The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Israel it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: On Taking Time to Hear Fri, 22 Aug 2014 16:29:24 +0000 Dave Askins At the Aug. 18 Ann Arbor city council meeting, anti-Israel activists left council chambers mid-session. Their parting shot was to contend that the council cared more about deer than about people. The reference to deer was an allusion to an agenda item that allocated $20,000 for development of a deer management plan. It was approved by the council in a unanimous vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Person

Under the council’s rules, alternate speakers are assigned the slots of other speakers on the list if those slots are “vacated.” On Aug. 18, the first speaker on the list was Rita Mitchell, who was signed up to talk about the Fuller Park lease. When mayor John Hieftje started off public commentary, he called Mitchell’s name. A 10-second pause ensued as Mitchell did not approach the podium or say anything. Hieftje scanned the room. Ward 4 councilmember Jack Eaton then pointed her out, in the audience on the north side of the council chambers.

She remained there, telling Hieftje, “I’m electing not to speak.” Under the council’s rules, it would not have been allowed for Mitchell to transfer her speaking time to someone else. But she was within her rights to vacate the slot – which she did, first by not saying anything and then, when Hieftje addressed her, replying, “I’m electing not to speak.” So when the other nine speakers had completed their turns, Larry Baird – as the first alternate – should have been allowed to speak, according to the council’s rules.

Here’s what happened instead. Hieftje ended the public commentary section. Ward 2 councilmember Jane Lumm ventured there was another speaker left. But Hieftje disallowed Baird’s turn as Baird approached the podium, explaining “Ms. Mitchell was here and chose not to speak. It’s not as if she wasn’t here. And so we’re gonna continue with our agenda.”

The incorrect application of the council’s rule by Hieftje meant that Baird’s only guaranteed opportunity to speak during the meeting would come after the council’s action on the Fuller Park lease, at the end of the meeting.

The Corporation

In that regard, Uber – in the form of Michael White – was in the same boat as Baird. But later in the meeting, the council chose to invoke a different rule, which worked to Uber’s benefit.

When the council came to the taxicab ordinance on the agenda, Uber was invited to the podium to speak. Under the council’s rules, any councilmember can invite someone to address them outside of public commentary reserved time, unless three councilmembers object. No one objected when Lumm invited Uber to the podium.

Uber spent about 25 minutes at the podium doing a great job of not actually answering point-blank yes/no questions posed by councilmembers, but hammering all of Uber’s standard marketing points.

Having used Uber a half dozen times, I would note in passing that I think those are easy marketing points to hammer – because Uber provided a great travel alternative when I used it. If concerns about safety and equity can be sorted out, I think rideshare services should have a place in Ann Arbor’s transportation marketplace.

However, based on Uber’s performance at the podium, I’ll probably be giving Lyft a try.

People Versus Corporations

When the council came to the Fuller Park lease item, Baird was still present in council chambers and available to speak. But no councilmember was stirred to invite Baird to the podium to deliver the three-minutes of rightful in-person public commentary he’d been denied. The council voted to postpone the lease item, without hearing from Baird, who was not able to stay until the end of the meeting to address the council at that time.

So the real contrast on display at the Aug. 18 Ann Arbor city council meeting was not deer versus people. It was corporations versus people. What I observed was a council that was – at least on that occasion – more interested in hearing from a corporation than it was from a person who lives here.

Bear in mind that Ann Arbor city councilmembers are the sort of folks who are content to state publicly their personal opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision – which determined that corporations are people for the purposes of political campaign contributions. (That statement about the sentiments of councilmembers appears to be true, even if not all of them were willing to vote yes on a resolution in 2012 calling for the U.S. Congress to send a constitutional amendment to the states to overturn the ruling.)

And councilmembers routinely compete with each other in this kind of contest: Who can talk longer about the importance of public input? A few years ago, the council even enacted a public participation ordinance, requiring all developers to meet with residents in the early stages of proposed new developments.

Political Football

But when it comes to the practical implementation of that stated value of public participation, John Hieftje dropped the ball on Aug. 18.

As a quarterback of the council, Hieftje has never been particularly sure-handed, so that fumble wasn’t surprising – and consequently, not all that disappointing. What’s truly disappointing, to me at least, is that no one on Team Council dove into the pile to make the recovery. Jane Lumm might have come closest to that, when she ventured that there was another speaker remaining – after Hieftje announced that public commentary was over.

So Lumm at least yelled “FUM-BLE!” But Hieftje responded by declaring that the alternate speaker wouldn’t be allowed to speak – because Rita Mitchell was present in the audience.

At that point, no one on the council threw a red challenge flag – by asking that the text of the rule be reviewed, to see if and how it applied. At the end of the meeting, during council communications, Sumi Kailasapathy raised the question by citing the relevant council rule, stating that a mistake had been made. She asked if the situation could be rectified in some way. But as Chuck Warpehoski pointed out, following up on Kailasapathy’s sentiment: A point of order needs to be raised at the time the issue arises.

Otherwise put, you can’t ask for a review of the play after the game is over. So in the future, the council has to be ready to throw that challenge flag onto the field before the next play starts.

Knowing the Rule Book

Kailasapathy knew the exact wording of the rule by the end of the meeting, because I showed her the text of the rule during a recess. During that recess, I gave her and Stephen Kunselman (who were standing together) not just the rule but also a piece of my mind – because they’d sat mute at the council table and had not defended Baird’s right to speak under the council’s rule.

