The Ann Arbor Chronicle » immigrant rights it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 County Explores Offering New ID Card Sun, 17 Aug 2014 18:06:13 +0000 Mary Morgan Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Aug. 7, 2014): A proposal to establish a county-issued ID card program is being reviewed by the board of commissioners, who were briefed on the recommendations of a task force at their August working session.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Front side of a sample Washtenaw County ID card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ID Card: Presentation

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) introduced the ID project presentation. He had represented the county board on the task force. About a year and a half ago, Keta Cowan and Janelle Fa’aola of Synod Community Services came to him to pitch the idea of an ID project. [Rabhi had first mentioned the project during a Feb. 6, 2013 county board meeting.]

The task force has been reviewing what other communities have done, Rabhi said, as well as the potential for what might be done in Washtenaw County. [.pdf of task force report]

In addition to Rabhi, task force members are:

  • Jerry Clayton, Washtenaw County sheriff
  • Catherine McClary, Washtenaw County treasurer
  • Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds
  • Melody Cox, Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds assistant
  • Keta Cowan, Synod Community Services (task force chair)
  • Janelle Fa’aola, Synod Community Services (task force vice chair)
  • Laura Sanders, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
  • Ellen Schulmeister, Shelter Association of Washtenaw County
  • Charo Ledon, community organizer
  • Sherrie Kossoudji, Law Enforcement Citizens Advisory Board
  • Jason Eyster, Cooley Law School Immigration Law Clinic
  • Irene Serrano, Community Conversations
  • Martha Valadez, Community Conversations
  • Ibrahem Irmy, Organizing for Action

Keta Cowan – CEO of Synod Community Services, a nonprofit based in Ypsilanti Township – began the presentation by showing a video that reviewed the reasons for implementing a county ID program. It would provide a way for residents who don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to access services that require such an identification card.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Members of an ID task force attended the Aug. 7, 2014 working session of the Washtenaw County board.

Actions and services that require a photo ID include renting an apartment, opening a bank account, and proving residency for things like library cards. People who are elderly, immigrants, ex-offenders, or homeless often face discrimination because they don’t have a photo ID. According to the task force report, having an ID is also important for law enforcement, because sometimes immigrants don’t feel comfortable reporting crimes – they fear repercussions if police ask for their ID.

An estimated 43,000 people in Washtenaw County lack ID, according to the task force, including 7,000 seniors, 11,000 African Americans and 5,000 undocumented residents.

Other communities across the country have already implemented local ID programs, including San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.; New Haven, Conn.; Mercer County, New Jersey; and New York City.

The task force is recommending that Washtenaw County establish an ID card available to all residents, and effective throughout the county. It would be administered through the county clerk’s office, and is projected to cost $20-$25 each. The cards would be completely voluntary.

There are human rights issues at stake when large numbers of people can’t access necessary goods and services, Cowan told commissioners. In addition, policing resources must now be spent identifying people who don’t have ID, she said. That means the community loses that police resource while an officer is taking an individual back to the station to get their information verified. “With a county ID, we could drastically minimize the waste of those policing resources, and provide a coordinated response to the problem of identifying folks in our community,” she said.

It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that all residents have a safe and healthy community, Cowan said.

About two years ago, the task force began reviewing other jurisdictions that have already established an ID card, Cowan explained. Those communities provided a lot of advice and guidance on how to proceed. The advice included the importance of building a broad-based coalition and doing community outreach. So the Washtenaw County ID task force set out to meet with every law enforcement agency within the county, she said. Those groups shared the issue of tracking down ID as a diversion of police resources.

Cowan reported that the sheriff and police chiefs throughout the county support the ID program. They’ve committed to accepting the ID if other police jurisdictions accept it, she added, “and they’ve all indicated that they will.”

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Keta Cowan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Keta Cowan, CEO of Synod Community Services, describes recommendations from a task force that’s been developing a Washtenaw County ID card program. (Photos by the writer.)

The front of the proposed ID card would be labeled “Washtenaw County Identification Card.” It would also state that the card is a “Michigan Picture Identification,” and not a license of any kind. The card would include a photo of the individual, their name and signature, taken on the day of their application. Other elements on the card are an ID number, date of issue and expiration, address, date of birth, height, weight and eye color. The security feature would be a “ghost image” of the person’s photo. The card would also include the Washtenaw County seal in the corner.

The card would have a magnetic strip that’s coded with the information on the card.

Applicants would apply for the card voluntarily through the county clerk’s office. An existing staff member from the clerk’s office would work part-time on the ID cards, accepting applications, verifying the identity and residency documents, and producing the ID card that same day.

In addition, for many residents who don’t have identity documents or who are mobility-impaired, the task force recommends establishing an “ID clinic.” It would be staffed by volunteers who’ll be trained in how to identify authentic residency and ID documents. There will be a 300-point system established to determine eligibility criteria, which must include at least one credential with a “biometric” feature – a photo or fingerprinting.

Janelle Fa’aola, task force vice chair, told commissioners that the goal of the ID clinic is to take some of the burden off of the county. The clinic would ensure that needs of vulnerable residents are met and that they are welcomed and supported, she said. The task force also is prepared to continue its community outreach efforts, forming partnerships with service agencies, law enforcement, government programs, and libraries. Outreach would also be conducted to local businesses that might provide discounts for ID-holders. [The task force has also started an online petition to raise support for the ID card. As of Aug. 16, it had 529 signatures.]

Cowan reviewed a proposed itemized budget for the program. Washtenaw County’s one-time non-personnel costs are estimated at $23,285. An additional $8,190 in non-personnel costs would be paid by the community, Cowan said. County personnel costs – for a part-time staffer – would be an estimated $30,600 annually. Recurring non-personnel costs, primarily for supplies, would be $3,830. [.xls file of proposed budget]

In total, annual recurring costs would be an estimated $35,770.

Regarding the non-personnel costs, one item is the card printer for $9,000. This particular type of printer is recommended because it can produce security features to deter fraud and misuse, Cowan said, including security seals, ghosted photos, UV strips, and a digitized signature.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chart of projected revenues from the ID card program.

The ID card also represents a revenue opportunity, Cowan said. The task force estimates that about 1,000 cards would be distributed each year. That’s based on looking at cards that are issued in other communities – particularly Mercer County, which is about the same size as Washtenaw County, she noted. But it’s possible that more cards would be issued, she added.

If Washtenaw County charges $25 per card, the program could recoup most of the initial start-up costs, Cowan said. If more cards are issued, the revenue would obviously increase, she noted. “We believe the program would pay for itself.”

Cowan told commissioners that the task force spent considerable time working out the eligibility criteria for applicants. They developed a 300-point system, which includes the requirement of identity documents with a photo or fingerprinting. Applicants would have to show proof of residency, showing that they had lived in Washtenaw County for at least 15 out of the past 30 days. “We set it low so that we can encourage people to come and get a card as soon as they move,” Cowan said.

ID Card: Board Discussion

Dan Smith (R-District 2) began the discussion by saying he had several questions and concerns. He asked why the county should spend about $35,000 annually to duplicate a service that the Michigan Secretary of State already provides?

Keta Cowan replied that it’s not a duplication, because the state only provides an ID card “to a rigid, restricted group of people.” The state’s requirements are so stringent that some American citizens are not able to get identification cards, she said. And if you can’t show proof of legal residency in the country, you’re also not eligible, she noted.

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

Dan Smith (R-District 2).

In that case, Smith said, why wouldn’t the county lobby the Secretary of State, who is also an elected official with staff throughout the state, to make adjustments “to get rid of some of that [rigidness] that you claim exists?”

Cowan indicated they can pursue that approach. But meanwhile, there are individuals who lack access to necessary resources, she added.

Smith suggested that there’s probably a reason why some people can’t get state-issued ID cards. What’s been the response from the Secretary of State’s office?

The Secretary of State’s staff has said “that they can’t help us,” Cowan said. She gave two examples of residents who’ve been turned away, in one case because the man has dementia and can’t locate his identification documents.

Smith responded: “So you’re advocating that we put a less stringent process in place to make it easier for someone to get an ID than the state of Michigan, who has been in the ID business for decades.” He presumed the Secretary of State didn’t come up with its requirements “to be difficult.” There are legitimate reasons that the Secretary of State has for its processes and procedures, he said. So now, because the county doesn’t like those, they’ll just invent their own?

Jason Eyster, a task force member who works for the Cooley Law School Immigration Law Clinic, pointed out that for political reasons, the state determined that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to get driver’s licenses. Even if those people have other valid forms of identification – such as a passport – they’re not allowed to get a state ID or state driver’s license, he said. Other states have decided to handle it in other ways, Eyster noted.

Smith asked why someone would need a county ID card, if they have a valid passport. Eyster said if the passport has expired, that wouldn’t be considered appropriate ID by many organizations and law enforcement. Smith questioned why the county would issue an ID based on an expired passport, when other entities don’t recognize that as a legitimate ID. Eyster replied that the goal is to determine “if this person is indeed who they say they are.” In the interest of human dignity and to assist those who live in our community, he added, it’s important to provide an ID so they can do things like rent a canoe, for example.

In the case of renting a canoe, Smith replied, that decision should be up to the city of Ann Arbor to change their policy regarding canoe rentals. The city is able to do that, and doesn’t need assistance from the county, he added. The same is true for other entities, like libraries and banks. “You’re trying to influence all these other policies throughout the county,” Smith said. Instead of developing a county ID, advocates should be lobbying other entities to change their policies.

Cowan responded, saying that the task force has done that type of community outreach. The response has been positive, she said. “If we institute a county ID, they would accept that.” Smith stressed that the county doesn’t need to “get in the middle of it.” The library, governed by a separate elected body, can make changes to its policies in any way it sees fit, for example. “They don’t need any assistance from us to alter their policies,” he said.

Eyster noted that they can continue to lobby each individual organization.

Smith thought that this problem is largely solved through the state’s ID card, and he wasn’t convinced the county should enact a new program. Regarding comparisons to other communities that offer ID cards, Smith noted that the ID program in New Jersey is a private venture, and the program in New Haven is operated by a city – there are no counties in Connecticut. And in California, counties are significantly more important than in Michigan because there’s no township structure there. So in the examples given by the task force, “none of them really bear any weight with me because there are completely different entities issuing the ID, as opposed to county government the way it exists in Michigan.”

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) asked whether the county has authority from the state to do this – such as state enabling legislation or an attorney general opinion. Cowan replied that the county’s corporation counsel, Curtis Hedger, is researching that issue and will advise the board.

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) noted that there is no current state enabling legislation – but there’s also no legislation that would prevent it.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) said he took a different perspective on it “than the other commissioner Smith.” He thought that the county would be providing a public service – not just for the individuals who would receive the ID “as a very basic human right,” but also for entities like libraries, businesses and other organizations. Those groups shouldn’t have to figure out their ID parameters on their own, he said. It seems like people would be very grateful if the county provided that service.

It’s not the county’s role to solve the U.S. immigration policies, C. Smith said, but the county can help residents get access to services that require an ID – whether you’re a legal resident or an undocumented resident. “It doesn’t matter to me – if you need to live a decent quality of life and we can facilitate that with a simple ID card, great. We can and we should.”

Next to the dental clinic that the county is starting, C. Smith thought an ID card would be one of the best things that the board has accomplished. “It warms my heart that we’re even here at this point right now,” he said. He thanked the work of the task force, and looked forward to a formal proposal being brought to the board for approval.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Back side of a sample Washtenaw County ID card.

Rabhi said he understood Dan Smith’s concerns. But responding to that, Rabhi added, when there are citizens in this community who are afraid to report a crime that they witness or that they’re the victim of, “that’s a problem.” When people can’t cash a check unless they go to a pawn shop, that’s a problem. If even a thousand residents in this community don’t have an ID, that’s a problem, he said. “I’m not going to wait for the Secretary of State to solve this problem, because in the last multiple decades, the Secretary of State hasn’t solved the problem,” he said.

It’s incumbent on the county to show leadership, Rabhi said. This isn’t a new concept, he noted. “We are acknowledging the humanity of people, and not pushing them to the side.” A lot of these people are taxpayers, he noted. He recalled a woman who’d come to a county board meeting asking for their help – she was a homeowner and her children were U.S. citizens, but she faced deportation. [He was referring to Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who spoke at the board's Dec. 7, 2011 meeting.]

Homeowners and renters contribute to the local economy, Rabhi said. The taxes they pay come back to the county, city, library and schools, he noted. “They’re paying into a system that they can’t fully retrieve the benefits of, and that’s a lack of service to our taxpayers.” It’s a matter of equity, he said. Rabhi urged his fellow commissioners to support it.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked if any other communities in Michigan offer an ID card. No, Cowan replied. Rabhi noted that task force members met with representatives from Calhoun County, and he’s also fielded calls from Grand Rapids and Kent County – so there’s interest from other Michigan communities, he said. “There’s a lot of buzz in the state right now about it.”

Sizemore wondered what it cost law enforcement agencies to deal with people who don’t have a valid ID. Cowan said the task force hadn’t asked for that figure. Eyster noted that depending on the circumstances, someone without an ID could be arrested rather than just ticketed. An arrest would also require that a police officer or deputy notify the immigration & naturalization service (INS), and the person could be subject to deportation. So being pulled over for a broken taillight or other minor infraction has larger implications, he said.

Sizemore asked if everyone could afford a $25 fee for the card. If someone is homeless, $25 is a lot of money, he said. Cowan replied that the task force has considered instituting a waiver for people who are truly indigent.

Responding to other queries from Sizemore, Cowan said an applicant for the ID card would not be fingerprinted. It would only take a few minutes to process the application, and the card would be provided when the person applied. Sizemore also wanted to know more details about how the process would be protected from fraud.

Sizemore told the task force members that he planned to support their proposal. Washtenaw County takes pride in being a leader, he said. It would help make people feel more a part of this community, especially youth. Given the benefits, the county wouldn’t be spending a lot of money on this, he said.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rolland Sizemore Jr. (foreground) and other commissioners at the Aug. 7 working session.

LaBarre indicated that he’d likely support the program too. “From a cold-hearted business perspective, it would be good for commerce – and I say that half tongue-in-cheek, given where I work,” he quipped. [LaBarre is vice president of government relations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce.]

Based on the experience of other communities, LaBarre said, what should the county be prepared for in terms of possible security problems? Other communities that the task force surveyed haven’t seen problems with the ID card, Cowan replied.

LaBarre said he was worried that even if the county puts this ID program in place, businesses and other entities might not accept the identification as valid. How can the county ensure that it’s effective?

Cowan explained that the majority of instances when an ID is required for businesses is for liquor purchases or in conjunction with the use of a credit card. The regulations issued by major credit card companies indicate that any government ID will suffice. For liquor stores, only state-issued or federal ID is acceptable, she said, “so our county ID would not be effective for the purchase of liquor.”

Responding to another question from LaBarre, Cowan said that local social service agencies and nonprofits have encouraged the task force to develop an ID program. Eyster pointed out that the task force has a responsibility to make sure that various organizations are educated about the program.

LaBarre said that if he were writing a headline to get attention, it would say something inflammatory, like “County Proposes Giving IDs to Illegals.” He imagined that if the program moves forward, the county will have to contend with rumor and hearsay. He wanted to make sure that they go into it with their eyes wide open in terms of all possible problems. Were there issues that other communities hadn’t anticipated when they launched their ID card programs?

Cowan reported that one community felt they hadn’t begun their community outreach early enough. Another community thought that they hadn’t built a coalition that was sufficiently broad-based. And one community hadn’t realized the balance of weighing access to the card against the need for having a reliable, reputable card that actually authenticates the identity of an applicant.

Eyster described the issue of undocumented immigrants as “incendiary.” He noted that the current issue about immigrant children coming from Central America is an example of that. There will be individuals who’ll take potshots or who vehemently feel it’s inappropriate, he said. LaBarre wanted the county to have an airtight case in terms of the program’s implementation, to make sure they’re prepared to deal with these issues.

Eyster noted that it’s important to remember the terrorists involved in the 9-11 attacks all had valid visas. LaBarre replied: “Something tells me that folks who will hit us on that issue will not listen to your point, but it’s worth saying.”

Rabhi said the ID program could be the start of a public-nonprofit partnership. The proposal isn’t for the county to go it alone, he noted. Community partners would help with outreach and education, and that’s built into the budget. That’s an investment that would help leverage the county’s investment, he said.

