The Ann Arbor Chronicle » 2010 general elections it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: Ann Arbor Election Autopsy Thu, 11 Nov 2010 14:24:39 +0000 Dave Askins Only a few minutes after voting ended at 8 p.m. on the evening of Nov. 2, CNN used exit polling conducted throughout the day to call the Michigan governor’s race in favor of Republican Rick Snyder. Even before polls opened, the only real question for most analysts was the margin of Snyder’s expected victory.


Eberwhite Elementary School, Ward 5 Precinct 6 on Nov. 2, 2010, election day. Note that the sky is blue, not on fire. (Photo by the writer.)

Margin of victory was also the main interest offered in local races, but with expectations for the identity of the victorious party reversed from the gubernatorial contest. Ann Arbor voters returned Democratic incumbents to five city council seats and the mayorship. For Steve Bean, who mounted an independent campaign for mayor, and for city council challengers Republican John Floyd (Ward 5), independent Newcombe Clark (Ward 5) and Libertarian Emily Salvette (Ward 2), the final raw tally did not offer many bright spots.

Bean managed about 18% of the vote in the mayor’s race. Floyd and Clark drew 22% and 9%, respectively, in the Ward 5 city council race, and Salvette received 21% in the Ward 2 council contest. Unless they are robots, it’s hard to imagine that any of their egos escaped completely unscathed. And despite the fact that Newcombe Clark’s door hangers depict a very cheerful robot with an NC insignia, I do not believe that Clark himself is a robot. So at some level, given their sheer humanity, the results must feel at least a little bit like a personal rejection by the electorate.

On the flip side, it’s hard to imagine that an incumbent like mayor John Hieftje, or Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) or Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) – perhaps even more so Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4), who were all elected unopposed – could interpret the results as anything less than an overwhelming endorsement of their job performance.

Challengers and incumbents alike would be wrong in those interpretations, I think.

But as far as local races go, far more interesting to me than performing a postmortem on the council and mayor’s campaigns would be to take a look at the race for the library board, where there was little campaigning by the candidates. The outcome was not completely clear until the votes from outside the city and all absentee ballots from the city of Ann Arbor had been counted. That came at around 4 a.m. – almost eight hours after CNN had already called the governor’s race.

Vivienne Armentrout would have been a winning choice of city of Ann Arbor voters who voted in person at the polls. But once absentee ballots and votes from outside the city were included, she narrowly missed joining the board. Instead, incumbents Barbara Murphy, Edward Surovell, and Jan Barney Newman retained their seats.

Why The Local Democratic Landslide?

If challengers are wrong to interpret the local Democratic landslide as a personal rejection, and incumbents are wrong to interpret it as an endorsement of their job performance, what is a reasonable way to look at it? One alternative within easy arm’s reach might be to blame it on straight-ticket voters.

Why the Democratic Landslide: Straight Ticket?

Taking Ward 5 as an example, 38.4% of ballots were voted straight-ticket Democratic, while 7.25%  were voted straight-ticket Republican. That’s a total of 45.6% of all ballots that were voted straight ticket, leaving 54.4% of voters who voted for each race individually.

It’s worth noting that individual race votes will override a straight-ticket selection. By way of example, in Ward 5 a voter could have voted straight-ticket Republican, but chosen to vote for Carsten Hohnke, the Democrat. In that case, the specific Ward 5 selection for Hohnke would have overridden the Republican straight-ticket vote. It’s reasonable to assume, however, that there are not prodigious numbers of voters who make their choices in this way.

If the 54.4% of non-straight-ticket voters had been distributed randomly among the three candidates, then the expected percentage of non-straight-ticket voters for each candidate would have been 18%.

Let’s assume the same straight-ticket behavior that was recorded at the polls, but with a random distribution of non-straight-ticket votes. And let’s further assume that a straight-ticket vote actually resulted in a tally for the Ward 5 candidate from the straight-ticket party. That would give an expectation of the following vote totals: 56.4% for Hohnke, 25.3% for Floyd, and 18% for Clark. Variance from that expected outcome based on random voting can be taken as some indication about attitudes of voters who made a specific selection in the Ward 5 race:


Hohnke     18%  38.4%  56.4%  69%   +12.6
Floyd      18%   7.3%  25.3%  22%   - 3.3
Clark      18%   0.0%  18.0%   9%   - 9.0

So even peeling away the straight-ticket voters in this way, Hohnke did 12.6 points better than you’d expect from a random distribution of non-straight-ticket voting. Floyd did slightly worse than you’d expect if non-straight-ticket voting were random – by 3.3 points – and Clark did about half as well as he could have expected.

So the incumbent victory can’t be blamed on the straight-ticket vote – voters who made a specific selection still preferred Hohnke – by a lot. A similar exercise for the mayor’s and the other city council races yields similar conclusions.

Why the Democratic Landslide: Are You Listening?

In these races, I don’t think voters were rejecting challengers personally, or rejecting their ideas. Instead, voters did not perceive that the challengers would represent their interests any better than the incumbents. That perception was based mostly, I think, on the failure of any challenger to run a campaign that would convince voters they’d get better representation than what they’ve already got.

Bean’s campaign for mayor included one kind of message that could have succeeded: I’m here to listen and facilitate discussion. But that message needs to come at the very beginning of a campaign, and then evolve at some point to a message that goes something more like this: I have listened, and here’s what I’ve been hearing people say … and here’s how I can effectively represent that point of view.

I don’t think it’s actually necessary that you go knock on doors of people’s houses as a part of the “listening phase.” In fact, I’m astonished that candidates will actually knock on doors – you couldn’t pay me enough to do it. Selling newspaper subscriptions door-to-door when I was young left a certain mark. So it’s easy to understand why two years ago, when Carsten Hohnke contested the Democratic primary for Ward 5 – his first run for office – he tagged along with a seasoned political veteran, Chris Easthope, who was running for district court judge at the time.

But if not literal door knocking, then there needs to be some alternative, towards the beginning of the campaign, that translates into an engaged listening phase. Maybe it’s hanging door hangers on every door – no knocking required – with a handwritten note that invites people to a series of listening sessions you’ve set up. You’ll also encounter people while you’re out and about hanging stuff on doors. Inevitably, someone will ask you what you’re doing with that batch of door hangers in your hand, and then you’ve already turned the tables in your favor – they have interupted you, instead of the other way around.

Why do I think this early listening phase is a key? Because that’s what I hear local politicians who actually win elections talking about later in their campaigns. They’ll say things like, “When I’m out in the neighborhoods knocking on doors, what I’m hearing is …” The listening phase is important not just in its own right, but also so that you can talk about it later.

I did not discern any real listening phase in Bean’s campaign. He made himself available – but that’s not the same thing as investing the time and energy to seek out and elicit ideas from the people whose vote you want.

Floyd’s campaign included one message that I think could have been presented slightly differently, to convey that he was interested in listening to voters. Part of Floyd’s message was that he would ask probing questions. Fair enough. Close readers of The Chronicle’s meeting reports might reasonably conclude that Hohnke does a relatively poor job at this basic council function. So it was not crazy for Floyd to focus on a weakness of the incumbent.

Floyd’s message however, was presented in the form of a series of his own questions: Have you ever wondered …?  For example, Have you ever wondered who will pay to park 4-5 stories underground in the new underground parking garage? The easy smart-aleck answer is: No, I’ve never wondered that – because I can’t wait to park down there in that mine shaft myself. So Floyd would have needed to ask the quick followup: Okay, then, what have you wondered about? Something similar to Floyd’s message could have been presented early in the campaign, with voters’ concerns front and center: What are your questions … I can get them answered.

Part of Clark’s message actually tackled the listening issue head on. He proposed a mechanism for “open source government” where constituents would use an online interface to vote on the issues they wanted him to work on for just the two-year term he would have served. That might have been more effective, I think, if the interface had been set up very early in the campaign, and during later stages of the campaign, he had been able to talk about what voters’ priorities seemed to be, based on his open source government.

Why the Democratic Landslide: The Sky is Not Falling

I think it’s a mistake to try to sell Ann Arbor voters on the idea that our city’s condition is somehow dire, and that city councilmembers and the mayor are completely derelict in fulfilling their responsibilities as public officials. Even if it is dire, and even if the council is derelict in their duties, that’s probably not the basis of a winning campaign. Why don’t I think so?

Lawton Elementary School

Lawton Elementary School, Ward 4, Precinct 9 the morning of election day. Note: The sky is not on fire – it's just a sunrise.

Over the summer, several challengers in local Democratic primary races attempted to appeal to the East Stadium Boulevard bridges as a campaign issue. And it’s plausible to think that pointing at a giant gaping hole in a piece of major infrastructure could convince voters that maybe things have gone horribly, horribly wrong. It didn’t work. I don’t think it was a matter of the specific narrative that the challengers told about the bridges. It’s simply that a big hole in a bridge is not dramatic enough to convince Ann Arbor voters that things aren’t still pretty much okay.

Maybe that says something interesting about Ann Arbor voters, but hey, that’s us. So candidates for local office, take note: We Ann Arbor voters will not be persuaded we are in a crisis, as long as the sky is not on fire, and as along as when we flush our toilets, the shit still disappears. So if you think the sky is merely falling and not actually aflame, go ahead and run for office, but not on that message – keep it to yourself … unless that’s what you hear people telling you everywhere you go.

For incumbents who believe that an overwhelming victory in a local race means a personal endorsement by the electorate of your job performance, I would suggest that most voters still have no idea who you are or what you’ve done – they just know that the sky is not on fire. And that’s good enough. If there’s someone out there who can persuade the electorate that they will be better at listening to us than you are, they’ll be elected, whatever party they represent.

Absentee Voters

For one of the library board races, the voting patterns of absentee voters actually made a difference. But tabulation of absentee ballots for the city of Ann Arbor was not complete until the early morning hours of Nov. 3.

The group of election inspectors who were counting the absentee ballots cast by city of Ann Arbor voters were sequestered in the basement of the county administration building at Main and Ann streets for the whole day that polls were open and they worked through the day. So why did the absentee voter ballots take until 4 a.m. to get counted?

absent ballot machine tapes

Result tapes from the absent voter counting boards in the lower level of the county administration building.

Several factors contributed to the delay. First, it’s worth noting that the ballots were not processed as one giant batch. That’s because not all paper ballots in the city of Ann Arbor looked the same on Tuesday. Some city residents live in state House District 53, while others live in District 52. Some city residents live in county District 8, while others live in 9, 10 or 11.

So for each ward, the precincts were collapsed into as few absentee voter count boards as possible, based on the form of the ballot. That resulted in 19 different batches of ballots to be processed.

The ballots themselves were physically long. Sending them through the mail required two folds, which meant that each ballot had four creases in the paper. Based on conversations with some of the election workers who performed the absentee ballot counts, the voting machines scanned the creased ballots without great difficulty. Where the creases caused problems was when the ballots dropped into the catchment bin after scanning. Instead of floating gracefully to the bottom, the creased paper tended to snag against the sides or fold back in on itself. A fair amount of time was apparently spent trying to get the ballots to drop cleanly to the bottom of the bin. I watched election workers smoothing out the ballots – one at a time – before they were inserted into the scanner.

Another issue that arose on at least one occasion was a mismatch between the number of paper ballots in a count board – as determined by a hand count – and the number that should have been in the batch, based on the list of names that had been checked off as the ballots had been returned through the mail. The count was off by one. It was a batch of over 1,000 ballots that needed to be recounted by hand – and the hand recount still did not resolve the mismatch. Much discussion ensued about how to handle it. Scott Munzel, a local attorney who was part of the team that processed that count board, wound up writing a memo to the board of canvassers, who would certify the election results the following day, clarifying exactly what had happened. To be clear no special legal skills are required in order to work the elections – Munzel is just coincidentally an attorney.

City clerk Jackie Beaudry and election inspector Jeff Micale, who had directed the day’s activities for counting absentee ballots, were still wrapping things up after the counts were finished and The Chronicle was departing the scene at 4 a.m.

Library Board Numbers

The early returns for the four-year term library board of trustees race showed Vivienne Armentrout narrowly ahead of incumbent Edward Surovell, who were both led by the other two incumbents, Barbara Murphy Jan Barney Newman, in a very tight race. The four were competing for three four-year terms on the board.

The other library board race was fairly clear-cut from earliest results, with Nancy Kaplan eventually winning a two-year term on the Ann Arbor District Library board. Kaplan took just over 55% of the votes in that three-way race against Lyn Powrie Davidge and incumbent Carola Stearns, who was appointed to that seat in 2008 following the resignation of Jean King.

Armentrout wound up finishing fourth in the four-way race, with 16,975 votes or 22.3% of total votes cast. Murphy got 20,404 votes, or 26.8%; Newman had 19,834 votes, or 26.07%; and Surovell got 18,415 votes, or 24.2%.

The earliest returns The Chronicle received were from the city of Ann Arbor polls where people had voted in person. Later, non-city precincts started to be reported to the county clerk’s office, and a lot later, the absentee ballots came in.

Looking at the final numbers, it’s clear that Armentrout did better among the in-person voters (22.65%) than absentee voters (20.91%). She also did better among city residents (23.19%) than non-city residents (20.39%). And among  in-person city of Ann Arbor voters Armentrout did well enough to finish third, outpointing Surovell by 23.75% to 23.13%. [Sheet 2 of this shared Google spreadsheet contains the library board elections results breakdown. It's identical to this downloadable MS Excel version.]

That still doesn’t put Armentrout on the library board, but it’s fun to know.

It makes up for the fun that CNN ruined on election night by calling the governor’s race so quickly.

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Ann Arbor Dems Win County Board Seats Wed, 03 Nov 2010 14:33:42 +0000 Mary Morgan The four  Ann Arbor Democrats running for seats on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners were elected decisively on Tuesday. The group included three incumbents and a first-time candidate, Yousef Rabhi. Elsewhere in the county, Republicans picked up a seat on the board, according to unofficial election results posted by the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, bringing the GOP total to three of the 11 commissioners.

Rabhi defeated Republican Joe Baublis in District 11, with 5,663 votes – or 75% of the votes – compared to 1,821 for Baublis. The Aug. 3 primary election result was notable for Rabhi’s one-vote victory in a four-way race. Those results prompted a recount, giving him a final two-vote victory in the primary. District 11 covers parts of central and east Ann Arbor. Rabhi will take the seat vacated by Jeff Irwin, who ran a successful bid for 53rd District state representative on Tuesday, defeating Republican Chase Ingersoll by a vote of 23,436 to 5,692.

Among the other Democratic incumbents representing Ann Arbor, Conan Smith ran unopposed in District 10 (west and northwest Ann Arbor) and received 9,969 votes. Barbara Levin Bergman in District 8 (northeast Ann Arbor) and Leah Gunn in District 9 (south and southwest Ann Arbor) defeated GOP opponents Melinda Day and Mark Tipping, respectively. Bergman got 4,956 votes to Day’s 1,943, while Gunn beat Tipping 6,773 to 2,255, according to unofficial results from the clerk’s office.

All 11 county commissioner seats were on the ballot. All but one of the Democratic incumbents were re-elected. Ken Schwartz, a Democrat who has represented District 2, was defeated by Republican Dan Smith by a vote of 6,638 to 5,917. The district covers the townships of Ann Arbor, Superior, Salem and Northfield, and portions of Webster Township.

Republican candidates also won in Districts 1 and 3. In District 1, Rob Turner defeated Democrat Adam Zemke with 52.24% of the votes, 7,856 to 7,133. That seat, which represents the western part of the county, was previously held by Republican Mark Ouimet, who won the 52nd District state representative race on Tuesday, narrowly defeating Democrat Christine Green with 51.58% of the votes – 21,462 to 20,027. That race was among the more contentious in this area, with accusations that Ouimet inappropriately claimed reimbursements from the county for mileage and per diem.

In District 3, Republican Alicia Ping ran unopposed. She’ll replace her sister Jessica Ping on the county board, for a district that serves the southwest part of Washtenaw County, including Saline.

Democratic incumbents re-elected to the county board include Kristin Judge in District 7 (Pittsfield Township), defeating Republican Sean Gray with 58% of the votes – 5,762 to 4,084; Ronnie Peterson in District 6 (Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township), beating Republican opponent David Raaflaub by a vote of 4,596 to 1,432; Rolland Sizemore Jr. in District 5 (Ypsilanti Township), who won 69% of the vote over Republican Bill Emmerich – 5,606 to 2,387; and Wes Prater in District 4 (southeast Washtenaw), defeating his Republican challenger Robert Van Bemmelen by a vote of 7,151 to 5,576.

The newly elected commissioners will take office in January 2011. They’ll face continued budgetary pressures, including a projected deficit in 2012-13 that could surpass $20 million.

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One Newcomer Wins Library Board Seat Wed, 03 Nov 2010 12:38:10 +0000 Mary Morgan Nancy Kaplan won her first elected position on Tuesday when she defeated two opponents – including an incumbent – to take a two-year term on the Ann Arbor District Library board of trustees. According to unofficial results posted by the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, Kaplan took just over 55% of the votes in that three-way race against Lyn Powrie Davidge and incumbent Carola Stearns, who was appointed to that seat in 2008 following the resignation of Jean King.

In a separate, much closer race, three incumbents – Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman and Ed Surovell – were re-elected to four-year terms. Challenger Vivienne Armentrout finished fourth in that four-way race, with 16,975 votes or 22.3% of total votes cast. Murphy got 20,404 votes, or 26.8%; Newman had 19,834 votes, or 26.07%; and Surovell got 18,415 votes, or 24.2%.

The four trustees elected on Tuesday will join three other current board members – Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary and Prue Rosenthal – whose terms expire in 2012.

In the race for one two-year term, Kaplan’s 14,336-vote win was a decisive one over the 6,116 votes cast for Stearns and 5,114 for Davidge, according to unofficial results. Kaplan, who hosts a local talk show on community issues called Other Perspectives, said during her campaign that she’ll seek broader public input and reach out to gain new community involvement for the library. She also has said she’ll lobby to broadcast the board’s monthly meetings on Community Television Network. The meetings are currently not televised, but are held in a location that is equipped for broadcast by CTN.

