Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 17, 2013): Despite the passage of a right-to-work law by the Michigan legislature in late 2012, a new agreement between the AATA and Transport Workers Union Local 171 (TWU) maintains the same kind of agency fees that the legislation eliminated.
The AATA board ratified the 10-year agreement on agency fees in an accord that is separate from a 4.5-year agreement covering wages and benefits. The board approved both agreements at its Jan. 17 meeting. The agreement on agency fees takes advantage of the fact that the right-to-work law does not take effect until late March, and thus does not apply to agreements that are in place before then. It appears to be a strategy that employers statewide might use as a response to right-to-work, to the extent that they are willing to continue current agency fee arrangements. Agency fees are paid by non-union members based on the idea that they benefit from the union’s representation of their interests during collective bargaining.
The board’s vote on the two labor agreements was not unanimous. Eli Cooper dissented, based at least in part on the fact that the text of the two agreements was not available to all board members before they were asked to vote. David Nacht expressed support for Cooper’s point, but joined other board members in voting for the agreements.
Another vote that did not achieve unanimous support came on a resolution that expressed an intent to work with the board of the newly created southeast Michigan regional transportation authority (RTA) – which includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland, as well as the city of Detroit. The AATA board ultimately voted to table the resolution, with Jesse Bernstein and Anya Dale dissenting. Board members who were in favor of tabling felt that such a resolution was somewhat premature, pending the possible amendment of the RTA legislation, which passed late last year during the lame duck session of the state legislature.
The amendment desired by the AATA – which is supported by the Ann Arbor city council, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and the Michigan Public Transit Association – is for Washtenaw County to be excluded from the RTA at this time. AATA board discussion indicated that the window of opportunity for amending the legislation is likely to be the 90-day period for appointing RTA board members, which will close in mid-March.
In other business, the AATA board adopted a revised policy to be used in responding to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. The board also adopted its categorical and capital grant program through fiscal 2017.
The treasurer’s report indicated a disparity between increasing ridership numbers and the amount of passenger fare revenue – a difference that is significant enough to warrant further inquiry.
Public commentary at the meeting featured a voice that was new to AATA board meetings but familiar as the film critic of the now defunct Ann Arbor News – Christopher Potter. Potter praised the quality of AATA’s service, but asked for weekend buses to run later than they do.
Labor Contract with TWU
The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority was asked to approve a four-and-a-half-year contract with the Transport Workers Union Local 171 (TWU). The contract resets the full wage for newly hired drivers after three years to $21.50 per hour. The wage for current drivers with at least three years of experience is $24.50 per hour. The contract calls for a $0.50 an hour increase per year, except in the third year of the contract when the increase is $0.75 per hour. [.pdf of wages, benefits, conditions contract][.pdf of agency fee agreement]
The contract, which removes all language that deals with agency shop fees and dues, runs through June 30, 2017. Removal of the language is related to right-to-work legislation passed by the Michigan state legislature in late 2012. [.pdf of enrolled House Bill 4003]
The board was asked to approve a separate agreement between the AATA and TWU that covers agency shop fees and dues – which runs for 10 years, through 2023. Because the right-to-work legislation was not enacted with immediate effect, contracts ratified before the effective date – which is 91 days after the legislative session ended – are not subject to the legislation. The continuation of agency fees is not allowed under contracts ratified after the legislation takes effect:
(3) Except as provided in subsection (4), an individual shall not be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing public employment to do any of the following:
(a) Refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary financial support of a labor organization or bargaining representative.
(b) Become or remain a member of a labor organization or bargaining representative.
(c) Pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization or bargaining representative.
(d) Pay to any charitable organization or third party any amount that is in lieu of, equivalent to, or any portion of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses required of members of or public employees represented by a labor organization or bargaining representative.
Labor Contract: Board Deliberations
David Nacht described the agreement as having been made very amicably between senior staff, AATA legal counsel and the TWU leadership. Nacht indicated there was no board involvement in the negotiations.
Nacht then heaped praise on the work of AATA union employees, saying the AATA has an outstanding set of union professionals. In the 9.5 years he’s served on the board, they’ve done an above-and-beyond job, he said. It’s an honor that the AATA has another agreement with TWU. Nacht said the TWU leadership represents their people well, and concluded by saying he’s pleased that management and labor relations are so good.
Jesse Bernstein added his thanks to AATA staff and the union. He noted they’d worked thorough the holidays to get the agreement done – and that meant they gave up family and free time. He echoed Nacht’s sentiments on the state of the management-labor relationship and the high quality of service provided by union labor.
Eli Cooper observed that there was a one-page resolution to support the board’s action – but he was looking for more detail on the terms and conditions in the actual labor contract.
