman then asked Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community development, about building additional affordable housing. In the neighborhood, he said, Habitat for Humanity has built one house and rehabbed one. He asked if the city could acquire tax-foreclosed property from the county and turn it over to Habitat for Humanity. Callan acknowledged that yes, that’s a model used in other communities. So Kunselman said he wanted to bring that to the attention of his council colleagues: The city has first dibs on tax-foreclosed property, and the city would be seeing some more of these situations. So he’d be looking for their support for that.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) if the purchase had been reviewed by the park advisory commission. [The purchase is being made out of the open space preservation millage, which has two components – land outside the city and parkland inside the city. Hohnke serves on the greenbelt advisory commission, which handles open space preservation outside the city. Taylor is one of two council representatives to the park advisory commission. PAC has a land acquisition committee that handles open space preservation millage recommendations inside the city.]
Taylor said he didn’t recollect if there was a conversation at PAC – if there was, it wasn’t a big discussion. Bahl confirmed that it had been reviewed by PAC.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) drew out the fact that the amount of impervious surface on the parcel would remain the same – there would be no increase.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Eden Court purchase.
Human Services Allocations
The council was asked to allocate the additional $85,600 for human services it had previously approved as part its 2012 fiscal year budget in May 2011. The nonprofit entities receiving additional funding through the increased allocation were already slated for support – it was a matter of distributing the additional funds.
Both in terms of percentage increase and total dollar amount, Legal Services of South Central Michigan received the largest increase in support for its program to prevent evictions. The program was allocated an additional $55,816, bringing its total to $157,055. [Google spreadsheet breaking down additional allocations]
The additional funds were allocated in a way that most programs received a 2.7% increase compared to the amount they’d previously been allocated. The staff memo accompanying the resolution acknowledges the apparent proportional discrepancy, explaining that it “reflects a redistribution in which funder is funding the contract. Some contractors have funding from more than one funder and some funders have funding from just one funder. But the total allocation for each agency is the amount that all funders agreed upon based on the evaluation score, and the fund distribution formula.”
Human Services Allocations: Public Comment
Lily Au began with complimentary words for The Ann Arbor Chronicle but quipped that its editor, Dave Askins, was not her friend – he had not friended her on Facebook. She addressed the issue of coordinated distribution of human services funding – an approach whereby the city, the county, the Urban County, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and Washtenaw United Way together work to allocate funding to different nonprofit organizations.
Au noted that the human services funding goes through the city/county community development office, which she said charges administrative costs that are too high. She contended that most Ann Arbor residents don’t know about the coordinated approach – the city council had approved it without much discussion. She pointed to a possible conflict between AnnArbor.com’s coverage of the issue and the fact that its vice president [Laurel Champion] serves on the board of directors of the United Way.
Au criticized the United Way expenditures on pension and retirement. A new expense item this year for United Way is called “functional expenses,” which Au contended is related to the coordinated funding.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously without discussion to allocate the additional money as recommended.
Pension Ordinance Change
Before the council for its consideration was initial approval to an ordinance change that increases the city’s pension vesting period for non-union employees hired after July 1, 2011 – from five years to 10 years. It also changes the final average compensation computation so that it’s based on the the last five years of employment, not the last three years.
The preparation of the ordinance change came at the direction of the city council, which passed a resolution at its June 6, 2011 meeting asking the city administrator to bring forward ordinance revisions that for non-union employees would change health care benefits and aspects of the city’s pension plan.
Specifically, the June 6 resolution pointed to ordinance revisions that would base the final average contribution (FAC) for the pension system on the last five years of service, instead of the last three. Further, employees would be vested in the pension plan after 10 years instead of five. Finally, all new non-union hires would be provided with an access-only style health care plan, with the opportunity to buy into whatever plan active employees enjoy.
At its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, the council gave final approval to an ordinance change that addressed the health care provision from the June 6 resolution. That ordinance change distinguishes between “subsidized retirees” and “non-subsidized retirees.” A non-subsidized retiree is someone who is hired or re-employed into a non-union position with the city on or after July 1, 2011. In their retirement, non-subsidized retirees will have access to health care they can pay for themselves, but it will not be subsidized by the city.
The ordinance change that was given initial approval at the council’s Sept. 6 meeting addresses the retirement plan portion of the June 6 resolution. All ordinance changes require approval by the council at two separate meetings, in addition to a public hearing on the change before the final vote.
The city expects that when it reaches a point when all non-union employees have been hired under the revised pension plan, the city’s costs will be $230,000 less than they would be under the current plan.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously without discussion to give initial approval to the change in its retirement ordinance.
Community Events Funding
The council was asked to authorize the allocation of $43,378 to various groups in support of events they sponsor. The largest grant was to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival – for $25,000. Most of the rest of the grants were for $1,000 to cover the city’s costs for placement of street barricades.
Awardees included the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau, Arbor Brewing Company, the University of Michigan’s Alice Lloyd Scholars Program, and the Main Street Area Association, among others. [Google spreadsheet of awards]
The council committee recommending the award amounts consists of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) thanked Smith and Teall for taking on the task and doing a great job.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the community events disbursements.
Gallup Boat Access Study
Another request before council related to a $7,500 grant agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (MDNR) to perform a preliminary engineering study for Gallup Park boating access site improvements. The Gallup Park boating dock does not meet current standards for barrier-free access, pedestrian/vehicle access, and parking.
The money will be spent out of the 2012 fiscal year park maintenance and capital improvements millage budget. The city council had applied for the grant from MDNR on March 21, 2011.
During the brief deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the city had applied to the state for the boat launch access improvements at the same time as it applied for a grant for Gallup Park generally and for a skatepark. She asked for an update on those grants. Community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl told Briere that “the letter is in the mail,” he’s been told. [By that he did not mean that approval was imminent, but that a notification about whether the grants had been approved would be forthcoming.]
