Sept. 3, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: Final

DDA ordinance and council rules are back on the agenda; also, Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume, solar energy, fossil fuel divestment

The council’s post-holiday meeting agenda signals the end of summer and a reminder of work the council left unfinished several weeks earlier. Two items on the agenda were postponed until the Sept. 3, 2013 meeting at least seven weeks ago. The first is a revision to the ordinance regulating the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The second is a revision to the council’s own internal rules, which could have an immediate impact on the way conversations between the council and the DDA take place.

New sign on door to Ann Arbor city council chamber

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

For both agenda items, the expectation was that council committees would work during the interim period to hammer out a clarified proposal and recommendation for the full council to consider on Sept. 3. In neither case was that committee work accomplished.

After voting at its May 6, 2013 session to postpone a final vote on DDA ordinance revisions until Sept. 3, the council attempted to ensure that the deliberations at the first meeting of the fall would be productive. The council voted on July 1, 2013 to establish a joint council-DDA committee to work out a recommendation on possible legislation. The main point of controversy involves the definition of the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture.

Already given initial approval by the council is a proposal that would essentially enforce the existing ordinance language. The revision to the ordinance would have an arguably inconsequential impact on TIF revenue received by the DDA – when compared to its most recent 10-year planning document. What makes that comparison controversial, and unwelcome to the DDA staff and board, is the fact that its most recent planning document doesn’t include tax revenue from very recent new downtown construction. The revised ordinance would have a roughly $1 million per year negative impact on DDA TIF revenues – when compared to the amount the DDA would receive if the DDA were allowed to give the existing ordinance language its preferred interpretation.

The charge to the joint committee on July 1 was to begin meeting immediately, but the group did not convene until eight weeks later, on Aug. 26 – after the Aug. 6 Democratic primary election. The outcome of that election left a key vote in place for an ordinance revision that doesn’t favor the DDA – that of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who defeated challenger Julie Grand. Still, DDA board members at the Aug. 26 meeting seemed keen to continue a delaying gambit. That’s because a failure by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to win re-election in November could tip the balance in the DDA’s favor – even factoring in the addition of Jack Eaton in Ward 4. Eaton, who prevailed on Aug. 6 over incumbent Marcia Higgins, supports the idea of constraining the DDA’s TIF capture.

At the one committee meeting held so far, the only substantive concept that was batted around briefly was the idea of defining some kind of fixed cap on TIF revenue. This approach would replace the existing ordinance language, which calibrates the DDA’s TIF capture with the projections in the TIF plan. But the discussion never went as far as to include dollar amounts for the fixed cap. After about an hour and a half of political squabbling and sometimes inaccurate recitation of historical facts, the general mood among councilmembers seemed to be reflected in a remark by Sally Petersen (Ward 2): “I don’t think we can be there by next week.” So the item looks likely be postponed on Sept. 3. However, the council is free to vote the proposal up or down at this meeting.

The one session of the joint DDA-council committee still exceeded, by one meeting, the council rules committee’s effort over the summer. The rules committee did not meet at all between July 15, 2013 and Sept. 3. On July 15, the council had postponed a vote on new rules, but not before rejecting one of the proposed rule changes, which the committee had first presented on June 17, 2013. The council as a whole was not keen to shorten public commentary speaking turns. So the proposal currently in front of the council would maintain the existing three-minute time limit.

But as the council’s July 15 deliberations on other proposed rules changes threatened to bog down that meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), chair of the rules committee, encouraged a postponement until Sept. 3. In the interim, the committee – consisting of Higgins, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and mayor John Hieftje – was supposed to meet to consolidate input from other councilmembers and perhaps present a clean slate of proposed revisions.

Even though the rules committee didn’t meet, based on comments by Briere and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) at the Sunday night caucus on Sept. 1, they might push to eliminate all proposed revisions to the rules except for the one that had prompted the rules committee to consider some changes in the first place. The rules changes were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions – to eliminate any question about whether councilmembers were engaged in deliberative interactions at those sessions. By allowing for public commentary at work sessions, the council would ensure compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. By enacting that rule change on Sept. 3, the council would be set for a fully deliberative work session on Sept. 9 – which is scheduled to be a joint session with the board of the DDA.

Three other significant items on the Sept. 3 agenda are tied together with an environmental thread. The council will be considering a resolution directing city staff to explore options with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help to set the clean-up requirements for 1,4-dioxane so that the Pall-Gelman plume is cleaned up to appropriate standards. The council will also be asked to act on a resolution urging the city’s employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies. And finally, the council will consider a resolution directing staff to work with DTE on a pilot program for a “community solar” initiative.

More detail on other meeting agenda items is 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.” The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

6:54 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. City administrator Steve Powers is here. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and mayor John Hieftje are the only members of council who are here.

7:01 p.m. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) won’t be able to be here tonight. She’s looking after family in Pennsylvania. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) are now here. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) have now arrived.

7:03 p.m. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) have arrived, as has Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

7:07 p.m. And we’re off.

7:08 p.m. Pledge of allegiance, moment of silence and the roll call of council. Absent tonight are Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

7:08 p.m. Proclamations. Three proclamations are on tonight’s agenda. The first one honors disability community activist Lena Ricks. Her passing was highlighted at the last meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority during public commentary. On that occasion, Carolyn Grawi, director of advocacy and education for the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, described Ricks as a long-time local advisory council (LAC) member for the AAATA. The LAC is a group that provides input and feedback to AAATA on disability and senior issues. Grawi described Rick’s hard work and devotion to disability rights. She described Ricks as the “matriarch of the disability movement,” beginning with work almost 40 years ago.

The second proclamation recognizes Dawn Farm’s 40th anniversary. Dawn Farm is a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. The organization was founded in 1973 by Gary Archie and Jack Scholtus in a rented old farmhouse on Stony Creek Road in Ypsilanti. The organization has grown to include facilities in downtown Ann Arbor.

The third proclamation honors Bill Kidd for volunteering in Ann Arbor’s parks and natural areas. The proclamation mentions pruning, weeding, monitoring street and park trees through the Citizen Pruner Program and removal of invasive species as activities Kidd has helped with.

7:11 p.m. The proclamation honoring Lena Ricks has been given. It’s met with a round of applause. A family member is expressing her appreciation, calling Lena Ricks a “very dear advocate” for those with disabilities.

