Each of the city’s five wards is represented with two seats on the 11-member council, which includes the mayor. Every year, one of the two seats is up for election – as the terms for council seats are two years.
Both Ward 3 candidates participated in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on July 10. The complete video recording of the forum, conducted at Community Television Network’s studios on South Industrial, is available online through CTN’s Video on Demand.
Questions fielded by Grand and Kunselman included topics like transportation, downtown Ann Arbor, relations with the University of Michigan, public safety, alternative energy, and interactions between councilmembers and residents.
Kunselman is serving his third term on the council, having first been elected in 2006. He did not win re-election in 2008, when Christopher Taylor prevailed in the Democratic primary that year. Kunselman was returned by voters to a seat the following year, and was then re-elected in 2011. Kunselman’s campaigns – this year and in the past – have stressed his commitment to middle- and lower-income neighborhoods located farther away from the center of the city, such as his own neighborhood in the Springwater subdivision south of Packard and east of Buhr Park.
Grand, who lives a block away from Taylor in the Burns Park neighborhood, has served since 2007 on the city’s park advisory commission and is currently chair of that group. Kunselman served on the council when her nomination to PAC was confirmed. Grand’s campaign has stressed that she is a good communicator and seeks consensus, without needing to be the loudest voice.
Until the July 10 LWV forum, the contrast Grand drew between herself and Kunselman with respect to communicative style had been implicit. At the LWV forum, however, she made her criticism explicit, using her closing remarks to accuse Kunselman of focusing “on creating problems rather than solving them.” She also claimed that Kunselman had admitted that he didn’t come prepared to council meetings.
Grand responded to an email query from The Chronicle by indicating that she’d based her contention about an admission by Kunselman on her memory of a June 8 Democratic Party forum. Included in this Chronicle coverage of the LWV forum is a partial transcript of an audio recording from that June 8 event.
This report also presents responses by Grand and Kunselman to questions at the July 10 LWV forum, grouped more by theme than by chronology.
Candidates were given a chance to make a one-minute opening statement.
Opening Statement: Kunselman
Kunselman began by saying, “I’ve held the office with dignity, respect and honor.”
He called himself a strong and effective voice for fiscal responsibility, saying that he’d advocate for Ward 3 residents’ interests, as he understood the issues facing the city and its residents.
Kunselman said he had the “experience and ethical fortitude” necessary to provide solid representation to all neighborhoods of Ward 3.
He said he understands all too well the challenges facing the many working families and individuals who are striving to live a quality life in “this great city of ours.”
He then ticked through a geographical tour of the ward: “From Forestbrooke, to Arbor Oaks, to Burns Park and all the neighborhoods in between, I will continue to represent each and every one of you.”
Opening Statement: Grand
Grand introduced herself as a 15-year resident of Ann Arbor, living here with her husband and two children.
She has a masters and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan school of public health, she continued, and teaches health policy studies at the University of Michigan at Dearborn.
For the last six years she’s served on the park advisory commission.
As chair of that commission, she’d enjoyed solving problems and engaging the public, and had been energized by the opportunity to directly improve the quality of life for all citizens of Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor has 157 parks and natural areas, she said. She invited voters to learn more by visiting her website: votegrand.org. Her service on the council would be about proactive and responsible communication, and public input that leads to informed consensus-driven decisions.
She described it as a pleasure to learn about the issues that are unique to individual neighborhoods, as well as those that are common across Ward 3.
Two questions from the LWV involved transportation.
Transportation: The Connector
Plans are underway to bring light rail transportation into the city of Ann Arbor. Please use your minute to tell voters, especially in your ward, how you feel about any of the options – station location, possible routing, service priorities, cost-sharing on the planning.
By way of additional background, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is currently conducting an alternatives analysis study for possible high-capacity transit in the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.
A previous study established the feasibility of operating some kind of high-capacity transit in that corridor. A key finding of the feasibility study was that the demand for high-capacity transit is clear in the “core” of the corridor – primarily between the University of Michigan’s north campus, medical facilities and central campus.
The demand was found to be less intense on the corridor’s “shoulders.” That basic finding is now evident in the color shading on the draft route alignment map for the current phase of the study, which indicates the density of trips.
At a public engagement session held on June 18 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, it was announced that the alternative of an elevated guideway system is no longer among the mix of options that the consultant is considering. A final report on a locally preferred alternative is expected for this phase of the study sometime in the winter of 2014.
