Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 8, 2012): The post-election meeting of the council – moved from its usual Monday slot to Thursday – featured one high-profile piece of business watched by many throughout the county. That was a vote on withdrawal by the city of Ann Arbor from a new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – which was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012. The vote to opt out was 10-0. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was absent.
Smith had said her farewell from the council at the previous meeting, on Oct. 15. She had decided not to seek re-election to her seat. At the Nov. 8 meeting, two other councilmembers attended their final meeting – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) who, like Smith, did not seek re-election, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) who did not prevail in his August Democratic primary. New councilmembers – Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) – will be ceremonially sworn in at the start of the council’s next meeting on Nov. 19.
A transitional theme emerged, as discussion of some agenda items straddled the Nov. 8 and Nov. 19 meetings – including the transit authority opt-out vote. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had been planning to bring a similar item forward on Nov. 19, when he felt he’d have a six-vote majority on the question. But that move was preempted by the Nov. 8 item, which included the sponsorship of Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje – who had previously been key figures in supporting the city’s role in the planned authority.
Discussion of a living wage waiver for the nonprofit Community Action Network (CAN) also included mention of the Nov. 19 meeting. That’s when a proposal will be brought forward that would change the living wage ordinance itself. The preference of Hieftje and Hohnke to wait and consider the ordinance revision for all nonprofits – instead of granting a waiver to CAN – was strong enough that they voted against the waiver. But the eight votes it received were enough to ensure that for the next three years, CAN does not need to abide by the living wage ordinance – which would otherwise require it to pay all its workers $13.57/hour.
A resolution that transferred $90,000 from the general fund reserve to the affordable housing trust fund was part of the transitional theme – because it had Sandi Smith’s name attached as a sponsor, even though she could not attend the meeting. The dollar amount was keyed to the price of a strip of land belonging to the former YMCA lot, which the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority recently purchased from the city. The transfer of funds was made in the spirit, if not the letter, of a policy enacted by the council at Smith’s urging at her final council meeting. That policy called for net proceeds of the sale of the Y lot to be deposited in the affordable housing trust fund.
The council’s agenda for Nov. 19 was partially previewed when both Briere and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced they’d be bringing forward proposals to revise the city’s Percent for Art ordinance – in the wake of a failed public art millage proposal at the polls on Nov. 6. Briere’s proposal would alter the definition of projects that qualify, while Lumm’s would eliminate the program. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of the budgets for all capital projects be set aside for public art.
And although he’ll be leaving the council, Derezinski will serve out the remainder of Evan Pratt’s term on the city planning commission. Pratt is leaving that role after being elected Washtenaw County water resources commissioner. At the Nov. 8 meeting, council confirmed Derezinski’s planning commission nomination, which had come at the council’s previous meeting. The council also decided to expand a task force on planning for the North Main corridor to make room for outgoing councilmember Sandi Smith, and appointed her to that group as a citizen member. She’s been serving as the council’s representative.
In other business, a resolution that would have moved toward converting the city’s retirement system to a defined contribution plan – instead of a defined benefit plan – was withdrawn. The council also approved increasing the staffing level of the fire department from 85 to 86 firefighters. And the city’s sign board of appeals (SBA) was dissolved by the council, with responsibilities transferred to the zoning board of appeals (ZBA). The council also voted to give city attorney Stephen Postema a 2.4% raise, his first in five years.
Countywide Transit Act 196 Opt Out
The council considered a resolution that withdrew the city of Ann Arbor from a new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – that was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012, a little over a month ago. Incorporation of the new transit authority under Act 196 of 1986 had been preceded by the development of a 30-year transit master plan and a five-year service plan by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, over a more than two-year period.
The cost of the planning effort came up in council deliberations. An outside consultant, Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), held two contracts with AATA to help develop a transit master plan and take steps toward implementing it. At its Feb. 16, 2012 meeting, the AATA board authorized an increase in the SDG contract by $95,500 – to $288,817. That contract with the London-based consultant was for “implementation assistance” of the plan. The original implementation assistance contract was approved by the board at its July 19, 2011 meeting.
The original contract with SDG for development of the transit master plan was for $399,805. It was previously extended and increased at the AATA board’s Nov. 18, 2010 meeting by an amount not to exceed $32,500.
Countywide Transit: Background
The language of the council’s Nov. 8 resolution offered some optimism that expanded transportation services might be pursued with some other mechanism than a countywide Act 196 incorporation: “… AATA is encouraged to continue to discuss regional transportation options among Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti township, Ann Arbor township, Scio township and Pittsfield township, leading to a better understanding and process for improving local transit options …”
The version placed on the Nov. 8 agenda by mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had the same effect as one that had been developed for the Nov. 19 agenda by Kunselman and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). The preambles to the two approaches, however, contrasted in the level of forward-looking optimism that was conveyed. The contrast is also evident in the titles of the two resolutions:
- [Resolution to Withdraw from New Act 196 Public Transportation Authority in and for Washtenaw County and Terminate the Public Transportation Agreement between the City, AATA, Washtenaw County and the City of Ypsilanti]
- [ Resolution to Withdraw from the New Act 196 Public Transportation Authority, to Terminate the 4Party Agreement between the City, AATA, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County, and to Continue Discussion of Expanded Transit Among Urban Core Communities]
The Ann Arbor city council’s resolution was placed on the agenda in the context of opt-out decisions by most of the other 28 municipalities in the county. Even so, until the Nov. 8 council meeting, jurisdictions still participating in the new authority included more than half the county’s population, and counted the county’s largest population centers: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Saline.
Ann Arbor had been expected to help lead the initiative, and had been the first of the four parties to ratify the agreement, on March 5, 2012. Since incorporation on Oct. 3, more than one glitch was encountered in the technical implementation. Those included unclarity about the start of a 30-day opt-out period, and the eligibility of current AATA board members to serve on the board of the new authority.
Countywide Transit: Public Comment
Joel Batterman told the council that although he’d been working with Washtenaw Partners for Transit, he was speaking as a resident of the city. He reminded councilmembers that he’d addressed them about two years ago on the topic of the Fuller Road Station, which he said he didn’t feel served the interests of the city or the University of Michigan. Decisions that are made or not made about transportation, he said, are among the most important and lasting choices that come before the council. He was sad that the council is looking to end current initiative. The current initiative would have meant improvement to the bus service, including extended hours and frequencies and more direct routes serving areas on the west side of town. It would also expand the service area to match better where people are living today.
Batterman allowed that people had concerns about local control. But it was also important to consider that when the AATA was formed in the early 1970s, about 56% of the county’s population lived in the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but today only 39% do. At the same time, the out-county is increasingly dependent on Ann Arbor employers, and the working families who need transit most often live outside the city limits.
Batterman acknowledged that rural townships might not be ready to participate in a transit authority. But those more urbanized areas that did not opt out would still have included a majority of the county’s population and would have brought a majority of the county’s transit-dependent residents within reach of the transportation they need. That’s something that really matters and still needs to happen, Batterman said – for Ann Arbor’s economy and for the well-being of everyone in the area. He encouraged the council to take the initiative in the coming year to work toward a new accord on expanding transit. He noted that Ann Arbor residents overwhelmingly support better transit – noting that even those who spoke against the formation of a new transit authority at a city council meeting last winter said they wanted many of the improvements, like expanded late night service, which the initiative was intended to help support. Whatever differences of opinion might exist over the structure and governance of an expanded transit system, he felt we could all support a future with more transit, cleaner air, expanded opportunities for people and perhaps even fewer parking garages.