Kunselman responded by saying he didn’t have all the council’s rules memorized. Well, I don’t have them memorized, either. But I do know how to look stuff up [emphasis in bold italics]:

Public Commentary – Reserved Time:
A total of 10 speakers shall be allowed to address Council during the time designated as Public Commentary – Reserved Time by signing up with the City Clerk either in person or by telephone. Each person may speak a maximum of 3 minutes. Speaking times are not transferable, and vacated speaking times shall be assigned to the two alternate speakers on the waiting list. Speakers may not use public commentary-reserved time to address Council on an agenda item for which a public hearing is scheduled for the same meeting.

And the only thing any councilmember needed to do was to ask for a pause in the action: “Is that really the rule, Mr. Mayor? Can we take a minute and look that up?” To look up the rule would have taken any councilmember about as long as it took me, even while I was typing out live updates of the meeting – about 10 seconds at their laptop computer.

Granted, the inclination to look something up in the council rules is premised on having some doubt about the presiding officer’s determination. But I think any scenario that involves a citizen poised to speak, like Baird was, followed by a denial of that opportunity to speak, should itself trigger a big floppy red flag of doubt: Are we really justified under our own rules in denying someone the right to address us right now?

That didn’t happen, because the culture of the Ann Arbor city council does not include routine, matter-of-fact consultation of rules and laws – even though they are really easy to look up with modern digital technology.

Knowingly Misapplying the Rule

The day after the council meeting, I sent each councilmember a one-question emailed survey. It asked for their assessment of Hieftje’s application of the rule, which had the effect of prohibiting Baird from taking his rightful turn during reserved public commentary.

Of the eight councilmembers who responded, some hedged a bit, but all indicated at least some inclination toward the idea that the rule had been misapplied and that Baird should have been allowed to speak. Ward 2 councilmember Sally Petersen’s response was interesting, because she speculated about Hieftje’s interpretation of the rule. From Petersen’s email:

I considered this a “vacation” rather than a “transfer” of speaking time. I think Mayor Hieftje considered it otherwise because Rita was there in person. It’s up to interpretation because the rule doesn’t specify the condition when the person is present.

Hieftje himself was quite clear about his own interpretation of the rule. During the council’s recess, when I confronted him about his apparent mistake, I assumed his error stemmed from the fact that he just didn’t know the exact rule. But he insisted he already knew what the rule was, when I recited it to him: “I know what the rule says, Dave.” So I told him that only a perverse interpretation of the rule would allow Mitchell’s words – “I’m electing not to speak” – to be interpreted as an attempt to “transfer” speaking turns, or as an actual speaking turn.

Hieftje’s reply was incredible to me: He stated that it was not his interpretation that Mitchell’s words were an attempt to transfer her speaking turn to someone else; however, “I was concerned that someone else might think that.”

I’ve made an emailed query to Hieftje to invite any elaboration he might like to make on that statement, to which I have not received a reply. But based on the context of the Aug 18 and Aug. 7 meetings, it appears that Hieftje deliberately misapplied the rule due to the presence of anti-Israel activists – because he was afraid they might use that as an opportunity to object to an inappropriate “transfer” of speaking turns and possibly cause a disruption of the meeting.

Hieftje’s response to Kailasapathy at the end of the meeting is consistent with that understanding. Hieftje came close to admitting that he misapplied the rule. He told Kailasapathy that the council’s rules were under very close scrutiny, and pointed to the events of the last few days:

I will take another look at that. I’m happy to do that. The speaker was indeed here … I understand that it states “vacate” and I will agree to take a close look at that. But I also want you to understand that our rules are under a special scrutiny right now given what’s transpired at the last few council meetings, and we are paying very close attention, both at the clerk’s office, and throughout the city, to make sure that people believe that those rules are being administered fairly. At the last meeting we had three or four people who showed up to speak because they’d been told they could speak under public comment and yet they didn’t have a spot on the agenda. So we’re just being especially careful right now. And maybe I was being too careful.

So this unfortunate incident ultimately stemmed from an apparent concern by Hieftje that his own preferred interpretation of the council’s public speaking rule – about vacated speaking turns being assigned to the alternate speakers on the waiting list – might provoke the ire of anti-Israel activists. So he opted to err on the side of denying someone a rightful opportunity to speak.

A slightly different possibility – one raised by Margie Teall in her response to the emailed one-question survey – was that the mayor’s concern related to a possibility that a “loophole” would be created. Teall was absent from the meeting, but clearly got an account of the meeting from other sources. From Teall’s response:

My concern is that this could become a loophole around the sign-up time. Had [Baird] been one of the first 10 to sign up, he would have spoken regardless. What Rita [Mitchell] did gives me pause, and could be used in the future to secure speaking times for others who are unable, for whatever reason, to sign up when others are required to.

It’s worth noting that alternate speakers are required to sign up, just like the other speakers. So it’s not allowed for someone to sign up for a speaking slot, and then take some action to cause the slot to transfer to a person who has not signed up. That’s the “non-transferable” clause of the council rule.

It’s not clear to me what advantage this purported “loophole” described by Teall might afford to anyone who sought to exploit it. Nor is it clear what detriment there might be to anyone, if someone were to choose to exploit this “loophole.”

U.S. Constitution

To sum up, the council used its own internal rules to give greater deference to a corporation’s right to speak at its Aug. 18 meeting than it did to a person’s right to speak under those rules.

But who cares about the Ann Arbor city council’s dumb old rules? They’re just the stupid rules of a local government unit. It’s not like they’re the U.S. Constitution.