Nacht reminded Cooper that there’d been a conversation by the board about the terms and conditions at a closed session [apparently on Jan. 3, 2013, when the board also held a closed session to discuss pending litigation]. Nacht noted that discussion of labor negotiations is a reason that can justify a closed session under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. That closed session had taken place before the contract was negotiated fully, he said. Nacht indicated that he had just then reviewed the text, and what he saw was consistent with the understanding he had after the closed session briefing.
Cooper said he appreciated that the text of the contract had been reviewed by at least one other board member. He asked if there was any necessity for the board to take action that night.
Michael Ford, the AATA’s CEO, observed that the union had ratified its side of the contract a week ago, and that in the ordinary course of business, the agreement would come to the board naturally that night.
Cooper persisted, asking if there was any legal compelling reason that the board needed to ratify the contract that night. Bernstein ventured that it was not a legal issue but rather a “commitment issue.” He told Cooper that if there were any specific questions Cooper had, he’d be happy to answer them. Bernstein indicated that he felt the board needed to say they are ready to vote to support the contract.
Nacht then expressed support for Cooper’s position, saying that he thought Cooper’s point was that for a major labor contract, a copy should be provided to all board members, before asking them to vote on it. Nacht concluded that Cooper’s point was well-taken.
Cooper then said that because he was not hearing there’s a legal requirement that the labor contract with TWU be approved by the board that night, he moved for postponement so that he could do his due diligence as a member of the body.
Outcome: Cooper’s motion to postpone the vote on the TWU labor contract died for lack of a seconding motion.
Board chair Charles Griffith asked that the rough financial implications of the contract could be reviewed so that all board members have that information – saying that’s the minimum of what’s required to satisfy the board’s fiduciary responsibilities.
Ed Robertson, AATA’s human resources manager, reviewed for the board some highlights of the 4.5-year contract, which runs through June 30, 2017.
Bus drivers would receive $24.50 per hour in the first year of the contract, and a $0.50 per hour raise each year, except in the third year, when it would be $0.75 per hour. New hires after Jan. 1, 2013 would have a pay scale that is $3 per hour less than drivers who are currently employed.
Part-time employees – those who are scheduled between 15 and 35 hours per week – will pay 30% of their monthly premium cost of the official medical plan offered by AATA The total allowable number of part-time employees, as a percentage of all active employees in the union, will be 20% under the new contract. Under the old contract that percentage was 15%.
For full-time employees, they’ll pay 10% of the premium cost of the official medical plan in the first year of the contract, 15% in the second year and 20% in the fourth year of the contract.
Robertson said that there’s a slight increase in sick time of 4 hours per year, and for the first time it will be possible for employees to convert sick time to the health care savings plan.
Also, drivers who begin their shifts at the Blake Transit Center receive $7 in travel pay to reimburse them for the reasonable traveling expenses of beginning or ending their shifts at the BTC (rather than the AATA headquarters). That’s an increase from $5 per trip.
AATA controller Phil Webb indicated that the new contract would not have a significant effect on the overall financial picture. The budget had included a $0.25 per hour raise, but it turned out to be $0.50 per hour. That works out to an additional $60,000-$80,000 when you include fringe benefits based on wages, Webb explained.
The increase in compensation for trips between BTC and AATA headquarters has about a $50,000 impact, Webb said – at $2 more for about 25,000 such trips.
In the health care plan, the prescription drug coverage – which goes from copays of $10 for generic and $20 for name brand drugs to a $10 for generic and $40 for name brand – will save about $60,000 a year, Webb said.
Webb also pointed out the increased contributions from employees to their health care premiums would save money, but the AATA had budgeted for a bargaining position to be a 20% contribution. He observed that “we didn’t quite get there this first year.” That would also have a small impact, he said.
David Nacht noted that in the final three years of the contract, the AATA is increasing its contribution to the unionized workers’ pensions from 8% to 9%. Webb calculated that increase as an impact of about $60,000-$70,000 per year.
Outcome: The board voted to approve the labor agreements over dissent from Eli Cooper.
Resolution on Regional Transit Authority (RTA)
By way of general background, the new southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) was created in the lame duck state legislative session at the end of 2012. Its geographic region includes the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw, and is intended to coordinate regional public transportation initiatives. The governing board will consist of two appointees from each county, one appointee from Detroit, and one non-voting member appointed by the governor. Washtenaw County’s appointments – Richard “Murph” Murphy and Liz Gerber – were made by Conan Smith, then-chair of the Washtenaw County board, just before his term expired at the end of 2012.
There was widespread support for the concept of the RTA in Washtenaw County, but the specific implementation that included Washtenaw County at the outset – instead of at some later point – was something that was generally opposed.
