Govt. Section

Live from Literati: Mayoral Candidate Debate

A debate for Ann Arbor’s four Democratic Party mayoral primary candidates is being hosted tonight, June 25, at 7:30 p.m. by Literati Bookstore. [.mp3 of audio from the event]

Events chalkboard at Literati Bookstore at the corner of Washington and Fourth streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

Photoshopped “art” of the chalkboard at Literati Bookstore at the southwest corner of Washington and Fourth in downtown Ann Arbor.

Literati is located at the southwest corner of Washington and Fourth in downtown Ann Arbor.

All four mayoral candidates currently serve on the Ann Arbor city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

It’s likely that the winner of the Democratic primary on Aug. 5 will also win the general election in November. No Republican candidate took out nominating petitions this year. One independent candidate – Bryan Kelly – has taken out petitions for mayor, but not yet submitted them to the city clerk’s office.

Ann Arbor’s mayorship is an open race with no incumbent this year, because current mayor John Hieftje announced last year that he would not be seeking re-election to an eighth term. Terms for the mayor of Ann Arbor, like those of city councilmembers, last for two years.

The Chronicle is planning to broadcast live audio from the event (see below) and – if events unfold favorably – provide live text corresponding to that audio (see further below).

The event is described by Literati co-owners Hilary and Michael Gustafson on their bookstore’s website as follows: “As a new downtown business, we here at Literati are part of a growing and changing Ann Arbor landscape. But one thing that doesn’t change is our community. We’re proud to not only serve our community as a general bookseller, but to act as a space where our community can come together.”

The event will focus on downtown issues. It will be moderated by the Gustafsons.

The Chronicle’s live audio broadcast is planned to start around 7:20 p.m. to allow for sorting through technical issues that might arise. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor LDFA Looks to Extend Its Life

Ann Arbor Local Development Finance Authority board meeting (June 17, 2014): The LDFA board’s meeting convened around 8:20 a.m. – about seven hours after the city council’s meeting adjourned the previous evening. And the council’s meeting was the topic of small talk among LDFA board members as they waited for their meeting to convene.

Carrie Leahy is chair of the LDFA board.

Carrie Leahy is chair of the LDFA board.

The council’s meeting was of more than just passing interest to the LDFA board members – because the council voted at that meeting to table a $75,000 contract for business development services with Ann Arbor SPARK, a local nonprofit economic development agency. Ann Arbor SPARK is also the LDFA’s contractor – but not for the same kind of services that SPARK delivers under its contract with the city. The council will likely take up its contract with SPARK again at a future meeting, possibly as soon as July 7.

The city’s annual contract with SPARK, which is paid for with general fund money, is meant to cover the attraction and retention of mature companies to the Ann Arbor area. In contrast, the LDFA contracts with SPARK for entrepreneurial support services – for companies that are in some phase of starting up.

On the LDFA board’s June 17 agenda was the annual contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for entrepreneurial support services – which the board voted to approve. This year that contract is worth nearly $2 million – $1,891,000 to be exact.

An unsuccessful bid by councilmembers made during the city’s FY 2015 budget deliberations would have reduced the total LDFA expenditures by $165,379. The goal of that expenditure reduction would have been to increase the fund balance that was available for infrastructure improvements in the LDFA district – specifically, for high-speed telecommunications. At the LDFA’s June 17 meeting, city CFO Tom Crawford indicated that sometime in the FY 2015 fiscal year, the city would be making a proposal to install fiber throughout Ann Arbor.

The contract between the LDFA and SPARK covers a range of items, with the top two line items consisting of staffing for the business incubator ($420,000) and provision of services to start-up companies in Phase III of their development ($550,000). SPARK classifies its engagement with companies in terms of phases: preliminary screenings (Phase I); due diligence (Phase II); intensive advising (Phase III); and accelerating opportunities (Phase IV). [.pdf of FY 2015 budget line items] [.pdf of LDFA-SPARK FY 2015 contract]

At its June 17 meeting, the LDFA board also approved a routine annual $42,600 contract with the city of Ann Arbor – for administrative support services. Those include items like the preparation of meeting minutes, stewardship of public documents, and preparation of budgetary analyses. [.pdf of FY 2015 LDFA contract with city of Ann Arbor]

The final voting item for the board was approval of its meeting schedule for the next fiscal year. The LDFA board meets in eight out of 12 months, with the next meeting taking place on July 15, 2014, starting at 8:15 a.m. in the city council chambers. [.pdf of 2014-2015 meeting schedule]

These voting items did not, however, generate the majority of the board’s discussion at its June 17 meeting.

The board focused most of its discussion on issues surrounding its application for an extension of the LDFA past its current 15-year lifespan, which ends in 2018. Legislation passed in 2012 allowed for either a 5-year or a 15-year extension – with different criteria for those time periods. The 15-year extension requires an agreement with a satellite LDFA, with two communities currently under consideration to partner with Ann Arbor’s LDFA: Brighton and Adrian. Flint had also been a possibility, but is no longer on the table.

With an extension, the LDFA would continue to capture school operating millage money, which would otherwise go to the state’s School Aid Fund. At least some of the school taxes subject to capture by LDFAs statewide are required to be reimbursed to the School Aid Fund by the state. Questions about how that applies to Ann Arbor’s LDFA have been raised – and a review of the state statute appears to support the conclusion that the key clause requiring reimbursement is inapplicable to the Ann Arbor SmartZone LDFA. That understanding was confirmed to The Chronicle by the Michigan Dept. of Treasury communications staff in a telephone interview on June 23.

The exact nature of that tax capture arrangement and possible reimbursement was also the subject of LDFA board discussion on June 17 – because the LDFA board is being pressed by city councilmembers to account for how the LDFA tax capture impacts the state’s School Aid Fund. Board member Stephen Rapundalo expressed some frustration about that – based on his perception that this material had been well explained in the past: “What’s it take – for them to understand unambiguously how that works? I mean, we have told them. Why is the onus on the LDFA to have to show them that?”

Besides the tax capture mechanism, two other issues raised by city councilmembers are factoring into the LDFA board’s approach to seeking an extension of its term. Board chair Carrie Leahy told her colleagues that she took away two main messages from recent appearances in front of the Ann Arbor city council. Some councilmembers, she said, would like to see: (1) an independent audit of job creation numbers; and (2) a provision for infrastructure investments as part of an LDFA extension.

On the infrastructure side, the LDFA board’s discussion focused on the existing TIF (tax increment finance)/development plan, which provides for investments in high-speed telecommunications (fiber) networks, but not for projects like street construction, sewer construction and streetlight installation. The question was raised as to whether the LDFA could use its school tax capture to pay for a fiber network in the whole geographic district of the LDFA – or if school taxes could only be used to fund a fiber network to an business incubator.

The Ann Arbor LDFA’s district covers the geographic areas of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti downtown development authorities – although Ypsilanti’s DDA area does not generate any LDFA tax capture. As a consequence, money captured by the LDFA is not spent in the Ypsilanti portion of the district. But that could change under an extension of the LDFA – based on board discussion at the June 17 meeting.

On the job creation numbers audit, the June 17 board discussion indicated that the LDFA will now be looking possibly to incorporate a job numbers audit as part of an upcoming financial audit. The financial auditing firm will be asked to provide some explanation of how it might be able to incorporate a jobs audit as part of its scope of work for the upcoming financial audit. The board appears to understand that some type of jobs audit would be important for winning ultimate city council support for a 15-year extension of the LDFA.

The city council’s representative to the LDFA board, Sally Petersen, made that explicit more than once during the June 17 meeting, saying that “taking the lead on establishing an independent audit would go a long way towards getting city council support for an extension.”

The LDFA’s deliberations and other agenda items are reported in more detail below. [Full Story]

Sound Bites: Two for Ward 1, One for Mayor

A candidate forum held last week at Arrowwood Hills Cooperative Housing on the city’s north side drew both of the Ward 1 city council candidates, but just one of the candidates for mayor. The event was announced only about a day in advance.

adams-kailasapathy-350

Ward 1 city council candidates in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary: Don Adams and incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy. (Photos by the writer)

Ward 1 Democratic primary city council candidates Sumi Kailasapathy and Don Adams, along with mayoral candidate Stephen Kunselman, answered questions posed by moderator Charles Lewis, who is the program director at the Arrowwood Hills community center. Not able to attend were three other mayoral candidates: Sabra BriereSally Petersen, and Christopher Taylor.

The forum was hosted in the context of a collaboration between Arrowwood Hills and the Ann Arbor Democratic Party called “Finding Your Political Voice.”

Kunselman used the occasion to talk about growing up in the 1970s on the west side of Ann Arbor in the Maple-Miller area, and how the west side kids had a rivalry with the kids from the north side – where the forum was being hosted.

Questions posed by Lewis included some contributed by forum attendees, covering a wide range of topics: affordable housing, Ann Arbor SPARK, the balance between downtown and outer neighborhoods, the candidates’ number one priority, police staffing, and the public transit millage.

With the affordable housing question, Lewis focused on the immediate surroundings, by inviting candidates to reflect on the role of local government in supporting cooperative housing – like Arrowwood Hills, which was built in 1969. The cooperative housing complex has an income limit of no more than 95% of the median income for Washtenaw County. Other questions specific to Ward 1 included one about road work on Pontiac Trail and another about crosswalks on Plymouth Road.

Below are clips of recorded audio from The Chronicle’s live audio broadcast of the event, organized by question. [Full Story]

Art Commission, In Transition, Takes Hiatus

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 18, 2014): In what might be their last formal meeting for the foreseeable future, the city’s public art commissioners discussed their role in the context of ongoing transitions for the public art program.

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s outgoing public art administrator.

One aspect of that transition is the departure of the part-time public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves. His current contract ends on June 30 – the final day of the current fiscal year. Seagraves has been working as the public art administrator on a contract basis since May of 2011.

In addition, one of the art commissioners – Ashlee Arder, who was appointed in March of 2013 – has resigned because of a move to Detroit. She did not attend the June 18 meeting.

Six of the nine commissioners who were present at the meeting approved a resolution about AAPAC’s near-term future. It states that the commission “will not initiate any new public arts projects, nor take any action to seek public or private funds for new projects, until it receives: direction on implementing a transition, a plan to support the Public Art Commission in the furtherance of public art, and guidelines for the funding and management of public art projects…” The resolution also states that AAPAC won’t meet until feedback is needed on the transition plan or for ongoing projects.

AAPAC chair Bob Miller, who introduced the resolution, described it as a way “to tie things up in a neat package for us, until the city has a clear direction for us to move forward.”