But they are like the U.S. Constitution. And here’s why. Take a look at the First Amendment, just look at it – with emphasis added in Hieftje’s preferred email font:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So the First Amendment is, among other things, about a right to petition the government. This is more fundamental even than a requirement imposed by Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA): A public body must provide an opportunity for the public to address it during its meeting.

So when the city council sets up rules for public commentary, it’s not just establishing the exact manner in which the council will comply with the OMA. Those rules also establish one formal mechanism under which someone can petition the local government – which is a constitutional right. So when the council mucks about with the application of its public speaking rules, it’s mucking about with the right to petition the government.

That’s not to say that it’s necessarily a violation of someone’s constitutional right to petition if their right to speak under the council’s rules is denied. There are plenty of other ways to petition the Ann Arbor city council, including sending them email. Uber knows that well enough. Margie Teall noted in her response to my one-question survey that she’d received over 1,800 emails (!) about the taxicab ordinance via Uber’s online petition.

And Baird told me that he’d sent his planned remarks by email to the council before the meeting. Of course, that doesn’t justify Hieftje’s misapplication of the public speaking rule. Listening to someone read aloud for three minutes is not the same thing as glancing through a few hundred words of text. Written petitions are different in kind from oral petitions.

Conclusion: Simplify Access

Most Ann Arborites won’t care if someone did or didn’t get a chance to speak at a city council meeting. That’s because most Ann Arborites don’t think of their local government as a government of them, by them, or for them – because they’ve got way better things to do with their giant brains than think about anything as trivial as local government. I’d hazard that there are more Ann Arborites with a deeply held opinion about Obamacare than have a strong view on a need for a new, improved local rail station.

So we’ll continue to elect folks to the jobs of city council and mayor who are content to engage in a regular tussle over a relatively small fraction of the total votes that could potentially be cast in a local election. I don’t think there’s any particular incentive for our current local electeds to look for ways to increase participation in those elections, or in the boring, routine work of our collective governance.

That boring work might entail showing up to a city council meeting every once in a while and telling councilmembers what’s on your mind – for a minute or two, or even for the current maximum of three.

If someone does show up and they’ve followed the rules, the least we can do is ensure they’re allowed to speak. Figuring out what the rules are – when you have to sign up, which speakers get preference, and (now apparently) what counts as vacating a speaking turn – is one barrier to participation in Ann Arbor’s local governance. That’s because the Ann Arbor city council has enacted procedures designed to limit and discourage public comment, not to promote and market it.

I think it should be possible in one sentence to explain to any newly-arrived resident in Ann Arbor how to address our local city council: Show up at one of their regular meetings, at 7 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month, and sign in. That’s it.

Of course, if everyone who shows up and wants to speak is allowed three minutes, then we could routinely wind up with a citizens filibuster. But suppose we set an upper limit on the total time for public commentary. And suppose everyone who showed up and signed in was allowed 30 minutes divided by the number of people who’d signed up – with the proviso that the minimum time allowed to any speaker was a minute. That type of scheme would be a lawful way to provide for public commentary under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, according to Attorney General Opinion #5332.

So that’s one small specific concrete suggestion for improving the ease of participation in our local governance. If the new edition of the council to be elected in November has additional or better ideas for including a wider swath of the community in our local governance, I will cheer for all that. But after Sept. 2, of course, my cheers won’t come from the hard benches of city council chambers.

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UM Diag Fri, 11 Jul 2014 20:52:43 +0000 HD Protest against violence in Gaza begins on the University of Michigan Diag and heads towards intersection of N. University and State Street. Chant: “Boycott Israel, Stop Bombing Gaza.” [photo 1] [photo 2]

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City Council Debates Utility Connection Costs Sat, 26 Jan 2013 21:56:11 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 22, 2013): One item on the consent agenda was responsible for extending the city council’s meeting by at least 40 minutes – the annual setting of fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The council chose not to approve the increase that had been calculated by city staff. That left the charges at their current levels – $15,552 and $24,665 for water and sewer, respectively – instead of raising them by just under 3% to $15,967 and $25,370, respectively.

Ann Arbor Water Main and Sanitary Sewer Fixed Charges: 2004 to present.

Ann Arbor water main and sanitary sewer fixed charges: 2004 to present. The proposed increase indicated for 2013 was not adopted by the city council at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The charges are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection.

Consent agenda items – a subset of the council’s business – are by definition voted on as a group, but councilmembers can choose to pull out items from the consent agenda for separate discussion.

That’s what happened at the Jan. 22 meeting. After an attempt to postpone the item failed, the council simply chose not to adopt the increases. But councilmembers were split on the question, with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje voting for the increased charges. Arguments against the increase were based on the amount of the increases, their possible impact on the likelihood of infill development in lower-income neighborhoods, and the fairness of charging new connections for depreciation costs.

The other major chunk of the council’s meeting was devoted to a briefing from Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton on the transition of police dispatch operations for the city to the sheriff’s office – Washtenaw Metro Dispatch (WMD). Highlights of that presentation included benchmark metrics. For example, WMD answers 97% of all calls within 20 seconds (4 rings). Total call processing time – from when the call is received until some unit is dispatched – ranges from 2.2 minutes for robberies to 5.16 minutes for disorderly conduct calls. According to Clayton, over the last six months since operations have been shifted to WMD from Ann Arbor police dispatch, the cost per 911 call has been decreased by more than half – from just under $40 per call to around $16 a call.

