The Ann Arbor Chronicle » board appointments it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Guenzel Reappointed to DDA Board Tue, 19 Aug 2014 02:56:45 +0000 Chronicle Staff Bob Guenzel has been reappointed to a second four-year term on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. The city council took the action at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting. The council’s confirmation vote, on the mayoral nomination that had been made at the council’s Aug. 7 meeting, was unanimous, with no discussion.

Guenzel was first appointed to the DDA board in 2010 when mayor John Hieftje chose not to reappoint Jennifer Santi Hall. During her tenure on the DDA board, Hall was on occasion sharply critical of the board as a group – for a lack of commitment to open and transparent governance.

During Guenzel’s first four years of service, board decisions on salary increases for DDA executive director Susan Pollay – in FY 2013 and FY 2014 – were apparently made in a way that violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA). The DDA has not produced minutes of any meeting when the board made decisions to increase Pollay’s salary in those years.

Guenzel is likely more familiar with requirements of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act than typical DDA board members are – through his experience as former Washtenaw County administrator. And though retired, Guenzel is also an attorney who maintains his membership in the Michigan Bar Association (P14457).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

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Housing Commission Rezoning Moves Ahead Tue, 08 Jul 2014 02:12:58 +0000 Chronicle Staff Final approval to the rezoning of three Ann Arbor Housing Commission properties, and initial approval for rezoning of a fourth property, has been given by the Ann Arbor city council.

The planning commission had recommended the three rezonings at its May 6, 2014 meeting. Initial city council action came on June 2, 2014. And final action by the council came at its July 7, 2014 meeting.

The current PL (public land) zoning for some of the properties is a vestige of the AAHC properties’ status as city-owned land. The city council approved the transfer of deeds to the AAHC at its June 2, 2013 meeting. The three sites given final rezoning approval on July 7 are part of the housing commission’s major initiative to upgrade the city’s public housing units by seeking private investors through low-income housing tax credits.

Final approval for rezoning was given for the following three sites, two of which are currently zoned as public land:

  • Baker Commons: Rezone public land to D2 (downtown interface). The 0.94-acre lot is located at 106 Packard Street, at the intersection with South Main, in Ward 5. It includes a 64-unit apartment building.
  • Green/Baxter Court Apartments: Rezone public land to R4A (multi-family dwelling district). The 2-acre site is located at 1701-1747 Green Road and contains 23 apartments in four buildings and a community center. It’s in Ward 2.
  • Maple Meadows: Currently zoned R1C (single-family dwelling district), the recommendation is to rezone it as R4B (multi-family dwelling district). The site is 3.4 acres at 800-890 South Maple Road and contains 29 apartments in five buildings and a community center. It’s located in Ward 5.

AAHC director Jennifer Hall has explained that PL zoning doesn’t allow housing to be built on a parcel. As AAHC seeks private funding to rehab its properties, it needs to ensure if a building burns down, for example, it could be rebuilt. In general that’s why the rezoning is being requested. It’s also being requested to align the zoning with the current uses of the property. The highest priority properties to be rezoned are Baker Commons, Green/Baxter and Maple Meadows, because investors have already been found to renovate those sites.

For these three sites, planning commissioners also voted to waive the area plan requirements for the AAHC rezoning petitions, because no new construction is proposed and surveys of the improvements have been provided.

For additional background on the AAHC process of renovating its properties, see Chronicle coverage: “Public Housing Conversion Takes Next Step.”

In a related action on July 7, the council gave initial approval for rezoning an AAHC site on North Maple.

North Maple Estates, Ann Arbor housing commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of North Maple Estates site, outlined in green.

The rezoning is for a 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road – from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district).

The planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its June 17, 2014 meeting after postponing it on June 3, 2014.

The site is on the west side of North Maple, between Dexter Avenue and Hollywood Drive. [.pdf of staff report]

The site plan calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms. The units range in size from one bedroom to five bedrooms. The project would include a playground, community building and 73 parking spaces. According to a staff memo, the buildings would be located along a T-shaped driveway that connects to North Maple Road and Dexter Avenue. The drive extends northward toward Vine Court but does not connect with that street. There would be a new connection to Dexter Avenue through the remaining, undeveloped length of Seybold Drive.

The project will require the city to vacate a portion of the right-of-way for Seybold Drive. The surrounding land is owned by the housing commission, so if the right-of-way vacation is approved, the land would become part of the housing commission property.

The site plan was not in front of the city council on July 7. Only the initial rezoning approval and a resolution of intent to vacate right-of-way for Seybold Drive appeared on the agenda. That resolution of intent set a public hearing for Aug. 18, 2014 – the same council meeting when a vote will be taken on the vacation’s approval. The rezoning will also need a second vote of approval from the council at a future meeting.

Planning staff noted three issues that need to be resolved before the project gets approval from city council:

The parcel containing two duplex buildings also owned by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission in the northeast corner of the site must be combined with the subject site, forming a single parcel as a requirement for issuance of any permits.

The legal description and comparison chart data must be confirmed to include the duplex parcel.

The northern-most parking stall, nearest the connection to Vine Court, must be relocated outside of the minimum front setback area.

According to the staff memo, after the planning commission’s June 3 meeting, the city’s traffic engineer reviewed the proposed new connection from Seybold Drive onto Dexter Avenue, and concluded that sight distances from all approaches are acceptable. He suggested that the pavement markings on Dexter should be refreshed.

The reconstruction of North Maple Estates is also part of the ongoing effort by the housing commission to upgrade the city’s housing stock for low-income residents. At the planning commission’s May 6, 2014 meeting, AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall had made a presentation about the initiative, which includes seeking private investors through low-income housing tax credits.

Also at its July 7 meeting, the council confirmed the appointment of Audrey Wojtkowiak to the board of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, to fill the vacancy left by Christopher Geer. Wojtkowiak’s nomination was made at the council’s June 16 meeting. She’s controller for the Consolidation Center at Detroit Diesel.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

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County Debates Expanded Road Commission Mon, 12 May 2014 13:56:18 +0000 Mary Morgan Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (May 8, 2014): Washtenaw County commissioners tackled the topic of possibly expanding the road commission board, but reached no consensus at their most recent working session.

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9) advocated for expanding the road commission board from three members to five. (Photos by the writer.)

The road commission board is a three-member entity, and is run independently from county operations. The county board, an elected body that appoints the road commissioners, is enabled under state law to expand the road commission board to five members. The possibility of expansion has been discussed periodically for years, but was always met with resistance – most notably from some of the road commissioners themselves.

Although there have been tensions in the past, several county commissioners commented on the current positive relationship between the county and the road commission, and noted that two of the three road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – are new. The third road commissioner, Doug Fuller, has served in that role since 2008, and is the current chair. [Barb and Doug Fuller are not related.]

Commissioners who argued against expansion at this time cited the need for the relatively new road commission board to gain more experience before any changes are made.

Arguing in favor of expansion, Conan Smith (D-District 9) scoffed at the idea that the road commission was “some magical institution that needs special treatment.” The only result of leaving the road commission board at three members instead of five is that it will consolidate political power among the three current road commissioners, he said. “Those people who are there longer get to build stronger relationships, get deeper knowledge, and they have that ability then to leverage that knowledge and political authority to their own ends.” Adding two more road commissioners will bring more diversity to the governance of that organization, he argued, saying it’s something that should have been done years ago.

Smith said it’s crucial to bring more voices to bear on one of the most contentious, critical issues that the county will face in a long time – the management of the local transportation network. Over the past decade, he said, the people who’ve served as road commissioners haven’t “had the wherewithal to tackle this issue in a way that presents a comprehensive solution.” Given the changing nature of transportation, the economy and economic development, the most important thing that’s needed is a greater diversity of voices at the table, Smith concluded.

Smith, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) indicated that they support expansion. Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) were inclined to keep a three-member road commission board at this time, while two other commissioners – Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) – seemed on the fence, or leaning toward picking up the issue at a later date. Commissioners Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) did not attend the May 8 working session.

The meeting was attended by one of the three current road commissioners, Barb Fuller. She did not formally address the board.

The issue of possible expansion comes in the broader context of discussions about whether to change the structure of the road commission – by absorbing the commission into county operations. At their Oct. 2, 2013 meeting, county commissioners created a seven-member subcommittee to “explore partnerships and organizational interactions with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.” The subcommittee made recommendations to the board earlier this year that called for leaving the road commission as an independent entity. The subcommittee did not make a recommendation about expanding the road commission from three to five members, calling it a political decision that the county commissioners should make.

The board accepted the subcommittee’s recommendations at their May 7, 2014 meeting, but have not yet made a decision about expansion.

Following the working session discussion, it’s still unclear what action, if any, will be taken regarding the possible expansion of the road commission board. Any of the county commissioners have the option of bringing forward a resolution on the issue.

Road Commission: Background

The issue of expanding the road commission board has been discussed for years, pre-dating The Chronicle’s coverage of the county board, which started in September 2008.

At that time, Democrat Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor – who now serves as state representative for District 53 – was chair of the county board. At an Oct. 8, 2008 caucus, county commissioners discussed the pending appointment of Doug Fuller to the road commission board, and touched on issues that are still being discussed today. From Chronicle coverage:

[Jessica] Ping first pressed for details about why Irwin had met with only five of the 15 applicants. The process followed here, said Ping, is not specified in the rules and regulations. Irwin explained that those conversations were in addition to the process – that’s how you make appointments, you talk to people, it doesn’t need to be enshrined in the rules in order to undertake that kind of outreach. [Conan] Smith expressed his view that it should be enshrined.

Ping said to protect the board of commissioners, that process should be specified in the rules and regulations, possibly through an amendment. [Mark] Ouimet said that the process should be laid out explicitly (steps one, two and three, and then the chair of the board of commissioners makes a recommendation) especially now as the possibility is explored of expanding the road commission from a 3-member body to a 5-member body. Irwin said that this kind of specification of the process within the rules and regulations could be undertaken at the beginning of the year when the new board of commissioners is in place or it could be undertaken sooner if there was a consensus to do that. Irwin said that it made most sense to consider an explicit process for road commission and the parks commission, as it was these two bodies that are responsible for oversight over expenditure of significant amounts of taxpayer money.

Ping underscored her concern that the board be protected by a rigorously spelled-out process, saying, “We all get blamed for the road commission.” Ouimet weighed in for the revision to rules and regulations by the new board next year versus some of the current commissioners who may or may not be here then. [Leah] Gunn stressed that the current rules don’t preclude anyone from talking to any of the applicants and that other commissioners had been free to undertake such conversations as well. Irwin said he was trying to make the process as robust as possible and as visible as possible, stating that pursuing interviews with five applicants “doesn’t impeach the process we engaged for this.”

[Karen] Lovejoy Roe said that in her estimation, another engineer (like Fuller) is not what we need on the road commission. She said she’d heard he was the candidate of choice for the controlling faction of the board before any applications came in, but said, “That’s okay, that’s the reality. Whatever process the chair wants to use is fine.” Lovejoy Roe expressed the view that every applicant would be interviewed unless it didn’t matter what was said in those interviews.

Responding to Lovejoy Roe’s concerns about lack of diversity in professional background, Irwin offered that diversity on the road commission is of interest with respect to not just experience, but also with respect to gender, geography and ideology. Irwin continued by pointing out that the term for Fred Veigel [who at that time served on the road commission along with David Rutledge] expires at the end of 2008, and that it is no secret that there have been discussions of expanding the commission from a 3-member to a 5-member body, thus there were additional opportunities in the near term to achieve additional diversity. [Ken] Schwartz said that the board needed to nail down the process for the appointments.

The appointment process mentioned at that caucus was not implemented.

Four years ago – at the board’s April 21, 2010 meeting – Conan Smith brought forward a resolution to set a public hearing on possible expansion of the road commission board. His resolution was tabled until the May 19, 2010 meeting, when the board set a public hearing for possible expansion, after vigorous debate. The hearing was held on July 7, 2010. After another lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the board majority voted to end the process, over dissent from Irwin and Smith.

In 2011, county commissioners debated the possibility of levying a tax for road repairs, but did not pursue that option. Discussions about the tax proposal at that time were not tied to possible expansion of the road commission board. [See Chronicle coverage from 2011: "County Road Proposal Gets More Scrutiny" and "County Board Looks to the Future."]

The following year, in 2012, Conan Smith was serving as board chair. Late in the year, he had considered holding off on a reappointment of Doug Fuller to the road commission, saying he wanted to give the new county board – who would take office in January 2013 – some flexibility in discussing the future of the road commission, including a possible consolidation with county operations. However, in an email to the board on the morning of Dec. 5, 2012, Smith stated: “Although I am hopeful that the board next year will discuss the structure of our road commission, I’m convinced by leveler heads to make our appointment decisions based on current reality rather than the potential of that change.” Fuller was subsequently reappointed by the board for a six-year term ending on Dec. 31, 2018.

The discussion Smith hoped for eventually occurred. At their Oct. 2, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners created a seven-member subcommittee to “explore partnerships and organizational interactions with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.” Chaired by commissioner Alicia Ping (R-District 3), the subcommittee met in late 2013 and early 2014, and made recommendations to the board that called for leaving the road commission as an independent entity. The subcommittee did not make a recommendation about expanding the road commission from three to five members, calling it a political decision that the county commissioners should make.

The board accepted the subcommittee’s recommendations at their May 7, 2014 meeting, but have not yet made a decision about expansion.

For additional background on this 2013-2014 process, see Chronicle coverage: “County Board Sets Hearing on Road Tax,” “County Considers Road Funding Options,” “No Major Change Likely for Road Commission” and “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.”

Board Discussion

Dan Smith (R-District 2) began the discussion at the May 8 working session by saying he wouldn’t want to disregard the potential for Open Meetings Act violations. However, he added, “at the end of the day, it’s a merely technical reason” for expansion. That reason alone wouldn’t be enough for him to support expanding the road commission board. He’d be more in favor of expansion if there was a way to “cast into stone” various things like making appointments based on regions of the county, or other ways of making sure there would be guaranteed broad representation. Given that there isn’t any way to do that, Smith said, he was leaning against expansion, though he was interested in what other commissioners thought.

Dan Smith, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Commissioners Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1).

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) noted that this discussion had been prompted by past dialogues at the board table. The board has made some good appointments to the road commission, he said, and based on that track record, Rabhi thought they’d be able to appoint two new road commissioners who would be great representatives of county residents.

While the county board has created a partnership with the road commission that’s better than it’s been in a long time, “it shouldn’t be about the people who are there now,” Rabhi said. “It should be about do we have a system that works for the future, to mitigate the conflict that has existed in the past.”

One issue is that in the past, the road commission appointments have been one of the most political appointments that the county board makes, Rabhi said. While he thought that the recent appointments had stayed away from that, he didn’t know if that would remain the case in the future.

[By way of example, the county board appointed Wes Prater to the road commission board after Prater lost the election for his county commissioner seat in 2006. He subsequently resigned from the road commission during his 2008 campaign for the county board – an election he won. Similarly, Ken Schwartz was appointed to the road commission board in December 2010, after he lost a November 2010 county board re-election bid in District 2 to Republican Dan Smith. Schwartz resigned from the road commission in 2013 when the Superior Township board appointed him as supervisor, after Bill McFarlane retired. The county board appointed McFarlane to the road commission board earlier this year.]

Rabhi wanted to explore how to make the appointment process more thoughtful, deliberate and planful. How do county commissioners ensure that the appointments are representative of different parts of the community – not just geographically, but also in terms of diversity, experience, background and other aspects? These considerations need to be built into the road commissioner appointment process, he said.

Rabhi noted that for many other boards and commissions that the county board appoints, the positions have designated characteristics that the appointment must satisfy. It builds that diversity of representation into the process, he said. Such an approach would help to distance the county board from the incredible pressure and politics that comes from the road commissioner appointments, Rabhi said. The process shouldn’t be about “who has the most connections,” he said.

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) also said she’d like to see an expanded road commission board, in order to have a broader representation among road commissioners.

Alicia Ping, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

Alicia Ping (R-District 3), who chaired the board’s road commission subcommittee, asked about the possible timing of an expansion. She noted that there are two relatively new road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – and she thought it would be good for them to get some experience before any changes are made. The composition of the county board won’t change until the end of this year, she said, so there’s still time to wait and do something later in 2014, if that’s what the board decides. [She was referring to the fact that terms for current county commissioners run through Dec. 31, 2014. All commissioners serve two-year terms, with seats on the ballot in the August primaries and November general election this year.]

Unlike other issues related to the structure of the road commission, an expansion of the road commission board could take place whenever the county board wants, Ping noted. So at this point, she’s in favor of leaving the road commission board at three members, then addressing expansion later in the year.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) observed that at the last working session – on April 17, 2014 – he’d said he was in favor of expansion, for reasons of increasing diversity. Since then, he’s talked with two of the road commissioners – Doug Fuller and Barb Fuller. [They are not related.] His takeaway from those conversations is that there’s a dynamic that exists on a three-person board, “and we don’t know if the changes that we make to that dynamic are going to be, on the whole, net positives to the county and the people we serve.” LaBarre said he’s genuinely conflicted, and he’s now inclined to support delaying any expansion, though he’d like to revisit it in the future.

LaBarre said that Ping’s point was a critical one. Since October of 2013, two of the three commissioners – two-thirds of the road commission board – have been switched out, he said. The county board is asking those road commissioners to do their job while the board is having substantive discussions about the road commission and road funding. There’s also uncertainty about what the state will do regarding road funding, LaBarre said.

