Ypsilanti a Topic for AATA Planning Retreat

Board bids farewell to Bernstein; discusses implications of regional transit authority on local operations; plans for annual retreat

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 16, 2013): Possible membership for the city of Ypsilanti in the AATA was a main theme of the board’s monthly meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber addressed the board at its May 16 meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber addressed the AATA board at its May 16 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the meeting in support of the city’s request for membership, and the board unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the request. The resolution also directed staff to prepare for a detailed discussion on the issue at the board’s planning retreat, scheduled for May 22. Board members were positively inclined toward the request, but wanted to be sure that due diligence is done to ensure all the implications are understood.

Because the addition of the city of Ypsilanti would require revision to the AATA’s articles of incorporation, there’s some interest by some board members in approaching the changes in a way that could accommodate the addition of more members than just the city of Ypsilanti. It’s possible that Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township or other jurisdictions might request membership in the near future. A more comprehensive approach to revising the articles, or delaying until all jurisdictions are admitted to the AATA at one time, could eliminate the need to revise the articles multiple times in quick succession.

The possible membership of Ypsilanti in the AATA is part of an effort to continue working with “urban core” communities in the immediate Ann Arbor area – after a more ambitious effort to extend AATA governance and services countywide in the summer of 2012 failed to gain traction.

A revision to the articles of incorporation would likely include a change in the AATA board membership structure. Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje had indicated he’d support adding two seats to the current seven-member board, with one of the two additional seats to be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

Related to board membership, the May 16 meeting included a resolution of appreciation for the service of Jesse Bernstein on the board. He concluded a five-year term of service in April. Susan Baskett, currently an AAPS trustee, has been nominated as his replacement on the board. If she’s confirmed at the Ann Arbor city council’s May 20 meeting, she’ll join Eric Mahler as another new appointment. Mahler’s appointment to replace David Nacht was subjected to political wrangling at the council’s May 13 session, but he was confirmed on a 7-4 vote.

Ypsilanti Membership in AATA

The board was asked to consider a formal resolution acknowledging a request from the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA.

By way of background, at the Ypsilanti city council’s April 23 meeting, councilmembers had made a formal request to join the AATA under the transit authority’s existing enabling legislation – Act 55 of 1963. For the city of Ypsilanti, joining the AATA represents a new way to generate more funding for transportation. Because the city already levies property taxes at the state constitutional limit of 20 mills, the city itself can’t add an additional tax burden.

But the AATA could ask voters of all member jurisdictions to approve a levy of its own – something that it currently does not do. And that would not count against the 20-mill state constitutional limit that Ypsilanti already levies. The city of Ypsilanti and the city of Ann Arbor each have a millage dedicated to transit, which is not levied by the AATA itself.

Adding Ypsilanti to the AATA would also require the cooperation of the Ann Arbor city council – to amend the AATA’s articles of incorporation. At a meeting of the urban core communities held on April 25, 2013, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje indicated his support for the idea, suggesting that the seven-member AATA board could be expanded to nine seats, one of which would be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

Meetings among nearby surrounding jurisdictions – including the cities of Ypsilanti and Saline, and the townships of Ypsilanti and Pittsfield – have continued after the demise of an effort in 2012 to expand the AATA’s service and governance area to the entire county. The smaller group of government units has been presented with a set of increased services and various funding and governance options. Among those options is the possibility of Ypsilanti and other nearby jurisdictions joining the AATA.

At the May 7, 2013 meeting of the AATA board’s planning and development committee, a rough outline of possible steps toward Ypsilanti’s membership was discussed. From the committee minutes:

  • Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber would meet with the Ann Arbor city council to discuss the request to join the Authority;
  • AATA would then adopt a resolution supporting Ypsilanti’s request and send it to the Ann Arbor city council;
  • The Articles of Incorporation would need to be modified to include Ypsilanti, and then be sent to City Council;
  • AATA would then ask the City Council to approve and file the Articles of Incorporation.

Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: Mayor Schreiber

During the public commentary period at the start of the meeting, city of Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber told the board he was there for a couple of reasons. First he noted that the Ypsilanti city council had unanimously passed a resolution requesting membership in the AATA. He appreciated the resolution on the AATA board’s agenda saying the AATA had received the request. There are a number of things that indicate Ypsilanti is very serious about being a partner in transit. The request for membership in the AATA is just one of those indications, he said.