In other action, the commission authorized using $10,981 for a project called “PowerArt,” to be administered by the nonprofit Arts Alliance in response to a request by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA is contributing $20,000 to the first phase of the project, which involves wrapping eight traffic signal boxes in the DDA district with vinyl printed replicas of artwork. The expenditure from the city is not from Percent for Art funds, but rather from money donated to the city for public art, and held by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

Discussion among commissioners focused on the fact that the Arts Alliance is proposing a roughly 40% project management fee for the first cycle – $9,100 on top of the $23,000 budget for the project expenses. The fee, as a percentage of the project’s later cycles, is expected to decrease in subsequent cycles. If the entire project is completed, an additional 34 boxes would be wrapped.

Commissioners also were updated on several ongoing projects that have been previously undertaken by AAPAC: (1) the Coleman Jewett memorial; (2) sculptures at a rain garden at Kingsley & First; (3) artwork for East Stadium bridges; and (4) Canoe Imagine Art.

Another effort that’s being developed by commissioner KT Tomey – maps for walking, cycling or running self-guided tours of public art – is also moving ahead, though it’s not an official city project. Commissioners intend to continue work on these projects to some degree, despite their decision to hold off on meetings and new initiatives. [Full Story]

Library Moves Ahead on Front Entrance Work

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (June 16, 2014): The main action item for this month’s meeting was approval of a contract with O’Neal Construction Inc. for construction management of the downtown library’s front entrance renovations.

Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Screenshot of Ann Arbor District Library’s summer game website. The game kicked off on June 13. (Image links to play.aadl.org)

Months in the works, the project involves adding new doors and a redesigned facade facing South Fifth Avenue, along with changes to address accessibility issues. O’Neal will bring back a proposal for a guaranteed maximum cost for the work, which the board will be asked to approve at its July 21 meeting. Construction is expected to begin after the art fairs in late July.

The board was also briefed on the start of the annual summer game, which launched on June 13. The board meeting was held at the Traverwood branch, with a game code for 500 points for those who attended. Very few people attended the meeting, however, and no one spoke during the two opportunities for public commentary.

The board got its usual updates on finances, events and library statistics. Trustees also approved resolutions of thanks for three outgoing members of the Friends of the AADL board: Pat McDonald, Mary Kay Cotter and Fred Meyer.

During the meeting, Parker announced that Eli Neiburger has been promoted to deputy director. He received a round of applause from the board. He has previously served as AADL’s associate director of IT and product development.

Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Parker said Neiburger will be responsible for all departments other than finance, facilities and human resources. AADL has an active search underway for a chief financial officer, who will have responsibility for those three areas.

The change follows the departure of three key staff positions earlier this year. Ken Nieman, former associate director of finance, HR and operations, left in May for a job as CFO at the public library in Sonomo County, California. Former human resources manager DeAnn Doll, who’d been with AADL for about 15 years, also left in May – she’s now director of human resources for Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Florida. And Celeste Choate – AADL’s former associate director of services, collections and access – was hired as executive director of the Urbana Free Library in Urbana, Illinois. She started that new job in April.

At the end of the June 16 meeting, board president Prue Rosenthal praised Parker and Neiburger for the extra work they’ve taken on during these transitions, and for making the changes seem seamless to patrons and the board. [Full Story]

June 16, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s June 16, 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. Outcomes of council votes are also available in the Civic News Ticker.

The city council’s last meeting of the 2014 fiscal year, on June 16, 2014, features an agenda packed with items related to the city’s physical infrastructure like bridges (including art), the sanitary sewer system and the stormwater system, as well as several resolutions related to construction of new sidewalks.

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.

Related to new sidewalk construction is a resolution that would authorize a $75,000 contract with the Greenway Collaborative, to support the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force established by the city council in late 2013. Part of the task force’s responsibility is to create a tool for setting priorities for funding and filling sidewalk gaps in the city.

The $75,000 cost for the pedestrian safety task force consultant is the same amount the council will be asked to allocate to support the work of Ann Arbor SPARK, a local economic development agency. The contract with SPARK is renewed annually, as is another contract on the June 16 agenda – for lobbying services from Governmental Consultant Services Inc. The GCSI contract is for $48,000.

Also on the council’s June 16 agenda are three items with a connection to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. One is the approval of an end-of-year budget adjustment that was already approved at the DDA board’s June 4, 2014 meeting. Another is approval of a $37,500 expenditure from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to help pay for an affordable housing needs assessment. At its June 4 meeting, the DDA board authorized a $37,500 grant for the same study.

In the final item with a DDA connection, the council will be asked to authorize $69,555 for the conversion of 223 mercury-vapor cobrahead streetlights to LED technology. This project would convert streetlights that are all outside the DDA district. The project is on the city council’s agenda because the DDA board recently declined to fund a similar LED conversion project – for streetlights inside the DDA tax capture district.

Several other June 16 agenda items relate to the downtown area, even if they don’t have an explicit DDA connection. Two of them involve changes to downtown zoning ordinances that have been recommended by the planning commission. The zoning question to be given initial consideration by the council is whether to downzone the southeast corner of William and Main streets from D1 to D2, but with a 100-foot height limit.

Other downtown items on the council’s June 16 agenda include site plan approvals for First Martin’s hotel project at Ashley and Huron, and the Bank of Ann Arbor expansion at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street.

A resolution to improve Liberty Plaza, a downtown park at the southwest corner of Division and Liberty streets, also appears on the agenda – sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Added as sponsors since its initial appearance on the agenda are Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

The council will be asked to approve four items related to supportive services for the criminal justice system: (1) a $76,242 contract with Washtenaw County Community Support & Treatment Services for mental health treatment services for the 15th District Court’s sobriety and mental health courts; (2) a $44,200 contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office to provide drug abuse screening and monitoring services for the mental health court; (3) a $108,174 contract with Dawn Farm for drug abuse counseling and rehabilitative services; and (4) a $40,000 contract with Reiser and Frushour PLLC to provide legal representation as court-appointed counsel to indigent defendants.

Recycling is the final topic with multiple items on the June 16 agenda. The council will be asked to approve funds for a $95,694 contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to create a multi-family recycling incentive pilot program. The council will also be asked to approve $39,480 to reimburse the city’s operator of its materials recovery facility for repair of a conveyor that feeds the baler. And finally, the council will be asked to approve $35,000 for Recycle Ann Arbor to provide solid waste services associated with student move-out activity.

The June 16 council meeting will also feature the annual historic district commission awards and the introduction of one of the Ann Arbor police department’s K-9 units, who won highest honors at a recent national certification trials event. 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]

Ann Arbor Dems Mayoral Candidate Forum

For about 90 minutes on Saturday morning, the four Democratic candidates for Ann Arbor mayor answered questions on a wide range of topics at a mayoral forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party.

Clockwise from upper left: Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman.

Clockwise from upper left: Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor, Stephen Kunselman and Sally Petersen.

The candidates all currently serve on city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Questions touched on affordable housing, downtown development, factions on city council, relationships with the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, an assessment of Ann Arbor SPARK, non-motorized transit, commuter rail, and the role of the mayor.

Candidates were also asked to say something nice about each of their opponents – and they did. When Taylor answered the question by describing similar qualities that both Briere and Petersen shared, Briere responded by saying: “I’ve been lumped together!” Distinguishing themselves from the other candidates was a challenge they all faced. The sharpest contrast came when Kunselman said if elected mayor, he would ask Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, to step down from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board, calling the two roles a “conflict of commitment.” The other three candidates disagreed with Kunselman’s view on that.

Briere stressed her listening skills, problem-solving approach and independence, pointing to specific examples of her work on council. “It doesn’t bother me at all that we have factions, but I’m really resistant to joining one,” she said.

Petersen highlighted her experience in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, saying that this gives her a fresh perspective and skills as the city is on the cusp of growth. She pointed to her work toward developing an economic strategy for the city, and said she’d prioritize improving relations with the University of Michigan.

Kunselman told the audience he’d represent the working class, and stressed that he’s the only candidate with policies and politics that differ from the current mayor, John Hieftje, and from Hieftje’s supporters. “I’m offering you a choice of someone that is not in that camp,” he said.

Taylor, in contrast, thinks that the city is on the right track, though he’d work to improve basic services. He also repeatedly pointed to priorities for affordable housing, parks, and efforts to reduce the impact of climate change.

This report includes written summaries of the candidates’ responses, as well as audio clips from The Chronicle’s live broadcast of the event, which was held at the Ann Arbor Community Center. Several other forums are planned in the coming weeks, leading up to the Aug. 5 primary. There are no Republicans running for mayor this year. So far one independent candidate, Bryan Kelly, has taken out petitions. [Full Story]

Request for Jesuit Home To Be Reconsidered

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 3, 2014): A controversial request to allow up to six Jesuits to live together at 1919 Wayne St. did not secure sufficient votes for approval from Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their June 3 meeting. A vote by commissioners came after about an hour of public commentary and two hours of deliberations.

Dan Reim, Ann Arbor Jesuits, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dan Reim, one of the Jesuits who hopes to live at 1919 Wayne St. (Photos by the writer.)

However, at the end of the meeting – near midnight, long after supporters and opponents of the proposal had left – commissioners voted to reconsider the item, and then subsequently voted to postpone action until their next meeting on June 17.

The request – by the Ann Arbor Jesuit Community, formally known as the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus – is for a special exception use to allow a “functional family” to live in a house zoned R1C (single-family dwelling). Without the special exception use, only up to four unrelated people could live there.

The code that allows this special exception use was adopted by Ann Arbor in 1991. Although the city’s ordinance has allowed for a “functional family” designation for more than two decades, this is the first time any group has requested it. The members are affiliated with the St. Mary Student Parish.

Approval required six votes, but the request initially garnered support from only five of the seven commissioners who were present. Voting against it were Diane Giannola and Kirk Westphal. Two commissioners – Sabra Briere and Paras Parekh – were absent. An attempt earlier in the meeting to postpone the vote had failed, with a majority of commissioners wanting to take action that night, apparently assuming it would pass. The final vote to postpone – taken after all other agenda items were dispatched – was 6-1, over dissent from Giannola. The planning commission has discretion to grant a special exception use, which does not require additional city council approval.

During the proposal’s public hearing, 21 people spoke – the majority of them opposed to the request, including representatives from the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association and the North Burns Park Association. Concerns included the possibility of lower property values, the chance of opening the door to student housing or cults, instability of the household because members aren’t related, and “gender housing discrimination.”

Some people directed criticism against the power, privilege and abuse of the Catholic church. Other praised the Jesuits, saying their concerns were strictly related to the zoning code, which they didn’t feel permitted this type of living arrangement in the R1C district. They suggested that the Jesuits could live in other districts – like R4C – that would allow for up to six unrelated people to live together without getting a special exception use.