Ann Arbor city council action on Dec. 10, 2012 opposing Washtenaw County’s inclusion echoed the sentiments of a resolution approved by the Washtenaw County board. The Ypsilanti city council is expected to consider a similar resolution at its Feb. 5 meeting.
A resolution of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, approved in February 2012, supported the concept of an RTA, but conditioned that support on the coordination of new funding so that existing levels of transportation services provided by the AATA are maintained.
The Michigan Public Transit Association was also opposed to the inclusion of Washtenaw County in the RTA. In an email responding to a query from The Chronicle, MPTA executive director Clark Harder wrote:
We supported the position of the AATA and Washtenaw County that they did not wish to be included in the RTA. We advocated this position to the Governor’s staff and initially they told us that they had no problem with AATA not being included. Later, as the legislation was in the final stages of going through the House, they backpedaled on that and informed us that AATA had to be part of the regional authority. Our position remained in support of the wishes of the local agency and the Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor city position.
And Michael Ford’s written report to the board details some of the efforts made by the AATA as the legislation was being moved through the legislature:
I met with former State Representative Mark Ouimet to propose an amendment to remove Washtenaw County from the RTA prior to the Senate vote. We also worked with the Michigan Public Transit Association, the Midwest Strategy Group and legal counsel on an impact analysis detailing the complexities of operation within a new authority. Despite our best efforts, the amendment was not introduced.
RTA: Urban Core
It’s not clear what the impact might be of the regional transit authority on existing efforts inside Washtenaw County to expand and increase transit services. Those efforts – which involved setting up a countywide Act 196 transit authority last year – were not tied to the RTA.
By way of background, when the Ann Arbor city council voted to opt out of the newly incorporated Act 196 authority late last year – effectively bringing to a close that particular approach to expanded transit services in Washtenaw County – direction was given to continue discussion with several communities immediately adjacent to Ann Arbor. The AATA has engaged in talks with communities about a new transit authority with possible members to include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Saline, as well as the townships of Pittsfield and Ypsilanti. Involvement with the townships of Superior and Ann Arbor is also a possibility.
During his oral report to the board on Jan. 17, CEO Michael Ford said that since mid-November the AATA had been working under the direction of the Ann Arbor city council’s resolution [passed on Nov. 8, 2012] and focused on planning expanded services in the “urban core communities.” That had included meetings with elected representatives of those communities, Ford said. AATA is in the process of scheduling meetings with Ann Arbor city council representatives.
The AATA’s role has changed, Ford said, in this new effort and “this new reality.” The AATA’s role had changed from taking the lead to providing more conceptual help and support for elected officials. But the AATA is committed to “linking arms” with urban core partners, Ford said. “It’s essential that the elected officials lead the process. It’s really important that these elected officials determine what their needs are for their communities, what level of service and funding they ultimately want to see happen.” Ford said that the discussions with the urban core communities centered around the 5-year service plan that was developed in conjunction with the transit master plan, to determine its relevance.
RTA: CEO’s Report
The topic of the RTA came up during CEO Michael Ford’s oral report to the board. He noted that the legislation was now law, having been signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 19, 2012. Washtenaw County has been included in the RTA area, he noted.
He’d meet with elected officials up until the day before the Michigan Senate vote on the bill. He’d worked with the Michigan Public Transit Association, the Midwest Strategy Group and the AATA’s legal counsel to understand the complexities of operating within the new RTA.
More recently, after the legislation was passed, he’d worked with Eli Cooper and mayor John Hieftje to document AATA’s concerns about being in the RTA. [Cooper, an AATA board member, is also transportation program manager for the city of Ann Arbor.] Last week, Cooper, Hieftje, and AATA board chair Charles Griffith had met with representatives of the governor’s office to outline the AATA’s concerns. Obviously, Ford said, additional legislation would be required if Washtenaw County were to be removed from the RTA.
In that context, Ford said, the AATA is taking the necessary steps to prepare for the RTA in Washtenaw County. That includes preparing educational materials for the RTA appointees and plans to meet with them formally very soon. Liz Gerber, one of the appointees and a University of Michigan professor of public policy, had stopped by and introduced herself in the previous week. Ford had also met with officials from SMART (the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) in an effort to be proactive with other RTA partners. A meeting with the Detroit Dept. of Transportation (DDOT) will also be scheduled.
Eli Cooper responded to Ford’s remarks about the talks with representative of urban core communities. He wondered if those talks had included discussion of the RTA. Ford indicated that had happened only on an educational level. Cooper asked if other counties, besides Washtenaw, had made appointments to the RTA board. Ford indicated that he thought there could be announcement of other appointments on Friday, Jan. 18. And AATA staffer Bill De Grott added that Gov. Snyder had appointed the ex officio non-voting member from the governor’s office. [Snyder's appointment is Paul Hillegonds, senior vice president of corporate affairs at DTE Energy, who will chair the RTA.]