Mayor John Hieftje remarked that in conjunction with the new Argo Dam bypass channel, it means there will be a lot of new opportunities for boating.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to authorize the grant.
Federal Grant for Crime Mapping
Councilmembers were asked for authorization to use $27,996 for crime-mapping work, if the money is awarded by the U.S. Dept. of Justice through an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant.
The funding would be used to create a specific, geospatial crime-mapping dashboard – a Law Enforcement Information Dashboard (LEID). According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, the LEID would be shared with the CLEMIS consortium (Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System), which includes multiple law enforcement agencies in the region.
During the public hearing on the grant award, Thomas Partridge applauded the efforts of the city to apply for and receive the grant. He suggested that instead, the funds could be going to “drug courts.” He described the amount of money as small compared to the problem of illegal drugs.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously without discussion to authorize the grant application.
On the agenda was a resolution to authorize a $580,680 cleaning contract with Kristel Cleaning Inc. for janitorial service at the city’s municipal center, Wheeler Service Center, the water treatment plant, the Ann Arbor Senior Center and various smaller locations.
At a budget retreat in early 2011, public services area administrator Sue McCormick had brought up the topic of the frequency of cleaning:
The increases include restoration of janitorial services from three days per week to a five-day service. That move from five-day service down to three-day service, McCormick said, proved to be the “worst thing we could have done.” Exacerbating the issue is the age of the building, and there’s ongoing construction adjacent to the building, plus the fact that more people will be returning to work there. So next year’s budget proposes five-day service – an additional expense of $33,500 per year. In the new municipal center, McCormick said, a three-day-a-week janitor service would be a “recipe for decline” in the new building.
The contract with Kristel called for a 5-day-a-week cleaning schedule for the municipal building.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wanted to understand what factored into the frequency of cleaning: Does it depend on the number of public visitors or the number of people who work there? What what are the problems with a 3-day schedule? Alluding to the fact that the city had dropped down to a 3-day schedule from a 5-day schedule, mayor John Hieftje suggested that it would be appropriate to ask if the city is spending more for cleaning now than three years ago. Interim city administrator Tom Crawford said “fruit flies and critters like that” were an example of some problems with the 3-day schedule.
After hearing that there was no particular urgency to getting the contract approved, Smith moved for a postponement.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the cleaning contract.
Communications and Comment
Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.
Comm/Comm: Video Surveillance
During her communications time, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) told her colleagues that on Sept. 19 she expected that a proposed ordinance would be before them that would regulate video surveillance. [Smith has previously updated the council on that ordinance.] She described how the ordinance specifies that security cameras can’t be in residential neighborhoods. It doesn’t affect whether security cameras can be in locations like parking structures, she said. If it’s not on the Sept. 19 meeting agenda, it could be expected after that.
Comm/Comm: PAC report on Fuller Road Station
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) is one of two ex officio council representatives to the city’s park advisory commission. He reported that at its last meeting, the commission had a discussion about Fuller Road Station and the Border to Border trail. PAC had passed a resolution that identifies a number of items, including the fact that trail improvements should be prioritized over bicycle amenities within the station. PAC is also interested in ensuring that the non-motorized trail system be a jointly funded enterprise by university, city and county. [Chronicle report of the PAC meeting: "Action on Argo Headrace, Trails Near Fuller"]
Comm/Comm: Fuller Road Station
Libby Hunter delivered her public commentary in the form of a song, as has become her habit over the last two years. The lyrics, sung to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” featured the refrains “lie, la, lie” directed pointedly at mayor John Hieftje. The subject of her complaint was the proposed Fuller Road Station: “Tell me please Mayor Hieftje / Is it true what we’ve been told / That you gave away our park / For a pocketful of nothing / Empty promises.”
Comm/Comm: New City Admin – Thank You to Crawford
During his communications, mayor John Hieftje noted that the new city administrator, Steve Powers, would be arriving soon. [Powers starts the job on Sept. 15.] Meetings are being set up for Powers with all councilmembers, the mayor said. Hieftje thanked Tom Crawford for his service as interim administrator. Crawford is the city’s chief financial officer, and has served as interim administrator over the last four months since the departure of Roger Fraser.
At the start of the meeting, several proclamations were made. One honored the Thunderbolts, a ball team that has helped maintain the city’s Southeast Area park. Alan Tanabe accepted the proclamation given by mayor John Hieftje.
Hieftje also declared September as Hunger Action Month.
Hieftje presented Nick Shannon with a proclamation acknowledging Shannon’s winning a 2011 All-America City Youth Award.
Jonathan Bulkley, a long-time professor with the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, was also on hand to receive a proclamation for his service to the University of Michigan, the state of Michigan and the nation. Bulkley had addressed the council at its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting in support of the council’s resolution on the greenway. He serves on the board of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy. His granddaughter Nina accompanied him at the podium.
Comm/Comm: Remembering 9/11
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor Democrat, an advocate for the most vulnerable residents. He told the council it’s a serious week when the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 falls. So he called on the mayor and council to honor victims and families of that tragedy. He asked them not to raise funds to create memorials, but to honor the people who gave their lives, not in vain, but in full purpose of furthering the American economy.
Partridge said that the council should honor them by calling on people of all political persuasions and all faiths including Islamic, Christian and Jewish religions – all major and not-so-major faiths – to honor a commitment by resolving conflicts with non-violence.
Partridge concluded quickly by asking councilmembers to support the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder. He asked them to fully fund affordable housing, transportation, health care, and education.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Mike Anglin
Next council meeting: Sept. 19, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]