Three Jesuits who plan to live there – including Ben Hawley, pastor and director of campus ministry for the St. Mary Student Parish – attended the meeting. Rev. Daniel Reim, who serves as the head of household, apologized for the controversy that this request has caused. The group currently lives in a smaller house on Ferdon, which they said they’ve outgrown. Some supporters of the request noted how the men are good neighbors on Ferdon. The former owner of that house pointed out that nearby properties he’s built or renovated had sold for over $1 million, describing the argument about hurting property values as “silly.”

The public hearing will be re-opened on June 17, to allow for additional public input. The Jesuits are encouraging supporters to attend. On June 9, Reim sent an email suggesting specific ways that people can lobby commissioners and the city council.

In voting against the request, Giannola said she didn’t think the Jesuits fit the description of a “functional family.” Westphal said he wanted to get more information from the city attorney’s office about the risk of setting a precedent, and whether there could be conditions on the special exception use that would address concerns about the turnover of residents. Planning staff reported that the city attorney’s office had already vetted the item, but they would make additional queries based on commissioners’ feedback.

There was some question about whether a delay would affect the sales contract that the Jesuits have with the current owner, who also attended the June 3 meeting. The property is listed for sale at $795,000.

In taking up the issue on June 17, one additional wrinkle might be the composition of the commission at that meeting. Two commissioners who supported the request – Jeremy Peters and Eleanore Adenekan – indicated that they would be absent, and another supporter, Ken Clein, said he might also be unable to attend. So it’s possible that there will only be six commissioners at that meeting. That would mean all six commissioners would need to vote yes in order for the request to win approval.

The property is located in Ward 2. One of the Ward 2 city councilmembers, Jane Lumm, attended the planning commission meeting, but did not formally address the commission. Westphal – the planning commission’s chair – is running for city council in the Ward 2 Democratic primary. Westphal and Nancy Kaplan are vying to fill the open seat that’s being left by Sally Petersen’s mayoral candidacy.

In other action on June 3 – a meeting that lasted over five hours – commissioners postponed a rezoning and site plan request from the Ann Arbor housing commission for a property on North Maple, part of a major overhaul of the city’s public housing sites. The project would demolish the single family homes at North Maple Estates, and build apartments that would roughly double the density of low-income housing there. Some neighbors raised concerns about the proposal, which is on the commission’s June 17 agenda for consideration.

Other items on the June 3 agenda were dispatched with little discussion: (1) a site plan for Dusty’s Collision on South Industrial; (2) an expansion at the Rudolf Steiner High School on Pontiac Trail; and (3) a rezoning and area plan request to develop property on Research Park Drive, including an indoor-outdoor tennis facility. [Full Story]

Live Audio: Mayoral Candidate Forum

The Ann Arbor Democratic Party is hosting a mayoral candidate forum this morning, June 14, 2014 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Community Center at 625 North Main Street.

One [click] allows you to skip the intro and start listening live. Remember to “click to play.” Updated: The live broadcast is over. The player will now allow you to listen through the 2 hr 18 min file. The candidate forum starts about 40 minutes into the file. The first 40 minutes is Ann Arbor City Democratic party mingling and announcements.

Campaign yard signs for candidates in the Ann Arbor Democratic mayoral primary.

Campaign yard signs for candidates in the Ann Arbor Democratic mayoral primary.

Expected to attend are all four candidates in the Democratic primary, which will be held on Aug. 5. The four are all sitting city councilmembers representing one of the city’s five wards: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

The Chronicle is using the occasion of the forum to test out Mixlr as way of broadcasting live audio over the Internet. The Mixlr audio player is embedded below.

Social mingling among the Dems is expected to last until around 10 a.m. And at that point the forum will start. We’ll use the half hour before that to test things out.

A comment thread is open. Feel free to use the commenting section to alert us to any technical difficulties: This is a test broadcast and it’s always possible that it will be an unmitigated disaster. We hope not. But we expect that there will be a certain amount of static and possible buffering that make this effort fall short of “broadcast quality” audio.

After the live broadcast, we expect to make the recorded file from the event available for playback at a listener’s convenience. [Full Story]

June 16, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The city council’s last meeting of the 2014 fiscal year on June 16, 2014 features an agenda packed with items related to the city’s physical infrastructure like bridges (including art), the sanitary sewer system and the stormwater system, as well as several resolutions related to construction of new sidewalks.

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 June 16, 2014 meeting agenda.

Related to new sidewalk construction is a resolution that would authorize a $75,000 contract with the Greenway Collaborative, to support the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force established by the city council in late 2013. Creating a tool for setting priorities for funding and filling sidewalk gaps in the city is part of task force’s responsibility.

The $75,000 cost for the pedestrian safety task force consultant is the same amount the council will be asked to allocate to support the work of Ann Arbor SPARK, a local economic development agency. The contract with SPARK is renewed annually, as is another contract on the June 16 agenda – for lobbying services from Governmental Consultant Services Inc. The GCSI contract is for $48,000.

Also on the council’s June 16 agenda are three items with a connection to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. One is the approval of an end-of-year budget adjustment that was already approved at the DDA board’s June 4, 2014 meeting. Another is approval of a $37,500 expenditure from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to help pay for an affordable housing needs assessment. At its June 4 meeting, the DDA board authorized a $37,500 grant for the same study.

In the final item with a DDA connection, the council will be asked to authorize $69,555 for the conversion of 223 mercury vapor cobrahead streetlights to LED technology. This project would convert streetlights that are all outside the DDA district. The project is on the city council’s agenda because the DDA board recently declined to fund a similar LED conversion project – for streetlights inside the DDA tax capture district.

Several other June 16 agenda items related to the downtown area, even if they don’t have an explicit DDA connection. Two of them involve changes to downtown zoning ordinances that have been recommended by the planning commission. The zoning question to be given initial consideration by the council is whether to downzone the southeast corner of William and Main streets from D1 to D2, but with a 100-foot height limit.

Other downtown items on the council’s June 16 agenda include site plan approvals for First Martin’s hotel project at Ashley and Huron, and the Bank of Ann Arbor expansion at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street.

A resolution to improve Liberty Plaza, a downtown park at the southwest corner of Division and Liberty streets, also appears on the agenda – sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

The council will be asked to approve four items related to supportive services for the criminal justice system: (1) a $76,242 contract with Washtenaw County Community Support & Treatment Services for mental health treatment services for the 15th District Court’s sobriety and mental health courts; (2) a $44,200 contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office to provide drug abuse screening and monitoring services for the mental health court; (3) a $108,174 contract with Dawn Farm for drug abuse counseling and rehabilitative services; and (4) a $40,000 contract with Reiser and Frushour PLLC to provide legal representation as court-appointed counsel to indigent defendants.

Recycling is the final topic with multiple items on the June 16 agenda. The council will be asked to approve funds for a $95,694 contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to create a multi-family recycling incentive pilot program. The council will also be asked to approve $39,480 to reimburse the city’s operator of its materials recovery facility for repair of a conveyor that feeds the baler. And finally, the council will be asked to approve $35,000 for Recycle Ann Arbor to provide solid waste services associated with student move-out activity.

The June 16 council meeting will also feature the annual historic district commission awards and the introduction of one of the Ann Arbor police department’s K-9 units, who won highest honors at a recent national certification trials event.

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: A New Agenda for the DDA

Sometime between May 7, 2014 and June 4, 2014, it looks to me like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and executive director violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. Green indicates city ownership. Red indicates DTE ownership.

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. Green indicates city ownership. Red indicates DTE ownership.

How? At its May 7 meeting, the board voted to postpone until June 4 a resolution authorizing a $101,733 payment to DTE to convert 212 non-LED streetlights in downtown Ann Arbor to LED technology. But the resolution did not appear on the board’s June 4 agenda.

Instead of voting on the previous month’s resolution – to approve it, reject it, postpone it again or table it – the board listened to an update from executive director Susan Pollay. Pollay told board members that they should assume that the issue is tabled – but possibly not permanently. That decision to table the resolution appears to have been made between board meetings.

The DDA board’s inaction on the funding means that the downtown LED conversion won’t happen in this year’s cycle – because the deadline to apply for a project this year is June 30. So for this year’s program, the city’s energy office will ask the city council – at its June 16 meeting – to authorize money to fund a different project that converts some lights outside the downtown. DTE does not necessarily offer the conversion program every year.

A decision on expending funds is an effectuation of public policy – thus a “decision” under Michigan’s OMA. Even though the decision by the DDA on the streetlight conversion allocation had the practical impact of not expending funds, that should still be analyzed as an effectuation of public policy. And that public policy decision appears to have taken place between board meetings, which is a violation of the core requirement of Michigan’s OMA: “All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.”

As a practical matter, the only consequence of a court’s finding that the DDA violated the OMA would be to invalidate the DDA’s decision not to expend funds. Why bother to drag the DDA board into court over that? Invalidation of the decision not to expend funds would not force the DDA to go ahead and spend the funds. It would leave things exactly as they are now.

A more economical and time-effective way to address this specific issue would be for DDA board members to publicly recognize and acknowledge their commitment to abide by the OMA – by simply taking a vote on the LED conversion resolution from May 7 at their next meeting, on July 2. It’s surely just as important as the board’s scheduled social gathering at Bill’s Beer Garden on that same day.

That’s also the day when the DDA board’s annual meeting takes place. The annual meeting is when new board officers are elected and committees are appointed. So the annual meeting this year could be an occasion for the DDA to flip a switch, and light itself up with civic tech better than any LED. It would be a chance to re-establish itself as a public body that is committed to rigorous governance – based on strict adherence to its bylaws and the state statute that enables the existence of the DDA.

Presented below are some recommendations for specific actions the DDA board should consider, starting at its annual meeting. The recommended actions would provide an agenda for board work that needs to be done in the coming year.

Here’s a summary of those recommendations: establish strong committees; strictly follow the board bylaws or else change them; consult the archives; and create a development plan that meets state statutory criteria. [Full Story]

Board Gets Advice from County Electeds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 4, 2014): The board’s meeting featured a discussion of how to allocate a budget surplus – prompted by recommendations from the five countywide “electeds.” The elected officials hope to partner with the county board as it sets priorities for the $3.9 million surplus from 2013. The county’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year.

Kent Martinez-Kratz, Bob Tetens, Catherine McClary, Brian Mackie, Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Commissioner Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1); Bob Tetens, director of parks & recreation; county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie; and county treasurer Catherine McClary. (Photos by the writer.)