Conan Smith wanted to highlight the people who have lived in the United States for perhaps their whole lives who have problems getting an ID. With the proliferation of voter identification laws, it’s become a problem in exercising a citizen’s most fundamental right – the opportunity to shape their government, he said. It’s a problem that disproportionately impacts young people under the age of 25, poor people who are making less than $30,000 a year, and minorities. “We can help with that problem,” Smith said.

Cowan noted that the program provides an opportunity to do outreach into communities where people lack IDs, and who don’t know about the affidavit of identify. “All they know is that the signs say, ‘Take your ID to the polls,’” she said. “So if you don’t have an ID, you don’t go to the polls.”

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

ID Card: Public Commentary

Two people spoke during the time for public commentary at the end of the working session.

Katia Salazar told commissioners that she’ll be a senior at Huron High School. She lives in Ann Arbor and is part of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. She supports the ID task force because every human deserves a form of identification to prove who they are. “We are all equal, and deserve to have the same equal rights as others,” she said. Having ID would also help prevent unnecessary deportations in the community, and it alleviates the fear that she or a family member could be deported. It also makes it less embarrassing to try to access services or resources like a library card. She hoped the county could get IDs for people who need them.

Ibrahem Irmy, a member of the ID task force, told commissioners that he’s a media analyst and preschool teacher. “I became a human being naturalized by the law three years ago.” He had lived in fear for a year before that, and couldn’t do normal things. He looked for ways to volunteer, but many organizations didn’t want him to help, because he didn’t have the documents for that. He’s now working with Organizing for Action to try to pass immigration reform, and he’s seen lots of people living in fear. They live on extremely low wages – $3 or $4 an hour – and live with 17 people in a room that doesn’t have space for even one person, he said. It’s about being a human being. Everyone is an immigrant, he noted. “We came here somehow, and we have human rights for all of us.” He hoped Washtenaw County would be the first county in Michigan to implement the ID program. He’d be willing to do anything to make that happen.

Present: Andy LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Absent: Felicia Brabec, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping.

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Ann Arbor Shifts Transit Gear to Neutral Mon, 30 Jan 2012 21:20:10 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 23, 2012): At its meeting last week, the council again delayed action on a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide governance incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

In this action shot from city council chambers, a paper copy of an amendment to the text of the four-party transit agreement is handed from city clerk Jackie Beaudry to Jane Lumm (Ward 3).

In this action shot from city council chambers, a paper copy of an amendment to the text of the four-party transit agreement is handed from city clerk Jackie Beaudry to councilmember Jane Lumm (Ward 2). In the background are Ward 1 councilmembers Sandi Smith (left) and Sabra Briere. (Photos by the writer.)

The council postponed action until its Feb. 6 meeting, but not before undertaking several amendments to the text of the agreement. The council had previously postponed action at its Jan. 9 meeting and had set a public hearing for Jan. 23. Thirty-nine people appeared before the council to speak during the hearing, and some of those people also reprised their remarks during public comment at the conclusion of the meeting. Fourteen of the speakers were either current or former elected or appointed public officials, or former candidates for public office.

The four-party agreement would be between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County.

A delay was warranted from the perspective of some councilmembers, who wanted to hear the recommendation of a financial advisory group. The group has been meeting since the fall of 2011 and was scheduled to hold a final meeting on Jan. 27, four days after the council’s vote to postpone. However, later in the week the financial advisory group also chose to postpone its Jan. 27 meeting, in the wake of a 17-bill package of state legislation introduced on Jan. 26 – part of which would establish a regional transit authority for Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and a possible funding mechanism for that authority. It’s not clear if the financial advisory group will meet before the council’s next meeting on Feb. 6.

The council could undertake further amendments to the text of the four-party agreement at its Feb. 6 meeting. In fact, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he’d bring forward an amendment to change the composition of the planned new transit authority board, to give Ann Arbor more than the currently proposed seven out of 15 seats, so that Ann Arbor would have a majority.

In other business, the council passed two resolutions as symbolic statements of position. One was to express opposition to Michigan’s Public Act 297, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2011. The act prohibits public employers from providing employee medical and fringe benefits to those who are not married to an employee, a dependent of the employee, or eligible to inherit from the employee under the laws of intestate succession.

The law impacts the city of Ann Arbor’s policy of extending benefits to “other qualified adults” – which can include a same-sex domestic partner. The resolution gained unanimous support on the Ann Arbor city council. As Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her concerns about the council’s purview on such a resolution, but ultimately expressed her support for it, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who is openly gay, was prompted to say, “I love this city!”

The second resolution expressing a position was passed over the dissent of Lumm and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). It encouraged the federal government to exercise prosecutorial discretion in pursuing the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes and who have ties to the community.

The council also approved a contract with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to supply policing services for the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center. And the council authorized a $10 million contract for engineering services in connection with the facilities renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment center.

The meeting was bookended by mentions of the word “dragon” – in separate contexts. 

4-Party Transit Deal

The council considered a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide governance incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

Michael Ford Rich Sheridan Jerry Lax Jesse Bernstein

Front to back: Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford, Menlo Innovations president Rich Sheridan, legal counsel for the AATA Jerry Lax, and AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein.

The council ultimately postponed action until its Feb. 6 meeting. The council had previously postponed action at its Jan. 9 meeting and had set a public hearing for Jan. 23.

The four-party agreement is between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. The transition to a countywide governance and funding base is intended to (1) ensure stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which until now has depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided.

In the four party-agreement, the role of the two cities – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – would be to pledge their current transit millages to the new authority, contingent on identifying a countywide funding source. The two cities currently levy millages that are designated for public transit and are passed through to the AATA. For Ann Arbor, that’s currently just over 2 mills. For Ypsilanti, which uses the proceeds of the tax – approved in November 2010 – to fund its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA, the levy is just under 1 mill. [One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

As part of the four-party agreement, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would agree that AATA’s existing assets would be assumed by the new Act 196 transit authority, and they’d also agree to assign their existing millages to the new Act 196 authority. But the asset transfer and the millage assignment would be contingent on identifying a countywide funding source for the new Act 196 authority.

4-Party Agreement: Context – Funding Report, State Legislation

At the Jan. 23 meeting, some councilmembers expressed an interest in postponing any action on the four-party agreement so that their decision could be informed by the recommendation of a financial advisory group that has been meeting since the fall of 2011 and was scheduled to hold a final meeting on Jan. 27, four days after the council’s vote to postpone.

However, the financial advisory group also chose to postpone its Jan. 27 meeting, in the wake of a 17-bill package of state legislation introduced on Jan. 26 – part of which would establish a regional transit authority for Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and a possible funding mechanism for that authority. It’s not clear if the financial advisory group will meet before the council’s next meeting on Feb. 6.

4-Party Agreement: Context – Ypsilanti

In an email sent to The Chronicle following the Jan. 23 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed frustration that the Ann Arbor city council had not been apprised of a wrinkle in the Ypsilanti charter transit millage. The provision could appear to create the possibility that the Ypsilanti city council would not levy the transit millage – in the event that some countywide funding is approved by voters. By way of background, Ypsilanti voters passed the millage on Nov. 2, 2010 by a 3-to-1 margin. The ballot language read as follows [emphasis original]:

“This amendment authorizes, in any year a millage is NOT otherwise levied for countywide or regional public transit, or when needed to supplement a countywide or regional millage approved by City Council, a tax of 0.9789 mills solely for public transit purposes. Approval increases the tax levy by 0.9789 mills as new additional millage in excess of the legal limitation, restoring the authorized Charter millage to 20 mills, since reduced by the Headlee amendment.

The apparent intent of the language in the four-party agreement is to establish that Ypsilanti only gets a board seat if it levies that existing city millage and pays it to the new transit authority (TA). From the four-party agreement: “In exchange for the City of Ypsilanti mayor’s nomination with council confirmation, of one director of New TA’s board, … the City of Ypsilanti agrees to pay its charter transportation millage at the 2012 millage rate or as adjusted by State Statute to the New TA.”

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber said his understanding is that Ypsilanti had the flexibility not to levy the full amount of the millage or not to assign it to the new authority – but that the result of such a decision would be to lose its membership and board seat in the new Act 196 authority.

The composition of the board of the new transit authority, as well as the existing board of the AATA, is one of the points of discussion.

4-Party Agreement: Context – Board Seats

At the Jan. 23 council meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gave his colleagues a heads up that he’d be bringing a resolution to the next meeting to alter the four-party agreement so that Ann Arbor would have a majority on the board of the new Act 196 authority. As currently formulated in the agreement, Ann Arbor would have seven out of 15 seats. Based strictly on population, Ann Arbor would have five seats – roughly one-third of the county’s population lives in the city.

But the transfer of capital assets to the new authority and the ongoing provision of Ann Arbor’s local millage to the authority led to a board composition that provides seven seats to Ann Arbor. Some, including Kunselman, see that as insufficient in light of Ann Arbor’s expected financial contribution – that’s the rationale behind his expected amendment altering the board composition.

Another idea put forward by Kunselman at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting would fill the existing opening on the AATA board with a township elected official. [Rich Robben recently resigned from the AATA board. His last board meeting was Jan. 19, 2012.] The idea had come from conversations that Kunselman had with representatives of townships and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Kunselman mentioned Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo specifically.

Mayor John Hieftje said he could look into that – a city councilmember couldn’t serve on the board, he said, but he wasn’t sure about an elected official of a township. Hieftje said he was going through the applications for the open slot on the AATA board, and was hoping to have a nomination to bring to the council by its next meeting, on Feb. 6.

Responding to a Facebook link to The Chronicle’s reporting on the postponement of the financial advisory group’s Jan. 27 meeting, Kunselman left a comment that prompted an exchange with Roger Kerson, a member of the AATA board. That exchange included Kunselman’s view that the current AATA board should have representation from the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Stephen Kunselman Maybe there is a better way; let’s analyze all the options before going off the deep end and dissolving our City Transit Authority!
[Friday, Jan. 27] at 1:04 p.m.

Roger Kerson Steve, the authority would *not* be dissolved, but enlarged to provide better service to more people.
[Friday, Jan. 27] at 5:09 p.m.

Stephen Kunselman Roger, Act 55 allows expansion of the existing City Transit Authority, so what’s the problem?
[Friday, Jan. 27] at 5:27 p.m.

Roger Kerson If you favor expansion with a different structure, I’m all ears – tho as you know a great deal of planning, with public input, took place in developing the current proposal. If you’re not in favor of expanding transit, I’m interested in what other ideas you may have to reduce individual vehicle trips and associated environmental, congestion and parking concerns. If you’re against “dissolution” of the AATA, I’m not sure who you’re addressing, as no one has proposed this.
[Saturday, Jan. 28] at 3:41 p.m.

Stephen Kunselman Yes, I favor allowing City of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township having representation on the AATA Board since they pay for service – will you support their inclusion? Any community in Washtenaw Co. can request inclusion now under Act 55. And yes, the AATA is proposed to be dissolved, it’s in the 4 party agreement under debate – transfer all assets of AATA to the county authority. [Editor's note: Link added to relevant section of Act 55.]
[Sunday, Jan. 29]

Roger Kerson I’ve said my piece for now, but I’ll stick to this point: Transferring an asset to a different governance structure is not “dissolution.”
[Sunday, Jan. 29]

Stephen Kunselman Sure thing; thanks for chatting.
[Sunday, Jan. 29]

The composition of the current AATA board was controversial for the Ann Arbor city council in December last year, when some councilmembers, including Kunselman, objected to the nomination by Hieftje of a city employee, Eli Cooper, to the AATA board. Cooper is the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager.

4-Party Agreement: Mayoral Politics

During his communications time, Hieftje, addressed what he described as an impression some people had that the four-party agreement is the “mayor’s proposal.” Hieftje was keen to establish that it was not his proposal. He said that he could not claim credit for it. The work was done by the AATA board and staff, he said.

Hieftje praised the work of the AATA, saying that he didn’t want the AATA board to think he was taking credit for their hard work. He stressed it’s been AATA’s proposal from the beginning.

[The impression that the four-party agreement is the "mayor's proposal" has been fostered, for example, by a post made by LuAnne Bullington on the newsgroup of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition entitled: "The Gov's regional transit service vs. the Mayor's regional transit services for Washtenaw County." A possible analysis for the attempt to characterize the AATA's proposed transition in governance structure as the "mayor's proposal": It's perceived by some as sufficiently unpopular that they believe it's an opportunity to damage Hieftje politically if he can be tied to it. He's expected to run for re-election again this year, although he's not made a formal announcement.]

4-Party Agreement: Summary of Amendments – Set One

Before postponing a vote on the agreement, the council undertook several amendments, which they handled separately. Councilmembers took turns reading them aloud. For the initial set of amendments, the council’s action tracked with the changes indicated in a document that had been available before the meeting. [.pdf of document with tracked changes]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) described the intent of many of the changes as an attempt to get a “refined document” that could be talked about. The point was to achieve “narrative clarity.”

The first amendment added the phrase to the end of the “Acknowledged Facts” section: “… only when all the contingencies of the Agreement are met.”

The next amendment undertaken by the council added an explicit requirement that the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would need to vote to adopt the articles of incorporation that Washtenaw County would file to formally incorporate the new Act 196 transit authority. [.pdf of draft articles of incorporation] A brief conversation among Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Taylor on the legal meaning of the word “shall” did not lead anyone to ask for a change in wording. Taylor summarized the effect of the amendment as being: If the council votes down the articles of incorporation, then it’s “game over.”

A further amendment highlighted at the beginning of some relevant paragraphs the condition that must be met in order for the substance of the paragraph to apply, and expresses it in terms of time, not abstract logic: “After all of the Section 8 contingencies to Closing are satisfied, …”

Completely struck was a section that contemplated the possibility that “funding sources are elected to fund the NEW TA [transit authority] which do not require voter approval.”

Also inserted as an amendment, which Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she was putting forward because assistant city attorney Mary Fales had felt it was a good idea: “Nothing in this section has the effect of waiving the defense of governmental immunity available to an indemnifying party under applicable law as to 3rd parties.”

Sabra Briere Stephen Kunselman

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Inserted in two places was an amendment (one for each of the cities in the agreement) to place on the new Act 196 transit authority a requirement to the effect that the new authority must provide to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti “at a minimum, the continued level of services provided by its predecessor-in-interest, AATA, …” That amendment prompted a question from Kunselman, about the ability to bind the new Act 196 authority to something, if the new authority is not a party to the agreement. Kunselman had actually raised the issue earlier, in the discussion of a different amendment, but wasn’t able to pursue it – because Briere raised the point of order that Kunselman’s question didn’t bear on the amendment they were considering at that time.

But later, with the issue clearly in order, assistant city attorney Mary Fales explained that the intent of the language was to require that any agreement the AATA entered into with the new Act 196 authority would need to provide the minimum continued level of service.

Another revision accommodated the possibility that some municipalities might choose to opt out of an Act 196 authority if one were to be incorporated – by swapping in “authority-wide” for the phrase “county-wide.”

The last in the first set of relatively uncontroversial amendments was to address a wording mistake pointed out by Michael Benson, during the public hearing. The final boilerplate language in the general provisions stated [emphasis added]: “… and may be amended only in writing signed by both parties …” Given the nature of the agreement, involving four-parties, the word “both” was replaced with “all.”

Outcome: The council approved the first set of amendments unanimously on separate votes.

4-Party Agreement: Summary of Amendments – Who Else Is In?

An additional amendment put forth by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) addressed the scenario that Ann Arbor could be the only municipality that participates in the Act 196 authority. It provides for the automatic termination of the four-party agreement if Ann Arbor is the only member:

Automatic Termination.
This Agreement will terminate automatically if (i) Closing does not occur before December 31, 2015, or if (ii) after incorporation of the Authority and the expiration of the statutory withdrawal period from the public authority, the City of Ann Arbor is the only participating political subdivision in Washtenaw County in the New TA [transit authority]. It is recognized by all the parties that if either of these conditions occur the stated objectives of Act 196 and this Agreement will not have been met and the Agreement shall be null and void.

Kunselman explained that he wanted to make sure that Ann Arbor is not the only member of the new transit authority.

