This report begins with some sound bites from a recent Ann Arbor city council planning session.
“That long-term commitment seems to be something that appears in the Midwest.” “There is nothing easy about democracy.” “A couple years back, my brain exploded.” “I sold Girl Scout cookies.” “The UM will never leave town, never shutter the factory…” “I also believe that the customer is usually right.” “We really need to listen harder to people who disagree with us.” “I had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.” “I believe that we rarely hear from those who think that we are on the right track and making the right decisions.” “I am the son of hippies.” “I look at Ann Arbor right now that is a more exciting place to be than it ever was before.”
Each of those snippets is taken from a different Ann Arbor city councilmember’s response to a homework assignment, given by facilitator Julia Novak a few days before the council planning session took place on Dec. 10, 2012. Councilmembers had been alerted by Novak to prepare a 3-5 minute talk, modeled on the “This I Believe” 1950s radio program hosted by Edward R. Murrow.
Councilmembers were asked to speak to the issue of what they believed about the future of the city – focusing on the statement of a core belief, sharing a story that illustrates how their beliefs were shaped, and emphasizing what they believe in, as opposed to things they don’t believe in. At the planning session, Novak stressed that the idea was to share “not what you’re against, not what you ran to stop, but what you believe.”
Councilmembers took different approaches to the assignment – some preparing remarks in advance and reading them aloud, others speaking from notes, while some spoke off the cuff.
In this report, councilmember remarks are presented after an introduction that summarizes some of their similarities and tensions.
In the remarks of councilmembers below, it’s straightforward to identify certain objective commonalities. For example, Stephen Kunselman and John Hieftje both described growing up in Ann Arbor. Jane Lumm, Sumi Kailasapathy and Sabra Briere all described growing up in small towns that were not Ann Arbor. Briere and Lumm described ancestors who served in the American Civil War and the American Revolutionary War, respectively. Lumm described her community service on nonprofit boards generally, and Mike Anglin described his efforts with Kiwanis specifically. Briere described selling Girl Scout cookies as a child; and Marcia Higgins drew on her past experience as an executive in the Girl Scouts organization to describe her thoughts on democracy.
Several councilmembers referred to differences and diversity – and the need to respect those differences and diversity – as a strength of Ann Arbor. But in their remarks, it’s possible to discern somewhat different views about how that diversity of opinion should be respected. So, while democracy was identified in the remarks of several councilmembers as a core principle, it was with contrasting emphasis.
Sumi Kailasapathy, for example, stressed a need for councilmembers to force themselves to listen to those who disagree with them. It’s a sentiment her Ward 1 colleague Sabra Briere has also stressed, most recently in the council’s deliberations on the public art ordinance: “When we represent our constituents, we don’t only represent those who agree with us; we represent those who disagree with us. We don’t just represent the majority; we represent all the minority voices as well.” Margie Teall noted that it’s important for the council to hear from those who disagree with the council’s decisions, but she ventured that there are many people from whom the council rarely hears, who think the council is on the right track. Teall stressed that it’s representative democracy she believes in. Higgins made the point that handling differences in a democracy is very difficult.
Councilmembers expressed different beliefs about the need for Ann Arbor to grow. Kailasapathy questioned the idea that the city needs to grow in order to be economically sustainable, while Christopher Taylor appeared to take it as axiomatic that the University of Michigan will continue to fuel growth. Taylor saw resistance to change on the negative side of the ledger, and attributed it in part to a contentedness with past success. Taylor encouraged a greater acceptance of the idea that mistakes will inevitably be made as the city tries to navigate the future.
The remarks of Chuck Warpehoski were organized around the theme of “An Ann Arbor that works for everybody,” which provides a background against which the remarks of other councilmembers could also be understood. In describing the city’s residents, Hieftje characterized the negative impact that an influx of wealthy student residents has had on the affordability of housing in the city. He described students as in some sense remaining as residents, even if they leave Ann Arbor – because they’re placeholders for the next set of students who arrive.
Two slightly contrasting beliefs about a view of the future could be seen in the remarks of the two “townies.” Kunselman spoke of trying to project the positive elements of the past into the future. Hieftje spoke of not looking to the past, but rather to the future, which will belong to a new generation that is growing up with technology.