RTA: Amending the Agenda
At the start of the meeting, Jesse Bernstein reported that he and Roger Kerson had put together the resolution on the RTA. Board chair Charles Griffith asked Bernstein if he wanted to add it to the agenda – and Bernstein indicated he did. Griffith ventured that a vote might be needed on that, and called for board members to indicate their support for adding it to the agenda by raising their right hands.
Outcome on adding RTA resolution to the agenda: The board voted to add the RTA resolution to the agenda over dissent from Eli Cooper.
RTA: Text of the Resolution
Jesse Bernstein read aloud the text of the resolution, which The Chronicle transcribed as follows:
In order to serve our region and provide service, and in the interest of regional connections and the stability of our operation, we offer this resolution to cooperate with the regional transit authority.
Whereas the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority provides transit service in the city of Ann Arbor and neighboring communities in Washtenaw County, is well-managed and fiscally sound and is known for exemplary performance, has an excellent track record of securing Federal Transit Administration assistance and working relationship with federal officials, and;
Whereas AATA has a significant interest to create regional connections and to ensure stability of operations, and;
Whereas the Michigan legislature passed SB 909 creating a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan, which includes Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, and;
Whereas the Ann Arbor city council passed resolution 12-1404 resolving that AATA is encouraged to continue to discuss regional transportation options among Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield Township and Scio Township, leading to a better understanding and process for improving local transit options, and;
Whereas the Ann Arbor city council passed resolution 12-1588, which outlined serious concerns regarding the inclusion of Washtenaw County and the AATA in the RTA, and;
Whereas the AATA has particular concerns in that the plan to be adopted by the RTA board does not include Washtenaw County, that the legislation requires an unreasonably high bar for rail projects, that there is an option but no assurance that the AATA be named the designated recipient for federal grants, and that the AATA is not assured of the direct receipt of Michigan Public Act 51 state operating assistance;
Therefore the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board resolves the following:
The AATA board requests that the RTA board to include the 30-year transit master plan (TMP) as the initial RTA plan for Washtenaw County.
The AATA board requests that the RTA board to give due consideration to rail projects on existing infrastructure when developing rapid transit corridors.
The AATA board requests that the RTA board enter into a memorandum of understanding to designate the AATA as the federal designated recipient this year and in perpetuity, and ensure that the AATA be the direct recipient of Michigan Public Act 51 state operating assistance.
The AATA board directs staff to meet and cooperate with the appointed RTA board members from Washtenaw County and RTA staff members to ensure stability of operations and create the most appropriate regional connections.
RTA: Board Deliberations
When the board came to the item on the agenda, a long pause ensued after Jesse Bernstein moved it. It threatened to die for lack of a second. But Sue Gott finally seconded it, saying she thought the board should at least talk about it.
Bernstein indicated that the topic had come up during the performance monitoring and external relations (PMER) committee meeting. The PMER committee decided that it would be good for the AATA to take a position of where it stood on the RTA, Bernstein said. Over the last year there’s been a lot of discussion about transit policy in the county and in the city. Often, the AATA has not been a part of it, he contended.
Bernstein felt the resolution would express the AATA’s concerns. Right now, he said, we’re dealing with a law that’s on the books. If the law is changed, the board could re-do its resolution. But right now, the RTA is what it is, and he did not think that the resolution could in any way undermine the AATA’s future involvement or non-involvement with the RTA. He and Roger Kerson had worked on it, Bernstein said, with some help from Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, AATA’s community outreach coordinator. Bernstein said the idea was to make a statement that says: If the RTA is going to be there, the AATA is going to cooperate with it, while recognizing the city of Ann Arbor’s concerns.
David Nacht, responding to the fact that the resolution had been moved out of the PMER committee, noted that he had not attended that PMER meeting. He’d supported amending the agenda so the board could discuss the resolution, because he agreed with Sue Gott when she’d said it’s worthy of discussion. However, it’s premature to pass a resolution on the RTA, he felt. First of all, he said, Washtenaw County has just appointed two members of the RTA board. He felt it would be most supportive of the AATA’s relationship with the new RTA entity to have consultations with the two appointees prior to passing any resolution. [Nacht had been one of five finalists interviewed to be Washtenaw County's appointee to the RTA board, and was the interview panel's consensus choice to be one of the two appointees. However, he was ultimately not appointed by Conan Smith, the county board's chair at the time.]
Even though the resolution talks about engaging the RTA board, it also gives the RTA board specific direction. And he believed that before passing a resolution giving them direction, the AATA board should have consultations with them.
