June 3, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: In Progress

Main topics: future of Ann Arbor public housing, Ypsilanti membership in the AATA, downtown policing, public art ordinance, utility rates

The Ann Arbor city council’s June 3, 2013 meeting agenda features two significant topics that will have an impact on the future of public housing and public transportation in the city.

Door to Ann Arbor city council chambers

Door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber.

The council will be asked to vote on a series of resolutions related to a proposed conversion of the city’s 355 public housing units to a project-based voucher system under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. The council had been briefed at a Feb. 11, 2013 work session on the details of the proposal.

Key steps the council will be asked to take on June 3 include transferring ownership of properties managed by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) from the city of Ann Arbor to the AAHC. Because it involves the transfer of a land interest, approval will require an 8-vote majority on the 11-member council. The properties would eventually be owned by a public/private partnership. The AAHC selected a co-developer earlier this year at its Jan. 10, 2013 meeting.

AAHC is seeking to undertake with this initiative in order to fund several million dollars worth of needed capital improvements. On the RAD approach, they would be funded in large part through low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC).  The council will also be asked to approve a payment in lieu of taxes to the AAHC, so that no property taxes will be owed by AAHC.

The AAHC had originally conceived of converting its properties to project-based vouchers in phases over a few years. The impact of federal sequestration had led AAHC to contemplate converting all the properties this year, to soften part of that impact. However, a hoped-for change in HUD’s rules that would allow the all-in-one-go approach was not made, AAHC learned last week. So “Scenario 3″ described in the staff memo accompanying the council resolution is no longer possible. The negative financial impact of that HUD decision totals around $550,000 over the course of three years.

On the public  transportation side, the council will be asked to approve a change to the articles of incorporation for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The change will admit the city of Ypsilanti as a member of the authority, and expand the AATA board from seven to nine members. The name of the authority would change to Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. One of the board members would be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

The request comes in the context of a demised attempt in 2012 to expand the AATA to all of Washtenaw County. Since then, conversations have continued among a smaller cluster of communities geographically closer to Ann Arbor. Previous Chronicle coverage includes “Ypsilanti a Topic for AATA Planning Retreat” and “Ypsi Waits at Bus Stop, Other Riders Unclear.

While the change will affect the governance of the AATA, the goal of the governance change is to provide a way to generate additional funding for transportation. The AATA could, with voter approval, levy a uniform property tax on the entire area of its membership – but the AATA does not currently do that. The cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti currently levy their own millages, which are transmitted to the AATA. However, Ypsilanti is currently at its 20-mill statutory limit. A millage levied by the AATA would not count against that 20-mill cap.

Other significant items on the council’s June 3 agenda include a resolution encouraging the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to allocate funding for three police officers. The council will also be considering a final vote on ordinance changes to which it’s already given initial approval: public art (eliminating the 1% capital project budget set-aside); utility rate increases (an annual item); and a reduction in utility improvement charges imposed on first-time connections.

In anticipation of the upcoming July 4 holiday, the council may also take initial action on an ordinance that would restrict use  of fireworks to the hours of 8 a.m. to midnight. The local regulation is only possible as a result of a change in the state law that has been passed by the Michigan House and is expected to be ratified and signed into law before July 4. The item had not yet been added to the city council’s agenda as of 4 p.m. today.

Other agenda items are available on the city’s Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article “below the fold.”

4 p.m. Scheduled meeting start time is 7 p.m. Live updates will start shortly before then.

6:46 p.m. Pre-meeting activity. The scheduled meeting start is 7 p.m. Most evenings the actual starting time is between 7:10 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. A dozen or so people are already here. Most appear to be here for the annual historic district commission awards. City planner Jill Thacher is here. She provides staff support for the HDC. Framed awards are sitting on the speakers podium next to the yellow printed agendas.

6:59 p.m. The council chambers are nearly filled. Julie Steiner and several other affordable housing advocates are here. Ed Shaffran is across the room, possibly here to receive one of the several awards from the historic district commission. Mayor John Hieftje, Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) are in council chambers. Other councilmembers haven’t arrived.

7:12 p.m. Pledge of allegiance, moment of silence and the roll call of council. Introductory elements are now complete, including the pledge to the flag. [At the Ravens Club restaurant downtown, resting on the piano is a song book called "I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag" – a 1941 era printing. The pledge printed on the reverse does not include "under God," which was added in 1954 on Flag Day, June 14.] All councilmembers are present except for Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

7:13 p.m. Proclamation. Now up is a mayoral proclamation recognizing the efforts of the 2|42 Kids Care Club assisting with the A2 Downtown Blooms Day event last month.

7:16 p.m. Historic District Commission preservation awards. The HDC presents these awards annually. By custom, they’re presented at a meeting of the city council.

7:21 p.m. These are the 25th annual HDC awards. There are 19 awards in six categories. First up is 420 W. Huron (Ann Arbor School of Yoga). Newcombe Clark, whose mother operates the yoga school, is here to document the presentation photographically. The property is owned by Ed Shaffran. Next up is 120 Packard (Lottie Van Curler). Ray Detter is accepting the award. Another award goes to 719 W. Washington (John Mouat and Lisa Mouat Snapp). Mouat is an architect. He’s also a member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, as is Newcombe Clark.

7:29 p.m. Next up is 711 W. Washington (Jayne Haas and Marie Coppa), followed by awards for 212 Third Street (Susan Fisher), 222 N. Seventh (Tom Fricke and Christine Stier), 1550 Washtenaw Ave. (Zeta Tau Alpha), 1850 Washtenaw Ave. (Gregory and Margene Henry), 1115 Woodlawn (Christa and John Williams), and 2505 Geddes (Eugene and Martha Burnstein).

7:37 p.m. More HDC awards: 1425 Pontiac (David and Bethany Steinberg), 3081 Glazier (Constance and David Osler). Special merit awards: Kristi Gilbert (HDC volunteer), Cobblestone Farm Association board, 116 W. Huron bus depot sign (First Martin), 226 S. Main Marquee Restoration – Lena (2mission design & development). A centennial award goes to Hill Auditorium (University of Michigan). The preservationist of the year for 2013 is Pauline Walters.

7:40 p.m. The last award is the project of the year: 1331 Hill Street (Delta Upsilon Fraternity). That concludes the Historic District Commission awards.

7:41 p.m. Public commentary. This portion of the meeting offers 10 3-minute slots that can be reserved in advance. Preference is given to speakers who want to address the council on an agenda item. [Public commentary general time, with no sign-up required in advance, is offered at the end of the meeting.] Tonight’s lineup for reserved time speaking is: Thomas Partridge, Seth Best, Antonio Benton, Nicholas Goodman, Mark Turner, Margaret Lynch, Julie Steiner, Bob Miller, Jeffrey Crockett, and Peter Nagourney.

7:44 p.m. Partridge is here to advance the cause of human rights and civil rights, affordable housing, public transportation for all residents, especially those with disabilities and seniors. Several speakers after Partridge are here to speak on behalf of Camp Take Notice.