Of the three candidates, Kaplan was the only one for whom The Chronicle observed signs at polling places on Tuesday. Waiting for the absent voter counts to be completed on the lower level of the Washtenaw County administration building on North Main Street, Kaplan told The Chronicle that she’d had 25 signs made – and shifted some of them to different precincts as the day wore on.

In the four-way race among Armentrout, Murphy, Newman and Surovell, Newman was the only candidate from whom The Chronicle received a mailed piece of literature. Early returns from the precincts showed Armentrout with an overall lead, but that advantage began to slip as precincts outside the city of Ann Arbor were counted. Armentrout’s lead was eroded further when the absentee ballots began to be tabulated.

The absentee voter tabulation for the 19 separate city of Ann Arbor count boards did not conclude until nearly 4 a.m. When The Chronicle left the county administration building, city clerk Jackie Beaudry and election worker Jeff Micale were stowing the voting machines that had been used for tabulation.

One of the main issues facing the library board in the near future will be the question of what to do with the library’s main downtown building. In November of 2008, the library board voted to postpone construction of a new downtown library, citing economic conditions. However, they are expected to take up the issue again at a board retreat planned for later this year.

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Election Day: November 2010 Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:45:41 +0000 Chronicle Staff Today The Chronicle crew will be filing reports from a sampling of polling places throughout the city of Ann Arbor, to give readers a sense of what’s happening around town on election day. We’ll update this report in chronological order – most recent material at the bottom.

Vote Here sign

A sign at Bach Elementary points voters to the polling location for Ward 5, Precinct 2.

For those of you still researching candidates, here’s a link to The Chronicle’s coverage of 2010 general election races. Another useful resource is – type in your name and some additional information, and the site serves up a sample ballot with links to news articles, financial reports and other details about the candidates and ballot issues. And if you’re not sure where your polling place is located, check this Secretary of State site to find it.

Polls close at 8 p.m. We’ll report results from selected races via our Civic News Ticker, and update a shared spreadsheet as all the results roll in.

And we’re off – see you at the polls.

7:10 a.m. Ward 5, Precinct 2 (Bach Elementary School, 600 W. Jefferson): It’s 22 degrees, and still dark out. Polls have just opened – election workers report that more than 20 people were lined up waiting to vote at 7 a.m. There’s still a short line as voters wait to get their ballot, including one woman who’s brought her dog, who appears bemused. Things are running fairly smoothly, except for one jammed ballot that is quickly remedied.

Across the street from this polling location, Jefferson Market is still closed – it opens at 8 a.m. It’s probably missing some early-morning election coffee business. Certainly The Chronicle would be a customer.

7:50 a.m. Ward 4, Precinct 9 (Lawton Elementary School, 2550 S. Seventh St.): Voters are coming through the door about one per minute, many clutching thermoses or cups of coffee. Query to The Chronicle – sitting here in a child-size chair working at a child-size table: “Are you still trying to figure out the trustees?” It’s an quip that’s likely an allusion to the length of the ballot. Cyclist arrives, eschews locking up. He took 7 minutes, 43 seconds to vote – measured in and out the door to Lawton, and included a quick question from The Chronicle: Why not lock up? Answer: It’s a cheap bike and it’s 7 a.m. in the morning.

8:05 a.m. Ward 3, Precincts 1 and 2 (Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave.): Tables for two precincts are side-by-side in the first-floor hall of this University of Michigan building – tight quarters. Precinct 2 serves mostly residential voters. More of them are starting to show up. A poll worker for Precinct 1, which has predominately student voters, reports that five people have voted during the first hour. “You guys need a break!” quips John Yodhes, Precinct 1 chair.

The polls for Precinct 1 used to be located in East Quad, a UM dormitory. Students would often vote in their pajamas, Yodhes said. But when the university decided to move polling places out of the dorms for security reasons, the dynamic changed. Now, students typically come in clusters, between classes.

To pass time, poll workers – including a woman who identifies herself as a grandmother and who’s wearing a sweater vest with an American flag on it – talk about the recent Bob Dylan concert. They agree that his singing was unintelligible.

8:33 a.m. Ward 4, Precinct 7 and Ward 5, Precinct 7 (Dicken Elementary School, 2135 Runnymede Blvd.): School administrative and teaching staff work today at Ann Arbor Public Schools, even though classes are not held due to the election. Smells like breakfast in the media center. On Friday in the media center, it’s Third Grade Movie Night: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Perhaps relevant to the recent discussion of John U. Bacon’s column on high school mascot names, the Dicken Elementary kids compete as Dolphins.

Jack Eaton, who contested the Democratic nomination for Ward 4 city council, arrives and votes. A voter with a child in tow mis-marks her ballot. Poll workers begin the procedure for officially “spoiling” the ballot – it gets folded in half by the voter and placed by the voter into a special envelope. The voter admonishes the child not to distract her this time.

Overheard as two voters head out the door into the cold: “Did you vote a straight Republican ticket?” Answer: “Absolutely.”

9:15 a.m. Ward 2, Precincts 3 and 4 (Angell Elementary School, 1608 S. University Ave.) Local attorney Dick Soble is leaving the polling place, and stops to chat in the school’s entryway. He reports that he encountered a university student this morning who had no idea it was election day. We ponder how this could be possible, and agree that it’s disheartening.

Inside the polling place, there’s momentary confusion when a voter comes up to the Precinct 3 table and says he’s registered to vote in Ward 3, Precinct 4 – this is a Ward 2 polling location. The chair for Precinct 3, Jean-Pierre Nogues, makes a quick call to check. Good news: the voter is actually registered in Ward 2, Precinct 4 – a polling place just across the room.

Also here is Dave Miller, who’s volunteering as a Republican challenger. When voters approach, he stands behind the table of poll workers as they sign in voters and hand out ballots. He has a clipboard, takes occasional notes and asks clarification questions. During a lull, he asks if we’re the ones writing the election day reports that he’s reading on his Blackberry. We are. That’s cool.

Sue Upton of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation walks in to vote. She mentions how much she liked Myra Klarman’s Halloween photo essay, and introduces us to an exchange student from Kenya who’s here to watch how America votes. That’s cool too.

9:38 a.m. Ward 1, Precinct 4 (Ann Arbor Community Center, 625 N. Main St.): En route from Dicken Elementary, at Seventh & Liberty, spotted a pickup truck a block ahead festooned with campaign signs for William Campbell, a candidate for Washtenaw Community College trustee. An inspired sprint on the bicycle allows confirmation that it’s Campbell himself.

At the community center, city workers – based out of the Wheeler Center – are measuring and chalking the 100-foot line from the entrance of the polling place. Campaign signs are supposed to be placed beyond that boundary. But several signs are just within the boundary. The workers say they’re not allowed to touch any signs. They go into the polling place and report the issue to the election workers. On departing this location, there are no signs within the boundary – not clear if signs were moved or removed.

Steve Glauberman arrives and votes. He’s geeked about a project his company is working on: What Was There. It allows you to juxtapose a modern streetscape view with historical photographs. Coming soon: the iPhone app for What Was There.

10:25 a.m. Ward 2, Precinct 2 (Palmer Commons, 100 Washtenaw Ave.) A cluster of campaign signs on Washtenaw Avenue, just across the driveway entrance to Palmer Commons, is the only indication that a polling place is here. The drive leads to a parking structure – still no signs. No sign on the doorway to the building, and no sign in the lobby.

A quick check with some university staff at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and we’re directed to the third floor. This is where the Glass House Café is located, and it smells like warm bread. The polling place is in a relatively small room at the opposite end of the building.

Inside, it’s quiet until about 10:10 – classes must be out, and about a dozen students wander in. Many of them have changed their address since they last voted, and have to fill out special forms to indicate their new address. One student reports that she’d just come from the wrong polling place. It turns out that many students there had voted in the last election at Mary Markley Hall, which is no longer a polling location, and there’s been some confusion about where to vote. By around 10:45 a.m., 42 people had voted. A poll worker says that’s about as many people as voted the entire day of the Aug. 3 primary.

On departure, we chat with Yonah Lieberman, a UM sophomore who’s volunteering with the nonpartisan Voice Your Vote commission of the Michigan Student Assembly. He’s stationed near the entrance to the polling location, ready to address any questions or concerns that voters might have. As of mid-morning, he reports that the only questions had been: “Where do I vote?”

10:48 a.m. Washtenaw County building (200 N. Main St.): No voting going on here. But the lower level conference room is where the city of Ann Arbor absent voter ballots are being counted. Sign posted prominently: “Absent Voter Counting Board | Caution: If you enter this room you will be sequestered until 8 p.m.” At least a couple dozen workers are visible behind the glass walls. Among them is local attorney Scott Munzel.

12:37 p.m. Ward 2, Precinct 5 (Ann Arbor Assembly of God, 2455 Washtenaw Ave.): The basement of this church is colorful. One cinderblock wall is light green, with a large fanciful tree painted on it. There’s a steady flow of voters here. Allen Leibowitz, a partner with Zingerman’s Coffee, comes in – he’s voter No. 399 out of 1,755 registered voters in this precinct. Can’t tell if he’s impressed.

One voter’s ballot is rejected with the message “overvoted race.” Rather than spoil her ballot and vote again, she chooses to override the ballot – that means all of her votes will be counted except for the race in which she marked too many candidates.

Another voter notices on the registration list that her husband has already voted. She tells poll workers that her vote will cancel out his. “That must be an interesting household,” one worker says.

12:41 p.m. Ward 5, Precinct 6 (Eberwhite Elementary, 800 Soule Blvd.): Steady stream of voters, but the line is never more than two deep. Poll worker who’s staffing the voter application station explains to one voter that a picture ID has been a part of the process since fall 2007. He advises each voter that the ballot is two-sided this year. His enthusiasm causes his co-workers to kid him: “You’re too cheery.” His response: “It’s still early.” Their day has nearly eight hours to go.

1:10 p.m. Ward 3, Precinct 3 (Tappan Middle School, 2551 E. Stadium Blvd.): Near the parking lot, two campaign volunteers are stationed – one for county commissioner candidate Yousef Rabhi, the other for Alton Davis, a candidate for state Supreme Court justice. The Alton Davis worker hands over a brochure, but then sees the “I Voted” sticker on my coat and asks for it back. She’s been out here sitting in a lawn chair since 8:30 a.m., and looks cold.

There’s a line of voters in the Tappan cafeteria, where the polling station is located. Two Republican challengers are official observers – they’ve challenged a voter, which triggers a requirement that the voter answer four questions under oath. A poll worker starts by asking the voter to say, “I swear …” The voter pauses: “Can I affirm?” Yes. The four questions ask the voter to affirm that he is a U.S. citizen, over the age of 18 years, residing at his stated address, and that he’s registered to vote. After answering the questions, he asks if his ballot will be invalidated if it turns out that he’s voting in the wrong precinct. Not necessarily, he’s told.

Julie Grand, chair of the city’s park advisory commission, and school board trustee Glenn Nelson both pass through to vote, and stop to chat. Responding to a Chronicle query about how things are going, Nelson says the superintendent search is going well, but he’s concerned about the fiscal year 2012 budget, in the probable absence of federal stimulus funds. It’s a common concern across all taxpayer-funded entities. Grand mentions that her child will be entering the public school system next year.

Addendum to Tappan Visit: Outside of Tappan, Joe Baublis has arrived on his bike, loaded down with campaign signs. The Republican candidate for county commissioner in District 11 also has a bundle of large red stakes strapped to the bike. He pulls one out and pounds it into the ground next to signs for Rick Snyder and Rob Steele – fellow GOP candidates for governor and Congressman, respectively. He then uses an electric screwdriver to affix his hand-stenciled signs to the stake. He tells The Chronicle that tonight he’s driving to Snyder’s election party at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit, where he plans to dance the Argentine tango with his lady friend. Snyder doesn’t know him, Baublis quips, but he’s hoping to be appointed the Michigan Argentine tango ambassador.

2:20 p.m. Ward 3, Precincts 6 and 9 (Scarlett Middle School, 3300 Lorraine St.): Voting at Scarlett’s school gym is the busiest so far today. Two dozen people are in line to vote in Precinct 9 – about half that number for Precinct 6. There’s even a short line for the special ballot reader for visually-impaired voters. People waiting in line are talking on cell phones, reading the long ballot or just standing. Lots of kids are here with their parents, looking bored. Many residents who walk in are unsure of which precinct they’re in – large maps posted on the wall outline the boundaries. Poll workers are cheerful, but seem a bit frazzled.

In keeping with the school mascot theme, The Chronicle observes six banners hung on one of the gym walls: the Scarlett Roadrunners, Clague Cougars, Tappan Trojans, Forsythe Vikings, Slauson Golden Bears and Ann Arbor Open Pandas.

3:15 p.m. Ward 2, Precinct 7 (King Elementary School, 3800 Waldenwood Lane): The school’s hallways have names – walk down Truthfulness Trail, hang a right at Active Listening Avenue and head to the multipurpose room to vote. So far, 472 people have voted out of the precinct’s 2,243 registered voters. There are a handful of voters here now, outnumbered by poll workers and two Republican challengers. Overlooking it all is a banner with the head of the school’s namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., radiating rays of orange, red, blue and green.

3:37 p.m. Ward 2, Precinct 8 (St. Paul Lutheran School, 495 Earhart Road): Voter turnout at exactly 400 based on election worker’s congratulatory remark: “You’re voter number 400!” Four, now five, people currently filling out ballots. Two in line at the check-in table. Election workers here have dealt with eight spoiled ballots so far today.

Colorful paper lanterns hang from the ceiling in the voting venue. The public area affords me a great view of the “Precinct Supply Kit.” Contents include: Scotch tape, masking tape, white-out tape, roll of printer paper, paper clips, binder clips, staple remover, rubber bands. There’s more, but determining exact nature of contents would require reaching and rummaging. Now three at check-in and six filling out ballots.

5:38 p.m. Ward 1, Precinct 8 (Skyline High School, 2552 N. Maple Road): Another Alton Davis volunteer is outside the entrance to Skyline, passing out campaign literature. Two voters approach the building, and one exclaims, “This is a big school!”

As she did during the Aug. 3 primary, Marianne Rzpeka – who writes a gardening column for The Chronicle during the growing season – was staffing the polling station at Skyline. She reported that the fire alarm had gone off there this morning, causing momentary concern over what to do with ballots if they evacuated. It turned out to be a false alarm.

There’ve been 582 voters pass through so far. One of them now in line is Eli Neiburger, associate director of the Ann Arbor District Library. Seeing him inspires us to make one last stop.

6:15 p.m. Ward 5, Precinct 1 (Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.): A half dozen people are in various stages of the voting process – 238 people have voted so far, out of roughly 980 registered voters. That’s “uncharacteristically brisk,” says Louis Franklin, precinct chair. Usually turnout is lower for midterm elections, he says.

One voter showed up there only to discover that she needed to vote at the Ann Arbor Community Center polling place on North Main. Franklin asks another worker what bus goes by the center – he’s told it’s the #13. He pulls out his bus schedule and looks up the time for the next departure from Blake Transit Center, across the street from the library. But it’s too late – the bus was scheduled to leave at 6:18, and after 6 p.m. the buses run only once an hour. It would be quicker to walk, Franklin says. He gives her directions, telling her it should take about 15 minutes. But she’s wearing flip flops, and the sun is setting – if she walks, it’s sure to be a cold slog.

Editor’s note: The Chronicle thus ends its field coverage of the polls and takes a brief pause to recharge batteries. Now begins the evening’s scrum for results.

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Column: Call for Election Numbers Help Mon, 01 Nov 2010 12:40:54 +0000 Dave Askins Editor’s note: This column includes a request for help in logging early election results straight from polling locations after the polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. If you’d like to help – by gaining editing access to a shared spreadsheet, or by texting, Tweeting, or calling in results to us – shoot us an email:

The general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2 comes after eight games have been played on a 12-game schedule for the University of Michigan football team. The guys in the winged helmets are currently sitting at 5-3, which is better than the 2-7 record they’d achieved at the same point during their 2008 campaign.

election tape report

The top end of a voting machine tape from Ward 1, Precinct 5 from the Aug. 3, 2010 primary.

For me, the 2008 general election – and because I am quick to generalize, all elections – will always be linked to UM football. They’re linked in the form of Jonas Mouton, a linebacker I met in the course of my election day travels in 2008. Mouton was nearly denied the franchise when he tried to vote at the Pioneer High School precinct, but was finally able to cast his ballot.

Elections are, of course, not one bit like a football game, let alone a football season – that’s purely a writerly ploy to set up some kind of thematic backdrop against which I can ask readers a favor: We’re asking for help in collecting precinct-level election results on Tuesday night.

Otherwise put, on Tuesday evening, we’d like to ask that you play for The Chronicle’s team. To quote legendary UM coach Bo Schembechler, when we collect the precinct level results, “we’re gonna play together as a team. We’re gonna believe in each other, we’re not gonna criticize each other, we’re not gonna talk about each other, we’re gonna encourage each other.”

Veteran consumers of local online information know that election results for all the precincts in Washtenaw County will eventually be available on the county clerk’s website. As results are filed with the clerk, election staff upload them incrementally. With polls closing at 8 p.m., and poll closing procedures taking roughly 30-60 minutes to complete, the first results typically begin to appear on the clerk’s website towards 10 p.m. and are generally uploaded for the entire county sometime in the early morning hours, if not sooner. That’s pretty quick, actually.

But it’s not Denard Robinson quick.

So The Chronicle is making publicly accessible a Google spreadsheet with city of Ann Arbor election results that will contain data that’s available directly from the precinct polling places. Results should start to trickle into that spreadsheet around 8:30 p.m. and could be completed by 9 p.m. or so.

