Susan Hutton and Kirk Westphal have been reappointed to serve on the city’s environmental commission as a result of Ann Arbor city council action on May 5, 2014. In addition, Katherine Hollins has been nominated to the EC, with her confirmation vote to come at the council’s next meeting. Hollins is a staffer with the Great Lakes Commission.
The reappointments of Hutton and Westphal were both included in a single resolution voted early in the meeting. On that resolution, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) dissented, without deliberation. Later, towards the end of the meeting, Kailasapathy explained that her dissent on the EC appointments was based on opposition to Westphal, not Hutton. Jane Lumm (Ward 2), as a member of the prevailing side, then moved to reconsider the resolution so that the question could be divided.
When separated out, Hutton’s appointment was confirmed unanimously. The vote on Westphal’s appointment was again 7-4, with the same four dissenters – but not without 20 minutes of debate.
Westphal was put forward as the planning commission’s representative to the environmental commission. He currently serves as chair of the planning commission, which voted at its Jan. 23, 2014 meeting to recommend Westphal’s reappointment. Westphal did not participate in the vote on that recommendation.
Westphal, a Democrat, is contesting the Ward 2 seat to which Sally Petersen is not seeking re-election – because she is running for mayor. Nancy Kaplan, who’s currently a member of the Ann Arbor District Library board, is running for that same Ward 2 seat. Petersen and Kaplan are also Democrats.
The controversy on the appointment stemmed from a decision by mayor John Hieftje last year not to nominate Jeff Hayner to the public art commission – because Hayner was running for Ward 1 city council against Sabra Briere. Those who dissented on Westphal’s appointment argued in part that the same principle should be applied to Westphal. Those who voted for Westphal noted that it was the planning commission’s choice of Westphal to represent them. Hieftje also noted that his policy that led him not to appoint Hayner was not based on concern for political advantage, but rather about the ability of someone to serve on a city board or commission if they were successful in their council race.
The appointing resolution on the council’s April 21 agenda – which was postponed until May 5 – originally included David Stead as a reappointment along with Hutton and Westphal. Postponement after initial appearance on the agenda is not unusual for appointments to the EC, because it allows the appointment to mimic the two-step nominate-confirm process for mayoral appointments.
Stead’s name was not included in a substitute resolution put forward at the May 5 meeting. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated in an email on May 2 that she’d be offering the substitute resolution, saying, “David Stead has decided that his life is busy enough he cannot do justice to serving on the commission.”
Stead’s four previous terms on the commission would likely have been a point of friction for some councilmembers.
Stead was among the first members to be appointed, on Sept. 18, 2000 – after the council established the commission in a resolution approved on April 3, 2000. And he has served continuously since that initial appointment. Stead also served on the city council representing Ward 5 from April 1993 through November 1994.
There are no term limits for Ann Arbor city boards and commissions, except those highlighted in the city charter as having a six-year maximum. The park advisory commission is an example of a city commission with such term limits. But several councilmembers have expressed concerns about the length of service by some members of some boards and commissions preventing a broader range of participation in local governance. Most recently, the issue arose in connection with the reappointment of Wayne Appleyard to the energy commission on Oct. 23, 2013. Also a factor in the 8-3 confirmation vote for Appleyard was his non-city residency.
During deliberations on May 5, Margie Teall (Ward 4) pointed out that earlier in the meeting, the issue of vacancies on the EC had been raised. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” she said. Teall was referring to a comment by Briere, who had noted the EC vacancies and had encouraged people with a background in environmental sciences, chemistry, biology and the like to apply.
This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.