Carolyn Lusch told the council that she also works with Washtenaw Partners for Transit. One of the great things about her job is she gets to hear people’s stories. Over last few months, she’s spoken with families, seniors, churches, students and businesses – people who are interested in and have great need for transit improvements. They’d told her about how they have to call a taxi to get groceries or miss a doctor’s appointment, or call up family members for favors.
The need for transit still exists, Lusch said. She was encouraged by the call for continued dialogue that’s expressed in the council’s resolution. As an Ann Arbor resident, she said, she was hopeful that expanded transit in the future would give her more options. The strong support for the concept of transit is an excellent first step, she said, but: “You can’t ride a concept home from your shift and I can’t hop on a concept when I’m going home from late night meetings downtown. I need a bus.” We need buses that run quickly, efficiently and to all the places we need them to run, she said. She thanked the council for keeping the discussion open.
Countywide Transit: Council Deliberations – Who Speaks?
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it’s become apparent that the interest in the current approach to expanded countywide service governance is not firm enough to go forward with it. So a group on both sides of the issue had decided to end this particular endeavor, she said. [By a group "on both sides," she meant some who had supported the four-party agreement governing the possible transition when the council voted on it (Briere, Hieftje, Taylor) and some who had opposed it (Kunselman, Higgins).]
Briere said it was important to end the initiative as firmly but as softly as possible.
Hieftje wanted to add Scio Township to a list of municipalities mentioned as those with which conversations would continue in the shorter term: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield Township.
Some members of the AATA board and staff were in the audience available for comment. So Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) invited AATA strategic planner Michael Benham to the podium. Higgins objected and asked that the matter be put to a vote. Arguing against allowing Benham to take the podium, Higgins said that before asking AATA to speak, the council should vote the resolution up or down.
By way of background, Higgins appeared to be invoking a subsection of the council’s Rule 4 [emphasis added]:
Members of Audience Addressing Council
Upon the request of a member of the Council, a member of the audience shall be permitted to address the Council at a time other than during public commentary, unless three members of Council object.
Kunselman also objected, saying that the council was voting on an issue that had been put before the council by Washtenaw County – the inclusion of Ann Arbor in a countywide Act 196 authority that had been incorporated by the county – not by the AATA. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he wanted to err on the side of allowing councilmembers to ask questions of anyone they’d like to ask. Although she said she agreed with Higgins that the vote was about opting out, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) didn’t have a problem with Benham fielding questions. Responding to Kunselman’s remarks that the resolution was not about the AATA, Taylor observed that AATA is identified in a resolved clause as being asked to do something.
Outcome on allowing AATA staff to speak: The council voted 8-2, with dissent from Higgins and Kunselman, to allow Michael Benham to speak.
Countywide Transit: Council Deliberations – AATA Speaks
Benham said the AATA was heartened by the language in the resolution that says “keep going.” He was optimistic that the community could arrive at a vision of expanded transit for those who need it the most.
Hieftje then disavowed the idea that the resolution that night was an attempt to pre-empt the Lumm and Kunselman resolution, pointing out that Kunselman had been invited to co-sponsor it, which he’d done. However, Hieftje said it was “difficult” to have more than five councilmembers co-sponsor a resolution. [Six is a quorum of the council; so if six councilmembers sponsor a resolution together, it gives rise to questions about whether they convened a meeting of the council in violation of Michigan's Open Meetings Act.] He ventured that Lumm’s name could be added as co-sponsor then, and Lumm indicated that she’d like that.
Kunselman picked up on remarks by Hieftje to the effect that ridership on the AATA was going up. He read aloud a portion of a press release from the AATA:
AATA also will review existing services and costs to ensure its history of strong fiscal stewardship is not disrupted, he said. The review will determine the feasibility of continuing to provide the services implemented as part of AATA’s initial investment under its Five-Year Transit Program. These services produced successful results within months of introduction but may no longer be sustainable without additional funding …
The services that had been introduced to jumpstart the countywide initiative include: increased Route #4 frequency, the AirRide airport service, expanded NightRide service, and commuter express service between Chelsea and Canton.
Kunselman said that what he heard in that language was: The AATA needs more money. Benham told Kunselman that the services mentioned in the press release were implemented with the expectation that there would be a new funding source – provided through the Act 196 authority. The services are not currently sustainable into the future, with just the existing funding that’s available. Kunselman told Benham that he really appreciated the straightforward response from Benham.
Higgins told Benham that she’d approached AATA over the years because councilmembers had heard from residents that their transportation needs are not being met out in neighborhoods. She asked what guarantee she had that these sorts of concerns would not continue to be ignored. Benham indicated that he was not aware of any view on the part of the AATA that travel to and from neighborhoods is not a priority. Higgins related an anecdote about a visitor to the city of Ann Arbor who needed 1.5 hours to get from the north to the south side of the city – saying a three-hour commute inside the city of Ann Arbor isn’t acceptable. She didn’t think all the community’s transportation needs are being met, and noted that Ann Arbor had an aging population that needs transportation. Now is an opportunity to make her a believer, Higgins said.
As the deliberations continued, local resident Thomas Partridge – sitting in the audience – expressed his displeasure with the way the conversation was going by pounding his crutch on the floor and slamming a bound copy of the council’s agenda on the counter. Hieftje raised the possibility that Partridge would be removed, saying that tantrums weren’t usually tolerated.
Kunselman weighed in heavily in favor of maintaining the current governance of the AATA under local Ann Arbor control using Act 55, with purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs) made with those communities who want transportation service. The articles of incorporation could be modified to include additional seats on the board for those communities, he said. Later in the deliberations, Briere ventured that residency in Ann Arbor for AATA board members was a possible issue of concern for some councilmembers, so that needs to be addressed directly.
Lumm expressed the view that those on the council who’d predicted that the proposal would not be well received by the townships had been right. She characterized the effort to implement the countywide authority as a colossal waste of time and money.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) responded to Lumm, saying that she didn’t think effort had been wasted – because it’s raised awareness that Ann Arbor is part of a region.
Derezinski expressed his disappointment that the effort was not going forward, but indicated he’d support the resolution.
Hohnke said he was a little bit disappointed in the decisions of some of the townships to opt out. Lumm responded that she was not disappointed in the townships, saying she trusted them to protect the interests of their residents.
Hieftje felt it was a little too easy to say that the AATA wasted resources developing a plan and exploring this approach to countywide governance. He noted that in Grand Rapids, a similar proposal had to be put to voters twice before they approved it. He drew a comparison to the failure of the Ann Arbor District Library bond proposal at the polls on Nov. 6 – noting that one of the greatest criticisms of the library bond proposal was that the library didn’t have a specific plan for the new downtown building.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to opt out of The Washtenaw Ride.
