Govt. Section

New Wellness Center In The Works

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 19, 2014): Action taken by planning commissioners at its mid-August meeting will allow two projects to move forward: a new “modern lifestyle health spa” on West Liberty; and a new location for the Community Music School of Ann Arbor.

John Farah, Jackie Farah, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jackie and John Farah address the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Aug. 19, 2014 meeting. To the right is Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates, who’s working on the Farahs’ project. (Photos by the writer.)

Both projects required approval of a special exception use from the commission, because the zoning doesn’t allow those uses without it.

It was the health spa/fitness center proposal that drew the most scrutiny from commissioners. John and Jackie Farah want to convert part of an existing office building at 3100 W. Liberty into a facility that would provide personalized training and guidance to help people develop healthier lifestyles. Jackie Farah stressed that the focus is on wellness, not on athletic fitness. The center would be in the same complex as John Farah’s dental practice.

Six people spoke during a public hearing on this project, including the Farahs as well as nearby residents. Concerns from neighbors included the disturbances that additional use of this site would have on their properties. Also speaking against the project was Brian Eisner, owner of the nearby Liberty Athletic Club, who expressed concern about increased traffic on West Liberty. The Farahs stressed that their effort would not increase traffic or negatively impact the residential neighbors.

During deliberations, commissioners considered putting limits on the hours of operation or restricting use to appointments only, but ultimately rejected those constraints. However, they did amend the special exception use to limit the amount of square footage that could be used for fitness center activities – to 9,000 square feet. It does not require additional city council approval.

The other special exception use was granted to the Community Music School of Ann Arbor, allowing it to operate at 1289 Jewett Ave., between South Industrial and Packard. The music school will share the building of Clonlara School, a private K-12 educational institution.

Commissioners also recommended the annexation and zoning of 2115 Victoria Circle, a half-acre vacant site west of Newport and north of M-14. If approved by the city council, the property would be annexed from Ann Arbor Township and zoned R1A (single family dwelling). [Full Story]

Sept. 2, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The council’s first regular meeting in September was shifted from Monday to Tuesday in order to accommodate the Labor Day holiday.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the Sept. 2, 2014 meeting agenda.

The Sept. 2 agenda is relatively light and is dominated by land use and development issues, many of them related to the Ann Arbor housing commission’s (AAHC) extensive plan to renovate many of its existing properties.

In other significant business, the council will be considering a direction to the city administrator to negotiate operating agreements with transportation networking companies like Uber and Lyft.

And the council will consider authorizing up to a 15-year extension of the local development finance authority (LDFA), based on a collaboration with a satellite arrangement in Adrian and Tecumseh.

Separate from site plan and zoning issues associated with the AAHC’s renovations, the council will also be considering transferring $729,879 from the affordable housing trust fund to the Ann Arbor housing commission. The fund transfer would support the “West Arbor” portion of the renovation plan. That would leave a $850,920 balance in the trust fund. The trust fund’s current balance stems largely from the council’s decision late last year – on Dec. 16, 2013 – to deposit into the trust fund the net proceeds of the sale of the former Y lot.

Two projects associated with the West Arbor part of the AAHC plan appear on the council’s Sept. 2 agenda. First, the council will consider initial approval of rezoning for the 3451 Platt Road property – from R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). That was forwarded to the council with a recommendation of approval from the planning commission. However, commissioners postponed consideration of the site plan for the five-building, 32-unit project, amid concerns about the site’s location in the floodplain and stormwater management. The site plan may be able to “catch up” to the zoning approval – because the council will need to give the rezoning a second and final approval at a meeting following the Sept. 2 session.

Second, the North Maple Estates site plan, which requires just one council vote, will be considered on Sept. 2. The rezoning required for the AAHC project – a 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road – has already been given final approval by the city council, at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting. The zoning was changed from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). The site plan, which was shifted to the Sept. 2 agenda, calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms.

A non-AAHC land development item on the council’s Sept. 2 agenda is final approval of the rezoning of property necessary for an expansion of the Gift of Life Michigan facility on Research Park Drive. The rezoning would change 6.55 acres from O (office district) and RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district). The site plan, which also appears on the Sept. 2 agenda, calls for building a three-story, 40,786-square-foot addition to connect two existing buildings at 3161 and 3169 Research Park Drive, which are owned and occupied by the nonprofit.

Even though the council rejected one proposed change to its taxicab ordinance at its Aug. 18 meeting – which would have regulated all drivers for hire in the city – initial approval was given to another change in the part of the ordinance that regulates rates. So the council will be giving final consideration to that change on Sept 2. The change would establish certain parameters to mitigate possible negative consequences to the setting of a very high maximum allowable taxicab rate, under which taxicab companies might eventually compete. Those parameters include a requirement that a taxicab company commit to a single rate annually and that the rate be advertised in a vehicle with signage in letters one-inch tall.

As an alternative to requiring all drivers for hire to be registered with the city and to affix commercial plates to their vehicles, the council will be considering whether to establish operating agreements with companies like Uber and Lyft. The council’s Sept. 2 agenda includes a resolution that would direct the city administrator to negotiate operating agreements with transportation network companies (TNCs) in lieu of developing a local law. The resolution does not define in specific terms what a TNC is.

In other business on Sept. 2, the council will be considering a large contract with Ultimate Software Group, worth $250,000 for payroll software to cover the period as the city transitions to NuView, a different software system. Another large contract to be considered by the council on Sept. 2 is with Northwest Consultants Inc. for $930,822  – to do the design work for the Stadium Boulevard reconstruction project from Kipke Drive to Hutchins.

A smaller contract to be considered by the council, as part of the consent agenda, is with Hinshon Environmental Consulting Inc. for additional facilitation services for the technical oversight and advisory group (TOAG). That group is overseeing and coordinating multiple wet weather-related projects in the city. The $10,000 contract amendment would bring the total contract value to $35,000.

The council will also consider the confirmation of several nominations to boards and commissions, including a reappointment of John Splitt to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. It would be Splitt’s third four-year term on the board.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Decision on Sanctions Shifts from Shelton

At an Aug. 27, 2014 hearing, judge Donald Shelton denied two of three procedural motions by plaintiffs in the footing drain disconnection lawsuit that was filed against the city of Ann Arbor in February. He delaying ruling on a third motion.

Dan O'Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman in Rochester, New York gave oral arguments for the plaintiffs in the Yu v. City of Ann Arbor case on Aug. 27, 2014. Here he was provided the court with documentation on proof of service for the three motions in front of judge Donald Shelton, on Shelton's last motion day before retirement.

Dan O’Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman in Rochester, New York gave oral arguments for the plaintiffs in the Yu v. City of Ann Arbor case on Aug. 27, 2014. Here he was providing the court with supplemental documentation on proof of service for the three motions in front of judge Donald Shelton, on Shelton’s last motion day before retirement. The issue of proper service was not explicitly argued on Aug. 27 and appeared resolved in favor of the idea that service had been proper. (Photos by the writer.)

The case involves a claim of unconstitutional takings – inverse condemnation. Plaintiffs in the case, Yu v. City of Ann Arbor, are three Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected under the city FDD program.

On his last motion day before retirement, Shelton chose to deny a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office in its representation of the city. That motion was based on the plaintiffs’ contention that testimony on non-privileged matters would be required of assistant city attorney Abigail Elias.

Shelton’s ruling to deny the motion to disqualify Elias came only after Elias answered what Shelton portrayed as the key question: Would the city’s defense of the lawsuit depend on a contention that the ordinance was enacted based on the opinion of counsel? Elias indicated that she did not think it was relevant, but Shelton insisted on an answer, telling her that if the city wanted to use that as part of its defense, “you’re out of here.” So Elias told Shelton the city would not be using that as part of its defense. Shelton later made clear that such a defense would not be allowed.

In making his ruling on the disqualification issue, Shelton appeared to indicate that he did not think relevant factors in the case included the city’s stated rationale for enacting the FDD ordinance – on grounds of public safety health and welfare – or the efficacy of the ordinance in reducing sanitary sewer overflows and backups. The case was not about whether the FDD ordinance was a good idea, he said, but rather about whether it was a lawful idea.

Shelton also denied a motion to reassign the case away from judge Timothy Connors – who will be taking over all of Shelton’s civil cases after Shelton’s last day as judge on Aug. 29. On that motion, Shelton pointed out that he did not have the power to grant it. He declined to say anything about what he thought regarding the merits of the motion, and indicated that such a motion should go through the regular disqualification process. That entails making a motion in front of the judge to be disqualified – and if the judge declines to disqualify himself, possibly appealing to the chief judge of the circuit court, who is David Swartz.

However, Shelton delayed ruling on a third motion, on sanctions against the city’s attorneys – for making statements in a brief in support of summary disposition that plaintiffs contend did not have a basis well-grounded in fact. Shelton questioned assistant city attorney Abigail Elias closely on the matter, and appeared to indicate some agreement with plaintiffs’ contention that the city had, in its brief filed with the court, mischaracterized the plaintiffs’ position. And during back-and-forth with Shelton, Elias herself stopped just short of admitting that her choice of the word “concede” was a misrepresentation of the plaintiffs’ legal position – something she described as possibly an overstatement in the course of zealous representation of her client.

Shelton indicated that the motion on sanctions – in connection with the brief on summary disposition – should be heard at the same time the motion on summary disposition is heard. So Shelton indicated he would be adjourning that motion until Sept. 18. That hearing on summary disposition is scheduled before Connors.

No substantive matters have yet been decided in the case, which the city first removed to federal court. However, the plaintiffs moved for remand from the federal court back to the circuit court – a motion that was granted by judge Avern Cohn in late May. When the case returned to the circuit court, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was heard and denied by Shelton in early July. The city had filed a motion for summary disposition on June 9, which was originally scheduled for July 30. It was subsequently rescheduled by the city for Aug. 13, and then shifted by the city again to Sept. 18 – which is after Shelton’s scheduled retirement.