The funding for the planning work associated with both phases of the study was subjected to wrangling among the funding partners – the city, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the University of Michigan and the AAATA.
Transportation: The Connector – Kunselman
Kunselman began by saying transportation is an issue the community has been talking about for many years. And the connector is really no different. He said the study that is underway is for a service that would mostly serve the northeast side of town, and down through the University of Michigan campus and maybe down to State Street. It certainly has a lot of positive elements, he said – whether it’s implemented as light rail or bus rapid transit (BRT).
He felt it had to be recognized that the connector would primarily serve the University of Michigan campus. The question, Kunselman said, is really: Does that benefit the outlying neighborhoods – in Ward 3 in the Packard area, or in Ward 5 in the Miller and Maple area? Other questions cited by Kunselman included: How much does it cost? Who is going to participate? And where will the operational funds come from?
Given the size of Ann Arbor’s community, Kunselman expressed doubt that there is sufficient density for the connector service to be very functional. He expressed concern that the density used to assess the feasibility of the service is actually students in the dorms.
Transportation: The Connector – Grand
Grand indicated she was pleased that in connection with all transportation options, especially those related to rail, site studies are being conducted that would show if there is sufficient population to support the service, and how the service would be used.
Grand would personally support rail – but only with a number of conditions. One of those conditions, she explained, was that the numbers need to make sense – in terms of population and whether people would actually use the transportation options that are provided to them. Another condition she placed on her support for rail was the requirement that significant partnerships would be leveraged – citing specifically state and federal partnerships.
She added that because of who the connector would be serving, the University of Michigan would have to put up “significant zeros.” As a parks advocate, she had also supported the goals of public transit in the past, but had expressed some concerns about land use, so she thought questions about land use needed to be answered as well.
Our bus transportation system has become the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, with a seat for the city of Ypsilanti on the board. How is the current ridership? Will other surrounding townships come on board? What revenue will they bring? What say does the city of Ann Arbor and the city council have about millage money and the expansion or extension of routes?
By way of additional background, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board gave final approval to the change in its articles of incorporation, admitting the city of Ypsilanti as a member, at its June 20, 2013 meeting. As part of the move, the name of the organization was changed to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.
Before that, the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti had already approved the change. The Ann Arbor city council voted on June 3, 2013 to approve the change in governance, while the Ypsilanti city council took its vote on June 18. Both councils voted unanimously to support the move. [.pdf of new AAATA articles of incorporation] [.pdf of old AATA articles of incorporation
While the change to the articles will affect the governance of the AAATA, the goal of the governance change is to provide a way to generate additional funding for transportation. The AAATA could, with voter approval, levy a uniform property tax on the entire geographic area of its membership – something the AATA did not do. The cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti now levy their own millages, which are transmitted to the AAATA. However, Ypsilanti is currently at its 20-mill state constitutional limit. A millage levied by the AAATA would not count against that 20-mill cap.
Current discussions indicate that the intent is to increase levels of service – both frequency and the hours of operation – within the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city boundaries. The additional amount of local funding for the planned increases in service would be the equivalent of around 0.6-0.7 mills. One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
An AAATA millage proposal would require voter approval. The proposal to include Ypsilanti in the AAATA came 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: "Ypsi Waits at Bus Stop, Other Riders Unclear."]
Transportation: AAATA – Kunselman
Kunselman began by calling the issue something that is very dear to him. The expansion of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, which gives a seat to the city of Ypsilanti, is a very positive step, he said. It brings Ypsilanti to a seat at the table, so that Ypsilanti can be represented in decisions about where routes need to go between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
On the topic of a possible millage to be levied by the AAATA, Kunselman said he thought “that’s a little ways off for our discussion at this point.” But about transportation, Kunselman said, “We have to have mass transit.” He supported mass transit that serves neighborhoods and dense areas.
But he stressed that he did not think it made sense to send buses out into the countryside or to operate vanpools or “limousine service” for commuters from Chelsea or Canton. [The last reference was to AAATA's ExpressRide service.] Those things, he said, just do not make sense and they should not be funded by the Ann Arbor tax for mass transit.
Kunselman believed the “urban core” approach that’s being taken now is a positive direction, and it will only strengthen the AAATA’s ability to provide better service and increased frequencies and routes.