The board, comprised of elected officials representing nine districts, is responsible for budget decisions. The five positions that are elected by voters countywide – the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, treasurer, clerk/register of deeds and water resources commissioner – head up county departments but must have their budgets approved by the board.

The board is developing a process that will guide budget decisions regarding how to manage budget surpluses or shortfalls, including $3.9 million surplus from 2013 and about $600,000 in higher-than-budgeted property tax revenues in 2014. The county administrator, Verna McDaniel, is recommending that the $3.9 million be kept as general fund reserves. Some county commissioners would rather spend at least a portion of the surplus.

The recommendation from the electeds is to allocate a to-be-determined percentage of any surplus to these five areas: (1) unfunded liabilities for the pension fund; (2) unfunded liabilities for the retiree health care fund; (3) the county’s housing fund, which was eliminated in 2012; (4) the delinquent tax fund reserves, specifically for internal advances on county projects to save bonding costs; and (5) the capital reserve fund or unearmarked reserve fund.

Commissioners made no decision on these recommendations, other than to thank the electeds for their input.

In other budget-related action, the board gave final approval to put a 10-year parks & recreation millage renewal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot. Commissioners also set public hearings for two millages that are levied annually in December without voter approval – for support of indigent veterans and their families; and to fund economic development and agricultural activities. Those hearings, to solicit public input, will be held at the board’s July 9 meeting.

The board also gave final approval to set the county’s general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. This is an annual process that includes a public hearing, which was also held on June 4. One person spoke.

A final vote was also taken to create a new committee that will explore funding options for road repair. This follows the board’s rejection – at its meeting on May 21, 2014 – of a proposal to levy a countywide tax for this purpose. No committee members have been appointed yet.

The board was also briefed on work by the community corrections unit, which is part of the sheriff’s department. It provides services that include jail diversion and alternative sentencing options to the Washtenaw County Trial Court, pre-trial services, drug testing, and electronic monitoring. The use of electronic monitoring has increased dramatically, from an average number of cases between 25-30 at any given time in FY 2012-2013, to between 85-115 cases in FY 2013-14.

During public commentary, commissioners heard from David Schonberger, an Ann Arbor resident who thanked the board for passing a resolution last month to oppose oil exploration and drilling in the county. He urged them to use it as a starting point for more action. Specifically, he advocated that the board fund a robust public education campaign and establish an advisory committee to work with Scio Township and the city of Ann Arbor on this issue. [Full Story]

Column: More Context for Police Lawsuit

On May 19, 2014, a lawsuit was filed in federal district court against the city of Ann Arbor and three Ann Arbor police detectives who were working to solve an armed robbery that took place about two years earlier – on April 9, 2012. The plaintiff in the federal lawsuit is Joseph Bailey, who was a suspect arrested by the AAPD for the Broadway Party Store robbery.

The Broadway Party Store, on the east side of the Broadway bridges, was robbed in April 2012. The suspect arrested for the crime, but not prosecuted for it, has filed a lawsuit against the three Ann Arbor detectives who worked the case.

The Broadway Party Store, on the east side of the Broadway bridges, was robbed in April 2012. The suspect arrested for the crime, but not prosecuted for it, has filed a lawsuit against the three Ann Arbor detectives who worked the case.

It was a high-profile case, as the security camera’s footage from the robbery was featured on Detroit TV news. The video captured the drama of a man wearing a skeleton mask, pointing a sawed-off shotgun at the store owner.

Bailey was charged with the robbery: After a preliminary examination conducted by judge Christopher Easthope at the 15th District Court, Bailey was bound over to stand trial in the 22nd Circuit Court before judge Melinda Morris.

From the time of his arrest at the end of May 2012, Bailey spent roughly 6 months in jail, before being released in November 2012. He wound up not being prosecuted for the robbery, because the prosecutor’s office concluded that Bailey’s guilt could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt at that time. Bailey did plead guilty to resisting or obstructing a police officer. And for that Morris sentenced him to 6 months in jail. Court records indicate that Bailey was already credited with serving 191 days – more than 6 months.

The federal lawsuit was filed nearly three weeks ago, but apparently still has not been served upon the city or the three detectives. It alleges various violations of Bailey’s basic rights by the detectives who worked the case, and contends that their actions caused him to be falsely imprisoned. [.pdf of complaint]

The Chronicle does not systematically cover crime or the courts. But we do occasionally write about those topics when they intersect with our other regular coverage of governmental units.

In this instance, the first point of intersection came in the course of looking up information on Bob Dascola’s election lawsuit. The ruling on Dascola’s case was filed in the federal court’s PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system on May 20, 2014. We don’t always look up cases on PACER in a way that is most efficient as measured by the number of steps – which would be to note the case number and enter that information into the search form. If you instead search by cases in which Ann Arbor is a defendant, you have a chance to notice cases other than the one you’re looking up. So it was that we noticed Bailey had filed a case in federal court against the city on May 19.

The second point of intersection is that we’d reported the public commentary of the robbery victim at the city council’s May 21, 2012 meeting. And we’d also reported the city administrator’s public congratulation of the police department at the council’s subsequent meeting, on June 4, 2012 meeting – for making an arrest in the Broadway Party Store robbery.

Finally, given that Bailey’s lawsuit has been filed as a public document in the federal court system, we think it would serve the public interest to add context to some of the allegations included in the complaint.

The context added below is also drawn from public documents – court records (obtained through a standard in-person request) and police records (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request). First, we present a summary of some issues that the two sides could dispute – if the case is litigated. After that a timeline of events is provided. [Full Story]

Column: Paying The Price at Michigan

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, the Michigan athletic department admitted what many had long suspected: student football ticket sales are down, way down, from about 21,000 in 2012 to a projected 13,000-14,000 this fall.

The department has blamed cell phones, high-definition TV, and a sweeping national trend – but those don’t tell the whole story.

How’d Michigan lose so many students so fast? Answer: a lot of hard work.

Athletic director Dave Brandon has often cited the difficulty of using cell phones at Michigan Stadium as “the biggest challenge we have.” But when Michigan students were asked in a recent survey to rank seven factors for buying season tickets, they ranked cell phones seventh – dead last.

What did they rank first? Being able to sit with their friends.

But Brandon did away with that last year, with his new General Admission seating policy. Instead of seating the students by class – with the freshmen in the end zone and the seniors toward the fifty, as they had done for decades – last year it was first come, first served. (They also raised the price to $295, up from $195 the year before, when Michigan played six home games instead of seven.) The idea was to encourage students to come early, and come often. Thousands of students responded by not coming at all.

This was utterly predictable – and I predicted it, 13 months ago, in this column. [Full Story]

DDA Acts on Sidewalk, Housing Study

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 4, 2014): At its final meeting of the fiscal year, the board acted on two items with implications for this year’s budget.

Mary Jo Callan, head of Washtenaw County's office of community and economic development, explained to the DDA board what the affordable housing  needs assessment would entail. The board voted to approve $37,500 for the study. (Photos by the writer.)

Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community and economic development, explained to the DDA board what the affordable housing needs assessment would entail. The board voted to approve $37,500 for the study. (Photos by the writer.)

One was a $37,500 grant from the DDA’s housing fund to help pay for an affordable housing needs assessment to be conducted by Washtenaw County’s office of community and economic development. The other was a routine end-of-year budget adjustment that included the $37,000 grant as well as $500,000 of previous allocations made to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and a $1.6 million payment for the First & Washington parking garage that was made out of this year’s budget instead of the previous year’s budget.

In other voting business, the board approved up to $125,000 for the redesign and reconstruction of the public sidewalk in front of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location on Fifth Avenue. That money will come from next year’s (FY 2015) budget, starting July 1. The project will eliminate the step up immediately adjacent from the curb, which was installed as a result of the streetscape changes the DDA undertook during construction of the Library Lane underground parking garage in 2012. The sidewalk project will be incorporated into an AADL project that will substantially renovate the front entrance to the building.

The final item of voting business considered by the board was adoption of a policy for DDA grants to private developments. The policy establishes criteria for eligibility – which include public benefit to property outside the development. The policy also covers limits on the amount of funding, which is a portion of the additional TIF revenue generated by a project.

A resolution that had been postponed at the board’s May 7, 2014 meeting until the June 4 meeting did not receive any board action – a request to pay about $100,000 for the conversion of streetlights in the DDA district to LED technology. The board did not vote on the item. It did not appear on the board’s agenda as a resolution, but only as an update. That update consisted of remarks from executive director of the DDA Susan Pollay. She informed board members that as a result of conversations she’d had with city staff, they should consider the item tabled, but that the request might be brought back in the future.

The board also received its usual range of updates and reports from committees. [Full Story]

June 2, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s June 2, 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 first meeting after adopting the budget for fiscal year 2015 – which was approved on May 19, 2014 – features a housekeeping adjustment for the current year’s budget, so that expenditures don’t exceed allocations.

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.

But the June 2 meeting agenda is dominated by items related to the physical attributes and layout of the city. Several items deal with city-owned physical assets, while several more involve land use and planning.

Possibly one of the more controversial agenda items related to physical infrastructure – and future development in the city – is a contract extension with CDM Smith Inc. for work related to the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. While the city council suspended the program in certain areas of the city in 2012, it continued in other areas, backed by the city’s ordinance under which the city can require residents to disconnect their footing drains from the sanitary sewer system.

Also not suspended was the city’s developer offset mitigation program, which requires developers to offset the increased flow from new construction into the sanitary sewer system. The vote on the CDM Smith Inc. contract extension was postponed from the council’s May 5 meeting. The dollar amount of the contract extension has been substantially reduced in the meantime – from about $750,000 to $143,000.

Part of the backdrop of the CDM Smith contract extension is a lawsuit that’s been filed against the city, challenging the legal foundation of the footing drain disconnect ordinance. The city sought to remove the case from state court to the federal system, but at a hearing on the matter this week, a federal judge indicated he’d be remanding the case back to the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court.

City assets on the June 2 agenda include trees – as the council will be asked to approve the city’s urban and community forest management plan. The council will also consider a resolution on the city’s possibly most recognizable asset – the city hall building. The resolution would remove a $4 million renovation of city hall (a “reskinning”) from the city’s capital improvements plan for 2017 and 2018. This resolution was postponed from the council’s May 19 meeting.

Another city-owned asset on the agenda is the Library Lane underground parking garage. The council has already directed the city administrator to engage a real estate broker to test the market for the development rights for the surface of the garage. The resolution on the June 2 agenda, which was postponed at the council’s April 7 meeting, would set a policy to deposit 50% of the net proceeds from the sale of the development rights into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

Land use and planning items on the June 2 agenda include a roughly $300,000 contract for study of the State Street transportation corridor. Related to transportation infrastructure, the council will also be asked to approve resolutions that move along the process of special assessing property owners on Stone School Road for the cost of installing a sidewalk on the west side of the road in connection with a road reconstruction project.