We experimented with this approach back during the Aug. 3 primary – a kind of non-conference game warm up – and what we learned is that it would be helpful to have more people on our team. If you’d like to help – by gaining editing access to the spreadsheet, or by texting, Tweeting, or calling in results to us – shoot us an email:

For readers who are willing to play on our team, but are daunted because they don’t know how to run any of our plays, I’ve put together a short election eve playbook.

Paper Tape

The optical scanning voting machines generate a paper tape with all the tabulated results from the paper ballots it scanned during the day. It’s similar in appearance to a cash-register receipt. This is what you’re waiting for.

Note that the poll workers generate the paper tape from the voting machines as one of the later steps in the regimented process for closing down the polling location. They generate two tapes as a part of their prescribed procedure, and then generate an additional tape, which they’ll affix to the wall outside the entrance to the polling place for public viewing. If a poll worker drops one of the paper tapes, do not yell “FUMBLE!” and start a scrum for it. That’s a personal foul and is penalized from the spot of the infraction with 15 yards and a loss of down.


Be respectful of the fact that poll workers have already worked a long and tedious day. Don’t crowd them – that’s a 5-yard penalty for being off-sides. If they ask why you’re there, tell them, and ask where you can park yourself so that you are out of their way. Don’t try to chit chat with them. You’re not allowed to help them. Just sit on the bench and be patient.

Preferred Data

The ballot contains over a hundred different data points. If you volunteer to play on The Chronicle’s team, are we really expecting you to report every piece of data on the paper tape? No. Some of you will choose to do that. Others will choose to report just some of the races – those you have time for, or those you think are the most interesting. We’re not going to yell at you and make you do punishment push-ups for not reporting exhaustively. As Bo said, “we’re not gonna criticize each other, we’re not gonna talk about each other, we’re gonna encourage each other.”

Preferred Data Entry Method

It’s less work for The Chronicle if you opt to accept access to the spreadsheet and enter the results directly into the sheet. But some of you might want to just head over to the polls and send us a text message or an email with a result or two. That’s fine – a touchdown drive is sometimes made up of 3- and 4-yard runs.

Preferred Precinct

The most natural precinct to choose would be your usual voting location. If we hear from several people who are covering a particular precinct, though, we might suggest a different one that’s still close to your neighborhood. But if multiple people wind up collecting results from the tape at a single polling location, guess what we’d like you to do?

That’s right. Work together to double- or triple-team the paper tape. That way it’ll go faster for everyone.

Go team.

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Ward 5 City Council: List Making Fri, 29 Oct 2010 16:47:56 +0000 Dave Askins About 30 people gathered in the cafeteria/auditorium of Wines Elementary School on Oct. 21 for The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Ward 5 city council candidate forum. Two of the three candidates participated: Republican John Floyd and Newcombe Clark, who’s running as an independent. Carsten Hohnke, the incumbent Democrat, chose not to participate.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (seated) and Newcombe Clark (standing) during the Oct. 21 Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

Rather than a standard Q&A, candidates were given 10 specific topic areas in advance, and advised that on the night of the event, they’d be presented with list-making tasks on some of these topics that they’d be expected to complete collaboratively. The Chronicle offers a separate opinion piece about the format of the event and candidates’ participation in it.

In this article, we report the interaction of Floyd and Clark as they worked their way through the tasks, which began with a warm-up: Winnow down the 10 topics to four, to be tackled in 10-minute chunks. They settled on these topics: (1) development of downtown city-owned surface lots, (2) economic development, (3) appointments to boards and commissions, and (4) quality of life.

The two men arrived at a strategy for the winnowing task that persisted through the roughly one-hour event: Each proposed some list items relatively uncontested by the other, followed by a consensus check. In each case, the list-making per se was dispatched relatively easily by the candidates. Then with a list of items written on the white board, they used it as a starting point for a related conversation.

The List-Making Tasks

The complete set of list-making tasks, provided on a handout to the candidates and the audience, were as follows:

1. City Services

The recently established Main Street Business Improvement Zone entails voluntary extra taxation by property owners to self-fund enhanced services – primarily sidewalk cleaning, and snow clearing. Concerning such zones, The Chronicle has reported Ed Shaffran’s thoughts this way: “Shaffran went on to speculate that this could be a precursor of ‘a la carte government’ as revenues to municipalities dwindled. He suggested that the concept of a BIZ could be extended to residential neighborhoods as well. The strategy for providing services, he said, could evolve to be a system where a minimum baseline level would be provided by government, with BIZ-like affiliations electing to augment (or not) that baseline level.”

MAKE A LIST of all the services you can think of in the total bundle of services currently offered to Ann Arbor taxpayers. Identify any that you think could be modified or reduced to some “baseline level,” with additional levels provided by voluntary special assessments for specific neighborhoods.

2. Development of Downtown Surface Parking Lots

Currently the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor are in the middle of discussions about the future of surface parking lots and the role that the DDA should have in developing them. Newcombe Clark, a DDA board member, has suggested that the city should consider selling some of the lots to the DDA.

MAKE A LIST of the questions that you as city councilmembers would want to make sure are answered to your satisfaction, before voting to sell city property to the DDA.

3. Funding of Public Art

The city currently has a formula for funding public art through capital improvement projects – 1% of the cost of such projects is earmarked for public art, capped at $250,000 per project. Newcombe Clark has called for “more, not less” public art, even while acknowledging there are problems with the program. John Floyd has characterized art as nice, but suggested the economic times require different priorities.

MAKE A LIST of specific pros and cons with the city’s strategy for using public funds to support art. Try to develop ideas to address the cons.

4. Transportation

Back when he was chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, David Nacht appeared before the city council and gave the council an update on AATA’s current programs and future plans.

MAKE A LIST of specific questions you’d like the current chair of the AATA board, Jesse Bernstein, to answer if he were to give an update next month to the city council.

5. Economic Development

There are myriad different organizations and people that could, broadly construed, be involved in the “economic development” of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

MAKE A LIST of all the ways that “economic development” is supported in Ann Arbor. Among them, identify those that we should enhance with public money.

6. Management Oversight

The city council is charged with evaluating the performance of two key posts in the city administration – the city administrator and the city attorney.

MAKE A LIST of activity-based as well as outcome-based criteria you think should be used to evaluate the job performance of the city administrator.

7. Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Study

The idea has been floated to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor to spur development there. It would include cooperation from the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ypsilanti.

MAKE A LIST of specific skill sets that should be represented on the board of the TIF authority, assuming that such a TIF district were established.

8. Board and Commission Appointments

For most board and commission appointments, the mayor makes nominations, with confirmation by the city council. It is rare that councilmembers deliberate on nominations or vote against them, with one notable recent exception being Sabra’s Briere vote cast against Anya Dale’s appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

MAKE A LIST of specific questions that you think should be included on an application form for the planning commission.

9. Burden of City Council Work

Based on documents from the early 2000s, city council compensation was increased to its current levels based partly on estimates that councilmembers spent 30 to 60 hours each week working on council-related matters and that service on the city council has become a full-time job.

MAKE A LIST of specific strategies that councilmembers could use – individually or collectively – to reduce the time commitment required to serve on the city council.

10. Quality of Life

Imagine that a department at the University of Michigan is trying to recruit an academic superstar, Professor X, to come to UM on a senior appointment – that is, a tenured job is being offered.

MAKE A LIST of places and people you would have the academic superstar visit, to illustrate what the community’s values are and what we are “all about” here in Ann Arbor.

Warm-Up Task

The warm-up task was to winnow down the 10 topics to four. John Floyd led off by suggesting,”Why don’t you start with your four, I’ll start with mine, and we’ll see if there’s any match-up.”

Clark suggested topics 2 [development of downtown surface parking lots], 3 [funding of public art], 10 [quality of life], and 5 [economic development].

Floyd selected 1 [city services], 10 [quality of life], 8 [board and commission appointments] and 5 [economic development].

So the candidates arrived at rapid consensus on two of the topics they would treat: 5 [quality of life] and 10 [economic development]. Of the topics 2 [development of downtown surface parking lots] and 3 [funding of public art], Clark suggested that he would prefer 2 [development of downtown surface parking lots]. Out of 1 [city services] and 8 [board and commission appointments], Floyd said he’d prefer 8 [board and commission appointments]. Floyd allowed that topic 9 [burden of council work] was tempting: How do we arrange for the city council to do less work?

In presenting the list-making discussions, for each list, we begin with the specific task description, followed by the contents of the white board, where the candidates wrote down their lists, concluding with a report of their conversation.

List 2: Development of Downtown Surface Parking Lots

Currently the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor are in the middle of discussions about the future of downtown surface parking lots and the role the DDA should have in developing them. Newcombe Clark, a DDA board member, has suggested that the city should consider selling some of the lots to the DDA.

Task: MAKE A LIST of the questions that you as city councilmembers would want to make sure are answered to your satisfaction, before voting to sell city property to the DDA.

Surface Lots: The White Board List

  • Why is the city not competent? Why not use the city’s normal processes?
  • Where would money from ultimate disposition of the lots go?
  • What are you going to do with the lots?
  • What are they worth?
  • Would they be sold singly or in groups?
  • Will A2D2 zoning apply?
  • Are we talking about raw land or developed land?
  • Is the DDA competent to do this?

Surface Lots: Candidate Conversation

Floyd wielded the dry-erase board marker and began by asking why the city is not competent to do this task. Floyd indicated that when he wrote the word “incompetent” he did not intend it to be pejorative. He followed up with additional questions: Why is it appropriate for this not to run through the normal city processes? Where would money from the ultimate disposition of the lots go? What boundaries would the DDA imagine placing on the end uses of the lots?

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (standing) and Newcombe Clark (pointing) during the Oct. 21 Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

Clark suggested rephrasing this last question as simply: What are you going to do with them? Clark suggested adding other questions. What do you think the lots are worth? Are you looking at the lots as singular lots or do you have a plan for multiple lots – even if it is phased over multiple purchases over multiple years? Do you expect A2D2 zoning to apply to these lots? Who owns them if you buy them, and for how long?

Floyd clarified that it would be important to distinguish between raw land versus developed land. In assessing the set of questions, Floyd said he did not see any of the questions that he would not want to have answers to: “I think these all make sense.”

Faced with an apparent consensus, Clark ventured that they should think about the potential downsides to the DDA selling property – he himself saw some. Floyd elicited from Clark clarification that he was talking about the downside to using the sale of surface parking lots by the city to the DDA as a mechanism for transferring money from the DDA to the city.

Clark then posed the question: Does the skill set currently on the DDA board reflect the skill set that is necessary to develop the lots? Clark noted that it was the converse of Floyd’s question about why the city is not competent to undertake this development. Essentially the question was: Is the DDA competent? Floyd came back to the distinction between raw land versus developed land. Floyd split the issue into two questions: (1) Is the DDA better at selling raw land? and (2) Is the DDA better equipped than the private sector to develop it, and then sell the developed land?

Clark then refined the question about the board’s skill set to be one about the board’s own skill set, versus the ability to hire others with the requisite skill sets. Asked by Floyd to try to condense that into a one-liner, Clark suggested: “Does the DDA know what they’re doing?” As a councilmember, Clark said he would want to know the DDA’s competency to undertake that kind of activity. Said Floyd to Clark: “I admire your bravery in asking the question!” Clark clarified [for anyone who may not have followed Floyd's humor] that he serves on the DDA board.

Asked by Ann Arbor Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan to think about prioritizing the questions they had put on the board, Floyd said his top question was why the city would not use its normal processes. Second, said Floyd, was the question about what the property is actually worth. Clark indicated that those were also his top two questions – or at least, his top question is what the properties are worth. He also stressed the importance of getting an answer to the question of what was going to be done by the DDA with the lots. He said he did not want simply to just sell land willy-nilly to the highest bidder – which the DDA could be. Based on the three questions that they identified as most important, Floyd said that he could live with any of the three as the top priority.

List 5: Economic Development

There are myriad different organizations and people that could, broadly construed, be involved in the “economic development” of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

Task: MAKE A LIST of all the ways that “economic development” is supported in Ann Arbor. Among them, identify those that we should enhance with public money.

Economic Development: White Board List

  • Ann Arbor SPARK
  • K-12 achools
  • University of Michigan
  • the arts
  • chamber of commerce
  • Michigan Economic Development Corp.
  • Downtown Development Authority
  • Washtenaw County
  • convention and visitors bureau
  • downtown merchant associations

Economic Development: Candidate Discussion

Clark, who wielded the marker for this task, began with Ann Arbor SPARK, which he explained as a joint private-public partnership that included the city and the University of Michigan, funded through the local development finance authority (LDFA). He said he sees Ann Arbor SPARK as a promoter and ombudsman for businesses looking to relocate or stay in the Washtenaw County region.

Continuing with list items, Clark wrote “schools” on the board. He also added the University of Michigan and “the arts” to the list. Floyd added the chamber of commerce, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Floyd noted that he would have said the DDA, but that Clark did not mention that, so he concluded that the DDA must not be doing things that included economic development. Clark responded by saying that the DDA was working on the establishment of a joint economic development and communications committee right now. Floyd indicated that he believed the county government also has an economic development agency – he was not sure how much of their work is in the city of Ann Arbor.

Clark suggested that they identify how public money flows to each of the entities on the list. Floyd, noting the entry of the arts on the list, said it prompted him to think of organizations and agencies, and noted that the restaurant community is a part of the economic development of the city. That suggestion evolved – in conversation with Clark – into the inclusion on the list of the four downtown merchant associations.

SPARK gets money from the obvious sources as well as from the University of Michigan, said Clark. K-12 public schools, said Clark, get property tax money. UM receives state money. The arts does not get a lot of public money, Clark said, although there is the Percent for Art program in the city. But he noted that statewide, public arts support has dried up. The chamber of commerce, Clark noted, is a nonprofit. Mention of the chamber of commerce triggered a thought for Floyd of an organization to add to the list – the convention and visitors bureau. As far as funding, Clark noted that the convention and visitors bureau has its own tax. The DDA captures taxes, Clark said, and receives parking revenue. The county collects taxes. The downtown merchant associations receives revenues from memberships and also grants from the DDA.

Clark suggested that on the list they might identify the top three that should receive more money than they currently do, and to identify in what way additional funds should be allocated. Floyd said his top pick would be the schools. He said he agreed that the schools are an economic development resource – an important one. The schools are not, however, an economic development organization agency in the way that people conventionally think about it. But in thinking about which items on the list are most deserving of additional public funds, Floyd thought the schools are.

Clark said that he would agree with Floyd. In a city like ours, he said, which is not a major metropolitan area, the schools get most of their money from property taxes, which depend on property values. There is therefore a relationship between property values and how good our schools are. Floyd responded by saying that Clark was describing the old model – the new model is to get revenue from sales taxes and lottery tickets, with a small local supplement.

Clark raised the question of whether the state revenues being put towards the schools are sustainable. He said he had seen demographic information that indicates 75-80% of Michigan residents do not have children. In Washtenaw County, he said, 6% of the population are 20-35 years old. He allowed that Vivienne Armentrout [who was in the audience] would disagree with him on that. However, he contended that we do have a demographic problem when the funding model is based on the number of kids coming through the door. The kid count will go down unless we have more kids being born here or families with kids moving here, he said. The trend was not in that direction, Clark cautioned.

Floyd said he sees the schools as economic development engines in two ways. One is that they are where we grow our next-generation of entrepreneurs, doctors, and plumbers. The second way is that if someone is considering relocating here and they have children or hope to have children, that’s an advantage in moving here. He concluded that he sees the schools as a place where we grow our own talent and – at least for some portion of the people who would consider relocating here – the schools are an attractant.

Looking at other items on the list that need additional public support, Floyd said that he felt that the University Michigan could use more support. It’s not about economic development per se, Floyd said, it’s about making school more affordable for students who live here. That meant, Floyd said, that the reason he thinks the University Michigan should receive additional public support was a little bit off topic.

Floyd said he was not sure he would provide public funding for many of the other items they put on the board. Clark said his top priority for additional public funding would be the arts. Not because he thinks it’s the most important of the list, but because he thinks that it is the most underfunded on the list. Partly due to prior conversations that he and Floyd had had about the Percent for Art program in the city and Clark’s complaints with how it’s currently being administered, Clark suggested that a compromise would be to improve the funding from the private sector. The DDA previously had a program for facade improvements – the Performance Network and the Michigan Theater, and other organizations in the arts community that have buildings, could use money for that.

Clark came back to the fact that he put the arts as his No. 1 priority for additional funding because the funding is currently so low. Floyd told Clark that he would “throw him this bone” – if we were to add another group, that would be his next one. After the arts, Clark said, his next priority would be the county – we can’t live in a bubble, he said. The analogy Clark gave for the county is that they can’t turn the hose on the fire without having to use some water on the flower beds. The strength of Ann Arbor and strength of Ward 5, Clark said, is based on the strength of Ypsilanti and the strength of the county – something Floyd agreed with by saying “Absolutely.”

Clark spoke of raising the sea level for those most in need. In terms of the list, Floyd said he would probably put the arts third and county fourth. Floyd told Clark that Clark was adding things in the same order that he would add them. As far as having to pick four – schools, University of Michigan, the arts, the county – those are the four that Floyd said he would pick.

Task 8: Board and Commission Appointments

For most board and commission appointments, the mayor makes nominations, with confirmation by the city council. It is rare that councilmembers deliberate on nominations or vote against them, with one notable recent exception being Sabra’s Briere vote cast against Anya Dale’s appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

Task: MAKE A LIST of specific questions that you think should be included on an application form for the planning commission.

Board/Commission Appointments: White Board List

  • What are your qualifications?
  • What is your interest?
  • What are your existing relationships, including social?
  • What is your prior experience in this setting?
  • What other relevant life experience do you have?
  • What other public service are you doing?
  • How do you add to the team?
  • What is your time availability and commitment?
  • Demographic information as allowed by law.