What membership does for Ypsilanti is to make Ypsilanti a “player,” and what it does for the AATA board, he continued, is to give the AATA a stake in the eastern side of Washtenaw County. He noted that the AATA had been working hard over the last couple of years toward becoming more of a regional authority. Schreiber felt that Ypsilanti’s membership would be a small but solid step toward AATA being a regional authority. So he hoped that the AATA would accept the request for Ypsilanti’s membership. The diversification of the AATA with the addition of Ypsilanti, Schreiber said, will help “move the ball along” with other communities and really help create some momentum toward transit improvements.

Schreiber also noted that earlier that day, the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority board had passed a resolution allocating $20,000 to improvements at the Ypsilanti downtown transit center. Compared to the Ann Arbor DDA, he allowed, $20,000 might not seem like very much, but it’s 4% of the Ypsilanti DDA’s annual budget. That, along with the 3-to-1 margin of voter approval for Ypsilanti’s dedicated transit millage in 2010, were signs that Ypsilanti is very serious. He looked forward to working with the AATA board to make a stronger and more regional AATA.

Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: PDC Committee Response

In her report out from the planning and development committee, Sue Gott said the committee had discussed the Ypsilanti resolution. She felt she spoke for her colleagues when she said they were all pleased and felt positive about the resolution and moving in that direction. However, committee members wanted more information and background to make a careful fiduciary decision when it comes to proposing board action.

Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: CEO’s Response

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford thanked the Ypsilanti DDA for the $20,000 contribution to the Ypsilanti transit center and thanked Schreiber for Ypsilanti’s request to join the AATA. He noted that the governance committee of the AATA board had met to discuss Ypsilanti’s membership. He noted that there would be more discussion of that at the board’s retreat the following week, on May 22.

Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: Board Deliberations

Charles Griffith said that while the AATA is very interested in Ypsilanti’s membership and thinks very positively about it, there are still some questions that need to be addressed and talked about during the board retreat the following week. Griffith said the AATA also wants to have more discussion with other community partners who are in various stages of interest in terms of joining the AATA. [For example, Ypsilanti Township might be interested but township officials have indicated that the timing might not be right.] Griffith felt the resolution being considered by the board gave a good sense of the AATA’s interest and intent.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Roger Kerson

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Roger Kerson.

Roger Kerson appreciated Schreiber and his colleagues putting the issue on the AATA’s agenda. Kerson called it reflective of the discussion over time – about how to expand the AATA’s service and how to meet the community’s needs of getting people to work, school and shopping areas. Kerson called the conversation about the addition of Ypsilanti consistent with the Ann Arbor city council mandate to continue the AATA’s discussion with surrounding communities.

Eli Cooper added his thanks to Schreiber and the Ypsilanti city council, and echoed what Griffith and Kerson had said. It’s important to note that “Travel does not respect jurisdictional boundaries,” he said. He said the consideration of adding Ypsilanti as a member was a giant step forward. The Ann Arbor area needs a strong transportation system and the idea of acknowledging the request and getting a better understanding of what it means to everyone is fundamentally important, he said. It’s important that as the AATA grows, it grows properly. Growth should take place with the right thought in mind and with the support of all involved parties, Cooper said. He’d be supporting the resolution and looked forward to the more detailed discussion that would follow. “It’s an exciting moment in time when we have a community wanting to join us and that we can make sure that we’re doing it in the best way possible,” Cooper concluded.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution acknowledging the city of Ypsilanti’s request to join the AATA.

Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: Schreiber – Coda

Schreiber followed up with a turn at public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, saying he appreciated the board’s unanimous support in acknowledgment of Ypsilanti’s request. He reiterated the point that Ypsilanti had pledged the full transit millage to the AATA, which voters passed by a 3-to-1 margin in 2010. There’s due diligence that needs to be done to determine what the future looks like with Ypsilanti as a member, he allowed. Schreiber thought that adding more transit will cause property values to go up, and therefore the revenue from Ypsilanti’s transit millage would increase.