7:52 p.m. Best asks everyone in the audience to stand who’s attending the council meeting to support Pizza in the Park. A couple dozen people stand up. He thanks the mayor and staff for their efforts to ensure that the program, sponsored by the Vineyard Church, can continue. The program distributes food and other aid to the homeless community in Liberty Plaza. He hopes for something in writing. Goodman described an increased police presence that he perceived as designed to break up tent communities. Benton also thanks the mayor and the council for agreeing to allow the Pizza and Park to continue. He describes himself as a full-time student, but also homeless. Pizza in the Park is the one meal that many in the homeless community get.

7:55 p.m. Mark Tucker quips that his name, spelled “Turner” on the agenda, “has been misspelled worse.” He speaks in support of public art. He notes that the newly proposed ordinance includes language acknowledging the positive impact that government can have in supporting the arts. He speaks in favor of episodic and temporary public art. [Tucker is co-founder of the annual FestiFools parade in downtown Ann Arbor.] He hopes that the revised ordinance signals the beginning of a dialogue.

7:59 p.m. Julie Steiner of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance comments on the transfer of city-owned properties to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. She points out that it’s unusual for a municipality to own the property. She allows that the proposed RAD conversion sounds complicated, but she calls it a win-win for all of us. It will allow renovations that could not be done with federal HUD funding. She warns that the properties could fall into a disastrous state of affairs, if this option is not pursued. Even Albert Berriz has been doing this in Florida and Texas for a number of years, she says. [Berriz is CEO of McKinley Inc., a real estate management firm.]

8:06 p.m. Bob Miller, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, is speaking on behalf of himself. He’s addressing the items on the agenda related to public arts funding. He suggests that the council add to the ordinance a requirement that private construction contribute to a public art fund.

8:10 p.m. Jeffrey Crockett congratulates winners of the historic district commission awards. He thanks Jill Thacher for her staff support. He criticizes the provision for “mitigation” of landmark trees in the zoning code. He concludes there is no meaningful protection for landmark trees in the D1 zoning code. Crockett is responding to the 413 E. Huron project, which the council approved last month. That project involved mitigation of landmark trees. Peter Nagourney also comments on the 413 E. Huron project. He criticizes the council’s decision to approve the project, based on the threat of a lawsuit. Steve Kaplan also addresses the issue of the 413 E. Huron project. He calls the project emblematic of problems to come. He focuses on the possible traffic issues that the project could cause.

8:10 p.m. Council communications. This is the first of three slots on the agenda for council communications. It’s a time when councilmembers can report out from boards, commissions and task forces on which they serve. They can also alert their colleagues to proposals they might be bringing forward in the near future.

8:23 p.m. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) announces a townhall meeting to be hosted by her and wardmate Jane Lumm. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reports from a May 22 meeting of the North Main Huron River task force and announced the next one. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) reports on a picnic in the greenway held on June 2. He says there’s still interest in the vision for establishing a greenway. Lumm reported that over the last week there were four ReImagine Washtenaw public meetings. If people couldn’t attend, they can find information on the project’s website. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) refers to a 2008 email cited at the council’s previous meeting and attempts a defense of the DDA. Mayor John Hieftje explains what happened to cause a misunderstanding concerning Pizza in the Park. He gives an assurance that Pizza in the Park will be allowed to continue. Hieftje says there’s no legal basis for not being able to continue that event. City administrator Steve Powers alerts the council to the numerous street closures on their consent agenda. He also highlights another event: Red Fish Blue Fish at Gallup Park on June 9, to teach kids to fish.

8:23 p.m. Public hearings. Nine separate public hearings are on the agenda. All the public hearings are grouped together during this section of the meeting. Action on the related items comes later in the meeting. Two of public hearings are on proposals for rezoning, which have already received initial approval from the council – Parkway Place and State Street Center. The Parkway Place rezoning is from R3 (townhouse dwelling district) to R1B (single-family dwelling district). The State Street Center rezoning is from O (office district) to C3 (fringe commercial district).

Other public hearings include one for changes to utility rates (drinking water, sewer and stormwater) and one to adjust utility improvement charges. A change to the public art ordinance is also getting a public hearing, after the council previously gave initial approval to the change. Related items later in the agenda would return funds set aside for public art to their respective funds of origin.

A change to the city’s ordinance on the retirement system is also getting a public hearing. It affects one employee. It’s related to the contracting out of police dispatch services. Two property annexations are also receiving separate public hearings. Finally, a public hearing for the Miller Avenue sidewalk special assessment is on the agenda. No action will be taken on that special assessment tonight – it’s a public hearing only.

8:41 p.m. Through the first four public hearings, Thomas Partridge was the only person to speak at any of them. John Kotarski adds his commentary to the fifth one, on the public art ordinance. He disagrees with Partridge’s assessment on the merits of the Dreiseitl fountain in front of city hall. Kotarski – who is a member of the city’s public art commission – states that he thinks the proposed ordinance amendments will strengthen the public art program. He argues that the “baking in” of public art will result in more public art. He tells the council and the city administrator that he’s ready to help.

8:49 p.m. Partridge has now had his say and the public hearings are concluded.

8:51 p.m. Council communications. Briere identifies the relevant segment of Miller Avenue where the sidewalk assessment will be imposed as not passing in front of Miller Manor, as Partridge had implied during his comments at the public hearing. Public services area administrator Craig Hupy explains that eventually all curb ramps are supposed to be brought into compliance with the ADA.

8:52 p.m. Minutes and consent agenda. This is a group of items that are deemed to be routine and are voted on “all in one go.” Contracts for less than $100,000 can be placed on the consent agenda. This meeting’s consent agenda includes several street closing approvals, including:

8:54 p.m. Councilmembers can opt to select out any items for separate consideration, and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pulls out an agreement with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to support rain gardens. She just wants to commend staff for their work.

8:54 p.m. Outcome: The council has now unanimously approved the consent agenda.

8:56 p.m. Parkway Place rezoning. This rezoning request from 490 Huron Parkway, from R3 (townhouse district) to R1B (single-family dwelling), was given initial approval at the council’s May 13, 2013 meeting. The council is considering final approval tonight. The proposal did not win approval from the city planning commission at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. At that meeting, planning commissioner Bonnie Bona said she couldn’t support the rezoning. With 70,000 people commuting into Ann Arbor each day, it didn’t make sense to build single-family homes in that area. The 5-1 vote meant that the project did not get the six votes it needed for a recommendation of approval.

8:56 p.m. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanks staff for their response to a question about unstable soils. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) notes that the recommendation of denial from the planning commission resulted from the attendance of only six of nine commissioners. She notes that the rationale for those voting for it – they thought it would be a benefit to the area.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the 490 Huron Parkway rezoning.