When Shelton ruled on the motions after listening to each side, he prefaced the ruling with some general commentary reflecting his 24 years of experience as a judge, which were coming to an end. That commentary highlighted the idea of “winnowing” out the extraneous issues introduced by lawyers on both sides to focus on what a case was actually about.

For the disqualification issue, Shelton wanted to know two things: What specific non-privileged testimony, relevant to the central issue of the case, would be required from Elias? Would the city use as part of its defense the claim that the ordinance had been enacted based upon the opinion of legal counsel? For the judge reassignment issue, the question Shelton identified and answered himself was: Do I have the power to decide this motion? And for the motion on sanctions, Shelton indicated that the central question was: When and in what context should the motion be decided?

A more detailed report of the proceedings is provided below. Dan O’Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman in Rochester, New York was asked by Shelton to argue all motions in one speaking turn, which he did in the following order: (1) motion to disqualify; (2) motion to reassign away from Connors; and (3) motion for sanctions. [Full Story]

AAATA Preps to Shift Gears

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 21, 2014): The meeting began with CEO Michael Ford’s formal announcement of news that board members and the public had already heard – that he was leaving the AAATA in mid-October to take the job as CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Ford had formally tendered his resignation that day. The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit.

CEO Michael Ford listens to public commentary at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board. (Photos by the writer.)

CEO Michael Ford listens to public commentary at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two items on the board’s voting agenda related at least indirectly to the leadership transition that the AAATA will be making. First, the board approved a resolution authorizing board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for Ford’s replacement. The resolution approved by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also authorized $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search.

Griffith said he has asked board members Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley and Eric Mahler to serve with him on the search committee, citing a desire to have a mix of board experience and geographic diversity represented on that group.

Second, the board approved the AAATA’s FY 2015 work plan, which will provide the basis for the FY 2015 budget. The budget will appear on the board’s Sept. 25 agenda for approval. The AAATA’s fiscal year runs from October through September. At the Aug. 21 meeting, Sue Gott credited Ford with developing the work plan, saying it would be valuable as a blueprint for the transition in leadership.

A major decision on the choice of bus technology might be made after Ford departs the AAATA in mid-October. Although the board approved a 5-year bus procurement contract with Gillig, and authorized an order for the first 27 of up to 60 buses called for in the 5-year contract, the board left the choice of drive-train technology open – between hybrid electric technology and clean diesel. The upfront capital cost difference is $200,000 per bus more for the hybrid technology. That final choice of technology will need to be made by the November board meeting.

Also at its Aug. 21 meeting, the board amended its pension plan to recognize same-sex marriages, which stemmed from a Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and the IRS ruling that resulted from that decision.

The board chose to delay approval of new service standards, which are a required element of AAATA’s Title VI compliance. The board can meet the Federal Transit Administration deadlines for submission of its Title VI materials if it approves the new service standards at its September board meeting.

Board members also received an update on the progress being made in a Michigan Dept. of Transportation environmental assessment of a project that could implement active traffic management (ATM) of the US-23 corridor. The project includes the idea of allowing vehicles to use the median shoulder during peak demand periods. The MDOT presentation included a visit from former AAATA board member Paul Ajegba, who is region engineer for MDOT’s University Region – a 10-county area that includes Livingston and Washtenaw counties. If The Chronicle publishes coverage of that presentation, it will be in a separate report.

The Aug. 21 meeting was held in the boardroom at the AAATA headquarters on South Industrial, instead of the usual location, which is the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The downtown library on South Fifth Avenue was closed in connection with the repair of its public elevator. [Full Story]

Push to Program Liberty Plaza, Library Lane

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 19, 2014): Liberty Plaza was the focus of two items that appeared on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

Paige Morrison, Colin Smith, Bob Galardi, Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Paige Morrison, Colin Smith, Bob Galardi and Graydon Krapohl before the start of the Aug. 19, 2014 Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Regarding feedback on Liberty Plaza and Library Lane, PAC unanimously passed a resolution to form a subcommittee to study issues related to those urban parks, and to allocate or obtain resources to oversee programming there for up to a year.

Based on that effort, the subcommittee would analyze the outcome and deliver recommendations to council next year – no later than October 2015. This resolution, drafted by PAC chair Ingrid Ault and vice chair Graydon Krapohl, had been emailed to commissioners earlier in the day but was not available to the public prior to the meeting. [.pdf of Aug. 19, 2014 Liberty Plaza resolution]

The Aug. 19 discussion also included comments from Matthew Altruda, who programs the Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch weekly summer concert series at Liberty Plaza. Ault had invited Altruda to the meeting to describe that effort, which is widely cited as a successful use of Liberty Plaza.

Regarding the fee waiver, PAC voted unanimously to extend the waiver through October 2015 – coordinating with the subcommittee work on Liberty Plaza and Library Lane.

Both Aug. 19 items – the feedback to city council (but with no accompanying resolution) and fee waiver – had originally appeared on PAC’s July 15, 2014 agenda, but were postponed because three commissioners were absent at that meeting.

In other action, PAC recommended approval of three three-year professional services agreements (PSAs) for engineering services in the parks and recreation unit – with SmithGroupJJR, Stantec Consulting Michigan Inc, and Tetra Tech Inc. The amount was not to exceed $150,000 annually per agreement.

The commission also elected David Santacroce as chair for the coming year, replacing Ingrid Ault in that position. Paige Morrison was elected as vice chair. Each vote was conducted by “secret ballot” as stipulated in PAC’s bylaws. The one-year terms begin Sept. 1.

One topic that did not appear on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda was a review of the proposed four-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three parking lots at Fuller Park. The city council – at its meeting the previous night, on Aug. 18 – had indicated an interest in having PAC take another look at the lease renewal, but parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners that he didn’t have additional details on the request.

During deliberations on Aug. 18, mayor John Hieftje had recommended postponing council action until early October, in order to give PAC two meetings during which they could reevaluate the lease agreement. PAC had already recommended approval of the lease, after discussing it at their July 15, 2014 meeting. The parliamentary option chosen by the council was to postpone, not to refer to PAC.

The two council representatives on PAC – Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) –  chose somewhat different points of emphasis in their characterizations of the council’s Aug. 18 action on the Fuller Park lease. When Anglin told commissioners that the council wanted PAC to review the lease again, Taylor stressed that the council action was “a straight postponement” – not a vote to refer the item back to PAC. He added that the council was interested in hearing if PAC has any further thoughts on the use of the site. [Full Story]

Shelton to Hear Motions in FDD Case

The footing drain disconnection lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor in late February has taken several procedural turns over the last six months, with virtually no issues on the merits of the case yet resolved.

Abigail Elias, Stephen Postema, Irv Mermelstein.

From left: Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, city attorney Stephen Postema and co-counsel for the plaintiffs Irvin Mermelstein. The photo is from the July 2, 2014 hearing on a preliminary injunction in the Yu v. Ann Arbor case, which judge Donald Shelton denied.

The latest procedural issues now appear set to be decided on Aug. 27, 2014 – judge Donald Shelton’s final motion day before his retirement.

The case involves a claim of unconstitutional takings – inverse condemnation. Plaintiffs in the case, Yu v. City of Ann Arbor, are three Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected under the city FDD program.

The procedural issues that could be decided next week include a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office from representing the city due to conflicts; a motion to sanction city attorneys for filing documents with statements that plaintiffs allege are not well-grounded in fact; and a motion to reassign the case to a judge other than Timothy Connors. All three motions were filed with the court on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

A dispute about whether those Aug. 20 filings were properly served upon the city is one of the issues Shelton could decide at the start of the hearing.

By way of background, the case was originally filed in the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court and assigned to Shelton in late February. The city then removed the case to federal court. However, the plaintiffs moved for remand from the federal court back to the circuit court – a motion that was granted by judge Avern Cohn in late May.

When the case returned to the circuit court, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was heard and denied by Shelton in early July. The city had filed a motion for summary disposition on June 9, which was originally scheduled for July 30. It was subsequently rescheduled by the city for Aug. 13, and then shifted by the city again to Sept. 18 – which is after Shelton’s scheduled retirement.

According to the court administrator’s office, the case will not officially be reassigned to a different judge until Sept. 2. However, when The Chronicle inquired with the 22nd circuit court’s central scheduling office, the staff indicated that the plan was to reassign all of Shelton’s civil cases to Connors. So the city’s paperwork scheduling of the Sept. 18 hearing specifies Connors as the judge. [Full Story]

Column: On Taking Time to Hear

At the Aug. 18 Ann Arbor city council meeting, anti-Israel activists left council chambers mid-session. Their parting shot was to contend that the council cared more about deer than about people. The reference to deer was an allusion to an agenda item that allocated $20,000 for development of a deer management plan. It was approved by the council in a unanimous vote.

But this column is not about deer versus people. It’s about corporations versus people. Also football. Even the U.S. Constitution.

This is the electronic time clock at the public speaking podium in Ann Arbor's city council chambers. The elements in red (except for the American flag in the background) have been digitally added. 

This is the electronic time clock at the public speaking podium in Ann Arbor’s city council chambers. The elements in red (except for the American flag in the background) have been digitally added.

First, here’s some background. On Aug. 18, the anti-Israel activists had not been able to address the council during reserved public comment time at the start of the meeting – because the council rules stipulate that preference is given to speakers who want to address an agenda item. A boycott against Israel was not on the agenda.

So during that comment period, the council heard from five people who spoke in favor of spending the $20,000 on a deer management plan. The other five reserved slots were taken by: Thomas Partridge, who was officially signed up to talk about the planning commission’s work plan (one of the attachments in the clerk’s report); two people who signed up to talk about revisions to the taxicab ordinance; and two people who had signed up to talk about the lease agreement with the University of Michigan for three parking lots at Fuller Park.