Also related to land use, three Ann Arbor housing commission properties will be given initial consideration for rezoning. A site plan and associated rezoning for the Delta Gamma house will be given final consideration. Also up for final consideration is a revision to the ordinance regulating drive-thrus. Councilmembers will also consider the site plan for a new Ruth’s Chris restaurant to be located downtown on South Fourth Avenue.

A rate increase for Ann Arbor water, sewer and stormwater rates is on the June 2 agenda for final approval.

Two items connected to parks and recreation appear on the agenda. One is approval of the receipt of funding for a program that helps Bridge cardholders purchase local produce at the farmers market. The second item is approval of a five-year agreement with the Community Action Network to continue operating the city’s Northside and Bryant community centers.

The council will also be considering a resolution in support of the local development finance authority’s application to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for a possible 15-year extension of the arrangement under which the LDFA captures taxes. The captured taxes are used to fund a business accelerator that’s operated by Ann Arbor SPARK through a contract with the LDFA. Without an extension, the LDFA would end in 2018.

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. at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Full Story]

County Continues to Explore Road Funding

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 21, 2014): The county board rejected a proposal to levy a 0.4-mill countywide road tax in December, but agreed to continue discussing funding options for road repair.

Barbara Bergman, Felicia Brabec, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former county commissioner Barbara Bergman, left, talks with Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) before the board’s May 21, 2014 meeting. Bergman spoke during public commentary to oppose a possible road tax. (Photos by the writer.)

The vote on levying a millage was 2-6, with support only from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent. The tax would have been levied under Act 283 of 1909, which does not require voter approval.

Several commissioners spoke against levying this kind of tax at this time. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) advocated for waiting to see whether the state provides more funding for roads. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) reported that the boards of Willow Run and Ypsilanti public schools are considering levying tax increases this summer of 2.8 mills and 1.2 mills, respectively. The state passed legislation that enables school districts to levy millages for debt retirement without voter approval. Noting that a new public transit millage had been approved by voters earlier this month – in Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Ann Arbor – Peterson said the communities that he represents would be hard-pressed to handle yet another tax increase.

Dan Smith argued that there are few funding options available to the county to pay for road repair, and that the need for additional revenues is critical because the roads are in such bad shape. He said he was well aware of the reasons why this was a bad plan – even a terrible one – but added that the only thing worse would be to do nothing. Conan Smith pointed out that because all of the board seats are up for election this year, residents will have a way to weigh in on this decision, albeit indirectly. “This is the most defensible moment that we have” to levy a tax that doesn’t require voter approval, he said.

The May 21 meeting also included a public hearing on the possible levy. And the board heard from people on the topic during general public commentary. In total, seven people spoke about the road funding issue. Former county commissioner Barbara Bergman, who is an Ann Arbor resident, argued against levying the tax, while former state Rep. Rick Olson of York Township urged commissioners to levy the full 1-mill amount allowed under Act 283. Another resident argued against any tax that isn’t approved by voters, calling it taxation without representation.

After the tax levy resolution was rejected, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) brought forward a resolution to create a seven-member road funding committee that would explore options – including Act 283, as well as other possible revenue sources like bonding or a voter-approved tax. The initial vote to form the committee passed on a 6-2 split, over dissent from Conan Smith and Dan Smith. A final vote is expected on June 4. If approved, members would be appointed at a later date, with the direction to provide a road funding plan to the board in the fall.

Commissioners also weighed in to oppose oil exploration and drilling in the county, prompted by a company’s permit application to the state to drill in Scio Township. The vote was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith. Two residents spoke during public commentary,urging the board to oppose oil drilling.

During deliberations, Dan Smith argued that the issue was outside of the county’s purview, because the county can’t regulate oil drilling. He noted that the easiest way to prevent oil drilling is for property owners not to sign leases with companies that seek to drill on their land. Other commissioners supported the resolution, citing environmental and public health concerns, including the proposed drilling location’s proximity to the Huron River.

In other action on May 21, commissioners took initial steps to: (1) put a 10-year countywide parks and recreation operations tax renewal on the Nov. 4 ballot, at 0.2353 mills; (2) create a board of health that would give advice on public health issues; and (3) approve an application for a $940,000 federal grant that the county would make on behalf of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency. Funds would be used to help redevelop the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain plant in Ypsilanti Township for use as a connected vehicle testing facility.

Given final approval on May 21 was this year’s allocation to local nonprofits through the coordinated funding process, in which the county participates.

The board also approved a process that will determine how the $3.9 million budget surplus from 2013 will be allocated. Conan Smith said he felt “personally let down” by the approach, because the county administrator has already recommended to keep that amount in the general fund’s unearmarked reserves. He thought it was “turning out to be little more than a rubber stamp of a decision that’s already been proposed by the administration.” Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who’s leading this process, stressed that commissioners will be discussing and making the final decision – which might differ from the administration’s recommendation. [Full Story]

Hotel Project Moves Ahead, Condos Delayed

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 20, 2014): Development of a new extended-stay hotel on West Huron and North Ashley received a unanimous recommendation of approval from planning commissioners, following a lengthy discussion and concerns voiced by some residents and business owners at the adjacent One North Main building.

Mike Martin, First Martin Corp., Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mike Martin of First Martin Corp. answered questions from planning commissioners at their May 20, 2014 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Issues included blocked views, noise from rooftop mechanicals, and problems with egress from One North Main’s underground parking. But even people who raised these concerns applauded the project, saying a hotel there would help bring vitality to that part of town. The site on the northeast corner, owned by First Martin Corp., now includes a building that houses the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau and the bus depot for Greyhound, which will be relocating next month to the city’s Fourth & William parking structure.

First Martin’s proposal includes a six-floor, 88,570-square-foot building with a ground-floor restaurant or retail space facing Huron and an extended-stay hotel on the upper five levels, with an entrance off of Ashley. The hotel will be operated by Marriott. The bus depot facade – including an iconic art moderne sign – will remain in place.

The project will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Also heading to the council with a recommendation of approval is an expansion of the Bank of Ann Arbor’s downtown building at the northeast corner South Fifth and East Washington. The plan involves reorienting the main entrance – moving it from the center of the bank’s South Fifth Avenue side to the corner of Fifth and Washington. A 9,179-square-foot third-floor addition would be constructed over the rear of the building’s east side.

The bank has an existing drive-thru teller window on its north side, which will not be altered. The site’s D1 zoning requires a special exception use for drive-thrus, which the planning commission granted in a separate vote. Because the project is going through a site plan approval process, the requirement for a special exception use was triggered. Special exception uses do not require additional city council approval.

Commissioners amended the special exception use to limit the drive-thru to a financial institution, so that it can’t be used in the future for other businesses – like a pharmacy or fast food restaurant. That amendment, put forward by Sabra Briere, was approved on a 6-2 vote, over dissent from Wendy Woods and Eleanore Adenekan. Briere also proposed an amendment that would restrict the hours that the drive-thru could be open. The concern was that vehicles pulling out from the drive-thru onto Fifth Avenue could cause a threat to pedestrians and bicyclists in the evening. But after discussion – including some comments from Hans Maier, a senior executive for the bank – Briere withdrew that amendment.

Two other special exception use requests were granted during the May 20 meeting – from companies selling seasonal Class C fireworks for the July 4 holiday. Phantom Fireworks will be putting up a tent in the parking lot of the Maple Village Shopping Center, across from Veterans Memorial Park. In previous years the business operated in the parking lot of Colonial Lanes on South Industrial. Patriot Fireworks will be selling fireworks in the parking lot of the Twin Valley shopping center at 2750 Jackson Ave., west of the I-94 overpass. Both special exception uses were amended to limit the sales to fireworks only – not other seasonal items – and to put specific limits on the days of operation.

One item was postponed by commissioners on May 20 – a site plan for Mark Condominiums on West Liberty, brought forward by developer Alex de Parry. The postponement was based on a recommendation from the planning staff, to allow time for a public water system issue to be addressed. City staff determined that the six-inch water main along Liberty needs to be replaced with a 12-inch main. De Parry told commissioners that the development team had just recently been informed about this issue, and they are now analyzing the budget impact and alternatives they might pursue. [Full Story]

June 2, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The council’s first meeting after adopting the budget for fiscal year 2015 – which was approved on May 19, 2014 – features a housekeeping adjustment for the current year’s budget, so that expenditures don’t exceed allocations.

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 June 2, 2014 meeting agenda.

But the June 2 meeting agenda is dominated by items related to the physical attributes and layout of the city. Several items deal with city-owned physical assets, while several more involve land use and planning.

Possibly one of the more controversial agenda items related to physical infrastructure – and future development in the city – is a contract extension with CDM Smith Inc. for work related to the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. While the city council suspended the program in certain areas of the city in 2012, it continued in other areas, backed by the city’s ordinance under which the city can require residents to disconnect their footing drains from the sanitary sewer system.

Also not suspended was the city’s developer offset mitigation program, which requires developers to offset the increased flow from new construction into the sanitary sewer system. The vote on the CDM Smith Inc. contract extension was postponed from the council’s May 5 meeting. The dollar amount of the contract extension has been substantially reduced in the meantime – from about $750,000 to $143,000.

Part of the backdrop of the CDM Smith contract extension is a lawsuit that’s been filed against the city, challenging the legal foundation of the footing drain disconnect ordinance. The city sought to remove the case from state court to the federal system, but at a hearing on the matter this week, a federal judge indicated he’d be remanding the case back to the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court.

City assets on the June 2 agenda include trees – as the council will be asked to approve the city’s urban and community forest management plan. The council will also consider a resolution on the city’s possibly most recognizable asset – the city hall building. The resolution would remove a $4 million renovation of city hall (a “reskinning”) from the city’s capital improvements plan for 2017 and 2018. This resolution was postponed from the council’s May 19 meeting.

Another city-owned asset on the agenda is the Library Lane underground parking garage. The council has already directed the city administrator to engage a real estate broker to test the market for the development rights for the surface of the garage. The resolution on the June 2 agenda, which was postponed at the council’s April 7 meeting, would set a policy to deposit 50% of the net proceeds from the sale of the development rights into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

Land use and planning items on the June 2 agenda include a roughly $300,000 contract for study of the State Street transportation corridor. Related to transportation infrastructure, the council will also be asked to approve resolutions that move along the process of special assessing property owners on Stone School Road for the cost of installing a sidewalk on the west side of the road in connection with a road reconstruction project.