8:57 p.m. State Street Center rezoning This rezoning request, from O (office) to C3 (fringe commercial), was given initial approval by the council at its May 13, 2013 meeting. The council is considering final approval tonight. The development is located adjacent to a new Tim Hortons restaurant, which opened last year. The project calls for demolishing a vacant 840-square-foot house on this site. In its place, the developer plans a one-story, 1,700-square-foot drive-thru Jimmy John’s restaurant facing South State Street.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the State Street Center rezoning.

8:57 p.m. Utility rates (water, sewer, stormwater). Initial approval of the utility rate increases came at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting. The council is considering final approval tonight. In terms of revenue generated to the city, the rate increases are expected to generate 3.55% more for drinking water ($739,244), 4.25% more for the sanitary sewer ($955,531), and 4% more for stormwater ($233,811). [.pdf of complete utility rate changes as proposed] The city estimates that the impact on an average customer will be a $20.66 per year increase in total utility charges.

Outcome: The council gave unanimous final approval to the utility rate increases.

8:57 p.m. Utility improvement charges These are charges that are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection. [.pdf of connection charge comparison] The council is considering a change in the approach to calculating the charges that would reduce them by about half – partly in an effort to remove what’s perceived as an obstacle to infill development on vacant parcels. The council gave initial approval of the change at its May 13, 2013 meeting. The council is considering final approval tonight.

9:02 p.m. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) announces that the city attorney’s office has recommended a change to the amendment. She reads aloud the change and allows that “it’s not entirely enlightening.” The change relates to property outside a development. The change is accepted in a friendly way. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanks staff for their work and expresses her support the ordinance change.

Outcome: The council gave unanimous final approval to the change in the utility improvement charges.

9:02 p.m. Public art ordinance change. This proposal would change the city’s public art ordinance, so that capital improvement projects are no longer required to set aside 1% of their budgets for public art – up to a maximum of $250,000 per project. Under the amended approach, city staff would work to determine whether a specific capital improvement project should have enhanced design features “baked in” to a project – either enhanced architectural work or specific public art. The council gave initial approval to the ordinance change at its May 13, 2013 meeting. Tonight the council is giving the change final consideration.

9:21 p.m. Margie Teall (Ward 4) thanks everyone, highlighting Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who did much of the work on the council’s task force. Teall doesn’t think it’s a perfect ordinance. She highlights the portion of the ordinance that she’d added, which Mark Tucker had noted during public commentary, about the government playing a role in supporting art. Briere also thanks everyone, including the staff. She notes that the task force didn’t have solutions for some things. As an example: how to pay for public art administration, and what to do with currently pooled public art funds.

Craig Hupy, public services area administrator, comes to the podium. He says he’ll give an engineer’s version of finance. Financing the administration of the public art program is a challenge. The municipal service charge wouldn’t be feasible, he says, because that charge is assessed “looking backwards.” Hupy indicated that it would be possible to craft a program supported by the general fund for an interim period, until the new program becomes fully functional. CFO Tom Crawford recommends that the council use the existing pooled funds that are set aside to get the program through the next two years. Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) questions whether the pooled funds could be used, given the restriction on use of public funds in a way that’s linked thematically to the work of art.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) ventures that what’s needed is administrative support not for specific projects, but for those that are conceived. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) notes that the total of uncommitted funds that have been set aside in the public art fund is around $845,000. She suggests that maybe 10% of it could be retained as transition money to the new program. Crawford indicates that if money were pulled from the pooled funds, it would be done proportionally from the respective funds of origin.

9:21 p.m. Lumm proposes an amendment to the ordinance to allow the return of funds set aside in previous years to their funds of origin. It’s necessary in order to implement a resolution later on the agenda. Here’s her proposed added language:

(8) City Council may, at its discretion, amend the Fiscal Year 2014 budget or any subsequent budget to return to their respective funds of origin some or all uncommitted funds allocated for art prior to Fiscal Year 2014 under the prior Section 1:833, including funds that have been pooled in accordance with Section 1:834.

Briere and Teall weigh in against this amendment. Teall says that the public art program needs a full-time administrator. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asks for clarification from assistant city attorney Abigail Elias.

9:29 p.m. Kunselman says he won’t support the amendment. He worked on the task force, he says, and there was a lot of compromise involved. Lumm tells Kunselman he could support this amendment but then keep some of the money as transition money. She returns to the fact that there’s roughly $845,000 of uncommitted funds. She calls for a clean break from the Percent for Art program. She wants to know what art that money would be used for, instead of sewer and street improvements, for example.

Kailasapathy indicates that she won’t support using restricted funds for general art administration. Elias indicates that this amendment would be necessary for the Lumm-Kailasapathy resolution later in the meeting, which would return public art money from prior years to the funds of origin. Briere draws out the fact that the current amount in the art administration fund will be zero by the end of this fiscal year.

9:35 p.m. Petersen ventures that even the administration costs have a “nexus” issue, which means that the money has to be thematically linked to the art to be funded. Kailasapathy notes that the administration fund comes from an 8% allocation initially, so to take another 8% from the set-aside would essentially be double-dipping. Hupy points out that to implement the recommendation for a full-time instead of a part-time administrator, it will cost more. [The current public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, serves in a part-time position.] Taylor describes how the work of the public art administrator in the future will involve how to bake in art to various capital projects. If the administrator is thinking about incorporating art into streets, then that’s an adequate thematic link to streets to fund the art administrator’s work. As long as the administrator allocates time proportionally among the source funds, there shouldn’t be a problem, Taylor contends.

9:42 p.m. Briere asks what the “fall back position” is. Crawford says that if all the pooled art money is returned to the funds of origin, then to fund the public art program, he could only come up with the general fund as an option for funding it. Lumm returns to her idea simply to leave a small portion of the uncommitted art funds to pay for administration. She stresses that the sewage fund contributed the majority of the money that’s in the public art fund. Petersen argues that if the amendment is approved, it gives the council some flexibility in the future. She’s implying that the restoration of that money to its funds of origin need not be settled that night. Two unknowns include: (1) How much is needed? (2) What’s the art administrator’s job description?

9:45 p.m. Hieftje says he won’t support the amendment. He contends that when the conversation about changing the public art program was started, many councilmembers had expressed their comfort with leaving the funds in the public art fund. He links public art with economic development. The amendment fails, with support only from Kailasapathy, Petersen and Lumm.

9:49 p.m. Back to the main question, Kunselman talks about working together and compromising. His concern had always been about the legality of the program, he says. The task force had done a lot to come to an agreement. So he wouldn’t be asking for a state attorney general opinion on the legality of the program. He allowed that he’d voted for the program in 2007, unaware of the implications of the funding mechanism. He hoped that the community could find funds for other kinds of art besides capital improvements. He indicates a preference for gatherings of people having a good time, rather than monumental art. He’s supporting the ordinance change.

Lumm thanks the task force. She’s supportive of the part of the ordinance change that eliminates the automatic 1% set-aside. If any community could fund public art with private sources, it’s Ann Arbor, she says.

9:58 p.m. Lumm is still concerned that the structure of the program leaves in place a mechanism that takes money from capital improvement projects. She expresses disappointment that her amendment was not approved. She returns to the point of the $845,000 that’s in the fund. She continues to re-argue the case for the amendment. She indicates a grudging support for the ordinance change.