Nacht also wanted the opinion of AATA’s legal counsel on the question of whether it would be lawful under the terms of the new RTA legislation to have an MOU (memorandum of understanding) that would allow the AATA to be the federal designated recipient. His preliminary understanding was that as a matter of state law, it’s not going to work that way – the AATA could have an MOU with the RTA, but the law is still the law. So Nacht wanted AATA legal counsel to tell the board what’s lawful and what’s not.
But most importantly, Nacht said, it’s just early. He thought everyone knew what the city’s position is and the AATA also had passed a resolution before the law was passed expressing similar concerns. So the AATA board is already on record as having some concerns. But now “we have this brand new law and we have this brand new entity and I just think we should slow down and have consultations and listen before we speak,” Nacht said. He would be willing to table the resolution but wasn’t inclined to do so – because under Robert’s Rules, such a motion isn’t subject to debate before voting on it. He said he didn’t want an up or down vote on the resolution, but rather just wanted to put it off.
Bernstein responded by saying that his understanding was that there’s no formal relationship between the Washtenaw County appointees to the RTA and the AATA. They were appointed by the chair of the county board of commissioners, he noted. Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, had been involved in the review, but the AATA board was not, Bernstein pointed out. [Ford had served on an interview panel to select the RTA appointees from Washtenaw County, though that panel's function was only to give input, not make a formal recommendation.]
The resolution says AATA wants to work with the RTA, Bernstein noted. The AATA board is responsible for a budget of around $30 million for an organization that has around 200 employees and a whole bunch of buses, he said. So it’s OK for the AATA to state a position that the AATA wants to be protected.
Responding to Nacht’s concern about what might be lawful or not to put into an MOU, Bernstein said Dennis Schornack – the governor’s special advisor on matters that include transportation – had repeatedly said that such an MOU was an option. “It’s not something we pulled out of the air,” Bernstein said. Now that the bill is passed and it’s law, and there’s a possibility of amending the law, he and Kerson felt the AATA board should make that statement – which he didn’t think puts anybody “against the wall.” The statement had to come from the AATA board, he said, because “the county has a stake and the city has a stake, and all the other governments have a stake, but we run the buses, and I think we should be able to say what we think should happen.”
Sue Gott indicated that she shared some of Nacht’s sentiments. She appreciated that the resolution was in front of the board because it’s an important topic to discuss. But she felt it was important to keep listening, so she was not prepared to vote it up or down and would support tabling it.
Eli Cooper told his board colleagues that “premature” is the one word he’d written in his notepad – shortly after he’d received a copy of the resolution at the start of the meeting. It’s why he’d objected to amending the agenda. He felt it’s important that the AATA understand that there’s a law – and that unless that law changes, there will be an RTA. He and many others who have been engaged in the conversations about the RTA have always been supportive of the concept of an RTA. But the devil is always in the details, he said. It’s absolutely premature at this time, when the AATA’s host and sponsoring municipality is formally on record asking for adjustments to the law that would allow Washtenaw County to be excluded.
Until such time that it’s deemed that “this is done,” and there’s no longer a policy discussion about the appropriateness of the RTA, Cooper didn’t think the board should pass such a resolution. Without going into the reasons that the Ann Arbor city council has taken the position that it has, there are sound reasons the council has taken that position, he said. There’s an obligation to listen carefully to the concerns of the city council. As long as there’s an opportunity to amend the law, taking a little pause to let the processes outside the RTA itself to run their course would allow the AATA eventually to create a resolution that is appropriate. So Cooper said he’d be pleased to support tabling.
Anya Dale asked if there was a sense of timing for seeking adjustment on the RTA legislation. Cooper ventured that prognosticating on politics is like prognosticating on who’s going to be in the Super Bowl. But Cooper felt there’s a certain “ripeness” to the discussion that’s ongoing – with the legislative officers who represent the county, the city and the state of Michigan – through the governor’s office. And Cooper felt there’s still an opportunity for an amendment. Ultimately, however, the legislature will vote on it or not, and Gov. Snyder will sign it or not. But there’s a clear public record of concern about the law that’s been passed, Cooper said, and it’s not yet time to say the AATA is just going to jump in – in his view.
Charles Griffith had also attended the meeting that CEO Michael Ford had reported on, attended by Cooper and representatives of the governor’s office. And Griffith indicated that the window of opportunity for amending the legislation was probably between now and the time the board is officially seated – which is within the first 90 days of the bill’s enactment. After that it would be much tougher, even though it would be legal to do, he said.
Griffith appreciated the spirit of the resolution and thought it reflected AATA’s actions to date. Introductions have been made with the two RTA appointees for Washtenaw and plans have been made to have consultations. And meetings are taking place between AATA and the other transit agencies in the RTA area. So he felt that the AATA’s actions reflect the spirit of the resolution. But he was not sure the resolution was needed in the short term.