Board/Commission Appointments: Background

In the course of the conversation between the candidates, the question of the rationale behind Briere’s vote on Dale’s appointment arose. Briere, at the time, had identified a specific connection that caused her concern, namely Dale’s role as an employee of Washtenaw County, as a potential conflict. From The Chronicle’s report of the May 17, 2010 city council meeting:

AATA Board: Council Deliberations

In a final business of the evening, mayor John Hieftje asked for confirmation of Anya Dale to replace Paul Ajegba on the AATA board. Ajegba did not seek re-appointment. Hieftje had nominated Dale at the previous council’s meeting. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that Dale’s position with the county as a planner creates a possible conflict. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that he had received emails on Dale’s nomination with concerns about the number of different commissions on which Dale serves. He added that he felt the process for the nomination should become more transparent.

Hieftje indicated that he hoped that Dale would use her position on the environmental commission to create a synergy. Anglin agreed that having expertise and experience with two different bodies would be useful, and gave the example of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wearing “two hats,” serving on both the city council and the DDA board.

Anglin said he would support this specific nomination, but said he would like to see the council ask in a more effective way: Who would like to serve? Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) weighed in with his support for Dale as a nominee based on his experience when he’d crossed paths with the city council’s liaison to the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked when the next AATA board meeting was – it’s not until towards the end of June. He asked if it was not possible to postpone the confirmation and have both Dale and Roger Kerson, who was also being nominated that night, come to the council and introduce themselves. [Kerson, who was nominated to replace Ted Annis, is public relations director with the United Auto Workers (UAW). He'd entertained a run for a Ward 5 city council seat in 2008, but ultimately decided not to run.]

Responding to Kunselman on the suggestion to delay, Hieftje conveyed some irritation and said that he would like to see the nomination of Dale confirmed that evening and have a process followed that the council had used for years. He added that Dale rides the bus.

Outcome: Dale was confirmed, with dissent from Briere. Rapundalo left before voting. The nomination for Kerson will come for confirmation at the council’s next meeting.

Board/Commission Appointments: Candidate Conversation

Floyd now wielded the dry-erase board marker. He began by writing down some of his own suggested questions. What are your qualifications? What is your interest – why do you want to take what you do and do it on the board? Do you have social or business or political relations with people on the city council – if so, who and what are they?

Clark wanted to know if Floyd would characterize what he was talking about as simply “potential conflicts.” Floyd said not necessarily. They settled on “existing relationships.” Clark suggested that a question should be: Please describe the skill set of the board and commission members and how you fit into that team with your skill set. Floyd suggested the phrasing: How do your skills merge with the current board? Clark offered: How do you add to the team that is in place?

To the list Clark added: What is your available time commitment and your willingness to commit to that? Clark said he wanted demographic information to the extent that it’s appropriate by law – in terms of having a diverse board. Floyd suggested: What is your prior experience in a similar setting? Floyd also suggested more of an open question: What life experiences have given you insight into this area? As an example, Floyd said someone might say they used to live in Boston and they had a particular kind of park there and it was a really great park.

Clark then paused to ask a question of the moderator about the reason for Sabra Briere’s vote against Anya Dales’s appointment to the AATA. Clark said he knew Dale personally – he went to high school with her. In his mind, Dale would be a logical choice for the AATA. So he was curious to know what reason Briere had given at the time. The answer Clark got from the moderator was that it was not a long and detailed deliberation, but that Briere had indicated she had concerns about the number of different organizations and committees that Dale served on. Clark observed that Briere had not had a problem with Clark serving on the DDA board, even though he served on several other boards.

As a suggested list item, Floyd offered: Are you on other public bodies? Floyd noted that it’s a question of having a small number of people on a large number of public bodies, and Clark concurred that board nepotism is always a problem. They settled on “other current public service” as a way to summarize the idea.

At this point, about four minutes into the 10-minute task, Floyd and Clark were advised by the moderator that the list of items they had produced up to that point would probably work for any board or commission and were not specific to the planning commission. Clark also observed that many of the questions were already on the current application form.

Clark then indicated that he wanted to pursue the question of Anya Dale’s appointment to the AATA board, allowing that he was perhaps breaking the prescribed forum format. He described her as an outspoken proponent of best practices when it comes to transit-oriented development. Our transit plan for the city has been turned down a couple of times for grant requests, Clark said, based on the rationale that it was unfocused and contradictory. The transit plan that the city had just recently adopted last year, Clark continued, calls for transit-oriented development – except in cases where the character or use of a neighborhood could be threatened. Dale works in this area, Clark said, alluding to Dale’s work on the Washtenaw Avenue Corridor study. If we want better transportation, Clark said, transit-oriented development best practice is part of it – this is what the Urban Land Institute says, that’s what Dale’s degree says, that’s what best practices say. However, Clark added, there is an acceptance or a compromise that along key corridors, you have to put larger buildings and you have to increase the density to justify more bus routes and perhaps a train.

He said he did not want to put thoughts into Sabra Briere’s vote, but he felt that Dale’s position on the AATA board could be controversial relative to advocacy for best practices as it relates to density.

Floyd pointed out that it’s a “delicate thing” to have a public nomination in a community the size of Ann Arbor – it’s very hard to vote against someone you’re going to encounter in the grocery store or the library. At the same time, if we’re going to have a public approval process, you can’t chastise people because they decided not to approve someone, he said. If they’re not allowed to disapprove someone, why have the vote? Clark agreed with Floyd: “Absolutely.” Floyd continued by saying that otherwise the process is just another empty form which we sometimes have this suspicion of in our present government. So whatever Briere’s motives were in this one place, Floyd said, if we are not going to allow her to vote no, whatever her reasons were, there’s really no point in having a vote.

In response to Floyd, Clark asked whether we have a right to know what Briere’s reasons are, since she’s a public official. If the reason is other board commitments, then many people, himself included, would be restricted from any board. Floyd said he would answer the first part of Clark’s question by saying elected officials are accountable for everything they do. They might be afraid to tell someone their reasons – for example, if they think that the person is genuinely incompetent. You don’t necessarily want to be on the record talking about someone in your community that way.

Floyd came back to the idea that if we do not allow people to vote how they feel, then we have an empty process. It’s a delicate balance, he said, between trashing people who live in your community or whom you don’t want on a board, and having a process be empty.

Clark said he also thinks there is a delicate balance – and he admitted he sometimes fell outside of that balance, in his interest to understand rationale and decisions. It creates a perception of contrarianism. If he were a councilmember, he said, and Briere gave that as a rationale, Clark said it would be in the best interests of his constituents to say to her: You are entitled to your vote, but I need more clarification for your reasoning because that doesn’t hold a lot of water. It was appropriate in that instance, especially, he said, in light of the possible controversial nature of Dale’s connection to advocacy of best practices in transit-oriented development.

Floyd agreed that Briere owed her constituents any explanation they wish – he said he was not sure he would take one of the city’s goals – namely transportation – and elevate that among all other possible goals. Transit needs to be balanced among other things that also matter to people here, he said. Floyd also suggested the possibility that someone might disagree with the majority should not be a reason for excluding someone from serving on the city council. On the whole, he said, he thinks we get better decisions when we have more than one point of view. If everyone always agrees on everything, then something is probably wrong, Floyd concluded. There is such a thing, he allowed, as being civil and being principled in the stances that you take. It helps the process, Floyd said, when people do make their reasons clear. If we are afraid of having contention in the public arena, he said there’s not much point in having a public arena.

Clark asked whether good cities have the transportation systems and good downtowns and good taxicab and cable commissions, for example, or whether good boards and commissions make a good city? A good downtown takes work, Clark said. A good transportation system takes work. And that’s not political, he said – there are best practices for achieving those things. Clark said he doesn’t think that just because Ann Arbor is good, that we’re going to have a good downtown. “I don’t think it’s just a given.”

Floyd came back to the idea that he would not elevate transit as the single most important thing in a city of 120,000 people. If you’re in Chicago, he said, where the population is closer to 8 million people and on a Saturday afternoon it can take you an hour to go to the grocery store – it used to take that long when he lived there, he said – yes, transit matters dramatically. But when you’re in a small college town, it’s less obvious to him, Floyd said, that it matters that dramatically.

If we became the population center of the state, Floyd said, like Detroit once was and still is, transit would matter more. But Floyd pointed out that Ann Arbor’s streets are laid out downtown for a town of about 20,000 people – it was laid out around the turn of the century. If you try to cram 1 million or more people into that space, he noted, we would need some other kind of arrangement than we have now. The city simply isn’t currently laid out to handle it. Floyd said he did not agree with the idea that transit should drive everything that happens.

Task 10: Quality of Life

Imagine that a department at the University of Michigan is trying to recruit an academic superstar, Professor X, to come to UM on a senior appointment – that is, a tenured job is being offered.

Task: MAKE A LIST of places and people you would have the academic superstar visit, to illustrate what the community’s values are and what we are “all about” here in Ann Arbor.

Quality of Life: White Board List

  • [Clark] 8-Ball Saloon
  • [Clark] planetarium at the UM Exhibit Museum of Natural History
  • [Clark] Pool crashing at Huron Towers
  • [Clark] Palmer House
  • [Clark] Floor 6 of UM Ross Business School
  • [Clark] Black Elks on Friday nights
  • [Clark] Westgate shantytown
  • [Floyd] Wines Elementary during a school day
  • [Floyd] John Floyd’s minister
  • [Floyd] West Park
  • [Floyd] YMCA
  • [Floyd] Shakespeare in the Arb
  • [Floyd] Ken Fischer [University Musical Society]
  • [Floyd] Main Street on a Friday night
  • [Floyd] Old West Side
  • [Floyd] a north side neighborhood [Orchard Park]
  • [Floyd] Devonshire Road

Quality of Life: Candidate Conversation

Clark began by saying that he would betray his age for a lot of the items. The first item he suggested elicited a laugh from the audience – The 8-Ball, a bar located underneath the Blind Pig nightclub on South First. Next on Clark’s list was the planetarium at the UM Exhibit Museum of Natural History. Clark’s third item was “pool crashing at Huron Towers.” Asked to elaborate, Clark explained that you take the bridge from the Arb over the Huron River late at night and jump into the swimming pool at Huron Towers, because there is no guard and it is heated, he said. And you can get to it publicly. Floyd quipped that he could imagine many tenured faculty wanting to go pool crashing.

Next for Clark was the Palmer House, because it shows what’s possible in the city in terms of housing. He explained that the Palmer House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, built for Professor Palmer and his wife Mary Palmer – who Clark said had brought modern yoga to Ann Arbor back in the ’50s by bringing B.K.S. Iyengar to Ann Arbor. If you’ve ever been lucky enough, Clark said, to hold salon in the Palmer House when Mary Palmer had one of her specifically designed outfits and sat at her piano and sang in Japanese to you around every piece of meticulously Frank Lloyd Wright-designed piece of furniture and pottery – it’s “otherworldly,” Clark said, but very much what Ann Arbor is.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (seated) and Newcombe Clark (standing) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School. Despite appearances, Floyd did not invite Clark to sing "I'm a Little Teapot." Clark was describing an overhang at the Ross Business School, that during a thunderstorm makes you feel like you're standing next to God.

Clark said he would avoid putting things like The Big House (Michigan Stadium) and the Fleetwood Diner on the list. Rather, there’s a place on the sixth floor of the new University of Michigan Ross Business School, Clark said, where there is a glass overhang that has windows on all three sides and the roof. In a thunderstorm, he said, it’s “like standing next to God.” It is a beautiful thing, he said, and it is well worth the $130,000 he’s spending to attend school there. Except, he noted, it does leak. Asked by an audience member if it was publicly accessible, Clark said it was, but cautioned people not to tell everyone because it’s best enjoyed alone.

Floyd said he would pick a few items that are very personal to him, not because his experience is so special, but because it is something particular – and you can get a sense of a place by looking at particulars. He said that he would bring someone from out of town to Wines Elementary School during the day – the same school where the candidate forum was being held. Floyd said he would introduce the person to his son’s fifth grade teacher and have them sit in class and watch what goes on.

Floyd said he would also take the person to meet his minister, not because they share his faith, but to introduce them to someone he knows who is in that part of Ann Arbor – who can give them a sense of what goes on in Ann Arbor from the standpoint of organized religion. Clark, who was at that point wielding the dry-erase marker, asked Floyd have to summarize that list item. Replied Floyd “My minister – Paul and Stacey Duke.”

Floyd said he would take the person to West Park, especially now that it has been reworked, to get a sense of what the older part of town is like. He would take them to the YMCA and show them the sort of facilities are that are available to the community, and who’s in there and what goes on there.

Floyd allowed it was only a seasonally possible activity, but suggested taking a person to one of the Shakespeare in the Arboretum performances. Another suggestion from Floyd was some out-of-town symphony at Hill Auditorium. Floyd said he would have the person meet Ken Fischer – the head of the University Musical Society, who is responsible for a large fraction of the professional touring art performances that go on in the city.

Clark added some additional items – Funky Kingston, every Friday night in the basement of the Black Elks Lodge. In clarifying the location of the Black Elks Lodge on Sunset, Floyd noted that is down the hill from his house. Clark described it as “quite a Friday night party.”

Clark said he would take the person to the area behind Westgate Shopping Center, to the shantytown that no one knows about, he said, unless you have enough presence of mind to look to your right as you drive past the Jackson Road intersection. Clark said he thinks it’s interesting that as we’ve doubled in population in the county over the last 30 years – in his neighborhood where his mother bought her house for $36,000 in 1984 and last refinanced it at $290,000 – our population has changed, he concluded. What we think Ann Arbor is isn’t the same as it was in the ’60s, Clark said – or the ’80s or ’90s.

Responding to this sign in the Wines Elementary candidate forum audience, Newcombe Clark said he agreed that the rent is definitely too damn high.

Looking at a sign held by two audience members, Clark agreed, “The rent is definitely too damn high!” Clark said that if he earned what his mother earned, if he had kids now – he noted that he’s now older than his mom was when she had him – he couldn’t afford to raise his kids here. He could not afford to put his kids through the school system, he said. People still live like this, he said – and even if we put them behind our shopping centers, or rail against them as “the other,” they are still us, he said. Even though we’ve become older and richer and whiter over the last 30 years, there are costs and consequences to that socially, he cautioned. He encouraged people to go take a look at how other people live.

Floyd added to the list Main Street on a Friday night. Floyd also added the Old West Side – one of the city’s historic districts. Floyd said that he would go through the neighborhood that is across from the former Pfizer property – Orchard Hills subdivision, out by the water tower on Plymouth Road. That would allow the person to see what a neighborhood looks like that is not the Old West Side, Floyd said. He also said he would drive the person down Devonshire Road to get some sense of what the range of options is in the community for housing. At that Clark observed, “We are at different stages in our lives, aren’t we!”

Floyd noted that the task had specified a tenure-track faculty member, which is generally someone who has a Ph.D. and has published a number of papers and has done a postdoc or two and a fellowship – you might get a whiz kid who is 27, he said, but you’re more than likely looking at someone who is in their early 30s. And by that stage of life, a person is in a household-formation mindset.

Clark responded by saying that he knew a German academic who is 28. Clark said that he himself is 29 and he will graduate from the business school in a year and a half: “I want this town to be my town as much as I want it to be your town.” Floyd, though, said if we are looking for an academic superstar, the first thing you have to know about Ann Arbor is that it is not Chicago. “It’s not Minneapolis. It’s not San Francisco. It’s not Boston. It’s not New York. It’s not Austin, Texas.” It’s a community that does not have all the things going on that a metropolitan community of 1 million people will have. That’s the reality of what is here, Floyd said. Ann Arbor does have a lot of things you won’t normally find in a community of 110,000 people, but if what you want is a metropolitan area, this is probably not where you want to put down your roots, he cautioned.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Oct. 21 Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

The problem with the state of Michigan, Floyd continued, is that we don’t really have a metropolitan area where people will want to put their roots down. He told Clark that he did not think the two of them were far apart conceptually. Floyd said he did not think it was a good idea to turn Ann Arbor into a kind of place with 1 million or 2 million people. You’d have to bulldoze the entire city that is here, Floyd said, and build from scratch.

Floyd said he understood what Clark was saying. If you are 20-something and you are on the make and want to find your mate, establish a career and find out who you are – Ann Arbor is probably not the ideal place for that. That was one of the reasons that he had left Ann Arbor when he was 24, Floyd said. He finished up all of his schooling and went to Chicago and lived there for a long time.

In a different stage of life, Floyd said, he had returned to Ann Arbor. Floyd said he understood that there are people who don’t want to have to leave Ann Arbor to have the advantages of a large city here, but you would have to make a large city here. Floyd pointed out that Grand Rapids has double the size of the population of Ann Arbor, but even then, Grand Rapids is not a place that people go when they want the bright lights of a big city. Even if we doubled Ann Arbor’s size, he warned, it would still not hold the attraction of an urban center. If you tripled Ann Arbor in size, it might begin to approach being an urban center.

 John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

John Floyd (seated) and Newcombe Clark (standing) during the Ward 5 candidate forum held at Wines Elementary School.

Clark responded to Floyd by saying that there was already enough on the white board that drew him to Ann Arbor – there’s just not a job. That’s the bigger problem for someone his age, Clark said. Ann Arbor is not only competing with Portland or Chicago, Clark said. We are competing with Venice, Florence, Rotterdam, and Hikone – Ann Arbor’s sister city in Japan. Those are cities that people actually move to. But people in the U.S. or in Holland or Japan do not wake up and say, I’ve really got to move to Ann Arbor, unless they are saying, I’m going there for a couple of years for school or for my postdoc. Clark said that Ann Arbor does not need to be a city of 1 million people, but it needs to recognize that there are social, economic and political costs to having a population of just 120,000 people. But more importantly, there are costs of having a population of 120,000 of the same kind of people, he said – the same age, the same race, the same socio-economic class. We lack diversity, Clark said. That has more of a cost than being small or being big, he said.

