In the Aug. 7 primary, the two candidates will contest Sandi Smith’s seat on the council. Smith announced in April that she will not seek re-election to a third two-year term.
The June 20 forum included fairly standard opening and closing statements, and other questions that invited candidates to talk about themselves.
Sturgis emphasized the fact that he grew up in Ann Arbor and noted his connection to the Ann Arbor public schools; he liberally sprinkled through his remarks the names of several people who’ve endorsed him, including Sandi Smith.
Kailasapathy emphasized her educational background in political science and economics and her professional training as a certified public accountant.
Broader policy issues covered at the forum included: communication (transparency and dissemination of information); planning and development (African American Cultural & Historical Museum, Near North, 618 S. Main); and transportation (rail station, countywide transit). The candidates were also asked questions about employee health care, public art, medical marijuana, and the public schools.
The forum featured a combination of questions that had been prepared in advance, as well as some questions submitted by audience members on cards during the forum. Mike Henry, co-chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, moderated the forum and declined to read some of the questions submitted from the audience on cards, calling them “unfair.” But toward the end of the event Henry allowed questions to be asked directly from the audience. Anne Bannister, the other party co-chair, was also on hand to help manage the forum.
A kerfuffle over campaign yard signs preceded the forum – as the two campaigns had difficulty reaching agreement on the appropriate placement of yard signs outside the venue, the Arrowwood Community Center. The center is located off Pontiac Trail about a half mile north of Barton Road.
And during the forum itself, the focus of the conversation at times veered away from substantive issues into associations that Sturgis and Kailasapathy may or may not have had with past candidates for office – locally and statewide. One of those past candidates was current Ward 2 city councilmember Jane Lumm.
In a comment emailed to The Chronicle, Lumm offered this perspective: “I was not at the debate the other night, but it sounds like some of the discussion was about who supported whom in past elections rather than exclusively focused on the issues and challenges facing the city. That’s unfortunate. Whether it’s beefing up public safety, or the strategies and decisions on county-wide transit and the passenger rail station, or service delivery efficiency, there are important city issues and that’s where the discussion ought to be.”
The detailed report of the forum below is organized thematically, not in chronological sequence. The report begins with a brief bit of internal Ann Arbor Democratic Party business, and is followed by the broader policy topics and other one-off policy questions. The various who-supported-whom issues are extracted into a separate, final section.
Ann Arbor Dems Business
Candidate forums hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party typically include introductions of other candidates for public office, even if they’re not participating in the forum. Forums often include some other internal party business as well.
Ann Arbor Dems Business: Other Races
Also in attendance at the Ward 1 Ann Arbor city council forum was Erane Washington, candidate for the judgeship on the 22nd Circuit Court that is open due to the retirement of Melinda Morris. [Other candidates for that position include Carol Kuhnke, Jim Fink and Doug McClure.]
Yousef Rabhi attended the forum. He’s running for re-election to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners in the new District 8, against Republican Joe Baublis. Rabhi described Baublis at the Ward 1 forum as a “Tea Party Republican.”
Introduced at the end of the forum was Christina Montague, who’s running for election to the Washtenaw County board in the new District 7. A former county commissioner, Montague will face Andy LaBarre in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary.
Also in attendance were three sitting councilmembers. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) attended, as well as both current council representatives from Ward 1 – Sabra Briere and Sandi Smith. It’s Smith’s seat that Sturgis and Kailasapathy would like to fill. Smith announced on April 23 that she would not seek re-election.
Jack Eaton, who’s contesting the Ward 4 Ann Arbor city council primary against incumbent Margie Teall, also attended the Ward 1 forum.
Ann Arbor Dems Business: Voter Registration
Mike Henry took the opportunity to encourage forum attendees to take voter registration applications with them and to register at least one other person to vote – because one of the best things Democrats can do is grow the electorate, he said. From the audience, Lois Mayfield asked about the Dems’ ability to help register voters, given legislation passed by the Michigan legislature.
By way of background, SB 754 was recently passed by the Michigan legislature, and had been presented to Gov. Rick Snyder for signing on June 19, the day before the Ward 1 city council candidate forum. It requires third-party entities that engage in voter registration activities to have a representative undergo training that is to be organized by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. Jeff Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat who represents the 53rd District of the Michigan house of representatives, opposed the legislation.
In an email written to The Chronicle, Irwin indicated that he felt the passage of the legislation would probably be subjected to a legal challenge, because the Republican majority had claimed it had a two-thirds majority required for legislation to take immediate effect – which it did not have. The record in the “Journal of the House of Representatives” shows the vote on the house floor was 66 yeas to 43 nays in the 110-member house. A two-thirds majority of 110 would require 74 yeas. The “Journal” records Irwin’s remarks following the vote in part as follows:
Furthermore, I did not support the gaveling on of Immediate Effect to SB751, SB754, or SB803 without a roll call vote. It is an insult to the voters that the House Journal inaccurately reflects the level of support for immediate effect. Votes were not counted and a 2/3rds majority for immediate effect was not established through any accepted means of counting votes. Votes were not counted by a voice vote, a rising vote or a roll call. Rather, the supermajority is asserted erroneously and all efforts to count votes are rebuffed.
So Mayfield wanted to know if people who took voter registration forms have to undergo the mandated training. Henry told Mayfield that the Ann Arbor Democratic Party would need to reach out to Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum for guidance. However, Henry assured Mayfield that “we’re not going to stop the show.”
About Themselves: Candidate Introductions
By way of introduction, Mike Henry described Kailasapathy and Sturgis as “two great candidates.” He told the forum attendees that a number of questions had been prepared. They’d each have an opportunity for an opening and closing statement. He told the two candidates not to engage each other, but rather to talk to the audience or to him, the moderator.
A coin toss determined the order of candidate responses. Kailasapathy called heads, and heads it was. So she went first.
Kailasapathy noted that she’d run two years ago for the Ward 1 seat occupied by Sandi Smith. [Percentage-wise, the outcome of that 2010 Democratic primary election was Smith's 55% to Kailasapathy's 45%, which was the best showing of any challenger to an incumbent in 2010.]
She described her campaign platform as resting primarily on a focus on the city’s core services. She believes we need to make sure police, fire and roads are funded fully, before funding other activities. A second main issue for her is that she’s for maintaining parks, not developing or repurposing parks.
She feels she brings an educational and professional background to the table. She attended Wellesley College and completed her undergraduate degree in economics and political science. She then attended the New School for Social Research and completed a masters degree in political economy.
She taught at Eastern Michigan University for 10 years, she said, as well as at the Chinese University in Hong Kong for two years. She switched careers about five years ago and became a certified public accountant, which she felt could help her understand the budget and priorities as well as looking at things from a political point of view.