Also related to land use, three Ann Arbor housing commission properties will be given initial consideration for rezoning. A site plan and associated rezoning for the Delta Gamma house will be given final consideration. Also up for final consideration is a revision to the ordinance regulating drive-thrus. And the site plan for a new Ruth’s Chris restaurant to be located downtown on South Fourth Avenue will be given consideration.

A rate increase for Ann Arbor water, sewer and stormwater rates is on the June 2 agenda for final approval.

Two items connected to parks and recreation appear on the agenda. One is approval of the receipt of funding for a program that helps Bridge cardholders purchase local produce at the farmers market. The second item is approval of a five-year agreement with the Community Action Network to continue operating the city’s Northside and Bryant community centers.

The council will also be considering a resolution in support of the local development finance authority’s application to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for a possible 15-year extension of the arrangement under which the LDFA captures taxes. The captured taxes are used to fund a business accelerator that’s operated by Ann Arbor SPARK through a contract with the LDFA. Without an extension, the LDFA would end in 2018.

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]

Footing Drain Lawsuit Back to State Court

A lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor over its footing drain disconnection ordinance will be remanded from federal court back to Michigan’s state court system – over the objection of the city of Ann Arbor. The indication came at an 11-minute hearing on Wednesday May 28, 2014 before federal district judge Avern Cohn at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

The lawsuit had originally been filed against the city three months ago, on Feb. 27, in Washtenaw County’s 22nd circuit court. There it had been assigned to judge Donald Shelton. On March 17, about two weeks after it was filed, the city removed the case from the state court to the federal court.

But the plaintiffs in the case – Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected from the sanitary sewer system under the city’s ordinance – filed a motion for remand back to the 22nd circuit court. At the Wednesday hearing, Cohn indicated that he’d be granting the motion for remand.

By way of background, the ordinance that’s being challenged was enacted in 2001. It establishes a program under which property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the city’s sanitary sewer system. Its intent is to diminish the risk of sanitary overflows into the Huron River and of sanitary sewage backups in homeowners’ basements.

The lawsuit – Yu v. City of Ann Arbor – claims the city’s FDD ordinance violates: (1) the Michigan state law setting forth requirements for a government to take private property for public use; (2) the Michigan state constitutional prohibition against taking private property for public use without just compensation; (3) the corresponding U.S. constitutional prohibition against taking private property, which is a Fifth Amendment claim; and (4) the prohibition against violating the federally protected rights of others, which is a claim under 42 U.S. Code Section 1983.

In broad strokes, Cohn summarized all of the plaintiffs’ claims against the city as reducible to claims about inverse condemnation – taking of private property without just compensation. The plaintiffs contend that the city’s ordinance requiring disconnection of footing drains from the sanitary sewer system – and its associated installation of a sump with a pump – is a physical occupation of a homeowner’s property with equipment not belonging to the homeowner.

Inverse condemnation is a kind of claim for which remedies in the state courts must first be exhausted, before moving to federal court. And although the complaint cites federal law in its causes of action, Cohn was not willing to sever the state claims from the federal claims or to stay the federal claims in the complaint.

Because all the claims were about inverse condemnation, Cohn said, “All I know is that I don’t have subject matter jurisdiction until there’s an exhaustion of remedies under state law. I’m going to have to remand it – I can’t keep it. The only way they can exhaust their remedies is in Washtenaw County circuit court.”

Cohn made his position so clear in his initial remarks that the plaintiffs’ counsel – Dan O’Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman in Rochester, New York – was initially content not to offer oral argument: “I’ll rely on my papers, your honor.”

So assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, who represented the city at the May 28 hearing, was arguing before a judge who’d essentially already indicated how he would rule. She still made a bid to convince Cohn at least to dismiss the federal claims without prejudice, if he was going to remand the state claims back to the circuit court. She opened her remarks by saying, “I understand generally it’s an uphill battle…” but Cohn interrupted, “Not generally. Specifically.”

In the course of the short hearing, Cohn was not generous in his assessment of the city’s legal briefs that had been filed, calling them “jurisprudential legerdemain.”

For previous Chronicle coverage, see “Lawsuit Filed on City Footing Drain Program” and “Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps.”

The hearing is reported below in more detail. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Equal Marriage

Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Back in March, for just shy of 24 hours, Michigan was willing to license, solemnize, and recognize the marriage of any two people without getting all particular about their genitals. [1] The three-judge appellate panel is still out on whether the question of a happily-ever-after for non-bigots and wedding-lovers here in Michigan. But that was still a pretty wonderful day.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In one sense that day resulted from a specific victory in court: A courageous couple embarked on a legal battle in order to protect their adopted children in the case that either parent dies, lawyers argued the case, and based on the merit of those oral arguments and the testimony of experts a federal judge issued a very strongly-worded decision.

By itself, all of that was a wonderful example of our legal system basically working as we’d hope.

But here’s the thing:  If that was all that had been done – just plaintiffs and lawyers and experts and a level-headed judge – no one could have gotten married on Saturday, March 22, 2014. No offices would have been open, no staff would have been on hand, and the appropriate forms would not have existed.

So today I want to sing the praises of the quiet heroism of county clerks – who are, for the vast bulk of law-abiding citizens, the daily executors of the Law, which is to say our Will as a People. This column is meant to record in something approaching a permanent way their mettle in helping to bend the Arc of the Moral Universe towards Justice. [Full Story]

Task Force: Millage, Endowment for Housing

An ambitious plan to help the homeless – by creating 500 or more units of housing with support services, paid for through a millage and endowment fund – was presented to Washtenaw County commissioners at their May 22 working session.

Bob Guenzel, Mary Jo Callan, Norm Herbert, Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office community & economic development, talk with former University of Michigan treasurer Norm Herbert before the start of the May 22, 2014 county board working session. Guenzel and Herbert are members of a task force on supportive housing. (Photos by the writer.)

The leadership team of the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services briefed commissioners on their recommendations, including the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive housing, and is part of the community’s broader Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was created in 2004 and is being updated.

A possible millage – recommended at 0.25 mills, for no more than 20 years – would help fund supportive services while the endowment is built. County commissioners are being asked to consider putting such a millage on the ballot, possibly in 2015.

Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, a task force member, told commissioners that the task force believes this approach “is absolutely the right thing to do, to end homelessness and keep people housed. We feel very strongly about that. It’s a moral issue.” There’s also a strong business case for this approach when looking at the cost of emergency services and the criminal justice system, compared to the cost of permanent supportive housing, he said.

Several steps have already been taken to achieve these goals. An endowment was established in 2011, with $2.1 million in commitments so far. That amount includes a $1 million gift from the St. Joseph Mercy Health System to create the endowment, which is called the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund for Supportive Services for Housing. Gellise is the former CEO of St. Joe’s. She’s on the task force and is a founding board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Another $1 million commitment comes from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), where the endowment is housed. AAACF Cheryl Elliott is another task force member. In addition, an anonymous donor has contributed $100,000.

The first fund distribution – of $26,100 – will be made this fall in a competitive grant process. AAACF’s distribution committee – an all-volunteer group – will be responsible for making grant recommendations.

AAACF is also helping provide a three-year, part-time development job to support fundraising for this endowment. Funding for the position will come from the Washtenaw Housing Alliance ($25,000), the AAACF ($5,000) and an anonymous donor ($10,000).

The foundation will post this position in early June, Elliott reported, with the intent of making a hire as soon as possible. The position would be in place until at least mid-2017. The employee will report to AAACF’s vice president for development and donor services, and to the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund development committee. Members of that committee are the same people who’ve served on the leadership team of the task force, Elliott said. In addition to herself, members are Bob Chapman, Sister Yvonne Gellise, Bob Guenzel, Norm Herbert and Dave Lutton. They hope to get an additional two or three members, she said.

The next steps in this process include a request to the county board to sunset the task force at the June 4 board meeting. The board will also be asked to consider the task force’s recommendation for a millage. “Please use this year and into 2015 to set a millage strategy,” Elliott said.

The task force also stressed the importance of a public outreach and education effort, to help build awareness and support for the endowment.

The task force presentation was attended by five of the county’s nine commissioners. During their discussion, Conan Smith (D-District 9) expressed interest in having the county bond for this initiative – either for the full $50 million, or some portion of that amount. The county now has a triple-A bond rating, Smith noted. [That news had been announced earlier in the day. In general, higher ratings allow organizations to secure better terms for borrowing funds.] “This gives us an opportunity… to actually have some real impact in the community,” Smith said.

Task force members indicated that they hadn’t considered the option of bonding, and Elliott had some concerns about whether it would be legal to use taxpayer dollars for an endowment. They plan to explore the possibility, including consultation with legal counsel. [Full Story]

Memorial Day: A Different List This Year

The 2014 edition of the annual Glacier Highlands Neighborhood Association Memorial Day parade resembled the parades of previous years in almost every way.

Capt. Brian Cech read aloud a list of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who died this past year – even if not in combat.

Capt. Brian Cech read aloud a list of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who died this past year in non-combat incidents.

The parade itself – which winds through a northeastern Ann Arbor neighborhood – featured a squad car from the Ann Arbor police department, a fire truck, a bagpiper, several candidates for local political office, the drum line from Huron High School marching band, and a herd of neighborhood kids bringing up the rear on their decorated bicycles.

The parade ended as it does every year at Glacier Highlands Park – where free donuts, and for-sale hotdogs are on offer. But the focus immediately after the parade is always on the memorial service: “Lay off the donuts until after the ceremony!” came an admonishment over the PA system this year.

The memorial service is not complicated. The colors are presented, a bagpiper pipes Amazing Grace, a trumpeter blows Taps, and the names of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who were killed in action over the last year are read aloud.

The ceremony was officiated by Capt. Brian Cech – commander of the 1776 Military Police Company out of Taylor, Mich. What was different this year was the lack of the customary list: No Michiganders were this year among those who fell in combat.

But Cech still read aloud a list of names – those Michigan citizens in uniform, who died of illness, accidents, or suicide in the past year. “As we have learned over time,” Cech said, “the toll of the war zone does not stop after our warriors have returned home.” [Full Story]

Taxicab Board Considers Rates, Drivers

Ann Arbor taxicab board meeting (May 22, 2014): Two topics addressed by the board at its April 23, 2014 meeting received additional conversation this month. First, the board discussed the possibility of deregulating taxicab fares, or setting them at a much higher maximum. The board also continued discussing whether to recommend that the city council enact an ordinance to regulate all drivers for hire – taxicab drivers, limo drivers, as well as those who drive for Uber and Lyft.

Screen of iPhone showing Uber vehicle responding to request for a pickup on May 24. The resulting trip – from Jackson & Maple to Liberty & Main was calculated by Uber as $8. With the current introductory promotion it cost nothing.