Living Wage Exemption for Nonprofit CAN
The city council was asked to consider a waiver for Community Action Network (CAN), so that the nonprofit would be exempt from compliance with the city’s living wage ordinance for the next three years.
Living Wage: Background
CAN is a nonprofit dedicated to improving communities in underprivileged Washtenaw County neighborhoods, and receives allocations from the city through the city’s coordinated funding process to support human services. For fiscal year 2013, CAN was allocated $105,809 by the city for its Y.E.S. You CAN! program. Because those annual allocations exceed $10,000, CAN is subject to the city’s living wage ordinance, which currently requires that a minimum of $12.17/hour be paid to employees by employers who provide health insurance and $13.57/hour by those employers not providing health insurance.
However, Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance has a mechanism by which the minimum requirements can be waived – if conformance would cause economic harm to a nonprofit. It’s that waiver provision that the Ann Arbor city council was asked to approve at its Nov. 8 meeting.
One condition of the waiver is that a plan for eventual compliance within three years must be submitted to the city. CAN’s plan highlights the programs that it would need to cut, in order to conform with the ordinance. [.pdf of CAN's compliance plan]
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) also announced at the Nov. 8 meeting that in the near future she would be bringing forward an ordinance revision to exempt nonprofits from the living wage ordinance permanently. That echoes a previous attempt two months ago by the council to exempt some nonprofits from the living wage ordinance. On the council’s agenda for Sept. 17, 2012 had been a resolution that would have exempted from the living wage ordinance those nonprofits receiving city human services funding.
The Sept. 17 resolution appeared to be an attempt to invoke the ordinance’s waiver provision, but it did not name a specific nonprofit, and no plans for eventual conformance had been submitted by any nonprofits at that time. So the agenda item was withdrawn as it was deemed to be tantamount to changing an ordinance through a simple council resolution – which is not a legal way to procede. At that time it was indicated that an ordinance revision would be forthcoming.
Living Wage: CAN’s Previous Waiver Attempts
Based on correspondence provided to The Chronicle by the city of Ann Arbor in the context of a broader request made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, the Sept. 17 agenda item stemmed from requests made by CAN, although that organization was not specifically mentioned in the council’s resolution or in discussion at the table. Together with the material obtained through the FOIA, CAN’s compliance plan indicates that Doughty submitted a letter on July 10, 2012 asking for a waiver. [.pdf of July 10, 2012 letter from CAN]. Just before the Sept. 17 meeting, CAN was asked to revise the request to mention a plan eventually to comply. [.pdf of Sept. 17, 2012 letter from CAN] The revision consisted of the following addition:
Community Action Network will use this exemption time to devise and implement a strategic fund raising plan to fill our budget gaps caused in part by the increased burden the living wage ordinance continues to place on our finances.
However, the ordinance specifies that the plan to bring an organization into compliance must be submitted as part of the waiver. And the lack of an actual compliance plan led to the withdrawal of the Sept. 17 resolution.
The concern raised by CAN dates back at least to February 2012. In email correspondence sent on Feb. 7, 2012 by CAN director Joan Doughty to the city/county office of community development Mary Jo Callan and councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), she made a plea for some kind of accommodation with respect to the living wage ordinance:
From: Joan Doughty
Sent: Tue 2/7/2012 5:05 PM
To: Taylor, Christopher (Council); Callan, Mary Jo
Subject: Living Wage?
Hi Mary J and Chris:
Hope this finds you well. I would really like to reignite the living wage ordinance waiver for nonprofits. We’re going to be hurting, and paying summer camp counselors living wage is sort of ridiculous. The city doesn’t do it either. …. so …. Please? I’m begging you — do something!
Joan M. Doughty
PhD Executive Director Community Action Network
Doughty’s correspondence to the city indicates that many other nonprofits receiving funding from the city don’t meet the conditions of the living wage ordinance, but there is no enforcement.
Doughty’s correspondence in the summer of 2012 also mentions the fact that the city’s ordinance is likely on dubious legal grounds. As The Chronicle has previously reported, a Michigan Supreme Court order from April 7, 2010 left in place an unpublished court of appeals opinion that found a Detroit living wage law to be unenforceable.
Doughty appears to indicate in her correspondence that city attorney Stephen Postema had related in conversation with Doughty’s husband, Washtenaw County prosecutor Brian Mackie, that Postema felt if the city’s living wage ordinance were to be challenged in court, it would be struck down. Writing on July 12, 2012 to Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Doughty indicated that a “family member” of hers had discussed the legal issues with Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema:
I understand that Steve Postuma [sic] circulated a confidential memo to city council members about the issue. Publicly he holds that because the Supreme Court’s decision was “unpublished” (it’s not – you can find it on the Internet) it isn’t applicable wider than in the Detroit case. That might be true, but a family member of mine with considerable legal knowledge contends that if a company or agency challenged the Ann Arbor living wage in court, it too would most likely fall. And Steve has conceded this to the same family member…
In a phone interview, Mackie told The Chronicle that he does recall discussing the living wage issue with Postema, characterizing the conversations as not being substantive. However, Mackie recalled telling Postema he thought it was wrong that the city was exempting itself from its own ordinance. He also recalled Postema saying there was an argument to be made in defense of the ordinance – but Mackie said he didn’t recollect anything more detailed than that.
In other correspondence on April 26, 2012 to city of Ann Arbor community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl, Doughty refers to her husband:
I asked my husband (who is an attorney) to read the court of appeals decision, and he is of the opinion that it shouldn’t take filing a lawsuit against the city to “make” it take the right and legal action.
In her July 12 email, Doughty pitches the idea to Smith of altering or rescinding the city ordinance. And it’s Smith to whom Doughty proposes the idea, in part because Smith would be leaving the council, because she did not seek re-election:
… she [Mary Jo Callan] told me that the city council members she talked to would like to change the living wage, but, in our liberal climate, none of them want to be “the one” who proposes it. So … since you’re not running for re-election, I’m hoping you are willing to “do the deed”. There are many approaches and options: abolish it completely since there is nobody monitoring it and it’s probably illegal – revoke it pending a potential overhaul, exempt nonprofits, define more specifically who should receive living wage (so: not summer staff, not true part time staff and entry staff levels) etc. etc. etc.
Living Wage: Council Deliberations
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know how many exemptions from the city’s living wage ordinance had ever been granted. City attorney Stephen Postema indicated that he was not personally aware of one.
Mayor John Hieftje ventured that the Ann Arbor Summer Festival had been exempted. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that the ordinance had been revised to exempt nonprofits that are supported through the city’s community events fund, as is the case with the Summer Festival. [For some additional history of the living wage in Ann Arbor, see "Living Wage: Insourcing City Temps"]
Higgins indicated she was not against granting a waiver to CAN – and she was asking about previous waivers merely because she was curious.
Hieftje had a couple of concerns about granting a waiver to CAN. For human services nonprofits, he said, some of their employees are trying to avoid becoming clients themselves. CAN’s situation, he allowed, might be somewhat different in that the positions in question were held by part-time, student employees, rather than full-time. Hieftje said he would need some time to think about it, but would prefer to consider the issue more as a package of all nonprofits at one time. His second concern was that there’s been a lot of time since the ordinance was enacted – and at the beginning the provision for a waiver was put in to give nonprofits time to adjust. He characterized himself as “still puzzling this one out.”
Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked Joan Doughty to come to the podium to answer questions. Doughty confirmed that the waiver was being requested not in order to pay full-time staff less than the living wage, but rather for students. Doughty also stressed that she and CAN are not against the living wage, but rather against it as it’s written and applied currently. She added that a lot of nonprofits are not paying the living wage, but said that “We all know that it’s not being checked.” But “flying under the radar” was not how CAN does its business, she said, so CAN wanted to use the waiver option as provided in the ordinance to do it the right way.
Lumm indicated that additional background on the living wage would be provided at the Nov. 19 meeting when the ordinance revision would be proposed. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked for clarification about why CAN hadn’t been able to receive the funds it was due under the contract with the city. Doughty explained that the city attorney had indicated the funds couldn’t be disbursed to CAN until she signed, indicating that CAN was complying with the city’s living wage ordinance. Doughty indicated that instead of signing something that attested that CAN was complying with the living wage ordinance, CAN had applied for a waiver. Unless that waiver is approved, she said, CAN could not get paid.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) told Doughty that he appreciated that CAN was following the city’s ordinance – and that was enough to make him support it. Teall concurred with Kunselman. Unlike Hieftje, Teall said she’d prefer to decide the waiver for CAN separately from the ordinance revisions. She felt that CAN has waited long enough.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) took issue with the view expressed by Teall and Kunselman, saying that the fact that there’s a mechanism for requesting a waiver shouldn’t be sufficient grounds for granting it. Part of the compliance plan is supposed to include an explanation for how the organization would come into compliance, he noted. Doughty told Hohnke: “That’s what we submitted.” Hohnke told her he was having trouble following the plan. Doughty ticked through the basic four options: (1) CAN would cut programs; (2) CAN would reduce eligibility for participation; (3) the city would increase human services funding; or (4) the city would change the ordinance exempting nonprofits.
Hohnke asked what other sources of funding CAN had. Doughty listed off several organizations: Ann Arbor Housing Commission, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, United Way, HUD, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, various church congregations, Kiwanis, and Rotary. She allowed that it’s a complicated funding structure for a small nonprofit. Hohnke appreciated that Doughty had brought forward the issue, because it allowed a structural issue to be identified. It might be that some people don’t need to earn a living with the wage they’re being paid, Hohnke said. Like Hieftje, he wanted to consider it as a whole rather than as a one-off exception. He indicated support for possible postponement.
Responding to Hohnke’s suggestion to postpone, Doughty indicated that CAN can’t get paid until a waiver is granted. Hieftje admonished Doughty that she needed to restrict herself to responding to questions.
Lumm addressed the timing issue by saying that the ordinance revision would have been brought for initial consideration that night. But it was seen as undesirable to have one edition of the council approve it on first reading and another at the second reading. [The new council will be seated at the Nov. 19 meeting.]
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that for her, there were two important considerations: (1) CAN hasn’t signed a living wage statement; and (2) the application for a waiver requires a plan to come into compliance. She said she’d read the plan submitted by CAN several times, but she didn’t see how it brought CAN into compliance. Doughty pointed Briere to the part in the plan that explains how CAN would use the time of the waiver to renegotiate contracts with other funders so that CAN could pay those contracts. Briere indicated she didn’t see that statement in the plan, but even if she did, she wasn’t sure how that would bring CAN into compliance. Briere recognized that Lumm was going to propose an ordinance revision, but there’s no guarantee it would pass.
Lumm asked city attorney Stephen Postema if he’d reviewed CAN’s compliance plan. Postema indicated that he’d looked at the plan, but said it’s for the council to determine if the plan is sufficient. He allowed that the plan covers the words of the ordinance. Lumm got confirmation from Postema that the city does exempt itself from the living wage.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) told Doughty she was in an unenviable position, saying that CAN does a tremendous service to the community. He didn’t want to get lost in the semantics. He appreciated that Doughty had stepped forward and said CAN was having a hard time, calling it noble of Doughty to have come forward. Anglin feared that this is the tip of a terrible iceberg.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed Anglin’s sentiments. He got confirmation from Doughty that the needs increase during the winter months. That immediacy, he said, warrants consideration immediately. The larger issue of the ordinance revision can be addressed later, he said.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he knew what good work CAN does, and he felt it makes perfect sense that an amendment to the ordinance should be sought. That’s logically separate, however, from seeking a waiver within the ordinance, he said. In contrast to Teall and Kunselman, however, he didn’t see CAN’s request for a waiver as trailblazing or as enhancing the moral stature of CAN. For the city to enforce the ordinance also does not diminish its moral standing, he said. Taylor allowed that it’s a good thing that CAN chose not to dissemble, but it’s not a black mark on the city that it enforced its ordinance and withheld the funds. Taylor said he’s delighted there’s a mechanism to break through that knot, so he’d support it.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she didn’t have a problem supporting the waiver request. Hohnke reiterated that he felt the issue should be addressed holistically across nonprofits. Addressing the merits of the plan submitted by CAN, Hohnke felt the spirit of the plan specified in the ordinance was to think about increasing revenue streams and consolidating. He reiterated a preference to consider the ordinance change and to delay the waiver request.
Teall noted that if the request for the waiver had been presented last summer, the issue of considering the waiver and the ordinance change would not have come close to the same time. She wanted to know why it had taken so long. Postema observed that the city staff itself cannot provide a waiver, but rather it’s for the council to consider. There was no compliance request in place in July, he said – and CAN’s plan had only just been received.
Doughty reviewed how CAN had sent a letter, revised it and was then told that it was insufficient in September. Postema said he couldn’t comment on what happened between CAN and the office of community development. For whatever reason, he said, the waiver request is in front of the council now.
Teall indicated she agreed with Taylor’s remarks. Kunselman weighed in again, saying, “We’re way over-thinking this.” He disagreed with Taylor, saying that CAN was, in fact, blazing a trail, because they’re the first nonprofit to seek a waiver. He ventured that no nonprofit wants to seek a waiver, because they know they’d face a city council discussion that goes nowhere.
Hieftje reiterated that he wanted to take a more holistic look, which would begin at the next council meeting – in 11 days. He wanted to see the waiver postponed until the next meeting.
Briere floated the possibility that if CAN received a waiver, it might work against CAN because CAN would then be constrained by the ordinance, even if the council amended the ordinance. Taylor established that CAN would be done no harm with a waiver under the old ordinance, if the ordinance were eventually amended.
Outcome: The council voted to grant CAN a waiver from the city’s living wage ordinance, with dissent from mayor John Hieftje and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). Though she voted yes, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated as she voted that she didn’t like granting the waiver.
Affordable Housing Trust Fund
The city council was asked to increase Ann Arbor’s affordable housing trust fund by $90,000, through a transfer from the general fund reserve.
The amount of the transfer was keyed to the cost of a piece of city-owned property that the city sold recently to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. And the justification for the transfer was based on the council’s recent enactment of a formal policy on the use of the proceeds of city-owned land sales.