Floyd countered by saying that Ann Arbor has a black population that is approximately the same as the U.S. average, and an Asian population that is larger than the U.S. average. He said he would love to see where the data came from about only 6% of the county population being between 20 and 35. Floyd said he was skeptical that you could ever turn Ann Arbor into a community that people would move to from any of the places that Clark had mentioned – if someone wanted the things that were in those cities. If you like living in Venice, Floyd said, there’s nothing here for you – and won’t ever be. Clark, alluding to the well-watered landscape of Venice and Rotterdam, pointed to pool crashing in Huron Towers on the board and equipped: “This is a lot of fun!”

Clark allowed that Ann Arbor’s demographics are similar to the rest of the country, but said that 90% of the country is losing population – losing people – to the other 10%. It’s not that Ann Arbor is worse than the majority of the country, he said. It’s that Ann Arbor is not better than other places in the country. There’s a part of the country that is better, and it has nothing to do with being in the Sun Belt or other factors, Clark said.

Floyd asked if Clark was simple talking about growth in terms of the number of bodies. Floyd came back to the point that he felt that Ann Arbor is representative racially of the national picture – he allowed that we might not have as many Hispanics. In crude numbers, though, Floyd said we have a large Asian population and at least the national average black population. Floyd said he was not sure what it is that Clark thinks we are not doing, other than not growing in numbers as much as other places.

Clark replied that what he was trying to say is that being the best in Michigan is not enough anymore. Being at the top of a pile depends on what pile that is, he said. Ann Arbor could be buried in the coffin with the rest of the state, and have the pillow– it would thus be the most comfortable, but still be buried six feet under. Clark said he disliked the idea that “it’s pretty good here relative to the rest of Michigan.” Ann Arbor, Clark said, has the resources to be the best, but it would take some effort to get there. Floyd responded by saying he’d been to Florence and that he did not think Ann Arbor would ever – no matter what you ever do here – compete with Florence for people who want what Florence has.

Floyd told Clark that what he understood from Clark is a kind of “underlying hunger” that many of us have in Michigan for a functional and vital central city. Michigan doesn’t really have a city like that, Floyd said. Ann Arbor might be the closest thing Michigan has to one, but it is not realistic for Ann Arbor to think of itself as being the economic and population center of the state. It would be like having the population around Detroit picking up and relocating 40 miles down the road to Ann Arbor, Floyd said. He could not see that happening. We’ve been waiting for a half century or more for Detroit to reinvent itself, Floyd said, and maybe it will never happen.

Floyd said he chose to move home when he was living elsewhere, because of the many things that Ann Arbor has. You can go pool crashing, he said, and it does have the Palmer House, and it has all this stuff, plus it doesn’t take an hour and a half to go to the grocery store. Floyd said he lived with his children about a mile from the elementary school where the forum was being held, and when his little one turned nine at the end of second grade, Floyd said he let him ride his bike to school. He would never consider letting that happen almost anywhere in Chicago – even in most of the suburbs of Chicago. But you can do that in Ann Arbor, he said, and that’s why you might want to be in Ann Arbor instead of Rotterdam or some other place that is enormous.

Floyd said he thought he understood what Clark’s hunger was. Clark responded by saying that what he was after was not simply a greater number of people. In Ann Arbor, Clark said, we sometimes suffer from a Gilligan’s Island Syndrome – given our choices of Ginger, or Marianne, or the millionaire’s wife, you make do and you make choices. Clark said he is tired of the city that just makes do and makes choices and is happy just to be better than our neighbors. That’s a world we don’t live in anymore, Clark said. We cannot compete with that mindset.

Asked Floyd: “What are we competing for?” Clark’s answer: “A sustainable future, growth, happiness.” Floyd followed up: “How much growth?” Clark said he is not talking about growth in terms of number of people. Floyd said it sounded something like self actualization. Clark’s response: “Sure, why not?” Floyd said that to him, it sounded more like Mary Palmer’s yoga than where the bus lines run or whether we have rail-based transit.

Asked by the moderator to wrap up the topic by identifying some of the top items on the board, Clark said that the Black Elks Lodge parties are becoming one of his favorites. He agreed with Floyd’s suggestion of Main Street on Friday night, saying “That’s my neighborhood.” He also agreed with Floyd’s suggestion that Ken Fischer was somebody good to meet with.

Floyd said that he would come back to one of his original choices of bringing a person to Wines Elementary. He also identified Shakespeare in the Arb as among his top picks. He agreed with Clark’s selection of Main Street on a Friday night. Floyd rounded out his top four with a drive down Devonshire Road for its range of different architecture – with newer, post-World Ward II construction at the lower end, and through the history of 20th century architecture all the way out to Washtenaw Avenue.

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Column: Why Ward 5, Lists, But No Dem? Fri, 29 Oct 2010 16:46:26 +0000 Dave Askins On Oct. 21 at Wines Elementary School, The Ann Arbor Chronicle hosted a forum for city council candidates in Ward 5. Two of the three candidates participated: John Floyd, a Republican, and Newcombe Clark, who is running as an independent. Choosing not to participate was the Democratic incumbent, Carsten Hohnke.

John Floyd Newcombe Clark Ward 5 Candidate Forum

John Floyd (left) and Newcombe Clark (right) settle in for the Ward 5 city council forum sponsored by The Chronicle at Wines Elementary School.

The format of the event was a departure from familiar question-and-answer schemes. Candidates were provided with 10 specific topic areas in advance, and advised that on the night of the event, they’d be presented with a list-making task they’d be expected to complete collaboratively for each topic area.

To give a flavor of the chemistry between the candidates at the forum, after the event one attendee wrote about John Floyd: “… the city would be lucky to have his service … but I’m still not voting for him.” That attendee was Newcombe Clark. Also during the event, the two candidates were able to find an effective strategy for working through the tasks. We’re reporting how they completed those tasks in a separate article.

In this column, we discuss why The Chronicle would invest its limited time and resources in the effort to stage a candidate forum for Ward 5 city council candidates, and why we would opt for a somewhat unusual task-based format.

Why Ward 5 City Council?

One reason that a publication might sponsor an election-related event is to gain publicity for itself. But The Chronicle could have achieved greater publicity by sponsoring a forum for gubernatorial candidates Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero. So why not aspire to the very top of the ticket? First, and last, I don’t think either candidate would have agreed to participate.

Snyder would, I think, be wary of any task-based candidate event– because no one is good at every kind of task. For example, suppose a candidate forum organizer defined the following task: Here’s some wood, some newspapers and some matches … work together to build a fire. Now, based on my experience several years ago sharing a cabin on Drummond Island with a group of people that included Snyder, the man does not know much about how to build a fire. The idea of piling a prodigious amount of newspaper on top of some logs and lighting it on fire does, I think, provide an interesting analogy to a venture capital approach to economic development. But it’s not generally effective in getting logs to catch fire, even if your venture capital firm’s slogan is “Igniting the Future.”

If The Chronicle could not realistically contemplate sponsoring a gubernatorial event, then we had a choice of local races. So why not the mayoral race? Or, if we wanted to focus on the city council races, why not include Ward 2 – which also has a contested race?

The most straightforward answer is this: Ward 5 is where The Chronicle lives. And Ward 5 is offering three – that’s right three – candidates to Ward 5 voters on Nov. 2, which makes Ward 5 the mightiest of the city’s five wards. I will fight anyone who says different.

Why Not The Democrat?

The impetus for The Chronicle to stage the candidate forum came from John Floyd and Newcombe Clark. The initial communication to us suggesting that The Chronicle sponsor an event for Ward 5 candidates came from Clark. And that’s consistent with Floyd’s remarks at Wines Elementary on the night of the event, thanking Clark for his push for candidates to engage in a series of encounters.

Based on the emailed communication thread that I was a part of, the Democratic Party’s nominee and incumbent, Carsten Hohnke, from the beginning displayed no interest in participating in The Chronicle’s event. Flexibility in time, venue, and moderator was offered, this last because he eventually expressed a belief that I could not be impartial because of The Chronicle’s pending litigation against the city. [That litigation involves an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act by the Ann Arbor city council in connection with a closed session conducted on the topic of medical marijuana.]

In a face-to-face conversation with Hohnke, he clarified to me that his choice not to participate in The Chronicle’s event was not a matter of scheduling, venue, format, or the moderator, but simply that Hohnke did not feel he needed to participate, given that he was participating in other events. And in this, Hohnke is likely correct – in a general election for city council or the mayorship, the nominee of the Democratic Party has a clear advantage that would take a great deal of work for a non-Democrat to overcome. A clear majority of Ann Arbor city residents are either fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party, or at least identify more strongly with the values of the national Democratic Party than with other parties.

So all other things being equal, it’s reasonable to expect that most voters will pick the Democratic nominee out of a ballot lineup of consisting of a Democrat, a Republican and an independent candidate. What might make all things not as equal is if voters actually know one or more of the candidates – directly or through a candidate’s social/professional network, or through their election campaigns. And Democratic supporters demonstrate they understand this when they characterize the Ward 5 race as a choice between a Democrat, a Republican and “a developer.”

For many voters, this is how they will see the candidates – because I don’t think that most Ann Arbor voters actually keep track of local governance. Nor do they have interest – or, to be fair, the time – to achieve anything more than a superficial understanding of who these people are that we elect to represent us on the city council. For a Democratic Party cheerleader, there’s little incentive to encourage voters to try to get to know each candidate as much as possible. So the burden really rests squarely, and fairly, on candidates to find a way to tell voters who they are.

Some local pundits might suggest tweaks to our local process – for example, non-partisan elections, redefinition of ward boundaries, instant-run-off elections, elimination of the straight-ticket voting option – as changes that might result in a different cast of characters sitting around the city council table. I’m skeptical. I would count some of those changes as positive, but they’re not on my list of priorities to push – because changes like that distract from a simple reality: People will actually vote for you, if they know who you are and trust you, whatever your party affiliation. In fact, that’s the same reality that our current cast of characters demonstrate when they run and win their Democratic primaries.

Sabra Briere, for example, didn’t win her Ward 1 Democratic primary of 2007 because she was a Democrat (they all were – that’s what a primary is) or because she enjoyed the endorsement of The Ann Arbor News – The News endorsed one of her opponents, the incumbent John Roberts. She won because a lot of people already knew who she was, and were familiar with her through her previous public service – and she ran an effective campaign that built on that, to help more people understand who she was.

Not running as a Democrat is a disadvantage. But a bigger disadvantage is a mindset that blames poor performance by non-Democrats at the polls based purely on that Democratic advantage. Tom Bourque did not blame the Democratic advantage back in 2005 when he ran as the Republican candidate for Ward 2 city council. He had this to say, in not whining about his loss to Stephen Rapundalo, an erstwhile Republican who ran as a Democrat:

… presuming that I did reasonably well for a neophyte person running for office, then I think I have to attribute that to knowing a bunch of people and those people who knew me trying to tell other people, whether I was somebody who was smart enough, and honest enough, and willing to work hard enough to be a good councilperson … That’s why people who knew me through dealing with me as a lawyer or people who knew me through other things even if it was just friends or through my kids or anything … a lot of people who were staunch Democrats still voted for me. But they also had to have some kind of personal knowledge or at least try and find out if anybody knew me. I think that that’s why Stephen Rapundalo probably won. Because he knew a whole bunch of people in his neighborhood.

Some candidates are already known by a lot of people, while others have to work harder at it – by running a campaign that helps people understand who they are and what they’re about. I think Clark and Floyd understand this, and it might explain their willingness, even eagerness, to participate in a novel forum format that allowed them to highlight their personal style, sense and values. For Hohnke, he’s apparently betting that there are not enough people already in his opponents’ networks that it could translate into an election threat. He’s also betting that the campaigns of Clark and Floyd have not educated enough voters about who they really are to result in a majority of ballots cast in their favor.

The format for The Chronicle’s candidate forum took as a starting point familiar topics and issues, but also allowed candidates to put their interactive style on display. Because at the end of the day, we’re electing a person to office, not a person’s stance on a set of issues. Issues change in the course of a two-year council term. And given that most residents do not invest the energy to inform themselves in any depth about issues that don’t affect them in a very immediate way, we chose a format that might allow voters to have a clearer idea of who these guys actually are that we’re choosing between.

The risk that candidates take in helping voters reach a clearer understanding of who they are is this:  We voters might, after learning more about who the candidates really are, decide that we don’t like them very much.

Why Lists as Tasks?

The basic task we asked the candidates to complete was the same for every topic area: Make a list. That consistency of task format across different topics has the advantage of efficiency. Because it’s the same kind of task over and over again, there’s no need to invest time and energy explaining some new kind of task with new rules and new roles to learn. And everyone already knows what it means to make a list.

And making lists – either mentally or using MS Excel – accounts for an awful lot of ordinary work that we all do. And that extends to the work of governance. Whether something is on a list or not, and how high it is on the list, is always a fair and frequent question. Take for example this bit of Chronicle reporting from a spring 2010 city council meeting focused on the budget (emphasis added):

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) suggested that the old YMCA lot merited a community discussion. An additional land parcel downtown that Rapundalo thought warranted some focus was the parking lot at Main & William, next to Palios restaurant. He noted that there were just 21 parking spaces at the lot, but it was possibly ripe for investment. He wanted to know if  it was on the list somewhere. [City administrator Roger] Fraser told him it was on a list, but not near the top.

List-making as a task for candidates has the advantage that members of the audience or readers can also mentally engage it. How audience members mentally engage a list-making task is, I think, likely more visceral than trying to imagine what their own response would be to a standard candidate Q & A prompt. For example: What would be on my list? What’s missing from their list? What would I cross off their list?

Defining the tasks as list-making also has the advantage that, in the end, you get something pretty concrete as a result – a list. I imagined that if the tasks were designed with sufficient care, the lists could actually count as a useful piece of public policy work that could serve as a touchstone for future work. When confronted with an actual similar task in real life at some time in the future, I imagined, public officials might recall what the candidates at the Ward 5 forum produced.

I also anticipated that writing about this event would be made easier by the fact that the report could consist basically of the lists the candidates made. The candidates would essentially write the report for me. This, I thought, was pure journalistic genius.

How the Format Failed and Succeeded

As it turns out, Floyd and Clark engaged the tasks in good faith and produced lists as they’d been asked to do, but they were able to find quite a lot of agreement about the content of those lists. That is to say, they did not fight to the death over the inclusion or exclusion of any item on the list, but rather were content mostly to get a bunch of ideas onto the board. So while the lists they produced are interesting and revealing, I don’t anticipate that any one of their lists will be cited in future public policy work that gets done in the city – except perhaps by me, because I will want to remind readers that The Chronicle did go to all that trouble to sponsor that event. And that, of course, is one of the reasons a publication will sponsor such an event in the first place.

Floyd and Clark also, for the most part, pounded out their list items fairly rapidly, and then used them as something like a basis for another conversation, which was not necessarily about what to put on the list or how to rank items on the list. That is, the interesting part of the forum was not the lists, but rather what came after the list-making. The candidates thus completely wrecked my hope of having an easy task of reporting the event. But this is mostly how things turn out for journalists – unless they’re already committed in advance to writing the story they’d like to write, instead of the story that wants to be written.

The story that wanted to be written, then, counts for me as the success of the format. It’s reported here: [link]

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Column: Debate on Watches, Authenticity Thu, 14 Oct 2010 14:15:15 +0000 Dave Askins About 20 years ago, after a stint in graduate school, I found myself faced with the challenge of learning some basic Chinese to prepare for a teaching appointment at the English Language Institute of Xi’an Medical University. So I drew on my previous experience learning a foreign language – German.


Chinese characters produced by Google Translate for "clock" and "watch" – useful for debates on the merits of timepiece size when traveling in the Middle Kingdom.

For eighth grade German class, I had memorized a conversation between two old friends, Hans Köhler and Walter Fischer, who accidentally bumped into each other in Berlin. Here’s how it started: “Ach, du, Walter! Du bist in Berlin?!” “Ja, ich bin zur Messe hier.” “Und deine Frau?” “Sie ist in Hamburg.”

Loosely translated: “Dude! It’s you, Walter!” “Yeah, I’m in town for a convention.” “What about your wife?” “She’s in Hamburg.” Hilarity ensued as the architect Hans Köhler and the businessman Walter Fischer regaled each other with tales of derring-do. The whole thing concluded with Hans showing off his car to Walter: “Dort ist mein Wagen!” [There is my car!]

So I found a book of Chinese dialogues, with the same expectations of success I’d had with German. My favorite one was called: “A Debate on Clocks and Watches.” To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much of it  – there were no compelling characters like Hans and Walter. And the “debate” wasn’t really much of a debate. The controversy, as best I recall, involved opinions about the size of watches – are big watches or small watches better? And the two parties to the debate weren’t really committed to their positions. As best I recall the concluding line was: “Da biao, xiao biao – dou hau!” “Big watches and small watches – they’re both good.”

That’s not a conclusion to an authentic “debate” in any reasonable sense. I bring up these foreign language dialogues from my distant past, because I was reminded of them last Thursday morning at the regular meeting of the Main Street Area Association, which took place at Conor O’Neill’s. The MSAA gave all five city council candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves and take questions from the assembled Main Street merchants.

Attending for Ward 2 were: Tony Derezinski, the Democratic incumbent, and Emily Salvette, who is the Libertarian challenger. Attending for Ward 5 were independent Newcombe Clark, Republican John Floyd and Democratic incumbent Carsten Hohnke.

Now, no one recited a Chinese or German dialogue at the MSAA meeting. But before diving into that connection, it’s worth summarizing what each of the five candidates had to say in the five minutes they were each allotted. Had the candidates been addressing a group of Chinese or German speakers, they may well have tried out a phrase of Chinese or German on the group – along the lines of John Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner.” ["I'm a Berliner." He was in Berlin at the time, 1963, and was expressing solidarity with the citizens of Berlin just after the Berlin Wall was built.] Carsten Hohnke came closest to that when he identified himself as the owner of a downtown business who understood the challenges of running one. But it’s fair to say that all candidates tried their best to speak in language that would appeal to a downtown merchant.

