Comments on: County Tax Hike for Economic Development? it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Alan Goldsmith Alan Goldsmith Mon, 17 Sep 2012 10:35:03 +0000 “There is a self-serving appearance of this move by Smith. He is the executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, an economic development nonprofit, for which he received (2011) in excess of $120,000 total compensation.”

“Regarding the Suburbs Alliance complaints, gracious Vivienne what a specious line of reasoning! There is no link between Act 88 and the nonprofit I run. If there were, the conflict of interest would be disclosed and I would abstain from the vote.”

Then perhaps Mr. Smith would support annual, detailed, financial disclosure statements from members of the County Commission? And since SPARK doesn’t open its books, there is no way to verify any conflict of interest with anyone if public office of course. Funny how that works.

By: Alan Goldsmith Alan Goldsmith Mon, 17 Sep 2012 10:30:17 +0000 Ed, I do appreciate you posting the link. Thank you.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Sat, 15 Sep 2012 17:33:52 +0000 It’s a relief to know that the agricultural funding is not threatened.

Conflict of interest is narrowly defined, at least as usually applied. I don’t know the precise legal definition or where it is to be found but I would guess that it requires a direct financial benefit. For example, “if our board contracts with this company, they will increase my consulting fee” (hypothetical example). However, influence and increased opportunity are not generally considered a reason for abstaining from votes. We have many examples in current political life where there is some blurring of this line. People have often complained about the many UM employees who are voting on issues that may affect the UM. My former opponent in the recent primary for 5th ward often said he would abstain from votes where his wife’s occupation was being decided, but he can hardly abstain from votes on the DDA’s Connecting William Street project in which she is engaged, since no direct financial consequence is indicated. We have had planning commissioners who are employed with firms who propose developments. I don’t have a solution for these types of situations, except to say that people should be sensitive to these influences and minimize any appearance of conflict where possible.

My point was intended to be that the Michigan Suburbs Alliance doubtless cooperates with SPARK and other economic development agencies. This creates a potential advantage and (favorite word) “synergy”, though probably not a legally defined conflict of interest. I don’t agree that turning all funds to a staff-directed assignment rather than by direct BOC designation makes them more accountable. Rather, it increases their fungibility, often in transactions and exchanges that are not easily observed by the public.

By: Conan Smith Conan Smith Sat, 15 Sep 2012 02:08:32 +0000 Thanks, Mary, for helping clarify this. It’s certainly not my intent to turn us from the original Act 88 allocations, especially those to MSU Extension and FSEP. I think those are great investments. The BOC has been increasingly supportive of ag-economic development since I joined the Board, and the security of Act 88 funding is only one example of that. Most recently we supported the development of a Food Policy Council that will, in part, help build a stronger local-food economy. The enhancements to Act 88 this year will allow OCED to play an even larger role in that strategy.

However, the way Act 88 is structured currently doesn’t allow for very effective oversight of the funds. By giving OCED the tools and flexibility to establish a strategic direction for the use of those funds and provide stronger accountability mechanisms, we improve the likelihood that they will achieve the impacts we intend. The structural change I proposed to give OCED increased oversight really just ensures that our economic development granting is given the exact same scrutiny and evaluation as our human services granting.

Regarding the Suburbs Alliance complaints, gracious Vivienne what a specious line of reasoning! There is no link between Act 88 and the nonprofit I run. If there were, the conflict of interest would be disclosed and I would abstain from the vote.

By: Edward Vielmetti Edward Vielmetti Fri, 14 Sep 2012 20:28:58 +0000 Alan – I don’t have that info – you might be able to get more of it via the LDFA board contacts. You got what I got. (Whether it’s adequate to answer the questions you have, I don’t know.)

By: Alan Goldsmith Alan Goldsmith Fri, 14 Sep 2012 19:47:20 +0000 Ed, did you leave something out? I didn’t see a detailed budget for Ann Arbor Spark and how each penny of our taxpayer funds are spent. Just lots of numbers (sixty-ish?) jobs ‘created’ and jobs ‘retained’. If you have that information, could you post it to the site? Thanks so much.