The $90,000 piece of land is a six-foot-wide strip on the former YMCA lot at Fifth and William, immediately to the south of the location for the AATA’s planned new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. The $90,000 price was based on an independent appraisal. The AATA board approved its side of that deal this spring at its April 26, 2012 meeting. The city council approved the land sale over a year ago, at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting. The total parcel area was 792 square feet.
The land sale policy approved by the council on Oct. 15, 2012 had begun as a proposal from Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to allocate 85% of the net proceeds of city-owned land to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. The council originally considered the item at its Sept. 17, 2012 meeting but delayed action. The council eventually opted to adopt a policy that treated land sales on a case-by-case basis – except for the former Y lot at Fifth and William, of which the six-foot-wide strip was a part. The enacted policy called for net proceeds from that parcel to be placed in the affordable housing trust fund. [For additional background, see: “City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy.”]
Because the $90,000 piece of property had been a portion of the former Y lot, the resolution in effect would retroactively apply the policy on use of land sale proceeds – by transferring $90,000 to the affordable housing trust fund. The portion of the policy that requires the city to recover its costs associated with the property was not applied – as the city purchased the land for $3.5 million.
The resolution was sponsored by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and mayor John Hieftje – although Smith was not able to attend the Nov. 8 meeting.
The six-foot-wide strip of land, and its $90,000 price, has been highlighted in recent council deliberations for a different reason – as a funding source for a transportation connector study. The city of Ann Arbor had been asked to contribute $60,000 to an alternatives analysis study of the Plymouth/State corridor, from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, extending south to I-94. The local match was needed for a $1.2 million federal grant that had been awarded to the AATA for the study.
During deliberations on the $60,000 connector study allocation at the Sept. 4, 2012 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had objected to one of the “whereas” clauses in the resolution. The clause mentioned the availability of $90,000 in the general fund from the land sale, which was more than enough to cover the requested $60,000 local match. So the allocation was essentially pitched as a “return” to the AATA of a portion of the land sale price. Kunselman objected that once the $90,000 was in the general fund reserve, it was no longer earmarked as funds to be used for any particular purpose.
When the council eventually reconsidered the decision on Oct. 15, 2012 and wound up approving $30,000 for the study – because the Ann Arbor DDA had in the meantime agreed to contribute $30,000 – it was Higgins who raised the objection about the “whereas” clause. And the clause was amended out before the council’s approval.
The groundbreaking for the AATA’s new Blake Transit Center – which had occasioned the sale of the six-foot strip of land on the southwestern edge of the AATA’s property – is scheduled for Nov. 19. The AATA board gave final approval of a roughly $8 million budget for the transit center at its Oct. 18, 2012 meeting.
Affordable Housing Trust Fund: Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) was concerned about the appearance that the council was randomly spending money out of the fund balance. In a back-and-forth with the city’s chief financial officer Tom Crawford, Lumm established that the resolution was a transfer from the general fund balance reserve and not directly connected to the sale of land. Crawford characterized the resolution as tying into the concept of the land sale policy, and linking the land sale in concept to the depositing of money into the affordable housing trust fund – he noted that the resolution was transferring $90,000 from the general fund balance.
Lumm seemed to indicate some dissatisfaction with the fact that a requirement of the land sale policy – that the related transactional costs be deducted before transfer to the affordable housing trust fund – didn’t seem to apply to the resolution.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) suggested a “friendly” amendment to change the “resolved” clause to read: “… after any costs associated with the sale have been deducted.” Crawford thought that the $90,000 was already the net amount, because the city had negotiated to have the AATA bear the closing costs. In any case, he said, the amount was not a large number. So Briere withdrew the proposed amendment.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed concern about the idea of applying a policy retroactively – to a piece of land that had previously been sold. Lumm echoed Kunselman’s sentiment.
Briere allowed that Kunselman and Lumm were right in that the land sale policy was enacted after the land in question had been sold. However, Briere said, “This resolution … has nothing to do with the policy – except as realization that we’d already sold a piece of the old Y lot.” It seemed appropriate to Briere to treat that previous sale as part of the Y lot, which the council wanted to go to the affordable housing trust fund.
Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he supported the resolution based on the fact that the city had not been able to make regular contributions to the affordable housing trust fund.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to transfer $90,000 to the affordable housing trust fund.
Defined Contribution Retirement Plan
On the council’s agenda was a resolution, sponsored by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), that directed the city administrator to develop a defined contribution retirement plan to offer non-union employees hired after July 1, 2013. The city currently has a defined benefit plan.
Although the resolution indicated specific action for non-union employees, it also included a goal to implement a similar change for union employees – which would have to be collectively bargained. The second resolved clause indicated that the city would “… strive to implement the same pension changes for all new employees.”
The directive to the city administrator in the resolution stated that the non-union retirement plan – along with the appropriate ordinance amendments, related plan documents, and implementation steps – were to be developed within three months, by Jan. 31, 2013, for review first by the city council’s labor committee then by the full council.
Lumm’s resolution had been added to the Nov. 8 agenda on Nov. 2. She had told her colleagues at the council’s Oct. 1, 2012 meeting that she’d be bringing the resolution forward. She’d drafted a similar resolution in May this year, in connection with possible amendments to the FY 2013 budget. She didn’t bring forward the resolution at that time, partly because it was not technically an amendment to the budget and partly because the deliberations on the budget had already lasted several hours.
Lumm campaigned for her seat on the council in 2011 based partly on a call for a transition to a defined contribution plan. Among the reasons Lumm cited in her resolution was state legislation that was enacted recently – which will facilitate the transition to defined contribution plans. [.pdf of analysis by Senate Fiscal Agency of Public Act 329 of 2012]
In defined benefit plans, retirees receive a set amount per month during their retirement. In defined contribution plans, employers pay a set amount into the retirement plan while a person is employed. The most common of these defined contribution plans is the 401(k).
Defined Contribution Plan: Council Deliberations
Apparently related to the resolution on converting to a defined contribution retirement was a closed session held at the beginning of the council’s Nov. 8 meeting, to discuss labor negotiation strategy. Discussion of labor strategy is one of the exceptions that can be used under Michigan’s Open Meeting Act to hold a closed session. Conversion to a defined contribution plan for union members would need to be collectively bargained. The closed session was added to the council’s agenda at the meeting and took place before the council handled the rest of the agenda.
When the council reached the resolution on moving toward a defined contribution plan, Lumm said she believed the city must address issue of legacy costs. She felt that the issue should be addressed now, instead of kicking the can down the road. The city had taken one step toward addressing the problem by adopting an “access only” health care plan. The next step now, in her view, was to change to a defined contribution type plan similar to a 401(k) type of plan. She noted that other public and private organizations had adopted this approach in order to reduce employee costs.
In 2004, a city of Ann Arbor blue ribbon committee had made a recommendation to transition to such a plan, and it’s now seven years later, Lumm said. However, she noted that the city administrator and the city attorney had raised some questions about her resolution. Out of respect for their concerns she was withdrawing the item, but she looked forward to future discussion.
Outcome: The item on moving toward a defined contribution retirement plan was withdrawn.
At its Nov. 8 meeting, the council handled a couple of items related to appointments to boards, commissions and task forces.