Farewell to Bernstein

AATA board member Jesse Bernstein attended his final regular meeting of the board on April 18, 2013. At the May 16 meeting, his former board colleagues approved a resolution acknowledging his five-year term of service, which began on June 16, 2008. Bernstein was not able to attend the meeting.

The resolution of appreciation approved by the board highlighted Bernstein’s turn as chair of the board, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee, and the executive search committee that resulted in the hire of CEO Michael Ford. The resolution also called out his role in the development of the AATA’s transit master plan and his service as chair of the unincorporated Act 196 authority board, which was part of an effort that culminated in the incorporation of that authority as The Washtenaw Ride, in the summer of 2012.

The Washtenaw Ride was an effort that ultimately found almost no traction, as municipalities across the county exercised their right under Act 196 to opt out of the authority after it was incorporated. The city of Ann Arbor, which had been expected to lead the countywide effort, opted out at the Nov. 8, 2012 meeting of the city council. Since that time, a more limited geographic focus on the “urban core” communities has resulted in a formal request from the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA.

Board chair Charles Griffith noted at the May 16 board meeting that Susan Baskett has been nominated by mayor John Hieftje as Bernstein’s replacement on the AATA board. Baskett currently serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an elected position. The city council will be asked to confirm Baskett’s appointment at its May 20 meeting.

It’s possible that her appointment could be subjected to debate by the council. On May 13, the council approved Eric Mahler as David Nacht’s replacement on the AATA board on a 7-4 vote. Compared to typical votes on appointments, which are often unanimous, Mahler’s appointment was confirmed by a relatively narrow margin. At the May 16 board meeting, Griffith noted that Mahler had been confirmed by the city council, but Griffith didn’t remark on the dissenting vote.

The reasons given by dissenters for voting against Mahler included the idea that it’s important to widen the pool of members across all city boards. Mahler is finishing his second three-year term on the city planning commission – but he will not continue in that role. Dissenters also alluded to an alternate candidate they felt could represent the disability community better than Mahler.

The alternate candidate, LuAnne Bullington, has been a vocal critic of the AATA’s efforts to develop regional rail connections. The council’s debate, however, seemed focused more on issues of board candidates’ status as minorities or members of the disability community. Mahler and Baskett are both African American. Bullington is visually impaired.

Mahler was not able to attend his first scheduled meeting on May 16 due to illness, according to AATA staff.

Farewell to Bernstein: Board Remarks

After reading aloud the resolution acknowledging Jesse Bernstein’s service, board chair Charles Griffith said he was sorry Bernstein couldn’t be there to hear it. Bernstein had really committed a lot to the AATA, he said. Griffith really appreciated Bernstein’s leadership and appreciated serving on the board with him.

Roger Kerson said he appreciated Bernstein’s leadership, guidance and wisdom. When he reported out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee earlier in the meeting, Kerson said he missed the other two committee members Jesse Bernstein and David Nacht, who have now left the board. He quipped that he hadn’t needed his referee’s whistle at the most recent committee meeting, which consisted only of himself.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution of appreciation for Bernstein’s service.

Regional Transit Authority

The southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA), created at the end of 2012 during the lame duck session of the state legislature, was a topic that threaded through several points of the board’s discussion. The RTA includes Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, and the city of Detroit.

RTA: Source of Funding – LBO

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford said that the committees of the newly formed regional transit authority (RTA) were now active. The AATA had a presence at all the committees. He said that the RTA’s budget and finance committee was considering use of the state’s local bus operating (LBO) assistance to fund the RTA’s administrative operations. The AATA had received written notice about that from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT), which indicated that less than 2% of operating expenses for the region might be sought. On May 29, AATA would be appearing before that RTA committee to report how the RTA’s use of those LBO funds would affect AATA’s operations.

In his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that the RTA did need some kind of funding source. It’s still not clear how that’s going to work out. The AATA would continue to monitor whether the RTA would receive a small portion of what the AATA would ordinarily receive, and if that would wind up in the RTA’s coffers. He noted that it was important that the AATA is represented in all of the RTA’s committee structures.