The council also established a project planning budget for a sidewalk on a quarter-mile stretch of Newport Road just north of Wines Elementary School. In other business, the council approved establishing a residential parking district off Washtenaw Avenue southeast of the University of Michigan campus, because streets in the neighborhood were being effectively used as a commuter parking lot for students taking the bus further into campus.

The new residential parking district is located in a neighborhood in the vicinity of the Beth Israel Congregation. Beth Israel came up during communications time as Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) responded to public commentary critical of him for not yet bringing a resolution to the council table on the topic of Palestinian rights. Warpehoski essentially indicated he would not be contemplating such a resolution as long as demonstrations continue outside Beth Israel on Saturdays during worship services.

Half of the public commentary at the start of the meeting was on the topic of a proposed dog park – in West Park, across the street from the New Hope Baptist Church. The proposal had been expected by supporters to be on the council’s agenda, but it had not been included. So some turned out to urge council to pursue a dog park at that location. Others simply advocated for establishing a centrally-located dog park somewhere in the city.

The decision to pull the item from the agenda had come after the city’s park advisory commission had voted in December to recommend establishing a dog park in the West Park location for a one-year trial period. But subsequently, parks staff and commission leaders were convinced by members of the New Hope congregation not to push the proposal ahead for consideration by the city council.

Sewer, Water Connections

Included as part of the consent agenda was the annual setting of fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The charges are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection.

The council was asked to adopt the result of a calculation – which has a methodology prescribed by city ordinance – to raise the charges from $15,552 and $24,665 for water and sewer, respectively, to $15,967 and $25,370. That’s an increase of a little under 3%.

The methodology prescribed by city ordinance for water mains is as follows:

“Water main improvement charge fixed charge” shall mean the charge per residential unit for water main improvements, set by city council annually by resolution and calculated on the basis of the city’s average actual cost per residential unit for the 10 most recent publicly constructed water main improvement projects preceding the date the fixed charge is set by city council, with the costs of said projects adjusted as needed to be brought current, using the most recently published Handy-Whitman Index for “Distribution Plant Mains, Average All Types.”

The methodology for sewer connections is similar.

Consent agenda items – a subset of the council’s business – are by definition voted on as a group, but councilmembers can choose to pull out items from the consent agenda for separate discussion. Items on the consent agenda are supposed to have certain characteristics – for example, the consent agenda includes all contracts under $100,000. From the city council rules:

The Consent Agenda shall consist of ordinances and resolutions considered routine. Items on the Consent Agenda may be approved by a single motion. The motion to approve the Consent Agenda shall not require the reading of the titles of items on that agenda other than ordinances. If any member of the Council objects to consideration of an item as part of the Consent Agenda, that item shall be moved to the end of the appropriate portion of the regular agenda. All contracts under $100,000.00 will be listed in the consent agenda for council approval. Contracts over $100,000.00 will be listed in Motions and Resolutions under the DS section for staff.

The item on fixed charges for water and sewer was pulled out for separate consideration by Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Sewer, Water Connection: Initial Deliberations

Lumm led off discussion by observing that the charges had increased by almost 50% over the course of nine years – reasoning that it amounts to about a 5% increase per year. She observed that 5% is higher than the general inflation rate: Why is that?

Called to the podium to explain the connection charges were public services area administrator Craig Hupy and Elizabeth Rolla, a senior project manager with the city.

City of Ann Arbor senior project manager Elizabeth Rolla

Elizabeth Rolla, senior project manager with the city of Ann Arbor.

Rolla pointed to the Handy-Whitman Index for water mains, which aggregates labor rates and material rates. Those rates typically increased about 3% per year, she said. For sewer charges, the guide is the Engineering News Record-Construction Cost Index. Any additional increase in the charges is due to the projects the city has actually done. The costs for the most recent projects are averaged, she explained. Rolla ventured that one of the reasons the costs of completed city projects have increased is that the city’s infrastructure is already built out to a certain point. The places where it is not built out are those areas where it’s more difficult to extend the infrastructure – and that might explain why there’s been an increase in the projects themselves.

An inquiry from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) drew out the rationale for calculating the charges, even when the pipe to which the property is connecting already exists.

Hupy explained that when the connection is first made – no matter how old the pipe is – that’s the first time that property owner is making an investment in the pipe. They get the same service as if it’s new. Their neighbor next door, who’s been connected all along, has been paying for depreciation. The charges put the two parcels on equal footing, and that makes it equitable for existing ratepayers, he said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) responded to the contention of equity by recalling conversations he’d had with Hupy’s predecessor, Sue McCormick. He’d always remembered hearing about costs that went up dramatically, but didn’t hear about the unintended consequence of lowering the value of unimproved property. He pointed out that the total of the connection charges – around $41,000 – would have to be factored into the cost of acquiring and developing the property, which meant that the value of the property was less. Lower property value meant that its taxable value is less, which means less revenue for the city, he said.

Kunselman wondered how the city would promote infill development in a neighborhood like Springbrook, where houses have been torn down. Kunselman questioned the rationale for the connection charges, saying the pipe to which a property owner is being charged to connect is already in the ground and paid for. “That’s where we disagree,” Hupy responded.

Sewer, Water Connection: Deliberations – Postponement

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) observed that every year the council is asked to approve the fixed charges before the budget is approved in May. She wondered why it was not synchronized with the budget. Hupy explained that the timing is keyed to the construction season that starts in the spring. Higgins then observed that the city already has fees in place – so she wanted the setting of the fees to be based on the budget cycle. She indicated she would be willing to postpone the vote. Mayor John Hieftje confirmed with Higgins that she wasn’t actually moving for postponement at that moment.