Sturgis said he’d attended Ann Arbor’s Northside Elementary School, Clague Middle School and Huron High School, and he’s lived in the area his whole life. This area is a passion for him, he said. As he’s gone door-to-door campaigning, something he’s heard from people is that there are kids who walk to school at 6:15 a.m. to catch a bus and there are no lights. Those issues are important to certain communities, he said. Living in Ann Arbor his whole life, and in Ward 1, he knows what Ward 1 residents are looking for, he said. He supports well-funded police and supports the city parks.
Sturgis said he’d like to see Ann Arbor continue to maintain its city parks. A lot of times, he said, Northside Elementary School’s grass isn’t mowed as much as it should be. Cut-through traffic on Chandler near Pontiac Trail is another issue he felt needs attention: “We need a representative from this area who’s going to fight for little stuff like that,” he said.
He said he’d read through the budget carefully, and there are some things in the city budget he’d change. Others he wouldn’t change. He said one thing he’d like to see is to continue to push for recycling, and to try to partner more with the university in getting students to recycle.
He said his commitment to Ward 1 and the area is shown in his endorsement by Pat Byrd [a former city councilmember who served Ward 1 from 1994 to 1999, then named Pat Vereen-Dixon], Simone Lightfoot [current Ann Arbor Public Schools board member] and Letitia Byrd [a retired teacher and long-time community activist who serves on the boards of several local nonprofits.]
About Themselves: Concluding Statements
Sturgis thanked everybody who put the candidate forum together. He also thanked Kailasapathy. Growing up in Ann Arbor, he’s seen a lot of things that friends of his who live in other communities can’t believe. One of those things is the Hash Bash. He also has friends from other parts of the state who’ve never seen two gay people holding hands before. The diversity of Ann Arbor is great, he said. He said he’s been active in politics since he was 14 years old – for 12 years.
He then read off a list of endorsers. These are people who support his campaign, he said, and understand that he will fight for Ward 1 and fight for the city. Not every issue is black and white. We have to look at what’s best for the city, he said. On Dhu Varren Road, there are no sidewalks – and that’s something we have to look at in the context of kids walking to school. He asked people for their vote on Aug. 7.
Kailasapathy offered thanks all around to the organizers. She said she’s lived in Ann Arbor for 15 years. She has two kids who attend Ann Arbor public schools. Her husband teaches at Eastern Michigan University. They could not have expected anything more out of society than Ann Arbor, she said – as a refugee from the Sri Lankan civil war. In Ann Arbor she’s never felt out of place or left out. Her skin color and her accent just don’t matter, she said. She called it “unbelievable” what her family has here in Ann Arbor. So now, she feels she wants to give something back.
At the local level, democracy can be realized in its ideal form – at least in theory, she said. At the national level there’s too much money and special interests, she said. So the local level is “where the tire hits the road” and it’s where you can have a true democracy. She’s really excited, she said, because she’s always worked at the grass roots level, beginning with her work on human rights back in Sri Lanka.
About Themselves: What Principles Motivate You?
Lou Glorie, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for a Ward 5 seat on the city council in 2010, asked the candidates: What principles motivate you?
Kailasapathy read aloud a poem that she keeps with her, which she reads when she feels sad or challenged, and it motivates her. She was a kid when father died, she said, and when she showed the poem to her mom, she cried, because it was the very same poem that her father liked.
Kailasapathy introduced the poem as originally written in Tamil, a language she speaks. It’s a 2,500-year old poem, she said.
The text of the poem:
This world lives
Do not eat alone,
Not even when they get
The sweet ambrosia of the gods;
They’ve no anger in them,
They fear evils other men fear
But never sleep over them;
Give their lives for honor,
Will not touch a gift of whole worlds
There’s no faintness in their hearts
And they do not strive
Because such men are,
this world is.
Sturgis said that growing up with a single mom, he didn’t get to know his dad until he was 18. He had two loving grandparents and a loving mom, he said, who raised him. What motivates him is helping others and seeing others succeed. That’s why he would volunteer and tutor over at Clague Middle School. He’d be assigned kids who weren’t doing homework and he’d work with them one-on-one and try to motivate them. He said Jean Robinson, a former Ward 1 city councilperson [2000-2002], summed it up best when she said about Sturgis that she’s not met somebody who cares more about others. So what motivates him is seeing others succeed, he concluded.
About Themselves: Constraints on Time
Moderator Mike Henry asked about constraints that candidates might have on their time, if they were elected.
Kailasapathy allowed that she’d probably have to work fewer hours. In January and April, during tax season, she might work 100 hours in a week. She might have to cut that down to 40 hours a week instead of 100. She said she’d need time for her family, too. But juggling and struggling has always been a part of her life, she said. She ventured she might also get less sleep.
Sturgis said when he got this year’s budget book, in a day he had read through all 270 pages in it. Some of the material he’d read more than once. He’s finishing his bachelor’s degree in the fall, he said, so his school schedule gives him time during the evenings. As a city councilmember, it would be his duty to make time to read. That won’t be an issue, he said. Besides school, Henry wanted to know if Sturgis had any employment constraints. Sturgis said he did have employment, but did not have constraints.
About Themselves: Accounting an Essential Skill?
Patricia Lesko asked from the audience: Why do we need a CPA on the Ann Arbor city council? Why do we need someone with extensive financial knowledge on the council? What’s the argument for that?
Sturgis responded to Lesko’s question by quipping, that if people had read a2politico.com, then “We don’t need a tennis coach, obviously!” [Lesko authors that website and has offered a view on the topic. Sturgis is a tennis coach.] A councilmember who is a CPA could crunch the numbers, he said, but added that the city’s financial staff do a very good job. A CPA on council is just “another person,” he said. A lot of the budget amounts to a set of policy statements, he said. Do you think police and fire protection are more important? You don’t need a CPA to decide that police and fire should receive more funding, he said. He felt that that most councilmembers can do the rudimentary arithmetic to know that if you have $20,000 and subtract $15,000, then you have $5,000 left. In the same way, he allowed, he didn’t think that having a tennis coach on the city council is beneficial, either.
Kailasapathy said that you definitely don’t have to be a CPA to serve on the city council. But she felt that she could help in the area of financial literacy. For example, two years ago there was a group working to support Huron Hills golf course as the city discussed the possibility of privatizing it. The city’s contention was that the golf course was not making money. As an aside, Kailasapathy noted that she did not feel that the golf courses are meant to make money. She chose to come and live in Ann Arbor, even though she had no family here, and even though it would have been cheaper to live in Pittsfield Township [located directly south of Ann Arbor]. She and her husband had moved to Ann Arbor, knowing the taxes would be higher, because of the quality of life and the charm of Ann Arbor.
Returning to the issue of the financial condition of the Huron Hills golf course, Kailasapathy reported that she was looking at the financial statements with the line items: revenues, expenses, and then overhead. Adding those categories together yielded a negative number, she said. But as a CPA, she said, she knew that “overhead” is never used to calculate “profitability.” She suggested that the notion of profitability shouldn’t be applied to the golf course, she said, because the golf course is a public good.