Mike Anglin represents Ward 5. He was first elected in 2007.
Anglin: Making Joiners out of People
I think I’m a newer person perhaps than most here – in the city of Ann Arbor since 1992. When I first came I was busy doing my own business, so to speak, fixing a house.
And as time went on, I kind of was interested that the community acted very differently than the community I had come from. I had come from Washington D.C. – a very much larger community and consequently it wasn’t that connection that you can establish here in Ann Arbor. Having viewed myself not as a joiner – it’s kind of interesting because here I am, quite a joiner after all these years. I never thought I would join anything … I always kind of stand back a bit. But then gradually you’re pulled into this town because there are so many options that you can have – from religious options, community support groups and things of that sort. When your kids are in school there’s a tremendous amount of involvement here, and you’re drawn into it, and it’s really a great community to be in because of that. And there’s so many strengths that our community has, that’s been my biggest revelation here.
Anglin: Diversity, Difference, Commitment
In addition, the community is accepting of all kinds of people. And that’s really what makes our city great – that we accept all kinds of people within this umbrella of Ann Arbor. And consequently a lot of good things can happen because of that. It almost seems contradictory – the more people you involve, the better the results you get, but obviously that seems to be happening more and more universally now than before.
I joined the Kiwanis – that was an important organization for me to see multi-generationals and how they have been doing things for some amazing amount of years. Some people have been delivering Meals on Wheels for 35 years – you know, once a month for 35 years. That long-term commitment seems to be something that appears in the Midwest. My wife is from the Midwest and listening to her in some of her experiences, where she grew up in Kansas, is very similar to what happens here in Ann Arbor. That part I like very much about town. And I also appreciate the fact that here with this group, for instance, the amount of sacrifices that people make to serve here on the council. And oftentimes we don’t agree, but I think we respect one another’s commitment to the town. And I respect that of everyone here, and the staff and people helping to make this town better.
When I first ran for office, I was very community-centered, I think. I would give talks on what is a community and what makes a community, because I think that, to me, is the basis of why we are so great. The stronger we make our communities, the stronger we make our town.
So those are my beliefs – just to respect people, move forward as best we can, haltingly at times, sometimes not moving forward, but be patient and the fact that we are moving forward in such a way that we can maybe achieve our final goals. And, of course, with a lot of respect for those who have been serving on the council, and the efforts and the commitments that they make, and the denials that they give themselves in order to serve.
Marcia Higgins represents Ward 4. She was first elected to the city council in 1999.
A core belief I have is that I believe in democracy. And I think democracy is very hard – because it requires a lot of dedication between a governing body and a community, or if you’re on a board, your members. For me personally, that takes me back to being in the Girl Scouts organization. I was a second vice president responsible to 15,000 people in the field. And as we were making decisions, you had to go out and talk to them about what were we looking to do, and what did they think about things. And it was eye-opening to go out to find out that a lot of times there was a mentality of us-versus-them. And yet we were all part of the same organization in the same community. I think that relates into this group as well.
How do we make sure that we are always looking for different ideas, different viewpoints? Because I firmly believe that when you have a variety of different viewpoints and people are actively listening, and they are comfortable listening to a different viewpoint, that the conclusions you come to are elevated. And there winds up being a better decision-making process. So I think I learned through that that this is hard. There is nothing easy about democracy. And it’s something you have to work on every single day, whether it’s a board you sit on in working with your members, or us sitting here. If you don’t put any effort into it, you don’t get anything out of it. I think you have to go the extra effort to go out and reach people to find out what their differences are.
And you’re not always going to agree. But you find that there become common themes where people will go: Oh! Well, I didn’t look at it this way, let’s get on board with that, let’s move something forward. I also realize that it’s our differences that make us unique, but it’s the plurality we have, our commonalities, that make us strong. I think that’s what makes Ann Arbor strong – it’s all of our differences that brought us together that allow us to bring a new perspective to allow us to make good decisions. And it’s the diversity part that I really like.
Chuck Warpehoski represents Ward 5. He was first elected in November 2012. He spoke from notes he’d prepared but forgot to bring.