Transportation: AAATA – Grand
Grand began by saying she’s a strong supporter of transit and believes that it is a core service to the community. She felt it’s very fortunate to have what’s now the AAATA in the community.
Based on her conversations with people out in the ward, she didn’t think they are ready for a big comprehensive system that is quite as regional as the AAATA would have liked. The incremental approach, starting with Ypsilanti, was more obvious, she said – to the residents of Ypsilanti as well as to residents of Ann Arbor. Focusing on that urban core is a good first step, which provides the potential to grow.
Grand reported that she’d met with the AAATA leadership and talked to them about the issue of fair contribution – and they understand that the townships need to pay for service, if it’s provided. She didn’t have a problem with providing service out to the townships – it just shouldn’t be paid for by the Ann Arbor taxpayers.
Three questions related to the downtown and/or development.
Downtown Development: Vision of Ann Arbor
Many of today’s Ann Arbor citizens say they don’t recognize their city anymore, with the high-rises, zoning changes, and widely varying architecture. Are we trying for a complete makeover? So how would you or did you as a councilmember vote regarding building moratoriums, height restrictions, dedication of historical districts, and architectural oversight?
By way of additional background, on May 13, 2013, the Ann Arbor city council approved a contentious development proposal at 413 E. Huron – a 14-story, 216-apartment building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets.
The council had contemplated imposing a moratorium on downtown site plans, but on March 18, 2013 opted not to do so. Instead, the council gave direction to the city planning commission to review the city’s D1 zoning. The specific scope of planning commission work was outlined in an April 1, 2013 council resolution. Before that, on March 4, 2013 the council also reconvened its design review task force to take another look at the design review process. Currently, design review is mandatory, but compliance by developers with review board recommendations is voluntary.
Downtown Development: Vision of Ann Arbor – Kunselman
Kunselman began by saying he certainly understood the perception that people don’t recognize their city anymore. He grew up in Ann Arbor, he continued, and had seen the dramatic changes since the 1960s when he was a toddler. He called the changes in the downtown “certainly dramatic,” but at this point he did not think it was overbearing. He acknowledged there’s a fear that it could become that way.
Kunselman felt it’s important to recognize that Ann Arbor is a Midwestern college town. What’s happening, he ventured, is an effort to create an image of a “great metropolis.” About the idea that Ann Arbor is a metropolis, Kunselman said, “That we are certainly not.” He indicated that he didn’t think Ann Arbor would ever be a metropolis, because Ann Arbor is now more than it ever was before a “company town” – with the University of Michigan as the company. A number of private-sector businesses have been lost, he said.
Maintaining the character of the community really does start in our neighborhoods, Kunselman said. He has supported protecting the city’s neighborhoods from intrusions of inappropriate elements, he said, and he’d continue to do that.
Downtown Development: Vision of Ann Arbor – Grand
Grand reported that in talking to people out in the community, she heard the sentiment expressed in the question quite a bit – that people find the changes to the downtown “jarring.” The tall buildings are not what people expected to see, even those who were supportive of density in the downtown.
Grand noted that the city owns a number of properties that are available to be developed in the coming years – in and near the downtown. She felt the city needs to “lead by success,” and involve citizens in decisions about the future use of that property. Just because it hasn’t worked in the past, doesn’t mean that the city can’t truly engage citizens in the process so that development of those parcels is achieved that is compatible with the aesthetic vision that the community wants. That would get people feeling more connected to their downtown, she said – not just in terms of building, but in the balance that people want, between buildings and open space.
Downtown Development: DDA
Who or what is the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and what is the financial interrelationship between the DDA and the city of Ann Arbor? Do you favor continuing it or changing it somehow? And if, so what would you like to do?
By way of additional background, the DDA does not levy taxes on its own authority, but rather captures taxes of other taxing entities – the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College and the Ann Arbor District Library. The DDA does not capture the full amount of those entities’ taxes, but rather only on the initial increment between the baseline value of a property and the increase in value due to new construction and improvements. That is, the DDA does not capture taxes on an increase that’s due to inflation.
Chapter 7 of the city code already regulates the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF). The DDA has chosen to interpret the Chapter 7 language in a way that does not recognize the cap on TIF revenues that is set forth in the code. That led to a proposal by some councilmembers earlier this year to revise the ordinance so that the DDA’s alternate interpretation is clearly ruled out. The council gave the ordinance change initial approval on April 1, 2013. But later, on May 6, 2013, the council chose to postpone the final vote until Sept. 3, the council’s first meeting that month.