Also during his report to the board, Ford said that language was being finalized in a state funding bill that would restore funding from the LBO that the AATA had lost last year, which had resulted in the AATA revising its budget to accommodate about $800,000 less in revenues. Ford said at the May 16 meeting that there’s currently a funding bill that would restore funding to the 30.6% level – which would return $800,000 to $900,000 to the AATA. It’s hoped that the bill would start to move through the legislature this week and that action would be taken on it before the recess in June, he said. [The AATA is currently maintaining slightly less than the 3-month operating reserve it's supposed to maintain. A recovery of $800,000 would bring those operating reserve levels back in line – the amount needed to conform with that policy is around $230,000.]

Eli Cooper observed that there was an ebb and flow of funding from the state. On the one hand, the AATA was hearing about the restoration of state funds from last year, but at the same time they were hearing that funds from that same funding source might be “re-guided” to the RTA. He wanted to know if the combined mathematics worked out as more for the AATA or less going forward.

AATA staff member Bill De Groot told Cooper that right now it’s difficult to say – given the difference in time between the approval of Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget and the RTA’s initial discussion. He said more would be known in the next two weeks.

Cooper observed that the AATA had tried to tighten its belt in order to provide service to the Ann Arbor community with the resources it has.

RTA: Commuter Express Service

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations, Roger Kerson said the AATA is continuing to look at funding options for its commuter express services from Chelsea and Canton. The AATA does not want to continue to offer the service without additional financial support from the communities where the service is originating. Kerson reported that the AATA has heard from Canton that they’re not interested in participating. The service needs to be self-supporting rather than being subsidized by Ann Arbor taxpayers, Kerson said.

Eli Cooper linked the RTA issue with Kerson’s report about Canton, saying that the RTA had been designed as a way to support inter-community transportation. He asked that AATA staff inquire whether RTA were a resource available to assure that there’s a cost-competitive and proactive stance to moving people from one part of the region to another. As the RTA looks for things that it can do, the express commuter service is perhaps something it could do. The AATA’s operation of the service, he said, has a fare-box recovery ratio of about double what the regular fixed-route service has. He called it a difficult policy decision to put an increased burden on the backs of the ridership.

Ford assured Cooper that this kind of conversation with the RTA was high on the AATA staff’s agenda.

Sue Gott picked up on Cooper’s remarks by linking back to a request she’d made earlier in the meeting for a clearer understanding of staff work load. She contrasted staff time invested in transportation service versus administrative activity. What she was hearing indicated a lot of demand for administrative staff time with respect to the RTA. She was concerned about not redirecting valuable and precious staff time away from other important duties. Ford indicated that he thought it was appropriate for the AATA to be represented at all the RTA committee meetings, but would provide Gott with a more detailed breakdown.

RTA: Citizens Advisory Committee

Board chair Charles Griffith noted that the RTA’s citizens advisory committee is being formed and inquired if there were a list of possible candidates. Ford told Griffith that there was some kind of list.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its May 16 meeting, the AATA 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.

Comm/Comm: Board Retreat

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford highlighted the AATA board’s annual retreat, which will take place on May 22.

AATA board member Sue Gott and CEO Michael Ford talked before the start of the May 16, 2013 meeting.

AATA board member Sue Gott and CEO Michael Ford talked before the start of the May 16, 2013 meeting.

That retreat will take place at 12:30-5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express (Gresham Room), 600 Briarwood Circle. Ford said he expected a “robust exchange” among board members. He asked everyone to be ready to start at 12:30 p.m.

In her report out from the planning and development committee, Sue Gott put forward the idea that part of the discussion during the board retreat should include workload projections and costs associated with various activities. She wanted to see several ways of balancing workload and priorities that staff could provide.

The planning and development committee had talked to the retreat facilitator about prioritizing 2014 initiatives – beginning with existing customers and customer experience. [The facilitator for the retreat is Julia Novak, who also performed that function at the Ann Arbor city council's December 2012 retreat.]

Comm/Comm: Next Urban Core Meeting

Ford described a successful meeting of the “urban core” on April 25. That had included discussion of the city of Ypsilanti’s request to become a member of the AATA. The next meeting of that urban core group will take place on June 27 at Pittsfield Township hall, starting at 4 p.m., Ford said.