Communication: Engagement, Transparency
Mike Henry asked how the candidates would help to engage the public more in decisions and create a more transparent process.
Kailasapathy responded by saying that every contract should be bid out – because that way, the city gets the best deal. She felt that a lot of people find it difficult to understand the budget and the whole budgeting process. By asking the right questions and setting priorities, we can bring more transparency to the process.
She noted that the different millages have to be in their separate funds, but aside from that, she said, perhaps not so many different funds are needed. If the money is in a single fund, it’s possible to prioritize. There are so many different funds, each with its own fund balance, that it’s difficult to answer questions. Taking the fleet funds as an example, she asked if it’s possible to purchase firetrucks from that fund. She feels that transparency means having financial efficiency and talking about these issues – something she feels she can do if she’s elected to the city council.
Sturgis began his response by looping back to a mention by Kailasapathy of reductions to school busing. He contended that in talking to AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis, there are no cuts to school busing in this year’s recently approved budget. And the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is constrained by federal regulations, he said. From the audience, Patricia Lesko then challenged Sturgis’ contention there were no cuts in AAPS busing this year. [Lesko has previously run for the Ward 1 council position (in 2008, as a write-in candidate) and for mayor (in 2010), but did not win either election.] There was a midday shuttle from Community High School to Huron High, Lesko pointed out, which has been eliminated from the recently approved AAPS fiscal year 2013 budget. Sturgis wanted to know from Lesko: “Are you asking a question?” Mike Henry invited Sturgis to focus on the question that had been asked – about transparency.
Coming back to the topic of transparency, Sturgis called Ann Arbor one of the most transparent governments in Michigan. You can find anything on the city’s website, including the budget, which is very accessible. You can get the meeting agendas, or any document you want. You can email your councilmembers and talk to them. He thinks Ann Arbor’s government is very transparent.
Kailasapathy felt that actual transparency goes beyond what’s available online. She brought up the issue of the future of the Library Lot – the top of the new underground parking garage, now referred to as the Library Lane parking structure – and whether there’s going to be a conference center built there. At that Sabra Briere, one of the current Ward 1 councilmembers, stated emphatically: “There’s not going to be a conference center and a hotel.” Kailasapathy contended that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had renewed that proposal. Briere noted that a consultant hired by the DDA had done a review, but the DDA has not done anything yet.
Over the following weekend, mayor John Hieftje engaged in some back-and-forth with residents on an email thread that echoed Briere’s sentiments. Hieftje wrote:
I know that I have no interest in seeing a convention center built on top of the new parking structure. I would guess other council members feel the same way.
There is a big difference between them but you can substitute “conference” for “convention” in my earlier emails if you like.
At the candidate forum, Kailasapathy said the whole idea is that this should be coming out of a public discussion. Transparency means that we shouldn’t have agendas and then suddenly something pops up on the agenda. While the underground parking garage was under construction, the proposal to build a hotel/conference center emerged, people put out yard signs advocating against it, and it was defeated, she said.
She said she didn’t know what the future of the top of the underground parking garage would be, but she felt that it should come out of a public process. Her concluding remark generated applause. [The proposal to build a hotel/conference center on the top of the Library Lot had been selected as the best proposal as part of an RFP (request for proposals) review process; the city council voted to reject that proposal at the point when the council was asked to ratify a memorandum of understanding – at its April 4, 2011 meeting.]
Sturgis said he totally agreed with the idea of public process. But he noted that “we have things called public hearings.” That’s where people attend a council meeting, “and it’s called a public hearing – so we’re going to do a little education here.” As an example, he gave the 618 S. Main planned project, where people got up and gave their opinion on the project. From the audience, Sabra Briere then interrupted Sturgis by saying, “I want to interrupt you and I do apologize.” She pointed out that there was a lot of public process before that public hearing on 618 S. Main at the city council meeting. For a lot of people, she said, that’s just the last thing. Sturgis said he was getting to that – the fact that there were several neighborhood meetings and people met with councilmembers. People do have the opportunity to go and give their input, he concluded.
Mike Henry said what he heard Kailasapathy saying is that there are ideas that are on the table, being considered by certain parts of city government that are not always in the public eye. The public has time to respond to those things they know about, but if the public doesn’t know about them, they can’t respond, he said. So Henry asked the candidates if they were comfortable with the way the city handles things.
Sturgis stated that he is comfortable with the way the city handles things. As an example he gave the African American Cultural and Historical Museum. The neighbors were consulted and the plans were discussed with them. There’s always public input and public commentary. He said that his grandmother is 85 years old and doesn’t use a computer. But if she has a concern, she can have email or she can pick up the phone. He does think there’s transparency, he concluded.
Communication: Information, Digital Divide
A question from former city councilmember Eunice Burns came from the audience: What are you thinking of doing to keep us informed about what’s going on?
Sturgis said it’s hard to beat the newsletter that Ward 1 representative Sabra Briere sends out. He has pledged to hold coffee hours at different places – sometimes at the Northside Grill, or sometimes at the Arrowwood Community Center, or different places in the ward. He’d also like to create his own newsletter and send it out. That would keep people informed on the issues, he said, and when there are public hearings.
Kailasapathy felt that it starts at the city council itself. Whatever questions she gets from constituents, she will raise those issues – by answering the questions herself or by getting the information from the city staff and then responding to constituents. She will continue to update her website and keep her constituents informed – because that’s how a democracy thrives. It should not be a top-down process – but rather an informed discussion.
From Burns came the follow-up question: What about Eric’s grandmother, who doesn’t have a computer? Sturgis explained that his grandmother does have a computer, but doesn’t know how to use it.
Kailasapathy allowed that’s a good point: What about people who can’t visit a website?
Mary Hall-Thiam, the Ann Arbor Democratic Party vice chair for outreach and inclusion, followed up on the theme of access to information by asking about the “digital divide.” Hall-Thiam noted that some people don’t have computers, because they can’t afford them, but also because they don’t want them. She asked the candidates how they would involve those people in a transparent government.
Kailasapathy began by saying that what she typically heard when this issue comes up is people saying, “Oh, I wish Ann Arbor had a real newspaper.” That’s a lament she hears often, she said. People feel well-informed as far as world news is concerned, as well as national news – because they read the New York Times. But they don’t feel well-informed locally. She did not know if she had the answer to that question, but it’s a “grief” she hears people express. On the online side, she said, there’s the Ann Arbor Chronicle. But she said it’s sad that Ann Arbor doesn’t have in paper form the kind of reporting that takes time and effort .
Sturgis said when you hold coffee hours and meet with people in the community, that gives people who don’t have or want a computer a chance to come out and express their views. When Briere holds her coffee hours every Monday morning at the Northside Grill, people come out to that – and they rely on that, he said. That allows people to have easy access and to talk to their representatives about what they’re doing on particular votes.
Planning/Development: African American Museum
Mike Henry asked candidates if they supported the proposed work to be done on the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County, in Ward 1 at 1528 Pontiac Trail.