Warpehoski: Variety of Jobs
I believe in an Ann Arbor that works for everyone. When I see things like the Barracuda Networks moving downtown, and Menlo expanding, I’m very grateful for those jobs that those are bringing. As we deal with budget issues, I’m grateful for what that helps us do with the tax base and things like that. But I’m also aware that not everybody is qualified to work for Google, for Menlo, or for Barracuda. And so I believe in an Ann Arbor that works for everybody. And as we look at our economic development strategy, yes, I want those high-tech jobs – but I also want jobs for pipefitters and machinists and brewers and baristas. I believe in an Ann Arbor that works for everybody.
Warpehoski: Social Support
And not just on the economic development front. I also see that that is a part of our social safety net. Having the transportation options, having the human services funding, having the affordable housing – that means that people who are in need, they have a place in our community, too.
A couple years back, my brain exploded – I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. I realized just how close I was – I am, we all are – to being on the other side of that donor-recipient line. I believe in an Ann Arbor that works for everybody. When I say everybody, it’s not even just the folks who are here now. When I saw what happened with super-storm Sandy, this has been a crazy year with weather – we had no winter practically, early blooms, we lost our apple crop in Michigan, we lost our cherry crop in Michigan, then we had the drought and the heat wave. Sumi [Kailasapathy] and Sally [Petersen] know about it because we were all canvassing! And then we hit the heat wave, the firestorms and the wildfires …
Warpehoski: Future Generations
When I say an Ann Arbor that works for everybody, I’m thinking of the generations to come. I’ve got a two-year-old daughter and I’m terrified about what the world we’re leaving to her is. So when I’m thinking about creating a city that works for everybody, I’m thinking about, how do we care for people, not just who are here now, but how do we minimize the damage we’re doing to this earth? How do we maximize what healing we can do? And how do we create resilience in terms of our infrastructure, in terms of our economy, and in terms of our community, so that whatever mess might be coming at us next, we’re able to best adapt to it?
I believe in an Ann Arbor that works for everybody. And I know that last bit about what’s coming with climate destabilization can be a bit of a downer. But I’m here at this table … because I think that the choices we make as a council do matter, that we can make some of the difference, and that we can help create an Ann Arbor that works for everybody.
Briere: Small Towns
There’s been some recent talk about whether Ann Arbor is “still” a small town.
Well, I’d like to talk about small towns. I grew up in a town that is about one mile square. I walked to school and came home for lunch. I helped the scouts plant day lilies on a hillside to slow erosion; I sold Girl Scout cookies. I waded in the river, hunted for snails and snakes, and could be gone for hours without my mother worrying about me. Just over 2,000 people live in my home town; the graveyard holds nearly 200 years of my family burials; the public library has a commemorative plaque containing the names of my family members who served and died in the Civil War.
But even in small towns, it’s hard to capture that “small town” feel.
There are good things and bad things to say about small towns – the times when new residents don’t fit in, the nosiness and insularity. And of course, the sense of belonging, of being known and knowing so many, of the trust that comes from strong ties to the community.
Briere: Other Communities
I believe every community – no matter how rich, or large, or diverse – is a small town at heart. That strangers will smile at you, offer directions, or push you out of the snow. That a neighbor will help you carry your groceries or rake your leaves or check on you if you are ill in your home. I’ve lived in tiny communities and large cities – and I’ve always found that, as humans, we want to connect. I’ve also seen that we want to help build our communities and make them better places. Sure, there are people who don’t want to deal with their neighbors, volunteer in a park or even make eye contact. But a community is built by those who are willing to engage.
Briere: Role of Government
Maybe the role of government once was primarily to defend “us” against marauding “others” but that role has changed over the past few centuries. I think it is government’s role to do for us – as a community – what is too expensive or complex or too rarely needed for us to do for ourselves – as individuals. I’m talking about building and maintaining the physical and social infrastructure that helps us live with our neighbors. (Providing storm, waste and potable water; building and fixing streets and bridges; installing street lights and keeping them lit; collecting trash; ensuring fire and police protection; establishing regulations for building and zoning). But I’m not forgetting the role the government plays in helping to level the playing field between individuals and among neighborhoods, and to provide for the health and welfare of all. Our pooled resources – through the government – allow each of us to contribute toward that which benefits us all.
And how does this translate into a vision for Ann Arbor’s future?