Comm/Comm: Consolidation of Planning Project Meetings

Ford also noted that in April there had been a suggestion to try to combine some of the community meetings – to address some of the fatigue that people might be experiencing about attending meetings.

So on June 18, he said, a meeting with an open house format will be held from 5-8 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library covering several projects: the connector study (from US-23 and Plymouth, through downtown Ann Arbor, southward along State Street to I-94), WALLY (north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Livingston County) and the ReImagine Washtenaw project (a planning focus on Washtenaw Avenue between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti).

Ford also gave brief updates on each of those projects. The number of alternatives for the ReImagine Washtenaw project had been reduced from six to three, which would be presented on June 18. Ford also reported some renewed interest in WALLY from Livingston County officials. Station design work continues for that effort, he said.

Comm/Comm: AirRide

During his report to the board, Ford gave an update on AirRide. It’s a service the AATA contracts with Michigan Flyer to provide transportation between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport. For the week of April 28, Ford said 1,657 passengers had ridden the service, which was the second-highest ridership of any week since the service was launched a year ago.

Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center Construction

Ford also gave an update on the construction of the new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, on the block between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The footings are done, with the next step being the foundation walls. Utility work on site has started, which has resulted in displacement of several buses from Fourth Avenue to Liberty. Ford expressed his appreciation for the collaboration of city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor police department, the federal building, Ann Arbor District Library and the Ann Arbor DDA.

According to community relations manager Mary Stasiak, the basement of the building, which is now apparent on the site, will house a gray water cistern, boilers, and IT infrastructure.

Comm/Comm: New AATA Website

Ford reported that the AATA’s new website would go live on May 23.

Comm/Comm: Service Changes

Ford noted that input is being sought this month on service changes for some routes, with board action requested in June.

In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson described the proposed service changes. For routes that are more congested, the intent is to make adjustments to make them faster. There’s a bus stop in the Briarwood Mall area that has to be changed. For Route 12B, the service is supposed to be spread out. The AATA is also looking at adjustments to NightRide, because it’s stretching capacity.

Comm/Comm: Finances

Kerson characterized the AATA’s finances as in good shape. Ridership is up and continues to increase, though not as much as in the previous year, which had been record-setting. Cash fares are over budget, he said. Costs for marketing and public relations are lower – because the costs associated with the urban core conversations are lower than what had been budgeted for a countywide initiative. Kerson ventured that the projected deficit may be whittled away.

Comm/Comm: Title VI

Jim Mogensen addressed the board at the second public commentary time of the meeting, speaking on the topic of Title VI.

Jim Mogensen addressed the AATA board on the topic of Title VI compliance.

Jim Mogensen addressed the AATA board on the topic of Title VI compliance.

He reminded board members that he’d talked to them over a long period of time about his concerns regarding Title VI. [At the March 21, 2013 board meeting, CEO Michael Ford had acknowledged that the AATA had been given a due date of Nov. 1, 2014 to submit documentation to the Federal Transit Administration to demonstrate compliance with Title VI – that there is no discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, low-income persons, or persons with limited English proficiency.]

Title VI needs to be a consideration as the AATA thinks about how to incorporate Ypsilanti into the AATA system. His position is that the fixed route system is the AATA’s system – not a system belonging to the various municipalities.

So the AATA needs to think that through. He held up a CD which he said was all the AATA route information in a computerized GIS format, and he noted that he had census data. He just wanted to let the board know that he’s really serious about the need for Title VI compliance.

Present: Charles Griffith, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.

Absent: Eric Mahler.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, June 20, 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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  1. By Mark Koroi
    May 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    One thing I have been seeing that is conspicuously absent from meeting discusions of the AATA is public discourse on the ongoing American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the AATA that is being paid by taxpayer dollarsand AATA revenues.

    The AATA had paid over $6,900.00 for the first month of legal representation by just one law firm. The AATA has retained two law firms and an expert witness, Aaron Ahuvia, who has been compensated at the rate of $250.00 per hour.

    There have been possible conflict of interest issues noted by two journalists – Dave Askins and Pat Lesko.