Downtown Development: DDA – Grand
Grand began by saying that she didn’t think she had the time to explain what the DDA does. But she stated that the DDA is definitely linked to the city. The city council ultimately approves much of what the DDA does, and that meant the DDA and the council are linked together – as she believes they should be.
She currently does support what the DDA is doing. She felt that that one thing Kunselman doesn’t talk about a lot is that even though the DDA captures taxes, the DDA does give back to the city. And that supports the core services that neighborhoods care about as well, she said. So when the DDA is doing its job and bringing more development, supporting local business in the city, that tax capture doesn’t just support the downtown.
A vibrant downtown that brings people to the city, and causes people to want to live and work in the city, means that there is also money for the neighborhoods to pay for roads and to pay for schools, she contended. To illustrate her point, Grand said that 13 years ago the DDA district generated $4.5 million and in 2013 it generated $10.5 million.
Downtown Development: DDA – Kunselman
The DDA has been empowered by the city and is regulated under a city ordinance, Kunselman began. He felt that the source of the DDA’s funding – and whether it is appropriate that the DDA’s tax capture should help subsidize the parking system – could, he thought, generate some lively discussion. Kunselman said he believes the DDA does not need to take all the money that it can possibly take, just because student high-rise development has taken place.
Kunselman invited voters to think of the situation in terms of a Halloween analogy: You’re a parent and you’re taking your kids trick-or-treating. You come to a doorstep where somebody has put out all the candy on the porch, with the assumption that you probably are going to take what you need – but you don’t take the rest because you have to leave some for somebody else. The others who need that candy, the others who need that money, are the other taxing authorities, Kunselman said: Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor District Library, and Washtenaw Community College, as well as the city of Ann Arbor. He concluded that he didn’t think the DDA should take everything, and should give some back.
Downtown Development: City-Owned Land
Please tell the voters what land the city owns in the downtown area and how you would favor using it for the greatest good. What ideas are out there, or are commitments already made? And specifically, what use would you support for the Library Lane lot?
By way of additional background, the DDA this year completed a city council-directed planning project, called Connecting William Street (CWS), which included the Library Lane lot as well as the former Y Lot. The CWS project was undertaken by the DDA based on a directive from the city council given at its April 4, 2011 meeting.
The intent was to make recommendations for possible future development, in a cohesive way, on five city-owned sites: (1) the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the former YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.
In January 2013, the DDA gave a presentation to the council on its Connecting William Street recommendations. The council never took action on that proposal. However, at its March 5, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission voted to adopt the report as a resource document supporting the city’s master plan. Kirk Westphal, the commission’s chair, also served on an advisory board for the Connecting William Street effort. He is running unopposed in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary for Ward 2.
For a summary of Chronicle coverage of CWS and Y lot issues, see “Planning Group Strategizes on Downtown.”
Downtown Development: City-Owned Land – Kunselman
There are at least five parcels that are parking lots, Kunselman began.
He wanted to focus on one of them that he’d talked about two years ago in 2011, during his campaign – the Y lot. That needs to be sold, he said, because it has been a huge drain financially on the city taxpayers. He pointed out the burden of carrying the debt. One of his campaign pledges in 2011 was to get that property listed for sale, and the rest of the council had agreed with him – along with the mayor, who co-sponsored the resolution – to hire a broker. He was pleased to announce that is now underway.
Kunselman noted that he’d grown up in Ann Arbor and lived downtown for a number of years. He attended school at the University of Michigan. And during that time, the Library Lane lot has always been a surface parking lot, he said. What are we going to do with it in the years ahead? That’s going to be a great community discussion, he ventured. He pointed out that there’s a lot of money invested in the new underground parking garage, and there’s a lot of issues about how it was financed, using public federal dollars. He contended that it’s going to be very difficult to sell the air rights above the parking garage, due to the bonds that were used to finance the structure.
Downtown Development: City-Owned Land – Grand
Grand said she’d add a number of other city-owned properties to the five properties associated with Connecting William Street. There are also some near-downtown properties – like 415 West Washington and 721 North Main, which she was pleased would be anchored to the future Allen Creek Greenway. That’s a project she’d worked on as part of the city’s North Main Huron River task force.