Kailasapathy indicated her understanding was residents worry about parking issues. If it’s going to be a museum, where will the visitors park their vehicles? There’s an issue of planning that needs to be addressed, she said.
Sturgis reported that he’d spoken to a representative of the museum at the local Juneteenth celebration. That person indicated that it would be another two years before the museum would be open to the public. The plan is for six parking spots on the side of the building. Sturgis said he lives just two minutes from there, and thinks the museum would be good for the community.
His concern, Sturgis said, is that residents were initially told it would be five years – and now it’s been five years. Now the word is that it’ll be two more years. Residents are wondering about the process, he said. But he supports the museum. He noted that there’d be overflow parking in the church parking lot next to the future museum. He’d spoken to the immediate neighbors, he said, and they’d told him they’d been consulted about it and were okay with it.
Planning/Development: Near North
Moderator Mike Henry segued from the African American Cultural and Historical Museum to the Near North Avalon Housing project, noting that they were both “stalled projects.” [The closing on the financial piece of Near North is now expected to take place at the end of June 2012. The project was given city council approval back in 2009 ]. He asked the candidates what they thought about the Near North project, to be located on North Main.
Sturgis said we need to be committed to affordable housing. He grew up with a single mom and started working when he was 12 years old. He knows what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet, Sturgis said. We need more affordable housing, he said. People need to have the opportunity to have affordable housing. If older people want to retire to more affordable housing, they should be able to do that. Sturgis said that he felt Avalon Housing’s Michael Appel, associate director of the nonprofit, does an outstanding job.
Kailasapathy felt that it comes back to the whole development issue. On the site of the Near North project, she said, there were 6-7 units, which were allowed to deteriorate and now they’re to be demolished. From the audience, Sabra Briere volunteered that there were seven houses on the site, with each house divided into smaller units – about 22 or so. Also from the audience, Sandi Smith noted that the Near North project would include 44 affordable housing units. Using Smith’s number, Briere concluded that Near North would more than double the number of units on the site. Avalon had worked with a very aggressive neighborhood to accomplish a goal, Briere said.
Kailasapathy stated that every city needs affordable housing. Diversity is needed, otherwise things become gentrified, she said. A diversity of income groups is needed. But affordable housing should be pursued in a thoughtful way. Neighbors close to the Near North project were concerned about having a big building close to them. The idea of not-in-my-backyard is the reality, she said. But how would you feel if the project were behind your house? Then your position changes, right? We need to keep density in the D1 and D2 areas where the zoning provides for that higher density, she concluded.
Planning/Development: Public-Private (618 S. Main)
The topic introduced by moderator Mike Henry was public-private partnerships. He noted the city had experienced a number of challenges, citing the top of the Library Lot as an example. He asked the candidates to share their philosophy on public-private partnerships and development.
Sturgis said he supported the 618 S. Main project as a good example. The neighbors were for it. The city planning commission and the DDA also supported the 618 S. Main project. His understanding is that 618 S. Main is a private development and the city is not picking up the tab. [The project is receiving support through a brownfield plan that captures taxes paid on the increment between the current value of the property and the value after construction. The project is also receiving a grant from the DDA, based on the same kind of tax increment approach. For Chronicle coverage, see: "City Council OKs 618 S. Main"]
Sturgis said he likes it more when private developers come in. He’s not in favor of development in the neighborhoods – because he likes to keep things “to scale.” He supported the D1 and D2 zoning requirements, he said, but there are times – as with 618 S. Main – when the project might not conform exactly. [The building was approved at the city council's June 18, 2012 meeting at a height of 85 feet, which is 25 feet taller than the 60-foot maximum specified in D2 zoning regulations. The variance was made under the "planned project" provision in the city's zoning code.]
But Sturgis pointed out that there are increased setbacks and a rain garden [so that stormwater infiltrates into the ground instead of going into the city's stormwater system]. Each project has to be considered based on whether it’s good for the city and good for the neighborhoods, he said. He’s not for giving favors to developers. Developers were given favors in the case of the Foxfire wetlands, and he’s not in favor of that, he said.
Henry asked Sturgis to clarify his support for the 618 S. Main project. Sturgis cited the support of the Old West Side neighborhood association, the unanimous support of the city planning commission’s recommendation and the unanimous support of the DDA [in awarding its grant]. He again cited the increased setbacks and the rain garden. With that project, he said, we’re not talking about a 180-foot building [which is the height limit for D1].
Kailasapathy stated that when we actually give away tax dollars for a public-private partnership, it’s a problem. We have a capitalist economy, and if a business can’t survive without “a handout,” we need to rethink whether that project is viable or not. Giving tax breaks makes the playing field uneven. She described herself as “not really a big fan” of that kind of public support.
She reported a conversation she’d had with someone recently who’d remarked on the fact that a lot of taller buildings were being built – but the city’s fire department doesn’t currently have a tower truck. If we run the city efficiently and provide infrastructure efficiently, then if a business person thinks there’s an opportunity to develop housing for young professionals [to whom the 618 S. Main project will be marketed], then they’ll come and develop it. She would think twice about giving away tax dollars – tax increment finance dollars.
Planning/Development: North Main Task Force
Ray Detter asked about the North Main task force that has been appointed, an effort led by Ward 1 councilmembers Sabra Briere and Sandi Smith. [The task force is supposed to "develop a vision to create/complete/enhance pedestrian and bike connection from downtown to Bandemer and Huron River Drive, increase public access to the river-side amenities of existing parks in the North Main-Huron River corridor, ease traffic congestion at Main and Depot at certain times of a day and recommend use of MichCon property at Broadway."]
Detter’s question: What do you think the vision should be?
Sturgis reported talking with city administrator Steve Powers about the task force, and part of the point, Sturgis said, is to find a way to connect Allen Creek greenway to find a way for it to succeed. Currently there’s no money budgeted for the Allen Creek greenway, he said. Personally, he would like to see some development, but also wants to see what the task force comes up with.
Kailasapathy said she would very clearly push for the Allen Creek greenway. Ann Arbor’s value is not measured in how many new buildings we put up. We should try to move the greenway forward, but we should wait and see what the task force comes up with, she said.
Transportation: Rail Station
The Fuller Road Station project has been through a number of changes, Henry noted. Kailasapathy had made some remarks at a recent city council meeting, he said, about the acceptance of a federal grant. Henry asked candidates for their views on the project.
Kailasapathy said her position right now, is that the project is not an “open-and-closed issue.” She makes decisions based on the information she has at a certain point in time. If new information comes to light – new reports, new projections – she’s willing to look at those numbers. She described how Amtrak service through Ann Arbor, on the route between Chicago and Dearborn, was planned to increase from 6 times a day [three trains in each direction] to 10 times a day – and increase of 4 trips a day.