That meant that anti-Israel activists were not able to reprise their demonstration at the previous council meeting, on Aug. 7, when eight of their group were signed up to speak. On that occasion, nearly all the commentary was complete. But then chants of “Boycott Israel” led mayor John Hieftje to recess the meeting. And he eventually decided to have Ann Arbor police clear the room of more than 50 activists. In this case, “clearing the room” translated into two officers telling the group’s leaders – Blaine Coleman and Mozghan Savabieasfahani – that they and their group had to leave. And after a few minutes, amid more loud chants and heated statements, the group left council chambers under their own power.

The contrast on obvious display at the Aug. 18 meeting was between two types of meeting attendees: (1) those who wanted to address the city council about an agenda item; and (2) those who wanted to address the council, but not on an agenda item.

That’s not the contrast I want to focus on. I want to focus on the contrast between two speakers who were alternates on the waiting list for reserved speaking time – both of whom wanted to address the council about an agenda item.

The two alternates were: Larry Baird, an Ann Arbor resident who signed up to talk about the Fuller Park lease agreement; and Michael White, a representative of Uber who was attending the meeting to speak against regulation of drivers for hire. Baird was slotted ahead of White on the alternate list. [Full Story]

New Citizen Participation Tools Reviewed

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Aug. 12, 2014): Planning commissioners gave feedback on new guides that staff have developed for residents and developers, aimed at improving communication about proposed development projects.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Excerpt from a draft guide being developed by the city’s planning staff. It was reviewed at the planning commission’s Aug. 12 working session.

The “Citizens’ Guide to Effective Communication” and “Developers’ Guide to Leading Effective Citizen Participation Meetings” were drafted by planning staff, based in part on suggestions from the planning commission’s citizen outreach committee.

Two other outreach documents were reviewed at the Aug. 12 working session – a guide to the city’s site plan review process, and a template for postcard notifications of citizen participation meetings.

In addition to giving feedback on those draft documents and how they might be distributed, commissioners discussed how to improve the effectiveness of mandatory citizen participation meetings and the reports that developers must provide based on those meetings.

The citizen participation meetings are held for all major projects, a requirement that’s been in place since the city council enacted a citizen participation ordinance in 2008. An evaluation of that ordinance was supposed to have been done five years ago. However, there had been a lull in development soon after the ordinance was passed. Planning manager Wendy Rampson told commissioners that now there have been a sufficient number of projects to evaluate, and to possibly make some thoughtful changes to the code. [Full Story]

Aug. 18, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s Aug. 18, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. The intent is to facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in this file.

Land use and development is set up to be a dominant theme of tonight’s meeting, as it frequently is for many of the council’s meetings. An additional highlight will be initial consideration of a change to the city’s taxicab ordinance – in response to the entry of services like Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market.

A report from the city administrator on options for deer management has led to a resolution on the Aug. 18 agenda appropriating $20,000 for the development of a deer management program.

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

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber includes Braille.

Among the land use items on the Aug. 18 agenda is one related to use of city-owned land – three parking lots at Fuller Park: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks; (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park; and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park. The lots are used by the University of Michigan during restricted hours.

The council will be considering a two-year lease with one additional two-year option for renewal. Annual revenue from this lease will be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget. The item was forwarded to the city council from the park advisory commission with a recommendation of approval.

Private land development items on the Aug. 18 agenda include final approval of the rezoning of land for the State Street Village project at 2221-2223 S. State St. The 4.5-acre parcel is proposed to be rezoned from M1 (limited industrial district) to O (office district). Also on the council’s agenda is the site plan for the project that will be made possible by approval of the rezoning – a $10 million development by Ann Arbor-based McKinley Inc. The plan calls for constructing two 4-story apartment buildings at the rear of the site, totaling 112,262 square feet, with 38 units each. Another 2,027-square-foot building – for a leasing office with two apartments above it – would be built on the front of the parcel, on South State.

Also on the agenda for final approval is the rezoning required for an Ann Arbor Housing Commission project – a 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road. The zoning would change from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). The site plan, which is also on the council’s Aug. 18 agenda, calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms. A related item on the agenda is the vacation of a portion of the city’s right-of-way for Seybold Drive.

Rezoning for 121 W. Kingsley Street for a private development is getting initial consideration by the council on Aug. 18. The project calls for rezoning the site from a planned unit development (PUD) to D2 (downtown interface). The development would include renovating the existing two-story, 2,539-square-foot building, plus constructing two additional buildings: (1) a 3.5-story addition to the existing building; and (2) a 4.5-story structure at the southeast corner of West Kingsley and North Ashley. In total, the development would include 22 units and 40,689 square feet. The estimated cost is $6.5 million.

Getting initial consideration by the council at its Aug. 18 meeting are changes to the city’s taxicab ordinance that have been recommended by the city’s taxicab board. The recommendations come in the context of the entry of Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market. The companies offer the arrangement of rides through mobile networks with drivers who operate their own vehicles. Both companies have ignored cease-and-desist orders from the city.

Uber has sent its Ann Arbor customers an email asking them to sign an online petition supporting Uber’s continued ability to operate here.

One ordinance change would establish certain parameters to mitigate possible negative consequences to the setting of a very high maximum allowable taxicab rate, under which taxicab companies might eventually compete. Those parameters include a requirement that a taxicab company commit to a single rate annually and that the rate be advertised in a vehicle with signage in letters one-inch tall. The other ordinance would require that all drivers for hire – whether they are taxicab drivers or drivers who work for Uber or Lyft – register with the city, maintain proper insurance for their vehicles and acquire commercial plates.

The Aug. 18 agenda also includes an item to confirm the re-appointment of Bob Guenzel to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. Click here to skip the preview section and go directly to the live updates. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

County Explores Offering New ID Card

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Aug. 7, 2014): A proposal to establish a county-issued ID card program is being reviewed by the board of commissioners, who were briefed on the recommendations of a task force at their August working session.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Front side of a sample Washtenaw County ID card.

A county identification card would allow residents who don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to access services that require that kind of identification, like renting an apartment or opening a bank account.

The proposal indicates that cards would cost $20 or $25 each, although a waiver might be available for people who can’t afford it. An estimated 1,000 cards would be issued in the first year through the voluntary program. Those revenues would help offset the operating costs, estimated at about $35,000 for the first year. The expenses would include funding for part-time staff at the county clerk’s office, which would administer the program.

Keta Cowan of the nonprofit Synod Community Services led the Aug. 7 presentation, outlining the work of the task force in comparing similar programs in other communities nationwide – although this would be the first ID card program offered by a Michigan municipality. The task force also conducted outreach to law enforcement agencies in the county, and Cowan indicated that they were supportive of the program. Sheriff Jerry Clayton is a task force member, along with several other county officials and nonprofit leaders.

Of the five commissioners who attended the working session, all but one indicated support for the program. Dan Smith (R-District 2) had concerns, and wondered why the county should spend money to duplicate a service that the Michigan Secretary of State already provides.

Task force members described the state’s ID program as being too stringent for residents who can’t meet the requirements, but who are living in this community and need access to services.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) described it as a basic human right. It didn’t matter to him whether someone is a legal resident or an undocumented resident – “if you need to live a decent quality of life and we can facilitate that with a simple ID card, great. We can and we should.” Smith also thought it would with access to voting, which he described as a citizen’s most fundamental right – the opportunity to shape their government.

Commissioners Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) also indicated support for the program. Rabhi served on the task force that is bringing forward the ID card recommendations.

The board is expected to consider a formal resolution to establish an ID card program, likely at a meeting later this year.

The Aug. 7 working session also included a presentation on the public health department’s strategic plan. This report focuses only on the ID card program. [Full Story]

Aug. 18, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

Land use and development is set up to be a dominant theme of the council’s second meeting in August, as it frequently is for many of the council’s meetings. An additional highlight will be initial consideration of a change to the city’s taxicab ordinance – in response to the entry of services like Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market.

A report from the city administrator on options for deer management has led to a resolution on the Aug. 18 agenda appropriating $20,000 for the development of a deer management program.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the Aug. 18, 2014 meeting agenda.

Among the land use items on the Aug. 18 agenda is one related to use of city-owned land – three parking lots at Fuller Park: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks; (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park; and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park. The lots are used by the University of Michigan during restricted hours.

The council will be considering a two-year lease with one additional two-year option for renewal. Annual revenue from this lease will be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget. The item was forwarded to the city council from the park advisory commission with a recommendation of approval.

Private land development items on the Aug. 18 agenda include final approval of the rezoning of land for the State Street Village project at 2221-2223 S. State St. The 4.5-acre parcel is proposed to be rezoned from M1 (limited industrial district) to O (office district). Also on the council’s agenda for approval is the site plan for the project that will be made possible by approval of the rezoning – a $10 million development by Ann Arbor-based McKinley Inc. The plan calls for constructing two 4-story apartment buildings at the rear of the site, totaling 112,262 square feet, with 38 units each. Another 2,027-square-foot building – for a leasing office with two apartments above it – would be built on the front of the parcel, on South State.

Also on the agenda for final approval is the rezoning required for an Ann Arbor Housing Commission project – a 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road. The zoning would change from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). The site plan, which is also on the council’s Aug. 18 agenda, calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms. A related item on the agenda is the vacation of a portion of the city’s right-of-way for Seybold Drive.

Rezoning for 121 W. Kingsley Street for a private development is getting initial consideration by the council on Aug. 18. The project calls for rezoning the site from a planned unit development (PUD) to D2 (downtown interface). The development would include renovating the existing two-story, 2,539-square-foot building, plus constructing two additional buildings: (1) a 3.5-story addition to the existing building; and (2) a 4.5-story structure at the southeast corner of West Kingsley and North Ashley. In total, the development would include 22 units and 40,689 square feet. The estimated cost is $6.5 million.

Getting initial consideration by the council at its Aug. 18 meeting are changes to the city’s taxicab ordinance that have been recommended by the city’s taxicab board. The recommendations come in the context of the entry of Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market. The companies offer the arrangement of rides through mobile networks with drivers who operate their own vehicles. Both companies have ignored cease-and-desist orders from the city.