Appointments: North Main Task Force
The council considered expanding a task force that’s looking at future planning for the North Main Street and Huron River corridor – so that it could include outgoing councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1). She was appointed to represent the council on the group, but did not seek re-election to her council seat.
Mayor John Hieftje had indicated at the council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting that he would be moving to expand the task force in this way. The resolution was sponsored by Smith’s Ward 1 cohort, Sabra Briere.
Smith’s last meeting was Oct. 15, because she was unable to attend the final meeting of her term, which was Nov. 8. New councilmembers – including Sumi Kailasapathy, who’ll take the seat held by Smith – will be ceremonially sworn in at the council’s Nov. 19 meeting.
The task force is due to make a recommendation on a use for the city-owned 721 N. Main Street parcel by the end of the year. That comes in the context of a planned application by the city to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund next year for a grant in connection with 721 N. Main. The group’s broader recommendation for the entire corridor is not due until mid-year 2013.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to expand the North Main task force, to confirm Sandi Smith as an additional citizen member and to confirm Sabra Briere as the council representative to the task force.
Appointment: Planning Commission
On the agenda was the confirmation of Tony Derezinski to fill a partial term on the city planning commission – through June of 2013. Derezinski’s last meeting as a city councilmember was Nov. 8, and up to that point he had served by annual appointment as the council’s representative to the planning commission. But because he did not prevail in his August Democratic primary race in Ward 2, he could not continue to serve on the planning commission in that capacity. Instead, it’s expected that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will serve in that role.
The vacancy on the planning commission for which Derezinski was nominated is opening up due to the resignation of Evan Pratt, who won a new position for himself as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in the Nov. 6 election. Derezinski was nominated by the council to fill a citizen position on the commission.
Derezinski, along with Susan Baskett, also had been nominated at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting to serve as a board member for the recently incorporated Act 196 transit authority. But in light of the council’s action to opt out of the transit authority at its Nov. 8 meeting, the council won’t be acting on those nominations.
Mayor John Hieftje introduced the item on the agenda by thanking Pratt for his service on the planning commission. Hieftje indicated that his interest in appointing Derezinski was based on a desire to have some continuity on the commission.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) began her remarks objecting to Derezinski’s appointment by turning to Derezinski, seated immediately to her right, and saying, “You know I love you, Tony … This is really not fun for me.” She stressed that her objection had nothing to do with Derezinski. She was not comfortable making the appointment for reasons similar to those she gave in voting against the appointment of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to the board of the DDA. [That vote came at the council's Aug. 20, 2012 meeting.] She drew a distinction between the appointment of Smith to the North Main task force, and the appointments to the DDA board and planning commission.
Lumm told Derezinski that she felt he’d done a phenomenal job on the planning commission. She allowed that it had been a practice to appoint former councilmembers to such positions, but she did not agree with it. She concluded her remarks by telling Derezinski, “I hope you understand.” His response: “Noted.”
Lumm’s remarks prompted several councilmembers to express their support of Derezinski’s appointment. Hieftje drew a comparison between Derezinski’s appointment to the planning commission and that of former councilmember Jean Carlberg. He said it would be a shame to waste the expertise and depth of knowledge that Derezinski offered.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that Derezinski’s appointment would be finishing out a term.
Outcome: The council voted to appoint Tony Derezinski to the planning commission, over dissent from Jane Lumm.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated during council communications time that she’d be bringing forward to the Nov. 19 meeting the nomination of Patti Smith to serve on the city’s environmental commission. [The environmental commission is one of the few boards and commissions that have nominations come from the council as a body instead of the mayor.]
Appointments: Council Committees
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) told her council colleagues during communications time that with new councilmembers coming on board at the next meeting, it’s the time of year when the organization of the council is considered. She asked councilmembers to forward to her their preferences for committee appointments. She hoped to have the committee appointments ready for the council’s first meeting in December.
Upcoming Council Business
The Ann Arbor city council’s post-election Nov. 8 session was its last meeting before new councilmembers are ceremonially sworn in on Nov. 19. And current city councilmembers used the occasion to announce some issues that the new edition of the council will be asked to consider.
Upcoming Business: Towing
During council communications, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that she, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had been working on a towing ordinance revision that would come before the council for a first reading at the Nov. 19 meeting.
Upcoming Business: Public Art
At the Nov. 19 meeting, two proposals will be brought forward on the city’s public art ordinance. The changes stem from the fact that a proposed public art millage failed at the polls on Nov. 6 by a 10-point margin (55.8% opposed and 44.14% in favor).
So at the Nov. 8 meeting, two different proposals were floated on the city’s existing public art ordinance – based on possibly differing interpretations of the expressed voter sentiment. It’s possible to construe the result as either (1) about the way public art is funded or (2) about whether public money should be used to support public art at all. One proposal was announced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and the other by Jane Lumm (Ward 2).
Briere’s proposal is to narrow the definition of projects to which the existing ordinance would apply. Currently, the Percent for Art ordinance applies to essentially any capital improvement project undertaken by the city, and requires that 1% of the budget for such projects be set aside for public art. Briere’s proposal would narrow the definition by restricting eligible capital improvement projects to those that are “intended to be open or visible to the public.” Projects to construct roads, highways, paths, and sidewalks would be eliminated from eligibility. Bridges would still qualify.
Briere’s proposal includes a financial threshold for qualifying projects: $100,000. Briere’s proposed ordinance amendments would also require a public process associated with proposed art projects. Part of that process would require notification of the councilmembers in whose ward a project is proposed.
Lumm’s proposal is not to amend the existing public art ordinance, but rather to repeal it. Lumm described her intent at the Nov. 8 meeting to bring forward a proposal similar to one she’d made at the council’s Aug. 20, 2012 meeting – a resolution that directed the city attorney’s office to prepare an ordinance revision that would repeal the Percent for Art program. In an email sent to other councilmembers, Lumm stated that ”… the version I will bring forward on 11/19 will be the proposed ordinance changes themselves for consideration at first reading.”
The Aug. 20 meeting was the occasion on which the council voted to place a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. It was meant to provide a more flexible funding mechanism for public art in Ann Arbor. The 0.1 mill tax was expected to generate around $450,000 annually.
The proposal won a majority of votes in just 13 out of 59 Ann Arbor precincts, with the most support coming from Ward 5, Precinct 4 where 60.5% of voters supported the public art millage. Ward 5 had six of the 13 precincts where the proposal achieved a majority. And the proposal finished in a dead heat in Ward 5, Precinct 5 with 471 voting for and against it. Opposition among in-person voters was strongest in Ward 1, Precinct 9, where only 34.5% of voters supported it.
The proposal did not win a majority of votes in any precinct of Ward 2, which is represented by Lumm and Tony Derezinski, who also serves on the Ann Arbor public art commission. Nov. 8 was Derezinski’s last council meeting – he was defeated by Sally Petersen in the August Democratic primary.
Upcoming Business: Living Wage
In connection to the discussion on the living wage ordinance exemption granted to Community Action Network, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced she’d also be bringing forward a proposed ordinance revision for the Nov. 19 meeting that would provide a uniform exception for nonprofit entities that receive human services funding allocations from the city.