So LaBarre favored waiting, in part not to upset the dynamics of the current road commission and staff – a staff that’s been operating on roughly the same pay scale since 2007, he noted.

Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) chairs the county board’s working sessions.

Dan Smith agreed with Rabhi about the statement that recent appointments to the road commission had been much more deliberative – and Rabhi is to be congratulated for that, Smith said. He noted that in addition to the two recent appointments, later this year the county board will be making another appointment to the road commission.

By way of background, former Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane was appointed at the county board’s March 19, 2014 meeting to fill the seat left vacant by the death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. That term ends Dec. 31, 2014, so the county board will be making an appointment – or reappointment – later this year. Barb Fuller was appointed to the road commission on Oct. 16, 2013 to fill a seat vacated by Ken Schwartz when he took over as supervisor for Superior Township on Oct. 1. The position is for the remainder of a six-year term, through Dec. 31, 2016. And the third road commissioner, Doug Fuller, is serving a term that ends on Dec. 31, 2018.

So within a span of 15 months, three appointments will have been made. D. Smith called that “rather unprecedented.”

D. Smith also noted that unlike the issue of the county absorbing the duties and responsibilities of the road commission, there is no deadline regarding expansion. Under current law, the county board could decide to expand the road commission board from three to five members at any time. “So we can take this up at some point in the future,” he said. Smith agreed with Ping about letting the fairly new road commissioners settle in. He noted that unlike in the past, the current working relationship with the road commission is good. With expansion, he said he was “quite fearful of the pressure that might be exerted to make appointments,” especially if there’s turnover on the county board. He thought there would be more opportunities to exert that political pressure with a larger road commission board.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) weighed in, saying that the road commission “isn’t really some magical institution that needs special treatment.” It’s a political body, that serves a governmental purpose, he said, “and really nothing more than that.” The concern over whether new, diverse voices on the road commission board “is somehow going to be tragically disruptive” doesn’t bear out in any context, he said. In fact, if it were true that two-thirds of a board changing in six years were so disruptive, then that meant that he, Ronnie Peterson and Rolland Sizemore Jr. should be running the county board, Smith joked. [Those three commissioners have the longest tenure on the county board.]

“We’ve seen that kind of turnover,” C. Smith continued. “We know that it doesn’t end the world.” The reason that it’s not disruptive is that the county government and road commission have professional staff, who make sure there’s continuity and stability “despite the ramifications of the political process,” Smith said. If the road commission board were expanded, he added, “I don’t think you’re going to see some sort of crisis of politics emerge.”

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9).

C. Smith praised Rabhi’s process of vetting road commission appointments, calling it incredibly deliberate. He expected any process for future appointments under Rabhi’s leadership would be the same. “I’m sure we would get excellent people who would not be a disruptive force on the road commission in an expanded function.”

In fact, C. Smith argued, the only purpose that’s truly served by constraining the road commission to three people instead of five “is to consolidate political power amongst the three people who are already there.” A delay in expansion serves the same purpose, he said. “Those people who are there longer get to build stronger relationships, get deeper knowledge, and they have that ability then to leverage that knowledge and political authority to their own ends.”

Putting new people on the road commission board and adding diversity is a good thing, he said. It’s important to bring more voices to bear on one of the most contentious, critical issues that the county will face in a long time – the management of the local transportation network. It’s something that should be done quickly, he said – it should have been done 10 years ago. “We knew this was coming, this crisis in funding, this challenge of management. And we’ve really taken no steps toward that.”

C. Smith said he was excited about the new road commissioners, but over the past decade, the people who’ve served haven’t “had the wherewithal to tackle this issue in a way that presents a comprehensive solution,” he said. Given the changing nature of transportation, the economy and economic development, the most important thing that’s needed is a greater diversity of voices at the table, he concluded.

Kent Martinez-Kratz, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1).

Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) responded, saying he’d been inclined to support expansion of the road commission board. But what makes him hesitant now is hearing commissioners talk about the need for a new, diverse board. Two-thirds of the road commission board already is new, he noted, and county commissioners have recently had the opportunity to appoint a new, diverse board. Road commissioners are geographically diverse and gender diverse, he said. So it makes him uncomfortable that some county commissioners already want another new, diverse board. Conan Smith’s comments have made him skeptical, Martinez-Kratz said. “I almost think it’s, like, politically motivated – the notion of this expansion.”

Dan Smith said he wanted to play devil’s advocate. If the county board wants to expand the road commission from three to five members, then why not from five to seven members – or even nine? A nine-member board would be possible if the county board absorbed the duties and responsibilities of the road commission – a decision that the county commissioners are not pursuing. D. Smith noted that if they did pursue that option, then the county board could conceivable appoint a road commission board that would have nine members – one representing each district of the county. He said he wasn’t suggesting this as an alternative, but it would be possible to do.

Taking it one step further, D. Smith said, he noted that the road commission works very closely with the townships. He pointed out that the road commission was initially created when the county had a board of supervisors, with representatives from each municipality. So that would be another model for a road commission board, appointing 29 members – one for each township, two from each city, and 1 for Milan. [Only part of the city of Milan is within Washtenaw County.] At first glance, that seems totally unworkable, he said, but the Oakland County board of commissioners has 21 members “and they manage to conduct business.”

D. Smith said he wasn’t advocating for a 29-member road commission board, but what’s the right number?

Yousef Rabhi, Verna McDaniel Washtenaw County road commission, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and county administrator Verna McDaniel.

Conan Smith replied, saying that he appreciated D. Smith’s point. But C. Smith noted that the county board had just voted the previous night to accept a recommendation that the road commission not be absorbed into the county operations. “So all other options are off the table at this point,” he said. “You all made it very clear that the only thing you are conceivably interested in, with regards to road commission reform, is possibly expanding” from three to five members. [C. Smith had voted against accepting the recommendation.]

C. Smith said he also wanted to respond to allegations made by Martinez-Kratz about the politicization of the road commission. He noted that every current road commissioner has been appointed by a county board chair from an Ann Arbor district. “If this were a politicized process, certainly we could have done things that worked out differently in that regard.” He pointed out that he had been one of those chairs. [Jeff Irwin, a former Ann Arbor commissioner who's now the state representative for District 53, was chair when Doug Fuller was first appointed to the road commission in 2008, to fill the remainder of Wes Prater's term through 2012. C. Smith was chair when Doug Fuller was re-appointed in 2012 for a full six-year term. Another Ann Arbor commissioner, Yousef Rabhi, is the current board chair and nominated the other two sitting road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane.]

“It’s not a political process,” C. Smith contended. He said it’s also not something new. “I’ve sat at this table for a decade and advocated for the exact same thing, every year.” It’s a matter of trying to get better, broader representation, he concluded, “given the systemic changes that we have to face in our transportation network.”

Rabhi also responded to Martinez-Kratz. Rabhi said he wanted to de-politicize the process, but he wasn’t sure that he’d made himself clear about that. In the past, it’s been a political process, he said, and now he’s trying to make the process more rational and deliberate. He noted that it’s true there will be another appointment made to the road commission at the end of this year, but he expects it will be a reappointment of the same person [Bill McFarlane].

However, if there are more positions on the road commission board, that would allow for more diversity, Rabhi said. He noted that diversity might mean more conservative voices. “I’m a liberal Democrat, but I think diversity of opinion is important.” Or maybe there could be more representation from the county’s north side, he said, which isn’t directly represented right now.

Barb Fuller, Washtenaw County road commission, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Road commissioner Barb Fuller.

Rabhi said the argument that a bigger board would be more burdensome to staff “just doesn’t pan out, in my opinion.” He also argued that the Open Meetings Act issue is an important one. He reported that before that night’s working session, he and Conan Smith had met and had a conversation about “the issues of the day.” They were able to do that because it’s not a violation of the OMA for two commissioners to meet, given the size of the nine-member county board. “The road commissioners are not legally allowed to do that,” Rabhi added. Road commissioners can’t deliberate toward a decision if there’s a quorum of commissioners present, unless the meeting is posted and open to the public, he noted. With a three-member road commission board, two members constitute a quorum.

Rabhi stressed that the issue isn’t a problem with the current road commissioners. Rather, it’s about setting up a better approach for the future. For the most recent appointment, 10 people applied, Rabhi noted. People are out there who want to serve and who are qualified and can bring a lot to the table. “Just as someone can say, ‘Why do it?’” Rabhi said, “I would say ‘Why not?’” Change is difficult, he added, but necessary.

LaBarre noted that some commissioners have argued it’s not a political process, but he disagreed. “I think it is, and that’s just fine. Politics, to me, is the tool by which we do things without having to fight each other, and it’s ok.”

LaBarre said he didn’t doubt that current road commissioners and staff had the capacity to change. But he thought they needed some time to adapt to the changes that have already occurred. What’s more, expansion of the road commission board isn’t the paramount issue they need to address right now, he said.

Dan Smith agreed that it’s not the most pressing issue. He suggested that when it’s time to make an appointment later this year, it would be possible for someone to bring forward a proposal for expanding the road commission board from three to five members. That decision might be influenced by things that happen in the next six months, he said, including what the county board does regarding road funding.

LaBarre noted that by his count, it sounded like the board was split on this issue 4-4. Ronnie Peterson had previously indicated support for expansion, LaBarre said, but he didn’t know how Rolland Sizemore Jr. was leaning. [Peterson and Sizemore were absent from the working session.]

At this point it’s unclear what action, if any, will be taken regarding the possible expansion of the road commission board. Any of the commissioners have the option of bringing forward a resolution on the issue at any time.

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County Board Makes Appointments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 01:08:08 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved several appointments to various county board and committees. Nominations were brought forward by board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8). Several openings remain and will be reposted on the county’s website.

The appointments made on Feb. 19 are:

  • Community Action Board, for terms ending Dec. 31, 2016: Ivory Gaines (consumer); James Horton (consumer); Elizabeth Janovic (private sector); Jason Morgan (public sector).
  • Local Emergency Planning Committee, for terms ending Dec. 31, 2016: Daniel Barbossa (broadcast media); Samantha Brandfon (hospital); Linda Dintenfass (first aid).
  • Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO), for terms ending March 31, 2017: Mark Creekmore and Linda King (county representatives).
  • Washtenaw County/City of Ann Arbor Community Corrections Advisory Board, for a term ending Dec. 31, 2016: Judy Foy (communications/media).

The appointment of Todd Clark to the Act 88 advisory committee, for a term ending Dec. 31, 2014, was postponed until the board’s March 19 meeting. The decision was made after discussion prompted by Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), who was concerned that the committee’s authority would be too far-reaching. An amendment to the committee’s charge was added during the Feb. 19 meeting, using language from an Act 88 policy adopted by the board at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting.

Several openings remain, and will be reposted on the county’s website. Those include:

  • Act 88 Advisory Committee: One position for a resident with experience in agriculture and/or tourism.
  • Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Council: One position for an environmental/conservation group/natural resource professional.
  • Community Action Board: One position for a consumer slot.
  • Local Emergency Planning Committee: Several openings for people representing health and law enforcement (2), owner/operator of a Title III facility (2), firefighter (1), elected state official (1), first aid (1), civil defense for the city of Ann Arbor (1), transportation (1), print media (1), agricultural (1), and agricultural/Farm Bureau (1).
  • Workforce Development Board: Two openings for people in the private sector.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Countywide Energy Program in the Works Tue, 14 Jan 2014 15:15:22 +0000 Mary Morgan Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 8, 2014): In addition to the organizational actions that typically occur during the county board’s first meeting of the year, commissioners also approved a notice of intent to form a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi was re-elected as chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at the board’s Jan. 8, 2014 meeting. The following day, he publicly announced his intent not to run for mayor of Ann Arbor this year. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s the next step of several that are required before such a program can be created. The goal of PACE is to help owners of commercial (not residential) properties pay for energy improvements by securing financing from commercial lenders and repaying the loan through voluntary special assessments.

The county’s proposal entails joining the Lean & Green Michigan coalition and contracting with Levin Energy Partners to manage the PACE program.

A public hearing on this issue is set for the board’s meeting on Jan. 22. The board would also need to take another vote to actually create the PACE district. A date for that action has not been set.

Officer elections were also held on Jan. 8. As expected, the board officers who were first elected in January 2013 were re-elected. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) will continue to serve as board chair. Also re-elected were Alicia Ping (R-District 3) as vice chair, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) as chair of the working sessions. There were no competing nominations and all votes were unanimous, although Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was out of the room when the votes for Brabec and LaBarre were taken.

Regarding revisions to the board’s rules and regulations, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger made four recommended changes, including three that related to voting requirements. The fourth change inserted language to clarify that binding action may not be taken at a board working session.

The Jan. 8 meeting also included a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow the county to issue municipal civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog. The board had held a previous hearing at its meeting on Oct. 16, 2013, but it occurred after midnight and no one spoke. Some commissioners felt that a second hearing should be scheduled because the initial one was held so late in the evening. One person spoke on Jan. 8, urging the board to create a progressive scale of fees and to provide waivers for low-income families and individuals.

In other feedback from the public, Jim Casha spoke during public commentary to raise concerns over the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). “It just seems to me that it’s just going to be another waste of time and taxpayers’ money, and just another level of bureaucracy,” he told commissioners. Board chair Yousef Rabhi will be appointing a new Washtenaw County representative to the RTA soon to replace Richard Murphy, who did not seek reappointment. The county’s other board member on the RTA is University of Michigan professor Liz Gerber, whose term runs through 2015.

The extended deadline for applying was Jan. 12, and Casha was one of only two applicants for the RTA opening. As a Canadian resident, he is ineligible to be appointed for the seat to represent Washtenaw County. The other applicant is Alma Wheeler Smith, a former state legislator and the mother of county commissioner Conan Smith (D-District 9).

Officer Elections

The first meeting of each year for the county board is initially chaired by the county clerk, until the board elects its officers for the year. As he has for the past several years, on Jan. 8 the meeting was brought to order by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum. After leading the initial portion of the meeting, Kestenbaum called for nominations for board chair.

Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) nominated Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) for re-election as chair. He began by joking that 2013 was “a miserable year. I mean, it had the number 13 in it, and we knew it was going to be bad from the very beginning. And the only way that we were going to get through a year with 13 in it was to have an outstanding, creative chair who brought his own luck with him.”

There were no other nominations.

Outcome: Yousef Rabhi was unanimously re-elected chair on a roll call vote.

After the vote, Smith jokingly complained that the minutes didn’t reflect his rhetoric: “The minutes for this are miserable. ‘C. Smith nominated commissioner Rabhi.’ That’s all it says!”

Kestenbaum then handed over the meeting to Rabhi. As his first act, Rabhi nominated Alicia Ping (R-District 3) for re-election as vice chair.

C. Smith moved a unanimous ballot – a parliamentary procedure to elect the nominee without a roll call vote when there are no competing nominations and no one is expected to vote against the nomination.

Outcome on unanimous ballot: The vote failed 8-1, over dissent from Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5).

Outcome on roll call vote: Ping was unanimously re-elected vice chair.

Later in the meeting, elections were held for the officers of the board’s standing committees: the ways & means committee, and working sessions.

Ping nominated Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) for re-election as chair of the ways & means committee, on which all commissioners serve. The meetings of this committee are held immediately prior to the regular board meetings, and initial votes are taken at the ways & means meetings.

There were no other nominations. C. Smith again moved a unanimous ballot.

Outcome on unanimous ballot to re-elect Brabec: It was approved on a voice vote. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was not in the room at the time.

Brabec nominated Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) for re-election as chair of the board’s working sessions. There were no other nominations. C. Smith moved a unanimous ballot.

Outcome on unanimous ballot to re-elect LaBarre: It was approved on a voice vote. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was not in the room at the time.

Officer Elections: Compensation

Based on compensation that was approved by the board’s Dec. 2, 2012 meeting, the three chairs – Rabhi, Brabec and LaBarre – will each make a base salary of $18,750. That’s $3,000 more than other commissioners. None of the positions are considered to be full-time jobs.

Curt Hedger, Alicia Ping, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Curt Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, talks with commissioner Alicia Ping (R-District 3) prior to the start of the Jan. 8, 2014 board meeting. Ping was re-elected vice chair of the board.

Commissioners also receive stipend payments based on the number of meetings that a commissioner is likely to attend for a particular appointment to the other various boards, committees and commissions. One or two meetings per year would pay $50, three or four meetings would pay $100, and the amounts increase based on the number of meetings. Each commissioner typically has several appointments. Commissioners who are appointed as alternates receive the same stipend as the regular appointments. Some appointments were not designated to be paid because no meetings were expected to be scheduled.

Commissioners can waive their stipends by giving written notice to the county clerk. Otherwise, the stipend payments are made automatically.

In 2013, only Dan Smith (R-District 2) waived all of his stipends, according to the county clerk’s office, which administers the stipends. Brabec waived her stipend for the accommodations ordinance commission. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) was not appointed to any boards, committees or commissions and therefore did not receive any stipends.