Taylor says he is delighted and proud to have participated in the task force. He calls the ordinance change an improvement. But he indicates there’s some uncertainty. Public art will compete with other priorities and find its proper level of support, he feels. Briere summarizes the task force work as the result of councilmembers coming from their individual peculiar attitudes toward public art. Thinking through all the implications had been hard, she said. She doesn’t think everything has been solved. How it’ll play out in the next three years remains to be seen. The council will be determining how much public art there is and where – based on advice from the staff about which projects should have art incorporated in them.

Kailasapathy indicates support for the ordinance, but still has reservations about leaving the money in the art fund balance. She allows she’s not a legal expert, but feels this is on shaky legal grounds.

10:03 p.m. Responding to Kunselman, Hupy allows that he can’t imagine that $845,000 could be spent on public art administration in two years. Crawford indicates that it could be used for administration or also on art projects. Kunselman says he wants to stop looking back and to start looking forward. It’s tough for him to disagree with Lumm and Kailasapathy, but he wants to look forward. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asks about the resolution later on the agenda that restores funding that was set aside for public art in FY 2014 just recently: How is that different? Crawford explains that it’s just for FY 2014. There’s a second resolution that would return money from previous years – which Lumm’s amendment to the ordinance was meant to facilitate.

10:03 p.m. Outcome: The council gave unanimous final approval to the changes to the public art ordinance.

10:12 p.m. Recess. After approving changes to the public art ordinance, the council went into recess. They’re still in recess.

10:15 p.m. The council is back in session.

10:17 p.m. The council votes to go into closed session to discuss land acquisition.

10:29 p.m. The council has returned from closed session.

10:29 p.m. Pension ordinance change. The proposed amendment would potentially affect a single person – a former city dispatcher. When dispatch operations for the city were contracted out to the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, the pension benefit change was negotiated as part of the consolidation with the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association, which represented the city dispatchers. The amendment allows a former dispatcher to collect city pension benefits at the same time that they could have if they’d remained employees with the city. The council previously gave this change initial approval. Tonight is consideration of the second and final approval.

10:30 p.m. Outcome: Without discussion, the council gave unanimous final approval to the change to the pension ordinance.

10:30 p.m. Sidewalk definition change. The council is being asked to give initial approval (first reading) to a change in the definition of “sidewalk.” It expands the existing definition to include non-motorized paths that are “designed particularly for pedestrian, bicycle, or other nonmotorized travel and that is constructed (1) in the public right of way or (2) within or upon an easement or strip of land taken or accepted by the City or dedicated to and accepted by the City for public use by pedestrians, bicycles, or other nonmotorized travel, …” Impacts from this change include funding for repair and maintenance of such facilities and responsibility for snow clearance. The changed definition will allow the city to use sidewalk millage money to repair and maintain the facilities. However, it will also place responsibility on the abutting property owner for snow clearance during the winter.

10:33 p.m. Briere indicates she will support the ordinance to move it to a second reading, but she has some questions she’ll want answered when it comes back to the council. She highlights the question of who’s responsible for shoveling snow off sidewalks during the winter. She feels the council will want to look carefully at the definition change.

Outcome: The council gave unanimous initial approval to the change in the definition of “sidewalk.”

10:33 p.m. Fireworks. This is the initial consideration of an ordinance change that would regulate the use of fireworks for the day before, the day of, and the day after a national holiday – like July 4. Currently, it’s possible to explode fireworks for the continuous 72-hour period from July 3-5. The ordinance change would limit fireworks to the hours from 8 a.m. to midnight. If this ordinance change is approved tonight and given final approval at the council’s next meeting on June 17, it would be in place for July 4. State law currently prohibits local municipalities from regulating the use of fireworks on the day preceding, the day of, and the day after a national holiday. But a bill that’s working its way through the legislature would allow local municipalities to impose restrictions on those days – but only by regulating the hours – to 8 a.m. through midnight. For New Year’s Day, local municipalities could regulate use of fireworks by allowing them from 8 a.m. through 1 a.m., which would allow for midnight fireworks celebrations.

10:38 p.m. Briere recalls the loud July 4 last year and the complaints about fireworks. While the number of complaints might not have been great, those that were heard were dramatic, she said. That resulted from a change in state law that allows residents to use “more exciting” fireworks. Lumm asks for clarification.

Outcome: The council gave unanimous initial approval to the change in the fireworks ordinance. The second reading will come before the council on June 17.

10:38 p.m. Greenbelt advisory commission appointment: Jennifer Fike. The council is considering confirmation of Jennifer Fike to the greenbelt advisory commission. Fike is finance director of the Huron River Watershed Council. She would replace Laura Rubin, HRWC’s executive director, whose term on the commission ends in June. Fike was nominated at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting.

10:39 p.m. Taylor briefly describes Fike’s background and thanks Rubin for her service.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm Fike’s appointment to GAC.

10:39 p.m. DDA funding of downtown police. The resolution would encourage the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to provide funding for three police officers (a total of $270,000 annually) to be deployed in the DDA district and asks that the DDA board consider that at its next regular meeting. The next meeting of the DDA board is June 5, 2013. For a Chronicle op-ed on this general topic, see: “Counting on the DDA to Fund Police?

10:49 p.m. Lumm is introducing the resolution, which she’s sponsored with Kailasapathy and Petersen. Kunselman indicates he’ll support it. His understanding is that the DDA likes direction from the city council in the form of resolutions.

Taylor allows that would not be irrational for the DDA to review this question. He indicates that the resolution is not particularly polite – and he wants to rebuild a relationship of trust with the DDA. He points out that the DDA has included an option in its budget to fund public safety. He’ll be voting against the resolution.

Briere alludes to the council’s December 2012 retreat priorities on public safety. She’s supporting the resolution because it’s advisory. But she notes that the work plan in response to the council’s priority on public safety includes a lot of elements that don’t depend on a count of officers. This resolution is only about a number of police officers. She wants to move the discussion beyond numbers to talk about policy.

Kailasapathy stresses that the funds in the DDA’s budget are undesignated. That’s part of the basis on which she’s supporting the resolution. Petersen says the perception of public safety is high until someone has a problem – and police downtown might be able to prevent problems before they happen. Anglin indicates he’ll support it. He allows that having more police doesn’t make a safer city, but more police means that the city is able to respond when someone calls.

10:58 p.m. Higgins expresses appreciation for the fact that the resolution was brought forward. She expresses some reservations about specifying the exact number of officers. She asks for an amendment to the resolution to make it nonspecific. Lumm prefers her original version specifying three officers.

Briere asks police chief John Seto to come to the podium. She asks how many officers are dedicated to the DDA area. Seto says none are assigned to the DDA specifically. It’s part of the “Adam” district – bounded by Huron, Main, Stadium and Packard – and 12-14 officers are assigned to it. Briere wanted to know if three officers were added, how would the staffing be handled. Seto says they’d be additional bodies that would be assigned to the “Adam” district. The officers assigned to other areas should remain the same, he says.