Candidates were sorted first by ward number, so Ward 2 went first.

Ward 2: Derezinski and Salvette

The candidates within each ward were sorted alphabetically. So Derezinski went first.

Tony Derezinski: Three Ps – Provider, Planning, Proactive

Derezinski introduced himself as having come back to politics at the local level two years ago after a 30-year “lapse” –  he was state senator representing District 33 from 1975-78. He said he wanted to make three points – the three Ps.

The first P is that cities, first and last, should always be a “provider” of services – fire, police, all the downtown services to support the downtown that merchants needed. He also noted that there are alternatives to providing services, in the form of the newly created Main Street Business Improvement Zone. He described the challenge of balancing the budget in tough times when most of the costs are human costs. He mentioned that the mayor had asked him to do some legal research on panhandling ordinances – Ann Arbor’s approach is consistent with the doctrine of freedom of speech, he said.

Tony Derezinski

Tony Derezinski addressed the gathering of the Main Street Area Association, without notes, on the three Ps.

The second P is “planning.” Derezinski pointed out that he was the city council’s representative to the planning commission and was an alternate appointment to the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS). He noted that transportation is critical – acknowledging the presence of Jesse Bernstein at the meeting, who is chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. Derezinski said that as we plan, we need to consider the surrounding areas, something that the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) helped to do. He also mentioned the work the city is doing in looking at the zoning code – in particular, possible revisions to the way that R4C zoning (multi-family dwelling) is handled.

The third P is “proactive.” The city needs to engage issues, not just on a reactive basis. The key to that, Derezinski said, was for various groups to collaborate – neighborhood associations, merchant associations, other municipal entities. He cited the current study of the Washtenaw Avenue corridor as a example where four different municipalities are cooperating – Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township, and Ypsilanti. They’re taking a look at how the corridor could be redeveloped.

Derezinski concluded by saying that he wanted to continue to work together, but that they needed more time to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish.

Emily Salvette: Provide What People Want

Derezinski’s remarks could fairly be described as smooth and polished, delivered without notes – polished enough that Emily Salvette began by saying she’d be using notes. [Except for Derezinski, all the candidates used some form of notes.] She characterized herself as an administrator, not a politician. As a Libertarian, she said, she believes in limited government – government doesn’t always have the best answer. She said the way that private companies work is to provide services that people actually want. By way of contrast, government typically asks what it wants people to do and then tries to design ways to get them to comply.

Emily Salvette

Emily Salvette told the downtown merchants that government is not always the answer.

Government, Salvette, said, should be open, fair and honest. Government should provide just basic services – it’s gotten too big and expensive, she said. She rejected the idea of a city income tax, calling it a “bad tax.” [Derezinski, later during the question time, said he supported looking at the idea of a city income tax, having worked in two communities where he did not live, but still had paid the income tax where he worked.] Salvette described a city income tax as punishing people who work in Ann Arbor, but who can’t afford to live here.

Salvette also stated that it’s not good to have one-party rule – for five years all members of the city council have been Democrats. “It’s time to shake it up a little bit,” she said. She concluded by giving some biographical information – she attended Huron High School and had returned to Ann Arbor in 1990 with her husband to raise a family. She has  a BA in economics and an MA in telecommunication arts. She’s now an administrator at the University of Michigan.

Ward 5: Clark, Floyd and Hohnke

Sorted alphabetically, the candidates shook out: Newcombe Clark, John Floyd, Carsten Hohnke.

Newcombe Clark: 50 Meetings, Beat Cops, More Art, No Evening Parking Enforcement

Clark began by saying that he missed sitting at the table – he’s former president of the Main Street Area Association. He said he would try quickly to make his points to leave as much time for questions as possible.

Clark stated that if elected he would serve only one 2-year term – 50 council meetings – so that the city would get two years of work from him, not a few months of work and the rest of the time a campaign for the next election. He stated that he would be donating his salary as a councilmember [currently just under $16,000 a year] to charity. The reason he was donating his salary – to a fund to be set up through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to support art in $2,000 grants – is that he thought it was difficult to conduct labor negotiations when city councilmembers were collecting a “single dime” for something they should be doing on a volunteer basis.

Newcombe Clark

Newcombe Clark tried to make his remarks quickly to leave time for questions.

He then told Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, that she should close her ears. He weighed in against enforcing downtown parking meters until 9 p.m. He said it would be “disastrous,” and would need to be balanced out with other measures to mitigate the negative effect.

He called for better bus service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and more funding for art, not less. He said that Michigan ranks last in the country for arts funding, while neighboring Ohio, with the same economy, ranks third. He allowed there were problems with the city’s public funding of art, but cited the importance of art in economic development. He stressed the importance of development of downtown city surface parking lots as a way to relieve pressure on the surrounding neighborhoods.

On the need for downtown police patrols, he cited an attempted rape near Slauson Middle School, and two recent armed robberies on Main Street. Clark also pointed out that the daughter of Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, had recently discovered a dead body in a planter downtown. [Thomson reported this at a previous public meeting: "DDA-City Development Ideas"] The elimination of downtown police beat patrols, he said, was “an experiment with public safety.”

John Floyd: Authenticity Is Downtown Ann Arbor’s Advantage

Floyd began by saying that in the course of the campaign and various candidate forums, he’d become “pretty bored” talking about himself, so he wanted to talk about the audience – downtown merchants.

He told them that anyone – in the age of the internet and L.L. Bean catalogs – who could still make a go of it selling stuff in a bricks-and-mortar retail setting is a hero. He described downtown Ann Arbor as essentially an outdoor lifestyle mall, that had required nothing short of “artistry” to create – a combination of skills in merchandising and advertising and business acumen that is comparable to the expertise of painters and sculptors.

But Floyd pointed out that indoor lifestyle malls, with their accommodations that mitigate weather and offer unlimited parking – have an advantage over downtown Ann Arbor. “What do you have that they don’t?” he asked. Floyd’s answer: Authenticity.

John Floyd

John Floyd escaped the camera during his prepared remarks, but paused to mug for The Chronicle after the meeting.

Downtown Ann Arbor, Floyd said, is a “real place.” It’s an authentic place because it bears the imprint of a human hand, he said. That imprint, he continued, “that’s your edge.” The imprint of a human hand, he said, could be found in three ways: in the built environment – the old buildings that bear the imprint of the bricklayers and craftsmen who constructed them; in the artistry and personality of the downtown business owners; and the “locals” who frequent downtown establishments. He described how visitors to a city typically enjoy being able to “go where the locals go,” and downtown Ann Arbor still offers places where the locals go.

He then talked about the idea of trying to attract and cater to the 20-something crowd, or recent “dormitory refugees.” We want them, he said, but they are the “hot sauce, the zing, the zest” in the recipe. The “meat and potatoes,” he continued, are the parents and the grandparents – people raising families. A good test of whether we’re succeeding or failing, Floyd said, is whether people who have options want to stay here and raise their families. That’s why retaining the old walking neighborhoods around downtown is crucial, he said – those neighborhoods are the third leg of authenticity: genuine locals.

Carsten Hohnke: Communication, Infrastructure, Quality of Life

Hohnke began by saying that as a downtown business owner, he understands the challenges of running a downtown business. Sometimes the city feels like a partner, he said, but at other times it can feel like a hindrance. He said that a strong downtown is vital. He said when he walked door-to-door, people indicated a strong desire for a lively downtown. He described the downtown as the “center of gravity” of the city – it requires sufficient parking and transportation options.

He organized his subsequent remarks around three themes: communication, infrastructure, and quality of life. He said the downtown needs to be involved in the community conversation in a meaningful way. He said he had worked hard by talking to the downtown merchants and tried to provide solutions. He contended he’d led the effort to allow downtown merchants to use sandwich sign boards downtown. He said he’d helped find a way to continue the operation of loading zones downtown without a permitting system. He’d been against the use restrictions that originally been a part of the A2D2 zoning recommendations. [Use restrictions in certain areas would have required "active use" of street level space.]

Carsten Hohnke

Carsten Hohnke organized his remarks around communication, infrastructure, and quality of life.

Regarding infrastructure, he noted that the underground parking garage currently under construction along Fifth Avenue is replacing parking that has been lost – putting it underground is good land use, he said. Regarding the density of downtown, he said downtown needs diverse housing options. Village Green’s City Apartments project and Zaragon Place II, plus hopefully a return of Kingsley Lane, were signs of progress in the last two years, he said. [The city council recently authorized an extension of the purchase option agreement with Village Green for the First and Washington parcel. A site plan was recently approved for Zaragon Place II, at Thompson and William. And the developer of Kingsley Lane, Peter Allen, has recently talked informally about the possibility of bringing back a newly redesigned Kingsley Lane.]

In concluding, Hohnke said that quality of life is really important in Ann Arbor and he stressed the importance of arts and culture within that.

Downtown Business Questions for Candidates

I think that John Floyd’s notion of “authenticity” of the downtown – introduced during his prepared remarks – can be applied to the actual verbal performances of all the candidates. And here I think it’s fair to draw a parallel between the candidates’ respective 5-minute introductions and the recitation of memorized scripts that was a popular foreign language teaching methodology when I was in eighth grade. So back to Hans, Walter, and the debate on watches.

Even if the Hans and Walter dialogue is acted out perfectly by two students of German, no reasonable person would say to those students: “Wow, you speak excellent German!” We’re more likely to say: “Wow, you turned yourself into a German text-to-speech machine – ausgezeichnet!”

Generally speaking, I think we’re a little more generous with politicians. We give them some credit for political fluency, when they’re simply able to take five minutes and fill it with their talking points – with something that approaches complete sentences and paragraphs. Because that does, after all, count for something.

But prepared remarks are vastly different from an authentic conversation. It’s one thing to recite an academic debate on watches and clocks, but it’s quite another to engage in authentic conversation, especially when there’s actually something at stake. When I was living in China – an experience for which the dialogue about the great watch and clock debate had been excellent preparation – the downstairs neighbor in our apartment block knocked on the door one evening. He was not happy. Water from a flooded sink in our apartment was dripping down into his apartment. He did not seem to be in a mood to discuss the merits of big versus small timepieces.

The key phrase that helped diffuse the situation came when I managed to produce: “Wo buyao mafan ni.” [I don't want to bother you.] He responded first with the Chinese equivalent of, “But you are bothering me!” But dogged repetition on my part, apparently, won the day. Or at least it made him go away. So in the crucible of authentic conversation, my Chinese skills were a little scorched to be sure, but ultimately stood the test. In any case that was an authentic conversation.

What about the conversations between downtown merchants and city council candidates? Did they achieve authenticity?

Questions: Library Lot – What’s on Top?

The questions asked by the merchants certainly bore the hallmarks of authentic conversation – when they didn’t hear a satisfactory answer, there was immediate follow-up. That was illustrated perhaps most dramatically by an interaction that began with a question from Chris DeRuyver of Affinity Wealth, directed at incumbent Ward 5 councilmember Carsten Hohnke: What’s going on top of the underground parking garage that’s under construction on the Library Lot?

Hohnke indicated it was an “open question” as to what will be put on top of the city-owned Library Lot. That’s consistent with the position he took at a Ward 5 primary election candidate forum held at the home of Tamara Real, where he called for restarting the conversation about what goes on top with a clean slate, with no preconceptions. At the Main Street Area Association meeting, Hohnke said that from his perspective it does not make a whole lot of sense to create primarily open space at that location, as some members of the community have talked about. DeRuyver interrupted, saying, “You guys have been hemming and hawing,” and that there was a proposal from “a guy who owns a hotel” [Dennis Dahlmann] to put a park with a skating rink there, as well as other proposals. “Why can’t you guys make a decision?”

It’s worth noting that in the audience that morning, sitting in the same row of chairs against the wall as DeRuyver, was Stephen Rapundalo. He’s the Ward 2 councilmember who is actually chairing the committee charged with reviewing the proposals that were elicited by the RFP issued by the city of Ann Arbor in the fall of 2009. It was not, however, Rapundalo’s place – given the format of the occasion – to chime in by giving a more detailed update on the current status of that process.

In a purely authentic conversational setting, Rapundalo would have been free to have clarified – saying something like: Look, the urgency to review the proposals and select one passed in the early spring, because at that point certain aspects of the construction of the foundations had to be dialed in and finalized. Up to that point if we’d selected one of the six proposals, there may have been an opportunity to tweak the foundations to accommodate a particular design for what goes on top. We’ve now hired a consultant, The Roxbury Group, and we’re in the process of doing due diligence on the final two proposals with the help of the consultant – we should have something to report in a few weeks. And I, for one, will assure you that we are committed to completing the review process in good faith, just as it was begun in good faith, even if that means that ultimately none of the proposals are recommended to the city council for selection.

Hohnke did his best to describe the RFP review process, which led to another interruption from DeRuyver: “We heard this same conversation a year ago!” DeRuyver pointed out that construction was already well under way: “You’re digging a hole!” It only makes sense to know what is going to go on top, he said. Hohnke pointed out that the foundations were being designed to be flexible, to support up to something around a 14-story building, he thought. Responded DeRuyver: That’s a waste of time and money, if you’re going to put a park there.

Questions: Decision-Making Without Unanimity

Attorney Scott Munzel directed a question to Tony Derezinski. He asked him to comment on the idea that in Ann Arbor, we seemed to require “buy in” and consensus to the point of requiring near unanimity in the community before proceeding with some decisions. Whether the topic is land use or budgeting, said Munzel, the decision-making process in the community can sometimes be so long and drawn out that we achieve a certain level of paralysis. How do we get beyond the idea that we need unanimity? wondered Munzel. [The theme of consensus versus near unanimity was one that had also emerged at a recent DDA retreat in late September.]

Derezinski characterized what Munzel was describing as “kicking the can down the road.” Breaking that pattern, he said, requires “political will and the guts to make decisions that make people unhappy.”

Questions: Downtown Police Beats

One of the downtown merchants wanted to know if anyone had any plans to bring back downtown police patrols. Newcombe Clark, for his part, indicated that he’d attempted to bring the idea forward and had identified funding. [Clark, as a DDA board member, has advocated for either earmarking some of the $2 million annual "rent" payment to the city by the DDA to fund downtown police patrols, or using DDA monies previously earmarked to support the WALLY commuter rail project to fund those patrols.]

Tony Derezinski said he’d love to see downtown patrols, but questioned where the money would come from. Carsten Hohnke said he felt the more safety services the city could offer, the better. But he cautioned that it’s only reasonable to recognize that the economy has undergone the biggest contraction in anyone’s memory – the city of Jackson had just cut their police force almost in half, he said. John Floyd pointed out that Ann Arbor had also reduced its police force by almost half – over time, using attrition and early retirement incentives.

Questions: Revenues

All the candidates were asked to respond to a question about how to increase revenues. What would they advocate – a city income tax, an event tax, a toll booth at the entrance to Ann Arbor, increased parking rates?

[It was a revelation to some in the room that the city did not have the option of applying an event tax – for example, to University of Michigan football tickets. Local municipalities are allowed under state statute to levy property taxes and an income tax, but no other kinds of taxes.]

Newcombe Clark noted that he’d suggested several ideas: making the city assessor’s office more efficient; selling city lots to the DDA; not stopping development.

Emily Salvette said she is against a revenue increase – we’ve got plenty of money, she said. Where we should look to save money, she said, is in employee contracts.

John Floyd noted that the acquisition of property by the University of Michigan had a negative impact on the tax base and in light of that, a conversation about payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) needed to start with the university. Floyd also posed the question of why surrounding townships feared the expansion of city boundaries – if the bundle of services city residents get for their taxes is a good bargain, he asked, why don’t township residents want it?

Tony Derezinski suggested collaboration with other municipal units as a way to save costs. He also said he would look at an income tax – stressing that Ann Arbor’s charter requires that if the city implements an income tax, the general operating millage levied by the city would disappear. He noted that 40% of the city’s land is not on the tax rolls – a large portion of that is owned by the University of Michigan. He noted that he’d worked in two communities where he didn’t live, but had paid an income tax – Lansing and Muskegon. He said he felt he’d gotten his money’s worth of services during the time he worked there.

Carsten Hohnke said there are ways to become more efficient on the cost side. The city also needs to look at pension and health benefits, he said. Regarding an income tax, Hohnke said that implementing such a tax is not up to the city council – the council would merely put it on the ballot. Hohnke said he was open to the idea of placing an income tax on the ballot.

Questions: Hey, Wait a Minute – I’m Meat and Potatoes, Too!

Throughout the questioning, there was plenty of authenticity on the side of the questioners. Responses could be fairly described as mostly meeting standard expectations of political candidates trying to make their talking points and establish their positions – authentic political talk, but not an authentic conversation.

John Floyd Tony Lupo

John Floyd (left) and Tony Lupo (right) followed up their public conversation with a private one after the meeting.

One interaction was different from the rest. It played as pure, genuine, authentic conversation. It came as a reaction from Tony Lupo to John Floyd’s description of the authenticity of downtown Ann Arbor as its edge or advantage over other retail settings.

By way of background, Lupo is director of sales and marketing for Salon Vox on West Liberty, between Main and Ashley. And Salon Vox isn’t your average small-town salon – it was featured as one of the “Top 100 Salons” in the country in ELLE magazine’s August 2010 issue. Lupo is on the board of the Main Street Area Association. He first appeared on The Chronicle’s radar when he spoke at a historic district commission meeting with a request to replace the front door of Salon Vox – but that is a different story. [The door is now replaced.]

Lupo told Floyd that he liked what Floyd had to say about the authenticity of downtown – he agreed with much of it, as a member of the marketing committee of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. The part that Lupo liked, repeated here for readability:

Downtown Ann Arbor, Floyd said, is a “real place.” It’s an authentic place because it bears the  imprint of a human hand, he said. That imprint, he continued, “that’s your edge.” The imprint of a human hand, he said, could be found in three ways: in the built environment – the old buildings that bear the imprint of the bricklayers and craftsmen who constructed them; in the artistry and personality of the downtown business owners; and the “locals” who frequent downtown establishments. He described how visitors to a city typically enjoy being able to “go where the locals go,” and downtown Ann Arbor still offers places where the locals go.