Briere said she’d support postponement. It would also give the council time to discuss whether the fees should be raised at all. Higgins then moved for postponement of the item to the council’s first meeting in April.

Lumm wondered what was going to happen between now and April. Would the council get more information about the capital improvements plan (CIP)? Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said she already knows of a water main she would like to see replaced in Ward 2, which is not recommended in the CIP for replacement in the next construction season.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

From left: Councilmembers Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) did not see a need to postpone. While he understood the rationale for aligning the budget process and the setting of fixed charges, the data is aggregated based on the construction season. And he saw a risk that the city would be put “behind the cycle.”

Kunselman indicated support for postponement, but asked how many parcels actually had to pay such charges in the past year. Cresson Slotten, the city’s systems planning unit manager, told Kunselman it was on the order of a couple of dozen – not hundreds.

Hieftje indicated that he agreed with Taylor but said it didn’t bother him if the item was postponed. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wasn’t clear about the nature of other councilmembers’ objections – was it because the new connections included the depreciation costs? Hupy reviewed how the fixed charges for the new connections put a property on “equal footing” with existing ratepayers. Anglin seemed to indicate agreement with that basic approach, but indicated he’d vote for postponement.

Hieftje described the fixed charges as “buying a share” in the infrastructure system that’s been built and paid for. Briere ventured that the motion to postpone reflected not so much the question of how the charges were calculated, but rather on the timing of the cycle for approval.

During this discussion, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) had looked up the city code and noted that the mechanism is set forth in the city code. The code instructs that council that it approves the rates by annual resolution. He saw the value in coordinating with the budget from a planning perspective – but not so much that he wanted to change things now. As he thought about the work ahead of the council, he didn’t see the issue as a high priority. He suggested that the council should set the rates and move on.

Lumm expressed some concern that a reduction in the charges would result in a reduction in revenue that might have an impact on the city’s ability to undertake improvement projects. Hupy confirmed that any reduction in revenue would have some impact, but he didn’t think it would eliminate or save a project.

Outcome: The motion to postpone the vote on the fixed charges for water and sewer connections failed, with only Marcia Higgins, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sabra Briere and Stephen Kunselman voting for it.

Sewer, Water Connection: Final Deliberations

Higgins said she wouldn’t vote in favor of raising rates. She felt that the rates for 2012 were sufficient. An increase of 5% every year is a lot, she said. Kailasapathy also wouldn’t vote to support an increase. She said that if an asset is 10 years old, and someone buys into it in the ninth year, even though that person didn’t use the asset, they have to contribute nine years’ worth of depreciation. She ventured that the city needs to rethink how it determines these rates. One approach might be to consider a longer period for taking the average – not just the 10 most recent projects. That might smooth out the costs.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1)

City councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

Taylor indicated he would vote in favor of increased rates. He felt that increasing rates in response to increased costs makes a great deal of sense. He ventured that someone will be on the short end of the arrangement. When there’s an improvement, Taylor said, if a property owner doesn’t pay for the depreciation, then the owner of the new connection will be “freeloading” on the other residents.

Briere sought additional clarification about whether the connection charge reflected a prospective or a retrospective payment. Responding to Hupy’s explanation that the improvement charge paid for the pipe to serve a parcel, Briere abandoned her line of questioning, saying, “I’m not getting any more than confused.”

Kunselman drew out some of the history of the city’s water and sewer improvement projects. Specific projects mentioned included one in the Arbor Oaks neighborhood and one on Baylis Drive. Kunselman questioned whether the city of Ann Arbor was charging for depreciation on a pipe placed by the former municipality of East Ann Arbor. Hupy responded by saying that the city of Ann Arbor has been maintaining it and has paid depreciation on it, and is responsible to replace it. Kunselman reiterated his view that the connection charges are a disincentive for infill development. The amount of the charges, he said, is “getting out of hand.” He called the fees punitive.

Warpehoski came back to the point that the methodology for calculating the charges is laid out in the city ordinance. He saw little discretion for the council – except perhaps on timing.

Lumm called Warpehoski’s point a good one. She was not happy that costs have been increased. She felt that the funding model needs to be addressed, but given that the amounts presented are what the city code dictates, she indicated that’s what the council should vote on.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

City councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Hieftje said he’d appreciate it if people would support the rates as proposed as a result of the staff calculation.

Kunselman noted that the city code does not say that the council must do anything – indicating that only the methodology is prescribed. The council has to vote on the increase, but the code doesn’t say the council has to vote yes. He wouldn’t vote for a rate increase, he said. He wanted to encourage some infill development. Higgins said Kunselman was absolutely correct – that the council can say yes or no.

Lumm briefly put forward an amendment to the resolution saying that the existing rates would be retained. Higgins indicated that voting no on the existing resolution would have the same effect – so Lumm withdrew the amendment.

Outcome: The new rates failed on a 4-6 vote. Voting for the rate increases were Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje. Voting against it were Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent.

County Dispatch Services

As part of the city administrator’s communications, Steve Powers introduced Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton to give an update on the first six months of operations since the city began contracting for 911 dispatch services with the sheriff’s office. [.pdf of slides presented by Clayton]

Clayton led off with an historical overview.