And she currently sits on the downtown parks subcommittee, as part of her service to the park advisory commission, Grand noted. Instead of saying what she thinks should go on top of the Library Lane lot, she stressed that the subcommittee is asking the community: What do you think should go there? The committee was also gathering a lot of expert opinion as well, and that’s going to inform the committee’s recommendations, she said. But in the week ahead, she encouraged people to fill out their surveys.
As for the old Y lot, as with all the city properties, Grand felt it shouldn’t just go to the highest bidder. She allowed that the city needs to be responsible and to cover its debts. But the city also needs to have a long-term vision for that space, she added, so development can be achieved that is consistent with what the citizens want to see.
University of Michigan-City Relations
Many university cities have established anchor institution relationships, the hallmark of which is connecting the campus with city life and community-building. What are the some of the ways you believe that Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan can nurture and grow programs that use common anchor institution strategies – among them local purchasing, investment practices, neighborhood partnerships, and city revenue generation such as payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOTs.
By way of additional background, the city and the University of Michigan recently came up against a point of friction over a right-of-way occupancy agreement in connection with the university’s desire to run conduit under Tappan Street. The council took action at its July 15, 2013 meeting to direct renegotiation of the template used by the city and the university to handle that kind of agreement.
The friction stemmed from a vote taken at the council’s May 13, 2013 meeting, which failed to achieve an eight-vote majority. The purpose of the conduits is to connect a new emergency generator to the Lawyers Club buildings at 551 S. State St. The Lawyers Club and the generator are located on opposite sides of the street. The university considers the transaction to be a conveyance of an interest in land. The city doesn’t see it that way, but the council was asked to treat the agreement as if it were a conveyance of an interest in land – which triggered the requirement of an eight-vote majority.
Other recent council conversation about university-city relations includes coordinating with the university about a partial closure of Main Street on football Saturdays. A public meeting is scheduled for July 24 at 6 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library to explain how the logistics will work.
University-City Relations – Grand
Grand began by saying she’s personally been disappointed with some of the decisions that the university has made. She felt it’s important to understand that the university is a state institution that is accountable to the state, and that the city council can ask, but ultimately the university is not responsible to the city council. The university is responsible to the state legislature and to the voters of the state and the residents of the state, she stressed.
Grand felt there are some really great examples of collaboration already between the city and the university. For example, she said, the police forces work together. In the parks system, the natural area preservation program gets hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours every year, from student volunteers who are out working to make a better community. In the city’s schools, students volunteer as well. She didn’t want to demonize the University of Michigan. She would like to see PILOTs and would like to see the city and university work together more. Grand hoped that with the new leadership that would be coming to the university, some potential new areas of collaboration would open up.
University-City Relations – Kunselman
Kunselman picked up on Grand’s phrasing by saying that he, too, would not demonize the university – as he is a university employee. [He serves as a Planet Blue energy conservation liaison.] He called himself a great fan of the university, having obtained three degrees from UM. The university employed both his mother and his father over the years. There is a great deal of collaboration that already takes place, he said, giving the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park, held at UM’s Ingalls Mall, as an obvious example. Even things that aren’t seen for the most part by pedestrians – like the connections between University of Michigan buildings – usually cross city right-of-way, he said. And those kinds of things have to be worked out, and they have done pretty well for the most part, he said.
The big issue between UM and the city right now is security, Kunselman said. The two police departments will need to work together in the context of homeland security laws, to handle football games and hockey games during the winter. As far as PILOTs go, Kunselman said, that will never happen, and it needs to be dropped as a discussion point. UM is a state constitutional entity, which has its own governance and owes the city nothing.
The Ann Arbor police chief tells us that the city is a pretty safe place, even with a reduced police presence. But our police department would like to have more officers, in order to be more proactive. Do you agree with hiring more officers? Can we afford to? Is there possible help from the DDA for this?
By way of additional background, Ann Arbor chief of police John Seto updated the council at its July 15, 2013 on crime trends for the first six months of the year. The first six months of the year show that Part 1 crimes are down 10% compared to last year, Seto reported. [Part 1 crimes are considered the most serious, and include murder, rape, robbery, arson, and motor vehicle theft, among others.] Overall crime is down 7.5%.