7:12 p.m. Representatives of Dawn Farm are now at the podium to receive the proclamation. They include one of the founders – Jim Balmer, who serves as president – as well as Janis Bobrin, former water resources commissioner for Washtenaw County. Bobrin is on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

7:17 p.m. Now at the podium is Bill Kidd to receive his proclamation for volunteering in the city parks and natural areas preservation program.

7:17 p.m. Public commentary. This portion of the meeting offers 10 three-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.]

Signed up tonight, with topics in parens, are Thomas Partridge (Martin Luther King Jr. freedom march), Jim Mogensen (Downtown Development Authority ordinance) Roger Rayle (cleanup criteria for the Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume), Jeff Hayner (environmental issues), Mike Shriberg (fossil fuel company divestment), Monica Patel (fossil fuel company divestment), Mark Koroi (council rules revisions), and Henry Herskovitz (weekly demonstrations at Beth Israel).

7:21 p.m. Partridge introduces himself as a 2010 senate candidate and 2012 candidate for the Michigan house of representatives who’s now a write-in candidate for Ward 5 city council this year. He speaks as an advocate supporting Martin Luther King Jr.’s agenda. Partridge calls for emphasis on affordable housing, public transportation, and fair access to public meetings. He calls for 3- to 5-minute public participation time. There should be no reductions in the amount of time offered to the public, he says. A forward-looking city council would look for new ways to increase public participation time, he concludes.

7:25 p.m. After Partridge’s remarks, mayor John Hieftje tells those holding signs to move to the sides of the room in accordance with the council rules. Mogensen is categorizing Michigan cities, based on their challenges. Ann Arbor tries, as does the general public, to deny these challenges exist. Some people blame liberals for spending money. He alludes to the old quip about Ann Arbor during the football season: “Fake left, run right.” The basic idea is to make the city function well.

7:28 p.m. Rayle introduces himself as chair of Scio Residents for Safe Water. He speaks in support of the resolution on the agenda calling on the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality to tighten up the standards for the Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane cleanup. When the standards were loosened back in 1985, he says, it happened overnight. He notes that this doesn’t have to be the last resolution on this topic. He’s glad that the council’s attention is back on this topic. Ann Arbor’s water system could eventually be threatened, he says, and a “new hit” was recorded on a well where nobody expected it. He describes his work with GoogleEarth to show how the plume has spread. He calls on Gov. Rick Snyder to get involved and to get the MDEQ straightened out as well as the state attorney general’s office.

7:31 p.m. Hayner, who’s running as an independent for city council in Ward 1 against incumbent Democrat Sabra Briere, is now at the podium. He talks about the balance between vision and common sense. He speaks in support of the community solar resolution. He also speaks in support of the divestment of fossil fuels companies, but urges caution and warns of possible losses. Is social gain worth the risk? he asks. He thanks Rayle for speaking about the 1,4-dioxane resolution. It’s a complex problem that is not going away, he says.

7:34 p.m. Shriberg is speaking on behalf of the city’s energy commission. He asks the council to support the community solar resolution and the fossil fuel divestment resolution. He mentions Seattle, San Francisco, State College and Boulder as examples of cities that have divested. He describes the increased financial risk as minimal.

7:35 p.m. Patel is now supporting the resolutions on community solar and fossil fuel divestment on behalf of the Ecology Center. She gives the council petitions signed by Ann Arbor residents.

7:38 p.m. Koroi reminds councilmembers that he’d spoken to the council previously on the topic of public commentary at working sessions. He says he wants to see the issue taken care of. He notes that Higgins is not here and calls her “the invisible woman.” More public commentary means that the council will hear more from Partridge and Blaine Coleman, Koroi says, adding that the U.S. Constitution must be upheld. He says the Michigan Open Meetings Act should be upheld.

7:41 p.m. Herskovitz cites two news articles about the protests in front the Beth Israel Congregation on Washtenaw Avenue. He notes that at the previous council meeting, the council had been asked to express its displeasure about the protests. He objects to comments made by mayor John Hieftje and other councilmembers. Herskovitz reports that three days ago, someone had spat on a protestor. A police officer had come out to investigate and to view video of the incident, he says.

7:42 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.

7:42 p.m. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) is giving an update on the work of the North Main Huron River Corridor task force’s work. Their final report has been submitted. The report includes some before-after photos depicting possible improvements, like a pedestrian bridge across the Huron River connecting the Argo berm to the MichCon property. The task force was established at the council’s May 7, 2012 meeting, and had been due at the end of July. But Briere had apprised the council at previous meetings of the slight delay.

7:43 p.m. Briere apologizes for the delay in the delivery of the report. She hopes there will be a presentation at the next council meeting on Sept. 16. Briere also reports that the D1 zoning review could be delayed. More public meetings have been added than were originally planned.

7:47 p.m. Petersen announces that on Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. a Sensory Garden will be dedicated at Liberty Plaza – the downtown park at Division and Liberty. It’s a project of the Ann Arbor commission on disability issues, in collaboration with the city’s adopt-a-park program and the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens. A ceremony will be held to honor former commissioner Pamela Baker-Trostle.

7:47 p.m. Kailasapathy reports that she’s been working with staff on getting a report from a professional traffic engineer regarding the recommendation for the city’s crosswalk ordinance. She indicates that she might bring forward a resolution at the next meeting calling for an independent review of the crosswalk ordinance and the associated infrastructure.

7:48 p.m. City administrator Steve Powers indicates that he’ll be providing an update to the council on the review of the new crosswalk ordinance, and of the sanitary sewer overflow in the Arboretum at the start of the weekend. He describes some praise from a resident on Lincoln Street who was pleased with the performance of the Ann Arbor fire department earlier today.

7:49 p.m. Public hearings. All the public hearings are grouped together during this section of the meeting. Action on the related items comes later in the meeting. Only one public hearing appears on the agenda tonight. It’s a proposal to build a new Hampton Inn at 2910 Jackson Ave., across the street from Weber’s Inn. The proposed four-story hotel, located on an 8.8-acre site north of Jackson and south of I-94, would include 100 bedrooms and 51,608 usable square feet. A 163-room Clarion Hotel stands on the same site, east of the proposed new hotel.