    Dave Askins had noted that AATA board memebr David Nacht is an ACLU member. As such, his loyalty to ACLU’s lofty goals could conceivably compromise his decision-making process – even subconciously.

    Pat Lesko had noted in her A2Politico.com blog, also, that some of the key players in the AATA defense team all attended the same synagogue, and wondered if this influenced the decision who was retained to defend the AATA. She questioned whether Aaron Ahuvia, a business professor at the University of Michigan campus in Dearborn, was actually necessary as an expert witness – and noted that AATA defense attorney Jerry Lax attended the same synagogue as Dr. Ahuvia as did AATA board member David Nacht. Ms. Lesko did not question the merits of the suit or the advisability of defending it – only that there were potential conflict of interest issues that needed to be explored.

    I have also, in a prior post noted that Dr. Ahuvia has given public lecture commentary on the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and is a strong proponent of two-state solution and has decried the escalation of Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank – I have attended one of the lectures that included him as a speaker. This position places him at odds with both the plaintiff in the ACLU suit – Blaine Coleman (who advocates a Palestinian state and dissolution of Israel)and the message of the ad at issue (“Boycott ‘Israel’”).

    The ACLU has already prevailed in its attempts to obtain a preliminary injunction against the AATA and United States District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith has ruled that certain aspects of AATA ad guidlines violated the First Amendment. These limited victories, I expect, will allow the ACLU to, in all likelihood, eventually receive an award of attorney fees and costs under Chapter 42, Section 1988 of the United States Code as a prevailing plaintiff under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1871. These amounts could be astronomical given the intensity of the federal court litigation.

    The AATA has a $50,000.00 legal cost deductible with its liability insurance carrier. The reason that the liability insurer is involved is that Mr. Coleman seeks monetary damages in addition to prospective injunctive relief. Once the deductible is exhausted – which may have occurred already – the liability carrier will bear the expenses of the Maddin Hauser Wartell firm it has appointed to defend the case. It is unclear who is picking up the fees and costs of AATA co-defense counsel Jerry Lax, but I suspect it has been the AATA directly. I question the necessity of two separate law firms defending this suit. The AATA may also bear the cost of insurance liability insurance premiums after this case concludes.

    I am not alone in criticizing the AATA for defending this case. David Cahill, a U-M Law School grad who has litigated constitutional law issues in Ann Arbor for decades, has recommended that the AATA allow Mr. Colman’s 1,700.00 ad on city buses.

    The AATA should work on a settlement with the ACLU ASAP.

  2. May 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm | permalink

    Re [1]: “One thing I have been seeing that is conspicuously absent from meeting discusions of the AATA is public discourse on the ongoing American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit”

    While it’s true that it’s ongoing, nothing has happened in a few months – since Feb. 4, 2013.

    The court had asked both parties to file briefs on the question of whether the AATA’s revised ad policy amounted to adequate relief to the plaintiff, after the court had found that the AATA’s original ad policy – under which Coleman’s ad was rejected – was unconstitutional. After revising the ad policy to avoid the constitutional issue the court had identified, the AATA reconsidered and rejected the ad again. At that point the court asked the parties to file briefs explaining their views about whether the new ad policy and re-review was adequate relief for the preliminary injunction phase of the case.

    Not surprisingly, the AATA argued this was adequate relief. Coleman and the ACLU argued that it was not adequate as relief, and that the AATA should be compelled to place the ad. But in connection with those filings, the AATA wanted to submit a supplemental brief responding to the ACLU’s brief. On Feb. 4, the court informed the parties that it would not be hearing oral arguments on the question of whether the AATA should be allowed to file its supplemental brief. But the court still hasn’t ruled on that question of the supplemental brief.

    And that’s where the history ends.

    Related to that, the AATA’s new advertising contractor (CBS Outdoor) – the vendor who sells ads on behalf of the AATA – seems to be having more success than the previous vendor. The net revenue to the AATA from that contract looks to be on track to total in the ballpark of $200,000 in its first year – as opposed to $80,000 or so previously.