For 2013, the following stipends were paid [.pdf of chart indicating appointments and eligible stipends]:

  • Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8): $2,700 (11 paid appointments, including several stipulated by virtue of Rabhi’s position as board chair, plus 3 unpaid appointments)
  • Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5): $2,350 (11 paid, 2 paid alternates, 1 unpaid)
  • Conan Smith (D-District 9): $1,800 (6 paid, 2 paid alternates, 1 unpaid)
  • Felicia Brabec (D-District 4): $1,450 (8 paid, 1 alternate with stipend waived)
  • Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1): $800 (4 paid)
  • Andy LaBarre (D-District 7): $550 (3 paid, 1 unpaid)
  • Alicia Ping (R-District 3): $400 (2 paid, 2 unpaid)

In total, seven commissioners were paid $10,050 in stipends for 2013. There is no mechanism in place for validating attendance, other than checking the meeting minutes of these various groups. No one is designated to do that, however.

The board appointments and stipends for 2014 haven’t yet been set. That will likely happen at an appointments caucus that is expected to be scheduled for later this month or early February.

Rules & Regulations

Revisions to the board’s rules and regulations, which are approved and updated annually, were recommended by corporation counsel Curtis Hedger. Three changes related to voting requirements. The fourth change inserted language to clarify that binding action may not be taken at a board working session. [.pdf of draft rules & regulations, with changes indicated in bold and strike-through] [.pdf of Hedger's staff memo]

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Hedger told commissioners that the most significant change related to taking a final vote on the same day that a resolution is initially introduced. [bold indicates added text, strike-through indicates deletion]:



No resolution or proceeding of the Board of Commissioners imposing taxes or assessments, or requiring the payment, expenditure or disposition of money or property, or creating a debt or liability therefore, shall be allowed on the same day as introduced, unless approved by a vote of two-thirds (2/3) a majority of the members elected and serving.

In the past, Hedger noted, the rules called for two-thirds of the board’s members to move a resolution for a final vote at a board meeting, if it was initially introduced at the ways & means committee meeting that same night. Even though the board’s two-thirds rule “had been there forever,” Hedger said, “it was brought to my attention that under Michigan law, we can’t do that.” Specifically, MCL 46.3 states:

(2) The county board of commissioners of a county shall act by the votes of a majority of the members present. However, the final passage or adoption of a measure or resolution or the allowance of a claim against the county shall be determined by a majority of the members elected and serving. …

Hedger reported that he had canvassed staff at other counties and they told him that the county boards follow that rule. So by passing this revision to the Washtenaw County board rules, it would bring them into compliance with Michigan law, he said.

The other suggested revisions are technical changes, Hedger said. One change is to clarify actions that require a “higher majority” vote in order to pass [added text in bold]:


Every member who shall be present, including the Chair, when a motion is last stated by the Chair, and no other, shall vote for or against the motion unless the member has a conflict of interest, in which case the member shall not vote.

…2. Votes Required:

Procedural and other questions arising at a meeting of the Commissioners, except for those decisions required by statute or by these rules (Specifically, Rule II F—Closing Debate in Committees and Rule III R—Suspension/ Amendment or Rescission of Board Rules) to have a higher majority, shall be decided by a majority of the members present. A majority of the members elected and serving, however, shall be required for the final passage or adoption of a motion, resolution or allowance of a claim.

Another proposed change was to standardize the phrase “elected and serving,” to be consistent with other references in the board rules [added text in bold]:


No rule of the Board shall be suspended without the concurrence of two-thirds (2/3) of the members elected and serving. To amend or rescind a rule will require two-thirds (2/3) of members elected and serving unless specific notice was given at previous meeting, whereupon a majority of members elected and serving may amend or rescind.

The final proposed revision involved working sessions. Hedger said he changed the rules to make it more precise about what a working session is. It clarifies what the board already does, he said. [bold indicates added text, strike-through indicates deletion]:


The purpose of the Working Session shall be to permit in-depth, informal discussion of Commissioner concerns, Board goals, significant programmatic and financial issues, and conceptual and informational presentations by the County Administrator. All matters involving major change in service delivery, staffing or funding, or any modification in Board of Commissioner policy shall originate at the Working Session. Status reports from advisory committees and departmental informational reports shall be presented at Working Session. The Working Sessions of the Board of Commissioners are not to be considered an official public meeting of the Board of Commissioners. The Working Sessions are noticed as a public meeting to comply with the Open Meetings Act because a quorum of the Board of Commissioners may be present at the meeting. It is intended that Formal votes indicating Commissioner support or opposition to agenda items shall not be taken at Working Session meetings. The Chair may take an informal poll of the board members present to assist in determining whether the Commissioners desire more information or discussion regarding an item or whether the Commissioners are prepared to take action on an item at a meeting of the Ways and Means Committee or at the regular session. Agendas shall be set in advance; however, Commissioners shall have the opportunity to introduce issues during the meeting for future Working Session consideration.

Rules & Regulations: Board Discussion

Conan Smith (D-District 9) asked whether MCL 46.3 actually requires a two-thirds majority vote for non-agenda items. Smith was referring to this section [emphasis added]:

(2) … The county board of commissioners may require in its bylaws that the votes of 2/3 of the members present or a majority of the members elected and serving, whichever is greater, are required on final passage or adoption of a nonagenda item. The voting requirements of this subsection do not apply if section 11 or any other provision of law imposes a higher voting requirement.

The short answer is no, Hedger replied. Smith said his concern is that there are often items that aren’t on the published agenda, but that are brought forward at the ways & means committee meeting. He clarified with Hedger that if items are moved as part of the agenda during the meeting, then those items are considered agenda items.

Hedger also pointed out that the law states the board “may require,” not “shall require.” So it’s at the board’s discretion.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) said he wasn’t particularly thrilled with the removal of the two-thirds majority rule, but added that he couldn’t argue with Hedger’s reasoning. He said he had reviewed all the changes in great detail, and had “kicked several of these things back and forth” with Hedger. Smith concluded that he was satisfied with the proposed changes.

Outcome: The revised rules and regulations were approved unanimously.

PACE Program

Commissioners were asked to give final approval to a notice of intent to form a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9).

An initial vote had been taken on Dec. 4, 2013, following about an hour of debate. There was no discussion on Jan. 8.

The goal of PACE is to help owners of commercial (not residential) properties pay for energy improvements by securing financing from commercial lenders and repaying the loan through voluntary special assessments.

The county’s proposal entails joining the Lean & Green Michigan coalition and contracting with Levin Energy Partners to manage the PACE program. Andy Levin, who’s spearheading the PACE program statewide through Lean & Green, attended the Dec. 4 meeting to answer questions. State Sen. Rebekah Warren also spoke briefly during public commentary on Dec. 4 to support the initiative. She was instrumental in passing the state enabling legislation to allow such programs in Michigan.

The law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone would act as legal counsel. Several other counties are part of Lean & Green, according to the group’s website. Other partners listed on the site include the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, which was co-founded by county commissioner Conan Smith. Smith is married to Warren.

The county’s PACE program would differ from the one set up by the city of Ann Arbor, which created a loan loss pool to reduce interest rates for participating property owners by covering a portion of delinquent or defaulted payments. Washtenaw County does not plan to set up its own loan loss reserve, and no county funds would be used for the program, according to Levin.

However, a reserve fund is mentioned in documentation that describes the program:

8. Reserve Fund

In the event Washtenaw County decides to issue bonds to provide financing for a PACE Program, Washtenaw County can determine at that time to fund a bond reserve account from any legally available funds, including funds from the proceeds of bonds.

By participating in LAGM [Lean & Green Michigan], Washtenaw County assists its constituent property owners in taking advantage of any and all appropriate loan loss reserve and gap financing programs of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (“MEDC”). Such financing mechanism can similarly be used to finance a reserve fund.

[.pdf of PACE program documentation] [.pdf of PACE cover memo] [.pdf PACE resolution]

On Dec. 4, the board set a public hearing on this issue for the meeting on Jan. 22, 2014. The board would also need to take another vote to actually create the PACE district. A date for that action has not been set.

Outcome: A final vote to issue a notice of intent to create a PACE program was passed unanimously. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was out of the room when the vote was taken.

Dog Licensing Public Hearing

The board held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow the county to issue municipal civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog.

Catherine McClary, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

County treasurer Catherine McClary.

The proposal would also establish that the county treasurer’s office would be the bureau for administering these infractions, and would set new licensing fees. [.pdf of proposed dog license ordinance]

One person, Thomas Partridge, spoke during the public hearing. He didn’t think the ordinance went far enough to protect all animals, especially during severe weather. He said that low-income families who want to have pets for their children will be challenged to pay license fees and the inoculations that would be required in order to get a license. He called for the board to create a progressive scale for fees and to provide waivers for low-income families and individuals.

The board had held a previous hearing at its meeting on Oct. 16, 2013, but it occurred after midnight and no one spoke. Some commissioners felt that there should be another opportunity for formal public input, so that’s why another public hearing was scheduled for Jan. 8.

More than a year ago, at the county board’s Nov. 7, 2012 meeting, commissioners approved a civil infractions ordinance that gave the county more flexibility to designate violations of other county ordinances as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor. For example, enforcement of the county’s dog licensing ordinance is low because the current penalty – a criminal misdemeanor of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine – is relatively harsh. The idea is that enforcement would improve if a lesser civil infraction could be used. The civil infraction fines are $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or any subsequent offense.

An increase in the enforcement is expected to result in an increase in the number of dog licenses, which would provide additional revenue to be used for animal control services.

However, the county board hasn’t yet taken the additional step of authorizing the issuance of a civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog. There was no agenda item put forward for a vote on this issue at the Jan. 8 meeting, nor was there any resolution on the agenda regarding a new fee structure for dog licenses.

A draft resolution and staff memo had been prepared in November 2013 but never brought forward to the board for a vote. [.pdf of November 2013 staff memo and resolution] The county treasurer’s office is proposing to lower the current dog licensing fee from $12 to $6 per year for spayed or neutered dogs and from $24 to $12 per year for dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered. There would continue to be a discount for a three-year license. More information about current dog licenses is available on the county website.

In addition, the draft memo provided a list of fees for violating the dog license ordinance: $50 (first offense); $100 (second offense); and $500 (third and subsequent offenses).

County treasurer Catherine McClary attended the Jan. 8 meeting but did not formally address the board.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Communications & Commentary

During the meeting there were multiple opportunities for communications from the administration and commissioners, as well as public commentary. In addition to issues reported earlier in this article, here are some other highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Regional Transit Authority

Jim Casha introduced himself as a resident of Ontario, Canada, who was born and raised in Detroit. He was there to ask for the board’s help with the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

Jim Casha, Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jim Casha spoke during public commentary about the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA).

Casha told commissioners that he’d been a student at the University of Detroit and had worked at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMOG). After that, he got out of planning and into the construction of transit systems, including subways.

He was concerned that the decisions of the RTA board aren’t in the best interest of building a regional transit system. “It just seems to me that it’s just going to be another waste of time and taxpayers’ money, and just another level of bureaucracy,” he said.

Casha said he’s made two suggestions to the board. The first was to acquire the 157-acre Michigan state fairgrounds property, as a way of generating revenue. It’s a logical place for a regional transportation hub, he said. The rail link from Chicago through Ann Arbor to Detroit already runs past the east side of the property, and it’s near 8 Mile and Woodward. It’s a very valuable piece of land, and the RTA could use it to generate millions of dollars through long-term leasing.

He noted that the state is planning to give away the land to private developers, but he argued that this is not the right time to do that. A group of citizens has been working on an alternative approach to create a truly public-private partnership that generates money for the public, he said, not just for private individuals. He said he’d made these comments to the RTA board, “but I really just don’t think they’re listening.”

Casha also objected to the selection of John Hertel over Larry Salci as the RTA’s CEO. Salci was the former director of the southeast Michigan transportation authority in the 1970s, he said, and had prepared a regional transportation plan with federal funding lined up at that time. Only one member of the current RTA board supported Salci, Casha noted, although the two RTA board representatives from Washtenaw County – Liz Gerber and Richard Murphy – had supported Salci initially.

The three-minute time limit for public commentary elapsed before Casha finished his remarks. He also provided written handouts to the board. [.pdf of Casha's commentary to RTA board in March 2013] [.pdf of Casha's commentary to RTA board in April 2013]

Commissioner Response to Public Commentary – RTA

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) thanked Casha for his commentary, saying that the point about finding a use for the state fairgrounds that helps the public over private interests really resonated with him. The land should be kept for public purposes, and he appreciated Casha’s advocacy on that.

By way of background, the RTA was established by the state legislature in late 2012 during its lame duck session. It includes a four-county region – Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne – with each county making two appointments to the board, and the city of Detroit making one.

The county board chair appoints both of Washtenaw County’s members to the RTA board. Those appointments were first made at the end of 2012 by Conan Smith (D-District 9), who was chair through the end of that year. Liz Gerber, a University of Michigan professor of public policy, was appointed to a three-year term. Richard Murphy, who works for Smith at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, was appointed to a one-year term, and is not seeking reappointment.

The deadline to apply had been extended to Jan. 12, but only two applications were received – from Casha and former state legislator Alma Wheeler Smith, who is Conan Smith’s mother. The RTA state enabling legislation (Act 387 of 2012) mandates that board members must be residents of the county or city that they represent. So as a Canadian resident, Casha is ineligible for the appointment. [.pdf of application materials]

Communications & Commentary: Appointments

Later in the meeting, Yousef Rabhi noted that in addition to an opening for the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA), there are also openings for the Washtenaw County food policy council and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission.

The deadline to apply had been extended to Jan. 12. Rabhi noted that nominations will be made at the board’s next meeting on Jan. 22. Commissioners will receive applications for review before that.

Communications & Commentary: Shelter for the Homeless

During the time for public commentary, Tom Partridge called on the board to redouble efforts to help people in need, especially during the very dire weather conditions experienced recently. He asked them to shift funding and provide emergency relief to homeless residents, including food and transportation.

Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel.

There’s also need on a continuing basis to eliminate homelessness, build affordable housing, and provide affordable public transportation and health care, Partridge said.

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) gave an update on the county’s response to providing shelter for the homeless during the recent winter storm and sub-zero temperatures. He said he knew that the Ann Arbor city council had some dialogue about it and heard from residents during the Jan. 6 council meeting. People are not being turned away from the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter, he said. The shelter has even relaxed some of its intoxication rules to allow people to stay there who might otherwise not be permitted, Rabhi noted.

There are some people who aren’t allowed to stay at the shelter because of previous incidents, Rabhi reported. The county’s PORT (the county’s project outreach team) has been reaching out to them, he said, to make sure they have accommodations or supplies like sleeping bags. There’s always more that could be done, Rabhi said, but there is collaboration among many entities, including the local governments, the Red Cross, and others.

Communications & Commentary: Food Policy Council

Yousef Rabhi described some of the initiatives that the Washtenaw County food policy council is working on, including a proposal for a county procurement policy that would be more environmentally responsible. In addition, the food policy council working in collaboration with the county’s office of community and economic development to emphasize using local sources in government procurement. Formal proposals will likely come to the board – possibly this spring, he said.

Communications & Commentary: Teens For Tomorrow Art Contest

During her report to the board, county administrator Verna McDaniel highlighted the recent Teens for Tomorrow art contest. She thanked Yousef Rabhi for attending, and thanked Rolland Sizemore Jr. for his advocacy of programs for county youth.

Present: Felicia Brabec, Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The ways & means committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.] (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public commentary is held at the beginning of each meeting, and no advance sign-up is required.

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McWilliams Confirmed to DDA Board: 6-5 Tue, 17 Sep 2013 03:43:08 +0000 Chronicle Staff On a 6-5 vote of the Ann Arbor city council, the appointment of Al McWilliams to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board has been confirmed.

The action came after his nomination had been withdrawn by mayor John Hieftje in the middle of deliberations at the council’s previous meeting, on Sept 3, 2013. At that meeting, the nomination appeared to be in doubt, as two councilmembers were absent – Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). The vote from Higgins was one of the six that was in favor of McWilliams at the Sept. 16, 2013 meeting.

Voting against the appointment of McWilliams were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). In addition to Higgins, those voting for his confirmation were mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

The deliberations on Sept 16 focused on whether McWilliams had sufficient maturity to hold the public office of DDA board member. Kunselman said he’d met with McWilliams and had found him to be “not ready for prime time,” citing blog posts and Tweets that he thought were not appropriate for a public official. Kailasapathy said she found McWilliams’ attitudes toward women to be degrading. In perusing some of McWilliams’ online work, Petersen remarked that there was a photo of Miley Cyrus’ rear end.

Hieftje was sarcastic in responding to the objections about profanity, saying he was “shocked” that someone had used profanity on the Internet.

Deliberations on Sept. 16 had a different focus from those at the previous meeting, when Hieftje withdrew the nomination mid-deliberation. At that Sept. 3 session, councilmembers who were opposed to the nomination expressed a concern about a potential conflict of interest for McWilliams in votes he might take on DDA funding for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s getDowntown program. His firm, Quack!Media, is an ad agency located in downtown Ann Arbor. Quack!Media lists the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority on its website as one of its clients.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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AATA Bids Farewell to Bernstein Thu, 16 May 2013 23:21:37 +0000 Chronicle Staff Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Jesse Bernstein attended his final regular meeting of the board on April 18, 2013. The following month, on May 16, his board colleagues approved a resolution acknowledging his five-year term of service, which began on June 16, 2008. Bernstein was not able to attend the meeting.

The resolution of appreciation approved by the board highlighted Bernstein’s turn as chair of the board, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee, and the executive search committee that resulted in the hire of CEO Michael Ford. The resolution also called out his role in the development of the AATA’s transit master plan and his service as chair of the unincorporated Act 196 authority board, which was part of an effort that culminated in the incorporation of that authority as The Washtenaw Ride, in the summer of 2012.