Washtenaw County Map with Local Units Shown

Washtenaw County map with 26 local units of government labeled. (Image links to higher resolution file)

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the council had heard during the public hearing that 22 out of 26 units of government in Washtenaw County are participating in the process. She indicated that she was less worried that all the other units besides Ann Arbor would opt out of the Act 196 authority. But on the “off chance” that Kunselman is correct, she indicated she’d support Kunselman’s amendment.

By way of additional background, the figure of 22 out of 26 units that are participating in the process came from AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein during that evening’s public hearing. He described those units as “participating in the transit master planning process.”

The 20 townships of Washtenaw County are: Lyndon, Dexter, Webster, Northfield, Salem, Superior, Ann Arbor, Scio, Lima, Sylvan, Sharon, Freedom, Lodi, Pittsfield, Ypsilanti, Machester, Bridgewater, Saline, York and Augusta.

The six cities and villages include: city of Chelsea, village of Dexter, city of Ann Arbor, city of Ypsilanti, city of Saline and village of Manchester. The city of Milan is located only partly in Washtenaw County.

Washtenaw countywide transit board membership

Possible composition of board membership for a Washtenaw countywide transit authority. (Links to larger image.)

A brief discussion then ensued about the Act 7 agreements some of those units will use to participate in the Act 196 authority. Act 7 of 1967 sets forth the standards under which agreements between different units of government can be made.

Of the 15 seats proposed for the new Act 196 board, nine require no agreement between local units, because they correspond to local government units that would be districts unto themselves – the city of Ann Arbor (7 seats), city of Ypsilanti (1 seat) and Pittsfield Township (1 seat). The remaining six seats correspond to five geographic districts that will require some kind of agreement among the units in those districts.

About the countywide government units in those districts, AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein stated at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting that “Most of them have signed Act 7 agreements to create districts to represent their interests and group them [preliminarily] to form an Act 196 authority.”

In the listing out below of the geographic coverage of those five districts, non-participating government units in are indicated in italics. In cases where dates are given, The Chronicle has been able confirm independently or via the AATA that a vote was taken on that date involving an Act 7 agreement – linked dates go to meeting minutes, when available. Act 7 agreements will eventually need to be filed with the county clerk.

  • Northeast: Superior Township (June 20, 2011); Ann Arbor Township (May 16, 2011); Northfield Township (July 12, 2011); Salem Township (June 14, 2011 – the motion died for lack of a second)
  • Southeast: Ypsilanti Township (July 19, 2011); Augusta Township (Oct. 11, 2011)
  • South Middle: Lodi Township (Sept. 6, 2011); city of Saline (Sept. 12, 2011); York Township (Sept. 14, 2011); city of Milan (Oct. 17, 2011); Saline Township
  • North Middle: Webster Township (Aug. 16, 2011); village of Dexter (Aug. 8, 2011); Scio Township (Aug. 9, 2011)
  • West: city of Chelsea (Aug. 23, 2011 ); Dexter Township (Sept. 20, 2011); Lima Township (Oct. 10, 2011); Sharon Township (mentioned Sept. 1, 2011 but no hearing held due to time constraints); Freedom Township (Sept. 13, 2011 ); Manchester Township (mentioned but not voted on April 12, 2011); village of Manchester (Sept. 19, 2011); Lyndon Township; Bridgewater Township; Sylvan Township

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked for clarification about who is participating. Salem, Sylvan, Bridgewater and Saline townships have decided not to participate in the process, said AATA CEO Michael Ford. He said the door has been left open, but they’ve chosen not to participate at this time.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved Kunselman’s amendment that terminates the agreement if Ann Arbor were to be the only member of the Act 196 authority. [clean .pdf of the four-party agreement as amended by the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 23, 2012]

4-Party Agreement: Summary of Amendments – Bonding Authority?

The amendment generating the most discussion was put forward by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) – it was not approved by the council. The section on full faith and credit already makes clear that neither city has to pledge its full faith and credit for projects undertaken by the new transit authority [emphasis added]:

The parties further agree that the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti shall not be required to, and do not by virtue of execution of this Agreement, pledge their respective full faith and credit for any project assumed by the NEW TA at Closing or undertaken by the New TA thereafter when operational.

Lumm noted that while Ann Arbor would not be required to pledge its full faith and credit, she wanted to amend the agreement to add an extra requirement that if the city did choose to do that, then it would require a popular vote, not simply a city council approval.

Jane Lumm Christopher Taylor

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). At far left is Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) wondered if the city attorney’s office had had a chance to look at the amendment. Assistant city attorney Mary Fales indicated that Lumm had raised the question earlier, but that the language was new – it was being heard on the floor. Derezinski asked Fales what she thought. Fales told Derezinski that the council has the authority to put a ballot question on any issue presented to the council.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked if the council had taken any actions recently to pledge the city’s full faith and credit without voter approval. Yes, answered Fales. Hohnke asked Lumm why there should be a requirement of voter approval in this case, when it was not generally a requirement. Lumm told Hohnke she thinks this is a significant decision – she just thinks the council alone shouldn’t have that authority. Voters have the ability to weigh in on different steps, and she felt the issue of full faith and credit needed to be “tightened.”

Hohnke came back to his question of why Lumm wanted to draw a distinction between projects associated with the new Act 196 authority and other projects. He noted that the council regularly pledges the city’s full faith and credit without voter approval. Lumm replied that this decision is “a huge deal.” Mayor John Hieftje noted the city council had just recently given notice of its intent to issue $140 million in bonds for the facilities renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment center. Lumm said she didn’t see the downside of letting people have the chance to weigh in.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the difficulty with seeking voter approval on bonds is one of timing – the decision has to be made months in advance, and nothing can happen unless and until voter approval occurs. She noted that there was not actually a bond being proposed, but said that the council might run into the issue of whether a project undertaken by the new authority project will be delayed adversely.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gave his colleagues a concrete hypothetical example to contemplate: Suppose the new transit authority proposed light rail down Washtenaw Avenue, and when it hits city borders, it requires permission to construct on Ann Arbor city roads and wants to go for a bond. Kunselman wondered what the council’s role would be, if the new transit authority is constructing a light rail line on city of Ann Arbor property.

Fales explained that the new Act 196 authority would need to pull all permits, licenses and easements. If the new transit authority were seeking funding outside of its existing budget – through a grant from the city, or through partnering on a bond – that would come to the city council for a vote. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) got clarification that what Lumm’s amendment would do is require a popular referendum every time there’s a request for infrastructure improvement that the new transit authority wanted to undertake by bonding through the city.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) noted that every time something is put on the ballot, there’s a cost. Kunselman indicated some agreement with Smith’s point about the frequency of the popular votes, and offered to put in a minimum threshold – say $50 million. Lumm was amendable to changing her amendment to include a minimum threshold.

There was brief contemplation of delaying a vote on the amendment until the recommendation on funding came back from the financial advisory group – to figure out what the minimum threshold should be. But Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) seemed to speak for most of his colleagues when he said he would not support the amendment – with or without a limit, now or later. He said he trusted the judgement of future councils.

Outcome: The council voted against Jane Lumm’s amendment that would have required a popular referendum before the city could pledge its full faith and credit to back a project undertaken by the new Act 196 authority. It got support from Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Who Spoke?

The Chronicle counted 39 people who addressed the council during the public hearing held on the four-party agreement. Of those, 14 were connected to public office in some fashion – current or former appointed or elected officials (or candidates). Five spoke on behalf of some organization other than a public body. Five people were affiliated at least indirectly with the AATA in some way. Eight of the speakers had donated to Jane Lumm’s 2011 city council campaign.

Thematically, their remarks could be separated into some basic categories, with several speakers touching on multiple themes: support for public transportation within the city of Ann Arbor; equity and the cost burden; concerns about control of the new authority; opportunities for collaboration; and general uncertainty about the details.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Good Service in Ann Arbor

What many speakers had in common was an expression of support for public transportation and better service in Ann Arbor – but that did not necessarily translate to support for the four-party agreement.

Chuck Warpehoski, of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, spoke roughly midway through the hearing, and remarked on the fact that people for and against the four-party agreement seemed to share a broad understanding that Ann Arbor needs a better bus system. He felt that the four-party agreement could lead to that by bringing together the key parties around a service plan and the possibility of stable funding. He called it one step forward, but said it’s not the final piece. Joel Batterman told the council he wouldn’t be speaking in favor of the agreement if he had any doubt that it was the best way to improve service.

Former city planning commissioner James D’Amour said that AATA’s services need to be expanded – in Ann Arbor and also Ypsilanti, adding that we’re all for a better AATA. Clark Charnetski, a member of AATA’s local advisory council, described the changes in transportation needs over time, with the emergence of Domino’s Farms, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Washtenaw Community College and Briarwood Mall. He said the system would look very different if it were planned today – he was tired of waiting for something better.

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, said she was speaking for people who aren’t often heard – severe low income people who are struggling to find a job. She said there are a lot of details to work out, but “our community can’t wait” for better transportation. There are people who can’t get to jobs that are being created as the economy improves. Cheryl Webber, a member of the AATA’s local advisory council, said the incremental expansion of AATA’s services that has taken place over time has allowed her lifestyle to expand. She told the council that she’s a disabled person and feels that a lot of people are in favor of the kind of expansion AATA is looking at. Kathleen Russell told the council she represents 130 people with Parkinson’s disease and she would ask those people to support the agreement.

Larry Deck told the council he supports expansion to a countywide system. His understanding of the resolution is to keep the process going forward. He trusted the council to make right decisions at the checkpoints along the way.

Several speakers addressed their concern that attempts to expand might result in a diminishment of services to Ann Arbor.

Vince Caruso described the extensive use that his family makes of the AATA buses and described himself as a supporter of public transportation. His concern was that the future arrangement be reversible so that Ann Arbor could revert back to the current situation. Glenn Thompson said the question is not about opposing transportation, it’s about preserving the transportation Ann Arbor already has. Odile Hugenot Haber noted that at the AATA board’s last meeting, a representative of the Michigan Transportation Association had praised the AATA as being a model system. But she said the system could still be improved.

Rita Mitchell led off her remarks with a question for the council: Did anyone ride the bus to this meeting? [No councilmembers raised their hands.] She ventured that maybe it was because they couldn’t get a ride back home when the meeting concluded – AATA’s service ends before the typical council meeting ends. She said that AATA should have improved service before expanding the service countywide. Former planning commissioner Ethel Potts described the current service offered by the AATA as good, but not complete. Tim Hull introduced himself as a supporter of public transportation, but ticked through a number of concerns about the four-party agreement.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Money/Equity

Alexis Blizman, policy director for the Ecology Center, expressed strong support for public transit and support for the four-party agreement. The Ecology Center had participated in the process through the leadership committee meetings and the AATA board. [AATA board member Charles Griffith is employed by the Ecology Center.] Blizman said we’d reached a point where more funding is required in order to improve service.

Tim Mortimer ventured that the people who are focused on benefits are Republican, but those who are concerned about costs seemed to be Democrats.

Alan Haber said that other parts of the county need to put money on the table. The data is not there for the financing, he said. He advised the council to restrain themselves from saying “Forward ever, backwards never.” Lawrence Baird described one of the parties as having major financial problems – Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti’s local millage isn’t covering the cost of Ypsilanti’s purchase-of-service agreement, he noted.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber said the 3-to-1 margin that Ypsilanti voters gave a transit millage in 2010 was significant. With respect to the suggestion that maybe Ypsilanti won’t pay, he said that the 3-to-1 margin speaks volume. He described the purchase-of-service agreement (POSA) system – an annual agreement to provide bus services – as a chain that can be broken from year to year. The plan being considered would stabilize funding for the service.

Karen Sidney said that part of the state operating assistance the AATA receives would disappear if the AATA changed to a different governance structure. She also ventured that what’s driving the process is development, pointing out that infrastructure improvements within a half mile of a transit station qualify under the state’s brownfield authority act.

Kathy Boris described herself as a non-motorist supporter of countywide service. The list of more services is appealing, she said – it’s impressive and ambitious. But she described the financial plan as “murky.” She wondered if Ann Arbor might be buying into something it wants but can’t actually afford.

John Satarino described the cost of implementing the system over the course of 30 years – over $600 million. That’s a large amount to think about, he said. But is that in today’s dollars or the projected equivalent 30 years from now? He said he does not support giving Ann Arbor’s aid to the townships – living in townships is cheaper, and there’s a reason for that.

Peter Eckstein also noted the program cost over the course of 30 years. He asked how it would be paid for. If there would be a millage, he wanted to know if it would be for 1 mill or less, and for how long. He called some of the benefits “dubious.” For example, with respect to the planned transit service to Detroit Metro airport, he said he’s not interested in paying for his rich friends’ vacations or out-of-state students.

Eckstein also contended that AATA has a reputation of having a high-cost system. He alluded to an analysis done by retired economics professor Richard Porter that had found AATA’s cost of providing service is above the average of comparable cities. Ted Annis has a number of good ideas, Eckstein said. [By way of background, Annis is a former member of the AATA board, who was often at odds with his board colleagues over the appropriate goal for a key metric – dollar cost per service hour. Annis contended an achievable goal for that statistic would be around $85. AATA has budgeted around $112 per service hour for its current fiscal year.]

Vivienne Armentrout wondered what would happen if several of the local units of government opted out of the Act 196 authority. She said there should be a minimal-participation clause. She wondered if the new Act 196 authority would be viable at the funding levels that would result without participation of most of the units. She said it would be good to wait for the results of the financial advisory group’s recommendation. She expressed concern about the equity of the financial burden between residents of Ann Arbor and residents of the townships. Township residents have chosen to live where taxes are low, she said.

Glenn Thompson noted that current assets of the AATA are worth $50 million – more than the new police/courts building. He called it the largest valued contract the city has ever entered. He wondered what would happen if the assets have been used as collateral and the newly incorporated authority goes bankrupt. He felt there aren’t sufficient safeguards that would allow Ann Arbor to withdraw from the arrangement to recover its assets.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Control

John Floyd noted that there’s no necessary connection between expanded countywide service and the system of governance offered by Act 196. He said that if outlying districts feel AATA’s service is not of value, they don’t need to purchase it. Act 196 is just a change in legal form – and that form takes away from city residents because it results in a board that is less accountable to city residents than the current AATA board. The effect of the change, said Floyd, is to remove accountability, not to expand service.

Carolyn Grawi spoke on behalf of the Center for Independent living. She said she has concerns, but also has faith in what is going on. She encouraged the council not to vote down the proposal, because that would close the door – the door needs to be left open. The AATA has been very open in its process, she said, and now the governing bodies of the government units need to do the same. Citizens need to have a say in the voting process, she said, and she’s not convinced that the amendments to the four-party agreement do that.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – In this Together, Economic Development

Washtenaw County commissioner Rolland Sizemore said we’re all in the same boat. “We can’t be in silos,” he said. He said the four-party agreement needs to move forward, calling it “one of the pieces of the puzzle.” He told the council to decide what it wants to do and the county board would then look at the articles of incorporation.

Jesse Bernstein introduced himself as a resident of Ward 2 for 40 years and chair of the AATA board. Responding to the suggestion that there could be widespread non-participation across the county in the Act 196 authority, he noted that 22 of the 26 local units of government in Washtenaw County have been participating in the transit master planning process, and most of them have signed Act 7 agreements. We need collaboration, he said. At any point, any member of the four-party agreement can end participation, and if that happens the AATA will continue as a Act 55 authority.

Bill Lavery introduced himself as a resident of York Township – he represents the south central district on the unincorporated Act 196 (U196) board that’s been meeting since the fall of 2011. He said he’d circled through his community and reported people are supportive of the planning process. He’s happy they’re participating in a shared vision. Transportation needs are growing, he said, noting increased numbers of residences for the elderly, and senior centers. People in Lodi Township have noted that bus service has been reduced in the school district, he said.

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustee Simone Lightfoot appeared before the council, saying she fully understands the challenge of navigating the politics of the situation. She asked the council to consider the rich opportunity to work with AAPS. She noted that the district is facing a $15 million budget challenge. That will affect the district’s ability to transport its students. She said she’d met with AATA’s CEO Michael Ford and is impressed with the work AATA is doing. She said she looked forward to the effort moving forward, so that AAPS can work with AATA.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin spoke in support of public transportation. He said he’d been a part of the public meetings to develop the transit master plan. He described it as a long and complicated process. The planned Act 196 authority will meet three main goals, he said: (1) fill holes in existing service; (2) increase connectivity to other places in the region; and (3) cement Ann Arbor as the economic center of the region. “No city is a island,” he said. The transportation system is an economic engine that will be good for us and good for property values, he concluded.