Bernstein responded that it’s been clear since Snyder was elected that transit was part of his plan. Bernstein had attended meetings as president of the Ann Arbor Area chamber of commerce – he’d attended some of those early meetings to talk about what might happen. About a year ago, when the RTA was first proposed, the AATA was concerned and had spoken to as many people as they could to make sure that the AATA was not part of it in a way that could harm the AATA.
Bernstein contended that the Washtenaw County board took one position and the Ann Arbor city council took a different position. He said he was not sure what the county’s position is. He was not afraid to say as an AATA board member: This is what we’re going to do now. He felt that the resolution recognized all the issues that had been raised. He didn’t see the resolution as a problem. But he allowed that when he was done talking, there would be a motion to table, and that will pass and they would move on.
Cooper appreciated Bernstein’s point about potential confusion about where most of the county stood on the RTA issue, but he pointed out there’s a duly adopted resolution by both the county board and the city council that indicate a preference not to be part of the RTA, as is contemplated by the legislation. Cooper allowed there may be a difference of opinion across the county about the AATA’s countywide initiative, but on the RTA issue, the county board and the Ann Arbor city council are aligned, he said.
Looking around the table, Cooper felt it would perhaps be best if he made the motion to table – until the next meeting. Nacht ventured that it should simply be tabled with no time frame.
Outcome: The board voted to table the resolution, with Anya Dale and Jesse Bernstein opposed.
RTA: Report from the Local Advisory Council
In his report from the AATA’s local advisory council, Clark Charnetski noted that the group had spent some time talking about the RTA and its effect on southeast Michigan. He noted that the RTA would also have a citizens advisory council similar to that of the AATA, SMART and DDOT. He looked forward to seeing how that materializes. A lot has been heard about Washtenaw County pulling out of the RTA, but he thought there’s a lot that can be gained from the RTA.
RTA: Public Comment
At the conclusion of the meeting, during time set aside for public comment, Carolyn Grawi – director of advocacy and education at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living – wanted to remind the public of the ways to be involved with the RTA, through the RTA’s citizens advisory committee. As Washtenaw County residents, we need to make sure we’re represented well on that committee, she said. There’s a strong pool of people who were interested in applying to be appointed to the RTA board. [Grawi served on the interview panel for the five finalists seeking the Washtenaw County RTA appointments.] She felt that the RTA would, in fact, go forward by March. So she wanted to make sure that Washtenaw County’s voice is well represented – especially that of the disabled community and of seniors, which are called out specifically in the RTA legislation for membership on the citizens advisory council.
Revised FOIA Policy
The AATA board was asked to adopt a revised policy for responding to requests made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. [.pdf of revised FOIA policy] The new policy would replace the old one, which was approved on Feb. 16, 2004. [.pdf of old FOIA policy]
The old policy was brief (one-page) and essentially outlined how much would be charged for copies, for labor to retrieve records, and how much would be charged as a deposit. The new policy is more detailed, and specifies how requests are to be logged and documented by the FOIA coordinator, a form that requesters can use to request records, and an internal form that is to be used by staff to calculate costs associated with fulfilling a request. AATA’s FOIA coordinator is deputy director of the AATA, Dawn Gabay.
The city of Ann Arbor’s administrative policy is somewhat more detailed than the AATA’s revised policy. [.pdf of city of Ann Arbor policy]
FOIA Policy: Board Deliberations
David Nacht asked if the AATA had received comments from the press or the AATA’s regular critics who might use the FOIA policy and procedures on their ability to get information from the AATA.
Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, contended that the AATA had been very transparent about providing information, saying that the AATA tried to work with requesters who seek information. What had come up, he said, were requests that require an abundance of staff time that would require several weeks of work to deal with. So the AATA had needed to create a policy that’s more comprehensive. The old policy was outdated, Ford said, and now was an opportunity to clean up and enhance it, to make the policy a little bit more robust.
Sue Gott underscored Ford’s comments about transparency, saying it’s important to provide information to people when they request it. The planning and development committee had discussed putting as much information on the AATA’s website as possible, to minimize the need for people to make requests under the FOIA. That’s what staff has tried to do, she said, and there’s a continued commitment to make information available proactively to the extent that it doesn’t require extensive staff time, or divert staff time away from its core responsibility.
Eli Cooper asked for clarification of what’s new in the policy as compared to the old policy.
For AATA staff, Bill De Groot explained to Cooper that the pre-existing policy dealt mainly with the cost rationale. The new policy adds elements that deal with the review process, he said. The changes that have been suggested were reviewed by AATA legal counsel, De Groot said.