The Washtenaw Ride was an effort that ultimately found almost no traction, as municipalities across the county exercised their right under Act 196 to opt out of the authority after it was incorporated. The city of Ann Arbor, which had been expected to lead the countywide effort, opted out at the Nov. 8, 2012 meeting of the city council. Since that time, a more limited geographic focus on the “urban core” communities has resulted in a formal request from the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA.

Susan Baskett has been nominated by mayor John Hieftje as Bernstein’s replacement on the AATA board. Baskett currently serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an elected position. The city council will be asked to confirm Baskett’s appointment at its May 20 meeting. It’s possible that her appointment could be subjected to debate by the council. On May 13, the council approved Eric Mahler as David Nacht’s replacement on the AATA board on a 7-4 vote. Compared to typical votes on appointments, which are often unanimous, Mahler’s appointment was confirmed by a relatively narrow margin.

The reasons given by dissenters for voting against Mahler included the idea that it’s important to widen the pool of members across all city boards. Mahler is finishing his second three-year term on the city planning commission – but will not continue in that role. Dissenters also alluded to an alternate candidate they felt could represent the disability community better than Mahler.

The alternate candidate, LuAnne Bullington, has also been a vocal critic of the AATA’s efforts to develop regional rail connections. The council’s debate, however, seemed focused more on issues of board candidates’ status as minorities or members of the disability community. Mahler and Baskett are both African American. Bullington is visually impaired.

Mahler was not able to attend his first scheduled meeting on May 16 due to illness, according to AATA staff.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Ann Arbor Mayor: Need Transit Board Members Tue, 16 Oct 2012 00:13:23 +0000 Chronicle Staff Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje has made a public call for volunteers to serve on the new 15-member transit authority board, recently incorporated under Act 196 of 1986. He made the formal announcement at the city council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting.

Also added to the meeting’s agenda were two of the seven needed nominations to the new Act 196 transit board: Susan Baskett, who currently serves as a trustee on the Ann Arbor Public Schools board; and Tony Derezinski, who currently serves on the city council. Derezinski will be leaving the council in mid-November, because he did not prevail in his August Democratic primary race. His last city council meeting will be Nov. 8.

While it had been previously assumed that the seven Ann Arbor appointments to the new authority’s 15-member board would serve simultaneously on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s board, legal questions about simultaneous service on the two boards led to the Hieftje’s announcement.

An application for all city boards and commissions is available on the city clerk’s website.

Ann Arbor’s seven representatives to the new authority’s board first need to be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council – under terms of a four-party agreement ratified between the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. Under the terms of that agreement, the AATA’s assets would not be transferred to the new authority, to be called The Washtenaw Ride, until voters approve a funding source for the expanded service to be offered.

The composition of the Ann Arbor contingent on the new authority’s board, as well as Ann Arbor’s eventual participation in the new Act 196 authority, could potentially be impacted by the delay in decision-making past the November election. Three new members will be joining the Ann Arbor city council. For more details and analysis, see previous Chronicle reporting: “Positions Open: New Transit Authority Board.”

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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AATA Keeps Rolling Toward Countywide Fri, 05 Oct 2012 00:51:46 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (Oct. 2, 2012): As expected, the AATA board voted unanimously, with all seven members present, to request that the Washtenaw County clerk file articles of incorporation for a new transit authority, established under Act 196 of 1986 and called The Washtenaw Ride.

From left: Jesse Bernstein, AATA CEO Michael Ford, Charles Griffith and Roger Kerson.

From left: Jesse Bernstein, AATA CEO Michael Ford, Charles Griffith and Roger Kerson. Bernstein, Griffith and Kerson are AATA board members. (Photos by the writer.)

Based on discussion at the board’s Sept. 27 meeting, it was the AATA’s expectation that the articles would be filed as soon as Oct. 3, and the wording of the AATA’s resolution indicated that the filing should take place “immediately.”

And according to Washtenaw County clerk staff, that’s what happened. Representatives of the AATA were authorized as couriers by the clerk, and they conveyed the physical documents to Lansing.

Letters that included a notice of intent to file had been sent on Sept. 27 to every jurisdiction, and to every elected official in the county.

At the Oct. 2 meeting, board chair Charles Griffith and former chair Jesse Bernstein expressed thanks to staff and community members who’ve worked over the last two years to get the process to this point. The basic theme of most of the remarks was in the spirit of the long journey ahead.

The long journey begins with the entity that’s created by the filing – which will initially have no assets, staff, or ability to operate transportation service in the county. A 15-member board composition for the new authority is already reflected in the membership of the board of the pre-incorporated board (called the U196 board), which has been meeting already for a year. Some of those board members attended the Oct. 2 meeting – David Read (North Middle District), Bob Mester (West District), Bill Lavery (South Middle District) and David Phillips (Northeast District).

Districts that include multiple jurisdictions appoint their representatives under inter-local agreements made under Act 7. In the case of the city of Ann Arbor, the appointments to the new transit authority need to be made through the city council’s confirmation of mayoral nominations.

To make the transition from the AATA to The Washtenaw Ride, under terms of a four-party agreement, voters would need to approve a funding source adequate to pay for the proposed expanded service plan. The four-party agreement is between the AATA, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County.

The five-year service plan for expanded service includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hub services; (3) local community connectors and local community circulators; (4) park-and-ride intercept lots; and (5) urban bus network enhancements. For Ann Arbor, the program includes increased bus frequencies on key corridors, increased operating hours, and more services on weekends. According to a Sept. 5 press release from the AATA, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti will get a 56% increase in service hours compared to current levels.

The AATA has indicated that a possible funding scenario is to ask voters in Washtenaw County to fund the new transit authority with a property tax of 0.584 mills – in an election that could come as early as May 2013. For a house worth $200,000, with a state-equalized value of $100,000, an 0.584 mill transit tax would cost that property owner about $58 per year. For an Ann Arbor resident with a $200,000 house, adding the 0.584 mill tax to the existing city transit tax of roughly 2 mills works out to a transportation tax burden of about $258 a year.

Also under the four-party agreement, the two cities’ transit taxes would become part of The Washtenaw Ride’s funding.

The transition would potentially not take place at all, if a majority of voters don’t approve it. Under the terms of the four-party agreement, a voter-approved funding source for the expanded services must be identified by the end of 2014.

Washtenaw County’s role is limited to the filing of the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority. The act of incorporation will include by default all jurisdictions in Washtenaw County. However, filing of the articles opens a 30-day window for jurisdictions to opt out of the arrangement. That can be accomplished through a vote of a jurisdiction’s governing body.

Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, said at the Oct. 2 meeting that he hoped to schedule the first meeting of The Washtenaw Ride’s board for Oct. 11.  Although it’s a fair assumption that the current AATA board members will be nominated by mayor John Hieftje to serve as Ann Arbor’s representatives to the new transit authority, there’s no council meeting scheduled between now and Oct. 11 when the council could vote to make those appointments official. 

Requesting Act 196 Incorporation

The only business transacted at the AATA board’s special meeting related to the resolution on incorporating the new transit authority. [.pdf of board resolution]

Charles Griffith presided over the meeting in his first session as board chair, having been elected at the board’s previous meeting. With no staff reports and no one from the public who wanted to address the board, he began the discussion by saying “We’ll just get on to the item at hand.”

Griffith said the reason for the meeting was to discuss moving forward on the AATA’s transit master plan. It reflected a lot of hard work by many staff, those who’ve been working with the staff, board members, and district representatives, he said. Griffith singled out former board chair Jesse Bernstein for his leadership on the issue. [Bernstein had served the last two years as chair.] Griffith indicated that Bernstein had told him he wouldn’t stop, but would just be sitting at a different spot at the table.

Griffith also thanked members of the broader community for their cooperation, saying he felt that it really shows how much can be accomplished when people sit down and work together. Good transit builds strong communities, he said. It provides more mobility, with less traffic. There’s less pollution. “Everybody wins in this deal,” Griffith said.

He concluded his opening remarks by asking for a motion. That was delivered by Bernstein, who then read the complete text of the resolution aloud. The motion was seconded by David Nacht, who had preceded Bernstein as board chair.

By way of background, the possibility of transitioning to a countywide authority is an idea with a long history. By 2008 there was active discussion, but with little substance behind it, at the AATA board table about the possibility of putting a millage on the ballot. But without a chief executive officer – former AATA CEO Greg Cook had resigned in early 2007 – and without a specific service plan to offer, the AATA essentially paused that kind of talk.

In 2009, the AATA board hired Michael Ford as CEO and tasked him with leading a transition to an authority with a broader governance and service area. The approach was to develop a transit master plan that reflected a 30-year vision and then to set about implementing that vision. In early 2010, then-board chair Bernstein characterized it as a “ready, aim, fire” approach. It was Bernstein who made the motion on the resolution at the Oct. 2 meeting.

“It’s time,” Bernstein began. The AATA had spent two years talking to lots of folks, he said. A structure had been set up to include everybody in the county and to start having people seated at the table with the current board [an allusion to the U196 board and the district representatives who attended the Oct. 2 meeting]. Bernstein characterized the incorporation of the Act 196 authority as formalizing the Act 196 board so that everyone can sit together and discuss the policy issues. There are a lot of options that need to be discussed openly and clearly, Bernstein said.

Bernstein hoped that a first meeting of the incorporated board could be scheduled for sometime in October. He noted that the incorporation also says to local units of government: “It’s serious; and it’s time.” He was glad there is a 30-day opt-out period. But given the timing, Bernstein felt, there would be several more months during which discussion could continue about the possibility of opting back in. “I think this is the right time to do it. I think it’s time to move forward, and I’m very honored to have made this motion.”

Roger Kerson noted the success of the process of bringing all the jurisdictions together. He joined Bernstein in looking forward to expanded discussion with a “voice and vote for everybody at the table.” At a lot of levels of government, he said, there’s gridlock. And people don’t seem to be able to get anything done, or solve problems. The communities of Washtenaw County are different from that, he said, with different populations and different constituencies, needs and interests. The cooperation that’s been achieved so far, he said, attests to a lot of hard work by a lot of people. There’s a lot of work yet to do, and he was looking forward to increasing mobility for all.

Griffith addressed the possibility of opt outs, by saying that everyone knew that some jurisdictions will not feel ready at this time to join in this effort – but that’s okay, he said. What’s important is that we give it our best shot to provide an opportunity to everyone. He said the AATA had come up with the best that it could to meet the needs that had been identified and expressed through communities across the county. “If, for whatever reason, we didn’t get that right, we can keep working at it,” he said. He characterized this step as the beginning of the journey, not the end. He hoped that as many jurisdictions would cooperate as possible.

Eli Cooper characterized it as “quite a journey.” He recalled in 2005 when he first arrived in the Ann Arbor metropolitan area, he found a “wonderful world-class transit operator that served the city of Ann Arbor and its immediate environs.” However, in the Seattle area – similar to other metropolitan areas where he’s lived in the course of his life – a seven-county regional transportation network connected things. He realized that although there was excellent local service, Ann Arbor was not connected adequately to the surrounding communities.

Cooper described a “marathon” effort dating back several years to overcome some of the barriers associated with various governance structures. But over the last two to three years, he said, with an increasing emphasis and effort and a collaborative “can do” attitude, the AATA’s organization and staff – by reaching out and responding to the communities around Ann Arbor – have fashioned what he thinks is a “winning proposition.” People who need to get to the doctor, or to the store, or have a visit with friend won’t be required to have an automobile to have to meet those most basic needs.

Cooper said he would fully support this important step. He hoped people understand there’s a lot of work ahead of us. It’s another step in the journey, and it’s been a long time in coming, he said.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution requesting the filing of the articles of incorporation of The Washtenaw Ride.

After the vote, Michael Ford – CEO of the AATA – indicated that the goal was to schedule a first meeting of the Act 196 board for Oct. 11.

Ford thanked everyone for their help and support – the countless meetings, late nights, weekends, holidays. He also thanked the district representatives for their help, support and participation, saying he wanted to continue that relationship going forward. He also thanked the current board of the AATA.

Kerson drew out the fact that the existing AATA board would continue to meet, because it would continue to have business to conduct. Two separate structures would persist for some period of time.

Nacht noted that the current AATA board would still need to vote in order to do anything involving funds. Only the AATA board can vote on those funds, so the AATA board [incorporated under Act 55] would need to continue to meet.

Public Comment

Carolyn Grawi of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living introduced herself as a Washtenaw County resident. She described herself as excited to be moving down the road of countywide transportation. She looked forward to working with the existing board and the future Act 196 board. The community needs to get involved, she said, by reading the material that’s available on the website and attending meetings of the district advisory committees and participating in the future of transportation in the county.

Vivienne Armentrout urged the board to achieve some clarity on how they’ll manage the transition of governance. She was uncertain about what she was hearing, but she said it sounded like the entire Act 196 board would be seated, even if some communities opt out. She thought that in order for the Ann Arbor public to have faith in what the board was doing, the public needed to have a sense that “true representation” is being provided.

Composition of the New Authority’s Board

Armentrout’s remarks during public commentary were an allusion to a resolution discussed, but ultimately withdrawn, at the board’s Sept. 27, 2012 meeting the previous week.

The articles of incorporation, now filed with the state, provide for a 15-member board structure in eight districts. Some of the districts include a single jurisdiction – like the city of Ann Arbor (7 representatives), the city of Ypsilanti (1 rep) and Pittsfield Township (1 rep). Those jurisdictions are almost certain not to opt out of the Act 196 authority. But other districts include multiple jurisdictions. For example, the Northeast District includes four townships: Northfield, Superior, Salem and Ann Arbor. Some, or even all, of those townships could theoretically opt out.

The intent of the AATA board’s Sept. 27 resolution was to give reassurance that a first response by current AATA board members to the opting out of other jurisdictions would not be to reconfigure the new authority’s board structure. They discussed how such a reconfiguration would become important at the point when a millage question is put before voters – because they did not think a situation of “representation without taxation” would be reasonable.

The extreme case of opting out would occur if every jurisdiction in a board district decided to opt out. The articles of incorporation spell out what’s supposed to happen when every jurisdiction in a district opts out:

The directors shall revisit the Board make-up if
(a) either Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti City reduces or fails to contribute its charter millage to the Authority;
(b) if another community levies a millage and contributes it to the Authority; or
(c) if all communities within one of the Act 7 districts withdraw from the Authority.
The Board make-up shall also be reviewed and be subject to change by two-thirds of the directors after each census to assure appropriate attention to population distribution.

The composition of the informal, unincorporated board isn’t automatically transferred to the incorporated Act 196 board through the act of filing the articles of incorporation. In a reply to an emailed query, assistant city attorney Mary Fales wrote to The Chronicle that:

The NEW TA Board under the Articles of Incorporation has 7 City of Ann Arbor members which must be appointed by City Council on recommendation by the Mayor. At the time the respective individuals are appointed their appointment terms will be established as well pursuant to Section 4.03 of the Articles. There is no provision for any other method of appointment.

The specific language of the four-party agreement – which governs the process of possible transition from the AATA to the new authority – describes the contractual consideration in terms of the city of Ann Arbor explicitly making appointments to the new transit authority’s board: “In exchange for the mayor’s nomination with council confirmation, of seven directors of New TA’s board, …”

The section on terms of appointment, to which Fales referred in her email, sets up initial terms that are staggered for the Ann Arbor representatives – from one through four years – which is a fairly common approach for the establishment of a new board. After the initial terms are served, all subsequent terms are for four years. The idea is to prevent wholesale board turnover all in one year.

The Ann Arbor city council’s regular nomination/confirmation process requires two meetings – one at which the nominations are put before the council, and a second meeting at which a vote is taken on confirmation. Three current councilmembers will not be continuing on council through November, either by choice because they didn’t run for re-election (Carsten Hohnke in Ward 5 and Sandi Smith in Ward 1) or due to defeat in the August primary (Tony Derezinski in Ward 2).

Before the change in the city council’s composition, the only opportunity to apply the regular process to the new Act 196 board appointments would be for the nominations to come at the next meeting of the council, on Oct. 15. The confirmation vote then could be taken at the council’s Nov. 8 meeting – held on the Thursday following the Nov. 6 election. The first meeting for new councilmembers is Nov. 19. Another possibility is to compress the appointment process to a single meeting, which the council sometimes does. But that requires an eight-vote majority on the 11-member body.

There’s a possibility that the new edition of the Ann Arbor city council would make a choice to appoint a set of seven members to the new authority’s board that is different from the current seven AATA board members. But if that happened, the current AATA board members would serve out the remainder of their terms as members of the AATA board. And they’d continue to be part of the governance of the only transit authority for Ann Arbor that currently has the ability to operate a transportation service.

Timing of the Filing

The AATA board’s Oct. 2 resolution was consistent with expectations about timing that had been expressed at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Sept. 27 – that the articles would be filed Oct. 3. About the articles, the resolution included “the request that they be filed immediately.”