In support of collaboration and cooperation, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Keith Orr offered the historical vignette of the founding communities that eventually came together to form Milwaukee. They were such fierce rivals that it nearly resulted in armed conflict. Streets were planned on opposites sides of the river to be misaligned for any bridges that might be built. To this day, the bridges are askew, Orr said. Eventually they realized that the friction between communities was discouraging settlement. The four-party agreement is the kind of regional leadership we should embrace, he said.

Rich Sheridan introduced himself as president of Menlo Innovations. He described how the company had tripled in size several times, which had led the company to move to different spots in downtown Ann Arbor. It now occupies the entire downstairs space at Tally Hall [now called Liberty Square]. He described Menlo Innovations as a high-tech firm that employs younger and older high-tech workers

Menlo has participated in the go!pass program since its inception, he said. He told councilmembers that they’ve likely seen him on the side of the bus – he participated in a publicity campaign that included head shots of local leaders displayed on the sides of buses and at bus shelters. As someone who gets around the country quite a bit to recruit talent, Sheridan said the kind of place people are attracted to are places with strong transit systems. When he visited Portland recently, he’d asked how it was that the transit system there had been approved. He’d been told there was a big fight – they weren’t sure anyone would ride it. He encouraged the council use their leadership to move the community forward.

Judy Wenzel described herself as a 32-year resident of Braeburn Circle. Among other issues, she gave an example of what happened when the county and the city were involved with a project. When a new traffic light was installed, she said, the county paid nothing, but the city paid half and her co-op paid half.

Thomas Partridge told the council that when he’d run for the 18th District senate seat, he’d done so on a platform to unite the region through transportation.

Putting transportation in the context of other areas of collaboration where the balance is difficult to achieve was Jim Mogensen. He alluded to the dispute between Washtenaw County and townships over the cost of providing sheriff deputy road patrols. Responding to mayor John Hieftje’s remark that countywide transportation planning had begun at least 10 years ago, Mogensen said it’d actually started 40 years ago. In 1969 Act 55 had been amended to allow provision of transit service as far away from a city as 10 miles. He said Ann Arbor already has a regional system that includes Ypsilanti, Superior Township, Ann Arbor Township and Pittsfield Township, which was established through an agreement among those parties to participate. He described the four-party agreement as opening up a “Pandora’s box.” He cautioned: “Let’s not go backwards.”

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Uncertainty

Dorothy Nordness expressed dissatisfaction with the detail provided in answers to questions that the AATA had released in a document on Jan. 17. Those questions included some about the financing and the level of the University of Michigan’s participation.

Michael Benson, Ward 2 resident and president of the University of Michigan graduate study body, said the current four-party agreement still needs work. He encouraged the council to hold off approving it until after the budget is done [in May]. The financial piece still needs more work, he said.

LuAnne Bullington described the uncertainty of a situation in which countywide planning in Washtenaw is going on at the same time as new state-level legislation was planned to be introduced for a regional transit authority. [By way of background, the legislation has been in the works for several months, and was mentioned in Gov. Rick Snyder's state of the state address. The legislation was introduced four days after the council's Jan. 23 meeting.]

4-Party Agreement: Outcome

The rationale for postponement was for some councilmembers based on the desire to hear the recommendation of the financial advisory group, which had been scheduled to meet at the end of the week. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) made clear that he was willing to postpone, but did not think it was necessary to have the recommendation of the financial group before voting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone action on the four-party agreement until its Feb. 6 meeting.

Resolution on Immigration

The Ann Arbor city council considered a resolution opposing federal policies that detain people and that result in deportation of immigrants who have not committed a “serious criminal offense” and who have long-standing ties to the community. The council’s resolution supports the use of prosecutorial discretion in such cases. The resolution also calls for timely legalization of undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious criminal offense.

Immigration Signs

Several people held signs in support of the resolution on immigration.

The council previously passed a resolution, on July 6, 2010, opposing an Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully.

And the council formulated a policy in 2003 that directs its police officers to “limit local enforcement actions with respect to immigration matters to penal violations of federal immigration law (as opposed to administrative violations) except in cases where the chief of police determines there is a legitimate public safety concern.”

The council’s resolution passed at its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting comes after they’d heard a plea at their Dec. 5, 2011 meeting from 14-year Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who faced deportation in late December. She was subsequently given a one-year reprieve. The council’s resolution did not address Bautista’s situation specifically.

Immigration: Public Comment

Out of 10 reserved spots for public commentary at the start of the meeting, eight people signed up to address the resolution on immigration.

Linda Kurtz spoke to her direct personal experience living across the street from Bautista. Bautista has lived across the street from her for several years, and turned a rundown house into a nice one, Kurtz said. Bautista pays her bills on time – she’s the kind of neighbor everyone wants. Her presence on the street adds to value to the other houses, Kurtz said. Of the nine houses on the block, two have been foreclosed in the last year. The neighborhood doesn’t need another empty house on the street. Bautista and her children have become a part of the community they live in, Kurtz said.

Martha Valdez introduced herself as a graduate student at the University of Michigan who came to study community organizing and social work. She’d moved to Ann Arbor because she appreciated the sense of community here. She’d become aware of the injustices that occur in the immigrant community, and wanted to join those who are challenging those inequalities and working together to make a difference. She’s planning to find a job here so that she can remain in Ann Arbor after graduating in April. She wants to help make sure that others who come from immigrant families like she does can feel safe and respected in Ann Arbor. She called it critical to pass the resolution like the one the council was considering.

Diana Sierra introduced herself as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan. She told the council that she’d immigrated to the U.S. when she was five years old. Up until December 2011, when she obtained a permanent residency permit, she’d been living as an undocumented immigrant. Having lived that way for most of her life, she said, she understood that fear is a part of daily life for an undocumented immigrant.

Sierra described the tactics used against undocumented immigrants as harassment, “stalking” them outside grocery stores, schools and their homes. She noted that fear of deportation keeps people from reporting domestic violence, or abuses of landlords like the refusal to turn on heat or water.

Bob Snyder thanked Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) for bringing forward the resolution. He decried the use of the term “illegal immigrant” because it fails to differentiate between those who are here in the U.S. without the proper papers and those who’ve committed serious crimes. Snyder characterized as a “racist slur” the reference to Latin American guests in the U.S. as “illegal.” He lamented the fact that they are “fair game” in the hunting season of local, state and national elections.

Kevin Young spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Community Action Team. He said the resolution would constitute a firm statement on behalf of justice and human dignity. He felt the resolution would expand the discussion on immigration beyond its current narrow focus, by countering rhetoric blaming immigrants. It would instead shift attention to the root causes of human migration – namely, a staggering level of global inequality.

Leslie Stambaugh spoke on behalf of the Ann Arbor human rights commission. She described solutions to the issue of immigration as a series of “patchy fixes” that sacrifice fairness. She said there are 15 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. She described how unmarked SUVs follow targeted persons to their homes, workplaces, churches and schoolyards, and noted that ICE [immigration & customs enforcement] agents can demand documents and detain people. She noted that the federal policy calls for low prioritization of those who haven’t committed a serious criminal offense, but the actual practice of ICE agents doesn’t live up to that, she said.

Carlos Zavala spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, saying that he wanted to acknowledge the positive impacts of immigrants on the community, such as providing manpower for labor-intensive occupations.

He cited the three principles of Catholic social teachings on migration: (1) People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families; (2) A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration; and (3) A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.

Joseph Summers introduced himself as the pastor of a local Episcopal church for 25 years. He said that public policies are a reflection of core values. He characterized the actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as that of “goons,” likening them to the imperial stormtroopers from Star Wars. He said that as a Christian, his faith speaks clearly to him. He cited some verses of biblical scripture from Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Immigration: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who had co-sponsored the resolution, told her colleagues that there’d been “further language perfections,” made to the resolution. In the final two “resolved” clauses, reference to an immigrant’s ties to the U.S. was swapped out in favor of ties “to our community.”

Briere said she was confident other councilmembers recalled public comment at their December 2011 council meeting about an Ann Arbor resident who was at risk of deportation. That brought home to councilmembers an issue they’d perhaps heard about on the news, but had no experience of their own. Ann Arbor is not on the border, but residents are still at risk – not because they’ve committed crimes.

Briere said the U.S. should have a system where undocumented immigrants who have ties to a community can take steps to become citizens. People who are low risk are not supposed to be prioritized for deportation, based on statements from president Barack Obama. But such individuals wind up being prioritized – because they are easy to catch, because they’re law abiding. She encouraged her colleagues support the resolution.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) described how a few months ago a group had approached some councilmembers and a few of them had stepped forward, thinking that a resolution like this would be “in the soul of Ann Arbor.” The issue is being worked on, Anglin said, and the discussion needs to be nudged along. This resolution would do that, he said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) called it “a beautifully written resolution.” She characterized it as sending a message and providing feedback to the federal government. For her, however, it is a situation where the council is being asked to address a national policy. She questioned whether a local resolution was appropriate. The other resolution on the agenda that night – expressing opposition to Michigan’s Public Act 247 – had a clear and direct connection to Ann Arbor, she said. For her, the resolution on immigration is one that doesn’t have a connection to Ann Arbor that is as direct or as clear. Given all that the council has to do, she said she’d resist the tendency to address something outside the council’s scope and control.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) responded to Lumm by saying the resolution was specifically written to address issues connected to Ann Arbor, but she appreciated Lumm’s concern about it being outside the council’s purview. The resolution is designed to give potential relief to citizens in Ann Arbor, Smith said. She agreed with Anglin, who said the resolution speaks to the soul of Ann Arbor. She allowed that the council has pressing matters it has to consider – among them the four-party transit agreement and the budget. But she said that the council stays and does its work. The resolution may prolong the council’s time at the table, but it does’t mean the council is unable to attend to its other work.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she appreciated Smith’s comments, but wouldn’t support the resolution. That’s been her consistent position for her entire time on the city council, she said. [Higgins attended the July 6, 2010 meeting when the council passed a resolution opposing Arizona's law requiring local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully. However, she was not at the table when the vote was taken. Then-councilmember Stephen Rapundalo, whom Lumm replaced on the council, voted against the July 6, 2010 resolution. Rapundalo, Lumm and Higgins are all former Republicans.]

Higgins allowed that the resolution raised awareness, but contained nothing actionable. She said people should instead pick up the phone or email and contact legislators. While some people think a city council resolution carries more weight, Higgins said she felt that one voice combined with many other voices gives the position more weight. She encouraged people to raise their voices individually to make the message “a very strong shout.”

Mayor John Hieftje said what the council is objecting to is people getting jerked out of their homes, saying that the resolution does apply to this community and our neighbors.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the resolution opposing deportation, with dissent from  Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Resolution on Public Act 297

The council considered a resolution opposing Michigan’s Public Act 297, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2011. The act prohibits public employers from providing employee medical and fringe benefits to those who are not married to an employee, a dependent of the employee, or eligible to inherit from the employee under the laws of intestate succession. [.pdf of PA 297]

It’s not legal in Michigan for same-sex couples to marry. PA 297 thus effectively eliminates the possibility of providing benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Ann Arbor provides employee benefits to “other qualified adults,” a definition that includes same-sex domestic partners. [.pdf of Ann Arbor employee retirement system definition of other qualified adult] Nine current or retired city of Ann Arbor employees are impacted by PA 297.

Before the bill was signed, the council – at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting – passed a resolution calling on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign the bill into law.

Sandi Smith

Sandi Smith (Ward 1): "I love this city!"

On Jan. 5, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in U.S. district court against Snyder on behalf of four couples. Four of the eight plaintiffs are residents of Ann Arbor. The public employer for the two Ann Arbor couples is the Ann Arbor Public Schools. [.pdf of complaint against Rick Snyder] The resolution directs the Ann Arbor city attorney to assist the ACLU in the lawsuit in whatever way is useful, including filing an amicus brief.

The resolution considered by the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 23 also cites Ann Arbor’s history of commitment to non-discrimination and protections for those of all sexual orientations. [.pdf of Ann Arbor's non-discrimination ordinance]

During the council’s deliberations Jane Lumm (Ward 1) expressed her interest in not seeing the ACLU and the city of Ann Arbor by themselves trying to take on the state of Michigan. She asked city attorney Stephen Postema if other municipalities had indicated they’d be willing to help – he was not aware of any.

Responding to Lumm’s concern, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he would be proud to have Ann Arbor stand alone. He characterized PA 297 as a “state shame.” Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said it was appropriate to see a cause like this in a city like Ann Arbor. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she’d support the resolution wholeheartedly. Margie Teall (Ward 4) thanked Smith for bringing it forward.

Lumm, given the concern she’d expressed about Ann Arbor going it alone, was keen to stress that she opposes PA 297, saying it puts Michigan at a competitive disadvantage. And as Lumm went on, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) declared: “I love this city!”

Outcome: The council unanimously passed the resolution opposing PA 297.

AATA Policing Contract

The Ann Arbor city council considered a renewal to the agreement under which it supplies policing services to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – at the transit agency’s downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center.

The agreement entails the provision of a dedicated officer for the location. The previous agreement had expired on Oct. 31, 2011. Cost of the services to the AATA is $75,000, with a $5,000 increase per year after Oct. 31, 2012. The point of the increases is to get the contract value back to the fully-burdened cost, which is $112,000.

During deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she appreciated getting an answer to her question about the fully-burdened cost of providing a police officer dedicated to the Blake Transit Center – $112,000, as compared to $75,000 for the value of the contract. She said that she understood it to be the result of negotiation.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked why the city wouldn’t charge the full cost. Deputy chief of police John Seto came to the podium and told Higgins he didn’t know the full history of the initial agreement. The most recent round of negotiations resulted in an agreement to attempt to get the contract back to the level of the fully-burdened cost through a $5,000 increase each year. He’d revisit the possibility of increasing it to $10,000 annually, or even more aggressively. Higgins indicated interest to city administrator Steve Powers in discussing other similar contracts in the context of setting the fiscal year 2013 budget. [The council approves the budget for the next fiscal year in May – the fiscal year starts on July 1. So the council will approve the FY 2013 budget in May 2012.]

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the AATA policing contract.

Wastewater Project Contract

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered a $10,802,423 contract with Malcolm Pirnie Inc. for engineering services related to the facilities renovation project (FRP) at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The city’s wastewater treatment facility includes an East Plant and West Plant. The West Plant has been taken offline due to its dilapidated condition and is planned to be demolished and replaced. The project also includes a number of improvements throughout the facility, including a new electrical distribution system, new emergency power generators, utilities relocation, and replacement of stormwater collection system equipment.

The total project cost is well over $100 million and is expected to be financed in part with low-interest loans through Michigan’s state revolving fund program, which is administered by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. [For additional background on the project, see The Ann Arbor Observer's "The Flow Never Stops" from April 2009.]

Outcome: The council voted without deliberation to approve the contract.

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 city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Downtown City-Owned Surface Lots

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) gave an update on progress with the “Discovering Midtown” project – a process for exploring alternate uses of downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The process is being led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority based on direction given by the Ann Arbor city council at the council’s April 4, 2011 meeting. The effort will now be known as “Connecting William Street,” reported Smith, to avoid confusion with a character district in the city’s zoning ordinance that is called Midtown. There will be surveys conducted in February, she said. She noted that out of a recent $3 million federal sustainability grant that was recently awarded, a small piece will be used by the DDA to have a facilitator do public outreach, which begins in March. [The grant application included the DDA's planning effort.]

Comm/Comm: City-Owned Parcel – 415 W. Washington

Mayor John Hieftje reminded the council that a group had been formed to look at the city-owned 415 W. Washington lot. [The council passed a resolution giving direction for the effort at its Feb. 1, 2010 meeting, nearly two years ago. The resolution calls for the arts and greenway communities to lead fundraising and development of a vision for the parcel’s use. The site, across from the YMCA, is currently providing revenue to the city as a surface parking lot. It was previously the city’s maintenance yard.] Hieftje said the group continues to meet – the biggest challenge remains the building. He said a report on the status of the project would be given at the end of February.