  • 2010 January: City of Ypsilanti contracted with the sheriff’s office for dispatch services.
  • 2010 May: Sheriff’s office and Ann Arbor police department co-located dispatch operations. Agreement for the co-location came at a Dec. 9, 2009 meeting of the city council. Authorization to fund technology related to the co-location came at the council’s Jan. 19, 2010 meeting.
  • 2011 March: First strategic discussions between sheriff and police chief.
  • 2011 April: Joint city/county task force formed.
  • 2011 June: First public discussion of opportunity for consolidation. Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Joint 911 Dispatch.”
  • 2011 September: Ann Arbor city council working session.
  • 2011 December: Ann Arbor city council approves contract proposal at its Dec. 6, 2011 meeting.
  • 2012 January: Washtenaw County board of commissioners approves contract proposal at its Jan. 18, 2012 meeting.
  • 2012: WCSO assumes full responsibility for Ann Arbor dispatch services.

Joining Clayton at the podium were Spring Tremaine and Rochelle Noonan. Tremaine was hired as dispatch operations manager in 2012 upon retiring as a lieutenant with the Ann Arbor police department after 25 years of service. Rochelle Noonan is dispatch operations coordinator, and has worked for the sheriff’s office since 2003.

Highlights of the presentation included a change in the staffing model. A large part of the cost savings stem from eliminating the duplication of a position – that of the LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network ) officer. Clayton also highlighted the labor union’s agreement to add part-time staff, which allows for more scheduling flexibility.

Staffing levels before and after Washtenaw County sheriff office started providing 911 dispatch services for the city of Ann Arbor.

Staffing levels before and after the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office started providing 911 dispatch services for the city of Ann Arbor.

Clayton stressed that the emphasis is on quality of service. The sheriff’s office is tracking various metrics, in order to establish benchmarks for operations, service quality, financials, and training.

Through the first six months, 97% of calls are being answered within 20 seconds (four rings), which compares favorably to a NENA (National Emergency Number Association) standard.

By way of additional background, the NENA standard also calls for 90% of calls to be answered within 10 seconds – for the hour of the day with the busiest call volume. Washtenaw Metro Dispatch is achieving call answer times of less than 10 seconds for 86% of all calls. From the NENA standard:

3.1 Standard for answering 9-1-1 Calls. Ninety percent (90%) of all 9-1-1 calls arriving at the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) shall be answered within ten (10) seconds during the busy hour (the hour each day with the greatest call volume, as defined in the NENA Master Glossary 00-001). Ninety-five (95%) of all 9-1-1 calls should be answered within twenty (20) seconds.

Time to answer emergency calls: Washtenaw Metro Dispatch

Time to answer emergency calls: Washtenaw Metro Dispatch.

Speed to compete dispatching – from the time a call comes in to the time an officer is sent to the scene – was also broken down by incident type.

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Time to Dispatch by Incident Type

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Time to dispatch by incident type.

Complaints about how 911 dispatch is handled are also logged and tracked. Some come from responding officers, while others come from the 911 caller. Each one is investigated to determine if it was founded or not. Examples of founded complaints include data entry mistakes (e.g. a wrong license number), notifying the wrong wrecker company, or dispatching an officer who was not the nearest available for that incident.

The number of founded complaints by agency for which Washtenaw County Metro dispatch provides services correlates roughly to the call volume per agency:

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Founded Complaints by Agency

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch – founded complaints by agency: Michigan State Police (MSP), Northfield Township Police Department (NTPD), Ypsilanti Police Department (YPD), Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Call Volume by Agency

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch – call volume by agency: Northfield Township Police Department (NTPD), Ypsilanti Police Department (YPD), Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).

Questions from councilmembers included the basics of how dispatching works, especially with respect to fire dispatching, which has been handled by Huron Valley Ambulance since Dec. 1, 2009.

Here’s a sketch of how it previously worked:


[911 center]
[fire-protection-related] → [send firetrucks]
[any of 5 "auto-send" medicals] → [send firetrucks]
[any of 28 other medicals]

[as medical information dictates] → [send ambulances]
[as medical information dictates]

[911 center]
[based on HVA request] → [send firetrucks]


Since Dec. 1, 2009 the dispatching is handled roughly like this:



[911 center]
[fire-protection-related or medical-related]

[as medical information dictates] → [send ambulances and/or firetrucks]
[as fire protection information dictates] → [send firetrucks]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) ventured that it might be worth re-examining the contract with HVA and considering a further consolidation of dispatch operations. City administrator Steve Powers indicated that putting all dispatching in the same room would be a “significant undertaking” and would take “more than a memo from the administrator.” Powers based his assessment on his experience having overseen a complete dispatch consolidation as county administrator in Marquette County. [Powers served in that position for over a decade before being hired as Ann Arbor city administrator in 2011.]

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers signs agendas for students so they can prove they completed a class assignment.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers signs agendas for students so they can prove they completed a class assignment.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) passed along a concern from a resident who had called 911, and HVA was dispatched. The resident had been surprised to get a bill. Had the resident known there would be a charge, they wouldn’t have called. The explanation offered to Lumm was that the HVA dispatcher makes a judgment about who to send to the scene – a fire truck or ambulance. The Washtenaw Metro Dispatch operators aren’t in a position to quiz a caller to determine and convey information about possible costs.

John Seto, Ann Arbor’s police chief, added that this is an issue that Ann Arbor fire chief Chuck Hubbard is looking at, with an eye toward educating residents about what they can expect when they call 911.

Kunselman added that he knows it’s possible to call 911 and state clearly that “This not an emergency,” and that the call taker would then route the call appropriately. He asked if an educational effort could be made through the Community Television Network (CTN) so that residents could improve their role as citizens when they call for service. Seto indicated he’d follow up with the city’s communications unit.

Outcome: This was an informational update, and did not require a vote by council.