A Washtenaw County board of commissioners’ resolution related to the filing, passed on Aug. 1, 2012, raised the possibility of a slightly delayed timing sequence. The resolution more generally ratified the four-party agreement between the county, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and the AATA. As conditions to the filing, the board of commissioners’ resolution stipulated that the county administrator had to ensure several conditions were met, including the following notifications:

2. Letters of notice will be sent to each city, village and township elected official in the county at their address of record alerting them to the County’s intention to file the Articles of Incorporation on a date certain. Those letters shall indicate
a. Whether or not the jurisdiction represented by that official is included in the boundary of the New TA;
b. The process by which that jurisdiction may either withdraw or join the New TA; and
c. The date on which the Articles of Incorporation will be filed and, if relevant, the date by which the New TA must receive official notice from the jurisdiction if that jurisdiction votes to opt-out of the New TA.

Responding to a phone query, Washtenaw County clerk staff told The Chronicle that certified letters had already been sent on Sept. 27 to the clerks of all jurisdictions in the county of an intent to file the articles of incorporation on Oct. 3. Letters were also sent to all elected officials in the county. Information included in that communication was the last day to opt out of inclusion – Nov. 2 – as well as sample resolutions that could be used by a jurisdiction’s governing body to decide the opt-out question. [.pdf of sample letter] [.pdf of sample resolutions] Included in the information packet was a set of FAQs about transit and a set of FAQs about Act 196 incorporation. [.pdf of FAQ about transit] [.pdf of FAQ about the Act 196 filing]

After the vote by the AATA board on Oct. 2, Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel determined that the county board of commissioners’ resolution requiring publication of the service plan and notification of intent had been satisfied, and then notified the county clerk of that. Then on Oct. 3, representatives of the AATA were authorized as couriers by the county clerk to physically convey the paperwork to Lansing.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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Council Puts Art on Ballot; Lets Land Leaven Sun, 26 Aug 2012 16:58:16 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 20, 2012): City council actions finalized the set of ballot questions for Ann Arbor voters on Nov. 6: A public art millage will join the Ann Arbor District Library’s bond proposal and the city of Ann Arbor’s parks maintenance and capital improvements millage on the ballot.

Mural at Allmendinger Park

A section of a partially complete mural at Allmendinger Park, funded through Ann Arbor’s existing Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer.)

The public art millage would be levied at a rate of 0.1 mill, which would raise around $450,000 from Ann Arbor taxpayers annually. Passage of the public art millage would, according to the corresponding charter amendment, suspend the city’s public art funding mechanism embedded in the Percent for Art ordinance – but only for the duration of the four-year millage.

A selling point of the millage, compared to the current Percent for Art program, is that millage money could be used more flexibly than money set aside under the Percent for Art program. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of all city capital projects be set aside for art. But this funding mechanism carries with it a legal requirement that art paid for through the program be in some sense “monumental” art that is permanent. Performance art or temporary installations would not qualify under the current program.

Even though a millage offers more flexibility, leaders in the arts community are concerned about a possible perception that it would be completely flexible – which led the council to change the ballot language and charter amendment from “public art” to “art in public places.”

A proposal from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to begin the process of revising the Percent for Art ordinance in advance of the millage vote got little traction from the council. Lumm indicated that she wanted to offer voters a clear choice – that unless the millage were approved, public funding for art would disappear. But her resolution was voted down, with additional support only from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

The majority of councilmembers felt that such a move was “premature.” Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he was open to a scenario in which the millage passed, the tax was levied for four years (which would generate roughly $1.8 million in money that could be spent flexibly), but then was not offered to voters for renewal after four years, which would mean an automatic reversion to the current Percent for Art program.

In other business, the council declined to take action on two pieces of land at opposite ends of the downtown – 414 N. Main St. (site of the old St. Nicholas Church), and 350 S. Fifth Ave. (the former YMCA lot). The council rejected a proposal to begin the rezoning process for the St. Nicholas Church property – in advance of a public auction of the land starting Sept. 6. The council also declined to support a directive to the city administrator to prepare for disposition of the old Y lot, citing an ongoing planning process for the area of downtown Ann Arbor that includes the city-owned parcel. That process – Connecting William Street – is being led by the Ann Arbor DDA under direction from the city council.

The council transacted a mixed bag of other business, including approval of a collaborative effort with Washtenaw County to handle towing. The council also approved the final grant contract necessary for completing an environmental study in connection with a runway extension at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

The council rejected a proposal from Comcast for a new franchise agreement, opting instead to allow the current arrangement to stay in place at least through the end of its term in 2017.

The meeting ended around midnight with jostling among councilmembers on the issue of mayoral appointments. Prompting the discussion was the reappointment of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to the board of the Ann Arbor DDA. Kunselman and Lumm voted against the reappointment, objecting to Smith’s dual service on the city council and the DDA board. Smith was originally appointed to the board before her election to the council in 2008 and is not seeking re-election this term. Other councilmembers defended Smith’s selection.

Less controversial was the appointment of Michael Benson to the taxicab board. That body had been unable to meet because it had only two voting members out of five, and could not achieve a quorum. If all three members show up now, that body can hold its meeting.

Public Art Millage

The Aug. 20 council agenda included a resolution to place a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot for Ann Arbor voters. A second related resolution dealt with the existing Percent for Art program.

Public Art Millage: Background

The possibility of placing a ballot question in front of voters this November had first been revealed at the council’s Aug. 9, 2012 meeting, when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) added the item to the agenda at the start of that meeting. The millage that voters will be asked to approve will be levied at a rate of 0.1 mills, which will generate around $450,000 annually. For the owner of a house worth $200,000 the tax will cost around $10 a year.

Approval by voters on Nov. 6 would mean that the funding mechanism already provided by Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art ordinance would be suspended for a period of four years – the duration of the millage. That program, in place since 2007, requires that 1% of all city capital projects be set aside for public art, up to a limit of $250,000 per capital project.

The source of funding – city capital projects – has legal implications, requiring that the funded artwork be “monumental” or permanent-type works. The public art funds from a millage would not necessarily be restricted to such permanent art, as the current Percent for Art funds are. The additional flexibility afforded by a millage-based public art program might include the ability to fund performance art, for example.

The arts community and others voiced several concerns about placing the item on the Nov. 6 ballot. Those concerns include a lack of clarity for voters about how yes or no votes would impact public funding for art, the short timeframe during which a millage campaign could be mounted, and the fact that Ann Arbor voters will already be asked to vote for two other millages on the Nov. 6 ballot. Those two millages are: (1) a renewal of a 1.1 mill tax to pay for park capital improvements and maintenance; and (2) a library millage to support construction of a new downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library – expected to cost 0.56 mills in its first of 30 years, but averaging 0.47 mills.

As altered slightly by the council on Aug. 20, the ballot question reads:

Shall the Charter be amended to limit sources of funding for art in public places and to authorize a new tax of up to one-tenth (0.10) of a mill for 2013 through 2016 to fund art in public places, which 0.10 mill will raise in the first year of levy the estimated revenue of $459,273?

The corresponding charter language would be [emphasis added]:

Funds for Public Art
SECTION 8.24. In addition to any other amount which the City is authorized to raise by general tax upon the real and personal property by this Charter or any other provision of law, the City shall, in 2013 through 2016, annually levy a tax of up to one-tenth (0.10) of a mill on all taxable real and personal property situated within the City for the purpose of providing funds for art in public places, including but not limited to the permanent and temporary acquisition, maintenance and repair of works of art for display in or on public structures or sites and/or as part of or adjacent to public streets and sidewalks, and performance art on city streets, sidewalks or sites. Except for funds previously raised, set aside, allocated or otherwise designated to be used for public art, including such funds in the July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 fiscal year budget, and except for funds that are received by grant, gift, bequest or other donation to the City for public art, for the duration of this millage, the City shall not raise, set aside or designate funds for public art in any other manner. This millage also shall not preclude the grant, gift, bequest or other donation to the City of works of art.

A separate resolution concerning the existing Percent for Art program was also on the council’s agenda. It was meant, according to its sponsor Jane Lumm (Ward 2), to provide clarity to voters about what their vote on a public art millage would mean for the future funding of public art. Lumm’s resolution directed city staff to prepare an ordinance revision to the Percent for Art program, with the idea of repealing the current funding program before the millage vote. The idea is that voters would understand clearly that unless the public art millage is approved, no public funding for art would remain.

Public Art Millage: Public Commentary

Eight people spoke on the topic during public commentary.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Democrat from the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County – an advocate for public transportation and access to health care, including free health care for middle class and low-income people to be provided by the University of Michigan hospital. It’s important to take a universal and integrated approach to funding public art and affordable housing and truly affordable transportation. On the subject of public art, he said, in a city known for its prominent educational institutions – like the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and Concordia University – we need to have public art education instead of extraordinary amounts spent on public art.

Russ Collins introduced himself as the executive director of the Michigan Theater. He followed Dennis Brewer (owner of Brewer’s Towing) during the public commentary, who was there to object to the council’s resolution on public towing. Collins got a laugh when he said, “When I was in college, that was the guy who towed my car!” Settling in to the topic of public art, Collins began by thanking councilmembers for serving on the council, calling it a thankless job. He told them they had at least one deeply appreciative citizen. He grew up in Ann Arbor and had long admired what the city council has done to keep the city vital. He thanked Christopher Taylor for bringing the subject into a public discussion. Collins said he’s always happy when residents talk about the arts. He wanted to make clear to everybody that it’s not a broad-based public arts funding program – but rather, it’s a narrow program for art in public places. He suggested that people refer to it as an “art in public places millage.”

A lot of people will think that the millage could benefit the Michigan Theater, or the University Musical Society, or other cultural institutions like the Hands On Museum, Collins said. Such organizations would not get funding through such a millage, he contended, saying that they could in fact be damaged by that assumption – because when governmental funding comes, sometimes the private sector reduces its funding. So it’s important, Collins said, to be clear that the millage would be for “art in public places.”

Collins reported that his colleague Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society, is actually quite opposed to the millage for that reason. Collins told the council that he felt the Percent for Art is a good way to fund this type of program – art in public places funded with public money. A lot of communities support that approach and make it work, Collins said, and it could be made to work in Ann Arbor too. If the council chooses to put this on the ballot as a millage, Collins said, it’s very important to the Michigan Theater and every institution that doesn’t provide art in public places, that the millage is very narrow.

Meg Crawley told the council that she’d never spoken to them before but she was there to advocate for public funding for public art – because she thinks it’s important. She’s lived in Ann Arbor for 40 years. She’s the neighborhood representative for a mural project at Allmendinger Park, she said, which would be completed in the next few weeks. The mural is being constructed by Ann Arbor artist Mary Thiefels, and she’s including artifacts from the community in her mural. Crawley has volunteered to help by collecting the items and logging them into a spreadsheet. Over 50 families had participated, she said. The process has brought home to her how much the community treasures art and its connection to parks.

Allmendinger Park is showcased each fall when the University of Michigan football fans park in the neighborhood. The art project will draw people to it, and show them the true heart of Ann Arbor. The project has had an energizing effect on the neighborhood, she said. It’ll be free for anyone who wants to see it, she noted. The mural would facilitate pride in our community. She asked the council to find any way they can to keep public funding for art in the future.

Margaret Parker told the council she’d served on the Ann Arbor public art commission for many years. She helped bring about the Percent for Art program. She reviewed the program since its existence over the last five years. She told the council that three works had been completed, with 12 more on the way. [The Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall and a metal tree sculpture in West Park are completed, but it's unclear what third work Parker was referring to that's been funded by the program. Artists are working on two other projects that were approved earlier this year, but aren't yet complete: A glass hanging sculpture in the Justice Center lobby, and the Allmendinger Park mural.]

Parker noted that the Percent for Art program works with one part-time administrator and a revolving band of nine volunteers who serve on the commission. Before the program, there was no permanent art being made in the city, she said.

If the council wants to change the funding mechanism, Parker said, it’s important to be sure to use what we’ve learned over the last five years: how to work with city departments; how to connect with the long-term city planning system; how to use the city information and communication technology; how to work with the art administrator; how to keep the city council informed; and how to keep public informed. She allowed that the public art commission might not be successful at all those things, but one thing is sure, she contended: Before the Percent for Art program, no one knew how public art was done. It’s true that the Percent for Art funding mechanism is complex, and can be restrictive. But learning how to work with the city was by far the hardest part of the start-up, she said.

She invited people to stand in front of the mosaic wall on Washington Street, or the Plymouth Road water tower or the new city hall, and then to shut their eyes, and to imagine the scene without any art. She asked them to then open their eyes and to contemplate whether those scenes were better with or without art.

Marsha Chamberlin addressed the council as chair of Ann Arbor’s public art commission (AAPAC). She said that one thing the group does not want is for funding for art to disappear. The resolution as proposed gives more flexibility in the implementation of the public art program, she said, and gives some real opportunity for “rapid innovation,” which she felt would be a positive thing for Ann Arbor citizens.

Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission

Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, sat in the audience before the Aug. 20 city council meeting started. Chamberlin also serves as president of the nonprofit Ann Arbor Art Center.

The funding for public art – art performed or temporarily installed in public places – will expand what AAPAC can do as a commission, Chamberlin said. When the Dreiseitl sculpture was dedicated, she said, the international quality of the city was talked about – the thousands and thousands of visitors who come to Ann Arbor. Public art is part of what makes the city a great place and lends a quality of life that she wanted to make sure is sustained in the city. At the end of September, she said, the mural in Allmendinger Park – which Meg Crawley had described – will be celebrated. It will be another great example of a completed piece, she said. She invited the council to join that celebration and to celebrate another victory for the city of Ann Arbor.

Debra Polich introduced herself as a resident, a 30-year arts administration veteran, and director of the Arts Alliance. The alliance advocates for the creative sector of Washtenaw County, she said. The alliance facilitates the Cultural Leaders Forum, which monthly brings together leaders from Ann Arbor’s largest cultural institutions. Over the last 10 days, more than 50 of them have expressed their opinion about the millage. Almost all of them are supportive of the concept, but greatly concerned about the timing. Based on surveys, Ann Arbor places a high value on arts and culture. Public funding approved in a millage would reflect the high value that residents put on arts and cultural offerings – in a way that public funding for parks and libraries and transportation reflect the high value that residents place on those services.

Polich told the council that experienced advisors had suggested to the arts alliance that in order to do any arts millage properly, it would take 12-18 months of due diligence. It might be expedited to a minimum of six months, she said. [It's roughly a three-month span from the time that Christopher Taylor first unveiled the proposal publicly (Aug. 9) until the Nov. 6 vote.] That time can be used to engage the community, and build consensus. Work should include polling the community, and if favorable, setting the millage at the right level, she said.

The advisors to the Arts Alliance had also recommended talking to community leaders, in order to expose support and opposition. The Arts Alliance absolutely supports the public funding of art, Polich said, and appreciates Taylor’s millage proposal. But as appreciative as the Arts Alliance is of the suggestion, she added, the short timeframe is of concern. She called Jane Lumm’s resolution that would lead to the elimination of Percent for Art funding prior to a millage equally premature. The alliance recommends not approving either proposal now. Instead, she said, she would ask that the Arts Alliance, the public art commission and others work together to improve the functioning of the Percent for Art program.

John Kotarski introduced himself as a member of the public art commission. He supported placing the millage on the ballot on Nov. 6. He said he’d served on the commission just since January 2012, but that he could already say that the restrictions imposed by the current funding arrangement have been a major roadblock to funding the types of projects that are near and dear to Ann Arbor. Delaying the millage vote would confuse voters, he cautioned. A millage-funded program would make the program stronger and more accountable.

Kotarski said that those who fear that the millage won’t pass are underestimating the leadership ability of councilmembers. If every councilmember wants the millage to pass, he contended, then it will pass.

Kotarski then stressed the symbolic value of art. He related a story of how Dolly Madison had elected to save a portrait of George Washington instead of her personal belongings back in 1814, when the British army was approaching Washington D.C. The British had planned to burn the portrait in London. He told councilmembers that Dolly Madison would be proud of them, “even though she was a Republican.”

John Carver told the council he was there to support the Percent for Art ordinance. He’s involved with several groups of private entrepreneurial types, who are trying to do some things that could make Ann Arbor more vital and interesting. The Percent for Art had gotten the ball rolling, he contended. There’s a group that is trying to bring more live music to Ann Arbor, patterned after a program in Austin, Texas. Another group is trying to enhance the architectural lighting in the theater district – and they’ve had meetings with representatives of McKinley Inc. and the Michigan Theater. Carver also told the council that he’s involved in a group called the Wolfpack on the RiverUp! project. That project involves upgrading amenities along the Huron River – and Carver reported that the Superior Portage is completed. Gallup Pond and Island Park will also be a part of the project. He stressed that the effort involved only private funds.

He told the council that he owns the building downtown at 500 E. Liberty, which he said is in the theater district. He had commissioned an artist to do a sculpture on the building. It would be called the Spirit of Ann Arbor and would be created by the artist Charles McGee, a World War II veteran.

Public Art Millage: Council Deliberations

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority with Russ Collins, led off the city council deliberations with an amendment that took a suggestion made by Collins during public commentary: to change “public art” to “art in public places” throughout the ballot question and charter amendment. She wanted to make sure that people did not mistakenly think that passage of the millage meant that they no longer needed to make their membership payments to The Ark or the Michigan Theater or other similar organizations.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) greeted meeting attendees before the meeting assuring them that she was certain that the council would definitely take the action of approving the minutes of the previous meeting.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) greeted meeting attendees, assuring them that she was certain the council would definitely take the action of approving the minutes of the previous meeting.