Comm/Comm: Medical Marijuana

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave her colleagues a head’s up that the next meeting of the medical medical marijuana licensing board would be Jan. 31. The board has been meeting at least once a month since October 2011, she said. [Briere serves as the city council's representative to the board, which was established last year in connection with the city's medical marijuana ordinance.] So, the recommendation that the board is supposed to submit to the council by Jan. 31 would likely be in the council’s hands by early February, she said. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "ZBA Grants 1 of 2 Medical Marijuana Appeals" and "Medical Marijuana: Local Board Eyes 2012"]

Comm/Comm: Budget, Public Safety

During public commentary, Karen Sidney noted that the city council needs to approve next year’s budget [FY 2013] by the end of May. [The city's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, so FY 2013 begins on July 1, 2012. By city charter, the city administrator must submit a budget in April, and the city council must adopt it with any amendments by May each year.] That’s not a lot of time, she said, to solve the big budget problems the city is facing. She contended the city does not have adequate numbers of police officers and firefighters to keep residents safe. She said that two-person crews are not the answer, when it takes four firefighters to enter a burning building [two to enter and two to remain outside.]

In the last five years, Sidney counted a loss of 64 police officers and 12 firefighters. She called on councilmembers to start now, if they expected to figure out what to cut, in order to restore those positions. She said there’d been a historical pattern of spending time on time-consuming issues that can wait – the four-party countywide transit agreement is an example of that, she said, suggesting it could wait until after May. She hoped the proposed budget would be posted in a timely fashion and that the council would discuss any changes in the city council chambers, instead of at “meetings behind closed doors.”

During his communications, mayor John Hieftje said that in May 2011 he’d said that council’s challenge is to make sure that further cuts to the police force don’t happen – his preference would be to add officers. The hiring to replace retiring officers is going well, Hieftje said. The city had received 450 applications for 9-10 spots. He said the city had finished the year with a record reduction in crime for 2011.

Comm/Comm: Dragons, Council Rules, Warming

During the communications slot at the start of the council’s agenda, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wished everyone a happy Year of the Dragon, noting that it was the first night of the Chinese New Year [a festival that runs 15 days].

Stephen Kunselman Alan Haber

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Alan Haber. In the background behind Haber is city of Ann Arbor transportation program manager Eli Cooper.

Later in the evening, during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Thomas Partridge alluded to Jane Lumm (Ward 2), saying it was “entirely disappointing” that she appeared to be taking a “dragon lady attitude” on the council. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) objected during Partridge’s remarks to the fact that Partridge was calling names.

Alan Haber followed Partridge to the podium, saying that he’d been listed as an alternate to speak during the reserved time at the start of the meeting, behind other speakers – Karen Sidney and Thomas Partridge. [The council makes 10 reserved slots available at the start of the meeting, giving priority to those who wish to address agenda items.]

Haber complained that while he always appreciated Partridge’s astute comments on social justice, and Sidney’s comments were always worth hearing, the two had not addressed topics on the agenda in their remarks at the start of the meeting. In contrast, he’d wanted to speak to an item on the agenda, but was nonetheless assigned alternate status.

The issue of that particular council rule has been a topic of previous complaint. At the council’s Sept. 19, 2011 meeting, Michael Benson asked the council to enforce that rule.

The reason for apparent lack of enforcement of that provision of the council’s rules can be found in the specific language of the rule. It gives priority to speakers who wish to address agenda items, but only for people reserving a time between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the day of a council meeting. After 1 p.m. it’s strictly first-come, first-served.

On the morning of the regular meeting of the City Council the City Clerk shall sign up persons interested in speaking during the time designated as Public Commentary Reserved Time as follows:
a. Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. all ten speaking times will be available to persons wishing to address council on agenda items.
b. After 1 p.m. on that same day speakers wishing to address council on any matter will be signed up strictly on a first come first serve basis for any remaining times. Two alternates may also be designated.

The substantive issue Haber had wished to address was the idea of establishing a warming center. He’d intended to link that issue to the minutes of Ann Arbor’s human rights commission, which were attached to the council’s agenda, but which he contended he could not find. The reason he wished to link the warming center to the human rights commission, Haber said, is that the first human right is warmth – the right to come in out of the cold and to sit in the cave by the fire.

Comm/Comm: Leasing, Student Relations

Michael Benson addressed the council at the conclusion of the meeting, partly on behalf of the graduate student body at the University of Michigan, for which he serves as president.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton and Michael Benson

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton and Michael Benson.

He noted some dissatisfaction on the part of some people with the leasing situation. He was alluding to a provision in Ann Arbor’s leasing ordinance, approved by the city council in 2008, which is supposed to prevent landlords from renting or showing an apartment to another renter until 70 days of the current lease period has passed.

In that context, Benson reiterated a suggestion he made a year ago during public commentary – to reconvene the student relations committee and expand its membership. [Council representatives to the committee are Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).]

Comm/Comm: General Praise

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, John Litle called the council meeting and its public hearing on the four-party transit agreement a “shining example of democracy in action,” saying it had restored his faith in democracy.

Also at the conclusion of the meeting, Michael Benson thanked the council for their work, saying that after watching them transact business – while he didn’t always agree with all or any of them – he believed they had everyone’s best interests at heart. He said it’s important to remember that while we might disagree, attacking individuals is not the best way to move an agenda forward.

Comm/Comm: Vehicle Idling

During her public commentary turn on the immigration resolution, Linda Kurtz added her thoughts on an ordinance that might come before the Ann Arbor city council to regulate unnecessary vehicle idling. Kurtz said she was shocked at the number of vehicles she’s seen idling – it’s wasteful and unnecessary, she said. An educational effort should be undertaken, she said, and the enactment of an ordinance plays a part in that education. Education should start with city workers, she said. [In connection with the site preparation work for the City Place project on South Fifth Avenue, nearby residents reported city vehicles idling through the better part of a day.]

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

Next council meeting: Monday, Feb. 6, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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Unscripted: Historic District, Immigration Fri, 09 Jul 2010 16:58:14 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2010) Part 1: At its Tuesday night meeting, the city council rejected a recommendation to establish a historic district on Fourth and Fifth avenues south of William Street and north of Packard. The absence at the meeting of Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who was expected to support the district, did not have an impact on the outcome of the 4-6 vote.

Sabra Briere and Carsten Hohnke

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) confer during a brief break at the city council meeting. After the break, Hohnke withdrew his motion that would have asked the council to consider the Heritage Row project for a third time in total, and for the second time at their July 6 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Rejection of the district then set off a series of parliamentary procedures by the council. The actions were prompted by concern that without the protection afforded by the historic district, seven houses would be demolished through construction of an already-approved matter-of-right project (MOR), City Place.

So the council brought back for reconsideration a different project on the same site – Heritage Row, which the council had rejected at its previous meeting. A key feature of the Heritage Row project, which includes three new apartment buildings, is that it would also retain the seven houses.

The vote on the reconsideration of Heritage Row failed. That resulted in an attempt by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) to have the council reconsider the historic district, which the council had just rejected. Hohnke’s council colleagues weren’t interested in revisiting the issue.

So Hohnke then began the parliamentary procedure to reconsider the Heritage Row project – for the second time that evening and for the third time total. The move required another rule suspension – this one concerning the number of times a question could be considered.

After a brief recess, however – during which Hohnke was apparently persuaded that developer Alex de Parry would not actually follow through and build the City Place MOR project – Hohnke withdrew his motion. A comment from Ann Arbor resident Ethel Potts, who attended the council meeting and who has witnessed more than four decades of city politics, summarized the sentiments of many in the audience: “As weird goes, this was pretty weird.”

A moratorium on demolition, which covers the area considered by the historic district study committee, will remain in place through Aug. 6. The council meets on Aug. 5, after the primary elections on Aug. 3.

In other business, the city council approved a resolution opposing legislation recently enacted by the state of Arizona that requires local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully.

The council transacted a range of other business and communications as well. Those issues are covered in Part 2 of the July 6 meeting report. Part 1 focuses on the Arizona immigration law and the historic district.

Immigration Status: Against Arizona Senate Bill 1070

Before the council was a resolution sponsored by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) that expressed opposition to a recent law enacted in the state of Arizona that requires local law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully. [draft of resolution] Briere had announced at the council’s previous meeting that she would bring a resolution like this forward.

When the council approved the evening’s agenda, Margie Teall (Ward 4) proposed moving the item up so that it could be considered immediately following the public commentary at the start of the meeting, to accommodate those who were attending the meeting just for that item. That agenda change was approved with dissent from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Higgins left the table during public commentary, and did not return until well after the vote on the immigration law had been taken.

One of the themes that emerged during the public comment period was that racial profiling already exists in the Ann Arbor community – which led the council to ask chief of police Barnett Jones to address the issue from the podium.

Councilmembers also stressed that the resolution had not used city staff resources, a theme that echoed sentiments expressed at a recent candidate forum held in Ward 1, when incumbent Sandi Smith and challenger Sumi Kailasapathy were asked if they felt it was appropriate for the city council to address national-level issues.

Immigration Status: Public Comment

Introducing herself as a recent graduate of Huron High School and a community organizer for a Washtenaw County worker center was Jasmine Franco. She described her own background, beginning with her parents’ arrival in the U.S. from Guatemala in the 1990s. Two years after that, she was born in Chicago. She lived in Ann Arbor for 10 years with her family until her mother was sent back to Guatemala. In 2008, she said, her Michigan ID expired. Despite her U.S. citizenship and her possession of a valid birth certificate, a Social Security number and a U.S. passport, she was denied the right to a Michigan ID. The reason, she had been told, was that several undocumented immigrants had used her home address for Michigan IDs.

Franco was then given a case number and an agent, who told her that to get any form of ID, he had to visit her home and see her documents in person, to validate her citizenship and residency. For over two years, Franco said, she tried to arrange a home visit, but the agent refused to return her calls. When she complained, she said, she was told that her agent had been laid off. She was assigned a new agent, who continued to ignore her requests. It was only after the intervention of Pastor Melanie Carey, a woman with whom Franco was living, that Franco said she was able to get her Michigan driver’s license.

The agent never met with her in her home to verify her citizenship or residency  – all it took was for Carey to tell the agent over the phone that Franco was a citizen living in her home. Two weeks later the agent delivered the ID into Carey’s hands, without Franco needing to be present. Franco contended that her experience was not unique. If Arizona-style legislation passes in Michigan, she warned, countless citizens will be denied their rights. The resolution before the city council, Franco said, sends a clear message to the rest of the country: We will not tolerate Arizona-style legislation. She urged support of the resolution.

Blaine Coleman began by addressing the council in Spanish, and then provided a translation: Remember that Arizona has been occupied since 1848 – like Palestine is occupied today. He said he was glad that city councils were condemning the government of Arizona for passing such a blatantly racist law that can only result in racial profiling against anyone who the government decides looks like they’re not a citizen. He asked the city council: How could they be so brave in condemning Arizona for that law it had enacted, and “enforce such silence” when it comes to racial profiling against Palestinians? How is it, Coleman asked, that it’s only for one night that the Ann Arbor city council stands against racism and only against Arizona, but never against Israel, or against the U.S. government for the murder of Iraqis and Afghans? Coleman then concluded his remarks by repeating the question five times: How much is an Arab’s life worth to you?

Mozhgan Savabiesfahani told the council it was hard for her to believe that they were against racism – she’s been coming to the council for five to six years to speak about racism in Israel, but the council had never acknowledged her existence. That, she concluded, is racist. She showed the council a flier she’d brought that presented research concluding that the U.S. bombing in Fallujah had a negative effect on infant mortality and increased cancer rates. Councilmembers had refused to accept the flier from her, she reported. “You want to tell me you’re not racist?” She concluded her remarks by saying, “Boycott Israel!”

Speaking on behalf of Michigan Peaceworks and its immigrant rights task force was Max Heirich. He began by framing the question as one of opportunity: What is the opportunity represented by the resolution? It’s relevant to Ann Arbor, he said, because 160 area families had been disrupted by Homeland Security actions – parents have been separated from children, children have been put in foster care, he said. Law enforcement actions are proceeding without search warrants, he said, similar to what would happen if Michigan were to enact laws being introduced in the legislature now, which are similar to laws already enacted in Arizona. Taking a stand in Ann Arbor could be a model for other cities, he said. He reminded the council that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Various immigrants have faced oppression at different points in the country’s history, he said. The resolution is an opportunity to do something positive, instead of simply saying, “Isn’t it too bad.”

Mary Anne Perrone began by addressing the council in Spanish, then translating her remarks: She came to speak to the mayor and the city council with a deep conviction, asking them to vote in favor of the resolution. She’s lived in Ann Arbor for over 20 years, she said, and is a member of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and also the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. She said that although she is a U.S. citizen – the granddaughter of immigrants – if she were in Arizona and she had spoken in her adopted language of Spanish, that could form the basis of a suspicion that she is not here in the U.S. lawfully.

Law enforcement officers could then ask her to produce documents and to detain her. It’s important, Perrone said, that cities like Ann Arbor raise their voices as a conscience for the nation and to make clear that using intolerance and discrimination is not the way that we want our government to operate. In Ann Arbor, Perrone said, we care about art, we care about parks, we care about rivers, and we care about people’s human rights.

Deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Mary Bejian, appeared in order to give the ACLU’s official endorsement of the resolution. She emphasized that it’s not just that Arizona’s legislation – as well as the pending legislation in Michigan – gives the police the right to ask people to prove their lawful residence, but rather it actually requires them to do that. Law enforcement officers face penalties if they’re found to be negligent. The U.S. Department of Justice, Bejian reported, had filed suit this week against the state of Arizona regarding the legislation – the ACLU and a number of other organizations had already filed suit back in May.

Mary Bejian

Mary Bejian, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Bejian said they were confident that the law will be shown to be unconstitutional – the law invites and compels racial profiling. The notion of “reasonable suspicion,” she said, is a vague legal concept. What other possible criteria would law enforcement officers use, other than the color of one’s skin, whether someone speaks English with an accent or a foreign language? Supporters of the law are not able to offer any other criteria that would constitute reasonable suspicion, other than looking or sounding foreign, she said.

Bejian pointed out that the law enforcement community was not happy with the legislation, either. The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has gone on record against it. Locally, she said, law enforcement officials have said that local law enforcement should not be doing the job of federal immigration agents. For one thing, she said, they are not trained to do that job. There are also no local resources to do this kind of work, she said.

Vivianne Schnitzer told the council she’d lived for 10 years in Ann Arbor among the diverse population of residents. She said she considers Ann Arbor to be an enlightened city. The city’s humanity and solidarity are now being tested, she said. Tonight, she suggested, we could choose one path or the other, and it would have profound implications for our children and grandchildren. One day they will ask us: “What did you do that day?” We have to reject the politics of fear and chose the politics of reason, she said.

Laura Sanders introduced herself as an Ann Arbor resident, local therapist, and instructor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. She told the council she was representing the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. They’d documented over 160 cases of raids, detainments and deportations of immigrants, many of which included participation of local law enforcement in addition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Those cases showed that racial profiling is already playing a major role in traffic stops that are resulting in deportations of innocent and hard-working immigrants, she said.

There’s not any admission by officers, Sanders said, that the reason they’ve stopped people is they’re brown-skinned, or they speak with a thick accent, or that they’re wearing their hats to the side, or because they’re driving a car with a decal of a foreign flag. They’re then interrogated about their immigration status and arrested for offenses for which white people would simply be ticketed.

Laura Sanders Immigration Rights

Laura Sanders spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

Sanders then ticked through a list of actual of traffic stop offenses for which immigrants have been arrested in the community: cracked windshield, rosary hanging off rear-view mirror, low air in tires, crooked license plate, malfunctioning tail light, failure to use blinker turning from private driveway onto street, expired license plate, driving on expired license, possessing expired license sitting in passenger seat, broken headlight, making a wrong turn, failing to change lanes when passing a car pulled over by the police, failing to wear a seat belt, making a fast stop. There’s already a racial-profiling problem, she contended. It’s important to take a proactive step against it, she said. She asked everyone attending in support of the resolution to stand, and an estimated 50 people rose from their seats.