Screen of iPhone showing Uber vehicle responding to request for a pickup on May 24. The resulting trip – from Jackson & Maple to Liberty & Main – was calculated by Uber as costing $8.

Both topics will also be considered at the board’s next meeting on June 26.

Consideration of a general driver-for-hire ordinance comes in reaction to the recent entry of Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market. However, taxicab board chair Michael Benson stressed during the meeting that the point of the possible new ordinance was not to “target” Uber and Lyft, but rather to ensure that all drivers for hire are registered with the city. Those two companies, which coordinate drivers and passengers through software applications, have been sent cease-and-desist letters by the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office – for aiding and abetting the violation of a state statute regulating limousines. [.pdf of cease-and-desist sent to Lyft] [.pdf of cease-and-desist sent to Uber]

But the board heard from a University of Michigan student during public commentary time, who reported that the cease-and-desist letters, dated May 14, 2014, were having no impact – as he’d used one of the services three times the previous evening. In the course of his remarks, the UM business undergrad outlined several advantages of Uber and Lyft, including price, convenience and efficiency.

The board had voted at its April 23 meeting to ask the city attorney’s office to draft general driver-for-hire ordinance language for consideration at its May 22 meeting, but that draft was not yet available.

So at its next meeting on June 26, the board is expecting two possible proposals to be ready for consideration: (1) a new rate structure proposal; and (2) a draft ordinance on regulating all drivers for hire. The taxicab board could forward a recommendation to the city council to enact either proposal. A decision on enactment rests with the city council.

Discussion of the driver-for-hire issue at the May 22 meeting included themes familiar from the board’s April 23 conversation, mostly centering on the desire of board members to ensure public safety for patrons of businesses that operate on the public right-of-way. They want to ensure that drivers who are being compensated for their work are registered with the city, that their vehicles are inspected, and that they are adequately insured.

The rate changes to be considered by the board on June 26 come in the context of board interest in seeing the taxicab industry able to compete with limousine services, as well as with services with business models like those of Uber and Lyft. Currently the maximum rate in Ann Arbor is $3 to get in, $2.50 per mile, and 40 cents per minute waiting time.

Those maximum rates were last adjusted upwards three years ago, on May 16, 2011, in response to gas prices that had nudged past $4 per gallon. At that time, the taxicab board indicated it did not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices were over $5 for at least two consecutive months.

So the board’s thinking is not being driven by gas prices, which are currently between $3.75 and $4 in the Ann Arbor area. Instead, a possible increase in allowable fares is based on concern that the taxicab industry in Ann Arbor might not be able to survive unless taxis are allowed to charge more. Taxicab board member Robert Goeddel supported setting a significantly higher maximum, saying that if the taxicab industry does not survive, he does not want it to be because the basic costs of doing business can’t be covered.

City CFO Tom Crawford, who sits on the taxicab board as an ex officio member, noted that it’s a challenge to consider changes in rate structures at the same time as new entrants have come into the market – who have a lower cost structure than the taxicab industry. He expressed some concern that the result could be a “race to the bottom” for pricing that could work to destroy the taxicab industry.

In other business, the board elected its officers for the next year – an annual task. Benson and Stephen Kunselman were re-elected as chair and vice chair of the board.   [Full Story]

Library Board Acts on Budget, Infrastructure

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (May 19, 2014): Trustees approved the library’s 2014-15 budget with no increase in the tax rate, following a pattern they’ve established over the past several years.

Ed Surovell, Margaret Leary, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor District Library trustees Ed Surovell and Margaret Leary at the board’s May 19, 2014 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The rate of 1.55 mills is also lower than the 1.92 mills that the library is authorized to levy. The $12.568 million budget assumes a 2.4% increase in tax revenues, based on an increase in property values. No one spoke during a public hearing on the budget that was held during the May 19 meeting.

The budget includes a 3% raise for AADL director Josie Parker, increasing her current salary of $143,114. As part of an annual director’s evaluation, board president Prue Rosenthal read aloud a letter from the board that praised Parker for her work and accomplishments.

Related to infrastructure, trustees authorized Parker to negotiate with Ann Arbor-based O’Neal Construction Inc. for work related to the downtown library entrance. O’Neal would be contracted to provide construction management services for the entrance’s renovation. This is the next step in a process that began several months ago, with construction to begin this summer.

The board also got an update from Parker about the public elevator for the downtown library, which is out of service. It’s expected to cost about $100,000 to repair and will take several months to fix. That work will also take place this summer, and requires closing the lower level of the building, where many public events are held.

The May 19 meeting included approval of contracts for janitorial services and HVAC maintenance, for three-year periods. Also approved was the renewal of a space-use agreement with the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library. FAADL operates a bookstore at the downtown library, with proceeds given to AADL.

The board also got a monthly update on library statistics, “top Tweets” and a viewing of a new video to promote AADL’s summer game, which starts on Friday, June 13, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. The video was produced by AADL staff and 7 Cylinders Studio. [Full Story]

Judge Puts Dascola on Ward 3 Ballot

The Democratic primary ballot for the Ward 3 Ann Arbor city council race will now include Bob Dascola, in addition to Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen. That’s the result of a ruling from federal district judge Lawrence Zatkoff – in a lawsuit filed by Dascola against the city of Ann Arbor: The city cannot bar Dascola from the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary ballot based on city charter eligibility requirements that were ruled null and void in the early 1970s.

At his downtown barbershop, shortly after getting the news that the court had ruled in his favor, Bob Dascola showed The Chronicle photos of himself as a clown participating in Ann Arbor s Fourth of July parade – something he has done for several years. He will be participating again this year – also as a clown, not as a city council candidate, because he's already registered his parade entry that way.

At his downtown barbershop, shortly after getting the news that the court had ruled in his favor, Bob Dascola showed The Chronicle photos of himself as a clown participating in Ann Arbor’s Fourth of July parade – something he has done for several years. He will be participating again this year – also as a clown, not as a city council candidate, because he’s already registered his parade entry that way.

At issue were city charter durational requirements on voter registration and residency – that require city councilmembers to be registered to vote in the city and to be a resident of the ward they want to represent for at least a year prior to taking office.

Dascola contended he met the residency requirement, but conceded that he fell short of the voter registration requirement. He did not register to vote in the city until Jan. 15, 2014. Dascola submitted sufficient signatures to qualify, so the impact of the ruling is that Dascola will appear on the Ward 3 ballot.

Dascola was represented in the case by local attorney Tom Wieder.

Both of the Ann Arbor city charter requirements were ruled unconstitutional, null and void in federal cases from the early 1970s. But the city of Ann Arbor sought to enforce those charter requirements against Dascola based on subsequent decisions on eligibility requirements in other jurisdictions in the intervening period. Those included an Ann Arbor case in 2002 (Wojack v. City of Ann Arbor) that resulted in a finding by the local state circuit court upholding the residency requirement. But that finding came only after Republican Scott Wojack was allowed on the Ward 1 city council ballot – a race he did not win. Wojack’s attorney was Tom Wieder.

Based on subsequent case law and a shifted standard of judicial review, one-year durational requirements of the kind that the Ann Arbor city charter includes would almost certainly be found constitutional, if the 1970s cases were to be litigated today. But the May 20, 2014 ruling by Zatkoff found Dascola’s argument convincing: That in order for the city to enforce the charter requirements – which had been found unconstitutional, null and void in separate rulings in 1971 – it would have needed to re-enact those requirements.

From the opinion: “Plaintiff [Dascola] has provided compelling evidence that Defendants [the city of Ann Arbor] have used void provisions of the Charter in an attempt to preclude him from running for City Council. Further, remedies available at law would not compensate Plaintiff for his inability to run for City Council. Finally, as established above, the balance of hardships between the parties – and the public interest at large – warrant this Court enjoining Defendants from enforcing a void law when the City has failed to re-enact that law.” [Dascola v. City of A2: Opinion] [Dascola v. City of A2: Judgment]

That means all the Aug. 5, 2014 ballots for partisan primaries for Ann Arbor mayor and city council are finally set. On the non-partisan side, Bryan Kelly took out petitions for city council in Ward 1, but was informed by the city that he did not meet the charter’s durational eligibility requirements. The ruling on the Dascola case would clear the way for Kelly to run. And as an independent, he’d have until July 17 to submit signatures. But in responding to an emailed Chronicle query, he indicated that he’s content with the representation of Ward 1 on the city council, saying they are “good people,” and he is no longer contemplating running at this time.

The city does have the option to appeal the ruling, but council sources indicate that is not probable. More likely is that the council would vote to place a charter amendment on the ballot this fall so that voters could ratify some set of eligibility requirements. The May 20 ruling from Zatkoff permanently enjoins the city from enforcing either of the former charter requirements prior to re-enacting them.

The background of the case and a review of the opinion are presented below, as well as the complete set of briefings from the case. [Full Story]

County Board Continues Weighing Road Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 7, 2014): Two topics dominated a four-hour meeting: possible funding options for road repair, and an update on how the community is addressing homelessness.

Curtis Hedger, Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County corporation counsel Curtis Hedger and commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2). (Photos by the writer.)

Following a lengthy discussion, commissioners voted to set a public hearing about a possible countywide road millage. The hearing will be held at their meeting on May 21 so that the public can give input on a proposal to levy up to 1 mill for roads in 2014. The tax would be levied under Act 283 of 1909.

No final decision is expected at the May 21 meeting about levying a tax – although a resolution to levy a 1-mill tax is on the May 21 agenda for initial consideration.

Commissioners all appeared to support finding a way to secure more road funding, but some voiced concern about process and timing – especially because a tax under Act 283 would be levied without voter approval.

The May 7 discussion began when Dan Smith (R-District 2) brought forward a resolution that would authorize levying a 1 mill tax – under Act 283 – in December 2014. It would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.” The board ultimately voted to postpone the resolution until May 21 over dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

During the wide-ranging discussion, Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) expressed concern that the public hadn’t yet been informed about the Act 283 proposal. At the request of board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), Roy Townsend – managing director of the county road commission – had prepared a list of road projects that could be funded by an Act 283 millage, which was distributed at the May 7 meeting. Townsend and two of the three road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – attended the May 7 meeting, and Townsend fielded questions from the board.