Seto also reported that the department is analyzing the initial data collection from the electronic activity logs for officers. That’s significant, because the council’s success statements for public safety – adopted at a retreat in late 2012 – are defined in part on how much time officers have available for proactive policing.
The council passed a resolution on June 3, 2013 requesting that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority consider funding three downtown police officers.
Public Safety – Kunselman
Kunselman said he very much supported the police department’s position that it needs more funding, in order to be proactive. But he cautioned that it would take a while before the city can get to that point. It’s certainly not going to take place in just a couple of years, he said, venturing that it’s going to be a number of years before the budget stabilizes enough so that the number of police department employees can be increased.
As far as DDA funding for police services, he said, that’s why an amendment was being considered for the ordinance that actually restricts the DDA TIF capture. If the amendment passes, general fund dollars that the DDA has been capturing from the city can then go to the city’s general fund budget. Kunselman stressed that the city cannot expect the DDA to fund police department expenses out of its tax increment finance (TIF) capture – because that would violate the statutory enabling legislation for DDAs, which requires that TIF sharing be agreed to by all of the taxing authorities. In this case, those authorities are the city, the library, the county, and the community college, Kunselman said.
Public Safety – Grand
Grand felt it’s important to recognize that over the last 10 years, the crime rate has gone down, especially violent crime. She was concerned that the city is not using the best possible metrics to measure the value-add of more police officers.
Grand said she supports the benefits of proactive policing and would like to see more proactive policing in neighborhoods and the downtown. But she wanted a way to measure the effect of increased police staffing. If the department increases from 146 to 152 police officers, for example, how much safer does that make us feel as a community? And how much safer does that actually make us as a community? As far as using the DDA for funding police officers, she’d like to see beat cops downtown – but only if it can be sustained. She would hate to see a situation where someone is hired into the police force, only to find there’s not funding to pay for them in the future.
In what way does the city currently use, plan to use, or should be using alternative energy sources to reduce energy consumption, expenses, and carbon dioxide emissions?
Alternative Energy – Grand
Grand said that the city is making use of alternative energy, but could always do more. She believed that Ann Arbor has been a leader in alternative energy compared to other communities in Michigan and in the country. She didn’t know specific statistics. She pointed out that the AAATA has hybrid buses. And she pointed out that the city has a sustainability plan that was developed from the different commissions and groups throughout the city. She noted that sustainability is related to alternative energy. The city has gone through a process where it’s now possible to look at what the environmental commission has recommended, what the energy commission has recommended, and she’s pleased about that.
Alternative Energy – Kunselman
Alternative energy is something that Kunselman said he thinks gets a lot of people confused – about how much is being generated and how much the city is actually going to be able to accomplish. He noted that the city is using landfill gas to generate electricity out of the landfill, but that goes right into the transmission line. So you can’t say that the city is actually benefiting, Kunselman contended, but it’s doing its part to reduce methane emissions from the landfill.
The city has solar arrays – on the farmer’s market canopy and the city’s parking kiosks downtown. The city has hydropower, though he added that he’s not sure if the dams are generating electricity. But he pointed out that there was some discussion about trying to get the Veterans Administration hospital to use Argo dam as a generator of hydroelectricity.
And recently, Kunselman continued, the city has been talking about wind power. He’d voted for a demonstration project that would use wind turbines that would, he hoped, be sited at Pioneer High School and perhaps at Huron High School. That project would at least illustrate and demonstrate the ability of wind power in our community, he said, so that others could see an example.
Two questions related to interactions between the council and residents.
Community: Citizen Participation
The League of Women Voters exists to promote active citizen participation in government. Please direct your answer to an interested Ann Arbor resident. Tell her or him what steps to take to become actively involved in our city, through the neighborhoods, the council, the commissions, etc. What kind of advice would you give?
Community: Citizen Participation – Grand
From Grand’s service on the park advisory commission, she knew that people are very passionate about the city’s parks. And one of the reasons she’s running for city council is that she admires how engaged the community is and how passionate it is, not only about its parks but about the city as well. So there are lots of opportunities for public engagement, she said. Not everyone has the capability or time to come to meetings, but new technologies could help address that, she said. If she were elected to serve on the council, residents could read her council communications that she would send out to them, especially on contentious issues, and give her their feedback. They could also participate in a number of online surveys. As an example, she indicated that a downtown open space survey would be conducted, as well as a survey on dog parks. She concluded that public engagement can be achieved through a combination of online mechanisms, and more traditional meeting attendance.