Hieftje says Ann Arbor is one of the safest cities in the nation. Most of the literature indicates that adding police doesn’t reduce crime, he says. His interest is in reducing nuisance issues. The DDA board has discussed the possibility of funding ambassadors who would have direct communication with the police. Hieftje says that Taylor framed it well, given the context of the council’s consideration of revising the ordinance governing DDA TIF (tax increment finance) capture. Hieftje notes that the funding for police staffing needs to be sustainable. He couldn’t predict how the DDA would perceive the resolution. He wanted councilmembers to be prepared for a range of reactions from the DDA board. He felt it would be a worthy discussion at the DDA.

10:59 p.m. Outcome: The council voted 8-2 to encourage the DDA to consider funding three police officers to be deployed in the downtown. Dissent came from Taylor and Teall.

10:59 p.m. Public art: reallocation to funds of origin – previous years. Two items are on the agenda that would essentially do the same kind of thing, but for different time frames. Each resolution would reallocate monies to their funds of origin that had been set aside under the previous public art ordinance (aka Percent for Art program). The first resolution, sponsored by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) would return monies to their funds of origin, which had been set aside for public in previous years under the ordinance. The previous discussion of the public art ordinance, however, means that this won’t be possible. The council declined to amend the ordinance to allow moving prior years’ public art set asides back the funds of origin.

The second resolution – sponsored by Margie Teall (Ward 4) Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – would return just the money set aside in the FY 2014 budget – which was approved by the council on May 20, 2013.

Both proposals change the budget, which under the city charter means that an eight-vote majority will be required on the 11-member council. The Lumm-Kailasapathy proposal would return the following amounts to the respective funds for a total of $845,029:

  • 002-Energy $3,120
  • 0042-Water Supply System $61,358
  • 0043-Sewage Disposal System $451,956
  • 0048-Airport $6,416
  • 0069-Stormwater $20,844
  • 0062-Street Millage $237,314
  • 0071-Parks Millage $28,492
  • 0072-Solid Waste $35,529

The second proposal would return the following amount to the respective funds for a total of $326,464:

  • 0042-Water Supply System $113,500
  • 0043-Sewage Disposal System $50,050
  • 0069-Stormwater $33,500
  • 0062-Street Millage $120,700
  • 0071-Parks Millage $8,714

The Lumm-Kailasapathy resolution is up first.

11:00 p.m. Outcome: Lumm withdrew the resolution, given that her attempt to amend the ordinance – in a way that was necessary for the resolution to be considered – failed earlier in the meeting.

11:01 p.m. Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) articles of incorporation. The council is being asked to consider revision of the AATA’s articles of incorporation to admit the city of Ypsilanti as a member, and to expand the size of the board from seven to nine members. One of the new seats would be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Ypsi Waits at Bus Stop, Other Riders Unclear"]

This would change only the governance of the authority, but would not yet impose any new tax. A millage proposal would require voter approval. There’s an outside chance for the AATA to place a millage on the November ballot – if the change to the articles of incorporation are approved in straightforward fashion by the Ann Arbor city council, followed by the AATA board and the Ypsilanti city council. Any decision to place a millage request on the November 2013 ballot would need to be made by late August. [Ballot language needs to be certified to the county clerk by Aug. 27, 2013]. But the practicalities of mounting a successful millage campaign mean that a decision to make a millage request would likely need to come sooner than that.

The change in the articles of incorporation also calls for a name change – to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA). Customary pronunciation of the current name is to sound out each letter: A-A-T-A. Carrying forward that custom seems unlikely. “Triple-A-T-A” is one possibility The Chronicle has heard floated. [.pdf of proposed AAATA articles of incorporation] [.pdf of existing AATA articles of incorporation] This item is being co-sponsored on the agenda by mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

11:07 p.m. Briere introduces the proposal. Kunselman adds his support to the proposal. He calls it a small step. He wonders if it’s appropriate to take action before the AATA board takes action. His concern is that to add other members – like Ypsilanti Township or Pittsfield Township – it might require amending the articles of incorporation again. There’s a strong connection of the communities to the east and Ann Arbor, so they need a voice at the table, he says, and this step that the council is being asked to take will help to do that.

Anglin asks for someone from the AATA to explain this to the public. Jerry Lax, the legal counsel for the AATA, is on hand. Joining Lax are Bill De Groot and Mary Stasiak, staff with the AATA. Lax explains that the city of Ypsilanti has explicitly requested membership. The document in front of the council resulted from a discussion between the city of Ann Arbor, AATA, and the city of Ypsilanti. He noted that this step does not itself create new funding. But it creates a mechanism by which voters could approve new funding.

11:13 p.m. Responding to a question from Anglin, Lax describes the benefit to residents of Ann Arbor as providing a more coherent approach to providing transportation. Hieftje describes the background of the “urban core” meetings. Petersen says that her notion of “urban core” is Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. She asks if that’s the AATA’s view. Lax ventures that the two townships might also be considered a rational part of the system.

Petersen expresses concern about calling it the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. She suggests calling it the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Transportation Authority. Lax says some initial drafts did include AAYT as a possibility. He didn’t feel that the name change was the major accomplishment – something that Petersen agrees within. Kunselman ventures that it would be shortened to “Ypsi-Arbor Transportation Authority.” Hieftje suggested looking at where high school graduates are attending school. Many Ann Arbor high school grads attend Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, he says.

11:19 p.m. Hieftje notes that Ypsilanti has already set up a dedicated funding mechanism. He wanted the Ann Arbor city council to be able to affirm the action that the Ypsilanti city council had taken by requesting membership. He said he was impressed with the AATA’s ability to account for where the various millage dollars were going. He wouldn’t have a problem in some “bleed-over” from Ann Arbor funding for Routes #4 and #5 between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Lumm thanks staff for providing answers to her questions earlier in the day. She recites much of the recent history of efforts to expand transportation. She complains that information on Ypsilanti’s financial commitment was only provided in response to councilmembers requesting it. She laments the fact that there’s not a framework for adding additional members beyond Ypsilanti. But Ypsilanti is Ann Arbor’s most natural partner, so she’ll support the proposal.

11:23 p.m. Kailasapathy draws out the fact that a new AAATA millage would be for the geographic area of the entire transportation authority.

Outcome: The council unanimously approves adding Ypsilanti to the AATA.

11:23 p.m. Public art: reallocation to funds of origin – FY 2014. This is a return of just the FY 2014 public art set-asides to their funds of origin.

11:25 p.m. Briere introduces the resolution. Lumm indicates she supports the resolution. She again complains that the council didn’t act to return previous years’ allocations to their funds of origin.

Outcome: The council voted to return the FY 2014 public art set-asides to their funds of origin.

11:26 p.m. Annexations: Weller and Higgins. These are both owner-initiated annexations, each property about 0.5 acres. The parcels are currently a part of Ann Arbor Township.