Briere: Students, Transitory Residents
We’re in an odd position among communities. Almost 40% of our residents (43,000 out of 114,000) are students at the university. To me, that means that many of us don’t have lasting ties to our community. I don’t think there’s any way to change that. But the rest of us – about 70,000 people – see Ann Arbor as their home, at least for now.
Ann Arbor was once a small town like the town where I grew up. Forty years ago, when I moved here, it wasn’t so small in size, but it retained that small-town feeling. When I shopped on Main Street, no one asked for ID with my check, because they recognized me. Clerks knew what size my son wore. I could go into a book store, and have someone steer me toward the very types of books I liked to read. The librarian knew my name.
To me, a small town isn’t defined by the number of people in it, or the number of square miles, or the height of the buildings. It is limited only by the connections we have with our neighbors and by the investment each of us makes in our community’s success. For me, small-town feel requires caring about the 90-year-old down the block, and those who live in assisted living up the street. My challenge and my goal is to find ways to keep that small-town feeling while being open to new ideas. I hope that each of us feels ownership toward our neighborhoods and responsibility for our community; I know I do.
Christopher Taylor represents Ward 3. He was first elected in 2008. He read from a prepared statement.
Taylor: The Positive – University, Residents, Municipal Leaders
On balance, I believe that the future of Ann Arbor is bright. Accentuating the positive, our indispensable strategic asset is secure and growing, our community is replete with talent and civic engagement, and our municipal organization is efficient and sustainable. With particularity – Ann Arbor is home, of course, to the University of Michigan, commonly ranked among the 25 top universities in the world. The U of M is an enduring institution that grows and improves year-in-year-out, while Ann Arbor reaps the economic and cultural benefits. The U of M will never leave town, never shutter the factory, never merge. Instead it will generate rock-steady employment, provide compelling arts and entertainment, and offer personal and professional opportunities in Ann Arbor for Ann Arborites for the foreseeable future and far, far beyond.
Ann Arbor’s residents, its human capital – it comprises one of our most valuable resources. We boast one of the nation’s most educated and engaged populations. Our neighborhoods and the residents they reflect are vital. Our reputation for and history of social justice, and – for want of a better word – “decency,” I believe, is widespread and well-earned. This base, generally speaking, means that our residents will continue to start vibrant companies, drive innovation in existing organizations, and provide cultural, civic, and economic leadership for years to come.
It also creates a political culture that responds well to information, from which we can draw scores of talented, committed persons to serve Ann Arbor in a range of capacities. Finally, the municipal organization has for many years now been run by deeply qualified, committed staff and led by a set of political leaders preceding me that has been visionary in right-sizing the organization and focusing doggedly on creating a sustainable, flexible, service-driven enterprise. The job is not done and can never truly be completed, but it has over the years become how we do business. And this is an ethos, I believe, that will help us build on our success and the groundwork for the success of others.
Taylor: The Negative – Michigan, Detroit
On the other side of the ledger, noting complexity, it is important to acknowledge and recognize that our ability to exploit our true advantages is potentially limited, by the state, regional, and also local factors that are all too often outside of our control. Ann Arbor exists in an economically and politically challenged state. Michigan’s political culture has for years now driven us to become a low service state that cabins cities’ ability to solve local problems, and to provide exemplary municipal services. It systematically diminishes support for such crucial things such as public and higher education, and it de-emphasizes and under-resources long-standing infrastructure needs.
Moving in regionally, southeastern lower Michigan’s economic challenges and political dysfunction, I believe, are essentially self evident. The near collapse of the auto industry has been avoided, but it’s still a region that is finding its way, hindered by a dominant urban center that has for decades now been synonymous with crime, decay and corruption. There is undoubtedly a growing and hopeful counter-narrative, but a real turnaround is nowhere in sight. Within Ann Arbor too, our history of civic success occasionally serves to check our community’s readiness to embrace and plan for change.
Not all proposals are good, and not all plans will succeed, but we as a community must, I believe, become even more flexible, more open to change and must learn to better accept the natural and inevitable errors that we will all make when wading out into the unknown. These obstacles have the potential to weigh us down, to neutralize our core advantages. In the end, however, they will not do so. The drive, excellence and critical mass of the University of Michigan, the energy, creativity, and civic commitment of our residents, and the professionalism of our municipal organization will continue to combine to create a quality of life that is matched by few. It will be sufficient, I believe, to succeed.