Without actually seeing how it’s going to be possible to turn that into a commuter train – what the fares would be and what the passenger demand will be – right now, she thinks the best strategy would be to add the dual track, and expand the current station in its current location [on Depot Street near the Broadway bridges]. If parking is an issue, she said, parking can be added on the MichCon property. Right now, she noted that the funding is for the environmental study. A report resulting from that study will draw a conclusion about whether the current station is viable, she said. When the report comes out, we should move on from there, she concluded.
Sturgis summarized the recent city council action at its June 4, 2012 meeting as accepting a $2.8 million grant, at no cost to the city. [The federal grant required a local match of $700,000, which had already been expended. So there was no additional cost to the city.] The grant will allow the city to take a closer look at whether the Fuller Road site or the current Amtrak site is more suitable. Where it’s confusing, Sturgis said, is that no decision has been made about whether the recommended site will be the Fuller Road site or the current Amtrak site – but obviously Fuller Road is the preferred option, he said. He wants to see what the report says.
He noted that Ann Arbor is the busiest stop between Detroit and Chicago on the Amtrak line. Concerns about the current Amtrak station, Sturgis said, include availability of parking and the ability to access the station with buses and taxis. As a Democrat, Sturgis said he supports transit. That’s a key thing for a Democrat to support. It’s important for getting people into the city. Right now there’s no “last mile” capability, he said.
Transit should be supported, to get more people into the city and into the downtown so Ann Arbor can continue to build its downtown base, Sturgis said. Transportation options like buses, taxis and bicycling help residents who can’t drive, he said. Pursuing the study funded by the federal grant is a good plan, he said, and he’s waiting to see if the preferred alternative in the report is for the Fuller Road site or for an expansion of the current station.
His understanding is that 80% of the money for the project will come from the federal government, with the requirement of a 20% local match. That 20% match would be funded from “a whole different group of people,” he said, concluding that “it’s not going to cost [the city of Ann Arbor] that much more money.” [The $2.8 million grant received by the city depended on a 20% local match, which is somewhat typical for federal transportation projects. The "local" match portion can typically be satisfied in a variety of ways – with funds from the state of Michigan, the University of Michigan, or the city of Ann Arbor, for example.]
Moderator Mike Henry asked the candidates for their views on local control of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, in the context of the current discussion of possible transition to a countywide transit authority.
Kailasapathy said she’d been trying to read up on the issue and she reported that she is grappling with the whole issue. Part of the push is that a countywide approach is better, because it means resource sharing. But on the other side, she said, she receives a lot of questions. She pointed to the discussion reflected in The Chronicle’s meeting report of a working session conducted by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. She said it reflected the fact that a transition to a countywide transit authority wouldn’t really be “resource sharing.” At that working session, she said, AATA CEO Michael Ford explained that Ann Arbor has an opt-out provision from the four-party agreement, because of the value of the assets that the city of Ann Arbor brings to the arrangement [its millage plus the capital assets]. [Chronicle coverage of that working session: "Differences on Countywide Transit Debated"]
It’s not as if there are two airlines that are flying half full each way, Kailasapathy said, that decide to combine resources. The AATA countywide proposal isn’t really resource sharing, because the majority of the financial support would come from Ann Arbor, she said. She wondered if this approach would be disenfranchising Ann Arbor. She could imagine something along these lines working, if it’s a partnership between equals. Right now, she said, she’s still grappling with it.
Sturgis said that his understanding of the four-party agreement is that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners is the only one of the four parties not to have voted on it. But the board is in the process of that. [The item is likely to be on the county board's July 11 agenda.] As a Democrat, he said, he supports transit. Providing more transportation will bring more people into Ann Arbor, he said, and bring more people into downtown, and help build the tax base. It’s a good thing to continue to work with the AATA. For him, Sturgis said, “the four-party agreement means the four parties agree.” He said he’d like to see the process continue to move forward. He said he’d like to continue to support busing to support Ann Arbor, “this great city I’ve lived in my whole life.”
Moderator Mike Henry asked why not put a countywide ballot initiative up for a vote?
Sturgis ventured that if it were put up for a vote, it would pass – unanimously. “Would I be in favor of putting it on the ballot? Sure.” He felt, however, that if the county board comes to an agreement, then “we’re set, and there’s not need for it to go to the ballot.” [In fact, the ratification of the four-party agreement by all four parties, including the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, will simply set the stage for a possible voter referendum on a funding mechanism.]
Sturgis said he’d vote strongly yes, because as a Democrat, transit is good for the environment and people, and it’s what we need. So as a Democrat he supports transportation.
Kailasapathy reiterated her position that she’s for public transportation and for expanding it. But she felt the proposal needs to be fine-tuned with respect to how much Ann Arbor contributes and how much others contribute. Right now there’s a disparity in the contributions. The devil is in the details, she concluded.
Henry asked Sturgis if he supported mayor John Hieftje’s push for commuter rail.
Sturgis answered briefly: “Yes.”
Kailasapathy wanted to know what Henry meant by “the push.” Henry noted that Hieftje has supported higher-speed rail in the Ann Arbor to Chicago corridor. Kailasapathy indicated that the latest she’d heard is that the Amtrak service would go from six daily trips to 10. She didn’t know if that would evolve into commuter rail service or not, but she was waiting to see the details.
Employee Health Care
The question posed by moderator Mike Henry was: How would you deal with rising health care costs?
Kailasapathy said that the unfunded liability in the city’s retiree health care is a major issue. In fiscal year 2013, she said, the costs are projected to go up by 12%. This is one of the biggest issues the city needs to tackle, she said. The city needs to renegotiate with the unions – because there is no other option. To address retirement health care costs, she said, we need to raise the retirement age. She characterized it as a demographic issue. Twenty years ago, when many cities were planning their retirement model, if someone retired at age 55 maybe they’d live for 15 or 20 more years. But life expectancy is increasing. We need to change with the times and that means raising the retirement age – to 60 or 62 years. If we don’t want the system to break, then we need to have honest discussions with the unions. One thing that could be done is to increase the retirement age, she concluded.
Sturgis reported that the amount of unfunded liability for retiree health care that he’d seen is $200 million. The city doesn’t have that money right now, he said – it’s a long-term problem. What the city has done to address the problem is to continue to allow employees to work overtime, instead of hiring additional employees. The city should also negotiate with the unions, he said. The city and the unions have their different views, and he would like to see the city work with the unions.
But it’s a national issue and affects all municipalities, so it can’t be solved in one year, Sturgis said. There has to be a “multi-faceted plan” and right now the city is taking the right steps by allowing overtime instead of hiring new employees. He feels the city is on the right track. It’s an important issue, he allowed, but we have to be realistic about the fact that we don’t have $200 million unless we cut public safety and other services. [For Chronicle coverage of retiree health care from earlier this year, see: "Ann Arbor Budget Outlook OK, CFO Cautious"]
Moderator Mike Henry noted that there’s always tension between different line items in the budget. One area that is the target of frequent criticism is funding for public art. Henry suggested that if the criticism is not addressed, Ann Arbor will “take a hit” in terms of how the city is perceived – and will be less attractive. He asked the candidates for their thoughts on the public art program.