Dissolution of Sign Board of Appeals
The council was asked to give final approval to the transfer of responsibilities previously performed by Ann Arbor’s sign board of appeals (SBA) to the zoning board of appeals (ZBA). The change to the city’s ordinance had been given initial approval on Oct. 15, 2012.
The ordinance change was accompanied on the agenda by a separate council action eliminating the seven-member sign board of appeals, which most recently has had only three members, according to the city’s online Legistar system. According to a staff memo accompanying the agenda item, during the fiscal year 2012 the SBA heard six appeals and none the previous year. Appeals previously heard by the SBA will now be heard by the ZBA.
One of the advantages cited is that staff support time for the sign board would be eliminated. The dissolution of the SBA has been under discussion since 2008. The city’s planning commission discussed the issue on March 30, 2010, and more recently at its Sept. 6, 2012 meeting, when it recommended the change.
During the brief deliberations, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) described the move as an effort to streamline the process. He noted that the SBA handled just six appeals last year. The ZBA could easily handle that as a part of its regular process, he said. Eliminating the SBA would eliminate some of the paperwork that goes along with having a separate body, he said. Mayor John Hieftje said that the streamlining would be beneficial. He ventured that maybe some people who might have otherwise had interest in serving on the sign board would instead want to serve on the ZBA.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give final approval to the ordinance change transferring responsibility from the SBA to the ZBA and to dissolve the SBA.
The council considered to two separate projects featuring pedestrian and non-motorized improvements. One is a Safe Routes to School project on Green Road. And the other involves a Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) project to install a pedestrian island on Huron Street between Thayer and Ingalls.
What the council was asked to authorize for the Safe Routes to School project – in connection with Thurston Elementary School – was an agreement between the city and MDOT for the installation of bike and pedestrian safety improvements on Green Road. The agreement is required as a condition of the federal funds used for the project – a total of $111,800. The city will be using $18,000 from its alternative transportation fund to cover construction inspection and contingency costs.
The project itself includes installation of two new pedestrian crossing islands and bike lanes on Green Road. It also includes converting a portion of Green Road to three lanes and installing two rectangular rapid flashing beacons.
The authorization to apply for the federal funding was given by the council over two years ago at its Sept. 7, 2010 meeting.
The second project is a pedestrian island being installed by MDOT on Huron between Thayer and Ingalls. The city will be performing construction engineering services in its role as construction manager. The city’s cost of $6,400 will be reimbursed from federal funds.
Construction on both projects is expected to begin in the spring of 2013.
The item on the Huron Street pedestrian island was on the consent agenda, a collection of items that are voted on as a group. Any councilmember can pull individual items out of the consent agenda for separate consideration. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pulled out the item about the pedestrian island in order to make some remarks about it.
Not many years ago, Briere said, it would be difficult to imagine a crosswalk or light on this part of Huron Street. Now there’s even a pedestrian island. She said that these infrastructure improvements reflect a greater use of the area by pedestrians and also an acknowledgment of the importance of transportation in the community. She was pleased with the accommodations that MDOT had been able to make to implement the pedestrian island. She called it a really good move. Students and faculty walk across Huron Street at that point all the time, she said. Anything to make the crossing safer is better, she concluded.
On the Safe Routes to School items, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked the staff for providing a map of the improvements and for their work in making the grant applications. And Briere pointed out that this grant is the second one received by the city for this purpose. It’s important for children to be able to walk to school instead of catching a bus, she said. This project for Thurston Elementary coordinates with one for Clague Middle School.
Briere noted that it had taken two years to bring the grant process to fruition. So the city can’t rely only on this kind of mechanism to address gaps in the pedestrian infrastructure.
Briere’s concluding remark served to foreshadow an item on the council’s Nov. 19 agenda, which would establish a $15,000 budget to analyze alternatives for filling a sidewalk gap on Scio Church Road.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve both pedestrian improvement-related agenda items.
Firefighter Staffing Levels
The council was asked to nudge upward by one the number of firefighters authorized in the current year’s budget for the city of Ann Arbor – to 86. The position will be funded for the rest of the current fiscal year by tapping the general fund balance reserve for $50,000. For the full year next year, the additional position would cost about $82,000.
According to a memo sent by city administrator Steve Powers to city councilmembers, as the budget planning cycle begins for FY 2014-015, he anticipates being able to maintain the 86 firefighter positions. Part of the rationale for adding the additional position is based on the fact that a recent hiring cycle to fill six positions had resulted in seven highly qualified candidates. The additional position would, according to Powers’ memo, help manage overtime and allow assignment of personnel to fire prevention work.
The staffing level at 85 already reflects the addition of three firefighters since the FY 2013 budget was approved on May 21, 2012. That staffing level increase, from 82 to 85, was funded from a $642,294 federal grant through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), which was announced on May 30, 2012. The vote to accept the SAFER grant and add three firefighter positions was taken at the council’s Aug. 9, 2012 meeting. At that time, fire chief Chuck Hubbard reported that the city had three vacancies, or 79 firefighters on staff.
The $321,000 from the SAFER grant for each of the next two years was allocated for three firefighter positions, which the city estimates will cost $255,000 (at $85,000 per position). The remaining $66,000 per year was determined to be spent on other unspecified fire services needs, according to the staff memo accompanying the council’s August resolution – including overtime and fleet expenses. Hiring a fourth firefighter was analyzed at the time as requiring $19,000 of fund balance.
Deliberations by the council featured a question from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3): How does this affect a possible decision to close two fire stations? [By way of background, the city is currently still weighing whether to re-open Station 2, and close Station 3, 4 and 6, leaving three stations open – a net reduction of two stations. For more detail, see previous Chronicle coverage: "A Closer Look at Ann Arbor's Fire Station Plan"]
City administrator Steve Powers indicated that the addition of one firefighter would not have an impact either way on the station plan – because a staffing level of 86 still provides enough firefighters to operate an additional station. Adding the position would allow for better performance in the current operational configuration, he said.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) confirmed with Powers that the addition would result in an actual addition of a firefighter, and would not just be an addition on paper.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her support for the increased firefighter staffing levels.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to increase the staffing level for firefighters from 85 to 86.
Plymouth Green Crossing Revision
The council was asked to give final approval to several changes to the PUD (planned unit development) supplemental regulations for Plymouth Green Crossings – a mixed-use complex off of Plymouth Road, west of Green Road. At the meeting, the council was also asked to give approval to corresponding changes to the site plan for the complex.
The city planning commission had given its recommendation to approve the change at its Aug. 21, 2012 meeting. Six major changes were proposed: (1) adding parking or flexible space for special events as permitted uses in the ground floor of a proposed three-story mixed-use building, on the site’s northeast corner; (2) increasing the use of potential restaurant space within the site from 7,000 square feet to 14,224 square feet; (3) eliminating requirements for a free-standing restaurant that had previously been planned; (4) increasing the maximum number of parking spaces from 275 to 290; (5) reducing the minimum number of bicycle storage spaces from 70 to 64; and (6) adding the following language to the facade section: “ground level facades of Building A if used as interior parking shall include architectural columns, a minimum 3-foot height masonry screen wall, and louvers or grills to screen views to parking while permitting natural ventilation.”