Uber has sent its Ann Arbor customers an email asking them to sign an online petition supporting Uber’s continued ability to operate here.

One ordinance change would establish certain parameters to mitigate possible negative consequences to the setting of a very high maximum allowable taxicab rate, under which taxicab companies might eventually compete. Those parameters include a requirement that a taxicab company commit to a single rate annually and that the rate be advertised in a vehicle with signage in letters one-inch tall. The other ordinance would require that all drivers for hire – whether they are taxicab drivers or drivers who work for Uber or Lyft – register with the city, maintain proper insurance for their vehicles and acquire commercial plates.

In other significant business at its Aug. 18 meeting, the council will also be asked to confirm the re-appointment of Bob Guenzel to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Column: Parking Oversight, Please

On-street metered parking in and near downtown Ann Arbor costs $1.50 an hour. Rates have not been increased since September 2012. By the terms of the contract under which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) operates the parking system on behalf of the city, the DDA – not the city council – has the authority to raise rates.

(City of Ann Arbor public parking system data from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, charts by The Chronicle)

Comparing the periods October 2012 through June 2012 to October 2013 through June 2014 – when rates have been constant – revenue has increased 1.20% to $14,647,274, while the number of hourly patrons has decreased by 1.65% to 1,661,256. (City of Ann Arbor public parking system data from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, charts by The Chronicle.)

What if on-street metered rates were raised a dime, and rates across other parts of the parking system were also raised by an equivalent percentage?

Although the DDA operates the parking system, that kind of 6.7% rate increase would directly benefit the city’s general fund. By how much?

First, any increase to the city’s general fund revenue is a function of the contract with the city of Ann Arbor, under which the DDA operates the roughly 8,000-space public parking system. The contract stipulates that the city receives 17% of gross parking system revenues.

Total parking system revenues are budgeted by the DDA for the 2015 fiscal year at about $19.3 million. So in ballpark numbers, the 17% equates to a roughly $3.2 million transfer to the city. Of that $3.2 million, about $2.3 million will go to the general fund, while the remaining amount will go to the fund the city uses to maintain downtown streets. That division of the transfer payment by the city has its historical roots in an arrangement between the city and the DDA that predated the existing contract.

So a 6.7% increase in rates across the parking system – assuming no decrease in the use of the system – works out to something like $150,000 more for the city of Ann Arbor’s general fund.

The city council’s role in setting parking rates is one of oversight, not decision-making. But even that oversight role is structurally somewhat weak – because decisions made by the DDA (to raise parking rates) can make the city council’s annual budget decisions somewhat easier.

The next scheduled opportunity for the Ann Arbor city council to exercise oversight of the DDA will be during a fall joint work session – which is stipulated to occur under terms of the city-DDA parking contract. That session is currently planned for Sept. 8.

The contractually stipulated work session would be a good opportunity for councilmembers to ask for metrics on Ann Arbor’s public parking system. Requested information should include stats that indicate how well Ann Arbor’s public parking system supports three different key user groups: (1) downtown employees; (2) retail/transactional customers and visitors; and (3) downtown residents.

Some data is collected routinely by the DDA from Republic Parking – its contractor for day-to-day operations – and shared publicly. That data is limited to revenue figures and numbers of hourly patrons. The routine data does not include hours parked by different categories of users – monthly permit holders and hourly patrons – which makes it difficult to evaluate the system’s support of different user groups.

Still, it’s possible to discern some patterns and to draw some conclusions about Ann Arbor’s parking system, based on the data the DDA does provide. Charts with commentary are presented below. [Full Story]

County Takes Action on Budget, Tax Levies

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Aug. 6, 2014): County commissioners took initial votes to levy two taxes that would generate revenues for economic development, agricultural projects, and support of indigent veterans.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chris Haslinger (second from right), director of training for the United Association (UA) of plumbers and pipefitters, received a proclamation from the county board of commissioners at the board’s Aug. 6 meeting. They were gathering for a photo to mark the event. From left: Conan Smith, Andy LaBarre, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Chris Haslinger, and Verna McDaniel, the county administrator. (Photos by the writer.)

The county has determined that it’s authorized to collect up to 1/10th of a mill for support of indigent veterans, without seeking voter approval. That’s because the state legislation that enables the county to levy this type of tax – the Veterans Relief Fund Act, Public Act 214 of 1899 – predates the state’s Headlee Amendment. The county first began levying this millage in 2008, and collects the tax in December. The current proposal is to levy 1/27th of a mill in December 2014, which is expected to raise about $540,887 in revenues for use in 2015.

The county’s position is that Act 88 can also be levied without voter approval to fund economic development and agricultural activities. This year, the proposal is to levy 0.07 mills in December 2014 – the same rate that was levied in 2013. It’s expected to raise an estimated $1,022,276 in property tax revenues.

Final action on these tax levies is expected at the board’s Sept. 3 meeting.

Also related to Act 88, the board approved allocations of $87,760 in Act 88 revenues that were collected in 2013, to support six projects. Four of the projects are administrated by Ypsilanti-based Growing Hope, with the remaining two projects initiated by the Michigan State University Product Center.

During the Aug. 6 meeting, commissioners approved amendments to both the Act 88 projects resolution and the resolution to levy the tax this year. The amendments directed the county’s corporation counsel to provide a written opinion about how Act 88 revenues can lawfully be used, and how the tax can be lawfully levied without a vote of the people. The amendments were brought forward by Dan Smith (R-District 2).

In other action, the board received a second-quarter budget update, with projections showing a general fund surplus of $211,920 for the year. The board also made mid-year budget adjustments, which included allocating a $3.9 million surplus from 2013 into unearmarked reserves.

Commissioners approved a new policy to guide decisions on tax increment finance (TIF) proposals, and supported revised rules and guidelines from the water resources commissioner. Those revisions relate to procedures and design criteria for stormwater management systems.

A proclamation made during the Aug. 6 meeting honored Herb Ellis Sr., the first black man to be elected to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Ellis was elected in 1968 and served until 1982, representing Ann Arbor. During that time he also was the first black chair of the county board. He passed away on July 10, 2014 at the age of 98.

Another resolution recognized the contributions of United Association (UA), a union of plumbers, pipefitters, sprinkler fitters, welders, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) technicians. They’re in this area from Aug. 9-15 for their 61st annual training program, and have announced a new 15-year agreement to continue the program at the Washtenaw Community College.

The Aug. 6 meeting was held one day after the Aug. 5 primary elections. At the start of the meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi congratulated all primary candidates, and said he looked forward to working with Ruth Ann Jamnick, the winner of the District 5 Democratic primary. He quickly added “pending the general election, but I think…” – a comment that drew laughs. District 5 – which covers August Township and parts of Ypsilanti Township – is heavily Democratic. Jamnick, who prevailed in the four-way Democratic primary, will face Republican Timothy King in the Nov. 4 general election. District 5 was the only race that was contested for the county board, with incumbent Rolland Sizemore Jr. not seeking re-election. Incumbents in all other districts of the nine-member board were unchallenged in the primary.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted to enter into a closed executive session for the purpose of reviewing attorney-client privileged communication. It is one of the exemptions allowed under the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

After about 30 minutes, three commissioners returned to the boardroom – Dan Smith (R-District 2), Alicia Ping (R-District 3) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). They indicated to The Chronicle that they thought the discussion in the closed session had strayed away from the limits imposed by the OMA, and they had left the session because of that. They did not state what the nature of the discussion had been, nor the topic of the session.

Soon after, the remainder of the board emerged from the closed session, and the meeting was adjourned. [Full Story]

Platt Road Housing Project Partially Delayed

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 6, 2014): Ann Arbor city planning commissioners took mixed action on a proposed Ann Arbor housing commission (AAHC) property.

From left: Scott Betzold of Midwestern Consulting, Ann Arbor Housing Commission executive director Jennifer Hall, and project architect for AAHC's proposed development at 3451 Platt Road.

From left: Scott Betzold of Midwestern Consulting, Ann Arbor housing commission executive director Jennifer Hall, and John Mouat, project architect for AAHC’s proposed development at 3451 Platt Road.

They sent the rezoning request for the 3451 Platt Road property – R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district) – to the city council with a recommendation of approval. However, commissioners postponed consideration of the site plan for the five-building, 32-unit project, amid concerns about the site’s location in the floodplain and stormwater management.

Zoning and site plan approval must ultimately be given by the city council. However, the zoning approval will require two votes by the council at two separate meetings – because changes to the zoning code are actually changes to a city ordinance. So the delay on the approval of the site plan would not necessarily delay the project, as long at the site plan is put in front of the council for consideration by the time the council takes a second vote on the rezoning.

AAHC is hoping that the zoning and site plan approval can be obtained from the city council by sometime in mid-October, because that will help support a grant application.

Several residents who live near the proposed site spoke against the project during the public hearing on Aug. 6, while advocates for more affordable housing spoke in support of it. That public hearing will be continued when the site plan is next taken up by the commission.

The question of whether those speakers will be allowed to speak again at that same public hearing is the type of issue that was addressed in a different item handled by the commission at its Aug. 6 meeting. The commission approved revisions to its bylaws, including one stipulating that people who have already spoken at a public hearing can speak at a continuation of that public hearing only at the discretion of the planning commission chair – or if a proposal has changed in a material way between the initial portion of the hearing and the continued portion.

Revisions to the planning commission bylaws will be forwarded to the city council for approval. [Full Story]

Aug. 7, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s Aug. 7, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. The intent is to facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in this file.

The council’s election-week meeting is held on Thursday instead of Monday.

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

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber includes Braille.

The agenda is relatively light, with many of the items dealing with land-development and zoning matters – each of which have an associated public hearing. The consent agenda is packed with renewals of contracts for various software packages and computer maintenance.