Samantha Narawski introduced herself as a University of Michigan student working with a group called One Michigan, a statewide organization made up of undocumented and documented youth who were fighting for immigrant rights and the Dream Act. She explained how the Arizona legislation had affected a member of the Ann Arbor community – a co-founder of One Michigan, Mohammad Abdollahi. He’d lived in Arizona for a month, organized there, and participated in a sit-in.

Abdollahi came to Ann Arbor as a three-year-old from Iran, when his father was working on his doctorate at the University of Michigan. An attorney had failed to inform the family about a $20 fee change and that had resulted in the family being undocumented, Narawski explained. Abdollahi grew up volunteering at the Ozone House and cheering on the Huron High School River Rats. He didn’t know what it meant, she explained, until his friends started applying to colleges and he couldn’t because he didn’t have a Social Security number.

Abdollahi attended Washtenaw Community College and earned enough credits to transfer to Eastern Michigan University. At the admissions office at EMU, they told him he was the kind of student they wanted there. But a few minutes later, she continued, the admissions officer’s supervisor retracted the offer of admission, saying that they had missed the fact that he’d checked the box indicating he was not a citizen.

He searched out resources online, Narawski said, and headed to Arizona with three undocumented students to participate in a sit-in. They asked that the Dream Act be enacted, which would allow undocumented students to receive citizenship. She asked the council to stand with Abdollahi and oppose the Arizona legislation, as he had done. “Do it for Mohammad and the immigrant community here.”

Immigration Status: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who drafted the resolution that was also sponsored by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), began by thanking Margie Teall (Ward 4) for moving the item forward on the agenda.

Briere ticked off various groups who had come to this county to escape religious persecution, to seek economic opportunity, or political freedom. Her own ancestors arrived before immigration was an issue – to leave the Old World behind and to find new opportunity. The men had fought in every war, including the American Revolution. The women had done what women always did – ran the farms, businesses, the home, sacrificing for freedom or just keeping their heads down. Each generation defines freedom for itself, she continued, but also fights to defend that freedom. In that spirit, seven years ago the council had passed a resolution protesting the erosion of civil liberties under the U.S. Patriot Act, Briere said. [Excerpted minutes from the July 7, 2003 Ann Arbor city council meeting.]

Stereotyping of the sort that is encouraged by the Arizona legislation, Briere said, is at its very heart against American principles. The U.S. attorney general had filed suit that day against the state of Arizona, Briere said, and a broad variety of academic organizations spoke against the Arizona bill immediately after it was passed. City councils and city governments “from Arizona to Minneapolis” have voted their opposition to the legislation. She asked her colleagues to support the attorney general’s position that immigration enforcement is properly the purview of the federal government, not the state. She asked the council to support the Obama administration to address the problems with the immigration law.

During public commentary on the subject, the speakers’ comments were met with audience applause, and the pattern continued after Briere’s remarks. Mayor John Hieftje admonished the audience that “we don’t have applause for a councilmember statement.”

Now you say that!” quipped Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who was next to speak. She thanked Briere for doing “the heavy lifting” on the resolution. It had been simply reviewed briefly by the city attorney’s office, and she stressed that very few city resources had been used to accomplish the resolution. Why would Ann Arbor take on something like this? Smith’s answer: “This is what Ann Arbor does.” And the council would finish their entire agenda, Smith said, no matter how late they needed to stay.

Michigan as a state had become known as an unfriendly place, Smith cautioned. Passing Arizona-style legislation in Michigan would contribute further to that. The language of Arizona’s legislation – “without a warrant,” for example – was frightening to her, she said. She encouraged the council to support the resolution.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) echoed the sentiments of Smith and Briere, and stressed that although it might not appear that it had to do with Ann Arbor or its operation, it’s sometimes important to make a symbolic statement and to share that statement with other cities. In the past, she said, Ann Arbor had sometimes raised its voice as a beacon to other communities and the city can be proud of that.

In response to a constituent question she’d received that day, Teall explained that any councilmember can place a resolution on the agenda. She also stressed that no other business was being delayed or postponed or otherwise neglected, due to the vote on the immigration resolution.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed the comments of Teall, noting that the council had a long agenda that night. But the council had spoken out on other issues like this, giving as an example a resolution that he’d sponsored recognizing a veterans group and a peace group who were working together on a water project in Iraq. Things like that deserve recognition and the council’s impetus behind it. If you look around at the make-up of the council, he said, you heard some curious names like “Derezinski,” “Rapundalo,” “Hohnke” and “Hieftje.” Those are names from other countries, Derezinski said. It’s an immigrant nation, and we’re all immigrants, he said. It’s a positive thing that new people are constantly coming into the country, he said: “They will save us, when our blood gets old and tired.”

Hieftje expressed his agreement with the resolution and thanked Smith and Briere for their work on it.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated that he was greatly troubled by elements of the Arizona legislation – “they are vile at best,” he said. He said he abhorred the thought of immigrants being pulled aside because of the color of their skin or for other reasons. He noted that he was a landed immigrant himself and except for the color of his skin, he could be pulled over – he noted he had a foreign flag on the back of his car. [Rapundalo has dual Candadian-U.S. citizenship.] He said he wholeheartedly supports the idea that immigration is a federal matter – just as Briere had asked the council to support the U.S. attorney general’s position on that. However, for that reason, he said that he regrettably could not support the resolution.

Rapundalo said he would be consistent with his position on similar issues in the past – it’s not an issue for the Ann Arbor city council at the moment. When there is a piece of legislation that has a direct impact on local citizens, he said, he’d be more than happy to consider it then. He’d received many emails from supporters of the resolution, but also many messages asking why the city council was not focusing more on local issues. He allowed that his colleagues were correct in saying that they would finish the agenda that night, despite their consideration of the resolution. But he said that there were more pressing issues – roads and budgets, for example.

Responding to Rapundalo’s remarks, Hieftje noted that the council had passed resolutions previously concerning the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. He contended that it was rare that the Ann Arbor city council took up such resolutions, and said he felt it did not take time away from other important business that came before the council. He disagreed with the idea that it was an action that was inappropriate for the Ann Arbor city council.

Responding to the remarks of Laura Sanders during public commentary that racial profiling was already happening in the Ann Arbor community, Hieftje said that Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton would like to know about those issues.

Outcome: The resolution opposing the Arizona law on how local law enforcement officers are to handle possible immigration violations was approved, with dissent from Rapundalo. Marcia Higgins was not at the table when the vote was taken.

Immigration Status: Response from Police Chief

After the vote was taken, chief of police Barnett Jones was asked to the podium by Sabra Briere to respond to the issue concerning the number of people who had been arrested during ICE raids.


Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) talk with Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones, right.

Jones indicated that he didn’t know where Laura Sanders had gotten her numbers from: “Her figures are her figures,” he said. He asked that he be forwarded any statistics that are relevant to the city of Ann Arbor. He said he thought that the bulk of Sanders’ figures came from outside the city. He indicated that he’d met with Sanders and her group and had worked with her. He described the relationship of the Ann Arbor police with the undocumented community as “wonderful.” There’s a council resolution that addresses how local law enforcement is supposed to handle situations like these.

From the council’s 2003 resolution cited earlier by Briere:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council, as a matter of public policy, directs the Ann Arbor Chief of Police, to the extent permitted by law, to:

  1. Continue to limit local enforcement actions with respect to immigration matters to penal violations of federal immigration law (as opposed to administrative violations) except in cases where the Chief of Police determines there is a legitimate public safety concern and in such public safety instances, to report the situation to the City Council no later than 60 days after the incident.
  2. Continue to refrain from covert surveillance of and/or collection and maintenance of information on individuals or groups based on their participation in activities protected by the First Amendment, such as political advocacy or the practice of a religion, without a particularized suspicion of unlawful activity.
  3. Affirm the existing practice, as required by Michigan state law, of providing simultaneous notice of the execution of a state court search warrant to any resident of the City of Ann Arbor whose property is the subject of such a warrant, except in cases of anticipatory search warrants.
  4. Report to the City Council any request made by federal authorities for the Ann Arbor Police Department to participate in any activity under the USA Patriot Act, to the extent the Chief of Police has knowledge of such request.
  5. Refrain from participating in informational interviews conducted by federal authorities similar to those conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in early 2002 in Ann Arbor of individuals not suspected of criminal activity, unless the interviewee has specifically requested the presence of an AAPD official;
    RESOLVED, That the City Administrator be directed to seek semi-annually, by form letter, from federal authorities the following information on behalf of the residents of the City of Ann Arbor:
  6. The names of all residents of the City of Ann Arbor who have been arrested or otherwise detained by federal authorities as a result of terrorism investigations since September 11, 2001; the location of each detainee; the circumstances that led to each detention; the charges, if any, lodges against each detainee; the name of counsel, if any, representing each detainee;
  7. The number of search warrants that have been executed in the City of Ann Arbor without notice to the subject of the warrant pursuant to Section 213 of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  8. The extent of electronic surveillance carried out in the City of Ann Arbor under powers granted in the USA PATRIOT Act;
  9. The extent to which federal authorities are monitoring political meetings, religious gatherings or other activities protected by the First Amendment within the City of Ann Arbor;
  10. The number of times education records have been obtained from public schools and institutions of higher learning in the City of Ann Arbor under Section 507 of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  11. The number of times library records have been obtained from libraries in the City of Ann Arbor under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  12. The number of times that records of the books purchased by store patrons have been obtained from bookstores in the City of Ann Arbor under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act;

Jones said that he was appalled that Sanders’ presentation made it sound like the Ann Arbor police department is out looking for undocumented immigrants and that they’re using racial profiling to effect those arrests. “This is a professional law enforcement agency, with professional men and women, [...] who know what the rules are [...],” Jones said. He said that he figured there were some of those men and women in uniform who may have been watching the city council proceedings on television, who might have been a little upset by Sanders’ statements. [City council meetings are broadcast live on Community Television Network.]

He concluded by stressing that he felt that most of the stats Sanders had cited related to incidents outside of Ann Arbor and that he’d asked her to provide any specific information about problems inside the city – as she’d done in the past.

He concluded by saying, “And I will calm down now!”

Fourth/Fifth Avenue Historic District

Before the council for its second and final reading was a proposal to accept the recommendation of a study committee that had been established on Aug. 6 last year, to create a local historic district along Fourth and Fifth avenues south of William Street and north of Packard. Detailed background can be found in previous Chronicle coverage: “The Constitution of Historic Districts” and “S. Fifth Avenue: Historic District, Development.”

The proposed district was controversial for some who oppose the creation of any district at all in the general area, as well as for some neighbors living south of Packard Street, who objected to the way the proposed boundaries were drawn. Many residents living in the 500 blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues, south of Packard just north of Madison, wanted to be included in a historic district as well.

Historic District: Public Hearing

Identifying himself as the only resident member of the historic district study committee was Tom Whitaker. He asked for the council’s support of the study committee’s recommendation to create a historic district. He said that state officials who had reviewed a preliminary version of the report had called it “exemplary.” The committee had adopted the recommendation to create the district unanimously, he said, just as they had recommended that the council have an additional area studied, which includes the block south of Packard Street, where many residents support the establishment of a historic district.

Whitaker said he didn’t agree with the attempts by some of those residents to “sabotage” the creation of a smaller district. The boundaries recommended by the report, he said, would withstand any of the “baseless” challenges that had been made. Rejecting the district wouldn’t be fair to the owners of individual properties that had previously been part of a citywide district that had been ruled legally invalid by the 2001 Draprop decision – they’d been waiting to have their properties reinstated. It also wouldn’t be fair, he said, to the property owners in the neighborhood who had seen three development proposals for the neighborhood in the last few years, all of which were counter to the city’s master planning and zoning, he contended.

A historic district would not mean the end of improvements in the area, Whitaker said, as the experience of other historic districts showed – neighborhoods stabilize and property values rise under historic designation, he said. Liberty Lofts was built in a historic district, he pointed out, and the new CVS on State Street is being built in a historic district. The Zingerman’s Deli expansion is likely to be approved in a historic district, he said. In addition, he continued, large numbers of smaller homeowner projects are routinely completed in historic districts with a high percentage requiring only staff approval. Those requiring approval from the historic district commission have an approval percentage better than 90%, he said. The older neighborhoods, as well as the historic neighborhoods, are what define Ann Arbor to visitors and what attract people to live here and to stay here. If the council chose not to support the historic district, then Whitaker asked that they explain what they’d done to help resolve the conflict. “None of you can afford to sit back any longer and watch this neighborhood being torn apart,” he warned.

Kristi Gilbert introduced herself as a member of the study committee and urged the council to vote for the district. She said that she would defer to Whitaker and others like him who are more skilled in making the arguments for a historic district. She noted that they are not just passionate about historic preservation, but are equally concerned about sustainability, a dense urban environment and economic vitality. All of these things can happen together, she said, and that had happened in Ann Arbor over the last 30 years with its 14 historic districts, many of which are in the downtown core.

Gilbert referred to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network conference recently, when mayor John Hieftje had bragged about the 14 historic districts and why they make Ann Arbor so beautiful. There’s some good modern architecture in Ann Arbor, she said, but the majority of it doesn’t help define the identity or brand of Ann Arbor.

Tom Luczak introduced himself as a resident of the proposed historic district and urged the council to support the recommendation in the study committee’s report. He allowed that it is council’s judgment call as to whether they value having the houses of the neighborhood preserved, but he noted that they are under tremendous development pressure. He contended that a number of people who are supportive of a district were not there that evening, but that they would be around in early August. [The primary election will be held on Aug. 3 – several councilmembers are running for reelection.]

Luczak reminded councilmembers that many of them had placed importance on process with respect to the city planning commission’s recommendation. So if they wanted to respect process, he contended, then they should support the recommendation of the committee. If the historic district is not approved, he asked, what would be his motivation not to sell his house to a developer? He called the argument that the boundaries are wrong a “red herring.” He said he supported the idea of expanding the district later, but asked the council not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Claudius Vincenz, who lives south of Packard Street, an area not included in the study committee’s recommended district, showed the council a poster of Gottfried Maedel who used to live in Vincenz’s house. The German past of the block, he said, was not included in the study committee’s report. He said he agreed with Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who had called the exercise a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

However, Vincenz said, it would not have been a self-fulfilling prophecy if the committee had used their expertise to write a report that was consistent with the Secretary of the Interior guidelines, which it was not, he contended. The area of greatest concentration of historical value, he said, was actually south of the proposed area. He contended that the committee had suppressed evidence of many German founders of Ann Arbor who had lived south of the proposed area.

The most blatant omission, Vincenz said, was the last remaining residence of Raoul Wallenberg, who had stepped forward during World War II and saved thousands of Jews from the gas chambers. He called the resolution suggesting the council study the area south of Packard evidence that the committee knew something was not quite right, characterizing it as a way of saying, “We wash our hands in innocence.”

Ellen Thackery, who is the Michigan Historic Preservation Network field representative, asked the council to pass the resolution establishing a historic district. She reminded them that the neighborhood is in the city’s central area, and the central area plan recognizes that the neighborhood is integral to the city. One of the most effective means of preserving the character of the area, she said, is a historic district. Historic districts have been upheld at the U.S. Supreme Court level, she said, citing the Penn Central case.

Likely responding to a letter conveyed a few weeks ago to the city council by attorney Peter Webster, which argues that a local historic district creates a preservation easement, Thackery said that historic districts do not create an easement. Historic preservation easements, she said, are donated by a property owner and can be donated by any owner of a historic property. They can be donated on National Register properties, properties with state markers, or properties in local historic districts or properties without such a designation. Such easements are perpetual and run with the land. That contrasts with local historic districts, she said, which have a legal process for establishment, for their amendment, and their dissolution.

Piotr Michalowski told the council that he’d written to them on many occasions and did not want to repeat himself. Instead, he said, he wanted to remind the council what the purpose of a historic district is: to manage change. It doesn’t stop any change, but rather manages it, and that’s all they were asking for. He contended that the reason there is pressure for development in that neighborhood is because land is cheaper than it is downtown. It was not simply the recent developments that had been proposed in the neighborhood, like City Place and Heritage Row, but also other proposed developments that could come very soon, if a historic district is not established.

Scott Munzel introduced himself as legal counsel for the Fifth Avenue Limited Partnership, the owner of the Heritage Row project. He criticized the proposed district as both bad law and bad public policy. First, he said, the recommended district as described in the report does not meet the requirements described in the statutes, which require that the buildings be related by archeology, architecture, history, engineering, or culture. The “broad net” that is cast in the study report does not meet those criteria, he said.


Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), left, chats with local attorney Scott Munzel during a break. Behind them, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) talks with Sandi Smith (Ward 1).

By the study committee’s standard, Munzel said, every building that is near the downtown or the University of Michigan would qualify as historic and should be included in a historic district. Munzel cited the Draprop case, in which an Ann Arbor historic district had been invalidated, and said that based on that case, the proposed historic district could be invalidated on the same reasoning. Secondly, he said, the district may violate equal protection requirements in that it treats similarly situated landowners differently.

Along Jefferson Street to the east are examples of buildings that were excluded from the district, and Munzel noted that building south of Packard Street had been excluded. There is no rational basis he could see, on reading the report, for why those areas were excluded. He noted that the council had expressed concern through its earlier resolution on Arizona’s immigration law about violation of the U.S. Constitution, and he suggested that the historic district might violate the equal protection provisions of the Constitution.

Munzel also contended that establishing a historic district would amount to bad public policy. The role of the urban core is changing, he said. Environmental, social, and economic forces are pointing to the need for increased density. The area of the proposed district is surrounded on the north and west by the commercial core, on the east by the university and on the south by university and industrial uses, so it may be suitable for redevelopment proposals under the control of the city council. A historic district would put the decision on proposals, which could otherwise meet city goals, in the hands of the city’s historic district commission. It amounted to an abdication of council’s ability to control public policy. He reminded the council that everyone is free to preserve their own houses, without a historic district.

Much later in the public hearing, Thomas Partridge, like Munzel, also drew a connection to the discussion about the Arizona legislation on immigration. Partridge noted that the council had gone from talking about constitutional rights and human rights issues to talking about the selfish and restrictive attitudes of property owners. If the historic district were established, he asked, what will that mean for the immigrants coming to Ann Arbor seeking places to live? He concluded by saying there needs to be a compromise.

Jane Belanger introduced herself as the owner of two properties on South Fifth Avenue. She was one of the signers of a protest petition that was submitted to the city around 2 p.m. that day. She also told the council that she owned property in the Kerrytown area and lived in the Old West Side. She thus had some experience as an owner and investor in historic districts. She said she didn’t agree that her property values increased due to their historic designation – but rather due to the proximity to the university and to the downtown area. The properties are expensive to maintain, she said.

Belanger said the district had been proposed in order to block a specific development in the neighborhood. She said that people should take care of their houses, whether they are in a historic neighborhood or not, and that a historic neighborhood made it more difficult. She said she’d had positive encounters with the historic district commission for work she’d wanted to undertake, but that the process had taken longer than it would have otherwise.

Brad Mikus told the council that he thought the houses were old but not necessarily significant. He said it was bad public policy to use historic districts to stop development. But he also indicated that he thought the City Place matter-of-right development is a “turd.” No one likes it, he said, so whatever it takes to stop it is potentially a good idea.


Brad Mikus appealed to his smart phone to quote from the city's central area plan during the public hearing on the historic district.

Looking at the central area plan, Mikus said that the repeated goal and objective in the document is to “preserve” various aspects of the neighborhoods. From that he concluded that the zoning didn’t really match the master plan. He cited a passage from the Calthorpe report that seemed to indicate that removal of historic districts could facilitate new zoning. Running out of time, Mikus quickly concluded by saying he was in favor of establishing a historic district.

Betsy de Parry, who is Alex de Parry’s wife and part of the Heritage Row development team, reminded the council that the Heritage Row project had been rejected at the last council meeting. That project, she said, would have preserved seven houses on South Fifth Avenue. They were interested in preserving the houses, she said, but a historic district was not the way to do that. The study committee was formed hastily, she said, in order to stop the City Place matter-of-right project, which met existing zoning.

She contended that the council resolution establishing the committee contained an error when it claimed that the area included the most intact 19th century streetscape in the city – the 400 block of South Fifth Avenue. That block is actually interrupted by two parking lots and a large playground created by the demolition of early houses, she said. She pointed out that many of the owners of houses outside the recommended district want to be included in a district if one is established. But many of the owners of properties inside the proposed district are opposed to being included in the district, she said, which is demonstrated by the petitions that had been submitted that day. The creation of a district, she concluded, would be for the wrong reasons.

Ellen Ramsburgh, who is a historic district commissioner, told the council that she applauded the committee’s work and understood the conflicting views about the southern boundary. She suggested that the council appoint a study committee to study the expansion. She reminded the council that historic districts are a tool that can be used to manage development and to preserve neighborhoods. A good example of a historic district that works is the Old West Side historic district, she said. The city’s historic district commission, she said, performs its function well. The commission approves about 90% of the proposals that are presented to it. She said that projects are improved by going through the historic district commission review.

Susan Wineberg introduced herself as a member of the historic district study committee. She said she’s lived in the Old Fourth Ward since 1983, when a historic district was established there, and that she’d only seen improvements. It had resulted in the creation of a neighborhood group and a sense of identity for the neighborhood. She said that 95% of the neighborhood is rental, but the renters benefit from having the neighborhood group advocate for everything from parking permits to street cleaning to tree planting.


Seated are three members of the historic district study committee (left to right): Susan Wineberg, Kristi Gilbert, Patrick McCauley.

Wineberg also sought to dispel a misconception that historic districts regulate paint colors or issues inside of houses. A historic district does not regulate paint colors and deals only with the exterior of the houses, she said. She gave the example of subdivisions that have various rules about what can be done to houses, which is something that people like – it provides a sense of predictability and stability, she said. She allowed that she did not know if the increase in property values in the Old Fourth Ward had been a function of the properties’ inclusion in a historic district or if it reflected a general rise in property values near the university. She also pointed out that one of the benefits to property owners in historic districts is the tax credits that are available – she’d taken advantage of them and had saved a lot of money, she said.

Ethel Potts told the council they’d heard a lot about the strong desire to honor the history of Ann Arbor and the excellence of architecture and workmanship by establishing a historic district. Less talked about, she said, are the financial and economic benefits of establishing a historic district. The Old West Side had started as “scruffy,” she said, and had now become “charming.”

Christine Crockett told the council that a historic district would give property owners an incentive to maintain their property, something they already had demonstrated even without a historic district. It would encourage property owners to maintain the beauty of Ann Arbor, she said. When pictures are shown of Ann Arbor, you never see pictures of the newer buildings. It’s the older buildings that are chosen for pictures depicting Ann Arbor, she said. Responding to Jane Belanger’s comments to the effect that houses in a historic district are expensive to maintain, Crockett said that maintaining any house is expensive. In a historic district, however, there are tax credits available to offset some of the expense.

John Floyd, a Republican candidate for Ward 5 city council in November, began by applauding what Alex de Parry had proposed to do with the Heritage Row project, which would preserve the seven historic houses. He’d toured the site twice, he said – once with a member of the study committee. What de Parry proposed to do with the site was, Floyd said, “fabulous” and should be acknowledged. He also said it should be acknowledged that de Parry had the right to develop something on the backside of the site.

Floyd said he also supports the establishment of a historic district. If there were not some concern about the houses being destroyed, he said, the topic of a historic district would not come up. He characterized the area where the district was proposed as part of the “charm zone” of Ann Arbor – the ring of pre-WWII houses around downtown. As part of the charm zone, Floyd said, the houses are part of the signature element of Ann Arbor’s built environment.

Leafy neighborhood blocks surrounding the downtown core, Floyd contended, give Ann Arbor a unique character that helps to partly offset the disadvantages of climate and geography in the competition to attract and retain talented people. He said he also advocates appointing a committee to explore expanding the district southward of Packard Street and over to Jefferson and perhaps even Hamilton Place.

Rita Mitchell asked the council to vote to support the district and immediately approve a study committee for an expanded district – south of Packard and eastward as well. The money spent on rehabbing houses, she said, would immediately create jobs, and the increased value of the properties would also increase the tax base.

Richard Jacobson criticized the study committee report for neglecting to include notable residents who had lived in the area south of Packard Street. Among the notables were Henry Otto, who’d led the Otto band, which had been the first band to play the UM fight song, “Hail to the Victors.” Bruno St. James had owned a dry goods shop and was a partner in Goodyear & St. James, on South Main. He’d served as an alderman from 1906-1910, Jacobson said. George Walker was the owner of Walker & Co., the most successful carriage shop in Ann Arbor, Jacobson told the council.

Anne Eisen, who lives in the proposed district, asked the council to approved the district – it would get the city about half way to the goal. How much she would continue to invest in her house, she said, depended in part on whether the city council voted to extend the protection of a historic district to the neighborhood.

Ray Detter stated that there should be no question that the houses in the proposed district were worthy of historic district designation. The committee had approached its work, he said, with honesty, hard work, and transparency. The city staff had provided assurance that there was a legal right to establish the district. As far as the boundaries were concerned, Detter said, in his experience boundaries of historic districts were always arbitrary. A historic district for the neighborhood would be consistent with the city’s master planning, he said. He rejected the policy position of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce to expand the downtown area to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Alex de Parry, the developer who had proposed the Heritage Row and the City Place projects, said he wanted to go on the record as not supporting the establishment of a historic district – it was being proposed for all the wrong reasons, he said. It did not meet the Secretary of Interior guidelines, he said, and the committee’s report contained many mistakes. He called it “an abuse of the historic district process.” Potential tax credits are not a rationale for creating a district, he said. Responding to a remark by Ray Detter that boundaries of historic districts are arbitrary, de Parry said he found the idea “rather strange.”

Beverly Strassmann introduced herself as president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association. She said that the residents north and south of Packard Street wanted the historic district to extend all the way to Madison Street. The boundaries that had been proposed, she said, are “arbitrary and capricious” and denied many of the residents equal protection under the law. The houses left out of the district, she contended, would be subject to even greater development pressures. Those property owners, she said, have every right to the same tax credits for historic preservation and renovation as the residents north of Packard.

Strassmann contended that the consultant who had advised the study committee had not adequately advised the committee about their obligations under the law. Strassmann quoted from the Secretary of the Interior guidelines: “When selecting boundaries for a historic district, include the area that contains the highest concentration of intact resources.” The most intact block, Strassmann said, was the 500 block of South Fifth Street between Packard and Madison. She told the council that establishing a historic district would put the city in legal jeopardy. She urged the council to table the proposal and to convene an entirely new study committee.

Graham Miles introduced himself as the owner of several properties in the 500 blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues south of Packard. He said he’d like to see those houses included in a historic district.

Susan Whitaker thanked Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) for sponsoring the resolution that established the historic district study committee. She noted that it had been the city council that had set the boundaries for the study area. She said that the neighborhood supported development when it was done right, citing Zaragon Place 2 as an example of high-density development done in an area suitable for that [at the southeast corner of William and Thompson]. She alluded to the support that Margie Teall (Ward 4) had shown for her own ward’s Lower Burns Park neighborhood by leading an effort to downzone part of the area to protect single-family houses.


Susan Whitaker spoke in favor of establishing a historic district.

[Teall is campaigning partly on that rezoning. From The Chronicle's coverage of a recent Ward 4 candidate forum: "Two years ago, she said, she had worked with her colleague from Ward 4, Marcia Higgins, to rezone part of Lower Burns Park to prevent more single-family residences from being broken up into multiple rental units."]

The area proposed for a historic district, Whitaker said, provides diverse housing options for people ranging from older couples, to young singles, to college students. She called it a model neighborhood for new urbanism and livability. She said the study report shows that the area is a “precious commodity.”

Patrick McCauley, who chaired the historic district study committee, said he’d prepared a long list of reasons for establishing the district and how they’d followed all the rules. Despite what some people were saying, he said, the study committee “did not kill anybody, we are not an Al-Qaeda plot.” He said he wanted to talk about why he still lived in Ann Arbor, given that he’d been “trying to get out of here for a long time.” He described himself as a housepainter, whose wife is a managing editor who works in Plymouth. They’d decided to stay in town after graduating from college, he said. Why? Because Ann Arbor is different. He said he kept checking out other places to live, but he kept coming back because it’s different – it’s not Royal Oak. Ann Arbor doesn’t believe in development at all costs, he said.

Marianne Zorza introduced herself as resident and owner of a house south of Packard Street that would be excluded from the proposed historic district. She said she wanted to tell the story of a family of historic preservationists who had saved six houses on the block. The matriarch of the family had been able to buy a house on the block. Her children and grandchildren had then been able to buy houses around that house, when there’d been a trend to tear down houses and replace them with modern apartment buildings. She said that she hoped the city council would honor the family’s early preservation efforts by taking steps to preserve the block south of Packard.

Zorza said that the report improperly draws the boundary line. She said she was not a politician and didn’t know how to make it work so that the cohesive neighborhood becomes one historic district – that’s what they’re trying to achieve, she said. She urged the council to work towards that end.

At the subsequent public hearing – on the establishment of an industrial development district for a portion of Green Road – Brad Mikus stepped again to the microphone to point out that there was not a lot of notetaking by councilmembers during the historic district public hearing. What had been the point of the public hearing? When mayor John Hieftje admonished him to address the topic of the current public hearing, Mikus said he’d made the point he wanted to make.

Historic District: City Council Deliberations

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) led off council discussion by saying that when he and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had brought forth the resolution to form a study committee, it was because there was a recognition that the area should be considered for historic preservation. The committee’s report, he said, confirmed that they were right about the formation of the study committee, which he said the majority of the council had supported.

Hohnke contended that the final report demonstrated that the resources in the precisely defined area of study unambiguously exceeded the criteria for listing in the national register – in terms of their age, integrity and significance of the resources. He said that 90% of the resources are contributing and 75% have a high level of integrity. It’s pretty clear, he said, that on the historic merits it’s reasonable to consider the area for preservation.

Hohnke said that Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) had appropriately brought forth at the previous meeting of the council – when the district had received its first reading – comments from a study committee member [Rebecca Lopez Kriss] to the effect that the study committee had considered only the historic merits of a district. It’s up to the city council to take a broader view, Hohnke said.

Hohnke allowed that there were many stories about people who might have had difficulty undertaking some modification to a structure in a historic district. However, he said that was different from the question of the establishment of a district. He noted that 90% of proposed projects in historic districts are approved by Ann Arbor’s historic district commission.

He pointed to the economic vitality that historic districts can provide to a community and to the uniqueness that they contribute to Ann Arbor.

Hohnke thanked the members of the study committee for their hard work, which they had done rigorously, fairly and openly. They’d produced a report of high quality, he said. Based on the association with the history of Ann Arbor, the association with important civic leaders, and benefit to the economic vitality of the city, he said he supported the establishment of the district. The balance between development and preservation would be well-served by the district, he concluded.

Derezinski said that the debate could be had by people of good intentions on both sides. He suggested that a simple way of looking at it is this: Do we look to the past, or do we look to the future? Are we looking forward or backwards? He called it a real moment of truth for the city involving two significant issues – the historic district and the Heritage Row development, which the council had rejected at its last meeting.

Derezinski said that while the legalities of establishing the historic district had been raised by some, he wanted to ask whether it was wise to establish a district. As he had done at the council’s first reading, Derezinski again quoted from a letter that Rebecca Lopez Kriss had written to council as a member of the historic district study committee. The committee had not been asked to analyze the economic effects, the feasibility, how it would fit into long-term planning on land use, or the impact on revenue compared to alternate uses.

Derezinski then quoted a passage from a blog posting by Lou Glazer, cofounder of Michigan Future Inc., which was written in the wake of the city council’s decision to reject the Heritage Row project [From "Why Ann Arbor Won't Be an Economic Engine"]:

But the notion that Ann Arbor is best positioned to drive Michigan’s transition to a knowledge-based economy is widely held across the state. Unfortunately Ann Arbor’s politics make it unlikely to happen. Yes, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan – a world class research university – which is a terrific asset. But to leverage the asset there has to be a large pool of talent that both will attract knowledge-based enterprises and commercialize the ideas coming out of the university. That talent pool won’t concentrate in Ann Arbor as long as it’s politics are anti-growth, particularly anti-density.

The City Council just turned down another development designed primarily for young professionals. It’s a regular occurrence. Is it easier in Ann Arbor to do higher density development today than five years ago? Yes, but it still is real hard.