Smith’s wardmate Sabra Briere floated the idea that the change be considered “friendly” and could be adopted without a vote. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was himself amenable to the idea, but worried that the language of the existing proposal had already been reviewed by the state attorney general on a preliminary basis. City attorney Stephen Postema ventured that he did not think the attorney general would have a problem with the change. So the “friendly” amendment was adopted.

Taylor noted that the purpose of offering the resolution at the council’s previous meeting was to initiate public conversation. That mission has been accomplished, he declared. The public art commission has met [in a special session on Aug. 15, due to the unexpected nature of Taylor's proposal] and other arts groups have met and discussed the issue. Taylor said he’d received a tremendous amount of feedback.

It’s clear that Ann Arbor really values art in public places, he contended, and they see it as something that warrants government support. In his view, a millage is the best way for that government support to be realized, so he’s eager to have that question put to voters. Those in the arts community have questioned whether it’s an opportune time for the millage, and he shares that concern. There are a number of particularities about why this is not the best time for a millage. He is not yet convinced, so he’s eager to hear what his colleagues think. He then ticked through the specific concerns: whether it’s the proper cycle; the lack of polling; the inchoate nature of funding; high costs of promotional materials; potential for misunderstanding as to scope.

Many of those things are true, Taylor admitted, but he was not sure they pushed him over the edge. He felt that the benefits and detriments are a “gut check” for people. He stated that “we all want it to succeed,” and stated that he is confident it will succeed in any election – so he’s not certain it wouldn’t be best to ask the most people about it. [This was an allusion to the fact that it falls in a presidential election cycle.] He felt that Ann Arbor at its core is a community that will support art in public places.

However, he stated that he was “still up in the air” and was eager to hear the thoughts of his colleagues.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he had “jumped on this” as soon as Taylor had initiated it. [He asked to have his name added as a sponsor.] He ventured that everyone knows he’s been very vocal in criticizing the existing funding mechanism. The community has been debating the funding ordinance, and no other community in Michigan has adopted the same kind of ordinance. That indicated to him that no other city is willing to stick its neck out and take money out of utilities and special millages to pay for art in public places. “A millage is the only way to go,” Kunselman said. He appreciated the comments from people in the arts community who were hesitant to see the millage placed on this November’s ballot.

But he felt that in a presidential election, it would get out the greatest number of voters – many of whom are just going to love art, regardless of whether they’re paying for it. And that could tip the balance in getting the millage passed. Kunselman claimed that the library board is moving forward with a millage without waiting to do a big review of community sentiment. Kunselman implied that the library’s millage would pass because everybody likes books and that Ann Arbor is a well-read community. [In fact, the Ann Arbor District Library has undertaken a systematic effort to measure community sentiment. That effort has included a scientific survey of voters, the results of which were released four months ago. The AADL subsequently conducted public forums on their plan to construct a new building, before the board voted to put the bond proposal on the ballot. An informal campaign committee started its work several months ago.]

Kunselman looked at art as being something that needs to get out in front of the most voters, in order to give it a chance of passing.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) chats with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Ann Arbor art commission chair Marsha Chamberlin after the vote.

From left: Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) chats with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Ann Arbor art commission chair Marsha Chamberlin after the vote to put a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Kunselman liked the idea that it will “unchain the restrictions” so that not just monumental art but also cultural arts can be supported. He said he came from a cultural arts family – pointing out that he’d at one time worked as a projectionist at Michigan Theater.

Responding to the short timeframe for mounting a millage campaign, Smith noted that she’d twice been involved in bringing forward a proposal to roll back the Percent for Art program to a half percent. That was not because she’s not a fan of art, she said. On both occasions, in a very short period of time, the arts community and the broader community had come out and convinced her that’s reducing the percentage to a half percent is not the way to go. So she was not concerned about the arts community not having that kind of energy when it comes to voting in November. She felt that “we’re a passionate and creative bunch and recognize a good thing.” She said she’s looking forward to living in a city that has parks and a new library when a lot of cities are still struggling. In contrast, Ann Arbor is not just moving forward, but rather “surging” forward. Now is as good a time as any to do it, and she would do her part to make sure people know that they should vote yes on the millage.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) distinguished between the politics and substance of the issue. The substance has been discussed frequently, and frequently it’s been upheld, he said. The community has supported the Percent for Art ordinance, even with its imperfections, he contended. The millage proposal is better, he said, because it eliminates some of those restrictions associated with the Percent for Art program. It’s a pleasure to agree with Kunselman on something, Derezinski said. On the issue of the timing, he said “we don’t live in an ideal world.” He felt it was important to go ahead and put in on the ballot. He thinks the community support is there, and he would vote to put it on the ballot right away.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he’s always supported the Percent for Art program. He’s had problems with how it was funded, he allowed. But he thanked the members of the public art commission for their service. He said that this change to a millage-based proposal would allow performance art on city streets and sidewalks. He felt that a millage would be a fair way to approach it – given that it was for a relatively short period and could be evaluated at the end of four years.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated that based on what she was hearing at that point, it didn’t sound like the council was inclined to postpone. She reviewed the various concerns that had been aired at a cultural leaders forum held by the Arts Alliance earlier that day – a gathering that she, Derezinski, Taylor and Hieftje had attended. She noted that there were basic questions – about the amount of the millage, for example. She lamented the fact that Taylor’s proposal does not offer residents a clear choice about whether to use public money to pay for art. She felt there should be a clear choice. She indicated she would support placing the question on the ballot, based on her commitment to offer voters a clear choice – with her subsequent proposal to prepare to eliminate the Percent for Art funding mechanism prior to the millage.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) allowed that she’d been more of a critic of the Percent for Art program than a supporter. But unlike Kunselman, she did not oppose it on the grounds that it involves capital improvement dollars. She thinks that the program has started out with a lot of money and with no guidance about how to spend that money. Based on her own observations at AAPAC meetings, it continues to be a struggle to spend the money. She said the amount Ann Arbor sets aside is inordinately large – based on conversations she’s had with art administrators in other cities.

Briere said her issue is the definition of capital improvements. She viewed the ballot proposal with favor. She felt that the inherent restrictions in the existing Percent for Art program have been more onerous than effective. The fact that the amount to be generated by the millage is more than the money already being set aside bothers her. If the commission is given more dollars to spend, it’ll be difficult to balance all the demand – but at least the commission will have the ability to spend some of it on things other than monumental art.

She’s not concerned about the short timeframe of the next two months, saying that the conversation has been going on for the last five years. Respondents to her informal poll over the weekend were as likely to say they support the current Percent for Art program as they were to say they oppose all dollars going to a millage. If councilmembers are going to do this, she said, they have sell it. They have to be confident as they communicate to the public that the council is not trying to hedge its bets too much. That is, if the public goes ahead with the millage, it means that the council needs to re-examine the Percent for Art program and change the way it reads on the books.

Public Art Millage: Council Deliberations – Amendment

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked for some confirmation about the impact of the millage passage: If the millage passes, then the funding specified in the city’s Percent for Art ordinance would be suspended. Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias pointed Hohnke to the language of the charter amendment, which prohibits using city funds from any other means than the millage for the duration of the four-year period.

Left to right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) chats with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) during a recess in the meeting.

Left to right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) chats with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) during a recess in the meeting. In the foreground is Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Hohnke offered a different perspective. He contended it was his experience that the majority of people in Ward 5 and throughout the city think that “Percent for Art is great!” He claimed that it’s been solidly supported by a vast majority of constituents, when revisions have come before the council. He thinks that additional funding for arts that addresses constraints of the Percent for Art program is a great thing. He appreciated the effort to find a way to support other types of art. His view is that the folks in the city would support both. He is a little concerned that people want to see the funding mechanism replaced. He then proposed an amendment to the ballot proposal that would eliminate the part that suspends the Percent for Art funding for the duration of the millage.

Hohnke thinks both funding mechanisms should be available, and he’s concerned about constraining future councils. If the public wants to pass this millage, then the council could also modify the Percent for Art ordinance at the council table. He felt there are two separate questions: Percent for Art funding, and millage funding for a set of art that is less constrained by the current program. It’s not just different funding mechanisms, Hohnke said. The Percent for Art program involves the way the city impacts the built environment. When we choose, as a community, to make capital expenditures, we’re saying that we want art to be a part of how we’re impacting our built environment, he said. He felt that’s important and that it has been effective in many communities around the country.

Briere called Hohnke’s idea “an interesting approach.” Her perception is that it’s been difficult to spend the money that’s already been allocated. She ventured that if both propositions went forward, the public art commission would suddenly have $860,000 to spend, which is quite a lot – especially because it’s not been easy to deal with half that amount. So Briere asked Hohnke if that’s what he intended.

Hohnke confirmed that was his intent, and allowed that she’d made a good point. He called the challenge one of process. And he contended that process challenges are not beyond our means to address, because we have energetic, smart people working on it.

Derezinski feared that Hohnke’s proposal “might very well kill it.” Given the short timeframe, you have to be careful about how to sell it, and be careful not to ask for too much, he said. He couldn’t go along with Hohnke’s idea.

Smith respected Hohnke’s feeling behind the amendment. But she’d rather vote down the proposal and come back with more tightly crafted language and wait for next ballot than to pursue Hohnke’s amendment. She felt that it risked losing it all.

Anglin was not in favor of the amendment, and indicated he was inclined to see how well the millage proposal worked out.

Kunselman said he couldn’t support Hohnke’s amendment, but picked up on a reference Hohnke had made to Percent for Art-type programs outside the state of Michigan. He felt that in Michigan, the Percent for Art approach doesn’t have a legal basis. Kunselman pointed out that the council had voted down directing the city attorney to produce an opinion. Kunselman felt a lawsuit could strike down the city’s ordinance.

Hohnke allowed that he could not give a specific example of another city in Michigan that had a Percent for Art program. But he argued that other Michigan cities also don’t fund human services in the same way that Ann Arbor does. Hohnke doesn’t see any problem with Ann Arbor “taking leadership.” Despite Kunselman’s concerns about a lawsuit, Hohnke pointed out that no lawsuit had yet been filed. He claimed that the city council had an assurance from the city attorney that the city’s Percent for Art program is a perfectly appropriate way to fund public art.

Mayor John Hieftje said he wouldn’t support Hohnke’s amendment, but appreciated how zealous Hohnke was.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) also said she wouldn’t support it. She felt it would be hard to sell. She echoed Briere’s concerns about the sheer amount of money that would be involved. She described being lost in Philadelphia recently, which has a Percent for Art program. She described a long stretch of blight, but then in the downtown you see some nice pieces of art, she said. She referred to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [the implication being that basic needs like food, water and shelter should be satisfied before higher needs, like self-actualization.] She responded to the several claims around the table that the Percent for Art program is solidly supported, but noted that residents have not had a chance to vote on it.

Outcome on Hohnke’s amendment: Hohnke was the only voice of support. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) appeared only inadvertently to vote for it.

Public Art Millage: Council Deliberations – Finale

Mayor John Hieftje said he’d support putting the proposal on the ballot. He was happy it’ll have widespread support. He felt that it’s rightly a four-year millage. Next time around, the council would be able to reduce the amount of the millage or add more to the amount that is put before voters. Hieftje made a standard economic development argument for public art, saying that having public art in your city creates excitement and that excitement can cause people to want to be in the place and make people think that this is a great place to be.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated he’d support the proposal, despite the failure of his amendment.

With respect to “performance art,” Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked if the Ann Arbor Summer Festival could be supported by the millage. Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias indicated that “performance art” is a well-known term of art in the arts community. She said it’s pretty flexible, but excludes something like a theater performance. A performance at a venue like a theater isn’t performance art. She was not able to say whether something like a performance in an outdoor setting like the Summer Festival would be performance art or not.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to place a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Public Art Millage: Beginning Ordinance Repeal?

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pitched her proposal later in the meeting. It would direct the city’s legal staff to prepare of a repeal to the existing funding mechanism of the Percent for Art program. She related to her council colleagues how she’d told the meeting of cultural leaders earlier in the day, that she would withdraw the proposal, if the millage proposal were postponed [as president of the Arts Alliance, Deb Polich, had asked the council to do]. Lumm said the ordinance has been controversial from the beginning, and she felt the time to reexamine it is now – by asking voters the fundamental question of whether they support public funding of art, rather than simply which method.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

The approach of asking voters to support a millage, with the existing program as a default, says to voters: We’re going to use public funds for art regardless, but we’d sure like your input about what method. She felt that it’s important to ask the basic question of whether citizens support public funding of art. By repealing the existing Percent for Art ordinance before the November election, voters would get that clear choice. She said she trusts the voters, regardless of the outcome. She did not want to set up a “have your cake and eat it, too” situation where voters are given a Hobson’s Choice.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said the first time she read through Lumm’s resolution, she got out her virtual red pen because she wanted to cross out various “whereas” clauses, saying that they were “unnecessarily inflammatory” about a program that is just finding its legs and “demeaning” to volunteers on the public art commission who’ve spent a significant amount of time of this program. She called the “whereas” clauses “judgmental” with respect to the commission’s progress.

Smith felt the choice offered to voters will be clear in that there will be no funds other than this millage available for funding public art. [If the millage passes, it will be the only source of funding; but if the millage fails, the Percent for Art program will continue as before.] Smith felt it’s a yes or no question that is delivered to the voters. She said she’s received such overwhelming support for arts in Ann Arbor that she feels, “People know exactly what they want, and they want art.”

Rather than trying to revise the “whereas” clauses, she said she’d simply opt to reject it.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he’d support the resolution, noting it just directs staff to prepare a resolution to change an ordinance – something for the council to digest at a later meeting. He doesn’t want to terminate the entire ordinance, but rather some of the funding mechanisms for it. The charter millage language only suspends the funding mechanism, but doesn’t resolve it. He ventured that the council would be dancing around the issue for a time – until we get greater community consensus about funding of public art. He also wants to see language prepared in case the millage does fail. The resolution would get the council to start thinking.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) respected the idea of the proposed resolution and the intent that councilmembers Lumm and Kunselman brought to it. If the Percent for Art funding mechanism is repealed, then if the millage were to fail, there would be no public funding for art. Even though the council had reviewed the possibility of reducing the funding for the existing Percent for Art program on several occasions before, she noted that no one had ever proposed to eliminate it altogether. Briere said that if the council weren’t putting a millage on the ballot, she would not even flirt with the idea of Lumm’s resolution. She’s happy to wait, she said, and see where we are after the millage vote. The idea of being prepared for the millage to be defeated and the need to address the Percent for Art program is one she thinks is worth remembering. But she didn’t think she could support this resolution.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) agreed with Smith, saying that some of the language demeans some of the people who’ve worked hard on the public art commission. He said that as a member of the public art commission, he’s seen how the members have worked. It’s not necessary to try to demean the efforts of those who’ve been trying to work through the operational details of a new program, he said. He felt that it should be “toned down.”

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) viewed Lumm’s resolution as supportive of the millage. He didn’t read it as negative, but rather as going through the pitfalls of the current program, which the public art commission itself has brought to the council. The resolution simply says that the city is going to put aside what they’ve used before.

Responding to the characterization by Smith and Derezinski of the “whereas” clauses as demeaning to the members of the art commission, Lumm simply read the clauses aloud:

Whereas, In November of 2007, City Council approved an amendment to the City Charter creating the “percent for art” program that funds public art through the allocation of funds from capital improvement projects;

Whereas, Allocating funds to the “percent for art” program results in reduced funding for much-needed capital infrastructure improvements and many Ann Arbor residents believe the allocation of capital project funds to public art represents an inappropriate and unrelated use of dollars raised through tax millages and water and sewer system funds that they believe should be fully dedicated to their primary streets, parks, water/sewer, and solid waste purposes;

Whereas, Voters were never provided the opportunity to have their voices heard on either the “percent for art” program specifically or more importantly, on the fundamental question of whether public art should be supported by public/taxpayer funding, regardless of its form;

Whereas, It is expected that City Council will place on the November ballot a proposal to amend the city charter to authorize a new, four-year millage of 0.10 mill to fund public art which if approved by voters, suspends the “percent for art” program funding only for the duration of the millage (the “percent for art” program funding would be re-instated if the millage were not renewed). If not passed by the voters, the “percent for art” program and funding continue in their present form;

Whereas, To truly enfranchise residents, voters should be offered a clear, yes/no choice on public funding for public art rather than an either/or choice of the mechanism used to fund public art;

Whereas, City Council action to repeal the funding provisions of the current “percent for art” program prior to the November ballot question would offer voters a clear, simple “yes/no” choice – an affirmative vote results in public funding for public art, a negative vote does not;

Whereas, A July 1, 2013 effective date for repeal of the “percent for art” program maintains the funding commitments for public art previously made to the program;

By way of additional background, it’s likely that Smith and Derezinski were not reacting specifically to the “whereas” clauses, which are difficult to see as demeaning to the public art commission. Instead, they were likely reacting to the memo attached to the resolution, which refers to “The slow launch of the program, accumulated, unused surpluses at a challenging fiscal time for the city, and projects not universally accepted” – statements that might be seen as laying blame on the public art commission.

Lumm rounded out her remarks by ticking through the various interpretations that yes and no votes for the millage might have. She reported that other councilmembers at the meeting earlier in the day with cultural arts leaders had acknowledged that voter sentiment would be difficult to read.

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1) tells Sabra Briere (Ward 1) how many minutes Jane Lumm had been speaking – five. Council members are supposed to be limited to two speaking turns on any given question, the first of which has a limit of five minutes and the second three minutes.