In the category of land development and use, the council will consider a site plan that proposes to tear down the existing Delta Chi fraternity house at 1705 Hill Street and build a much larger structure in its place. Another site plan on the agenda is The Mark condominiums. That’s a proposal from developer Alex de Parry to demolish an existing car wash at 318 W. Liberty and build an 11,910-square-foot structure with seven residential condominiums – five two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units.

Also on the agenda is the initial approval of rezoning – from O (office district) and RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district) – that will be necessary for an expansion of the Gift of Life Michigan facility in Research Park. The proposal calls for building a three-story, 40,786-square-foot addition to connect two existing buildings at 3161 and 3169 Research Park Drive, which are owned and occupied by the nonprofit.

Also on Research Park Drive, a trio of items on the agenda relate to a future project that would construct six new buildings on six parcels, each with associated surface parking and storm water detention. One of the proposed buildings would be a tennis facility. The tennis facility would require an amendment to the ORL district, which currently does not allow outdoor recreation uses. The three associated items are: (1) an area plan; (2) rezoning of 16.6 acres from RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district); and (3) an amendment to the ORL zoning classification to allow the planning commission to grant special exception uses for recreational facilities.

The council will also consider a $200,000 contract with Reiser & Frushour P.L.L.C. to provide legal representation for indigent defendants. The city is required to provide such representation for those indigent defendants who might face incarceration if convicted.

A second large contract on the agenda is one with Carrier & Gable Inc. for the purchase of $480,000 worth of traffic signals. A third large contract is a three-year $727,545 agreement with Du All Cleaning Inc. for janitorial service at city hall, the Wheeler Service Center, the water treatment plant, senior center and other city-owned facilities.

Also to be considered by the council at its Aug. 7 meeting are a raft of items on the consent agenda covering various pieces of software used by the city in its regular operations. None of the contracts exceed $100,000, which means they can be voted on “all in one go” as part of the consent agenda.

Returning to the agenda on Aug. 7 is the Pontiac Trail sidewalk special assessment roll. That item had been postponed at the council’s July 21 meeting to allow additional time for residents to protest the assessment.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Thursday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. Click here to skip the preview section and go directly to the live updates. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

How Ann Arbor Council Races Were Won

The results of city council Democratic primary elections held in the city of Ann Arbor on Aug. 5 can fairly be considered determinative of Nov. 4 election outcomes – because no Republicans or independents filed petitions to qualify for the ballot.

City council races were actively contested in only three of Ann Arbor's five wards in the Democratic primary.

City council races were actively contested in only three of Ann Arbor’s five wards in the Democratic primary: Ward 1 (orange), Ward 2 (green) and Ward 3 (teal).

November will see at least three newcomers to the 11-member council – Kirk Westphal in Ward 2, Julie Grand in Ward 3, and Graydon Krapohl in Ward 4. Westphal and Grand won their respective Democratic primaries that featured no incumbents. Both candidates were coming off unsuccessful council campaigns last year – against Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), respectively.

Westphal received 1,819 votes (59%) to Nancy Kaplan’s 1,261 (41%) in a race that was anticipated to be somewhat closer. Grand received 1,516 votes (51.1%) compared to Bob Dascola’s 794 (26.8%) and Samuel McMullen’s 616 (20.8%). That gave a decisive result to a Ward 3 race that had been fraught with legal disputes – about Dascola’s eligibility to appear on the ballot in the first place; and then about how to count misprinted absentee ballots, which omitted Dascola’s name.

Krapohl’s race did not even appear on the Aug. 5 ballot – because he was unopposed in the Democratic primary and no Republican qualified for the ballot. The omission of the race from the ballot under those conditions is stipulated in a clause of the city charter.

Krapohl will be filling the seat to which Democrat Margie Teall did not seek re-election. Westphal will almost certainly be filling the Ward 2 seat that Sally Petersen left to pursue an unsuccessful mayoral campaign. And Grand will almost certainly be elected to fill the seat vacated by Christopher Taylor, who ran a successful campaign for mayor.

Taylor, who’s currently a councilmember representing Ward 3, will be the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 4 general election against independent Bryan Kelly. Assuming Taylor does prevail, he will remain on the council as mayor. And among the 10 councilmembers who represent one of the five wards, he’ll almost certainly see a total of seven returning faces, including the two incumbents who prevailed in the Aug. 5 primaries.

That’s because those two incumbents, like the new Democratic council nominees, will also be unopposed on the November ballot. First-term Ward 1 councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy prevailed over Don Adams, who was seeking elected office for the first time. Kailasapathy received 1,113 votes (56.8%) compared to 840 (42.8%) for Adams.

And first-term Ward 5 councilmember Chuck Warpehoski prevailed over Leon Bryson, who had announced he was withdrawing from the race after the deadline to remove his name from the ballot. Bryson still collected 674 votes (18.6%), but Warpehoski’s total was 2,936 (81%).

Those three newcomers and two incumbents will join the five councilmembers who are currently in the middle of their two-year terms: Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – as well as Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who were unsuccessful in their mayoral bids.

Below are some maps illustrating the geographic distribution of votes in the three actively contested city council races, as well as some limited analysis of the Ward 2 race in terms of questions that were part of a pre-election poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. [Full Story]

By Precinct: How Taylor Won Ann Arbor

Final unofficial results from the Washtenaw County clerk’s office have confirmed the results of early, informal reports directly from the Aug. 5, 2014 polls: Christopher Taylor has won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Ann Arbor.

Precincts are colored by strength of each candidate. Kunselman (red), Taylor (green), Briere (blue) and Petersen (orange).

Precincts are shaded by strength of each candidate. Kunselman (red), Taylor (green), Briere (blue) and Petersen (orange).

Incumbent mayor John Hieftje is not seeking re-election, and there is no Republican candidate. Taylor will face independent Bryan Kelly in the Nov. 4 general election.

Some observers felt the four-way race could be won with as little as 35% of the vote. Taylor achieved a near majority, but fell a couple of percentage points short of 50% citywide. Taylor received 7,070 votes (47.6%) compared to Sabra Briere’s 2,967 (20%), Stephen Kunselman’s 2,447 (16.5%) and Sally Petersen’s 2,364 (15.9%).

The 16,591 ballots cast translated into a turnout of 16.67% registered voters citywide.

The ranking and clustering of the four candidates was roughly consistent with the amount of money each campaign raised in the pre-primary period – if the self-funded portion of Petersen’s campaign is discounted.

The rank order and clustering of candidates was also consistent with the results of a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling about a week before  the election. That poll also showed Taylor as a clear favorite over the other three candidates, who were grouped significantly behind, with Briere slightly stronger than Kunselman and Petersen.

Outgoing Democratic mayor John Hieftje never lost any of the city’s 48 precincts in seven election cycles. Taylor prevailed in 39 precincts. Briere won seven of them, while Kunselman won his home precinct in Ward 3. Briere and Petersen tied for most votes in one precinct – splitting the two votes in the lightly voted Precinct 1-1.

Taylor had the highest vote totals in each of the city’s five wards, with a majority of votes in three of them. In Ward 3, Ward 4 and Ward 5, Taylor received 50.4%, 52% and 50.6%, respectively.

All four candidates did best on their home turf – Briere in Ward 1, Petersen in Ward 2, Kunselman in outer Ward 3. But Taylor was strong not just in the Burns Park neighborhood of Ward 3, but also citywide, achieving better than 50% in 13 of 48 individual precincts, while winning 39 of them.

Charts of results by ward, as well as dynamic color-coded maps for each mayoral candidate, are presented below. [Full Story]

Judicial Races Winnow Choices for Fall

Julia Owdziej and Tracy Van den Bergh will advance to the Nov. 4 election for Washtenaw County probate judge, following the outcome of a five-way race in the nonpartisan Aug. 5 primary.

Stacked-Probate-Circuit-small

Charts showing the outcome of the Aug. 5 nonpartisan primary for Washtenaw County probate judge and 22nd circuit court judge. The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the Nov. 4 general election.

And in the 22nd circuit court race, Patrick Conlin and Veronique Liem prevailed over Michael Woodyard to advance to the Nov. 4 election.

Countywide, Conlin received 16,043 votes (44.85%) and Liem garnered 14,779 votes (41.32%). Coming in third was Woodyard with 4,856 votes (13.58%). Overall, 44,823 ballots were cast throughout Washtenaw County in this race, which translated to a 16.28% turnout, according to unofficial results on the Washtenaw County elections website.

The winner of the Nov. 4 contest between Conlin and Liem will fill the open seat left by judge Donald Shelton, who turned 70 in June. According to Michigan state law, only a person under the age of 70 can be appointed or run for the position of judge.

Conlin and Liem are local attorneys, while Woodyard works in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. A second seat on the 22nd circuit court is also up for election, as judge David Swartz is at the end of a six-year term. He is uncontested in his effort to retain the 22nd circuit court incumbent seat.

In the probate judicial race, five candidates competed in the Aug. 5 primary: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, Tracy Van den Bergh and recently appointed judge Julia Owdziej.

Owdziej received 11,314 votes (31.21%) with Van den Bergh getting 10,172 votes (28.06%). They will advance to the Nov. 4 general election. Bassett received 5,207 votes (14.36%), with 4,925 votes for Garwood (13.59%), and 4,560 votes for Constance Jones (12.58%). In this race, 44,890 ballots were cast countywide, for a voter turnout of 16.3%, according to unofficial results posted by the Washtenaw County elections division.

Owdziej had been appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Snyder on June 2, 2014, to fill the vacancy on the court left by Nancy Wheeler’s retirement. The announcement of that retirement came on May 1, after candidates had filed to run. Wheeler was expected to retire at the end of the year, but it came earlier than expected due to health reasons. Bassett, Garwood and Jones currently work in private practice while Van den Bergh is a staff attorney for a legal services nonprofit.