On balance, I believe that the future of Ann Arbor is bright.
Sumi Kailasapathy represents Ward 1. She was first elected in November 2012. She spoke in response to some of the remarks that other councilmembers had made that evening.
About democracy … I have to bring in my favorite political economist – in another life I used to be a teacher, I taught political economy at university – Amartya Sen, I think he won the Nobel Prize for economics in . He was a pretty mainstream economist, but he brought values of transparency, accountability, democracy, all this into economic theory. His famous case study was looking at both China and India – both of them had famines. But millions perished in China, whereas even though India was at that point pretty poor, they were able to avoid the scale that China suffered. And the reason was: democracy. Because India still had a very vibrant democratic system, where you had newspapers, and the fifth estate, kind of spreading the news, talking about it. As long as information can pass through, there can always be alternate mechanisms to bring in food or other methods, whereas China had a one-party system with a very controlled media, so millions had to perish. So for me, that’s a lesson … – this is not China, this is not India, but this is a democracy.
When we plan things, I strongly believe, we really need to listen harder to people who disagree with us. It is so easy, because listening to people who agree with you – it’s nice, isn’t it? … But that’s a process that I keep telling myself – we have to move ourselves away from our comfort zone of being with people who always agree with you. Hannah Arendt, another political philosopher, said it is like walking on stairways without banisters. I mean, you have to leave your comfort zone and then go into a space where you can really explore your ideas. …
Kailasapathy: Small Towns, Growth
And also regarding economic growth. I grew up in a very small village in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Because of the civil war, most of the time we didn’t even have electricity, so we drew water from the well. The only vehicle we had was a bicycle – we went everywhere on our bicycles. And then I lived in Manhattan for graduate school, and I also lived in Boston for undergraduate. So I’ve kind of seen the whole spectrum of living in a small town and living in a big city. And then I ended up in Ann Arbor – I’ve lived here for almost 16 years. …
I question this whole capitalist view of looking at growth, growth, growth. Change is inevitable, I’m not questioning that. But do we have to grow? There are a lot of economists who are coming up and saying, we don’t have to be worrying about 3% growth, 2% growth, 12% growth – stasis is okay, too. Quality of life is much more … because it’s limited resources in this world and we can’t deplete everything. We shouldn’t be saying, Oh, we should be like China and growing at 8.5% or 9%. So I question that, too. Preserving the quality of life is, I think, much more important. …
Kailasapathy: Quality of Life
… [M]y priority … is basically our residents. They choose to live in Ann Arbor, they don’t mind paying the taxes, because they come here for the quality of life. And I feel, in trying to attract Google, that’s fine, we need technology. … But that should not be our preoccupation and obsession. Our preoccupation and obsession should be making our quality of life good for our residents, who love this city and choose to live here. And we should try to leave a better world for the children, I guess. And my concept of sustainability is that we should be both fiscally and environmentally sustainable … something might look really good on paper, because it’s environmentally so good, but if it’s not fiscally sustainable, it breaks down and we don’t have anything. So for me those are the two legs I guess I’m standing on – fiscal responsibility and environmental sustainability.
Sally Petersen was first elected in November 2012. She represents Ward 2.
Petersen: A List
I tried to take some of my personal views and express them as values that I would like to see city council sort of consider, and values that I think are important to Ann Arbor.
I believe that we are all created equally, but that we are wired differently. I believe that human nature is generous, well-meaning, and seeking of the common good, but I also believe that one’s life experiences, both good and bad, can change the direction and outcome of our best intentions. I believe in learning from mistakes, forgiveness, and compassion. I believe in team-building exercises, good sportsmanship, healthy competition, a strong work ethic, and discipline. I also believe that the customer is usually right.
I believe in thinking local first, economic innovation, art in public places, five fire stations, and recreational space on the Library Lot. I believe in paper, not plastic, dark chocolate, outlet shopping, and the Michigan Wolverines, especially in the coaches Brady Hoke and John Beilein. I believe that life is a continuum and that where we end up, and how we end up is a result of the choices that we have made along the way.
And I’ve saved four minutes for somebody else!
Jane Lumm was most recently elected in 2011, after serving on the council in the mid-1990s. She represents Ward 2.