  3. By James Jefferson
    May 18, 2013 at 8:27 pm | permalink

    I hope to hear some more vigorous debate on the appointment of Ms. Baskett to the AATA board. Her nomination represents more “board in-breeding” where the mayor in his role as appointer looks no further than the existing pool of current board members in the community. Surely there is someone in the city who is at least as qualified as Ms. Baskett to serve on the AATA board, thereby freeing her to continue her work on the school board. Isn’t one board service per person enough?

  4. By ken
    May 19, 2013 at 11:06 am | permalink

    While I agree that perhaps the AATA should allow Mr.Coleman to run his add on the buses; I VIGOROUSLY am opposed and offended by the illustrated portion of the add. While I am not Jewish, I just find it offensive and totally unnecessary to have this included.

    I too am hoping for a more robust discussion among Council members regarding Ms. Baskett’s appointment to the AATA board. Ms. Baskett is one more individual that appears to possibly have a conflict of interest between with the AATA Board. Ms. Baskett was instrumental in developing a contract to purchase bus passes for AAPS High School students last year, a program that is now being explored for expansion during the potential budget cuts for AAPS.

  5. May 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm | permalink

    Dear Ken,

    Although I know Ms Baskett (years in Democratic politics and from her role on the school board) I don’t have a personal interest in her. I do have a professional interest, though, and want to point out a couple of things.

    1) I’m really grateful that Trustee Baskett worked so hard to encourage a relationship between AAPS and AATA. I encouraged her to do so. AAPS proposed eliminating high school busing – leaving some of the least economically flexible families with no way to get students to high schools. (It is true: not everyone who attends AAPS has access to a personal car.) I suggested that the schools could probably save money by getting fare cards and providing them to students. That she researched this idea, agreed it would save the system money, and worked with other trustees to implement the plan shows a level of organization that I admire.

    (I do not have a personal stake (financial or otherwise) in the schools or AATA that is larger than that of any other tax payer.)

    2) A conflict of interest implies that there is a strong, economic incentive for an individual to successfully recommend and make a policy or contract change. I don’t agree that Ms Baskett’s advocacy for providing transportation, saving AAPS funds, and helping students qualifies as a conflict in any way.

  6. By JamesJefferson
    May 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm | permalink

    Sabre, OF COURSE you support her nomination. Your “years in Democratic politics” are a BIG part of the problem. A person does not have to hold a seat on a board to work with or influence the board in a way that they think is in the best interest of the community. But as the citizens of Ann Arbor know all too well, the real reason one sits on a board or council is so their vote becomes law. Keep packing the boards with your political buddies, and the laws will keep going your way, right? I assume you learned that from the Mayor?

  7. By Mark Koroi
    May 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm | permalink


    “Your ‘years in Democratic politics’ are a BIG part of the problem.”

    Jaclyn Vresics has pulled petitions to run against Sabra Briere this fall for First Ward City Council rep. She is a U-M student affiliated with the “Mixed Use Party”.

    The Mixed Use Party wishes to field candidates in all five wards this fall.

    Last time someone ran against Sabra Briere, he received 21% of the vote as an independent. Sabra took the seat in 2007 by defeating incumbent John Roberts and fellow challenger Richard Wickboldt, a U-M engineer, in a hotly contested Democratic primary that year.

  8. May 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm | permalink

    Re: [7] “Last time someone ran against Sabra Briere, he received 21% of the vote as an independent.” That was Mitchell Ozog in 2009

    Rounded percentages in the 2007 Democratic primary were Briere 46%, Roberts 34%, and Wickbolt 19.5%.

    But Roberts was not the incumbent. It was a seat left open by Bob Johnson, who didn’t seek re-election. Roberts had lost the 2006 primary to Ron Suarez, and Roberts was seeking to return to the council in 2007 after that brief hiatus. Roberts had been appointed to finish out Kim Groome’s term.

    The seat in which Groome served had this trajectory: Groome, Roberts, Suarez, Smith, Kailasapathy.

  9. By A2person
    May 19, 2013 at 8:25 pm | permalink

    Personally, I am extremely thankful that Baskett would be willing to serve on another board, in addition to all the many, many hours of work she does on the school board, to act as a liaison between the two entities. Hats off to Baskett, it’s a wonderful idea and a huge commitment. It’s the best way to get the two bodies together, in light of the busing cuts in the AAPS.