The planning commission gave this “planned project” a recommendation of approval at its July 2, 2013 meeting. Commissioners had discussed the proposal at length during their June 18, 2013 meeting. Ultimately, they unanimously voted to postpone action at that meeting, instead asking the developer to address concerns over pedestrian access within the site. The planned project status is being sought that the existing foundation can be used. In 2008, when an earlier site plan had been approved, but nothing beyond the foundation built, no maximum front setback had been required. Now, however, a maximum front setback of 50 feet is required on at least one of the site’s three front property lines. A planned project status would allow that requirement to be waived.

Hampton Inn, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A drawing of the proposed Hampton Inn on Jackson Avenue – next to the larger existing Clarion Inn – was shown to commissioners at their July 2 meeting. The design includes improved pedestrian features.

7:51 p.m. Thomas Partridge is speaking on the Hampton Inn planned project site plan. He says he’s wary of the planning commission’s approval. We don’t want more pedestrian casualties or deaths, he says. Many people use this stretch of Jackson Road to deliberately speed, he contends.

7:54 p.m. Andy Wakeland with Giffels-Webster Engineers of Washington Township, Mich., – the civil engineer for the Hampton Inn project – is now addressing the council. He discusses the pedestrian issues. He calls it a pedestrian-friendly site and says, “We’re pretty proud of it.” The architect for the project is now addressing the council. He recalls how the project was started several years ago, and the foundations had been completed. In the interim, the city changed its zoning ordinance, and those concerns had to be addressed. He notes the planning commission voted 8-0 to recommend approval.

7:54 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 just one consent agenda item. It’s a resolution to accept the board of insurance administration minutes of Aug. 15, 2013, and to approve workers’ compensation coverage – through Accident Fund Insurance Company of America ($56,192) and an agreement with CompOne Administrators for third party administrative services ($28,000).

7:55 p.m. Councilmembers can opt to select out any items for separate consideration. No one separates out the single item.

7:55 p.m. Outcome: The council has approved the consent agenda.

7:55 p.m. DDA ordinance revision. The ordinance proposed to be changed is Chapter 7 of the city code, which regulates the way the tax increment finance (TIF) capture of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is calculated. Up until two years ago, the existing limitation expressed in the ordinance had never been applied. But in May 2011, the city treasurer called the issue to the DDA’s attention, characterizing it as a roughly $2 million issue, dating back to 2003.

However, when the DDA retroactively calculated its revenue, as well as rebates to other taxing jurisdictions, it applied a methodology chosen to minimize the amount of “rebate” owed to other taxing jurisdictions, reducing the amount to roughly $1.1 million. When challenged on its method of calculation, the DDA subsequently reversed its position, claiming that the money it had already paid back to other taxing jurisdictions was a mistake. The DDA’s new position was to claim an interpretation of a clause in Chapter 7 as providing an override to limits on TIF revenue – if the DDA has debt obligations, which it does. So in 2012 and 2013 the DDA did not return any of its TIF capture to other taxing authorities.

The proposal to revise the ordinance, as approved at first reading by the council on April 1, 2013, would essentially enforce the language that’s already in the ordinance, but disallow the DDA’s interpretation of the “debt override” clause. Compared to the DDA’s own 10-year planning document, revenue to the DDA under the ordinance change would be roughly similar:

Ann Arbor DDA TIF Revenue projections

Ann Arbor DDA TIF revenue projections. The vertical line indicates the year when the clarified calculations would be implemented. The red line is the amount of TIF revenue assumed by the DDA in its FY 2014 and FY 2015 budgets, and in its 10-year planning document. The blue line is the estimated TIF revenue under the proposed clarified ordinance calculations. The yellow line is the estimated TIF revenue that the DDA would receive if the DDA continued to interpret the city’s ordinance in its own way. (Numbers from the city of Ann Arbor and DDA. Chart by The Chronicle.)

However, the 10-year planning document in question did not include a large amount of new construction in the downtown area, that has already generated higher TIF revenue than in the 10-year plan. The ordinance revision also includes term limits for DDA board members, and would make the appointment of the mayor to the board of the DDA contingent on a majority vote of the council. Without majority support, the mayor’s spot on the board would go to the city administrator.

The council voted at its May 6, 2013 session to postpone final consideration of the ordinance revision until Sept. 3. At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the council voted to establish a joint council-DDA committee to work out a recommendation on ordinance revisions. The charge to the committee was to begin meeting immediately, but the group did not convene a meeting until eight weeks later, on Aug. 26, leaving only one week before the meeting when the item was next scheduled to appear on the council’s agenda. The general mood at the committee meeting was that the vote should again be postponed.

7:57 p.m. Kunselman leads off, recalling the history of the proposal, mentioning the meeting of the committee on Aug. 26. Not enough information was available, he says. Staff has been directed to come up with draft language. He says he wants to postpone again, so the committee can meet again and bring it back with something that has more substance. The proposal is to postpone until Oct. 7.

8:00 p.m. Petersen says she might be out of town at that meeting. Kunselman asks Powers if draft language could be ready for the Sept. 16 meeting. Powers indicates that the upcoming work session will have the parking agreement as its topic. He ventures it could be a challenge to schedule that many people to meet. Hieftje suggests postponing until the next meeting and assessing how things stand then.

Kailasapathy says that she’d requested that Chapter 7 be included in the city audit and the answer that had come back was that the ordinance language was not clear. Briere asks if the DDA needed to be able to vote on something before the council acted. Hieftje says no.

8:01 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to postpone the DDA ordinance until its next meeting, on Sept. 16.

8:01 p.m. Shell/Tim Hortons revised PUD. The council is being asked to consider changes to the supplemental regulations for a PUD (planned unit development) for the Shell station and Tim Hortons at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline Road and Eisenhower Parkway. It’s a 1.44-acre site.

The changes to the PUD regulations would allow for a drive-thru restaurant within the existing convenience store, where a Tim Hortons is already located. The project includes constructing a 109-square-foot drive-thru window addition and access driveway on the north side of the building. Access to the drive-thru lane would be off of the site’s existing entrance from Ann Arbor-Saline Road. A PUD had previously been approved by the council at its July 2, 2012 meeting, but without plans for a drive-thru restaurant. The city planning commission had unanimously recommended approval of the request at its July 16, 2013 meeting.

