On March 20, 2014, a citizens advisory committee (CAC), created in conjunction with Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study (SSWWES), met at Slauson Middle School. Two Ann Arbor police officers were present.
According to sources at the meeting, the two officers sat at the back of the room for the duration of the meeting.
Part of the backdrop to March 20 included the removal of a resident from the committee on the day before the meeting. The series of events leading up to the expulsion included several email exchanges dating from a Feb. 13 meeting of the committee, when the group reviewed “group norms” for committee work.
Occasionally, AAPD officers will attend Ann Arbor city council meetings. So it’s not unprecedented for the AAPD to have a presence at a public meeting.
Still, in The Chronicle’s five years of covering Ann Arbor government, a police presence at a citizens advisory committee meeting counts as unusual.
To get additional insight into the issue, The Chronicle sent city administrator Steve Powers some questions about the tasking of the two police officers for the March 20 CAC meeting. More background and the answers from Powers are included below.
Background: Expulsion from the Committee
The discussion of group norms for the CAC came roughly six months after the committee had begun its work. The project is supposed to conclude in summer 2014. Among the norms the group reviewed on Feb. 13 was this: “Don’t use bolds or CAPS in Basecamp – perceived as screaming and disrespectful.” [Basecamp is a project management software system that is accessible only to members of the CAC and the rest of the project team.]
The norms included other items like: “Treat each other with dignity and respect;” “The discussion of issues, ideas, and direction will not bring about a personal attack and return to haunt someone in the future;” and “Project team members (consultants/city staff) will be accountable and responsible to the CAC.”
Discussion of the group norms included a process for dealing with perceived violations of the norms. That process included an initial step – which is revocation of Basecamp access. That could be followed by removal from the committee. And those steps were followed, resulting in the March 19 removal of one of the CAC members, Frank Burdick. From the letter sent by OHM Advisors, signed by Robert Czachorski, announcing the expulsion:
We were especially concerned about the frequency and content of the phone calls you made to me, your antagonistic and disrespectful response to a courteous request to participate in the Community Values ranking exercise sent to CAC members by the project team, and your request to terminate direct communications with the CAC facilitator.
The Chronicle has been cc-ed or bcc-ed on considerable email traffic dating from late last year, and has attended some of the committee’s meetings. Burdick has actively participated in the substance of the committee’s work since August 2013. Over the course of late 2013 and early 2014, he contributed several dozen questions to the project log maintained by the project team. Eventually, the Basecamp project management system was set up – in part it appears – as a way to handle the volume of questions and issues that were raised. Based on emailed correspondence, it’s fair to say that friction developed between Burdick and the project team over the course of the project. Burdick is now continuing to contribute input to the project – which is expected to conclude sometime in summer 2014 – by communicating to other members of the CAC, city staff and councilmembers.
For at least some purposes, the CAC appears to be considered a creature of the city government – inasmuch as assistant city attorney Abigail Elias has described committee members as engaging in a “quintessentially governmental function.” On the other hand, the committee was not formally established by the city council, and its membership appears to be determined by the city’s contractors on the project.
The sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study has been undertaken in the context of pending litigation on the legal foundations of the city’s footing drain disconnection ordinance. A lawsuit was filed earlier this month: “Lawsuit Filed on City Footing Drain Program.” For additional Chronicle coverage, see: “Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps”
Questions & Answers
The Chronicle sent questions (in bold) to city administrator Steve Powers. Responses from Powers are below in regular typeface.
Why were two AAPD officers tasked with attending the March 20 CAC meeting?
The Police Department received information that there may potentially be disruptive behavior. The AAPD has assigned police officers to different public meeting in the past.
Editor’s note: It’s conceivable that an email – sent by the expelled committee member to the project facilitator, Charlie Fleetham of Project Innovations on March 11 – was interpreted as possibly indicating a potential for meeting disruption on March 20. The message included a link to an MLive article out of Bridgeport Township near Saginaw and a question: “Look familiar?” The article reported how a man was arrested at a meeting of a township board for exceeding his three-minute time limit. When The Chronicle spoke with the expelled committee member in a telephone interview, he stated: “It was not my intent to disrupt the meeting [on March 20]. I had prepared a written statement to read, but when I saw the police officers there I felt intimidated and decided not to read it.”
Who made that particular operational decision? Who typically makes that kind of operational decision?
Chief [John] Seto was aware of the information and was the one who made the decision to assign officers to this meeting. The Chief of Police or a Deputy Chief will generally make that decision.
Is there a general policy on AAPD staffing of public meetings, or is this a judgment call on a case-by-case basis?
There is no general policy and it depends on many factors to include information available to the police.
Were the officers who attended the March 20 CAC meeting working a regular shift or were they called in for overtime?
Is the CAC considered to be a “city committee”?
Over the past several years, the City has recognized the value and benefit added to projects, plans and programs by the use of community engagement, including the utilization of various advisory groups, such as advisory committees, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, resource persons and the community at-large through public meetings. These advisory groups are established by staff and/or project consultants.
These project-established advisory groups have been utilized for several projects, including the Urban & Community Forest Management Plan, the Springwater Subdivision Improvements Project, and the Ann Arbor Station Project. For the Sanitary Sewer Wet Weather Evaluation project, when City Council approved the professional services agreement with OHM to perform the Sanitary Sewer System Flow Monitoring and Wet Weather Evaluation Project (Resolution R-13-035), the recommendation included OHM performing extensive public engagement through the entire project, including a citizen advisory committee.
Was the decision to remove a member from the CAC ultimately made by the city administrator?
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