11:26 p.m. Outcome: On separate unanimous votes, the council approved the annexations.

11:27 p.m. Non-motorized transportation plan distribution. This item is a formal step toward incorporating a revised version of the city’s non-motorized transportation plan into its set of master plan documents. At its April 16, 2013 meeting, the city’s planning commission recommended distribution to adjoining jurisdictions and stakeholders, including the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, DTE Energy, Norfolk-Southern Railroad, the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, and the Ann Arbor Public Schools. They’ll have 42 days to submit comments.

11:27 p.m. Outcome: On a unanimous vote, the council authorized the distribution of the draft non-motorized plan.

11:27 p.m. Ann Arbor Housing Commission. Five resolutions affecting the AAHC are on the agenda. All are related to the proposed conversion of public housing managed by AAHC to a public/private partnership that would fund the units through project-based vouchers.

First up is a resolution that would transfer ownership of the city-owned properties, currently managed by the AAHC, to the AAHC itself. As a land transaction, it requires eight votes to pass. If it doesn’t pass, the other resolutions are probably moot. Postponement isn’t a feasible option, because the AAHC’s first grant application is due June 15 – and that grant application needs to demonstrate “site control.”

After the land transfer comes a resolution stating that the current employees of the housing commission are currently city employees and will continue to be city employees after the conversion of AAHC properties to project-based vouchers. The next resolution on the agenda is approval of a payment in lieu of taxes for properties in Phase 1 of the planned conversion: 106 Packard Road, 727 Miller, 1701-1747 Green Road, 2742 Packard, and 800-890 South Maple. That will exempt the AAHC from paying property taxes on the properties.

Following that on the agenda is a $200,000 appropriation from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to support a loan application for improvements at 727 Miller (Miller Manor) and 800-890 South Maple. The final item is a request from the city’s general fund to backstop anticipated deficits – even if the AAHC converts all its units to project-based vouchers. The resolution asks for at least $124,000 – based on “Scenario 3″ described in the council’s information packet, or up to $461,000 if HUD did not allow AAHC to convert its units all in one go (before all financing is formally secured) – to lessen the impacts of federal sequestration. According to AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall, HUD didn’t agree to AAHC’s request to do that. So it’s the $461,000 figure that’s in play – for the three fiscal years FY 2014-16.

Ann Arbor Housing Commission Properties. Color coding indicates phase: Phase 1 (red); Phase 2 (orange); Phase 3 (blue), Phase 4 (green).

Ann Arbor Housing Commission Properties. Color coding indicates phase: Phase 1 (red); Phase 2 (orange); Phase 3 (blue), Phase 4 (green). Image links to dynamic map.

11:31 p.m. AAHC: property transfer to AAHC. Briere has asked AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall to the podium. Hall attributes the dilapidated condition of some of the properties as a lack of investment by the federal government. She describes the basic approach of this proposal. She characterizes the AAHC housing units as relatively “dispersed.”

By way of additional background, the need to rethink the funding and maintenance strategy for Ann Arbor public housing is based on a capital needs assessment conducted in 2009 – which determined that AAHC had $40,337 per unit in capital needs over the next 15 years. But at current HUD funding rates, AAHC would receive only $18,000 per unit – which is a $22,000 per unit shortfall in capital repair funding. Without some other funding strategy for its 355 units, AAHC would face roughly $7.8 million or about $520,000 per year in unmet capital needs.

11:36 p.m. Hall explains that there’s a June 15 loan application deadline. AAHC is applying for a $1 million federal loan. She explains that there’s been a change from the original plan that was presented to the city council. That original plan would have transferred the properties further from AAHC to a new public/private partnership. But the new plan is for the AAHC to own the land and the buildings, and to lease the improvements (buildings) through a ground lease to the limited partnership. A long-term ground lease will satisfy the IRS’s requirement that the limited partnership have an ownership interest in the property.

11:44 p.m. Kailasapathy wants to know if the city still has any controls over the properties after the transfer of ownership. Hall notes that the city council appoints the AAHC board. Kailasapathy would prefer to have clarity on issues like rights of first refusal. That makes her nervous. Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald explains that there’s deed restriction that will provide an extra control. He reiterates Hall’s point that the council still appoints the members of the AAHC board. The council has the ability to remove members of the AAHC board, and McDonald notes that the council has exercised that option before. McDonald also points out that HUD controls the properties. If the properties were being mismanaged, HUD could step in.

Kailasapathy asks about the change from the transfer to the public/private partnership to the idea of a ground lease. Hall says after 15 years the properties come back to the AAHC. Kailasapathy raises the specter of an accident that results in a legal liability – because governmental immunity might not apply to a public/private partnership.

11:49 p.m. Rochelle Lento, the legal consultant for the AAHC, is trying to provide some assurance to Kailasapathy. She notes that HUD’s Hope 6 program uses ground leases as a mechanism. McDonald notes that there’s nothing that’s being proposed that’s outside the scope of what housing commissions can do.

Kunselman wants to know why the city can’t just lease the properties to the AAHC with a sublease to the public/private partnership. Lento can’t say it can’t be done, but she has never seen it done that way.

11:52 p.m. Kunselman ventures that there’s a valid reason for why the city of Ann Arbor currently owns the properties. He felt that a five-member board of political appointees might not be the best property managers. Kunselman, who said he’d be voting no on this when the council was briefed on the proposal back in February, is engaged in extended back and forth with Hall, Lento, and McDonald. He asks which properties are proposed to be demolished and rebuilt.

12:01 a.m. Petersen asks for a description of limited liability partners and if AAHC has one lined up. Lento indicates that the Great Lakes Capital Fund is interested in AAHC. She describes GLCF as an active player in Michigan. She feels the AAHC’s ability to acquire an equity partner is good. Taylor brings up the shortfall in needed capital improvements. Hall says it would be burying her head in the sand to think that there will be more funding for public housing at the federal level. Taylor asks for the reasonable expectation of the available investment that this proposal would create. Hall describes the AAHC’s plan to package Miller Manor with South Maple – which will have a $13 million rehabilitation cost. The low-income housing credits will generate about $9 million for that particular project. She also describes using the city’s PACE program to fund some of the cost.

12:15 a.m. Lumm thanks Hall for not sticking her head in the sand. It’s complicated and difficult, she says. Lumm acknowledges that something dramatic needs to be done, and this approach makes sense. She notes that sequestration complicates the issue. She calls it a clear choice. It’s not consistent with Ann Arbor’s values to do nothing and let the properties continue to deteriorate and eventually disappear, Lumm says, along with the services the properties provide.

Briere says it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are people involved – when all the discussion is about the properties. Hall describes a situation at Broadway, involving a stormwater drain. A building on Platt Road has continuing problems with water in the basement, because it was built in the floodplain. She describes sewer backups. Briere asks what happens to the people who live in the properties if the properties are demolished as planned by the AAHC. Hall explains that AAHC has to follow the HUD protocols.