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1) tells Sabra Briere (Ward 1) how many minutes Jane Lumm had been speaking – five. Councilmembers are supposed to be limited to two speaking turns on any given question, the first of which has a limit of five minutes and the second three minutes.

Lumm’s turn ended when Smith raised a point of order – that Lumm had exceeded the time limit on her speaking turn.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) came back to the issue of the “whereas” clauses, saying he felt the clauses make bold assertions that he claimed are only weakly supported. As an example, he gave ” … many Ann Arbor residents believe the allocation of capital project funds to public art represents an inappropriate and unrelated use of dollars.” He dismissed that assertion by saying, “Many Ann Arbor residents believe yada yada yada. Many Ann Arbor residents believe a whole bunch of things and you can insert whatever you want.” He contended that the evidence is to the contrary. In the repeated conversations the council has had, he continued, the council had heard overwhelming support for the public art program. So he felt the statement was not an accurate reflection of the facts.

Hohnke then took up the statement in the “whereas” clauses that “Voters were never provided the opportunity to have their voices heard …” Hohnke ventured that what that statement meant was that voters had not had a chance to vote directly on the issue, and he admitted that was true. But he claimed that it’s inappropriate to say that their voices haven’t been heard. It had been thoroughly debated when the ordinance was enacted, he contended, and people’s voices were heard. The Arts Alliance was very rigorous in seeking out the opinions of councilmembers and making them widely known, he said, so that people had a clear understanding of where their councilmembers stood on the Percent for Art program.

Ultimately, though, Hohnke felt that the resolution was unnecessary. He noted that councilmembers can simply ask staff to prepare a resolution. He claimed that the controversy that Lumm and Kunselman talk about surrounding the program is one that they and a small number of folks are manufacturing. There are significant and honest questions about the funding mechanism, he said, not the existence of support for public art.

Public art is something that we don’t want to leave unsupported, Hohnke said.

Mayor John Hieftje said he’d have a hard time supporting the resolution. He described the “preamble” as resembling more a political document than a resolution.

If the millage fails, then it’d be appropriate to review the Percent for Art program, Hieftje said. He felt there’d be plenty of time to do that in November, with three new councilmembers coming on board. It just seems premature to take a look at it now. It might be the case that four years from now the city council says, “Great, the millage gave us a real boost, let’s see what we can do back with Percent for Art.”

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) introduced some confusion by appearing to indicate that Lumm’s resolution would continue the Percent for Art funding, even if the millage failed. Briere indicated that her expectation would be that Lumm’s resolution was meant to revoke the Percent for Art funding mechanism before hearing from voters.

Kunselman suggested striking all but the final “whereas” clause so that the council would not have to “dicker” about it. Lumm was fine with that.

The deletion of the “whereas” clauses did not change anyone’s mind.

Outcome: The resolution to prepare for the repeal of the Percent for Art funding mechanism failed, with support only from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

St. Nicholas Auction, Rezoning

In front of the council was a resolution to start a process to change the current PUD (planned unit development) zoning on the former St. Nicholas Church property on North Main Street. The land is being put up for public auction on Sept. 6, 2012. The resolution indicated that the proposed new zoning would match the surrounding land, which is D2 (downtown interface).

The property is being offered at auction by the Washtenaw County treasurer at a cost of $365,051, which covers back taxes and demolition costs. Demolition is expected to begin in the coming weeks. [See also Chronicle coverage: "Rezoning Process for North Main Site on Agenda."]

Zoning Designations. Color key: blue, D1 (downtown); green, D2 (downtown interface), red, PUD (planned unit development).

Downtown Ann Arbor zoning designations. Color key: blue, D1 (downtown); green, D2 (downtown interface), red, PUD (planned unit development). Kunselman’s Aug. 20 resolution would direct city staff to begin a process for rezoning The Gallery PUD to D2 (downtown interface), to be consistent with surrounding properties.

The property has an easement on it held by its neighbor to the south, McKinley Inc., for 57 parking spaces, which poses a challenge for future development.

Authorized by the city council in 2006, the PUD zoning was intended to allow construction of The Gallery, an 11-story building (158 feet tall) that would include 224 parking spaces and 123 units of residential housing. Of those units, 18 would have met the definition of affordable housing derived by a formula based on area median incomes. In contrast, the D2 zoning has a height limit of 60 feet.

If the property does not sell at the Sept. 6 auction (which concludes on Sept. 11), the property will be offered again for auction in October. If it does not sell after the second auction, it will revert to the city.

Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald explained at the Aug. 20 council meeting that in any case it would not be possible to complete the rezoning process before the first or the second auctions – due to the noticing requirement for all the relevant public hearings.

St. Nicholas Auction, Rezoning: Council Deliberations

The sponsor of the resolution, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), reviewed the basic history of the four parcels in question. Because the property is currently in public hands, he felt there was very low risk that the downzoning from PUD to D2 could be analyzed as a “taking.” In his conversations with Washtenaw County treasurer Catherine McClary, who’s technically the current owner, she had indicated to him that she didn’t have a problem with the rezoning.

When The Gallery had come through the pipeline, Kunselman recalled that he’d served on the city planning commission at the time. He reviewed the details of that project, including the easement of 57 parking spaces that is now permanently attached to the land.

The D2 zoning, which was put in place after The Gallery was approved, Kunselman said, is a fair statement of how the character of the Kerrytown neighborhood should move forward. Kunselman felt that the city is going to end up owning the land unwillingly.

Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald arrives at the meeting.

Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald arrives at the meeting.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald to the podium to talk about the timetable for rezoning compared to the planned auction on Sept. 6 and the possible second auction in October. McDonald told the council that the city wouldn’t be able to rezone the property before the first or the second auction, given the amount of public notice that is required: “There is simply not time to do it,” McDonald explained. Briere wanted to know what the effect of the resolution would be on the ability of the county treasurer to sell the land. McDonald said that any answer he gave would be speculation.

McDonald noted that the county treasurer has a view and staff has a view. One of the constraints on the property is the 57 parking spaces that have to be provided to the neighbor. And any project has to incorporate those 57 spaces. So if you don’t have a project of some density, there’d probably be no way to recoup the costs of building it, he ventured. The 57 spaces were built into The Gallery project, he pointed out. He felt there was some belief that if somebody bid at first auction, that might allow the prospect of building The Gallery. But anecdotally, he reported hearing from developers that the numbers just don’t work. There’s also an affordable housing component to the PUD zoning, so 15% of the units would have to be affordable, he pointed out. It’s hard to predict, and everyone has a different view on this, McDonald concluded.

Briere was concerned that some prospective buyer might feel the city had changed the rules by discussing rezoning. So she wanted to hear from McDonald what his interpretation was of the effect of the resolution. McDonald reported that in his conversations with the county treasurer, she’d been very helpful. For the first auction, she felt that keeping the zoning in place would enhance the value of the property. If the council decides to pass the resolution at whatever time, what’s really important is simply that the city gives notice to any buyer that the rezoning process is in place, so that it could be put into someone’s evaluation of the property.

The treasurer is willing to take whatever action and attach it to the due diligence documents for the auction. For example, the easement is already included. If the rezoning process were to begin, then a prospective buyer would have notice of that, if that’s what the council decided to do. It could affect someone’s view of the land’s value, he allowed, but the important thing is to clearly communicate council’s intention and desire.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) characterized the 57 parking spaces as running with the land without regard to the zoning. He wondered if a rezoning, given the 57-parking space easement, would render it functionally un-developable. McDonald didn’t know that he’d say that. It’s a complex easement, he noted. The holder of the easement currently has no cost, and if construction of The Gallery takes place, then that’s when the payment for the parking begins. He said there’s no way to tell what’s going to happen at these auctions. If it doesn’t go at the first auction, there might be more speculative bids at the second auction.

Kunselman observed that the 57 parking spaces would need to be provided, even if city ends up with the land. McDonald confirmed that, but said that the city could choose not to accept the land, in which case, it would go back to the county.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) felt that the timing was off. She wanted to see how the process unfolds at the auction. It’s in the city’s best interest to see someone purchase the land, she said. She did not want to add to the already existing challenge of disposing city-owned land. She felt that “getting out of the way” is the best approach.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) agreed with Smith, and described the resolution as premature.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) wondered if the process of rezoning would perhaps give the city additional flexibility. It wasn’t totally clear what Derezinski meant, and McDonald noted that the proposed D2 rezoning was more restrictive. At the end of the day, he said, it depends on whether you want to see something like The Gallery built there or not.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) felt the resolution was a little bit premature at this point.

Outcome: The council voted down Kunselman’s resolution to initiate the rezoning of the North Main Street property.

Old Y Lot (350 S. Fifth Ave.)

The council considered a resolution that directed the city administrator to prepare options for the disposition of the city-owned land at the corner of Fifth and William – 350 S. Fifth Ave., known as the former YMCA lot. The resolution was explicitly worded so that the city administrator was to proceed independently of a planning effort by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority called Connecting William Street. [See also Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Briefed on William Street Project."]

The resolution would have directed city administrator Steve Powers to evaluate the parcel at 350 S. Fifth for possible public or corporate use. If no such use were found, the resolution directed Powers to report back to the council with a timeline for the disposition of the property – based on state and city laws and policies. That parcel is also known as the Fifth and William parking lot, because it’s currently used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system, or the old Y lot, because it’s the location of the former YMCA building.

Left to right: City CFO Tom Crawford chats with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) during a recess of the meeting.

Left to right: City CFO Tom Crawford chats with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) during a recess of the Aug. 20 meeting.

The resolution’s sponsor, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), has frequently raised the issue of ongoing interest payments associated with a loan used by the city to purchase the property from the YMCA for $3.5 million in 2003. The council voted in 2008 to extend the five-year loan with the Bank of Ann Arbor for another five years, through the end of 2013. The interest rate is 3.89%. The interest-only payments work out to roughly $140,000 a year.

By 2013, the total interest paid will be around $1.4 million. When it was condemned, the cost of demolishing the old YMCA building and abating asbestos was around $1.5 million. The DDA covered the demolition costs and has covered half the interest payments. So the total amount of Ann Arbor governmental investment in the property is at least $6.4 million.

The Connecting William Street project was undertaken by the DDA based on a directive from the city council, on a unanimous vote, given at its April 4, 2011 meeting. Kunselman voted for that planning effort to take place – but was also vocal at the time, as well as before, about his view that the old Y lot should simply be put up for sale one way or another.

Old Y Lot: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who sponsored the resolution, said it was intended to get the council to start thinking about what to do with the land. It addresses the $3.5 million balloon payment that’s due in December 2013. The interest-only payments will have accumulated to $1.36 million, he noted, which means that the city has $4.86 million in a piece of land that’s not worth it, he said.

Kunselman said he knows that the Connecting William Street process includes the old Y lot, but pointed out that the planning effort is supposed to result in a presentation of a recommendation to the city council in late October. His resolution doesn’t have a timeframe per se, he noted, but just directs the city administrator to provide a timeline for disposition. He pointed out that the city hasn’t sold any land recently, and ventured that not many people on the city council had any idea of what the process for that is: Do we put a notice on the city website, saying “For Sale”? How would we get the best value, he wondered. Given that December 2013 is going to come up pretty quick, he felt that it’s important to start thinking about that now.

Kunselman stated that the city had not had a lot of success with issuing RFPs (requests for proposals) in the past. And this particular property is costing the city a lot of money over time, Kunselman pointed out, while the other surface parking lots within the scope of the Connecting William Street study are not costing the city money.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) called the resolution premature and unnecessary. More than a year remains before the balloon payment is due, she pointed out, and there’s no reason, she felt, that the city would not be able to do another 5-year loan arrangement. She allowed that the city has not done the RFP process well in the past. That’s part of the Connecting William Street mission – to prepare the lots in a way that has full public buy-in and that is economically feasible for sale. It’s a matter of hitting that special target of what the citizens need and will demand out of the sale of public land, and what is actually sustainable and economically feasible to be built.

Smith felt Kunselman’s resolution is unnecessary and sends a clear message that there’s no faith in the Connecting William Street process. She pointed out that half of the interest payments are being borne by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. She also pointed out that the city receives 17% gross revenues from the surface parking spaces now located on the old Y lot [as well as the rest of the public parking system].

By way of background, the Fifth & William parking lot generated $199,839 in revenues in fiscal year 2011. And 17% of that works out to $34,000, which is 25% of the total interest payment on the loan, or half of the city’s share of that payment.

Smith allowed that lumped together, the total cost seems traumatic – and she said she’s not sure she’d have supported the purchase of the land in 2003. But she fully supports the process underway.

Mayor John Hieftje described the group of citizens who are working hard on the Connecting William Street project, who will come back to the council with a report. Yet he appreciated Kunselman’s direction for action. Responding to Kunselman’s contention that the old Y lot is not worth as much as the city has invested in it, Hieftje ventured that if you look at recent comparables – like the property at South University and Forrest – the old Y lot has a lot of value. He acknowledged that the city might well just say here’s the zoning on the property, and just sell it. The city might turn to that approach, he said. His issue right now is the timing of the resolution. He was content to wait, but might support the resolution after the Connecting William Street report came back.

Spotting an opportunity to win Hieftje’s support for the resolution, Kunselman asked him if he was suggesting a postponement until the council’s second meeting in October. Then the council could have both items on the agenda at the same time. Hieftje declined the gambit, by saying he felt it would take time to digest the DDA’s report, and he did not see a reason to postpone it for future consideration. He did respect the concept of just putting a property on the market.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) highlighted the fact that the resolution focuses on the administrator’s recommendation. She felt the intent is quite reasonable. She described it as “kickstarting” the process of thinking about the site. The property has been off the tax rolls for a decade, she noted. Lumm did not feel the resolution presupposes any outcome of the Connecting William Street process, and it’s not about excluding the DDA. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) also expressed his support of the resolution.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated he felt the resolution was premature, so he couldn’t support it.

Smith stressed that the goal of selling the property should not be simply to avoid paying interest on the loan. There’s a larger public policy issue at stake, she said. There’s a “juicier conversation” to be had than one about directing the city administrator – and she’d appreciate people raising the level of the conversation around the table.

Lumm read aloud the resolved clause, saying she thought it was reasonable.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) felt that the council should allow the Connecting William Street process to play out without “shadowing” it. She appreciated Kunselman’s constant concern about the interest payments and the looming balloon payment. But she wanted to be able to dissect the DDA’s proposal without comparing it to the city administrator’s efforts.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted that the city council had asked the DDA to take a good long look at the property. And in his view it would be “proper, prudent and polite” to wait for the DDA to conclude its work.

Outcome: The resolution on the old Y lot failed, with support only from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Public Towing

A goal for the city’s financial services unit, which is listed out in the fiscal year 2013 budget book, is collaboration with Washtenaw County to centralize the administration of public towing. Parking on someone’s private property or having as excessive number of parking tickets are examples of this kind of situation.

Left to right: City administrator Steve Powers, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Dennis Brewer, who owns two local towing companies.

Left to right: City administrator Steve Powers, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Dennis Brewer, who owns two local towing companies.

Currently, the city contracts with three different companies, in three districts of the city: Brewer’s Towing Inc., Sakstrup’s Towing, and Triangle Towing. But those contracts expire at the end of 2012.

In front of the council was a resolution authorizing the city to contract with Washtenaw County, which will administer the towing under a single contract. The city will share responsibility for various aspects of the towing administration. On the city’s side, the existing manual, paper-based system will be replaced with one that uses CLEMIS (Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System) and e-impound.

The new approach is also supposed to reduce costs to those who have their cars towed – because outside storage fees of $20/day would no longer be assessed immediately when a vehicle arrives at the storage lot. Instead, the new city/county fee structure would not permit a storage fee to be applied until a vehicle has been stored for at least eight hours. [.pdf of fee schedule]

The city will point to this collaboration with the county as part of the state’s economic vitality incentive program (EVIP), which encourages municipalities to demonstrate efforts at collaboration with each other.

Public Towing: Public Comment

Dennis Brewer told the council that he and his wife own both Brewer’s Towing and Sakstrup’s Towing. He started Brewer’s back in 1963, he said. He’s opposed to the “suggestive language” in the resolution. He questioned how the first 8 hours of storage could be free? He ventured that this would be a real problem for customer relations. What if it turns out to be 8 hours 5 minutes – then people will object to paying, just because they were 5 minutes too late. He predicted it would be a real headache.

When would the clock start ticking, Brewer wondered: When the tow company gets the call? When the tow company arrives on the scene? When the car reaches the storage facility? Brewer also told the council that his company’s computer system is based on calendar days for storage. The storage changes at 12:01 every day. Their current practice is that vehicles must be in storage at least 8 hours before a second day of storage can be charged. He reminded the council that it’s necessary to carry insurance to cover the cars in storage, and that the storage lots need personnel on duty 24/7 to release the vehicles.

Public Towing: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) stressed that the primary issue is that it makes things more efficient as the two governmental units cooperate. He encouraged everyone’s support.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked the city CFO Tom Crawford to approach the podium. She called it a good collaborative effort, but noted that it differs from the previous approach in some details. She asked about “custom criteria” that could be applied – involving grace periods and the like. She noted that the council had heard from Brewer about the economic difficulty involved.

Crawford explained that the two objectives were to reduce costs and improve service. The city and county are reducing their administrative fee from $60 to $45 – and the county will be sharing a portion of that $45 with the city. The city and the county also looked to the towing companies to help with those objectives. Some towing companies had a practice of starting the clock for the storage fee as soon as the car hit the lot. And at midnight, no matter what time the car hit the lot, the timer would click to a new day.