But Lupo told Floyd that he didn’t like Floyd’s characterization of people in his age demographic as “hot sauce” – he said that he wanted to contribute and did contribute to the community. He felt sometimes that the political process excludes them – he didn’t like what he’d heard. The part Lupo didn’t care for:

[Floyd] then talked about the idea of trying to attract and cater to the 20-something crowd, or recent “dormitory refugees.” We want them, he said, but they are the “hot sauce, the zing, the zest” in the recipe. The “meat and potatoes,” he continued, are the parents and the grandparents – people raising families. A good test of whether we’re succeeding or failing, Floyd said, is whether people who have options want to stay here and raise their families. That’s why retaining the old walking neighborhoods around downtown is crucial, he said – those neighborhoods are the third leg of authenticity: genuine locals.

Floyd told Lupo he hadn’t meant to offend or exclude. He continued by saying that there’s an “unsettledness” to many people in their 20s – they’re “here for now,” until they find their calling, he said, but they’re not necessarily here for the longer term.

Lupo responded by sharing his own history – he’d gone to school at UM and had gone to New York City, working for Estee Lauder [Bumble and bumble] and had chosen to return to Ann Arbor. He said he wanted to challenge Floyd to think about him and his age group as “people who can make a long-term contribution.”

Lupo and Floyd’s authentic conversation about meat and potatoes and hot sauce meant that an hour of my Thursday morning last week – whether you measure that hour with a small watch or a big watch – was well spent.

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Economy Teeters: We May(or) May Not Be Set Tue, 12 Oct 2010 15:29:19 +0000 HD [Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks appear on The Chronicle.]

The crash of the financial markets in the fall of 2008 was the best thing that ever happened to the Teeter Talk interview series. Why? Because the word on everyone’s lips two years ago was … “teeter,” which gave the awkward and vaguely dirty-sounding word some well-deserved airtime. On Oct. 12, 2008, the BBC reported the remarks of Dominique Strauss-Kahn this way [emphasis added]: “The world financial system is teetering on the ‘brink of systemic meltdown,’ the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned in Washington.”

Steve Bean

Steve Bean, independent candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor.

Closer to home, a week earlier, on Oct. 3, 2008, a dozen distinguished alumni from the University of Michigan Department of Economics had gathered for a panel discussion focused on the financial crisis. Linda Tesar, department chair and professor of economics, stated that “the financial markets are teetering.” [Chronicle coverage: "Economists Gather, Talk About Markets"]

That same financial crisis still persists, and it’s occupying a lot of Steve Bean’s attention. Bean is an independent candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor – the election takes place on Nov. 2. We talked recently on the totter, a few days after the League of Women Voters mayoral candidate forum. During our talk, he spoke about the need for the city to prepare for various worst case financial scenarios on the national financial scene – dramatic inflation or deflation. The coming decade could be worse than the last one, he believes, and that could be exacerbated by diminished worldwide capacity for oil production.

So if there’s a large theme to his campaign, it’s about the challenge of translating national issues to the local level in a way that best prepares our community for whatever unfolds in the next 10 years. Presumably, the way that Ann Arbor prepares for the next decade might look different from the way other communities prepare. Bean and I touched on that idea in the context of some recent environmental commission deliberations. Bean chairs that city commission.

At their Sept. 23, 2010 meeting, the commission discussed a recommendation to the city council to create a task force to educate the community about peak oil. [Peak oil is the idea that worldwide oil production capacity will soon peak, if it has not already peaked, and then begin to taper off.] The resolution got support from only three commissioners – Bean, Kirk Westphal, and Anya Dale – and did not pass. One of the suggestions during commission deliberations was that commissioners could simply read the reports that other communities had produced about what local strategies would be appropriate – instead of asking the city council to appoint an Ann Arbor task force.

Portland, Oregon, is one such community that has produced such a report. But Portland’s population of more than half a million residents – compared to Ann Arbor’s 114,000 or so – makes Portland a substantially different kind of community from Ann Arbor, doesn’t it? Well, buried in the appendix of a new book – “Our Patchwork Nation” written by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel – is a way of looking at Portland and Ann Arbor that makes the Ann Arbor-Portland comparison … still seem a little crazy, but perhaps a little less so.

The Portland-to-Ann-Arbor comparison is one that has appeared in the pages of The Chronicle before – Republican city council candidate for Ward 5, John Floyd, took up the issue during public commentary at the city council’s Jan. 4, 2010 meeting:

Floyd thanked Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) for clarifying at the council’s Nov. 16, 2009 meeting that Hohnke saw Seattle, Portland and Boulder as models for Ann Arbor to emulate. Floyd then asked Hohnke if he thought that Ann Arbor should change to resemble Seattle and Portland by increasing its population to upwards of half a million people.

Floyd and the Democratic incumbent, Carsten Hohnke, are contesting the Ward 5 seat in the general election on Nov. 2, along with independent candidate Newcombe Clark.

So what do Chinni and Gimpel have to say in “Our Patchwork Nation” about Ann Arbor compared to Portland? Nothing specific, actually – even though the second chapter is devoted to Ann Arbor. But they do have something to say about all 3,141 counties in the United States. [That struck me, on reading it in the book, as a surprising number – for two reasons. First it seems small to me. Off the top of my head, I would have guessed 10,000 or so. Second, 3141 is the same way that π begins. How Chinni and Gimpel resisted the temptation to insert jokes about slicing up the country's "pie" – that's more than I can fathom.]

Chinne and Gimpel have analyzed all 3,141 counties in the U.S. as belonging to one of 12 community types: boom towns, campus and careers, emptying nests, evangelical epicenters, immigration nation, industrial metropolis, military bastions, minority central, monied burbs, Mormon outposts, service worker centers, tractor country. It’s worth noting that by “analyzed” I don’t mean that the authors made up these categories and then went through and just introspected about which category each county belongs to. The categories emerged from a very complex and involved statistical technique with prodigious amounts of data called exploratory factor analysis.

For the purposes of the book, each county is assigned to just the one category where it fits best – that’s the category on which it scores highest in the factor analysis. But that means that every county got some score or other for each of the other 11 categories, too. It turns out that Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located, fits best in the category “campus and careers.” And Portland’s Multnomah County fits best in the category “monied burbs.” But after “campus and careers,” Washtenaw County fits second best into the category “monied burbs.” So from the factor analysis point of view, it might make some sense to talk about the similarity of Ann Arbor and Portland in terms of their monied burbi-ness factor.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll buy your copy of “Our Patchwork Nation” at Nicola’s Books – that’s where Chinni will be talking about his book later this month – and you’ll open it up to page 25 and read every word on the next 10 pages to see how Chinni answered the question: How did Ann Arbor get to be awesome enough to be included in this book – a book that Ray Suarez, PBS senior correspondent, describes in the forward as “a handbook for understanding your own country.” [Notable local quotables include: mayor John Hieftje; Jesse Bernstein, who's now Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board chair, and at the time he was interviewed, Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce president; Jane Coaston, editor of The Michigan Review; and Paul Dimond, who worked in the Clinton administration and is now senior counsel with the law firm Miller Canfield.]

I believe that if Suarez thinks of “Patchwork” as a handbook for understanding the country, then he means for us to read more than just the chapter about Ann Arbor. Following the 12 chapters that illustrate the community categories come three chapters that tackle general themes, using the heuristic of the patchwork: the economy, politics, and culture. The chapter on the economy concludes with a passage that, I think, sums up the kind of question that Steve Bean is trying to grapple with as a candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor: “Dramatic economic changes of one kind or another are coming, probably sooner than we expect. The question is, What will they be where you live?”

For more details on Bean’s thoughts on local and national issues, read Steve Bean’s Talk.

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Washtenaw County Board: Districts 8, 9 & 11 Sat, 09 Oct 2010 13:31:02 +0000 Mary Morgan On the 11-member Washtenaw County board of commissioners, four districts represent different areas in the city of Ann Arbor. In the Nov. 2, 2010 election, one of those seats – held by incumbent Democrat Conan Smith of District 10 – is uncontested.

Yousef Rabhi, Joe Baublis, Tim Nagae

Democrat Yousef Rabhi, left, and Republican Joe Baublis, seated, await the start of the Sept. 27, 2010 League of Women Voters forum. CTN producer Tim Nagae, right, hooks up a microphone on the set. (Photos by the writer.)

On Sept. 27, the League of Women Voters held a forum for candidates in the other three Ann Arbor districts – 8, 9 and 11. Four of the six candidates participated: Incumbent Democrat Leah Gunn of District 9; Republican Melinda Day, who’s challenging incumbent Democrat Barbara Bergman in District 8; Democrat Yousef Rabhi and Republican Joe Baublis, who are vying for the District 11 seat vacated by Jeff Irwin. Bergman had a scheduling conflict and didn’t participate. Republican Mark Tipping, who’s running against Gunn in District 9, did not respond to the League’s invitation.

The forum took place at Community Television Network studios and is available online through CTN’s video-on-demand service.

The hour-long event, bookended by the music of John Philip Sousa’s El Capitan, was moderated by Nancy Schewe. Questions covered a broad range of topics related to county government, including how to address upcoming budget shortfalls and the role of county government in providing police services. This report presents candidate remarks in the order that candidates responded.

Opening Statements

Candidates were given one minute to make an opening statement.

Day’s Opening Statement

Noting that she is a University of Michigan Ph.D. student in life sciences, Melinda Day said that “in a perfect world, I wouldn’t be here right now.” There’s an epidemic of unemployment among young people, she said – people her age. They’re accumulating large debts for degrees that are quickly losing their value. There are no jobs available, she said, and their future success has been diminished. This is what has motivated her to move beyond the lab and run for county commissioner. We can’t continue down a road of fiscal irresponsibility, she said. The county is facing revenue shortfalls over the next several years, and the board needs new people to work diligently to balance the budget. She said she’ll work hard to have a county government that’s efficient and that keeps taxes down.

Gunn’s Opening Statement

Leah Gunn began by thanking the League for hosting the forum. She noted that the county has always had a balanced budget– it’s the law. Last year, they closed a $30 million gap by a unanimous vote of the board, she said. It’s difficult to make the decisions they need to make, but she said she’s very proud to be part of that process. It takes working together, both parties, to do what they need to do, Gunn said, adding that she has the experience and core values of the community to make the right decisions.

Baublis’ Opening Statement

Joe Baublis said he was here to encourage viewers to vote for him. He said he has actual experience dealing with federal, state, county and local bureaucracy. He has superior credentials, more education, and more licenses. He said he brings alternatives to the status quo. As an example, he said his priority is to protect the taxpayers – that priority does not even exist on the current board’s list. He said it means that if you’re a homeowner, or rent a home, or own a business in Washtenaw County, you get protection from him. Without him, he said, these taxpayers are not a priority. “I will make your concerns, my concerns.”

Rabhi’s Opening Statement

Yousef Rabhi thanked the League, saying this was an important community forum and that it’s important to inform the voters about the different levels of government. He said he’s running because he believes that human services are the core of what the county provides, and they need to be protected. The county is seeing a decline in revenue because of the state and local economy, and it’s hard to balance the budget while keeping human services a priority. The board has been doing a pretty good job of that, and he intends to continue that strong tradition. He also said he’s running to forge a sustainable future for the county. They need to look for ways to make their carbon footprint lower, and to find ways to make the economy resilient. He said he’s the best candidate because he’s bringing “positivism and energy that can’t be beat.”

Police Services and the Sheriff’s Department

Question: Ypsilanti Township is negotiating for Ypsilanti to provide police services, instead of the Washtenaw sheriff’s department. Is it the role of the county government to provide patrols to the townships? If Ypsilanti can provide patrols at a lower cost, should the county adjust the amount it is charging the townships, in order to keep the contract?

Leah Gunn

Leah Gunn: incumbent Democrat, District 9

Gunn on Police Services

There are two kinds of county services, Gunn noted – mandated and non-mandated. Ypsilanti Township sued the county and the county spent millions of dollars in legal fees over the issues, she said. The Michigan Supreme Court, the appeals court and the circuit court have all ruled that sheriff patrols are a non-mandated service, Gunn said. The county is not obligated to pay for police services in any township. Residents in the city of Ann Arbor are paying twice, she said: For their own police department, and to subsidize township contracts with the sheriff. If Ypsilanti Township can get cheaper services from Ypsilanti, Gunn concluded, “I say, go for it, because it will mean that we do not have to pay that service.”

Rabhi on Police Services

There are multiple takes on what’s going on with police services, Rabhi said. Everyone should have to pay their fair share to have the sheriff’s patrols in their community, he said. Whether everyone is paying their fair share now is open to debate, he said. He’s seen the numbers, and they aren’t as comprehensive as he’d like to see. More research needs to be done. Regarding Ypsilanti Township and Ypsilanti working together, Rabhi said he’s an advocate for governmental efficiency and looking at ways to save money. If it in fact saves money for the township, that’s what they should be doing, he said.

Baublis on Police Services

Baublis said that one of the things he regretted was the fact that Ypsilanti Township felt it was necessary to sue the county. “This is crazy for our governments to be suing each other,” he said. Regardless of the outcome in the state Supreme Court, let’s look at the costs in the townships and the county just for having the lawsuit, he said. Everyone would have been better off settling the lawsuit, and the savings would have probably paid for a considerable amount of the sheriff’s duties now, he said. His advice would have been to settle the lawsuit as soon as possible, and get on with the business of protecting the people.

Day on Police Services

Day said she’s a firm believer in public safety. It’s the right of voters and taxpayers in each locality to decide who is best to provide that service, she said. Further, taxpayers should only be paying the price for what it costs to provide those services, she said, and not pay any kind of inflated amount that the board decides on. So if Ypsilanti can provide the services to Ypsilanti Township at a lower cost, Day said she’s all for that – let them make that decision.

Washtenaw Avenue Corridor

Question: The county is working with seven other governmental agencies to develop a plan for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, to improve its appearance and function. Would you approve a corridor improvement authority, that would oversee development from East Stadium Boulevard to the Ypsilanti water tower? If so, should the authority have the ability to capture future tax increases that result from development of that corridor?

Joe Baublis

Joe Baublis: Republican candidate, District 11

Baublis on Washtenaw Avenue

This would be a public benefit, Baublis said, but the people affected would be the businesses that are trying to operate along that corridor. Those people are suffering because so much disorganized work is occurring. So on the one hand, it would be good to coordinate improvement efforts, he said, but that should be done with significant input from the businesses there. He said he’d want to see input from businesses to supplement whatever the authority comes up with.

Rabhi on Washtenaw Avenue

Rabhi said he’s a firm believer that government should engage people as much as possible in the process of making their communities a better place. If an authority is formed, they should ask residents and businesses for input, he said. It’s also good to think on a broader scale, he added – a corridor seems somewhat limiting, but it’s a good start. They need to look more comprehensively at the systems at work in their urban areas. In addition, if an authority is formed, it should look not only at how to make transportation more efficient, but also more environmentally friendly. Run-off systems need to be in place to prevent pollutants from running into our waterways, he said. We need to encourage sustainable cities, and this is one way to do it.

Day on Washtenaw Avenue

Day said she didn’t believe an authority is needed for this. There’s already plenty of business along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, she said. Yes, some firms are going out of business there – one famous example is the Hollywood video store, she said. But private citizens are more than capable of developing that corridor, she said. If there comes a time when they need to look at traffic flow and transportation there, then they should do it. But right now, considering the budget shortfalls they’re facing, she said this is an example of government inefficiency.

Gunn on Washtenaw Avenue

It’s worth talking about, Gunn said. It doesn’t have anything to do with government inefficiency, she said. She said she agreed with Baublis and Rabhi – getting input from businesses and residents is important. That is something that government can help do, she said. It’s not a huge number of local entities to coordinate. They need to see what the people in that area think, and if there’s no interest, they should back off. But if people there are interested, she said, then government should assist them in making a plan that will benefit everybody.

Consolidation of Services

Question: In an effort to save money, several school districts are consolidating services, such as substitute teacher placement and transportation, through the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Do you see any area where services provided by local governments could be consolidated through the county?

Melinda Day

Melinda Day: Republican candidate, District 8

Day on Consolidation of Services

Yes, Day said, there are areas where they can make things more efficient and consolidate services. If you look at the county itself, she said, there are several departments that are funded separately and that could be pushed together into one single budget. She gave the example of police services, and said the county and city of Ann Arbor could form a combined call center. A supply store used by multiple government entities is another example, she said. There are many areas where local governments could work together, she said, to spread the cost over several governmental entities.

Gunn on Consolidation of Services

Washtenaw County is already doing that, Gunn said. She pointed out that there is a combined dispatch for the sheriff and city of Ann Arbor, located in Ann Arbor. There’s also a combined data center for information technology (IT) services. The county has also taken over the labor negotiations and human resources for the county road commission, she said, because it’s cheaper and more efficient for them to contract with the county for those services. Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti also contract with the county for IT services, she noted. There’s a lot of consolidation going on, she said, and they are working toward more.

Rabhi on Consolidation of Services

Rabhi said that during his primary campaign, he promoted three ways to save money, and the No. 1 way was to work with other units of government. The county can and does play an essential role in uniting those local units of government, he said. Referring to the examples cited in the question with the school districts, he said he’s gotten feedback that if not treated the right way, consolidation can be bad. It can often be used as a union-busting strategy, he noted. “We don’t want to consolidate services and fire a bunch of people,” he said. There are ways to consolidate services without harming people in the community, he concluded.

Baublis on Consolidation of Services

Regretfully, Baublis said, there will be more consolidation in future years. If you look at the country, state and county, we’re running out of money, he said. Some parts of the government have led people to believe that they can rely on the government, he said. Now, the reverse is needed – we need to get people to rely on themselves, their own communities and families. How do we do that, and where do we make cuts? First, remember that the government is spending the people’s money, not its own money, he said. And it’s wasting money. Baublis said that he’s looked at minutes from meetings of the county board and sees that they’ve been selling bonds to pay off debt. Let’s look at saving the people’s money as a prelude to consolidation, he said, and get the people prepared for less government.