Cooper indicated that his understanding of the Michigan FOIA was that it allowed for works in progress and drafts that aren’t finalized to be withheld from production. By way of background the clause in the Michigan FOIA Cooper was citing allows for a public body to withhold records requested under the FOIA:
Communications and notes within a public body or between public bodies of an advisory nature to the extent that they cover other than purely factual materials and are preliminary to a final agency determination of policy or action. This exemption does not apply unless the public body shows that in the particular instance the public interest in encouraging frank communication between officials and employees of public bodies clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
So Cooper wanted to know if there’s a reason that’s not been mentioned explicitly in the policy. Cooper wondered if it might be in the interest of the AATA to include in the policy those kinds of materials that are subject to disclosure under the FOIA and those that aren’t.
David Nacht felt that the policy references the FOIA and that the policy shouldn’t necessarily identify what the AATA would or would not turn over, given the current state of the law – including legislative changes that might be made or legal cases that might change the case law. Instead, Nacht said, the AATA would comply with the law, whatever if it is at the time of a request, and if the FOIA doesn’t apply, the AATA would tell the requester that it doesn’t apply.
Gott asked that the board be kept informed about any “glitches” that might be encountered with the new policy. Charles Griffith felt that the pre-existing policy was not really much of a policy.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to adopt the new FOIA policy.
AATA Adopts 2013-17 Categorical Grant Program
The board was asked to adopt formally a capital and categorical grant program for the AATA. Having in place such a grant program – a set of allocations for specific categories of capital expenditures – is a requirement to be eligible for federal funding. It’s a plan for how $44 million would be spent over the next five years. [.pdf of grant program]
For example, this year the program includes 11 replacement buses, five buses for expanded service and 25 vans for the van pool program. Two of the new buses for expanded service are related to increased frequency of service on Route #5. Notable in the program is that except for $20,000 allocated in 2014, no funds are programmed for dedicated park-and-ride lots. Based on minutes from the Jan. 10, 2013 meeting of the board’s planning and development committee, the lack of funding for park-and-ride lots drew concern from AATA board member Eli Cooper, who is also the transportation program manager for the city of Ann Arbor.
Grant Program: Board Deliberations
Sue Gott introduced the resolution, as chair of the planning and development committee (PDC). She reported that the committee had spent three months going through it and had asked a number of questions. She indicated that if the full board wanted more detail, then AATA manager of service development Chris White could expand on the information. She indicated that the committee is comfortable with the program.
Gott thanked AATA staff for the time they devoted to answering questions from the committee.
Eli Cooper echoed the thanks to staff offered by Gott, saying that staff had done a wonderful job. He stressed that the program of grants was based on work the AATA had done historically – and that this program is at the core of concern about the regional transit authority (RTA). It’s based on expected revenues and funding sources, and it reflects the long-held commitment to maintenance of a sufficient bus fleet, he said. This kind of funding program is at grave risk, given the composition of the statute that flies by the letters RTA, he said.
Cooper said he hoped the AATA interest and intent is not upset by a higher-level body – a reference to the RTA. Jesse Bernstein indicated support for Cooper’s sentiments with an “Amen!”
David Nacht, noting that he’d sat on the PDC for a number of years, observed that the idea behind the capital and categorical grant program is to anticipate and to plan for projects that require capital dollars. The AATA anticipates federal funds that can be allocated, Nacht continued, as well as other funding sources that might be available. The AATA’s transit master plan (TMP) was predicated on becoming a countywide system, Nacht said. The AATA still has a TMP, but doesn’t have a funding source to go beyond the AATA, Nacht said. He noted that the AATA has already made modest expansions in service in anticipation of additional countywide funding. He ventured that some additional funding might come from the urban core expansion, but perhaps it would not.
Nacht indicated that the capital and categorical grant program likely was created with the TMP in mind. He said the AATA needs to be able to amend the document to reflect actual operational requirements. In the past, the AATA could move things around “from this box to that box.” Nacht wanted confirmation that the AATA would still have this kind of flexibility. Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, replied that the capital and categorical grant program did not incorporate a countywide expansion of service – that’s been removed, he said. White noted that the new Blake Transit Center, which is now under construction, is included in the plan.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the capital and categorical grant program.
Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights.
As part of his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford provided positive news on ridership generally. He noted that the AirRide service – which runs hourly between downtown Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit airport – had 1,920 passengers for the week of Dec. 16. The service has been averaging around 1,000 passengers a week. The ridership has been strong enough on AirRide that under terms of the AATA’s contract with Michigan Flyer, no payment was owed for October, November or December, and January looked promising as well, Ford said.
The first quarter of the fiscal year – which starts in October for the AATA – had shown record productivity, Ford said, with 34.6 passenger per service hour. That translated into 1.7 million rides, which is also the highest of any quarter in AATA history, Ford said.
Comm/Comm: Fare Revenue?