By: Edward Vielmetti Edward Vielmetti Fri, 14 Sep 2012 18:36:27 +0000 Tom, there’s accountability from SPARK through the LDFA in Ann Arbor; I just read through their very detailed report on activities, down to the dollar on the microloans that they made and to the 0.5 FTE on “jobs created”. I’ve put the board meeting packet here:


By: Tom Whitaker Tom Whitaker Fri, 14 Sep 2012 16:53:05 +0000 In July 2011, SPARK was awarded $10.8 million from the State of Michigan courtesy of two former SPARK CEO’s, Rick Snyder and Michael Finney. Even with the inflated salaries at SPARK, this money should last them for several years (unless they’ve already blown it on new office space and fancy electric signs).

With this enormous windfall from the State, why would any official of Washtenaw County or the City of Ann Arbor feel any obligation to take our limited local resources (or invent new millages) and continue to pour them down the SPARK sinkhole with absolutely no accountability? This is especially irksome after Conan Smith led the charge to put the well-respected, and results-proven Huron Valley Humane Society through the ringer, looking for every penny he could squeeze out of them.

It’s time to revoke all public funding for SPARK and other ED agencies. It’s also time to replace Conan Smith. Our elected officials need to get back to the business of government and out of the business of business development. Safe, attractive cities and counties, with good schools and roads and efficient governments are far more effective in attracting and growing businesses than any hokey marketing schemes cooked up by SPARK, MEDC, or MSA.

By: Leah Gunn Leah Gunn Fri, 14 Sep 2012 11:25:25 +0000 This proposal was not put forth by Administrator McDaniel. It was a suggestion by Commissioner Conan Smith, who did not inform either the Administrator nor any other Commissioners of his idea. At this point, it is simply an idea, because it has not been formally proposed by putting an amendment on the table. I would not support it if it did not include the allocations to MSU Extension. To be absolutely clear, Adminstrator McDaniel had no more idea what was being proposed than the rest of us did. It came out of the blue at the Board meeting.

I have been told that Commisioner Smith is having second thoughts.

Many thanks to Mary Morgan for clarifying the NAPP language. It was the ORDINANCE we were amending, NOT the ballot language.

By: Mary Morgan Mary Morgan Fri, 14 Sep 2012 03:18:41 +0000 Re. “Go back and check the ballot language the voters approved.”

Here’s the ballot language for the 2010 natural areas preservation program millage:

Proposal A
Natural Areas Millage Renewal

To renew the millage expiring after the December 1, 2010 levy, shall the limitation on taxes which may be imposed each year for all purposes on real and tangible property in Washtenaw County be increased as provided in Section 6, Article 9 of the Michigan Constitution and the Board of Commissioners be authorized to levy a tax not to exceed one fourth of a mill, reduced by the Headlee Amendment to 0.2409 ($0.2409 per $1,000 of state equalized valuation) on the taxable value of such property for a period of ten years beginning with the levy made on December 1, 2011 (which will generate estimated revenues of $3,492,000 in the first year) for the purpose of purchasing natural areas in order to preserve them, paying the costs of operating a land preservation program and paying the costs of maintaining the land purchased?

Although the ballot language does not mention the purchase of development rights, PDR is outlined in the ordinance that governs NAPP. In May of 2010 – several months prior to the November election when the NAPP millage was renewed – county commissioners voted to revise that ordinance. The changes were discussed at an April 22, 2010 working session. [Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Natural Areas Tweaked for Ballot"] The changes reflected two strategic goals: incorporating farmland into NAPP’s land preservation efforts, and clarifying the county’s use of the purchase of development rights (PDR) to preserve land, in addition to outright acquisition. [.pdf of NAPP ordinance revised draft, which was ultimately approved in May of 2010] The revised NAPP ordinance is also posted on the county’s website.