8:04 p.m. Warpehoski asks for a representative of the project to come forward. He says that the area plan doesn’t support a car wash. That possible use was left in, and Warpehoski would like it removed. The developer’s representative doesn’t have any objection. Warpehoski also wants to strike the language that describes the ability for someone to get food and beverage without leaving their vehicle as a public benefit. He describes going through the drive-thru as getting a “salt-sugar-fat fix.” He also doesn’t like the idea of describing the drive-thru as a “gateway.”

8:09 p.m. Teall is now asking questions of the developer’s representative. All he’s asking for is a small drive-thru window, he says. Teall wants to make sure the design of the window fits the architecture. The developer is proud of what the building looks like.

Briere recalls the planning commission discussion. [She serves as the council's representative on the commission.] She asks for an explanation of why the seating area is an appropriate place for such an area. He says the location can be a welcoming symbol, a gateway, so to speak. At the citizens participation meeting, they were told there was quite a bit of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, so the seating area was thought to be a good amenity. Briere asks city planning manager Wendy Rampson to come to the podium. She asks Rampson to comment on the number of residents in the area. Rampson indicates that there are a lot of people who cross through the area. So there’s a lot of pedestrian travel, in addition to the auto travel, Rampson says.

8:11 p.m. Briere says that the confusion is resulting from the fact that there’s a list of eight items and it’s not clear if each item is a discrete benefit. So she had no problem removing an item from the list. Briere asks Rampson to explain how it’s determined what counts as a public benefit for the purpose of evaluating a PUD.

8:14 p.m. “It’s fairly unusual to have a gas station PUD,” Rampson says. The property was originally owned by the school district, she reports. She said that the planning commission felt that as a whole, the items were felt to be a benefit. Kunselman asks about the iterations of the PUD. Did more public benefits get added to the list each time? Kunselman questions whether an amendment to a PUD really requires an additional benefit above and beyond the original public benefit.

8:17 p.m. Kunselman says if the word “gateway” were removed, he’d be fine with everything else. Rampson reports that the owners have expressed concern about making a substantive change, which would require additional readings. City attorney Stephen Postema ventures that the proposed change by Warpehoski isn’t substantial.

Briere says that the advantage of putting items in the PUD language is that the developer can be held accountable for those items.

8:18 p.m. Teall appreciates Briere’s remarks about accountability. She doesn’t have a problem with stating more benefits or with the word “gateway.” She appreciates the attention to detail the developer is giving the project. She won’t support Warpehoski’s amendment to the language. The property is located in Ward 4, which Teall represents.

8:21 p.m. Hieftje says he doesn’t think the change is substantial. Petersen says that she thinks it’s important to consider the gas station as a gateway. She says that Tim Hortons has healthy choices on its menu. Anything that helps beautify the corridor should be supported, Petersen says.

Warpehoski suggests separating the amendment into the part about the car wash and the part about the benefits.

8:23 p.m. Outcome on the benefits language: The council has approved that amendment over dissent from Teall, Anglin, and Petersen.

8:24 p.m. Outcome on “car wash”: The council has approved the elimination of the word “car wash.”

8:24 p.m. Outcome on changes in the Tim Hortons/Shell PUD: The council has voted to give initial approval to the PUD changes. The council will need to vote again at a subsequent meeting, after a public hearing, to give the changes final approval.

8:25 p.m. Resolution to approve the 2013 city council rules. This revision to the set of council rules was first presented to the council on June 17, 2013. A vote was postponed at that meeting. The revisions were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions – to eliminate any question about whether councilmembers were engaged in deliberative interactions at their work sessions. By allowing for public commentary at work sessions, the council would ensure compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

However, the council’s rules committee recommended additional changes, including a shortening of the individual speaking turns for public comment as well as for councilmembers. And those additional changes were included in the June 17 version of the rules. After again postponing a vote at its July 1, 2013 meeting, the council used its following meeting, on July 15, 2013, to eliminate one of the proposed rule changes – the shortening of public speaking turns. But the council postponed further revisions and a vote until Sept. 3.

The council’s rules committee – consisting of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and mayor John Hieftje – was supposed to meet before the Sept. 3 meeting to consolidate input from other councilmembers and perhaps present a clean slate of proposed revisions. However, in the interim, the rules committee did not meet. It’s possible that at tonight’s meeting the council will reduce its focus to the original issue – public commentary at work sessions – and leave any further revisions to the newly composed council in November.

8:28 p.m. Taylor suggests postponement. Warpehoski asks if postponement would preclude allowing public commentary at the Sept. 9 meeting. City attorney Stephen Postema indicates that it wouldn’t be precluded. Warpehoski asks that a postponement include direction to notice the public that public commentary will be provided and that it be added to the work session agenda.

Kailasapathy asks if signing up will be required. Postema indicates that he imagines it will simply be general time. Without the rule change, Postema claims there’s nothing in the council rules about the agenda for work sessions.

8:29 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to postpone the change to council rules, but will allow public commentary at its next work session.

8:29 p.m. Resolution on cleanup criteria for 1,4 dioxane plume. This resolution would direct the city administrator and city staff to explore actions available to the city, including meeting with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and petitioning the U.S. EPA to help set cleanup criteria for the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane in Michigan, including the Pall-Gelman plume and without site specific criteria for the Pall-Gelman plume.

The history of Gelman Sciences, which caused the 1,4 dioxane contamination, goes back 40 years. The MDEQ’s current 1,4-dioxane generic residential drinking water cleanup criterion was set at 85 parts per billion (ppb). But the EPA’s criterion set in 2010 was for 3.5 ppb. The MDEQ was supposed to re-evaluate its own standards by December 2012, based on the EPA’s 2010 toxicological review. It missed that deadline, and according to the council’s resolution, is anticipated to miss a new deadline set for a year later in December 2013.

Here’s a map of the plume. The yellow region is estimated plume area where the 1,4-dioxane concentration is greater than 1 ppb. That area encroaches well into the city of Ann Arbor and extends outside the well prohibition zone (red border).

Map by of Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume. Map by Washtenaw County. Back arrow added to indicate baseball field at West Park.

Map of Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume. Map by Washtenaw County. Back arrow added to indicate baseball field at West Park.