Both judicial races showed a similar pattern, comparing the countywide vote to the city of Ann Arbor. The two candidates who were strongest across the county – Conlin for the circuit judgeship and Owdziej for the probate judgeship – were not the strongest candidates in the city of Ann Arbor. Strongest in the city of Ann Arbor for probate and circuit court were Liem and Van den Bergh, respectively.

Below are charts showing outcomes for both the probate and 22nd circuit court judicial races, with a ward-by-ward breakdown for the city of Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Alea Iacta Est: Election Results (Aug. 5, 2014)

This article was set up with an automatic publishing time: 8 p.m. Aug. 5, 2014.

In this file The Chronicle will record summarized tabulations of early, informally-reported, completely unofficial election results – in city of Ann Arbor races for mayor and city council.

The city of Ann Arbor is divided into five wards.

The city of Ann Arbor is divided into five wards.

The headline is drawn from a tradition in Ann Arbor’s Internet culture dating back to the mid 2000s – the days of the now defunct community blog, ArborUpdate. At the moment the polls closed, local attorney Dave Cahill would reliably post a three-word comment: alea iacta est (the die is cast).

The Latin phrase is attributed to Julius Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon.

The results reported here come directly from individual precincts as the paper tapes are printed out by voting machines. They should be considered informal and unofficial.

Unofficial results will also be reported by the Washtenaw County clerk’s office on its Aug. 5, 2014 election results page.

The following block of text will be replaced with a time-stamped, updated version about every 10-15 minutes. To see the most recent results, please refresh the page manually.

 

Latest informal, unofficially reported results, as of 9:37:50 PM [This is the last update of informally reported results. For complete unofficial results, The Chronicle directs readers to the county clerk's website. The Ward 1 race looks clearly decided in favor of Kailasapathy. The Ward 2 race looks very likely  to go Westphal's way. The Ward 3 race looks very likely to go Grand's way. And the mayor's race will almost certainly go to Taylor.]

In the Ward 1 city council race, with 10 of 10 in-person precincts informally reporting, including absentee ballots, ADAMS has received 840 votes (43%), and KAILASAPATHY has received 1113 votes (56.9%).

In the Ward 2 city council race, with 7 of 9 in-person precincts informally reporting, including 2 of 2 absent voter count boards, KAPLAN has received 1163 votes (41.8%), and WESTPHAL has received 1615 votes (58.1%).

In the Ward 3 city council race, with 4 of 9 in-person precincts informally reporting, including absentee ballots, DASCOLA has received 572 votes (27.3%), GRAND has received 1126 votes (53.8%) and MCMULLEN has received 394 votes (18.8%).

In the Ann Arbor mayor’s race, with 32 of 48 in-person precincts informally reporting, and 7 of 7 absent voter count boards reporting in, BRIERE has received 2411 votes (20.1%), KUNSELMAN has received 1931 votes (16.1%) PETERSEN has received 1830 votes (15.3%), and TAYLOR has received 5785 votes (48.3%).

 

[Full Story]

Primary Election Day: Aug. 5, 2014

As we have for the past few years, The Chronicle will be touring Ann Arbor polling stations on Election Day and providing updates throughout the day. Polls are open today from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

At 6:30 a.m. the  lawn outside the Slauson Middle School polls was bristling with campaign yard signs just outside the 100-foot limit.

At 6:30 a.m. the lawn outside the Slauson Middle School polls was bristling with campaign yard signs just outside the 100-foot limit.

City of Ann Arbor voters will have a choice of four candidates for mayor in the Democratic primary, all of whom are current members of the city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

The Democratic primary also offers voters actively contested races in three of five wards.  The Ward 1 race features one-term incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy and Don Adams. The Ward 2 city council race features Kirk Westphal and Nancy Kaplan. This year’s Ward 3 contest features Julie GrandBob Dascola and Samuel McMullen, who are all competing for the seat that Christopher Taylor is leaving in order to run for mayor.

There are no contested Republican primaries for any of city offices. The winner of the Democratic mayoral primary will face independent Bryan Kelly  in the fall.

For for the countywide judicial races, which are non-partisan, voters have a choice of three candidates for circuit court judge: Pat ConlinVeronique Liem and Michael Woodyard. For probate judge, voters have a choice of five candidates: Jane BassettTamara GarwoodConstance JonesTracy Van den Bergh and recently appointed judge Julia Owdziej. In each of those races the top two vote getters will advance to the November general election.

Not sure where to vote? To find your polling place and view a sample ballot for your precinct, visit the Secretary of State’s website.

Below is a timestamped log of The Chronicle’s observations from the field as we tour the polls. A dynamic map is also provided so that readers can track our progress geographically.

A comment thread is open, so that readers can log their own observations made during their visit to the polls.  [Full Story]

Column: Help Collect Early Election Results

Unofficial results for Tuesday’s local primary election races will be available on the Washtenaw County clerk’s election results page. Polls close at 8 p.m. so the earliest results will start showing up on the clerk’s website a couple hours after that.

Example of am Ann Arbor voter machine results tape from 2013.

Example of an Ann Arbor voter machine results tape from 2013.

We’d like to improve on that “delay.”

We’re asking regular folks throughout the city to visit a precinct after the polls close at 8 p.m. – and report the numbers from the publicly posted paper results tape.

Augmenting the civic satisfaction you’ll get from helping to report on our local democratic doings, you can also earn 1,000 points in the Ann Arbor District Library’s Summer Game. The mechanics of retrieving the game code are included below.

Most naturally, but not necessarily, voters would re-visit the place they voted earlier in the day. Or some voters might choose to vote close to 8 p.m. and then just stick around while the polls shut down, waiting for that magical sound of the voting machine printing off the results tape.

We’ll log the early results in a publicly visible Google spreadsheet, so that residents citywide can track the earliest possible (albeit completely unofficial) results as they come in. [That spreadsheet could currently be populated with some test data; please do not be alarmed.]

If you’d like to help out, then please let us know that you’re planning to lend a hand: leave a comment on this article; shoot me an email (dave.askins@annarborchronicle.com); Tweet at me (@a2chronicle), or flag me down if you spot me traveling through town.

Below we’ve included a list of polling places and a map, as well as some basic instructions for those who have never picked up early results before.  [Full Story]

Aug. 5 Primary: Procrastinator’s Guide

In Ann Arbor, local elections are mostly determined in the Democratic primary, held this year on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The mayoral race is well contested with four Democratic candidates. Races in three of the city’s five wards offer actively contested races.

"Vote Here" sign designating an Ann Arbor polling location for a previous election.

“Vote Here” sign designating an Ann Arbor polling location for a previous election.

No Republicans are running for mayor or in any of the city council races. Only one independent candidate – Bryan Kelly, who’s running for mayor – will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Races for probate judge and circuit court judge offer fields of five and three candidates, respectively.

This article provides a roundup of Chronicle election coverage, for anyone who’s still studying up on the candidates. It includes links to reports and recordings of candidate forums, campaign finance data, analysis and other information. Links are also provided to candidate websites and League of Women Voters candidate profiles.

If you’re not sure whether you’re registered to vote or you’re not sure which ward you live in, Michigan’s Secretary of State website offers an easy way to check. The site also lets you look at a sample ballot. To give you a general idea of what ward you live in, check out this ward boundary map.

Polls open on Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Readers can follow along during the day as The Chronicle goes poll-hopping, checking in at locations throughout the city. We’ll also be posting updates with results starting soon after the polls close. The Washtenaw County elections division website also provides unofficial results on election night.

Below you’ll find more information on the Ann Arbor mayoral and city council candidates, as well as judicial candidates for the probate and 22nd circuit courts. [Full Story]

Parks Group Weighs Fuller Parking Lease

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (July 15, 2014): The main action item at the July Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting related to renewal of a lease for parking at a Fuller Park surface lot.

Gwen Nystuen, Eric Lipson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former park advisory commissioner Gwen Nystuen and former planning commissioner Eric Lipson of the Library Green Conservancy spoke during public commentary. They advocated for integrated planning of public space in the Library Block, which includes Liberty Plaza and the Library Lane site. (Photos by the writer.)

An existing lease to the University of Michigan expires on Aug. 31, 2014. PAC recommended that the city renew the lease for two years, with an additional two-year option for renewal beyond that. Annual revenue will be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget.

The three lots are: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks (Lot A); (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot B); and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot C). The lots are used by UM during restricted hours.

Three people spoke during public commentary regarding Fuller Park, though most of their focus was on the possibility of locating a train station at that site, which they opposed.

Responding to concerns raised during public commentary, commissioners discussed and ultimately amended the recommendation, adding a whereas clause that stated the “resolution does not commit PAC to support or oppose the use of Lot A as a rail station.”

The July 15 agenda also included two items related to Liberty Plaza: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

The existing fee waiver, which had been in place for a year, expired on July 1. The feedback to the city council related to action at the council’s June 16, 2014 meeting, which took place after a contentious debate over a resolution co-sponsored by Christopher Taylor, who also serves as an ex officio member of PAC.

On July 15, the commission also heard public commentary related to this area, as Library Green Conservancy members advocated for PAC to consider the entire block – both Liberty Plaza and Library Lane – when making recommendations to the council.

But because three PAC members were absent, chair Ingrid Ault suggested that the two items be put off until more commissioners could participate in a discussion. Absent on July 15 were PAC vice chair Graydon Krapohl, Alan Jackson, and Bob Galardi, who also serves as chair of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy board.

There was no formal vote to postpone, but it’s likely that the items will appear on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda. That date falls after the Aug. 5 primary elections. Krapohl, a Democrat, is the only candidate running for Ward 4 city council. Christopher Taylor – a councilmember who serves as an ex officio member of PAC – is one of four Democrats running for mayor.