Community: Citizen Participation – Kunselman
Kunselman indicated there are a number of opportunities, and citizens need to think about what they’re interested in. He pointed out the possibility of applying to serve on a city board or commission. He encouraged that – because he thinks it’s important that the city has a broad range of perspectives and a broad candidate pool for boards and commissions. Another opportunity he pointed out for participation were neighborhood watch programs. Another category of participation highlighted by Kunselman were events – he pointed out that a number of associations exist primarily for the purpose of putting on some sort of event. As examples he gave the art fairs and Top of the Park.
Kunselman also pointed out there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved in political organizations. As a final example of ways to participate, Kunselman suggested business organizations – saying that just recently the merchants on Washtenaw Avenue had indicated an interest in putting together an organization. He felt sure that a merchants association like that would be willing to listen to the community that is adjacent to it.
As a member of city council, how would you improve council-to-citizen communication?
Community: Communication – Grand
Grand began by saying it’s a core responsibility of a city councilmember to communicate. She’s heard from people out in the community, who point out that there’s no daily paper any longer. They want to know how they’re supposed to know about policy changes. She tells those people that it would be her job to help them. She’s encouraged that the city is improving its website.
Grand said she has a health education background, and she felt there are some proactive educational steps that could be taken by providing answers to very commonly asked questions. For example: What can I do if I have flooding in my basement? Who owns the street? I see lines outside on the street – when is construction going to begin? She stated that it’s part of the job of a city councilmember to connect residents to someone at the city who can answer those questions for them.
Community: Communication – Kunselman
Kunselman called it a very difficult issue, given that Ann Arbor no longer has a daily newspaper that’s dropped at everybody’s door. It’s something the community would struggle with for some time, he said. He suggested that any resident in Ward 3 could contact him via e-mail, and or call him, and he would always reply. That’s how he worked to make sure that his constituents are informed and to provide information to them. Other than that, he pointed to the city website and the variety of news resources that the community does have. None of those is typically broad enough to hit all of the various interests in the ward – but he suggested finding a news source that you trust and go to it frequently. From there, expand out. As examples, he gave the Ann Arbor Chronicle, AnnArbor.com, The Ann Arbor Observer, and the city website. Kunselman said he even has a website, and maintains it “to some degree.” He pointed to other news organizations because they “tend to cover things a lot better than I can because I still have a full-time job.”
Each candidate was given two minutes for a closing.
Grand led off her closing remarks by thanking the League of Women Voters.
She’s running for city council because she believes that Ann Arbor is an extraordinary community.
Ann Arbor is worthy of thoughtful leadership and responsive communication from its elected representatives, she said.
And as chair of the park advisory commission, she had adhered to a philosophy of preserving and improving upon the city’s existing resources, while looking for creative partnerships to find new opportunities.
In spite of the considerable economic challenges of the last few years, the city’s parks continue to thrive, she said.
She had worked hard to ensure that robust public engagement and transparent decision-making is at the forefront of the city’s efforts on parks, and she’d continue to make that effort if elected to serve on council.
Describing Kunselman as “my opponent,” Grand reported that Kunselman said the city is “at a political crossroads.” She agreed with that.
She then filled her remaining allotted time with a criticism of Kunselman:
Voters are being given a choice this election between a proven communicator – who’s exhibited thoughtful leadership – and an elected official who promotes an us-versus-them mentality, that focuses on creating problems rather than solving them. It’s time for a change in city politics – by electing someone who is fair, thoughtful, and balanced, rather than re-electing a man who admitted he doesn’t come prepared to his own city council meetings.
As a constituent of my opponent, I have never received a proactive e-mail, newsletter, or knock on my door. You heard him tonight say, “Go to your local papers.” That’s outrageous! It is your job on city council to help communicate what the issues are to your constituents. One of the main reasons I got into this race is because my opponent and I have a fundamentally different idea of the level of constituent communication that is required of a councilmember. As a resident of the Third Ward, I deserve better. All of us in the Third Ward deserve better. I hope that you will join me in moving our city in a positive direction by voting Grand on Aug. 6. Thank you.
Grand’s criticism didn’t appear to cause Kunselman to veer from the text of his prepared closing statement. So he led off by thanking the LWV and Grand for making the Democratic primary election competitive.