8:33 p.m. Briere is describing the chemical properties of 1,4-dioxane. She describes the long history of the problem. Some people have voiced concern that the people who have been involved in advocacy should have been involved in the drafting of the resolution – specifically, the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD). She agrees. She says she has a substitute resolution she wants the council to consider. She describes the changes as minor. There’s an added “whereas” clause. Briere says that MDEQ is eager to talk to the city about the issue and welcomes the resolution.

8:40 p.m. Hieftje indicates that the city’s lobbyist, Kirk Profit, has been working hard to keep the issue in front of the state. Teall thanks Briere and Warpehoski for their work on the resolution. She’s glad there might be movement on the part of the MDEQ.

Petersen complains that the resolution came to the council just late last week. The resolved clauses don’t “have enough teeth,” she says. The language could be strengthened by defining specific criteria and to define the goals and consulting the expertise of CARD members. She wants the resolution postponed.

Briere asks assistant city attorney Abigail Elias to explain the “teeth.” Elias describes the settlement between the city and Pall-Gelman related to the northwest supply well. She’s not sure what might be added. Kailasapathy says she didn’t want to bring up the issue, but as long as Petersen has done so, she’s going to pursue it. She describes herself as a social scientist turned CPA and values the input of more people. She has mixed feelings about the process. Petersen indicates she wants to move to postpone. Hieftje asks city environmental coordinator Matt Naud to the podium.

8:41 p.m. Hieftje ventures that the resolution is about as strong as it can be made at this time. Naud says the Pall situation is very complicated. CARD has worked hard on the issue and there’s a long list of things they’d like done. What’s clear in this resolution, he says, is that the federal government now thinks 1,4-dioxane is more cancer-causing than the EPA previously thought. The state’s job is to take that and promulgate it under the Clean Water Act, but that hasn’t been done.

8:47 p.m. Naud said that the resolution is a message to the MDEQ. Changing the standard would radically change the attention being paid to the Pall-Gelman site. Michigan has had an 85 ppb standard for a very long time, when everyone else has had a much lower standard, Naud says.

Petersen asks what the risk is in identifying a specific standard. Naud says that he’s not sure what number would come out of Michigan’s algorithm. Naud says that Rayle’s work has in part included hand-entering data from paper copies. Petersen wants to postpone in order to add CARD’s “wish list” to the resolution.

8:50 p.m. Kunselman asks Naud why the state is dragging its feet. Naud says that it’s broader than the 1,4-dioxane issue. He doesn’t really know more than that, he says.

Kunselman asks what the city is doing in the way of contingency planning in the event that a 1,4-dioxane plume reaches Barton Pond. That’s the question that needs to be addressed, he says. “What would we do?” Would we have to filter out the 1,4-dioxane before pumping drinking water to residents? He has no problem postponing or voting on it tonight. But he wants the city to think about what it’s doing itself, as opposed to asking others to do something.

9:02 p.m. Anglin says that the problem is that the courts are generally going to find in favor of Pall-Gelman. He says that when he started serving on the council, he attended some CARD meetings and it was very confusing. Anglin wants to hold a work session on the topic. He points out that the question was asked in connection with the City Apartments project: Who would be responsible if the contamination were to penetrate to that site? Anglin says he’s in favor of postponement because of the magnitude of the issue. But he thanks Briere and Warpehoski for their effort.

Briere says that the odd thing is that it’s not a new emergency. Rather, it’s an ongoing problem. The first step seems to be to get MDEQ to act, Briere ventures. Naud indicates some agreement with that idea. The change at the federal level should have trickled through to the state level, Naud says. Pall-Gelman says that currently they don’t have to worry about areas that have concentrations below 85 ppb.

Briere says she assumed that other councilmembers were already up to speed on the issue. She thought that the opportunity to achieve something should be seized. Naud says that there’s no question that the state should have acted in some way, and that’s why the resolution focuses on that. Petersen asks if the purpose of the resolution is just to put MDEQ on notice. Naud indicates basic agreement. Petersen says that two more weeks shouldn’t be a problem, saying she wants to hear from CARD on this, to see if the language can be strengthened. She moves for postponement.

9:08 p.m. Hieftje says he doesn’t think that the resolution can be strengthened and says that the resolution can provide a start to a conversation. It would give the city’s lobbyist something to work with, Hieftje says. He was impressed that Rayle had been consulted and had spoken in favor of it. Hieftje says he’ll vote against postponement.

Kunselman expresses concern that the city is “going it alone.” Briere says she’s talked to other elected representatives – county commissioners, Scio Township representatives, and members of the state legislature. She says that it’s not Ann Arbor going it alone, but rather Ann Arbor taking the first step. Taking that first step, she says, seems to be vital. She’d attended a briefing with Evan Pratt, Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, and the message at that briefing was that the first step is for MDEQ to change the 85 ppb number.

Taylor asks how things stand in the city. Naud indicates that when 1,4-dioxane was detected in the northwest supply well in 2003, the city stopped using that well.

9:20 p.m. Naud describes various locations where the city tests for 1,4-dioxane. Taylor says that he’s delighted the proposers have brought it forward, saying that the revised version would be a “scootch” more detailed. He says he doesn’t think that a delay of two weeks would matter.

Teall asks about testing locations. There’s a couple hundred monitoring wells, Naud says. Anglin asks about the city’s conversations with the EPA. Anglin asks about the Armen Cleaners site.

Warpehoski says he’s going to violate the council rules by sending the media revisions to the resolution via email. Warpehoski supports the approach that Briere has taken as “more surgical” than to try to hang a bunch of wish list items as if the resolution were a Christmas tree. He summarizes the intent of the resolution as saying, “Do your job!” Warpehoski says that Briere has done a lot of heavy lifting.

9:20 p.m. Outcome on postponement: On a 4-5 vote, the motion to postpone fails. Voting against postponement were Teall, Warpehoski, Anglin, Hieftje and Briere. Lumm and Higgins are absent.

9:26 p.m. Kunselman says he’ll support the motion. He indicates that if the city’s water system were compromised, then Ann Arbor would connect to the Detroit system. Responding to a question from Briere, Naud indicates that he’s not sure that would be the first place the city would go. Kunselman says that it’s important to hear what the contingency plan is.

Kunselman asks what the criteria would be for shutting down Barton Pond as a water source. Powers indicates he’ll follow up on that. Hieftje says that shutting down Barton Pond is not imminent. Briere asks Naud if there’s any imminent risk. Naud replies that the geology is complicated because of the glaciers. There’s a lot of science and research that would need to be done to determine if the plume could get to Barton and if so, how fast. He allows that 1,4-dioxane has shown up in places where it was not expected.