During the July 15 meeting, PAC also received a briefing on activities at Mack Pool, the city’s only indoor pool. Although the city had considered closing it just a few years ago, new programming has resulted in increased revenues for that facility. [Full Story]

AAATA Gears Up for More Accessible Service

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (July 24, 2014): The board’s meeting this month was the next-to-last one before the initial expansion of services that the transit authority will be implementing. The expansion results from the new millage that was approved in a voter referendum held on May 6, 2014. The rollout of additional service is scheduled for Aug. 24, while the board’s next meeting is three days before that.

From left: AAATA strategic planner Michael Benham, Ed Vielmetti (background) and CEO  Michael Ford, talked after he meeting.

From left: AAATA strategic planner Michael Benham, Ed Vielmetti (background) and CEO Michael Ford, talked after the meeting.

The board barely achieved a quorum – with six of 10 board members attending. Anya Dale presided over the meeting in the absence of board chair Charles Griffith.

The board received some updates on the preparations for implementing that expanded service plan. And three of the board’s July 24 voting items were related at least indirectly to the additional services: a plan for acquiring 20 new buses; adjustments to the current fiscal year’s operating budget; and a tweak to the AAATA’s mission statement.

The mission statement was modified to highlight “accessible” as the kind of transit services that the AAATA aspires to provide. The change to the mission statement also reflected the addition last year of the word “area” to the name of the organization. That name change came as the result of adding the city of Ypsilanti as well as Ypsilanti Township as members of the authority. Previously, the city of Ann Arbor had been the sole member. The additional services will be paid for with a millage levied on property owners from all the member jurisdictions.

The fiscal 2014 budget ends Sept. 30. Revenues were adjusted to reflect the millage revenue. Of the additional $4,543,695 in local millage revenues, $3,850,000 is being put toward next year’s FY 2015 budget. Adjustments to this year’s budget include changes to reflect the hiring and training of 11 new bus drivers, bringing the total to 138 drivers. An operations supervisor, two new vehicle mechanics, an additional service crew member, and a human resources administrative assistant will also be added.

The additional 20 buses the AAATA is acquiring for the service expansion are spread over the next three years, with two to be acquired this year, 11 in FY 2015 and 7 in FY 2016. The buses for FY 2015 and 2016 will be paid for with the additional local millage funds, while the buses this year will tap a federal grant with matching state funds. A public hearing was held on the federal grant application that will include those two buses.

Potential future expansion of services – in addition to those to be implemented starting Aug. 24 – was also reflected in a voting item on the board’s July 24 agenda. The board approved an increase in the contract with SmithGroupJJR from $105,200 to $800,000 – to continue study of north-south commuter rail options between Howell and Ann Arbor. An earlier phase of the study for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project identified a segment of the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, between Liberty and Washington streets, as a preferred location for a downtown Ann Arbor station. A portion of the work is being paid for with a $640,000 federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program grant.

The final voting item on the board’s agenda was a $234,360 contract with GZA GeoEnvironmental to perform environmental cleanup work at the AAATA headquarters building at 2700 S. Industrial Highway. The cleanup, which involves contamination from a gasoline leak that was identified in 2010, is covered by insurance.

At its July 24 meeting, the board also heard its usual range of updates, reports and public commentary, much of which highlighted the idea of accessibility. [Full Story]

Aug. 7, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The council’s election-week meeting will be held on Thursday instead of Monday.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the Aug. 7, 2014 meeting agenda.

The agenda is relatively light, with many of the items dealing with land-use and zoning matters – each of which have an associated public hearing. The consent agenda is packed with renewals of contracts for various software packages and computer maintenance.

In the category of land development and use, the council will consider a site plan that proposes to tear down the existing Delta Chi fraternity house at 1705 Hill Street and build a much larger structure in its place. Another site plan on the agenda is The Mark condominiums. That’s a proposal from developer Alex de Parry to demolish an existing car wash at 318 W. Liberty and build an 11,910-square-foot structure with seven residential condominiums – five two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units.

Also on the agenda is the initial approval of rezoning – from O (office district) and RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district) – that will be necessary for an expansion of the Gift of Life Michigan facility in Research Park. The proposal calls for building a three-story, 40,786-square-foot addition to connect two existing buildings at 3161 and 3169 Research Park Drive, which are owned and occupied by the nonprofit.

Also on Research Park Drive, a trio of items on the agenda relate to a future project that would construct six new buildings on six parcels, each with associated surface parking and storm water detention. One of the proposed buildings would be a tennis facility. The tennis facility would require an amendment to the ORL district, which currently does not allow outdoor recreation uses. The three associated items are: (1) an area plan; (2) rezoning of 16.6 acres from RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district); and (3) an amendment to the ORL zoning classification to allow the planning commission to grant special exception uses for recreational facilities.

The council will also consider a $200,000 contract with Reiser & Frushour P.L.L.C. to provide legal representation for indigent defendants. The city is required to provide such representation for those indigent defendants who might face incarceration if convicted.

A second large contract on the agenda is one with Carrier & Gable Inc. for the purchase of $480,000 worth of traffic signals. A third large contract is a three-year $727,545 agreement with Du All Cleaning Inc. for janitorial service at city hall, the Wheeler Service Center, the water treatment plant, senior center and other city-owned facilities.

Also to be considered by the council at its Aug. 7 meeting are a raft of items on the consent agenda covering various pieces of software used by the city in its regular operations. None of the contracts exceed $100,000, which means they can be voted on “all in one go” as part of the consent agenda.

Returning to the agenda on Aug. 7 is the Pontiac Trail sidewalk special assessment roll. That item had been postponed at the council’s July 21 meeting to allow additional time for residents to protest the assessment.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

AADL Makes Infrastructure Investments

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (July 21, 2014): Action at the July board meeting allocated in total nearly $570,000 toward three infrastructure projects, mostly related to the downtown library. A special meeting on July 29 added $75,000 to that amount.

Rachel Coffman, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rachel Coffman spoke during public commentary to earn points in the AADL summer game. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of the funding was for renovations of the downtown library’s front entrance. The board authorized a $425,523 construction budget for that project at 343 S. Fifth Ave., which has been in the works for several months. The budget covers new doors, a redesigned facade, and heated sidewalks, among other changes. The construction manager is O’Neal Construction of Ann Arbor.

Also related to the downtown library, trustees authorized a $93,598 contract with Schindler Elevator Corp. to repair the public elevator, which has been out of commission since this spring.

A week after the July 21 meeting, the board called a special meeting for July 29 to address additional issues related to the elevator. The four board members present at that meeting voted to authorize an additional $75,000 for elevator work.

Because of the elevator repair work, the Friends of the AADL bookshop is now located in the main first-floor lobby of the downtown building, rather than its normal location in the lower level, which is closed. It’s been in the lobby since June 30, and is open all of the hours that the building is open. Books are sold at the circulation desk.

The third infrastructure project approved on July 21 was $50,000 for carpet replacement in parts of the downtown library, as well as at the branch located at the Westgate Shopping Center.

The money for all three projects will be taken from the fund balance, which stood at $8.17 million as of June 30.

In other action on July 21, the board approved five adjustments to the 2013-14 budget, for the prior fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. The adjustments totaled $96,300.

Public commentary was dominated by fans of AADL’s summer game – in part because they could earn points by speaking to the board. Other issues raised during public commentary included concerns about communication, outreach to underserved populations, the cost of renovations to the downtown library entrance, and the “purging” of reference books.

The board’s August meeting is canceled. The next scheduled board session is on Sept. 15. [Full Story]

Poll: Clear Favorite for Ann Arbor Mayor

From July 28-29, several Ann Arbor residents reported being polled by telephone about their preferences in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary election. The Chronicle has obtained the results of that poll of 435 likely voters by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a North Carolina polling firm.

July 28-29, 2014 Survey of 435 likely Democratic primary voters by Public Policy Polling. <strong>Top Chart among all voters:</strong> Christopher Taylor (39%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (15%); Sally Petersen (13%); Undecided (15%).  <strong>Bottom Chart (if the election were conducted among those who disapproved of current mayor John Hieftje's performance)</strong>: Christopher Taylor (19%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (32%); Sally Petersen (20%); Undecided (9%).

July 28-29, 2014 survey of 435 likely Democratic primary voters by Public Policy Polling. Top Chart among all voters: Christopher Taylor (39%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (15%); Sally Petersen (13%); Undecided (15%). Bottom Chart (if the election were conducted among those who disapproved of current mayor John Hieftje’s performance): Christopher Taylor (19%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (32%); Sally Petersen (20%); Undecided (9%).

They show Ward 3 councilmember Christopher Taylor to be a clear favorite, with about a week to go before the Aug. 5, 2014 primary. Taylor polled at 39% compared to 19% for Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere.

Ward 3 councilmember Stephen Kunselman and Ward 2 councilmember Sally Petersen polled a few points behind Briere at 15% and 13% respectively.

The poll indicates that 15% of voters still haven’t made up their minds. Margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.7%.

The relatively large four-candidate field is attributable to the fact that no incumbent is in the race.

Kunselman was the first of the four candidates to declare his candidacy – before mayor John Hieftje announced last year he would not be seeking reelection to an eighth two-year term.

The PPP poll also asked respondents if they approved of the job that Hieftje was doing as mayor.

One of the patterns revealed in the analysis of the poll responses is that Kunselman would be a 12-point favorite if the election were held just among those voters who disapproved of Hieftje’s performance. But the poll indicated that only 27% of Ann Arbor voters disapproved of Hieftje’s performance.

A polling question that asked about favorable or unfavorable opinions of candidates – independently of an inclination to vote for them – showed Kunselman polling with the highest unfavorable opinion numbers, at 36%. But the “not sure” category for that question polled fairly high across all candidates, ranging from 29% to 43%.

The poll also included two questions about future growth – one about downtown development, and the other about the need for an improved train station. The poll indicated 46% support for the downtown projects that have been approved and built in recent years and 39% opposition. The need for a new train station polled at 52%, while the alternate view – that the current station is adequate – polled at 35%.