It had been an honor and privilege to serve the residents of Ward 3 as a city councilmember for nearly six years, he continued. He felt that ward residents would agree that he’s held the position with trust, dignity, respect and honor, and he had worked to gain their trust. He called himself a strong, assertive and effective voice for the residents of Ward 3 and for all Ann Arborites.
With residents’ support, the effort had been won to keep existing fire stations open. Other accomplishments on the council highlighted by Kunselman included changes to the public art ordinance, which ended the practice of transferring restricted utility and millage funds to the public art fund. The recently adopted fiscal year 2014 budget had added staff to the city’s public safety department. And the city was hiring a broker to sell the old Y Lot – a pledge he’d made in his 2011 re-election campaign.
If re-elected, Kunselman said, he’d continue to work cooperatively and graciously with his colleagues and would emphasize vigorous and open debate on all issues “facing our great city.” He’d continue to advocate for investment in neighborhoods, in order to stabilize property values. For too long, he said, the neighborhoods have been neglected while politicians and political appointees have been speculating on how to build big buildings downtown. It’s time to focus on the city’s neighborhoods and repair and maintain the city’s aging infrastructure.
Kunselman said he’d continue to press the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to show some fiscal discipline. He cited the DDA’s recent vote to spend $200,000 on consultants to develop a streetscape plan, while they were “whining” that the DDA is expected to help pay for replacement of rusted-out streetlight poles on Main Street. It illustrated just how “out of whack” the DDA’s fiscal priorities are, Kunselman said.
Kunselman said he was proud and humbled to have the support of prominent Ward 3 county commissioners Yousef Rabhi and Andy LaBarre. He thanked his supporters over the years for their infallible commitment to his efforts to restore the public trust in city government. He concluded by asking residents for their vote.
Coda: Preparation for Council Meetings
Responding to an email query from The Chronicle about her claim that Kunselman had “admitted he doesn’t come prepared to his own city council meetings,” Grand pointed to remarks made at the Democratic Party forum held on June 8, 2013. She indicated that her claim was based on her own and others’ memory of Kunselman’s remarks about reading the council information packet before the meeting: “My memory of Steve’s comments at the Ann Arbor Dems re: not reading his packet has been confirmed by various members in the audience that day. In fact, Sally Petersen and I had a conversation about this comment when I ran into her reading her packet in preparation for a meeting later that week.” [Petersen, a Democrat, represents Ward 2 on the city council.]
The Chronicle transcribed Kunselman’s remarks about reading the council’s information packet from an audio recording of the forum. Kunselman’s remarks came in the context of a question posed to candidates that invited them to comment on areas where they thought the council could improve, including how to deal with factions within the council.
I appreciate Julie’s comments talking, you know, about the need to not to go toward divisiveness and polarization – and that’s what we are, have accomplished with the changes as of December 2013. If you recall, or December 2012, sorry.
If you recall, prior to that, yes, there wasn’t divisiveness or polarization, there was ‘Groome-ing’, there was isolation, there was a hostility, behind the scenes. There were councilmembers that were attacking others, stabbing them in the back, talking about them, e-mailing them during council meetings. That was hostile. And that is no longer the case, that is gone and it will be gone forever as long as I serve on council, alright? We need to have openness, transparency, have these diverse opinions. [The allusion to "Groome-ing" was to former Ward 1 city councilmember Kim Groome, who resigned from the council in 2005. According to Kunselman, she had been isolated by other councilmembers.]
When I go into a meeting these days, I don’t necessarily know which way I’m gonna vote, because I want to hear the opinions of my colleagues. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the time to meet with staff and to understand all the intricacies. I do have the experience of working in government and understanding that, so I do have at least the advantage of not having to read 800 pages of a council packet, because I understand a little bit more of the intricacies of what staff has been talking about having served as that staff member, alright? But I need my colleagues to help inform me, and that is where we are now are going.
The idea of divisiveness and polarization was the past, that’s not present. And that’s where we need to keep forward, and keep looking forward, and keep our direction going, and I will help bring that if re-elected in Novemb… or in August, and also in November.
[.mp3 file of Kunselman's June 8 remarks. The clip also includes Grand's remarks in response to the same question, which immediately preceded Kunselman's response.]
The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. We sit on the hard bench so that you don’t have to. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!