Crawford allowed that some of the towing companies never had that custom. [Dennis Brewer, during his public commentary, explained that for his companies, the timer would not click to a new day unless the car had been on the lot for at least eight hours.] What the city wants to do for people who are quickly in and out, is to reduce the cost for those people. That might mean that the costs for those people who don’t pick up their cars within the first eight hours could increase. As it’s currently written, there’d be no fee for the first eight hours, Crawford explained.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand to answer questions about the public towing contract.

Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand at the Aug. 20 city council meeting to answer questions about the public towing contract.

Lumm expressed concern that the towing companies have been doing this for a number of years – operating under a certain number of assumptions. She saw the attempts to make things more user-friendly as a good thing. She noted that some other councilmembers had questions about towing distance. She asked if the council would be able to weigh in. Crawford explained that the request for proposals (RFP) from the county would be going out soon, and he could take input from them that night. One of the criteria that they’ve received input on is one that measures the distance of a storage facility from the center of the city, defined as the intersection of Main and Huron streets, with additional consideration given to a facility’s location on a mass transportation line.

Kunselman followed up on the question of how to ensure that a storage yard is on a mass transit line – he didn’t suppose the council would see the RFP before it went out. Crawford indicated that Washtenaw County would be issuing the RFP, but councilmembers could certainly see it if they wanted. Kunselman wanted to make sure that the city’s needs are being met with respect to the location of vehicle storage yards.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand to explain that some criteria could be added to the evaluation process that relates to being located on a mass transit line. He didn’t see that as an obstacle that can’t be overcome.

Lumm expressed appreciation for the hard work of staff, and said she felt that people who have their cars towed should pay the full cost of the service, but she appreciated efforts to lower the costs. Crawford stressed that the city and the county were working really well on this project.

Outcome: The council unanimously authorized contracting with Washtenaw County for public towing.

Ann Arbor Municipal Airport Study

Ann Arbor’s municipal airport was back on the city council’s Aug. 20 agenda, possibly the last time for a long while to come. That was expected, based on action taken earlier this year in April. The first of two agenda items on Aug. 20 related to the fifth of five different grant contracts for the completion of an environmental assessment (EA) for a possible 800-foot extension of the runway. The $42,500 in the grant consists of $40,375 in federal funds, $1,062 in state funds and a local match of $1,063.

A second airport-related item on the council’s agenda involved the use of those funds in the grant item to study the need to relocate federally owned navigational aids (ODAL lighting system) for the EA.

The city council had initially authorized funding for the first of the grant contracts related to the environmental assessment project at its Feb. 2, 2009 meeting. The assessment began on May 4, 2009. The process appeared to culminate in a public hearing in April 2010. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Airport Study Gets Public Hearing."] In the interim, city councilmembers have removed the runway extension from the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) each year they’ve been asked to give the CIP its annual approval.

However, when the Federal Aviation Administration responded to the EA draft report, that prompted communication between the city of Ann Arbor and the FAA in late 2011. And that back-and-forth has resulted in FAA requests for more work, which is meant to wrap up the environmental assessment.

The most recent previous council action occurred on April 16, 2012, when the council considered several resolutions in connection with the airport, including the fourth EA grant contract.

Ann Arbor Municipal Airport Study: Public Comment

Andrew McGill addressed the council on behalf of a grass roots citizens group – on the topic of the environmental assessment (EA) study for the airport runway extension. If approved, he said, it would bring the total price of the EA to $400,000 – $100,000 more than what the council had been told 3.5 years ago, when it approved the original EA grant. The EA has become a “money pit,” for taxpayers – federal, state and local, he said. Part of the measure would pay the FAA to review the final EA, and his group did not have a problem with that.

What McGill was concerned about was a provision in the grant regarding the navigational aids – or the approach lighting. He contended that this is not just a series in a long series of grants. Part the navigational aids study, he contended, would give the FAA a blank check from the city of Ann Arbor. A condition of that grant contract, he explained, is that Ann Arbor taxpayers must pay to move or replace the runway approach lighting, long into the future. Right now, he said, there’s no federal money for that, and he feared it could cost Ann Arbor taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s different from all the previous airport grants, he told the council.

Ann Arbor Municipal Airport Study: Council Deliberations

In light of McGill’s public commentary, councilmembers had a number of questions for Matt Kulhanek, the Ann Arbor municipal airport manager. They were essentially trying to get an assurance from Kulhanek that their vote for the two items would not expose the city to financial risk.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gets a briefing from Andrew McGill before the meeting.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gets a briefing from Andrew McGill before the Aug. 20 council meeting.

Their questions drew out several salient points from Kulhanek. He stressed that the city was under no obligation to move the navigational lights. City attorney Stephen Postema added his view that there’s no additional obligation to the city other than what is specified in the grant agreement related to the study.

But Kulhanek did say, in response to a question from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), that with each grant agreement the city approved, came with it an obligation to operate the airport for another 20 years.

Kulhanek explained the relationship between the two items on the agenda. One was a grant agreement. The second was the expenditure of the grant funds received under the first item.

Mayor John Hieftje was keen to get some kind of assurance that this would be the end of the EA grant process.

Responding to a question from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Kulhanek indicated that the federal dollars derived from fees applied by the FAA to airline ticket prices. The local money derived from fuel fees and hanger rentals. He concluded that there were no general taxpayer dollars involved.

Responding to a question from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Kulhanek estimated that there are a total of 75-100 jobs at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

Responding to a question from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Kulhanek estimate there are about 170 aircraft at the airport.

Outcome: On the resolution for the grant contract, the council approved it, with dissent from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The resolution to expend the grant funds was also approved, with Briere dropping from the dissenters.

Comcast Franchise Proposal

Comcast asked that the city council approve its application for a franchise within the city. An existing franchise agreement with the cable company runs through 2017.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) explained the implications of the vote on the Comcast franchise application.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) explained the implications of the vote on the Comcast franchise application.

It was important that the council act at its Aug. 20 meeting, because Comcast had sent an application dated July 17, which the city and Comcast agreed should count as “submitted” on July 23. And based on a recent ruling in the U.S. District Court on a matter involving the city of Detroit, the city needed to make a decision within 30 days of July 23.

A staff cover memo recommended rejecting the applications. Reasons include the fact that the existing franchise will remain in place through 2017. In addition, Comcast was taking the position that under a new agreement, it no longer had the obligation to allow the city to use parts of the firm’s institutional network that are essential to ensure public health and safety and other public services.

A third reason given for rejecting the application is that the new franchise agreement would grant use of the city right-of-way, and it’s not clear that continued public access to all public, educational, and governmental (PEG) channels would be ensured. And finally, according to the staff memo, Comcast’s application is not consistent with a formal renewal process – because it did not reasonably purport to meet local needs; and the application is not consistent with an informal process that would require the public to have an opportunity to comment.

Comcast Franchise Proposal: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by urging support of the resolution to deny the application. He wanted to make clear that by voting for the resolution, the council would be voting to deny Comcast’s application. He noted that the resolution had the support of the city’s cable commission. He said the resolution would give the city greater bargaining power.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) stressed that voting to deny the application would preserve the city’s CTN (Community Television Network) channels – for the duration of the existing contract, which is 2017. She said those channels are very important in the city’s communication system.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) ventured that there’s a complicated governmental relationship. It’s under the current state act, assistant city attorney Abigail Elias explained, that Comcast has submitted its application. She stressed that the city’s contract continues for another five years, according to its term, so the application by Comcast is premature, she said.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to deny Comcast’s franchise application.

Bluffs Nature Area Rezoning

The council was asked to give final approval for the rezoning of two parcels acquired by the city of Ann Arbor to add to the Bluffs Nature Area at 1099 N. Main St., north of Sunset Road. The council had given its initial approval on July 16.

Bluffs Nature Area Topographical Map Two-foot Countours

The steep slope of the Bluffs Nature Area as it rises from North Main Street is easy to discern in the two-foot counter topographic map.

The city planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its June 5, 2012 meeting.

A 1.12-acre parcel to the north of the Bluffs – connecting the existing parkland to Huron View Boulevard – is currently zoned O (office), and had been donated to the city by a nursing home near that site.

A 0.57-acre addition to the south connects the existing parkland to Sunset Road and is currently zoned R4C (multiple-family dwelling). It had been purchased by the city from the Elks lodge, using funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage. Both parcels were given approval to be rezoned as PL (public land).

The addition of the parcels will make entrance to the nature area easier. The current entrance off North Main Street is a challenge to pedestrians and cyclists, the road bears heavy traffic, and no sidewalks exist on the west side of the street where the nature area is located.

Bluffs Nature Area Rezoning: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge described himself as a progressive Democrat. He criticized a lack of public access to facilities, buildings and land sites as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He called for using vacant land for affordable housing. He told the council that the rezoning should go back to the planning commission for further review.

Bluffs Nature Area Rezoning: Council Deliberations

During deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it’s worth noting that Bluffs Nature area is peculiar in its terrain – it would be difficult to build on, which is partly why it’s a park and not a building site. It’s used heavily by people who navigate by foot or bicycle, and that’s part of its charm, she said.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to finalize the rezoning of the parcels being added to the Bluffs Nature Area.

Eden Court Rezoning

Nearly a year ago, at its Sept. 6, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to appropriate $82,500 from its open space and parkland preservation millage to acquire the property at 5 W. Eden Court. The Eden Court property is immediately adjacent to the city’s Bryant Community Center.

At its Aug. 20 meeting, the council was asked to take another step toward conversion of the land to city property – by giving initial approval to zone the property as PL (public land). Because a rezoning is a change to the city’s ordinances, the change will require a second council vote after a public hearing at a future meeting.

The 2011 taxes on the property were estimated at $1,400, which will be eliminated from the city’s tax base. The parcel is expected to be used to expand the community center’s programming services. It could also be used in other ways in support of the city’s parks and recreation system.

During her staff report given to the city planning commission on June 5, 2012, city planner Alexis DiLeo said the property contains a single-family home that will be used by the community center to expand its operations. Eventually, the center would like to renovate the interior and build an addition to connect the two buildings, she said. The center is managed under contract with the nonprofit Community Action Network.

The planning commission had voted unanimously to recommend the rezoning at its June 5 meeting.

Outcome: Without discussion, the city council voted to give initial approval to the Eden Court rezoning.

Appointments: City Boards, Commissions

Nominations and appointments to city boards and commissions come at the end of every council meeting.

Appointments: DDA

Nominated at the previous council meeting for a renewal of their appointments to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority were Roger Hewitt, Keith Orr and Sandi Smith. Smith also serves on the city council, representing Ward 1.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) pulled out Smith’s nomination for a separate vote so that he could vote against it. He felt it’s inappropriate to appoint a city councilmember to the DDA, referring to the situation as having a “double-agent” on the council. He objected to the idea that someone with dual service on the DDA and the council could vote on a contract between the DDA and the city – because they’d get to vote twice. He called the two offices incompatible and said it was unethical for someone to serve in both positions.

By way of background, the question of whether it’s possible to hold simultaneously the office of councilmember and DDA board member is addressed in Michigan’s Act 566 of 1978. At first glance, the state statute appears to rule it out. The kind of incompatibility of office that is not allowed is expressed in the definition of “incompatible office”:

(b) “Incompatible offices” means public offices held by a public official which, when the official is performing the duties of any of the public offices held by the official, results in any of the following with respect to those offices held:
(i) The subordination of 1 public office to another.
(ii) The supervision of 1 public office by another.
(iii) A breach of duty of public office.

A city councilmember “supervises” the office of a DDA board member in the sense that city councilmembers must confirm the appointments of DDA board members. However, there’s an explicit exception in the statute for a DDA [emphasis added]:

(3) Section 2 does not prohibit a public officer or public employee of a city, village, township, school district, community college district, or county from being appointed to and serving as a member of the board of a downtown development authority under 1975 PA 197, MCL 125.1651 to 125.1681;

As for Kunselman’s point about contracts, the state statute on conflict of interest plays out somewhat counterintuitively – explicitly providing an exemption for contracts that are between governmental entities.

This issue arose at a May 5, 2010 DDA board meeting, when Smith and mayor John Hieftje, who also serves on the DDA board, were set to vote on a revision to a contract between the DDA and the city. In analyzing their ability to vote, the DDA’s legal counsel, Jerry Lax, viewed it in terms of Act 317 of 1968 “Contracts of Public Servants with Public Entities.”

The statute prohibits public servants from soliciting contracts with entities by whom they are employed:

(2) Except as provided in section 3, a public servant shall not directly or indirectly solicit any contract between the public entity of which he or she is an officer or employee and any of the following: (a) Him or herself. (b) Any firm, meaning a co-partnership or other unincorporated association, of which he or she is a partner, member, or employee. [...]

However, Lax pointed out that there was a specific exemption for contracts between two public entities [emphasis added]:

15.324 Public servants; contracts excepted; violation as felony. Sec. 4. (1) The prohibitions of section 2 shall not apply to any of the following: (a) Contracts between public entities.

Later at the same May 5, 2010 DDA board meeting, the issue considered by the board was analyzed not as a contract, but as a grant, and Lax asked Hieftje and Smith to recuse themselves from the vote.

At the Aug. 20, 2012 city council meeting, when the council voted on Smith’s reappointment to the DDA, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) joined Kunselman in objecting. However, Lumm went to considerable lengths to stress that her vote was not about Smith individually. She noted she’d had the pleasure of serving on the DDA partnerships committee with Smith and she respected and admired Smith’s work. Her objection was about the philosophy of appointing a councilmember to the DDA board.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that when Smith ran for city council in 2008 for the first time, she was already serving on the DDA board. Smith has chosen not to run for re-election to the city council this year. Her appointment to the DDA board, Briere concluded, is independent of Smith’s position on council.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) ventured that perhaps the council could have a larger discussion at a different time. He described Smith as having been very fair about things, so he supported Smith’s appointment.

Hieftje indicated that he understood the argument that some were making, but felt it’s important to have someone on the DDA board who understands the big picture. He pointed out that Smith has just five more voting sessions as a city councilmember.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted that there are sitting city councilmembers on other boards and commissions, like the LDFA, which is a similar authority to the DDA. [The local development finance authority, however, has explicitly in its bylaws an appointment for an Ann Arbor city councilmember, so the two boards are not comparable in the way that Taylor was suggesting.]

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) pointed out that he also serves on the city planning commission as a voting member. [The slot filled by Derezinski is specifically designated for a city councilmember, so when Derezinski leaves office in November, having tallied fewer votes than Sally Petersen in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary, he will no longer be able to serve in that capacity on the planning commission. Derezinski's spot on the public art commission, however, is not a council-designated position, so he'd be able to continue to serve as a public art commissioner.]

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) felt that it’s good in general to have members of the city council as members of a larger board. It was not clear to him why the DDA board is different.

Kunselman pointed out that none of the other positions that people had mentioned would typically engage in contract negations with the city council. The mayor is authorized to sit on the DDA board under the enabling legislation for downtown development authorities, he allowed. But even there, it would be possible for the city administrator to fill that slot instead of the mayor.

Smith, for her part, took the comments from Kunselman with apparent good humor, telling him that if he’d like to change who sits on the DDA board, he should run for mayor.

Outcome: The council voted to reappoint Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to the DDA board, over the dissent of Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Other appointments were approved unanimously, without comment.

Appointments: Taxicab Board

Without discussion, an additional member was added to the Ann Arbor taxicab board – Michael Benson. The addition will allow the body to achieve a quorum of three out of five voting members for its meetings. It has not been able to do that since July 2012, when Tim Hull resigned after taking a job on the west coast.

Benson was added to the board in a one-step confirmation process. Ordinarily, nominations to a board or a commission are first announced at a city council meeting, then confirmed by a council vote at a subsequent meeting.

The taxicab board will now consist of Benson, city councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Tom Oldakowski, Tom Crawford (a non-voting ex officio member, as the city’s CFO) and Bill Clock (a non-voting ex officio member, as representative of the Ann Arbor police department).

The taxicab board is responsible for administering the city’s taxicab board ordinance. [.pdf of taxicab ordinance] Application forms to be appointed to city boards and commissions can be downloaded and returned to the mayor’s office for consideration.

Outcome: Michael Benson was unanimously appointed to the taxicab board.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Pedestrian, Non-Motorized Issue

During the public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Kathy Griswold told the council she was there to address the most important activity for elected officials: the safety of citizens, especially children. She contended that the city was confusing an engineering problem with social policy. There are effective public policies like “share the road” or “complete streets,” but what we need is traffic engineering, she said. She called for the issue to be reviewed by independent engineers with the state. She asked the city attorney to consider the risk that’s being created when the city tells pedestrians that “they rule.” She warned against putting up posters telling children they have the right-of-way as pedestrians. She called that crazy, and called for an independent traffic engineer to evaluate the situation.

After thanking the council for his appointment to the taxicab board, Michael Benson related what he’d seen while attending a recent academic conference in Munich – bike lanes separated from the right-of-way. It was amazing to see the number of bicycles there, he said. Relating his experience in Ann Arbor – trying to cross Huron Street near the University of Michigan campus – he’d witnessed three near accidents, both as pedestrians and as a driver. He suggested looking into driver education.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Margie Teall.

Next council meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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