Lumm: Golden Rule
Starting with a core belief, basically it’s the Golden Rule. I have this Golden Rule thing that I bought. I have quotes all over the walls of my messy office at home, and I always seem to circle back to the basic Golden Rule: treating others as you would like to be treated. Marcia [Higgins] and others have talked about this respect for differences, and I think that this also very much is part and parcel of the Golden Rule. So that is a core belief that hopefully guides how I view others, others’ differences, others’ views.
Lumm: Small Towns, History
And I think, too – Sabra [Briere] talked a lot about, and Sumi [Kailasapathy], coming from a small town – I, too, came from a small town. As a child my father had the local grocery store. … My dad … would hear about families who couldn’t afford groceries and other basic things – and I didn’t know about this until later, but I would always hear people praise my dad. And my dad, well, he was the guy who was quietly helping out these families, and would help them out and not expect anything in return. So I learned a lot watching my dad. And I would see that interest in helping others, I’d like to think that it influenced me.
And since I’ve been in Ann Arbor – my whole family still lives in the small-town community back in southeastern Pennsylvania – but I’ve been here over 30 years. And I’d like to believe that I’m also guided by those core small-town values. Sabra mentioned something about her rich heritage in her hometown in Indiana. Just the other day I was meeting with the city administrator [Steve Powers] and I was trying to find some pictures of a local infrastructure thing that is in the Second Ward. I don’t know if you saw this, Steve, but I was thumbing through – I must have had 50 pictures of tombstones. And I’m sitting here thinking, “Oh my God, you must think: What is going on with Jane?”
Those were pictures from a cemetery, this church I went to as a kid – the church was founded in 1726 … I got lost in the cemetery back in early October when I was visiting my dad for various reasons. Right now it’s because I’m trying to assist my family in doing some genealogical research … I had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. And I discovered that I had a grandfather – five grandfathers back who was a state rep in Pennsylvania in 1758 – only one term for just two years. But those are the kind of ah-ha moments when you realize that your past does also influence your interests.
Lumm: Community Involvement
And here I am councilmember. We’re all here because we love this community. And I try to get involved in my community through serving on various nonprofit boards and organizations – and that’s a great grounding experience. I was very fortunate in my upbringing, had a very nice family, and I did not want for anything. But I will say that the nonprofit experience is a great way to get to know your community. And I appreciate having had that opportunity and that I can continue to assist – if I can use that term – some of the nonprofit organizations I’ve been involved with. It really, again, is a great reality check. And I would like to take those experiences, the sensitivity to those needs of our residents, and incorporate that in my thinking as we consider these various priorities for these communities. Chuck [Warpehoski], as did others, also spoke to these needs.
Lumm: Constituent Concerns
I’m just going to give you my quick top five constituent concerns. Taxes and fees are significant yet basic services and capital needs have deteriorated. We need to address the lack of public safety staffing. Fire station restructuring is proposed – I question that it adequately addresses the need for services and response time. I do think that folks believe there’s a disconnect between city hall’s priorities and theirs, and we need to look at the alignment of [city] priorities with resident priorities. And also, just in general, I think we need to use our resources efficiently, because residents do expect us to maximize the value of their investment.
Margie Teall was first elected in 2002. She represents Ward 4.
I believe that our city is growing. And I believe this is healthy for the city. I learned that, I think initially, when I went on an IDA [International Downtown Association] trip with the DDA [Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority] – the first place we went was to Boulder and Denver.
Hearing what other cities are doing and where they stand, and hearing the needs. When I first sat on the downtown marketing task force, the needs of our businesses, our small businesses in the city, and how dependent they are on that growth. And particularly when the budget, when state revenue sharing, when costs are skyrocketing and we were losing revenue … and how much we gain when we bring new people downtown or to the city itself. I believe that change is necessary to this growth as well.
Teall: Role of Government
I believe that the role of government is a good one – to provide for people who choose to live in a given area that makes it possible to live and work comfortably, which they could not provide by or for themselves. I believe that the restriction or expansion of how one defines government’s role in providing for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens can be very subjective. I believe that we are elected by citizens of our community to become educated about important issues, to take on the tough issues, and to make difficult decisions for the good of the whole. I believe they elect us to do that, and that they do so because most of them are too busy doing their own important things. I believe in representative democracy.