Corporation counsel Curtis Hedger cautioned that Act 283 lays out a specific process, which calls for a presentation of proposed road projects at a meeting in late September or October, prior to the December levy. Responding to those concerns, Dan Smith noted that options might include passing a resolution this month or in June to indicate the board’s intent to levy the tax, then possibly using money from the general fund’s fund balance to pay for road work this summer. The fund balance would be reimbursed when the tax revenues are collected in December. Hedger pointed out a risk in that approach: If someone sues the county and a court issues an injunction, then the county might be unable to levy the tax – after already spending general fund dollars.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) supported the Act 283 tax. “I’m almost of a mindset of ‘Let’s do it’ – and if someone wants to sue us over it, you know, then when they file a lawsuit we can reconsider,” he said. Smith preferred the Act 283 levy over a ballot initiative that voters would be asked to approve, saying there are other funding proposals he’d rather put on the ballot – for public safety and human services.

The board discussion on this issue will continue at the May 21 meeting.

In other road-related items on the May 7 agenda, the board voted to accept the recommendations of a subcommittee that was appointed last year to explore options enabled by state legislators. The subcommittee had recommended not to make the road commission part of county operations, and not to make the job of road commissioner an elected position.

The May 7 meeting also included an update about the community’s approach to addressing homelessness. The briefing was in response to a board directive given to staff on April 2, 2014 to develop a plan for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. The blueprint was adopted in 2004. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

Responding to information that there’s been an increase in people from outside of Washtenaw County coming to the Delonis Center shelter in Ann Arbor, Conan Smith cautioned against making that kind of distinction, saying it “dehumanized” people who are seeking help, regardless of where they’re from.

Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, told Smith that his point was well taken. But she noted that unless the state asks other communities to provide something close to the level of support that Washtenaw County provides, “then it’s an issue of volume. I’m sorry, but it’s not about dehumanizing.” Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, noted that 96% of the shelter’s budget comes from local public funding, and the shelter was built for people who became homeless in Washtenaw County. She said it was her job “to hold that line.”

During the May 7 meeting, commissioners also gave initial approval to allocate funding to local nonprofits as part of a coordinated funding approach for human services, in partnership with several other local funders. The county is one of the original five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

This year, 105 applications were submitted by 50 local organizations totaling $8,732,389 in requested funding, according to a staff memo. A review committee recommended that 57 programs receive a total of $4,321,494 in available funding. Of that amount, the county is providing $1.015 million. Among the organizations that are being funded in this cycle are Corner Health Center, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County, Child Care Network, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw, Food Gatherers and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Several nonprofit leaders spoke during public commentary in support of this process, as did Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers.

In other action, the board appointed Ellen Rabinowitz as health officer for the Washtenaw public health department; passed a resolution calling for an increase in Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; and received a first-quarter budget update from the county’s finance staff. First-quarter projections tend to be conservative, because they’re based on only three months of the year, with limited evidence of budget trends. At this point, the 2014 general fund is projected to have a $70,230 shortfall by year’s end – with total revenues of $103,404,537 and total expenditures of $103,474,767. There is no planned use of fund balance for this year’s budget. [Full Story]

City Council Passes FY 2015 Budget

The city of Ann Arbor fiscal year 2015 budget has been approved by the city council. The fiscal year starts on July 1, 2014. City council action came after 2 a.m. on May 20, 2014 at a meeting that started at 7 p.m. on May 19.

From left: Margie Teall (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

From left: Margie Teall (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). Deliberations on the  FY 2015 budget extended until 2:15 a.m.

The general fund component of the budget is roughly $98 million this year. In terms of staffing changes, city administrator Steve Powers’ proposed budget included one additional firefighter position, three additional police officers and one additional rental housing inspector. Those staffing levels remained the same at the conclusion of the May 19 deliberations.

When the general fund is added in with the rest of the city’s budget – the street fund, water fund, sewer fund, parking fund, and the like – the total expenses proposed for FY 2015 come to about $330 million.

The council’s deliberations on the budget resulted in several amendments, but none that had a dramatic impact on the budget. Neither of the amendments affecting the proposed police staffing levels succeeded – one that would have increased the number of polices officers by two officers instead of three, and another that would have increased the number of officers by five instead of three. A proposal to restore fall loose leaf collection failed, as did a proposal to extend compost collection to a year-round service.

Two amendments that would have affected Ann Arbor SPARK also failed. One would have required the local development finance authority (LDFA) to reserve more money for infrastructure improvements – like a high-speed communication network – and one of the likely reductions would have come from Ann Arbor SPARK. The other failed amendment would have eliminated the $75,000 annual contribution the city makes to SPARK from its general fund. Those two amendments alone took about 90 minutes of council deliberation.

Out of the 18 amendments that had been disseminated in advance of the meeting, the council approved just seven. Among the amendments getting at least a six-vote majority was a proposal to add funding for “community-facing” climate action programs, paid for in part with funds that would have otherwise been used for an Ellsworth Road corridor study.

Also getting approval were two amendments meant to generate funding to pay for animal control services. One of those amendments used money that would have otherwise funded a commercial sign inventory to pay for animal control services from the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The other encouraged increased compliance with the city’s dog licensing law, which would generate additional revenue. The city estimates current compliance with dog licensing requirements at only 7%.

The $300,000 in the proposed general fund budget allocated for the demolition of the city-owned 415 W. Washington building was eliminated for that purpose, without any other purpose identified for spending the money.

Two budget votes related to streets got approval – one directing the city administrator to explore alternative methods of street funding, and a second one allocating more money this year from Act 51 funds for alternative transportation. The council also requested more information that would allow it to set the amount of Act 51 funding for alternative transportation at the appropriate percentage level – 2.5% or 5%.

The council’s deliberations on the FY 2015 budget began around 9 p.m. and stretched more than five hours with a final vote of approval coming at 2:15 a.m. the following morning. Mayor John Hieftje, who missed the council’s May 12 work session due to illness, was not back to full strength at the May 19 meeting and departed the meeting around 1 a.m. Mayor pro tem Margie Teall (Ward 4) led the remainder of the meeting.

Outcomes on each amendment that was considered, in chronological order, are presented below, excerpted from The Chronicle’s live meeting updates. Each timestamp includes a link to council deliberations on that item, as reported in the live updates. In brackets are the names of councilmembers who sponsored the amendment. [Full Story]

May 19, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s May 19, 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.

Results on the outcome on many individual agenda items can be found published as separate briefs in the Civic News Ticker section of the website. A summary of the FY 2015 budget deliberations will be available here, when its is published: [link]

The council’s second meeting in May is specified in the city charter as the occasion for the council to adopt the city administrator’s proposed budget with any amendments. If the council does not take action by its second meeting in May, the city administrator’s proposed budget is adopted by default. The Chronicle has previously reported a preview of some possible budget amendments: [here].

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 council’s May 19 meeting agenda includes more than just the adoption of the budget.

Related to the setting of the annual budget are items like setting fees associated with the public services area (for example, site plan review) and the community services area (for example, farmers market stall fees), as well as rate increases for water, sewer and stormwater utilities.

Also related to the budget – and not just for this next year – is an agenda item that will revise the city’s policies for contributions to the city’s pension system and retiree health care. In broad strokes, those revisions are meant to accelerate contributions during a strong economy and maintain contributions at least at the level of the actuary-recommended amount during weaker economies.

Another budget-related item on the May 19 agenda is one related to the social infrastructure of the community – allocation of general fund money to nonprofits that provide human services. The city approaches this allocation through a process that is coordinated with Washtenaw County, the United Way, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and other partners. The total amount allocated for the operation of programs is about $4.3 million. The city of Ann Arbor’s general fund contribution is about $1.2 million, which is the same amount that has been contributed for the last several years.

Related to human services support is an agenda item that would accept a $113,154 planning grant from the Michigan Supreme Court to establish a specialized mental health court.

Along with social infrastructure, the council will also be asked to approve an allocation that includes utilities infrastructure, to address the needs that resulted from the harsh winter. The resolution that the council will consider would allocate money from the fund balance reserves from three sources: $1.7 million from the major street fund, $638,000 from the local street fund, and $666,000 from the water fund. Those amounts include $461,171 from the state of Michigan.

The council will also be asked to approve money for building new physical infrastructure – about $2.6 million for the reconstruction of a segment of Pontiac Trail. The segment stretches north of Skydale Drive to just south of the bridge over M-14/US-23. The street reconstruction project also includes water mains, sanitary sewer, and construction of new sidewalk along the east side of Pontiac Trail, and installation of bike lanes.

Special assessments to pay for three other sidewalk projects also appear on the council’s agenda in various stages of the special assessment process. Those future projects are located on Barton Drive, Scio Church Road, and Newport Road.

The council will be asked to approve the city’s application for federal funding to support the acquisition of development rights in Superior Township for two pieces of property on either side of Vreeland Road. The properties are near other parcels already protected as part of the city’s greenbelt initiative.

The city council will also vote on the confirmation of two appointments: Katherine Hollins to the city’s environmental commission; and Bob White, as a reappointment to his fourth term on the city’s historic district commission.

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]

Budget Debate Preview: Cops, Leaves

The main item on the Ann Arbor city council’s May 19, 2014 agenda is the adoption of the budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which starts on July 1, 2014.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers at the council's May 12, 2014 working session. He presented his recommended FY 2015 budget to the council in April. The council can amend that budget on May 19.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers at the council’s May 12, 2014 working session. He presented his recommended FY 2015 budget to the council in April. The council can amend that budget on May 19.

Under the city charter, the council needs to adopt the budget, with any amendments, on a seven-vote majority. If the council is not able to achieve a seven-vote majority on an amended budget, then under the city charter, the city administrator’s proposed FY 2015 budget will be adopted by default.

At the conclusion of a May 12 city council work session, Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, reminded councilmembers of the constraints they were working under when considering budget amendments. The forecast for fiscal year 2014, he told the council, is that about $1.5 million in the fund balance reserve will be used – which compares to the budgeted use of about $2.8 million of fund balance.

But Crawford cautioned that the unspent budgeted amount likely reflected a delay in that spending, not an actual savings. Crawford expected that the fund balance reserve at the end of FY 2014 would be about 10% of operating expenses.

The proposed FY 2015 budget would use $2.8 million in fund balance, Crawford told the council, which would take the fund balance down to the 7-9% range. That’s the bottom of the minimum 8-12% range that has been the council’s policy. “I say all that because I want to remind you that you’re entering a budget deliberation with pretty tight constraints,” Crawford said. So Crawford encouraged the council to find offsets to any additional expenses they wanted to incur – whether those were recurring or non-recurring expenses.

Councilmembers were asked to submit drafts of their proposed amendments to staff by the close of business on Thursday so that staff could assist in crafting the amendments. This report includes some additional background on what’s in the budget, as well as a description of 17 possible budget amendments that might be proposed.

Detail is provided on amendments in three areas: police staffing, leaf/compost collection and the local development finance authority (LDFA).
[Full Story]