Hall describes how some of the AAHC properties could support more units than they currently have – with a possible net increase of 20-30 units citywide. Kunselman is now questioning Hall and Lento. Only half a dozen members of the general public are still here (not counting staff and the press). The council does not appear to be close to winding up discussion of this first AAHC resolution.

12:25 a.m. McDonald suggests adding a resolved clause to the resolution. It would condition the transfer of the city property on review of the proposed ground lease to the public/private partnership. Kunselman asks if the deed restriction can include a requirement that the housing be accessible to 30% AMI. McDonald isn’t sure if HUD will accept the imposition of a more stringent requirement than HUD’s 50% AMI requirement. Hall describes the advantage of setting the rents at 50% – because vouchers make up the difference between income and the rent.

12:26 a.m. Recess. The council is taking a short break before considering the amendment that McDonald is working on.

12:35 a.m. The council is back from recess. Kailasapathy moves the amendment to the resolution suggested by McDonald. The council agrees to the amendment.

12:40 a.m. Kunselman says he’s been very hesitant to go in this direction. He fears it will push out the “poorest of the poor.” The council has spent the last 10 years talking about affordable housing without talking about the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, he says. But Kunselman says he’ll support this proposal because of the great unknown. Hieftje allows there are some unknowns. But he feels that federal funding is going to go down. Taylor questions the wording of the amendment.

12:40 a.m. Outcome: On a 10-0 vote, including Kunselman, the council voted to transfer the city-owned public housing properties to AAHC. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) is absent.

12:40 a.m. AAHC: employees remain city employees.

12:40 a.m. Outcome: The council approved the confirmation of AAHC-assigned employees as city employees.

12:40 a.m. AAHC: exemption from property taxes.

12:40 a.m. Outcome: The council unanimously approved the PILOT for AAHC properties.

12:43 a.m. AAHC: grant for Miller Manor improvements. Briere mentions that the $200,000 appropriation from the city’s affordable housing trust fund was recommended by HHSAB some time ago. Lumm indicates support for the resolution.

12:43 a.m. Outcome: The council unanimously approved the grant for improvements at Miller Manor.

12:43 a.m. AAHC: general fund support. This item has been withdrawn from the agenda.

12:44 a.m. West Madison Street improvements. This item requests the council approve a $2,283,524 contract with Pamar Enterprises Inc. for the work on West Madison Street – from South Seventh Street to South Main Street. The total cost of the project is $3,162,000. It’s being paid for with a combination of street funds, water funds and stormwater funds. It includes water main replacement and stormwater improvements.

12:48 a.m. Kunselman wonders if the base of the road will be beefed up to prevent the sloughing of the pavement. A city engineer assures him it will have an appropriate cross section. Anglin asks for an explanation of the stormwater features, including rain gardens.

Outcome: The West Madison Street improvements contract was unanimously approved.

12:48 a.m. Mack Pool roof. This item approves a contract with Pranam GlobalTech Inc. for $193,000 to cover the roof replacement and painting refurbishment for Mack Pool. A 10% construction contingency brings the project’s budget to $212,300. The city’s park advisory commission had recommended approval of the contract at its May 21, 2013 meeting.

12:48 a.m. Outcome: The Mack Pool roof contract was unanimously approved.

12:48 a.m. Stone School Road improvements. This item asks for council approval of a $101,140 contract for design work with Northwest Consultants Inc. (NCI) for the Stone School Road reconstruction between I-94 and Ellsworth Road.

12:49 a.m. Kunselman says he’s looking forward to this project. He’s personally seen the failed culvert. City engineer Nick Hutchinson tells Kunselman that construction is expected in 2014.

Outcome: The Stone School Road design work contract was unanimously approved by the council.

12:50 a.m. Appointments. The one mayoral nomination from the previous meeting was Lloyd E. Shelton for the city’s commission on disability issues. Petersen describes her interaction with Shelton that led to his nomination for the commission.

12:50 a.m. Outcome: Shelton’s appointment to the city’s commission on disability issues was unanimously confirmed.

12:53 a.m. Nominations. Nominations include reappointments to the planning commission of Bonnie Bona and Tony Derezinski. Also among the nominations is LuAnne Bullington to the taxicab board. In addition, all the members of the downtown citizens advisory council have been re-nominated. The council will vote on these nominations at its next meeting.

12:53 a.m. Public commentary. There’s no requirement to sign up in advance for this slot for public commentary. Turns are limited to three minutes.

12:55 a.m. Caleb Poirer is addressing the council asking for a binding, written agreement indicating that humanitarian aid providers will not be charged a parks and recreation fee. Seth Best echoes Poirer’s sentiments. He’s concerned that a policy might be applied that requires a permit if you advertise a gathering in a public space that could draw more than 50 people.

12:55 a.m. Adjournment. We are now adjourned. Details on some individual voting items can be found in The Chronicle’s Civic News Ticker. That’s all from the hard benches.

Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chambers gives instructions for post-meeting clean-up.

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By Mark Koroi
    June 4, 2013 at 1:55 am | permalink

    “…[a]lso among the nominations to the taxicab board is Luanne Bullington.”

    The Agenda indicates she is replacing Eric Sturgis. Did Eric resign?

    “…….all the members of the downtown citizens advisory council have been renominated.”

    Last I checked, all seats expired as of October of 2012. Additionally, the first Agenda listed Marsha Chamberlin, Jane Kaufer, and Susan Nenadec – all of whom no longer are the current re-nomination Agenda of City Council. Hugh Sonk’s name now appears where it did not before.

    I appeared before City Council several times regarding the questionable re-nomination process and noted elsewhere that the process is flawed to the extent application materials may have not been submitted for each seat seeker, plus the fact that only eight applicants are nominated for 15 seat vacancies.

    I have also indicated possible Open Meeting Act violations in the preparation of the minutes of this council and disclosed this to City Council.

    There has also been questions about husband-wife teams being nominated yet again (the Kerns) – even after CM Sally Hart Petersen raised this issue after I delivered public commentary about the CAC.

    I have not been alone in investigating the CAC. Both Ed Vielemetti and Patricia Lesko have submitted FOIA requests to City Clerk Jackie Beaudry recently to substantiate suspicions on operational deficiencies on the CAC and possible non-compliance with state law.

    The CAC is an important public body and these apparent problems need to be addressed by City Council and the mayoral administration. All seat vacancies should be properly subject to public notice and an application and interview process completed before nominees are submitted for City Council confirmation.

    I would like to se more students and young professionals serve on this council, so as to provide a representative cross-section of the downtown community.

  2. June 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm | permalink

    Thank you again for these ongoing reports of Council meetings. I was able to watch Congressman John Dingell’s appearance on the Colbert Report while monitoring your reporting.

    The late start (7:12pm), the lengthy awards ceremony and the unavoidable public comment period meant the meeting did not really start until 8:10. It is no wonder that most items considered near the end of the meeting were by unanimous vote. One must wonder whether these items are getting full consideration when they come up so late in the evening.