Sturgis said he likes the city’s Percent for Art program. [The program allocates 1% for public art from all of the city government’s capital projects, up to a cap of $250,000 per project.] He likes that “we use local welders and that stuff.” He would like to see local artists hired, but realizes that there are artists from other places who will give us better opportunities. One great thing about Ann Arbor is the art fairs, he said – people know that about Ann Arbor and they like art. When the city council has considered changes to the public art ordinance on three occasions, Sturgis said, there has been overwhelming support for public art expressed during the public commentary. [The most recent of the three significant council debates on the public art ordinance took place in late 2011 and resulted only in some minor changes: "Art Lobby Averts Temporary Funding Cut"]
Sturgis then noted that during the budget deliberations, Sabra Briere had put forward a great amendment – to eliminate the travel allowance for the mayor and city council. Sturgis said it’s unfortunate that it didn’t pass, noting that he disagreed with mayor John Hieftje and Ward 1 representative Sandi Smith on that issue. [They voted against the amendment.] There’s a lot of little things that we can look at, Sturgis said, but the Percent for Art is a good thing for the city.
Kailasapathy questioned Sturgis’ portrayal of the outcome of the vote on Briere’s proposed travel budget amendment. She thought that the $6,500 had been put back into the general fund. Sturgis noted [correctly] that the vote had been 9-2 against Briere’s amendment, receiving support only from Briere and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).
Returning to the topic of public art, Kailasapathy said “we need to encourage local artists and all that,” but noted that the city of Ann Arbor is not the Smithsonian Institute or the Detroit Institute of Arts. Yet the city has public dollars to use, so we need to ask how we put public dollars to work for the public, she said. We need to have a “for the people, by the people” kind of attitude.
There are so many talented people in Ann Arbor that Kailasapathy would like to see spaces that give people a chance to exhibit their art. It can help revitalize the economy as well as give local artists an opportunity. She would, however, take a different direction on it, she said. Art and music are the soul of any culture and those are the things that beautify life. She would like the city to be more creative and would like to see public art money go into revitalizing the local art community.
Candidates were asked by moderator Mike Henry for their positions on medical marijuana.
Sturgis said that he supports medical marijuana for people who need it. He’s hesitant when federal law and state laws are contradictory. He then asked for help in recalling when Ann Arbor’s ballot initiative passed. From the audience came some incorrect dates [from Sabra Briere, who'd actually worked to pass the Ann Arbor charter amendment in 2004, which was followed by the statewide initiative in 2008.] Sturgis drew laughs with his comment that “I’m going to go with 2004 and 2008.” The confusion effectively served to derail somewhat the conversation on medical marijuana. The size of the majority in the vote, said Sturgis, reflected that people want access to medical marijuana.
Kailasapathy indicated that if medical marijuana dispensaries are legal and they follow the rules, she would not have an issue with them. Sturgis also indicated support for dispensaries if they are regulated and monitored.
A question from an audience member, who is involved in the Northside Elementary School PTO, was relayed by moderator Mike Henry. The sense of the question was: To what extent can the city council be active with the school district?
Sturgis said he’s passionate about Northside Elementary School and the school district as a whole. He cited an endorsement from Richard Dekeon, a gym teacher at Northside. Something that concerns Northside school, Sturgis said, is that when you come up Barton Drive and you come around that corner, it’s not very well marked. The grass isn’t cut or maintained, he said.
That’s his experience attending Northside and what he’s heard from Ward 1 residents. It’s important to work with the PTO – parents are important, he said. He knows Liz Margolis [AAPS director of communications] very well and JoAnn Emmendorfer [executive assistant to the AAPS superintendent], he said. School board member Simone Lightfoot has endorsed him and school board member Susan Baskett is supporting him, he said. He worked on school board member Deb Mexicotte’s campaign, he said. He feels like the city and the school can work together.
Kailasapathy reported that last year or the year before the treasurer of the PTSO had come and asked for help in preparing the tax return for the PTSO. When she’s approached for help, she said, it’s usually on financial issues. She helps those organizations to the extent she can in her own capacity, she said. She described how sometimes city and school issues overlap – for example, when reductions in school busing result in children needing to walk in areas where there are no sidewalks. She felt there would be a lot of common areas for the city and the schools to work together for the benefit of citizens and school children.
Human Services – Camp Take Notice
The last legal day for Camp Take Notice, a homeless encampment in Scio Township, was the next day – it’s located on land owned by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which was evicting the group. The question from the audience: How do you feel about Camp Take Notice? The idea was to just let it continue without needing to fund it at all. Mike Henry briefed the audience on the fact that the state is no longer willing to allow the camp to continue at that location. The county has provided some funding, he said. [At its June 6 meeting, the county board authorized a $60,000 grant from the Salvation Army, for emergency housing assistance for Camp Take Notice residents.]
Kailasapathy felt we should be spending more on human services. We should be taking care of our people, and it’s really bad that we don’t have a structured way to address this issue.
Sturgis said he’d like to see a structure in place to deal with the issue, saying he’s worked at soup kitchens and seen what it’s like. We need to help those who are homeless. He then stated, “It starts by not voting for people like Mark Ouimet and Republicans in the state House and Senate who don’t have those same values.” That’s where we have to start, he said, and we need “to re-elect Barack Obama and different stuff like that.” Ann Arbor should take a stronger stand, he said. He didn’t know what we can do monetarily, but he’d like more information on that and thinks it’s something the city should look into.
Working with Others: It’s Nice to Be Nice
The forum actually began with moderator Mike Henry saying he wanted to change the tone from the typical forum format: “Say something good about your opponent.”
Sturgis said Kailasapathy brings a lot of great ideas, one of them being the Allen Creek greenway – which is a longer-term thing, he said. The unfunded liabilities in the city’s pension system is a great point she makes, Sturgis said. He thinks that overall she’d do a very good job on council. They have differences, he allowed, but he personally has a lot of respect for her and thinks highly of her for running for council.
Responding to the direction to say something good about Sturgis, Kailasapathy said Sturgis has grown up in this area, knows a lot of people and knows local issues. She’s heard he’s a good tennis player. He’s friendly, she concluded.
Working with Others: Lumm
Moderator Mike Henry invited the candidates to talk about temperament and how they work with people. Oftentimes the council has to deal with difficult issues. It has become clear to many people in the community that those problems can be solved if people work together. He asked for examples of complex problems that the candidates had solved with others and how they’d found common ground.
Kailasapathy said that in her university teaching career, she’d taught thousands of students. As a CPA, she’s had hundreds of clients, she said. Clients and students cover the whole spectrum of people. She felt that if you’re honest, then people begin to see that you are sincere and honest, and that results in trust. Trust is important, she said. If you think a person will say one thing and then turn around and stab you in the back, that’s not a situation where there’s trust. In her professional life, she felt that being honest is important.