Board treasurer David Nacht pointed out that despite the very strong ridership numbers, this was not matched by a corresponding increase in passenger fare revenue. Nacht reported that in his capacity as treasurer, he’d met with AATA controller Phil Webb, and asked Webb to come up with a prediction on the budget, to come up with potential budget cuts and to present that to the board’s governance committee. That’s because the board is not in a position this year to just swallow significant declines in revenue.
CEO Michael Ford noted that he’d also talked to Webb about the issue, and that it’s important to understand why there’s a disparity between increased ridership and increased passenger fare revenue.
Commenting on the flattening of fare revenue, despite increased ridership, Jesse Bernstein offered that one theory is that the ridership gains are taking place among the rider groups that board AATA buses under fare agreements – for example, the getDowntown’s go!pass program or the University of Michigan’s M-Ride. He said that the AATA needed to go back to those partners and show them the data, and figure out how to make it work going forward.
[Notes to the December operating statement indicate that fares are under budget mainly for cash collections in the farebox. Compared to last year, fare revenues are 3.9% less than last year.] [.pdf of operating statement] [.pdf of notes on operating statement] [.pdf of treasurer's report]
Comm/Comm: Lost State Operating Assistance
As a part of the CEO’s report to the board, Michael Ford noted that the AATA continues to pursue $800,000 in state operating assistance that was lost for this budget year, as the result of a funding formula being applied that was sensitive to budget reductions by Detroit transit authorities. Ford said that in discussion with the governor’s office, the AATA had received an assurance that the money would be forthcoming. The Michigan Public Transit Association has been a champion for restoration of that funding, Ford said.
Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center
As part of his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford gave an update on construction progress for the downtown Blake Transit Center. The canopy has been removed and the site is being prepared for construction. It would take 3-4 weeks to put the earth retention system in place, and then foundations and walls will be poured. Ford noted that the physical work is apparent, but he pointed out that behind the scenes a lot of work had been taking place dealing with utilities and contractors. The construction is still on course and is scheduled to be done in mid-September this year, Ford said.
During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that a working group with the Ann Arbor Public Schools had completed its work. The group had recommended more AATA routes for students, with the addition of middle schools in the future.
Comm/Comm: New Website
As part of his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford mentioned that the AATA’s new website would be moving to a phase where people external to the AATA would be testing out functionality.
CEO Michael Ford gave an update on the connector study of preferred alternatives. [It's an effort that’s exploring alternatives for high-capacity transit in a corridor that swoops in a boomerang shape from the northeast part of Ann Arbor to the south. The corridor runs from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. A feasibility study has already been completed. This alternatives analysis phase of the study will result in identifying a preferred mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and the location of stations and stops.]
Ford reported that six public outreach sessions had been conducted so far – where people had been asked to indicate where they go most frequently and what their mode preference is. The website for the project is aaconnector.com.
Comm/Comm: Request for Extended Service
During his turn at public commentary, Christopher Potter told the board they might know who he is – as he worked for the Ann Arbor News for about 20 years in a writing capacity. [Potter was a film critic for The News.] About two and half years ago he’d given up driving, he said, because he was just tired of it. He decided he would rely on his own feet and the transit system. And he’d found the AATA to be a wonderful operation. The buses are almost always on time, they’re comfortable, and the drivers are courteous. Potter said he had few complaints, if any. But one thing that does bug him – and many others, he said – is the fact that on the weekend, the services drops off. After 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday there’s no service at all, he said. He wondered if there was any hope on the horizon for extended weekend service.
Sue Gott asked that AATA staff respond to Potter’s commentary at the next board meeting so that the rest of the board could hear the answer. David Nacht ventured that it would be helpful to know if Potter lives within the city limits, noting there are services available to those who live in the city that aren’t otherwise available.
Comm/Comm: Title 6 Compliance
During public commentary, Jim Mogensen wanted to acknowledge the Title 6 analysis that had been done on the Route #5 changes. He wanted to make sure that people were aware that the “urban core” transit plan would need to have a Title 6 review – and because it might involve reduction in service, it could be more complicated.
He also pointed out that there’s an April 2013 Federal Transit Administration deadline for a three-year plan that includes a public input process. He wanted to make sure that the AATA is aware of that and to make sure that happens. He didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle.
Comm/Comm: Countywide Expansion, Theft
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County resident. He called on the AATA board to declare its independence from all other government bodies in the county and to change its name and charter to become a transportation authority for the Washtenaw County Ride Authority.
At the concluding opportunity for public commentary, Partridge told the board that for over a decade he’d been an advocate for the most vulnerable. He called on the AATA to transform itself from a limited vision to a countywide transportation system. He also called on the board to stop the theft of property from disabled people and seniors who use the AATA. He contended that people had stolen his notes.
Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Anya Dale.
Absent: Roger Kerson.
Next regular meeting: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
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