    Also, Briere is hands-down the most responsive councilperson I have ever come across, including personal responses (email and even phone calls) to people she doesn’t know, on issues important to them. She listens, she considers, and then she makes independent decisions. Wish we had a council-full of people like Sabra.

  10. May 19, 2013 at 8:34 pm | permalink

    Mark Koroi writes:

    “There have been possible conflict of interest issues noted by two journalists – Dave Askins and Pat Lesko.

    “Dave Askins had noted that AATA board memebr David Nacht is an ACLU member. As such, his loyalty to ACLU’s lofty goals could conceivably compromise his decision-making process – even subconciously.

    “Pat Lesko had noted in her A2Politico.com blog, also, that some of the key players in the AATA defense team all attended the same synagogue, and wondered if this influenced the decision who was retained to defend the AATA. … ”

    I could not find anything by Pat Lesko about conflicts of interest and Coleman v. AATA. In any case, the potential conflicts of interest have little to do with what synagogue anyone attends, except secondarily to the extent that those institutions are pro-Israel. The conflicts of interest relate primarily to the political interests and loyalties of the government officials involved regarding a lawsuit over censorship of advertising clearly hostile to Israel.

    For instance, according to the Washtenaw Jewish News (December 2009), AATA counsel Jerry Lax has served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor and Temple Beth Emeth, the only problem here as it bears on the lawsuit is that both of these organizations are openly and actively pro-Israel. Lax also added his name to a campaign advertisement of “Michigan Jews Who Support Senators Obama & Biden”. The text of that ad encouraged readers to “Stay focused on the issues,” quoting candidate Obama as saying “Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable” and “There is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran … and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”

    Former AATA Board chair Jesse Bernstein has served/is serving on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Israel Business Bridge and is also a donor to Kehillot B’Yahad/Congregations Together, whose stated aims include: “STRENGTHENING THE JEWISH STATE”. Bernstein also has chaired/chairs Temple Beth Emeth’s Long Range Sustainability committee. David Nacht’s LinkedIn profile identifies him as a supporter of the Anti-Defamation League, a former Board member of Temple Beth Emeth, and a donor to the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County. Again, the potential conflicts of interest arise from the fact that all of these organizations are openly and actively pro-Israel.

    If you can’t see the potential conflict then pick another contentious political issue and do a thought experiment. Suppose, for example, that Israel had nothing to do with this and and the lawsuit concerned someone trying to run a pro-abortion/pro-choice ad on AATA buses that used charged imagery–something featuring a bloody coat hanger perhaps–to depict the consequences of outlawing or severely restricting legal access to abortion. How would you view the matter of conflicts of interest if you learned that the AATA counsel, board chair, and one or more other board members who voted to censor the ad were indirect/direct supporters of Operation Rescue, local anti-abortion churches, or similar anti-abortion organizations? Now, consider how you would react if you learned that the federal judge hearing the case also had direct and signifcant financial investments in anti-abortion organizations and sent his 16-year-old daughter to intern with Operation Rescue.

    In the real life case of Coleman v. AATA presiding judge Mark Goldsmith’s 2010 federal Financial Disclosure Report (Section VII) indicates that he doesn’t own any US bonds but he does own Israel Bonds and they’re the only asset for which he did not declare a value. Goldsmith and his wife also sent their sixteen-year-old daughter to study in Israel. The nominee’s questionnaire Goldsmith submitted to the judiciary committee, he discloses that he became Vice-President for Religious Affairs of B’nai B’rith Barristers in 2009. “Advocacy for Israel” is second on B’nai B’rith’s list of “Our Prime Issues”. B’nai B’rith has publicly “condemned” supporters, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of the international boycott of Israel. Furthermore, Goldsmith has been a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee since the 1990s.

  11. May 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm | permalink

    I have wondered for a while whether it would be possible for AATA to run the AAPS transportation system and whether that would save the school district any money. (Yes, take over the whole kit and caboodle.) I think it’s worth investigating.

    And I am still hoping that the school board will retain high school busing. There are kids who live outside of the AATA system but in the school district who will have a whole lot of trouble getting to school otherwise.