Residential Parking Permit District

The council was asked to approve funding for signs and to authorize a new residential parking district in Ann Arbor – in a neighborhood about a mile southeast of the University of Michigan campus, off Washtenaw Avenue. [.jpg of map showing relation of district to campus]

According to the staff memo accompanying the city council’s agenda item, the rationale for the district is that residents in the area have “extreme parking problems due to the students parking in their neighborhood and then bussing into campus.” Sixty percent of residents in the area signed a petition requesting that the district be established.

Signs for each of the 12 block faces in the district – which includes sections of Austin Avenue, Norway Road and Fair Oaks – will cost a total of $1,800, an amount that was not previously included in the city’s FY 2013 budget.

Permits are sold annually only to residents of the parking district. Without a permit, it will not be lawful to park on the street for more than two hours from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Fees are $50 per permit, per calendar year. Replacement permits are $15.

The city council was asked to approve the $1,800 appropriation from the city’s general fund balance. Because the action changed the budget, it required eight votes to pass.

The city’s ordinance empowers the city administrator to designate a residential parking district, after notifying the city council. From Chapter 126 Article 6 10:66 on residential parking districts:

If a residential area has excessive parking of vehicles not owned by residents of the area, the Administrator may, after notice to City Council, issue a traffic control order designating a residential parking district. The city shall install signs in a residential parking district indicating that parking time limits do not apply to vehicles with permits. After receiving evidence of residency within a parking district, the city shall issue permits for the vehicles of residents of the district. If a permit is displayed on a vehicle in accordance with the rules of the transportation department, it shall not be a violation to park it in excess of the time limits in the residential district named on the permit. The city council may establish permit fees by resolution.

In addition to the district in the area of Austin Avenue, Norway Road and Fair Oaks, the city has at least eight other residential parking districts.

The minimal council discussion consisted of a brief remark from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who said he was happy to see the residential parking district come to pass. The city streets in the area had effectively become a commuter lot. He was glad residents got together and, with the help of city staff, established the district.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the new residential parking district.

Sidewalk Repair Inside DDA District

The council was asked to approve an agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority covering sidewalk repair inside the geographic district of the DDA. Under terms of the agreement, sidewalks inside the district will be repaired by the city of Ann Arbor – using funds captured by the DDA from the city’s sidewalk repair millage, under the DDA’s standard tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism.

Voters approved the 1/8 mill sidewalk repair millage in November of 2011. The city council resolution placing the question on the ballot that year excluded certain properties inside the DDA district – those that are not one- and two-family houses – from the city’s sidewalk repair program that’s funded with the millage proceeds.

The council subsequently enacted an ordinance, on June 4, 2012, that assigns responsibility for sidewalk maintenance and repair to the city of Ann Arbor. But for the excluded properties within the DDA, the ordinance provides the option that the DDA itself handles repair of adjacent sidewalks or that the DDA pays the city to do the work.

It’s an agreement related to the second of those two options that the city council was asked to approve.

Outcome: The council vote unanimously, without deliberations, to approve two one-year agreements with the DDA.

Newport Sidewalk Planning Budget

The council was asked to approve a planning budget of $15,000 for a quarter-mile stretch of Newport Road – from Wines Elementary School northward to Riverwood. The stretch of road might see construction of a public sidewalk by the summer of 2014. The preliminary $15,000 budget includes preliminary design and construction cost estimates, an evaluation of different funding scenarios, and gathering additional public feedback on the project.

The project has a background that dates back at least to Nov. 15, 2011, when the city held the first of two meetings in response to requests from residents who live in the neighborhood to consider construction of a safe walking path to the school.

A staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates that the city considered a much longer project that would have extended roughly a mile – all the way to the city limits near Holyoke Lane. But based on feedback from public meetings, the city opted for a reduced version of the project. There had been concern about the impact of a non-motorized sidewalk  on natural features and on the “rural character” of Newport Road along that stretch.

Some residents whose property does not front the section of the sidewalk that’s being contemplated have nevertheless indicated a willingness to pay a special assessment to fund the project. That sentiment was conveyed in a 79-signature petition received by the city in late 2012. Special assessments typically apply to just properties immediately adjacent to the sidewalk.

Funds generated from the sidewalk repair millage, approved by voters in 2011, can be spent only on repairing existing sidewalks, not to construct new sections of sidewalk to fill in gaps.

The timeline indicated in the staff memo provided for four months – from February to May – to perform a topographical analysis, prepare preliminary alternatives/cost estimates, and investigate special assessment and other funding opportunities. The month of June would be used to get additional feedback from the public. In August, the city council would authorize final design, construction and funding. From September this year through February 2014, the project would be designed and the multiple, sequenced special assessment resolutions would move through the city council, then the construction would be bid out. Following that general timeframe would allow construction sometime in the summer of 2014.

This is the second sidewalk design project budget that the council has authorized in the last two months. On Nov. 19, 2012, the council approved a $15,000 project budget to design alternatives for a stretch along Scio Church Road. That also came in response to a petition submitted to the city with over 70 signatures.

On Sept. 17, 2012, the council had considered but rejected a proposal added late to that meeting’s agenda to establish a five-year plan to eliminate sidewalk gaps in the city.