In addition, the city recently discovered that the bank building was built one foot from the west property line, although the approved site plan and supplemental regulations required a two-foot setback. To resolve this, the owner proposed an amendment of the PUD supplemental regulations, according to a staff memo. The memo also indicates that the owner has been making contributions to the city’s affordable housing fund, rather than providing affordable housing within the complex. The final payment is due at the end of this year. [For background on a current policy discussion on the affordable housing trust fund, see "City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy."]
This isn’t the first time that changes have been requested for the site. In 2009, developers also asked to amend the original PUD agreement. Rather than build a restaurant, they asked for permission to turn that part of the site into a temporary parking lot, adding 26 additional parking spaces and 11 spots for motorcycles. The planning commission didn’t act on that request until its Feb. 18, 2010 meeting. Although all five commissioners at that meeting voted to approve the request, the action required six votes to pass, so it failed for lack of votes. However, the request was forwarded to the city council, which ultimately granted approval at its April 19, 2010 meeting.
Plymouth Green: Public Hearing
Thomas Partridge spoke at both public hearings on the Plymouth Green Crossing. He called for connecting these types of rezoning approvals to a commitment to provide access for affordable public transportation to the sites. As a Democrat, he stands for progress, he said. He alluded to the presidential election and the campaign, which resulted in an admonishment from mayor John Hieftje to confine his comments to the topic of the hearing. Partridge told him that he disagreed with Hieftje’s attempt to limit freedom of speech. Hieftje responded that he didn’t see how a presidential candidate related to the site plan. Partridge parted from the podium with a suggestion: “Maybe you should go to law school.”
Plymouth Green: Council Deliberations
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) described the revisions as an attempt to use the space in a better way. A lot of other potentials could be realized if the site had more parking, he said. On the site plan, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) recited the key changes and indicated that she felt they had a beneficial effect for the city and were consistent with the master plan.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the PUD and the site plan changes for Plymouth Green Crossing.
City Attorney Performance Review
The council held a closed session toward the end of the meeting, to discuss the personnel review of city attorney Stephen Postema. Deliberations on a personnel review are not required to be held in a closed session under Michigan’s Open Meetings, and may not be held in closed session unless “the named person requests a closed hearing.” Postema’s employment contract requires his personnel evaluation be conducted in a closed session.
When the council emerged from the closed session, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) read aloud the resolution adjusting Postema’s salary upward for the first time since 2007, by 2.4%. According to the city’s human resources office, Postema’s salary before the increase was $141,538. The 2.4% increase on that base brings his annual salary to $144,934, just under that of city administrator Steve Powers, who is paid $145,000. The city attorney and the city administrator are the two positions that report directly to the city council. [.pdf of form used by councilmembers to evaluate Postema's performance]
The salary increase for Postema was balanced against the elimination of his vehicle allowance of $330/month – for a net loss in total annual compensation of $563 [141538*.024 - 330*12].
An overview of Postema’s salary history:
- Nov. 8, 2012: 2.4% raise on base salary ($141,538) bringing it to $144,934; can cash in 300 hours before June 30, 2013; car allowance of $330/month eliminated.
- Dec. 19, 2011: can cash in 250 hours before June 30, 2012.
- Oct. 24, 2011: can cash in 250 hours before Dec. 31, 2011.
- Nov. 5, 2009: can cash in 120 hours before June 30, 2010.
- Oct. 20, 2008: paid lump sum of 2.75% annual salary; could cash in 150 hours before June 30, 2009; allowed to engage in outside legal work.
- Nov. 5, 2007: base salary increased by 2.75% for “merit increase” and 1.25% “market increase”; vacation days increased to 25 days per year.
- March 20, 2006: could cash in 80 hours of unused vacation time before June 30, 2006.
- Oct. 5, 2005: base salary increased at Postema’s discretion up to 3%; awarded 80 hours of vacation time.
- Sept. 13, 2004: base salary increased by 3% to $130,810; annual vacation days increased to 22 days.
- April 3, 2003: started work at base salary of $127,000 (20 vacation days in addition to legal holidays).
After the council voted to approve Postema’s salary increase, Postema asked to deliver some remarks. He said that when he was hired, he’d been asked to come in and help the city. He described his work as a sometimes thankless task. He appreciated the faith that the council had shown in him, saying that the words of councilmembers meant a great deal to him. He said he’d continue to do what aids the city.
Outcome: The council’s vote on Postema’s salary adjustment was unanimous.
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 city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.
During his communications time, city administrator Steve Powers thanked the city clerk’s staff for their work in connection with the Nov. 6 elections.
He acknowledged the long lines that some precincts experienced, and took a positive perspective on that, saying that it reflected heavy turnout. Following up on Powers’ remarks, mayor John Hieftje indicated an interest in reviewing the possibility of adding more than one electronic poll book per precinct – noting that the limit of one per precinct was a state requirement.
Hieftje ventured that it might be worth discussing the creation of more precincts – even if it were only for national elections. The length of the lines could deter some people from voting, he said.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) inquired with city clerk Jackie Beaudry whether the turnout for state elections might warrant additional poll books or precincts. Beaudry indicated that turnout for state elections did not generate the kind of turnout that national elections did.
Comm/Comm: AAPD Volunteer
Samantha Brandfon was recognized with a mayoral proclamation for her volunteer work with the Ann Arbor police department.
In her brief remarks to the council, she said that she’d come to Ann Arbor to attend graduate school, had stayed and was pleased to give back to the community in whatever way that she could.
Comm/Comm: Progressive Politics
During the initial public commentary session, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, a Democrat and longtime advocate for most disadvantaged members of society. He had been calling publicly and vociferously for measures to advance the cause of America’s most vulnerable for more than for 10 years. He was honored to do so once again on the occasion of the re-election of first African American U.S. president. He called on councilmembers and the mayor to remember the commitments they made when they ran for office, to work for accessible affordable services for middle class residents – and in so doing to build a better society with a greater and higher commitment to street level politics, not selfish, divisive issues. He was critical of the fact that the resolution to opt out of the countywide transit authority and the allocation of money to the affordable housing trust fund would take the city in opposite directions.
At the end of the meeting, Partridge also addressed the council and expressed his disappointment at the council’s decision to opt out of the countywide transit authority. He called on members of the public not to take that decision sitting down and encouraged them to take heart. He described mayor John Hieftje as having given up – not like Barack Obama.
Comm/Comm: Role of Local Government in Sustainability
Kermit Schlansker allowed that the presidential debates were important for the future of the country, but he lamented the fact that there’d been no mention of running out of energy. He described the national government as concerned mostly with politics. Local governments need to take up the slack, he said. He described how he’d not be able to address the council during general public commentary on some previous occasions because he’d been “kicked off the agenda” in favor of speakers who wanted to talk about medical marijuana and public art. [The council's rules for public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting give preference to speakers who want to speak about items on the council's agenda.]
Schlansker described the Ann Arbor District Library’s bond proposal as a desire to build “a new Taj Mahal.” He wondered why there was not a bond proposal on the ballot “to feed the city.” Jobs are needed now, he said, and local government has just as much responsibility to address that need as state and federal governments. He called for the establishment of energy farms as one step that could be taken.
Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Sandi Smith.
Next council meeting: Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]
The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!