9:26 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted unanimously to direct city staff action related to helping to set cleanup standards for 1,4-dioxane.

9:29 p.m. Street closing for ESPN Game Day. This was added late to the agenda. The request is to close Washington Street between Thayer and Fletcher streets from Thursday, Sept. 5 at 3 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7.

9:29 p.m. Outcome: The ESPN Game Day street closing was unanimously approved.

9:30 p.m. Disbursements from the Community Events Fund. This was also added late to the agenda. It includes 18 disbursements to nonprofits, mostly in the $1,000 to $3,500 range. The largest one is $25,000 to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival to cover city costs for the Top of the Park event beginning on June 13, 2014.

9:30 p.m. Outcome: The disbursements from the Community Events Fund were unanimously approved.

9:30 p.m. Recess. The council is now in recess.

9:43 p.m. The council has returned from recess.

9:43 p.m. Hampton Inn planned project. The proposed four-story hotel, located on an 8.8-acre site north of Jackson and south of I-94, would include 100 bedrooms and 51,608 usable square feet.

9:47 p.m. Warpehoski asks city planning manager Wendy Rampson to answer questions. He asks if there’s any plan to install signalization of crosswalks like HAWK or rapid flashing beacons. No, she says. He asks for some explanation of the traffic analysis. Rampson reports that city planner Jill Thacher and traffic engineer Pat Cawley had visited the site. The location of the crossing was the best one available, Rampson says. Warpehoski ventures that of the bad options, he can see how this could be the best one. But as consultations with MDOT and as the project goes through the building permit phase, he’d like attention paid to the issue and urges that every appropriate analysis and protection is put in.

9:49 p.m. Briere says that the planning commission held up the project asking for additional pedestrian amenities within the site. However, the crosswalk had been a part of the initial proposal, she says.

9:55 p.m. Anglin suggests that he and Warpehoski could meet with AAATA staff about the bus stop.

Kunselman asks about the stormwater detention pond. He ventures that the overflow discharge goes to the expressway. Yes, and that will need to be approved by MDOT, says a representative of the developer. Kunselman asks if MDOT will dictate the signage on the crosswalk. Rampson is not sure if the signs would be different from the other signs in the city next to crosswalks.

Hieftje notes that Ann Arbor has the highest hotel occupancy rate in the state.

9:55 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the Hampton Inn planned project.

9:55 p.m. Resolution to divest from fossil fuel companies. This council resolution is based on an energy commission resolution passed on July 9, 2013. The energy commission recommended that the city council urge the city’s employee retirement system board to cease new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest current investments in fossil fuel companies within five years.

The resolution defines a “fossil fuel company” to be any of the top 100 coal companies or top 100 gas and oil extraction companies. The top three coal companies on the list are: Severstal JSC; Anglo American PLC; and BHP Billiton. The top three gas and oil companies on the list are: Lukoil Holdings; Exxon Mobil Corp.; and BP PLC.

The basic consideration of the resolution is the importance of the role that greenhouse gas emissions play in global warming. The resolution cites the city of Ann Arbor’s Climate Action Plan, which has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 and 90% by 2050. The resolution warns that fossil fuel companies have enough fossil fuel reserves that, if burned, would release about 2,795 gigatons of CO2. That’s five times the amount that can be released without causing more than 2°C global warming, according to the resolution.

9:58 p.m. Hieftje says that as a member of the energy commission, he could say that the issue had been thoroughly reviewed and researched. Briere refers to Jeff Hayner’s public commentary, which indicated that there could be a financial impact. Have there been any other examples of divestment? Briere asks.

City administrator Steve Powers indicates that the last time it came up was in connection with South Africa. So it was a long time ago. Briere asks Nancy Walker, executive director of the retirement system, to come to the podium. Walker says there would be some financial implications.

10:04 p.m. Outcome: The council vote to urge the city’s retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies has failed on a 5-4 vote, falling short of the six-vote majority it needed. Voting against it were Kunselman, Teall, Anglin and Petersen. Lumm and Higgins are absent.

10:04 p.m. Resolution to encourage community solar development. This council resolution also stems from an energy commission recommendation – that the council direct city staff to work with DTE to develop a “community solar” pilot program, which would allow people to invest in a solar energy system, even if the energy that’s generated would be located off-site from their own electric meter.

The goal is to create a program that would assist the work of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA), which has a grant to work statewide, investigating the feasibility of and constraints facing this collective approach to alternative energy generation. As an example of this approach, the resolution cites the Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Traverse City. The council’s resolution asks that details of a pilot program be ready for consideration by the Michigan Public Service Commission by March 31, 2014.

The goal of community solar is to allow people who don’t own the property where they live, or whose own property is shaded or poorly oriented for solar energy production, to support the production of solar energy.

10:04 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to direct staff to work with DTE to develop a community solar pilot program.

10:04 p.m. Resolution to approve the purchase of development rights: Sheldon and Wolf property. This resolution would add land to the city’s greenbelt program, which is funded by a voter-approved millage. The 20-acre property is located in Webster Township. It’s further described in the staff memo accompanying the resolution as located on Zeeb Road, next to active farmland and other property that has already been protected by the city’s greenbelt program.

The purchase price, after deducting a $6,500 landowner donation, is $47,500. Webster Township is contributing $2,000 and Cherry Republic is contributing another $2,300, leaving the city’s share of the purchase price at $43,200. Due diligence, closing costs and a contribution to the endowment brings the city’s total contribution to $82,067.

The Sheldon and Wolf property is indicated in red. The green highlighted area denotes area already protected as a part of the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. The heavy green line is the boundary encompassing eligible properties. This is the northwest corner of the boundary area.

The Sheldon and Wolf property is indicated in red. The green highlighted area denotes area already protected as a part of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The heavy green line is the boundary encompassing eligible properties. This is the northwest corner of the boundary area.

10:04 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the acquisition of development rights on the Sheldon and Wolf property.