The result: Ann Arbor has about one third the young professional households as Madison. A chief reason, Madison offers the kind of high density, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods that Millennials are looking for, Ann Arbor doesn’t. [...] So Madison is an engine for the Wisconsin economy, Ann Arbor isn’t for Michigan.  Unless Ann Arbor becomes much more development friendly and much more responsive to the changing demands for housing and density don’t count on Ann Arbor being an engine for the Michigan economy.

Derezinski then unfurled a large city map showing those parcels that were either university-owned land or in one of the 14 already-existing historic districts in the city.

Tony Derezinski with a map of Ann Arbor

City councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) unfurls a map of Ann Arbor that shows land that's either owned by the University of Michigan or in an existing historic district.

He then read a long passage from a letter that Jan Barney Newman had written to on the city council’s rejection of Heritage Row. “I don’t understand the logic of these decisions,” Newman wrote.

Derezinski began the wrap-up of his comments by quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall”:  “Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.” He called on his colleagues not to “calcify” their vision of the city in the past. He concluded with a pun on the “Cross of Gold” speech given by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 8, 1896: “Do not crucify us on a cross of old.”

In his remarks, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) rejected the idea that the decision on the historic district was a referendum on preservation versus progress. For him, he said the questions were: (i) Does the proposed district meet the National Register Bulletin 15 standards? (ii) If it meets the standards, is the district in the long-term interest of the city?

In 50 years, Taylor said, they would be “the dead hand of the past” and so the decision had better be right.

By way of background, the criteria for consideration from the National Register Bulletin 15 subsequently cited by Taylor are these:

A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction;

Taylor said that according to the study committee’s report, collectively the resources in the district are historically significant according to criterion (A) and several meet the criteria (B) and (C) at the local level.

In his view, Taylor said, collectively meeting the criterion (A) would be a sufficient condition for establishing a historic district, while those criteria of only limited satisfaction – (B) and (C) – would not be a sufficient condition to establish a district. He then set about to evaluate criterion (A).

The study committee’s report concludes that the district meets criterion (A) because it encompasses a residential neighborhood that was established and has survived since Ann Arbor’s earliest days, Taylor said. It provides an excellent example of a neighborhood established in the latter half of the 19th century and evolved through the first half of the 20th century.

However, on reading Bulletin 15, in the section that explains criterion (A), Taylor did not feel the criterion was met. From the bulletin:

The event or trends, however, must clearly be important within the associated context: settlement, in the case of the town, or development of a maritime economy, in the case of the port city. Moreover, the property must have an important association with the event or historic trends, and it must retain historic integrity. [...] Mere association with historic events or trends is not enough, in and of itself, to qualify under Criterion A: the property’s specific association must be considered important as well.

Based on the study committee’s report, the proposed associative event is general, not specific. Survival, said Taylor, is not an important event or trend. He contrasted it with the report of the Old Fourth Ward study committee, which clearly and consistently related the Old Fourth Ward area to Ann Arbor’s founding. For the Fourth/Fifth Avenue proposed district, that kind of specific founding is absent, Taylor contended. The report itself acknowledges that the primary area of German settlement was in an area west of Main Street in what is now the Old West Side (OWS) and clearly referenced in the OWS study report.

Taylor then looked at criterion (B), which the committee report contends is met because the proposed district contains several homes of several Ann Arbor citizens who were locally important to the development of the city. Quoting from Bulletin 15 again, Taylor expressed doubt that this was sufficient to meet the criterion:

The criterion is generally restricted to those properties that illustrate (rather than commemorate) a person’s important achievements. [...] The persons associated with the property must be individually significant within a historic context. A property is not eligible if its only justification for significance is that it was owned or used by a person who is a member of an identifiable profession, class, or social or ethnic group. It must be shown that the person gained importance within his or her profession or group.

As he read the report, Taylor said, the people who lived in the houses were of standing in the community, but with the possible exception of mayors Hiram Beakes, Samuel Beakes and William Walz, they do not appear to have been important within their profession.

For criterion (C), Taylor again quoted from Bulletin 15:

A structure is eligible as a specimen of its type or period of construction if it is an important example (within its context) of building practices of a particular time in history.

As he read the report, Taylor said, there are several resources that exemplify to varying degrees a type or method of construction, but he did not believe that any of them are “important” examples.

Based on his understanding of the Bulletin 15 criteria and his reading of the report, Taylor said, he did not think the criteria were met. Even if they were met, he said, it would be necessary to establish it was in the long-term economic interest of the city. His vote against the district, Taylor said, should not be seen as a lack of concern for neighborhood cohesion or a sense of place.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) thanked the members of the committee for their work – the detailed house-by-house cataloging of the district. She said she enjoyed reading the report. It struck her that at the time, 60-year-old houses had been torn down and moved to build the houses that now existed there. For Smith, the protest petition signed by 22 owners of the 53 properties in the district – 41% of them – was significant. She noted that a protest petition for a planned unit development (PUD) required only a 20% threshold. [That threshold had been met for the Heritage Row project, which had the effect of requiring an 8-vote super-majority for approval. Protest petitions have no formal role in the process for establishing historic districts.]

Smith indicated she was still wrestling with the issue, and was looking forward to hearing the rest of her colleagues’ comments.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the sentiments of Taylor and Derezinski. He said his interpretation was that the standards were not met collectively. Rapundalo also said he agreed with Smith’s observation that opposition to the district within the proposed area, based on the protest petition, was significant.

Addressing the contentions that some speakers had made about the state agency considering the report to be a model,  Rapundalo said he had not seen anything that addressed the substance as opposed to the form of the report. He also noted that the central area plan calls for integrative architecture and design guidelines to ensure consistency of scale and character of neighborhoods. Nowhere does it point to historic districts as the sole tool for achieving that. He concluded that he would be opposing the district.

Hohnke acknowledged that Taylor had argued forcefully in terms of the district persisting functionally in perpetuity. But he said he didn’t think that was accurate. In exactly the same way that they were now going through a process to form a district, said Hohnke, at some future point the community could elect to undergo the prescribed process to dissolve the district, if it no longer served the interests of the community.

Alluding to Derezinski’s remarks, Hohnke said “I dare not refute Tennyson, so I will refute Mr. Glazer!” He said that the idea that politics in Ann Arbor are anti-growth is simply not accurate. He noted that dozens of projects over the last 10 years have been approved – Hohnke said he would not bore his colleagues with the list, which he has ticked through on a couple of recent occasions.

Hohnke then stated that the idea that Ann Arbor is not an economic engine in the way that Madison is – as Glazer had contended – “is just bunk.”

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that back in 2005, before she had been elected to the city council, she’d stood at the podium asking the council for their support for a historic district. She’d spent a lot of hours working on the study committee and then waiting for the council to act. She therefore knew that a lot of work went into the process.

Briere said it’s difficult to imagine what it would take to answer the question about the economic effect of a district on future economic growth. However, she said she believes that Ann Arbor’s historic districts create an opportunity for the stabilization of neighborhoods. The establishment of the Old Fourth Ward and the Old West Side historic districts had both resulted in redevelopment, she said.

We want to keep the charm of our neighborhoods, she said, and we don’t think about how to convince people that our houses are interesting. They’re the fabric of what makes Ann Arbor Ann Arbor.

Derezinski responded to Hohnke’s contention that a historic district could be dissolved by a prescribed process by asking if any of the already-established districts in Ann Arbor had been abolished. What is the momentum in a situation like this? He pointed out that many people were already calling for the district’s expansion.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said it was a difficult decision and that she was troubled by the large number of people who had signed the protest petition. She said she appreciated Smith’s speculation about how many houses the current mayor has lived in might be seen as historic. She noted that the Heritage Row development that had been rejected would have preserved the houses. She concluded that she would not be supporting the district.

Mayor John Hieftje said he could see how the vote was going to go and he didn’t want to make a long statement. He said that the city might want to look at the issue that Smith had raised about the contrast between a PUD protest petition that could raise the threshold to an 8-vote super-majority and the historic district protest petition, which had no particular legal standing.

Hieftje also said that he’d been talking to a lot of people lately and had concluded that there is a very clear generational divide in the city on the issue of preservation. He said he’d been taking a lot of flak for some votes he’d made in the past. A lot of people under 40 have said that they were very upset that he hadn’t voted for certain projects, he reported. To hear that they felt they weren’t being given a chance was interesting for him to hear, he said. There would be a change eventually, he said, because there would be a new generation that takes over.

Hieftje concluded by saying he agreed with Hohnke’s statements and he’d come to the meeting prepared to support the district and that’s what he intended to do.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he would support the district not based on a heavy analysis, but rather on the fact that it was the right thing to do. All 14 historic districts lend character to the community, Kunselman said. We can listen to what other people say about our community and talk about economics, but he said that if you look outside of the inner ring of the city, there are a lot of empty apartments and houses. In his neighborhood, Kunselman said, three houses had been torn down and a fourth would soon meet the same fate.


Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

Kunselman said that one of the issues the community continued to deal with is the policy set by the first president of the University of Michigan, Henry Tappan: Students would live in the community and the university would not build housing for them. That’s what we’re living with today, he said.

[Note: For a detailed analysis of University of Michigan student housing and its impact on the community, a good place to start is Dale Winling's 2007 master's thesis, which he discussed on his blog, Urban Oasis.]

North Quad, set to open this fall, is a step in the right direction, Kunselman said, but for the last few decades we haven’t seen construction of many new dormitories. That contributed to the conversion of near downtown neighborhoods to rental housing. He said that as a townie who’d grown up in Ann Arbor, he was dismayed by the change that has taken place in the neighborhoods closer to downtown. Without a historic district, we’d see the houses torn down, lots accumulated and “cash boxes” constructed, with the loss of the city’s neighborhood character. He said he supported a historic district and asked his colleagues to consider changing their votes.

Smith asked Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office if there was any mechanism for residents of a historic district to opt out. His one-word answer: No. So it’s all or nothing? she asked. McDonald’s answer: Yes!

Smith asked if historic districts precluded construction behind houses or additions. Jill Thacher, who is a city planner specializing in historic preservation, told Smith that additions were possible in a historic district, and that the historic district commission routinely approved them.

Briere then asked about the ease of adding another story. That’s not usually encouraged, said Thacher.

Outcome: The vote on the historic district was 4-6. Voting against it were: Stephen Rapundalo, Margie Teall, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Marcia Higgins, and Christopher Taylor. Voting for it were: Sabra Briere, Carsten Hohnke, John Hieftje, and Stephen Kunselman.

Reconsideration: Heritage Row

After the historic district vote, Stephen Rapundalo called his colleagues’ attention to the fact that there was an approved site plan for the City Place matter-of-right project that could still be built if there were no historic district. So he floated the idea of reconsidering the Heritage Row vote from the council’s last meeting.

Two parts of the council’s Rule 12 eventually came into play in the ensuing parliamentary maneuvers. The first part concerns who may bring a motion for reconsideration. The second part concerns how many times a question can be considered.

From the council rules [emphasis added]:

Rule 12 – Consideration of Questions When a question has been taken, it shall be in order for any member voting with the prevailing side to move a reconsideration thereof at the same or the next regular meeting; but, no question shall a second time be reconsidered.

Rapundalo had voted for the Heritage Row project, which had been defeated – he was thus not on the prevailing side, and was prohibited by Rule 12 from bringing a motion to reconsider Heritage Row. Rule 19 provides a mechanism for overriding other rules.

RULE 19 – How Rules May Be Altered Council-adopted rules may be altered or amended by a vote of the members-elect, if notice of the changes proposed to be made shall have been given the Council at a preceding regular meeting, and a written copy of the proposed changes distributed to all members of the Council.

Council-adopted rules may be suspended for the time being by a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

Rapundalo said he’d prefer not to go through the suspension of the rules, if someone from the prevailing side wanted to bring the motion. But neither Briere, nor Kunselman, nor Hohnke were so inclined.

So Rapundalo’s first step was to bring a motion to suspend Rule 12 so that he could bring a motion for reconsideration. With Mike Anglin’s absence, the 2/3 requirement translated to 7 votes required for the suspension of rules. The vote on that motion was 7-3, with Briere, Kunselman and Hohnke voting against it.

Rapundalo then brought the motion to reconsider the Heritage Row vote. That vote was 7-3 with Briere, Kunselman and Hohnke voting against it.

On the Heritage Row project itself deliberations were brief. Smith said that preserving the seven houses was a real benefit. That had been a reason for her to consider the historic district. Hohnke indicated that he was still processing the rule change. The historic district would have done a very good job of preserving the houses, so if the Heritage Row project were now approved, he would move to reconsider the historic district.

Teall said she appreciated Rapundalo’s “winging it” and understood Hohnke’s point that a historic district would provide the benefit of preserving the seven houses. But she returned to the fact that many of the property owners in the neighborhood didn’t want to be included in the historic district.

Rapundalo addressed Hohnke’s contention that a historic district was a better preservation tool by saying that in absolute terms that might be correct, but the situation was that there was a matter-of-right project with a green light for construction if the Heritage Row project were not reconsidered.

Hieftje said that based on conversation with one of the neighborhood leaders, that person didn’t think the matter-of-right City Place project would ever be built. But Hieftje said he didn’t agree with that. And for that reason the best course of action – given that the historic district had been turned down – would be to approve Heritage Row. He didn’t want to take a chance and wanted to support Heritage Row because it did preserve the houses.

Briere said that she appreciated the mayor’s comments, but noted that the council had a choice about whether  to support a historic district. She also contended that Alex de Parry and his wife had said boldly and strongly at the podium that they had no intention of building the matter-of-right development. She said that nothing had changed with respect to the Heritage Row project in the last two weeks. The only thing that had changed, she said, was that the council had chosen not to support a historic district.

Smith said that she’d seen some heads shaking over among the developer’s team in response to Briere’s remarks. She asked the de Parrys to address the council to clarify. Alex de Parry said that the language regarding the public easement for Heritage Row had been prepared – the lack of an easement for the public plaza in the actual supplemental regulations had been noted as a deficiency by Kunselman at the council’s previous meeting.

De Parry also said that they would be replacing all the street trees in need of replacement along Fifth Avenue between William and Packard on both sides of the street. He also corrected the number of bedrooms that people had talked about at the council’s previous meeting – it’s 154 bedrooms, not 163, he said.

Betsy de Parry also clarified that they had never indicated that they were not going to build the matter-of-right project, as Briere had contended. What they’d wanted to do was to rehabilitate the houses – that was their “wish and deepest desire,” she said.

Hieftje said it wasn’t just the matter-of-right project that concerned him. He said he figured, if the matter-of-right project were not built, there would be other proposals that would not result in the preservation of the houses.

Kunselman, however – who was perceived as the possible swing vote – said that if there was to be no historic district, he didn’t understand the need to preserve the homes. Moving them closer to the road as proposed would put them out of character and out of context, he said. He suggested that perhaps townhomes would be in order – 3-4 stories with garages.

Outcome: The vote on the reconsideration of Heritage Row was 7-3, with Briere, Kunselman and Hohnke voting against it. It thus failed because it did not achieve the required 8-vote super-majority.

Hohnke then attempted to bring back the historic district for reconsideration, but could not, because he had not been on the prevailing side. He’d incorrectly understood the previous suspension of Rule 12 to apply for the rest of the meeting. He thus needed to first bring a motion to suspend Rule 12. That motion failed 6-4 – it needed 2/3 of 10 present members, or 7 votes, to succeed. Teall, Higgins, Derezinski and Rapundalo voted against it.

Then Hohnke moved to suspend the part of Rule 12 that concerns how many times a question can be considered, so that the Heritage Row project could be considered for a third time total and for the second time that night. That motion succeeded, with only Kunselman and Briere voting against it.

Hieftje then called for a brief recess, and during the break, Hohnke and Briere conferred. In a telephone interview with The Chronicle the day after the meeting, Briere said she shared with Hohnke her belief that de Parry would not build the matter-of-right City Place project.

Returning from the break, Hohnke apologized to his colleagues, citing confusion about the suspension of the rules and what he contended had been conflicting advice from the city attorney. He then withdrew his motion to reconsider Heritage Row.

Pressed during a break to assess whether she considered the proceedings weird, Ethel Potts, who has witnessed several decades of Ann Arbor politics allowed, “As weird goes, this was pretty weird.”

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Mike Anglin.

Next council meeting: Monday, July 19, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.

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