Henry followed up with Kailasapathy by asking if there was a situation where she felt someone did stab her in the back, but she still achieved common ground. When someone does that, she replied, it’s more difficult – when they say something and then turn around and the next second they do something else. Being honest is important, because then other people know where you stand, she said.
Sturgis agreed with Kailasapathy that being honest is an important thing. He said he wanted to come out and say that when he was 18 years old, he supported Jane Lumm when she ran for mayor [as a Republican in 2004]. About that, Sturgis said: “Do I regret that now? Yes.” That was an example, he said, where he was trying to work with Lumm on some issues that he felt were important to Democrats. When he was at Oakland University, he was appointed to the Rochester Historical Commission, he said. There were seven members on the historic district commission – six Republicans and a token Democrat, he said. He was elected treasurer by a 4-3 vote, he said, and was the youngest member of the commission by 50 years. He had to work with the six other Republicans “to get stuff that I thought was good and the Democrats wanted, and I was able to do that.”
Coaching tennis and other sports, Sturgis said, he’s had to deal with parents when he’s made cuts, when he’s had to discipline their kids. When you’re working with people, he said, “you can’t call them ‘corrupt’ … and then expect them to turn around and work with you.”
“If you align yourself in one group,” he continued, that will be remembered. He described himself as an independent who will work with all sides. He wants to see councilmembers work together.
Henry followed up with Sturgis by asking him about working on the Lumm campaign for mayor. There’ve been reports, Henry said, that Sturgis had worked on both the Lumm campaign and the Rapundalo campaign. [That's a reference to a 2011 Ward 2 city council race that Lumm won, running as an independent, after serving on the city council in the mid-1990s as a Republican. Incumbent Stephen Rapundalo ran in that 2011 council race as a Democrat. He also ran for mayor previously, in 2000, as a Republican.]
Sturgis said he was glad that the question came up. He worked for and supported Stephen Rapundalo [in the 2011 Ward 2 city council race]. He said he knew Jane Lumm, and had put a call in to her, but never got hold of her. He’s known Rapundalo for a long time and supported him when he ran for mayor – he’d supported Rapundalo as a close family friend, Sturgis said. Never once had he campaigned for Lumm in the council race, he contended, and he had written a letter to the editor supporting Rapundalo.
Sturgis then turned the topic to people Kailasapathy had supported. He contended that she’d “openly supported” Lumm as well as Ahmar Iqbal [who was a candidate for the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees in November 2011]. Sturgis indicated that Iqbal had ties to the Michigan Republican Party and had given money to George Bush [former Republican president] and Tim Walberg [current Republican Congressman representing the 7th District].
Sturgis said it’s important to be fair and consistent. He’d supported the Democrat in the 2011 Ward 2 city council race – Rapundalo. He supported Lynn Rivers when she ran [a Democratic Congresswoman who represented the 13th District from 1995–2003] and he supported John Dingell [current Democratic Congressman representing the 15th District].
Sturgis was assistant regional director in Port Huron for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he said. He has supported Democrats consistently, Sturgis said. He likes Jane Lumm and he thinks Jane Lumm is a good person. He thinks some of Lumm’s ideas are good, and he thinks she’s good for the city council. However, he said, he did support Stephen Rapundalo in the city council race.
Asked for her perspective on her 2011 city council campaign and the involvement of Sturgis, Lumm offered The Chronicle the following recollection:
Eric initially reached out to me indicating he might support my campaign (can’t recall exactly when it was). We exchanged a couple of emails, it got a bit confusing and complicated in terms of his relationships with other local elected officials, and ultimately Eric decided to support Stephen. …
I believe Sumi would be a great addition to city council – she is thoughtful, hardworking, balanced and knowledgeable on the issues. She’s also a CPA which, when it comes to budget and finance-related issues, is a big plus.
Responding to Sturgis at the forum, Kailasapathy acknowledged that she did support Lumm in the 2011 Ward 2 campaign. She called Lumm “really amazing” in supporting the core services for city. Lumm asks the right questions and does her homework, Kailasapathy said. It’s important to have diversity of opinion and not have “block thinking” on the city council, she said. Lumm raises valid question. Kailasapathy said she didn’t need to apologize for supporting Lumm.
For Sturgis to call her out for supporting Republicans is “really sad,” Kailasapathy said. A Ward 1 resident had sent her an email that day, that included a list of contributions to Gov. Rick Snyder’s campaign. [Snyder ran as a Republican.] Sturgis is on the list, she said.
Sturgis said he was very happy to address the contribution to Snyder, but noted that Kailasapathy had not addressed the issue of Ahmar Iqbal, who Sturgis again stated had given money to Tim Wahlberg – who Sturgis characterized as “against every women’s rights you can imagine” and has done a “horrible job in Congress.” Snyder’s son and Sturgis had graduated in the same class and were very good friends. Snyder’s son came to Sturgis and asked him if he’d support Snyder. So Sturgis supported Snyder in the Republican primary, he allowed.
Sturgis had supported Snyder in the primary against “crazy Pete Hoekstra, who god help us, we don’t want him.” [Hoekstra is former Republican Congressman representing the 2nd District, from 1993-2011.] In the primary Snyder had also been running against Mike Bishop and Mike Bouchard, whom Sturgis characterized as “absolutely nuts.” [Bishop actually contested the Republican nomination for state attorney general, not governor, and lost that nomination to Bill Schuette.] So he supported Snyder, someone who was more moderate, Sturgis said. For the general election, between Virg Bernero and Snyder, he’d had a Bernero sign out, Sturgis said.
Given a chance by Henry to respond to the question about her support for Iqbal, Kailasapathy noted that Iqbal had run for the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees – a non-partisan position. She had not voted for Iqbal, she said, and she had not donated any money to his campaign.
Working With Others: Favorites
Henry then asked the candidates who their “favorites” or role models are on the city council.
Kailasapathy did not answer immediately, then offered that she did not know that she’d try to model herself on anyone: “Sumi is Sumi!” She eventually said she thinks Mike Anglin (Ward 5) is very good at listening to people and he’s approachable. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), she said, is very good at responding to people and very patient. Kailasapathy felt she could learn from Briere. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) is someone who will always say what he thinks. What the city council needs is a variety, she said. If we call ourselves a democratic city, we need diversity and democratic discourse.
Sturgis said he had three favorites. The first is Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). He’s known Higgins since he was 10 years old. He has a great deal of respect for Higgins, he said. He felt that another favorite of his might surprise some people – Sabra Briere. Sturgis described Briere as “very knowledgeable.” Briere doesn’t just respond to constituents, but also gives you the information you need, and genuinely wants to help. He said he had a great deal of respect for Briere. A third favorite, he’d put together Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and mayor John Hieftje. What he really likes about Smith is that she’s honest. Hieftje had taken the city out of one of the worst recessions we’ve seen, he said. He respects everyone on the council, he said. But he’ll be an independent voice. He respects Jane Lumm, Stephen Kunselman and Mike Anglin, he said. Everybody deserves respect on the council.