10:04 p.m. Resolution to approve participation agreement with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation. This resolution would authorize the city to participate in the acquisition of two pieces of land owned by DF (Domino’s Farms) Land Development LLC. The appraised value of the land is $322,000, of which the city would contribute up to $32,200. The lead agency on the deal is the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, which voted to approve the purchase of the two parcels at its Aug. 13, 2013 meeting. And the city’s greenbelt advisory commission recommended the city’s participation at its July 11, 2013 meeting.

10:04 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to authorize the city’s participation in the acquisition of the Domino’s Farms land.

10:04 p.m. Resolution to approve Suntel Services agreement. The agreement would be for three years for telecommunications maintenance and support at an annual cost of $189,491. The memo accompanying the resolution describes the telecom systems covered by the agreement as “mission critical.” That includes the five phone servers, which process all incoming and outgoing city phone calls. It’s the same system shared by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority – so the AAATA will be billed $7,238 annually for its share of the contract.

10:04 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the Suntel agreement.

10:04 p.m. Resolution to award purchase orders for utility infrastructure components. The two purchase orders would go to ETNA Supply ($167,883) and HD Supply ($163,913). According to the staff memo, the kind of parts included are “valves, brass saddles, various sizes of replacement pipe, fire hydrants, hydrant repair parts, service line connectors, main line connectors and accessories required to repair and maintain the water delivery system.”

10:05 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the purchase orders for utility system parts.

10:05 p.m. Confirmation of appointments. The council was originally going to be asked to confirm four nominations made at the council’s previous meeting on Aug. 19, 2013: Leigh Greden’s reappointment to the Ann Arbor housing commission; Al McWilliams’ appointment to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; Devon Akmon’s appointment to fill a vacancy on the public art commission; and Logan Casey to fill a vacancy on the human rights commission.

However, the list was updated around 2:30 p.m. today, omitting Greden’s name. The outcome of a possible vote on Greden’s confirmation was dubious. Both Greden’s and McWilliams’ nominations had come forward from mayor John Hieftje with some wrinkles. On April 1, Nickolas Buonodono had been nominated to replace Leigh Greden on the Ann Arbor housing commission (AAHC) board, after Greden had reached the end of a term. Buonodono is an attorney, and member of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party executive committee. However, that nomination was not on the council’s April 15 meeting agenda for confirmation.

According to AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall, who spoke to The Chronicle in a telephone interview in mid-April, Greden was going to seek reappointment for a second term if he could accommodate his schedule to the meeting times. So Greden’s nomination on Aug. 19 appeared to indicate that scheduling issues had been resolved. The housing commission is poised to undergo a major transition to a project-based voucher system, which the council authorized at its June 3, 2013 meeting, on a unanimous vote. An argument for Greden’s continued service on the board could have been made based on the importance of continuity among board members familiar with the intricacies of the transition.

Before McWilliams was nominated at the council’s Aug. 19 meeting, his name had appeared on an early version of the list of nominees for the council’s Aug. 8 meeting. The final version of the list for that meeting, however, did not include his name. McWilliams is founder of Quack!Media, an ad agency located in downtown Ann Arbor. Quack!Media lists the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority on its website as one of its clients. McWilliams has written advocacy pieces for bicycling on his blog.

Akmon is an Ann Arbor resident and the new director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Casey is a graduate student at the University of Michigan.

10:07 p.m. Hieftje says that there are some openings on the DDA. He asks for the council’s support on tonight’s nomination. He wanted to find someone representing the Main Street business district and the entrepreneurial community.

10:13 p.m. Kailaspathy is speaking to McWilliams’ nomination. She’d asked for a list of those who’d applied for the appointment to the DDA. She’d been told that the person in charge of the list was on vacation but the list would be provided next week.

The second issue, she continues, is that McWilliams’ company is a vendor for the AAATA. The DDA grants money to the AAATA, she says, calling that a conflict of interest.

Hieftje says that his assistant is in fact out of town, and he had not had time to “rustle up those files.” Hieftje says that the process is that the mayor makes nominations. He’d wanted to nominate McWilliams after reviewing the applications on file. Hieftje noted that there is another seat open on the DDA board and that he’d be looking forward to bringing a nomination to the council’s next meeting.

Briere reports that she’s asked the city attorney about the conflict-of-interest question. It’s less clear that there’s actually a conflict, Briere says. She asks city attorney Stephen Postema to comment on the question. Postema essentially indicates that he doesn’t think there’s an inherent conflict, but if an issue arose that could be dealt with when it came up.

10:18 p.m. Postema stresses that if there are two public entities involved, it’s not considered to be a conflict under the statute. Petersen says that even though the state doesn’t define it as a conflict, the council has rules on the question. She doesn’t think the state law is stringent enough. She ventures that McWilliams would need to recuse himself quite frequently, possibly including votes on the DDA budget.

Postema stressed again that the state statue is not as stringent as many people would like it to be. Postema says Petersen might perceive a conflict but that he’s looking at it as a matter of state law.

Taylor argues that there’s no conflict here at all. He gives employees of the University of Michigan on the council as an example. Using the same standard would require the recusal of councilmembers on any UM-related matter, Taylor says. If there’s an actual conflict on a particular occasion, then it’s well established that someone can simply stand down for a particular vote, Taylor continues.

10:24 p.m. Kunselman asks if the other nominations can be separated out. Hieftje proposes voting on confirmations of Akmon and Casey.

10:25 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to confirm Akmon to the public art commission and Casey to the human rights commission.

10:30 p.m. Kunselman says he appreciates the issue being raised of the appearance of conflict, even if there’s not a legal conflict. He asserts that he has the prerogative to vote as he likes. So Kunselman is interested in a candidate who might be able to accept some reform. He doesn’t think that McWilliams, as a DDA supporter, will be open-minded with respect to following city ordinances. So Kunselman says he will vote against the appointment of McWilliams.

Hieftje asks Kunselman if he’s met with McWilliams. No, Kunselman says, but he’s read McWilliams’ public statements.

Briere says she has not met with McWilliams, but she’d talked with Maura Thomson, director of the Main Street Area Association, who was very enthusiastic about McWilliams being appointed. Briere is now talking about the issue of perceived conflict of interest. Briere says she’s heard that she could have a conflict due to her spousal relationship. She’d heard that she’d had a conflict when she worked for a nonprofit that received city funding. If the council gets interested in the question of whether someone is even just “dimly friendly” with someone, then that will shrink the pool of those who are eligible to serve, Briere says.