Teall: Community Feedback
I believe we will hear more from people who are unhappy with the possible decisions that we make, and that we need to hear from them. I believe that we rarely hear from those who think that we are on the right track and making the right decisions. I believe that every person contacts us or comes to the council to speak, including the staff, has the best intentions and that they should be treated with respect, and humility by councilmembers. I think this is also true for how we respond to and treat each other. I believe we are all here with good intentions. I believe we have an excellent staff on whom I will always rely for their technical expertise and their knowledge as well as their institutional memory. And I believe we are very fortunate in this regard.
Stephen Kunselman was elected to the council in 2006, did not win re-election in 2008, but regained a seat in 2009. He represents Ward 3.
Kunselman: On Being a Townie
I think it’s fitting that myself and the mayor are the last to go, because I consider ourselves townies.
And I probably bring something to the table that very few others do, because there’s very few townies left in this community. I believe in the future of Ann Arbor, because I am a product of its past. I believe that Ann Arbor has changed, has grown, but still has the foundation of community that was respected worldwide, or is still respected, … for social change. I am the son of hippies, and it wasn’t that long ago that my father, my stepdad, were sitting down at this intersection at the old Drake gas station watching the riots – not for very long, granted.
But it was a time of great change, and great social change. And that has instilled in me the purpose of public service. Not that I really knew what that meant at the time, but I think it was again a byproduct of my upbringing.
Kunselman: Bringing Elements of the Past into the Future
I’m a product of Ann Arbor public schools. I’m a product of the University of Michigan. And I believe that I’m a steward of the past, and I’m trying to carry on the benefits and opportunities that Ann Arbor has provided me and to my family and my kids, for that matter – to be what they are … And it’s that stewardship that I take with great passion, because I would like for a lot of the things that I had in my past to still be present, and try to bring back into the future. I would love it if we had recreational programs in our city parks during the summertime that provided opportunity for kids to congregate at the local neighborhood park to participate in box hockey or kickball, and interact with each other.
Because it was that interaction with kids of different socio-economic backgrounds that gave me the foundation of greater respect for everybody of difference of opinions. And it’s a diverse city – of thought, diversity of socioeconomic status – that really makes Ann Arbor the greatest municipality in the state of Michigan, if not the world.
Kunselman: Company Town, Growth
We are a small community. Even when we talk about growth, we actually lost population in the last census – so we’re not immune to the economic forces outside of Ann Arbor. And we cannot count on the University of Michigan to continue to bring in all these federal dollars. We are a company town, and I think that’s one of the things we have to recognize. Even though University of Michigan is the number one beneficiary of federal dollars for research and development for a public university, that is drying up. And it’s going to be drying up. …
An e-mail came out from the hospital, saying get ready to start making cuts. I think we need to be recognizing that. So I see in the future of Ann Arbor a time of static growth – that we’re not going to go through some great change, that we’re going to be lucky to hold on to what we have. And hopefully we won’t be cutting as we already had most of the cuts in the past. But that we will still be able to provide our basic services, provide recreational programs, or at least keep our parks and golf courses and our ice rinks open. And make sure our neighborhoods are maintained and have the infrastructure in order to encourage people to move into them.
Kunselman: Downtown, Outside Downtown
It’s great that we have this luxury student housing, but I can tell you in my neighborhood we still have … Fannie Mae foreclosures taking place. We have very little infill developments in our neighborhoods, unless you’re close to downtown, which is where the money and the action is at. So I think there is still the feeling that outside on the edges of Ann Arbor, we’re not all beneficiaries of the great economic change that’s occurring downtown. That’s my role as a member of Ward 3, to make sure that some of that wealth is being distributed outside of downtown and into our neighborhoods. So I’m looking forward to the faces and the new camaraderie [on council]. If I always make references to the past, it’s because I really love Ann Arbor. I think that’s something we all bring to the table.
John Hieftje was elected mayor in 2000. He began his remarks by referring back to Kunselman’s opening, when he described watching the riots with his stepdad.