Working with Others: Albert Howard
Moderator Mike Henry brought up an issue that Jack Eaton had raised with a Facebook post. [Eaton attended the Ward 1 forum; he's contesting the Ward 4 Democratic primary with incumbent Margie Teall, reprising their 2010 race.] The Facebook post in question was this:
While attending the Juneteeth celebration at Wheeler Park, I saw “Democratic” candidate Eric Sturgis sign Republican/Independent candidate Albert Howard’s Nominating petition. Makes you wonder.
Sturgis responded by asking, “Isn’t Albert Howard the same party as Jane Lumm?” [Jack Eaton, a Democrat, joined many other local Democrats in supporting Lumm, an erstwhile Republican who ran in 2011 as an independent. Howard contested New Hampshire's presidential primary in 2008 as a Republican, and more recently sought to gather signatures for nominating petitions in the Ann Arbor mayoral Republican primary this year, but did not achieve enough valid signatures. He's currently circulating petitions to run for Ann Arbor mayor as an independent.]
A brief back-and-forth between Sabra Briere and Sturgis drew out the fact that Howard had tried to collect petitions as a Republican for mayor, failed to get a sufficient number of signatures and is now circulating petitions as an independent.
Sturgis explained his signing of Howard’s mayoral nominating petitions. He described how he was approached by four people who were Ward 1 voters who said, “Hey, I’ll support you, I’ll put a sign out, and I’ll come around and help you in this certain area, but you’ve got to sign a petition.” So he asked who he was signing for. After he signed Howard’s nominating petition, he noted that his signature wouldn’t count, because he’d already signed John Hieftje’s mayoral nominating petitions.
Sturgis said he’d told the petition circulator right after he signed that his signature wouldn’t count. Sturgis said he’s all for people running for office – because it’s one of highest forms of patriotism. He’s heard people use the phrase the “Ann Arbor Tea Party” – people who are against everything, Sturgis said. Democracy is about letting people get on the ballot. He supports Hieftje wholeheartedly, Sturgis said. He also knows Howard, he said, because he’s coached Howard’s kids. “I’m sorry I know people in the community,” Sturgis offered sardonically.
By way of background on the issue of a person signing more than one candidate’s petition, Michigan’s election law stipulates that only the earlier signature counts:
168.547a Nominating petitions; signatures by voters, number, counting.
Sec. 547a. If a qualified and registered voter signs nominating petitions for a greater number of candidates for public office than the number of persons to be elected thereto, his signatures, if they bear the same date, shall not be counted upon any petition, and if they bear different dates shall be counted in the order of their priority of date for only so many candidates as there are persons to be elected.
But the Ann Arbor city charter differs from state election law. According to the city charter, a second signature invalidates both signatures:
Circulation and Signing of Nomination Petitions
(b) If any person signs a greater number of petitions for any office than there will be persons elected to that office, that person’s signature shall be disregarded on all petitions for that office.
City clerk Jackie Beaudry told The Chronicle in a telephone interview that as a practical matter, the clerk’s office would not evaluate Howard’s signatures against those of Hieftje and possibly disqualify signatures for Hieftje. The nominating petitions are essentially for two different elections, she pointed out – a partisan primary compared to a the general election. She also noted that Hieftje likely had sufficient signatures, even without the signature of Sturgis. In addition, Hieftje has already been certified for the ballot and the ballots have been sent to the printer.
Asked by moderator Mike Henry at the forum if she’d signed nominating petitions in the mayoral race, Kailasapathy indicated she had not.
Working with Others: Agreeing with Hieftje
Moderator Mike Henry asked the candidates if there were any issues on which they disagreed with mayor John Hieftje – other than the case of the travel budget that Sturgis had mentioned earlier in the forum.
Sturgis said he and Hieftje might not necessarily agree on development – the mayor’s “lines get bigger” when it comes to downtown development. Sturgis is more for keeping development in the downtown, he said. Sturgis said he supports the recommendations of the R4C study committee. A lot of issues considered by the council are unanimous votes or 10-1, he noted. Sturgis said he did not have “a book of John Hieftje votes” so that he could say that he agreed with one and disagreed with another.
Prompted by Henry, Sturgis said he might be a little bit more committed to police and fire protection than Hieftje. Sturgis said he would not cut police and fire protection. He didn’t see many specific issues on which he and the mayor disagreed, so he felt he could work with Hieftje effectively.
Sturgis noted that Hieftje is running unopposed for mayor and is not endorsing either candidate in Ward 1. [As of June 25, Albert Howard had not filed his petitions to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate for mayor. The deadline is July 19.]
Kailasapathy noted that Hieftje is touted as the “green mayor,” but she wanted to push Hieftje to be greener than he is. Conservation is also a green practice, she said. If you have older, historic homes, she said, then bulldozing them down and building a huge structure isn’t necessary. Kailasapathy said she’d really push Hieftje not to just preserve historic districts, but to preserve the character of Ann Arbor. A lot of residents are concerned that if Ann Arbor continues on this trajectory, the character of the neighborhoods and the city itself is going to change. “Ann Arbor’s charm is what it is,” she said – it’s a small town with parks and greenery. So she’d challenge Hieftje to expand his notion of greenness.
Working with Others: Trusting Hieftje
Mike Henry brought the issue back to the question of trust. He asked the candidates if they trusted the mayor and could work him.
Kailasapathy said that the issue is not whether you like someone or not. You have a job and you do it. She described emailing Hieftje and Briere back and forth about the rail system. It doesn’t mean that she and Hieftje agree on everything and it doesn’t mean that she and Briere agree on everything. If she needs to work with the mayor, she will work with the mayor. Based on her professional training, she said, you leave behind your biases and you deal with the facts.
Sturgis said he had no issues working with Hieftje. He said he gives Hieftje a lot of respect. He said if he had been called “corrupt” in the 2010 election, that takes a pretty big person to put that aside. The word “corrupt” is a huge word to use when you disagree with somebody, he said. When you “run with people who call themselves the anti-mayor slate” or support people like that, Sturgis began – but he did not finish the thought. [In the 2010 Democratic council and mayoral primary campaigns, the word "slate" evolved into a kind of pejorative reference used by incumbents to characterize the set of challengers that year, of which Kailasapathy was one. See, for example, coverage from that year: "Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Mayoral Race"]
What’s important is having respect for the mayor and not feeling that the mayor is corrupt, trying to fill his own pockets for personal gain – which is what the word “corrupt” essentially means, Sturgis said. He doesn’t believe that at all, Sturgis said, but rather thinks that Hieftje genuinely cares about Ann Arbor.
Sturgis noted that in Hieftje’s six times running for mayor, Sturgis could count on one hand the number of precincts Hieftje had lost. So the majority of Ann Arbor residents feel like working with the mayor is important, he concluded.
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