10:38 p.m. Briere says that there were two former mayors who were UM faculty. She was surprised that people are considering this kind of thing to be a conflict. If a councilmember feels a nominee falls short of the mark, then they should be voted against based on the merits, she said.

Taylor adds that if one of the goals is to have people who are involved in local business to be involved in civic life, then this level of relationship can’t be a prohibitive factor. The council’s conversation tonight is already doing damage to the possibility that others will want to step forward, he said.

Warpehoski says there are three questions: qualifications, perspective, and conflict. He’s not upset that the council is discussing any of them. Warpehoski says that he’s met McWilliams only once. He says McWilliams has a sharp mind. So Warpehoski says McWilliams is qualified. Warpehoski isn’t sure of the perspective, except what Kunselman has reported. On the question of conflict, Warpehoski says that McWilliams should not vote on contracts that his company would serve. He doesn’t think there would be that many votes that fit that description. He thinks that the question of conflict is still a fair one to ask.

10:44 p.m. Teall says that she’s supportive of McWilliams’ nomination. Responding to Kunselman’s point about McWilliams’ attitude towards the DDA, Teall says that it’s natural that someone who wants to serve on the DDA would be supportive of the DDA. Kailasapathy is skeptical that there would be only a few votes that McWilliams would need to refrain from. She says she thinks there’s a direct conflict of interest.

Hieftje asks for the ability to withdraw the nomination, so that some of the issues that have been raised can be explored.

10:45 p.m. Outcome: The council has not voted on McWilliams’ nomination because Hieftje has withdrawn it. The council’s vote looked like it would have risked failing on a 5-4 vote with Kunselman, Petersen, Kailasapathy, and Anglin possibly voting against it.

10:47 p.m. Council communications. Hieftje says that an October work session will include representatives from the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA).

Kunselman says he’ll be bringing forward a resolution that rescinds the memorandum of understanding between the city and the University of Michigan in connection with the Fuller Road Station.

10:47 p.m. Public commentary. There’s no requirement to sign up in advance for this slot for public commentary.

10:55 p.m. Kai Petainen thanks the council for the Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane resolution. But he calls it insulting that some councilmembers weren’t aware of the issue, asking them where they’ve been. He compliments the city for its disclosure of the raw sewage spill recently. He says it doesn’t make sense to divest from an entire sector of the economy – a reference to the fossil fuel divestment resolution.

Thomas Partridge calls on the council to be aware of the need for greater public participation. He complains that there’s been scant information on a recent murder of a UM student.

10:55 p.m. Adjournment. We are now adjourned. That’s all from the hard benches.

Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

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  1. By Steve Bean
    September 4, 2013 at 9:58 am | permalink

    The failure of the resolution to divest from fossil fuel companies is unfortunate. There will be financial implications—negative ones—of not doing so. Of course, it would depend what was done with the proceeds of the sale of those funds. All stocks and most bonds will be dropping in value for several years or so. It’s already underway, as the stock market top was a month ago. I wouldn’t be surprised to see many smaller FF companies, and even a couple of the larger ones, go bankrupt within a few years.

    I’d be interested in hearing the reasoning of those who voted against it. Or was their vote just based on feelings, i.e., fear?

    We believe the irrational thought that if we don’t pursue MORE money we’ll not have ENOUGH of it, and so we enable and endorse the possible destruction of the biosphere.

    The simple truth is that what we have right now is always enough. To believe otherwise is to argue with reality, which leads to stress and decisions that we will later learn from. (By that I mean the hard way.)

    Getting back to the FF decision, what’s the alternative? One is to invest all that money into the reduction of energy use, which would have a much more positive return in social and environmental as well as financial terms.

    “He says it doesn’t make sense to divest from an entire sector of the economy – a reference to the fossil fuel divestment resolution.”

    Slavery was an entire sector of the economy.

    Why the solar initiative is proposed to involve DTE is interesting. I think doing something without their involvement would be more in the interest of Ann Arbor citizens.

  2. September 4, 2013 at 11:42 am | permalink

    I attended an organizing meeting about the community solar concept. DTE must be involved because the payback is via net metering (DTE extends credits against the charges for electrical service). There is no electrical power generated for local use, only power that goes into the grid. DTE has a monopoly on electrical generation here and changes in both state law and regulatory decisions must be made for that to change.

  3. By Steve Bean
    September 4, 2013 at 12:41 pm | permalink

    @2: I wasn’t clear. I was referring to not including DTE only during the development of the program. Having a DTE rep in the room would likely influence the thinking and discussion by others out of deference to DTE’s presumptive expertise. Even without their presence there’s likely to be an undercurrent (npi) of ‘what will DTE let us do?’

    I’m reminded of my experiences on city commissions when the conversation often turned to ‘what will council think?’, in part, I suspect, because of the presence of one or two council members who were voting members (as is, I believe, a DTE rep on the energy commission).

  4. By Mark Koroi
    September 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm | permalink

    It is great to see we have councilpersons raising conflict of interest issues and making robust arguments during the appointments process.

    They should not be a rubber-stamp for mayoral nominations.

    This is especially so given the recent problems and controversies with nominations to the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, the DDA, the Taxicab Board and the Planning Commission.

    Conflict of interest issues should be at the forefront of these discussions.

    Ann Arbor needs a vigorous ethics ordinance.

  5. By John Floyd
    September 5, 2013 at 12:06 am | permalink

    Perhaps Mr. Greden has reflected further upon his schedule.

  6. By Steve Bean
    September 6, 2013 at 9:16 am | permalink

    Not divesting from FF companies demonstrates our inability to disengage from the larger failed economy and realize that localization is in our best interest. This piece about failing bridges (which will likely never be rebuilt, in spite of what the residents have been told), might make local critics of how the Stadium bridges reconstruction was handled feel a little better that it was done at all: [link].

    At the same time, it might give us food for thought about what’s in store for much of the country, including our own community in coming years.

  7. September 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm | permalink

    I agree that localization is a good strategy for the future, but I’m not clear on how divestment from energy companies will achieve that. This recent article on divestment by colleges [link] discusses some of the subtler aspects of such policy, including the ability to work for change from within. Calpers is a pension fund that has a number of activist initiatives on this issue.

    Does the Council actually have any influence on which investments the pension fund board chooses, other than moral suasion?