The content of the poll – which evinces some knowledge by its creator of the Ann Arbor political landscape – was not commissioned by The Chronicle or by any of the four mayoral campaigns. Tom Jensen grew up in Ann Arbor and is now director at Public Policy Polling, a firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. But Jensen still follows Ann Arbor politics. It was Jensen who put the poll together – out of his own interest. And it was Jensen’s voice that was used in the interactive voice response (IVR) technology deployment of the Ann Arbor mayoral poll.

The poll drew as a sample all those who’d participated in any primary election (Democratic or Republican) since 2006. Poll respondents included 32% Republican or other non-Democratic affiliation.

In a telephone interview, Jensen stressed that any poll result should be viewed with a lot of caution, especially with local elections. “I would definitely, as a pollster, encourage people to take caution in over-interpreting one poll of a low-turnout race in the middle of the summer. You’re definitely prone to more error.”

But based on the results of this poll, he said he was 99% confident that Taylor was going to be the next mayor of Ann Arbor.

Additional charts and some additional background on the polling methodology are presented below. [Full Story]

Column: Get Your Sign Outta My Yard

Over the weekend, local attorney Laurie Longo brought to my attention a political sign placed on North Main by probate court candidate Julia Owdziej – who’s also the incumbent in that race.

This is the sign that was placed on North Main Street by the Julie Owdziej campaign.

This Photoshopped “art” took as its starting point a sign that was placed on North Main Street by the Julie Owdziej campaign. The alteration of the sign was undertaken so readers could be shown the physical dimension of the sign in context, without providing whatever publicity benefit that comes from having a photo of a candidate’s yard sign replicated on The Chronicle’s website. The bicycle is included for a sense of scale. The tagline is a Southern expression I grew up with that essentially means: Do not ask me what time it is, little one.

The incumbency is the result of a gubernatorial appointment made just two months ago, on June 2, 2014. And that forms a part of Longo’s objection to the sign – because it displays the text “Judge Julia Owdziej” in the context of the campaign tagline “Protecting the County’s Most Vulnerable for Over 20 Years.”

The sign seems to implicate that Owdziej has been serving as judge for two decades, not two months. Certainly if I were editing an endorsement op-ed that included a sentence like, “Judge Julia Owdziej has protected Washtenaw County’s most vulnerable for over 20 years,” I would move to strike the word “judge.”

I imagine some readers might agree with Longo’s conclusion – that because the sign is misleading (and violates Ann Arbor’s political sign ordinance), voters should consider other candidates instead. Other candidates in the race are: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, and Tracy Van den Bergh.

That conclusion is, I think, somewhat debatable. Some voters will likely consider that message to be, technically speaking, factually accurate – even if misleading – and within the latitude that is typically afforded political candidates who are trying to market themselves to voters.

What does not seem open to debate is Longo’s point that the billboard-sized sign was in obvious violation of the Ann Arbor ordinance on political signs – most clearly the maximum size for such signs, which is 4′ x 3′. [.pdf of Ann Arbor ordinance on political signs]

When I reached Owdziej by phone Sunday night (July 27), she indicated that the city of Ann Arbor had contacted the campaign about the sign and that the trailer to which it was affixed was to be removed on Monday. And on Monday it was removed.

That’s consistent with remarks made by all probate court candidates in response to a question posed about yard signs at a July 19 forum hosted by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party: They’ll remove signs that are in violation, if the violations are pointed out to them.

So in this final week leading up the election, I would first like to encourage all candidates – not just those in judicial races – to make sure they adhere to local laws on political signs. If you don’t know that you’re not supposed to have any signs in the public right-of-way or within 5 feet of a sidewalk (with some exceptions), then please read up on the details.

For readers, there are at least two options for addressing political signs that you think aren’t in conformance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance. Contact the candidate and tell them where the offending sign is, and ask them to remove it – or to explain why they think the sign is actually in compliance. A second option is to contact community standards by phone at 734.794.6942, or by email at communitystandards@a2gov.org. ​

Below are the responses that probate court candidates gave on July 19 to the question about campaign yard signs – as well as some thoughts of my own about yard signs, with a look back to a 2006 interview with Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum. [Full Story]

2014 Pre-Primary Finance: Donor Analysis

A dataset analysis of pre-primary contributions to 11 different local campaigns for Ann Arbor elected office confirms some clear patterns among the donors. The primary election will be held Aug. 5, 2014.

Excerpt from summary report of a dataset of campaign contributions made to Ann Arbor local campaigns during the pre-primary reporting period for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election.

Excerpt from summary report of a dataset of campaign contributions made to Ann Arbor local campaigns during the pre-primary reporting period for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election.

The dataset was compiled by The Chronicle after the Friday, July 25 deadline for filing campaign finance reports. It includes contributions to the 2014 mayoral Democratic primary campaigns for the four candidates – Sabra Briere, Sally Petersen, Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman – as well as contributions to Democratic city council primary campaigns of seven candidates in three wards: Don Adams and Sumi Kailasapathy in Ward 1; Nancy Kaplan and Kirk Westphal in Ward 2; and Julie Grand, Bob Dascola and Samuel McMullen in Ward 3.

Contributors to those 11 campaigns appear to perceive city council candidates Don Adams, Kirk Westphal and Julie Grand as aligned with mayoral candidate Christopher Taylor – as well as with each other. And judged by their donations, contributors appear to perceive city council candidates Sumi Kailasapathy, Nancy Kaplan and Bob Dascola as politically similar to each other – and to some extent politically similar to mayoral candidates Sabra Briere and Stephen Kunselman.

Those conclusions are based on the 1,278 individual contributions totaled across all the campaigns (517 for city council races and 761 for the mayoral race). The Chronicle counted at least 312 contributions that were made by people who gave to more than one of the campaigns. Those 312 contributions came from 99 different people. Not typical of the contributions were those of 22nd circuit court candidate Veronique Liem, who gave money to seven of the 11 campaigns, including all four mayoral candidates.

The Chronicle also tagged donors in the dataset as current or past members of public bodies – like the city council, the city planning commission and the Ann Arbor District Library board. That exercise revealed that every current member of the library board made at least one contribution to mayoral or council campaigns. Taylor received contributions from five of seven library board members and Briere from one. Westphal received contributions from three library board members.

Stephen Kunselman has campaigned in part based on his endorsements from four current city councilmembers – all of whom contributed money to his campaign. Ward 2 council candidate Nancy Kaplan received contributions from the same four, plus a former councilmember.

When former councilmembers are included in the count, Taylor received contributions from a total of seven. Briere received contributions from four former councilmembers. Among council candidates, Westphal received the most contributions from current and former councilmembers – a total of seven.

The Chronicle initially compiled the set of data – for three city council races and the mayor’s race – in order to generate analyses of geographic trends and distribution of amounts that have been contributed to each campaign. Those analyses are presented in previous coverage: “Council Election Finance 2014: Charts, Maps” and “Mayoral Election Finance 2014: Charts, Maps.”

The dataset should be viewed with the caveat that data entry was done manually from scanned documents generated by the campaigns, so they include a range of spelling variants and other minor inconsistencies. In addition, The Chronicle’s institutional knowledge about donors’ background, even when combined with online research, is imperfect. Some donors in various categories might have been missed.

Below we present some of the patterns of contributions made by donors to the campaigns.  [Full Story]

Local Candidates Sketch Views on the Arts

Editor’s note: The candidate forum was moderated by the writer, Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan.

Twenty candidates for political office attended a forum hosted by the Arts Alliance on July 23, held at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor and focused on the creative sector.

Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich

Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich. (Photos by Dave Askins.)

The event included presentations by each candidate as well as opportunities for questions from the audience, and drew out policy positions related to the arts.

County-level candidates shared their thoughts on the possibility of a countywide arts millage.

And mayoral candidate Sally Petersen took the occasion to float the idea of an Ann Arbor city income tax as an approach that would generate more revenue, at the same time shifting some of the burden of local government funding to those who work in Ann Arbor but do not live here.

Bryan Kelly, independent candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor in the Nov. 4 general election, made his first public appearance since qualifying for the ballot. “I can say firsthand that being an artist is the toughest damn job in the world. I’d rather run for mayor than keep writing novels,” he quipped.

Ypsilanti mayoral candidate Tyrone Bridges shared an example of his daughter’s artwork with forum attendees.

Favorite public art named by the candidates included the mosaic adorning the Fourth and Washington parking structure, as well as the half-mile of daffodils planted in The Arb.

And Ann Arbor Ward 5 incumbent Chuck Warpehoski delivered his opening statement in the form of a rap.

In her remarks at the end of the forum, Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich urged candidates and elected officials to tap into the experts who know the creative sector. She encouraged candidates to touch base with ArtServe Michigan and the Arts Alliance to get accurate information. Ann Arbor is losing ground to other communities like Grand Rapids and Detroit, she said, and that’s why public funding and investment in the arts is important. “Private funding is absolutely here in this county, but it’s not enough – there’s not enough.”

It’s not just about funding, however. Polich stressed the importance of public policy to make the city a fertile ground for the creative sector.

Polich reported that the Arts Alliance will be holding a statewide conference called Creative Convergence on March 19, 2015. Thought leaders from across the country, state and Washtenaw County will be coming to speak about these issues, she said.

This report focuses on state and local candidates, including the Ann Arbor mayoral and city council races, Washtenaw County commissioners, and state legislators. It also includes responses to a candidate survey distributed by the Arts Alliance prior to the forum. Not included here are statements by the two Congressional candidates who attended the forum: Democrat Debbie Dingell, who’s running in the primary against Raymond Mullins of Ypsilanti for the District 12 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; and Republican Douglas Radcliffe North, who’s running against incumbent Republican Tim Walberg for the District 7 seat in the U.S. House.

The outcomes of many of the local races will be determined in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary elections, if no Republicans or independent candidates are running. More information about candidates can be found on the Washtenaw County elections division website. Check the Michigan Votes website to find out your polling location and view a sample ballot. [Full Story]