In a Nov. 10, 2011 resignation letter sent to mayor John Hieftje, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Rich Robben wrote that he would be serving on the seven-member board only through January 2012. [.pdf of Nov. 10, 2011 Robben email]
The Jan. 19, 2012 AATA board meeting will be Robben’s last. The news of Robben’s resignation was included in the information packet for the meeting, in the form of AATA CEO Michael Ford’s regular written report to the board. Ford wrote: “The organization has benefited greatly from Rich’s stewardship and tireless service …”
Robben’s re-appointment to a four-year term on the AATA board was confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council on May 2, 2011. But in his resignation letter, Robben wrote, “… other factors have risen that will interfere with my time commitment to this endeavor.” He also expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to serve on the board, indicating that he was willing to serve through January 2012, to allow Hieftje time to find a replacement.
Robben’s exit from the AATA board will be the second early departure in two months. On Nov. 9, 2011, a day before Robben sent his letter resigning from the AATA board, Detroit’s mayor David Bing had announced his selection of AATA board member and city of Ann Arbor public services area administrator Sue McCormick to lead Detroit’s water and sewerage department. McCormick, who is not a city of Ann Arbor resident, did not seek to continue service on the AATA board after retiring from employment with the city of Ann Arbor. She attended her last AATA board meeting on Dec. 15, 2011.
McCormick’s replacement on the board, nominated by Hieftje, is Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager. Cooper’s confirmation generated controversy among city councilmembers, who debated the nomination at their Dec. 19, 2011 meeting. The source of controversy was not Cooper’s expertise in matters of transportation policy, but rather the fact that he is a city of Ann Arbor employee. His confirmation came over the dissent of two councilmembers.
Robben is the University of Michigan’s executive director of plant operations, and thus served as an important connection between AATA and UM. The university’s faculty, students and staff account for about 40% of AATA’s ridership on its fixed route service. AATA board member Anya Dale, who was a planner with Washtenaw County when she was appointed to the board, is now employed by UM in its office of sustainability. Robben’s replacement has not been publicly discussed.
The loss of Robben from the board could be critical as the AATA seeks to establish a countywide governance structure and funding mechanism to provide service throughout Washtenaw County.