Hieftje: Roots in Ann Arbor
I was out there in ’68 on the street, the riot they [Kunselman and his stepdad] were watching, I was 17. My father came here in 1951 and bought a house with a veterans loan when he got out of the Army Air Force in 1946. I was nine months old and they brought me here. Some townies have accused me of being a carpetbagger. I grew up in Ann Arbor like Steve did. It was in many ways different, but also much the same.
Hieftje: How Ann Arbor Was
It’s always been kind of a diverse city. But when I was young it was quite a conservative city. I mean, this city voted for [U.S. president Richard] Nixon. And it was a different place. I remember though, when I was – I don’t know how many years old, about seven or eight or nine or 10, and maybe a little older. Mayor [Cecil] Creal knew my father and drove by the house on a Sunday afternoon, and we were out there goofing around the yard, and he stopped and talked to us. That was the kind of thing that would happen in Ann Arbor, and I think it still does. I think it’s wonderful that when people run for office, they go door-to-door. I go to some people’s door and some people are surprised that “Wow, you’re here!” But that’s the kind of city this is, where you can still go talk to the people who are in office and have a conversation with them and express your views. I like that about our city.
Hieftje: How Ann Arbor Has Changed
Having been here a long time though, the city has changed a lot. It’s grown up in many ways. In a lot of ways it hasn’t changed. We have 14 historic districts in our city. You take a look at the downtown, there’s only about 40% of it that will ever change – it’s either historic district or the University of Michigan. And when you look at the rest of the city, we have wonderful, wonderful neighborhoods.
The people have changed. I think the students as they come here may be a little different than others. It’s as if they’re the same person, they’re just holding that place for the next student, who comes into town. So they’re important to, they’re part of the culture. I have seen the city gentrified from the time that I’ve been here. It’s less affordable now – I think that’s something that we can never forget, that we have to continue to work in that area. We can’t forget that we need to make it possible for others to live here who may not have the best of jobs. As Chuck [Warpehoski] said, we need a place for all those people.
Hieftje: Impact of University of Michigan on Affordable Housing
When I was a young person, the apartments in the near downtown were filled with working people, because the shops and everything were downtown. You did all your shopping downtown, and working people lived where they could walk downtown and bike downtown. And as the student population grew, and they came in with a lot of affluence as the university changed. … All of the students aren’t rich, but a good proportion of them are. They didn’t use to be. But now they can afford everything, whatever they want. And they forced the working people out – very often into other cities. And that’s been a problem for the city, and something I hope we can find ways to combat. But there’s really no city that is on the pattern that Ann Arbor is, with a big university and a knowledge-based economy, that has been able to solve the affordable housing issue.
Hieftje: Ann Arbor’s Current Economic Success
But you have to keep working on it. It’s important for us to keep growing jobs, because as Barracuda is hiring two people a week, there’s engineers but there’s also going to be service personnel who will be patronizing local businesses, and creating a job base that I think is going to be very important. I look at Ann Arbor right now that is a more exciting place to be than it ever was before. There is more to do than there ever was before. And in many ways it is a better city.
We’ve never been through a period where we’ve won so many – a recent article in an AnnArbor.com talked about how come Ann Arbor’s on the best of all these lists? The city is performing at a very high level. I think we’ve done very well coming through the worst economic [downturn] since the 1930s. We lost our largest employer, which was also our largest taxpayer [Pfizer] – that was about 5%, 4.6% of our total revenue. So we bounced back from that. The jobs have been replaced. We’ve downsized government – the city government is more efficient now than it’s ever been. It is hitting on all cylinders and moving forward. The quality of life is very high. Infrastructure is being repaired pretty quickly. By the end of the building cycle next year, if people can put up with all the orange barrels one more summer, it’s going to be pretty spectacular.
Hieftje: Looking to the Next Generation
But what I believe is that we have got to be looking not to the past but to a future, to accommodate a generation that grew up with technology. And I think it’s a generational change. Maybe it’s not as big a change as from people from war into the baby boom generation, but it’s a significant change. People who are getting their drivers licenses much later in life and don’t even care if they own an automobile, who are mostly concerned with being in places where they can meet with their friends and have everything close, and walk to work. To put it short in a couple of words, I think that councilmember Kailasapathy distilled it for me and the two things that I’ve always believed in above everything else was: economic sustainability, fiscal sustainability, and environmental sustainability. I also believe we really need to be looking to a different future for a new generation.
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