Funding for Human Services

Question: The continuing recession is hard on everyone, especially on the unemployed and underemployed. Is the county doing an adequate job of meeting the human needs of its citizens, in the areas of housing, health – both mental and physical – food and transportation? If not, what more should be done?

Gunn on Funding for Human Services

The county is trying its best, Gunn said, but it’s very difficult for county government because these areas are non-mandated services. The county allocates about $1 million annually to human services, she said. They’ve been having meetings for integrated funding of human services, meeting with the city of Ann Arbor, the Urban County, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and United Way of Washtenaw County. They’re looking at consolidating funding for nonprofits, looking at how to make them accountable and to make sure that services are delivered. She said she’s been very committed to this stated that community consolidation will work wonders. However, the county doesn’t have enough resources – “and we never will,” she said. “We have to look out for each other.”

Baublis on Funding for Human Services

Baublis said he recently read a report in the Federal Reserve Review indicating that the government isn’t as efficient at providing services as private industry. Housing could be a private industry, he said – why is the government involved? What has the government done nationwide to the housing industry? he asked. The government caused the housing collapse, he said, because they were promoting political agendas. We should leave housing and other private industries to the private sector, he said. We should focus the government’s efforts on what the government must do. These would be essential services, he said, and housing is not one of them. There are people in Ann Arbor living in tents, he noted, because there’s not enough room at the Delonis Center, the local homeless shelter. “That’s something that private business could fix.”

Rabhi on Funding for Human Services

The beauty of government is that it’s where people come together and take charge of their own destiny, Rabhi said. Funding for human services is an example of that, he said. We can always do more to take care of those in need, and we need to do more. “In no world do private companies take care of homeless people,” he said. That doesn’t fit in to the free market system. That’s when governments step in, he said, to take care of people who need help. We need to provide enough resources to make sure that people aren’t going hungry and they aren’t without houses. We need to make sure the people in this community are well-cared-for, he said. “We can make our community an attractive place for businesses to invest in if we invest in our people.”

Day on Funding for Human Services

Government actually gets in the way of helping people succeed, Day said. The best thing to do for underemployed or unemployed people is to find them a job. That’s what people are completely forgetting about, she said. The question shouldn’t be “What services can we provide while these people are unemployed?” We should ask how to make these people productive members of the community, so that they’ll in turn give back tax revenue through their employment. They need to look at how to bring businesses into the county. What red tape is involved when someone wants to open up shop? What gets in the way? Are there issues with zoning laws or building codes? How can we make it easier for employers to hire people in the county? she asked. That way, they wouldn’t need to worry so much about providing services to the unemployed. “And then charity, and the gracious heart of the American citizen would be more than capable of taking care of those who are less fortunate.”

Increasing County Revenues

Question: County tax revenues continue to fall. Do you see any way to increase revenues?

Yousef Rabhi

Yousef Rabhi: Democratic candidate, District 11

Rabhi on Increasing County Revenues

Step one, Rabhi said, is to look for efficiencies and ways to continue to save money. Consolidation of services is one way to do that. In addition, it’s important to find efficiencies in electrical usage, water usage and fuel usage, he said. That’s not only a sustainability improvement, it’s a financial improvement. There are other ways to save money, he said. For example, instead of putting someone in jail, the sheriff can put them into a community work program. The way to increase taxes would be to put it to a vote, but people aren’t likely to support a tax increase in the current state of the economy, he said. That’s the conundrum – people don’t want to raise taxes, but the county needs tax revenue to provide services that an increasing number of people need.

Baublis on Increasing County Revenues

One of the reasons revenues are down is because businesses are fleeing from our county, Baublis said. Property values are down – he said he knows this because he’s a real estate broker and a licensed appraiser. What can the government do about that? he asked. Nothing – it’s up to the people. How can we get people to invest in a county that’s going broke? he asked. Why would a business want to come here, knowing it will be on the hook to pay taxes for services that are inefficient? We need to scale back government taxes, he said, and get the government on a balanced budget. Then maybe we can entice businesses with employment to come back to the county.

Day on Increasing County Revenues

If you put people to work, they can produce more and contribute by buying a house and paying property taxes, Day said. She said she’d like to reexamine the tax sources for the county. One revenue issue is tied to the fact that there are a lot of tax-related foreclosures, she said. When you buy a house and pay off your mortgage, you should actually own the property, she said – you shouldn’t be paying rent to the county, in the form of taxes. That’s basically what our tax system is, she said. If you don’t pay your taxes, you’re evicted. But in general, the county needs to bring in more businesses, she said, change the zoning laws and the building codes so that it will be easier to open a business in the county and get more people employed.

Gunn on Increasing County Revenues

State law requires the county to levy property taxes, Gunn said – there’s no choice. If they want that changed, they have to go through the state legislature, she noted. “And at this point in time, I would say good luck.” As far as creating work, the county has a workforce development department that’s federally funded, she said. The county also runs the local Michigan Works office, which is the state’s job training program. The problem is there are not enough jobs available. The automakers and auto suppliers operating in this county went belly up, she said. It’s the worst economy they’ve seen since the Great Depression, she said, and the county government is doing the best it can to serve the people.

What County Services to Save or Cut

Question: Which of the county services would you go to the mat to protect, and which ones would you suggest phasing out?

Day on What County Services to Save or Cut

Day said she’s a big supporter of public safety. A bad habit of local government is that budgets get balanced on the backs of public safety officers, she said. They’re the people keeping us safe, and they should be a priority. She’d go to the mat for the sheriff’s department and anyone related to public safety. Regarding things to let go, she said she’d like to examine the nonprofits that the county is funding. There are a lot of nonprofits, like Planned Parenthood, that are controversial, she said. Since she wants to represent everyone, she said, that’s something that could be let go.

Gunn on What County Services to Save or Cut

Gunn said she’d go to the mat for human services, including the county’s prenatal grant to Planned Parenthood. It funds prenatal care for low-income women who can’t get it elsewhere, she said, and resulted in over 1,000 healthy babies. The nonprofits deliver services very efficiently, she said. She said she wanted to emphasize again that police services provided under contract with the sheriff’s department are not mandated, “and we paid a great deal in legal fees to find that out.” They need to find a different way for townships to police themselves, she said, because people in the city shouldn’t have to pay twice.

Baublis on What County Services to Save or Cut

Baublis said he was a little disappointed with the assessors’ offices and equalization department. In his work as a real estate broker and appraiser, he said, he’s finding that across the county they’re over-assessing properties. “I think they’re ripping off people who own property,” he said. We’re not getting justice out of the state law, and the assessors aren’t helping the people. Regarding cuts, Baublis said he’d start with top-level salaries – for example, judges, assessors, and the drain commissioner. Let’s start cutting there, he said, rather than at the lower levels.

Rabhi on What County Services to Save or Cut

Rabhi said he’d go to the mat for a lot of services, especially for mental health care and the county’s health plan. Those are important programs to a lot of people, and there are long waiting lists. When it comes to public safety, he said, it’s the responsibility of public officials to make sure everyone has the safety they need. People need to have police patrols in their neighborhoods, if that’s what they want. He said they should work toward making the entire county run more efficiently, so that they could offer most of the services they offer now. He added that he’d also go to the mat for the drain commissioner [Janis Bobrin], because she’s done a lot of work to make the county run more sustainably, especially regarding water issues.

Transportation Needs

Question: What are the county’s most pressing transportation needs, and how would you address them?

Gunn on Transportation Needs

Gunn began by saying she wanted to correct some things, referring to statements made by other candidates. Judges’ salaries are set by the state, she said. And in the last budget round, every county employee got a pay cut by taking eight furlough days, she said, and non-union workers now pay part of their healthcare costs. We have cut salaries, she said.

Regarding transportation, Gunn noted that the transportation authority is the AATA [Ann Arbor Transportation Authority], which operates the bus system. She’d like to see the Fuller Road Station built, because she thinks the north/south rail and east/west rail projects will happen. We need help getting workers into Ann Arbor – 50,000 people drive into the city every day, she said. She said she’s been working with the AATA in helping design the new Blake Transit Center, and working with the board to decide how they can best provide transit. Most immediately, they need an express bus from Ypsilanti to the University of Michigan medical center, she said.

Rabhi on Transportation Needs

Transportation is an issue of sustainability and social justice, Rabhi said. We need to ensure that everyone has access to all locations in the community. Beyond that, we need to make sure that we’re connected to the communities around us, including Detroit. He said he wants to be able to go to Detroit without driving his car, because he wants to spend money there, and he wants people from Detroit to come and spend their money here. Tourism is important to this community and to the state as a whole, and transportation is part of that. There are too many people driving and too few people taking buses, trains and biking. Transportation is also crucial for employment – people need to be able to get to their jobs, he said.

Day on Transportation Needs

The big thing now is the commuter rail project, Day said, adding that it isn’t sustainable. Even New York City can’t sustain its subway system, she said – the ticket sales don’t support the cost of running it. Locally, we don’t have the population numbers to sustain a rail system between here and Detroit, she said. It would be a money pit. The city of Ann Arbor does have a good bus system, she said – as a student at UM, she enjoys it quite a bit. It’s important to look at ways to expand that service that will still be sustainable, in terms of ticket sales.

Baublis on Transportation Needs

Baublis said he’d like to withdraw his earlier comment about reducing salaries, but he wanted to make it clear that “everybody on the totem pole is invited to the dinner party,” and we shouldn’t make some people more important just because of their elite status. As for state mandates on the county, he said, the county should begin to think of some new alternatives, such as independence. Maybe a few actions of independence might be a good way for the state to get the message that we need to take care of ourselves, “and if the state’s not helping us do that, we may have to take matters into our own hands.” Regarding transportation, Baublis said he loved biking and other means of transportation, but the fact is that the government isn’t an efficient mechanism for providing transportation. Private industry would do a better job, he said, and we should look at that as an option.

Economic Development

Question: What would you do as a county commissioner to bring more businesses to this area?

Baublis on Economic Development

It’s hard for a business to want to invest here, in light of the county’s projected debt, Baublis said. Take Pfizer, he said, as an example. He said he chatted with some Pfizer executives, who told him that the company was going to Ireland because taxes are lower. They save billions and billions of dollars by leaving, he said, and look what happened to our community. We lost jobs, the housing market went down and we lost tax revenue from all the employees. Let’s be more encouraging of the large and small businesses, he said. Having a county debt and a city debt isn’t going to help. Having payroll taxes and income taxes – he noted that the city of Ann Arbor has considered an income tax – won’t help either. Encouraging business means having fewer regulations, lower taxes and a balanced budget, he concluded.

Rabhi on Economic Development

We need to start thinking about our local economy before thinking about the global economy that we’re a part of, he said. We need to think about how to make sure local businesses are succeeding, and the best way to do that is to invest in them – to invest in businesses that invest in us. That’s a top priority for him, Rabhi said. Secondly, businesses are attracted by tax incentives, he said, but they’re also attracted by liveable communities. They know that liveable communities are where happy employees live. Creating liveable communities means investing in amenities like parks and programs that make your community a good place to live, he said.

Day on Economic Development

Noting that she’d already touched on this issue a couple of times, Day said they could look at things the county could do quickly, like looking at zoning regulations, building codes and other red tape – the amount of bureaucracy you have to go through to open a business here. But we also need to look at the overall state economy as well, she said. There’s only so much that Washtenaw County can do to bring business from other parts of Michigan, but that won’t help if we keep driving companies to southern states, like Texas or Florida. We need to put pressure on the state government to change the income tax, the business tax and labor laws. All these things play a role in economic development, she said.

Gunn on Economic Development

Gunn said the county can’t do anything in terms of building codes or zoning, because the county has absolutely no jurisdiction over those particular laws. We can encourage, talk and negotiate, she said, but those are the sole purview of townships and cities. Michigan has “home rule,” she explained, which gives that authority to townships and cities. The county invests in economic development by investing in Ann Arbor SPARK, Gunn said, and the Eastern Leaders Group, as well as the county department of energy and economic development. “We are there – we are helping,” she said.

Challenges and Strengths

Question: What are the primary challenges that the county will face in the next two years, and what strengths would you bring to solve those problems?

Day on Challenges and Strengths

The revenue shortfalls are the biggest challenge, Day said, and they’re expected to last several years. A big part of it is related to union contracts, she said – employees account for a large percentage of the budget. They can’t do anything about downsizing government without first looking at those union contracts. Day said she has the fortitude to stand strong on behalf of the county’s taxpayers when it comes to negotiating with union bosses. She said she’s done it with the graduate employees organization at UM, and she’s more than happy to do it for the county.

Gunn on Challenges and Strengths

Day is absolutely right, Gunn said – the county faces tremendous revenue shortfalls next year and in 2012 and 2013. The county is not getting any revenue sharing from the state, she said, so they need to look at themselves. Union contracts are part of that, and they can ask employees to do more. But there comes a time when they’ll need to say that there are programs they can’t do anymore, she said. Gunn said that she has the experience and core values that reflect the community, so that she can say, “This is the right decision.” It’s really tough, she said, but someone has to do it, and she’s there and willing to do it.

Rabhi on Challenges and Strengths

There are two main challenges, Rabhi said: the budget, and sustainability. People have already mentioned the budget, he noted. Regarding sustainability, he said we need to start thinking about how to become independent of fossil fuels in this community. We need to become self-sufficient, he said. We need to grow our own food, and get around our community without depending on fossil fuel. Turning back to the budget, Rabhi said we need to start making priorities, and thinking about what it is that we need to be doing. We won’t do ourselves any favors by getting rid of our union workers, he said. Those are jobs in our community, he noted, and tax dollars. They are people who are working hard to make our community a better place. That’s not a way to address the budget issue.

Baublis on Challenges and Strengths

The budget is a problem, Baublis said, but perhaps a more significant challenge is the spirit of Ann Arbor. It’s spoiled by divisive rhetoric and inflammatory comments, he said. Day did not say that she wanted to get rid of all the unions, he said. There will always be a place for the unions at the table, he said: “We did not say that the unions will be kicked out.” However, he added, the union and salaried employees must face the same cutbacks that the residents and taxpayers are facing. If it’s fair and equal across the board, he said, we can learn to live together.

Closing Statements

Each candidate had two minutes for final remarks.

Rabhi’s Closing Statement

Rabhi again thanked the League of Women Voters for hosting and CTN viewers for watching. He said he was running for county commissioner to protect human services, to work toward forging a sustainable future for our community, and to think about how we can become more economically resilient. Also, he wanted to look out for the people in our community and address social equity issues. He said he was born in Ypsilanti and grew up in Ann Arbor. “This is my home,” he said.

Rahbi said he always admired the spirit in this community to be resilient, and he believes we can get past this difficult time to a place where we don’t have to worry about the budget, where we can think about things to add to what the county does. We need to be looking at how to become more self-sufficient, how we can reduce our carbon footprint and grow our own food. “When you go to the polls in November, I want you to think about that,” he said. Rabhi encouraged voters to do their research, check out both his website as well as his opponent’s website, and “make a good decision on Nov. 2.”

Baublis’ Closing Statement

Baublis began by thanking Rahbi for his comments, saying they were very generous. He said he’s been a resident of the county for nearly 50 years, and when he heard that the county had a nearly $34 million deficit and additional deficits were projected for the coming years, he became concerned about the future of the county. As he reviewed the minutes from meetings of the board of commissioners, he became even more concerned. In light of the city, state and federal government deficits, he said, and the wholesale flight of business out of our county, business as usual in Washtenaw County isn’t sustainable. “It’s got to change,” he said.

The city, state and county governments are broke and can’t pay for the services they’ve promised to the people, and they can’t pay for the benefits they’ve promised themselves. But each level of government has power, he said, and they will use that power to come after all of us for taxes. “Who is going to protect you?” he asked. “I will.” If voters want a man at one level of government, whose priority is to protect taxpayers, they should vote for him. He noted that he has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and is licensed as an appraiser, a broker and a contractor. He said he’s also been to every corner of every city and township in this county, and he has a long track record of battling government bureaucracy. If you vote for him, Baublis said, “I will make your concerns, my concerns.”

Gunn’s Closing Statement

Gunn thanked the League of Women Voters for holding the forum. She said that one thing hadn’t yet been mentioned, and that was environmental protection. The county’s Natural Areas Preservation Program has a millage that’s up for renewal this year, and she urged viewers to vote yes for Proposal A. The millage has allowed the county to preserve over 1,300 acres of beautiful, natural areas, she said, and it adds tremendously to the quality of life here.

In closing, Gunn said her goal is to continue what she’s been doing – to preserve services, and maintain long-term fiscal stability.

Day’s Closing Statement

Day also thanked the League for holding the forum. She said the election is about two choices: Continue the status quo and elect the same people who have allowed the county to slip into an economic malaise, or choose to change things for the better by voting in new people on the board of commissioners. We have large economic shortfalls due to the business flight from the county, she said. Highly educated young adults are fleeing the county in droves because they can’t find jobs. The current situation cannot continue as is, she said.

“I am not a career politician,” Day said. “I’m a scientist who has become concerned by the clear lack of common sense shown in the running of our government.” The government has promised us a lot of things, she said, and it’s never been more clear that they can’t deliver on all those promises. We need people who understand this simple fact, and who are willing to do the hard work to get us back on a sustainable path, she said. We need to find ways to stretch our tax dollars, and make the government more efficient to better meet our responsibilities. She said she promised to lead by example – if elected, she would take a cut in the reimbursement that county commissioners receive. As a scientist, she said she has the skills to meet the goal of fiscal responsibility. She promised to look at all facets of an issue, delve into underlying causes and work to implement solutions. She urged viewers to vote for her and usher in a new day for Washtenaw County.

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