    Perhaps Council could devise a separate forum for granting recognition for notable civic participation. Periodic ceremonies conducted as open houses, rather than meeting agenda items, would allow Council to celebrate the good deeds of city residents, without delaying its business at regular meetings. No one who has an interest in Council business should be required to stay at City hall past midnight. Council needs to do a better job of controlling its agenda.

  3. By Mark Koroi
    June 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm | permalink

    @Jack Eaton:

    Agreed. It was a form of torture for citizens during the 413 E. Huron City Council deliberations to have citizens waiting to give public commentary to be forced to sit on hard benches until the wee hours of the morning while City Council members are debating how a tree gives off a shadow in a certain direction.

    I was there and saw the agony on citizens’ faces and heard the complaints.

    City Council should be mindful to control its discussions or simply start earlier to avoid this type of situation.

  4. By James Jefferson
    June 4, 2013 at 6:16 pm | permalink

    It is no wonder more people aren’t involved in public hearings when an item may not come up until midnight or later. For those of us not on the city payroll, it is difficult to justify the cost of staying up that late on a work night, for a three minute try to influence a council that for the most part seems beyond influence, no matter how many people speak and no matter what they say… Some rules changes might be in order if these are to continue to be considered public hearings. Thanks to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, this new time-stamped reporting style tells the tale.

  5. June 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm | permalink

    Re #3, #4: Please note that public hearings are in the earlier part of the meeting. Of course “early” is relative. I myself wimped out on the second public hearing of the night when 413 Huron was the subject. But citizens don’t have to wait until the wee small hours to speak, unless they want to have a “last word” after business has concluded.

    That said, I agree that council agendas need to be restructured to be more humane. As Jack pointed out, this pushes many very important discussions into a late hour and surely must compromise the discussion. It is unfair to our council members. Council should not be an endurance test.

    I think we have way too many ceremonial events and mayoral proclamations at the beginning of meetings. Here is an idea: put those on working session nights, which usually don’t last so long, and have excluded public comment.

  6. June 5, 2013 at 4:44 pm | permalink

    Re: taxicab board and whether Eric Sturgis resigned

    From our report of the Jan. 24, 2013 meeting of the taxicab board:

    The outcome of the board’s discussion on meeting time led to a decision to fix its regular meeting time for the fourth Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. That’s a decision that applies to the next six months. Before deciding to commit to that schedule, the board weighed the fact that its newest member – Eric Sturgis, whose appointment had been confirmed by the city council just two days earlier – had applied for appointment with the understanding that the regular meeting time was 8 a.m. Sturgis wasn’t able to attend the Jan. 24 meeting.

    I think it was a matter of not being able to reconcile schedules.

  7. By Rod Johnson
    June 5, 2013 at 9:42 pm | permalink

    I watched this meeting on CTN, well, some of it, specifically the segment in which a particular member of the citizenry spoke during 6 or 7 of the 8 public comment periods. It was excruciating. I came away with a new respect for council members’ ability to maintain neutral facial expressions.

  8. By Mark Koroi
    June 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm | permalink

    I checked the County Clerk’s campaign finance records downloadable at ewashtenaw.org. and examined the 2010 campaign committee election cycle for John Hieftje’s mayoral committee.

    It turns out that three prospective CAC members nominated for re-appointment by the Mayor had each donated to his committee that year the amount of $100.00 – these are Ray Detter, Hugh Sonk, and Jim Kern; Kern’s wife has also been nominated by the mayor for re-appointment.

    There have been concerns expressed that the Mayor had appointed many of his campaign contributors to municipal boards and commissions and whether such a scenario gave rise to an appearance of political cronyism.

  9. By Steve Bean
    June 6, 2013 at 9:43 am | permalink

    @8: You’re heading out on a wild goose chase, Mark. Appearances of favoritism are everywhere in all levels of government, so you’ll keep finding them as long as you keep looking. What they mean is another matter. Do you have something in mind to do at the end of your adventure? Maybe it would be more worthwhile to just skip right to it and suggest how to improve matters. You might start by contacting your council reps directly and expressing your concerns. They might help you come up with a viable remedy.

  10. By John Dory
    June 8, 2013 at 1:39 pm | permalink

    @Steve Bean:

    The problem we have with “political cronyism” is well-taken.

    The Planning Commission is a great example.

    Mayor John Hieftje invited Kirk Westphal and Wendy Woods to be on the Planning Commission. Westphal was a student in Hiefje’s class he taught at University of Michigan. Woods was invited after she lost her City Council seat to Mike Anglin. These two generally vote in lockstep with the Mayor on major issues. 413 E. Huron is a great example.

    The system of advertising and filling board and commission seat vacancies should be a robust process in which the public has an ample opportunity for notice and to be heard.

    The Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council has become a debacle with all seats having inadvertently expired due to administrative carelessness. No one currently sits on that public body nor has at since October of 2012 since the last three seats expired – including the chairman’s seat of Ray Detter. Hieftje’s solution is now to appoint a slate of eight ex-members (two have unexplainedly disappeared from the initial slate jammed onto the City Council Agenda last month) with the remaining vacancies unfilled.

    Instead of appointing the same faces – the City Council should and must consider a more thorough appointment process.

    Sue Kern and her husband are current nominees for re-appointment. Is this a common practice – appointment of married couples? It is a symptom of cronyism. Jim Kern has been a prolific political donor locally and I am sure John Hieftje appreciates this arrangement.

  11. June 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm | permalink

    Re (10) Unless I am mistaken, Wendy Woods did not vote for the 413 E. Huron site plan. That is why the PC did not approve the site plan, because it required another vote.

  12. By Mary Morgan
    June 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm | permalink

    Re. [11]: “…Wendy Woods did not vote for the 413 E. Huron site plan.”

    That’s correct. At their Feb. 5, 2013 meeting, planning commissioners voted 5-3 to recommend approval of the site plan and development agreement for 413 E. Huron. But because a recommendation of approval for site plans requires at least six votes, the project was forwarded to city council without that recommendation. Wendy Woods voted against the site plan, along with Ken Clein and Sabra Briere, who also serves on city council. Voting to recommend the project were Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona, Tony Derezinski, Kirk Westphal and Eleanore Adenekan. Eric Mahler was absent.

  13. By Tom Whitaker
    June 8, 2013 at 8:26 pm | permalink

    “But because a recommendation of approval for site plans requires at least six votes, the project was forwarded to city council without that recommendation.”

    Not sure why this keeps getting reported with this delicate language. In fact, the project went to Council with a recommendation of DENIAL. The rule is six votes to earn a recommendation of approval. Anything less is a recommendation of denial. Check the Council agendas for 413 E. Huron which clearly state “Planning Commission Recommendation: Denial.”

    City staff has sometimes tried to qualify this by calling it a “technical denial,” but there’s no such thing. Just like a bill in Congress, it either passes or fails–it’s recommended to be approved because the project wins over six members of the planning commission, or it is recommended to be denied, because it failed to win sufficient support.