Newport Sidewalk Planning Budget: Public Comment

Kathy Griswold spoke in support of the two sidewalk resolutions – especially the one for Newport Road. She called it a good first step. But she encouraged the city to look at a comprehensive system for identifying gaps in the sidewalks – which she believed was taking place now. She also wanted the city to prioritize which gaps to fill and to find funding. She mentioned an post that generated 305 comments, which she attributed to confusion about the city’s crosswalk ordinance language. When she tried to find the ordinance language online, she visited the city’s Walk Bike Drive, which she contended had a link to the old ordinance. So she understood why people are confused. She said she was appreciative of the Ann Arbor police department’s efforts and the safety they provide to the community, saying that neither they nor the traffic engineers should be blamed. She asked the council to take the political element out of transportation safety and engineering in this community.

By way of background, the wording of the current ordinance – after two revisions in two years by the city council – reads as follows:

10:148. – Pedestrians crossing streets.
(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.
(b) A pedestrian shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into a path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.
(c) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

Griswold has previously pointed out the tension that results from motorists following the ordinance while school crossing safety patrol members follow the AAA safety manual for school crossing guards, which includes the directive, “Never allow students to walk in front of a car that stops to allow them to cross.”

Newport Sidewalk Planning Budget: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off deliberations on the agenda item by describing how residents along Newport Road have requested installation of a sidewalk for over a year. That was stimulated in part by concern that public school busing might become “a thing of the past,” she said. If their children have to walk to school or to a park, then they would prefer to do it off the street instead of on the street.

Briere noted that despite the fact that the project had been reduced in scale, many residents haven’t given up hope that the sidewalk would eventually go all the way to the city line. She thanked everybody who’s worked so hard. She encouraged the council to improve sidewalks in the city by filling in this gap on Newport. She noted that the project budget now is for design – and actual construction costs would be borne by residents who live in the neighborhood of Newport Road.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

From left: City councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Addressing the general city-wide issue of sidewalk gaps, mayor John Hieftje indicated that each gap would require a unique solution. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked if there would be cost savings to the Ann Arbor Public Schools – because AAPS wouldn’t need to provide busing services to the neighborhood. City administrator Steve Powers indicated by way of responding to Petersen that he did not know that level of detail about the AAPS budget, but it was not part of the city staff analysis for the Newport Road sidewalk project. Powers noted that as far as AAPS reviewing its transportation plans, that’s part of a larger strategic direction that the district might be taking: providing safer routes to school for children.

Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, added that AAPS had identified two sidewalk gaps as priorities – the one on Newport and one near Clague Middle School, which is located on Nixon Road. The Clague sidewalk is being constructed as part of the Safe Routes to School initiative, Hupy said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if the petition that residents had submitted was the initial step in starting the special assessment district to provide funding for the project. He wanted to know if the $15,000 design budget that the council was voting on would be wrapped into the total project budget to be funded through a special assessment. Hupy told Kunselman that if the project comes to fruition, and a special assessment provides the funding, then the $15,000 for design would be part of the project budget and the general fund would eventually be “made whole.” But that might take five, ten or fifteen years to happen, Hupy cautioned.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) thanked Briere for her work on this. He’d attended the first public meeting when residents were trying to get a sidewalk installed all the way up Newport to the city line.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) followed up on Petersen’s comment about school busing, asking if parents would find the cessation of busing acceptable. Briere responded to Higgins by saying that she’s gone out to Wines Elementary School to enjoy their First Friday walk, and stood there in cold weather watching the kids walk and bike with parents over the bridge. The neighborhood is supportive of this project, she said. It’s not a long distance, and parents seem happy to have their kids walk to school, she noted, but they want them to be safe.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the $15,000 budget for the design of the Newport Road sidewalk.

Rezoning of Limited Geddes Area

The council was asked to give initial approval to rezoning six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood. The sites are to be rezoned from R1B to R1C. Both are types of single-family dwelling districts. The locations are 2014 Geddes Ave.; 2024 Geddes Ave.; 520 Onondaga St.; 2025 Seneca Ave.; 2023 Seneca Ave.; and 2019 Seneca Ave. [.jpg aerial view of parcels] These are six parcels in a block of 10 sites – the other four sites are already zoned R1C.

The planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. The planning commission had considered the rezoning after the city council directed the planning staff to study the issue of rezoning the parcels. That direction came at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting.

According to a staff memo, the direction on the rezoning came from city council at the request of property owners: Raymond Maturo and Ann Mulhern; Joseph and Suzanne Upton; Rishindra and Gwendolyn Reddy; Shahrzad Vazirzadeh and Chad Patterson; Vassilios Lambropoulos and Artemis Leontis; and the Clan Crawford Jr. Trust.

R1B zoning requires a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 70 feet. Three of the parcels don’t conform with that zoning. Under the proposed R1C zoning, all parcels would conform with required lot size and width. The rezoning would potentially allow three of the parcels – each lot size currently about 17,500 square feet – to be divided in the future, if other city code requirements are met.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the rezoning requests. Because a change to zoning is a change to the city’s set of ordinances, to be enacted it will require a second vote after a public hearing at a future meeting of the council.


The council acted on two appointments at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Appointments: Environmental Commission

The council considered a resolution re-appointing Christopher Graham to serve on the city of Ann Arbor’s environmental commission. The resolution was attached to the previous council meeting’s agenda as a communication item to alert councilmembers that their vote to confirm him would be forthcoming.

Graham was initially appointed in 2006 and has served two three-year terms on the commission. Graham is also a member of the executive committee of the Michigan Environmental Council.

During the brief council remarks, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves as one of two city council representatives to the commission, said Graham had recently been elected chair, so she hoped that the council would agree to his re-appointment.

Outcome: The city council voted unanimously to re-appoint Graham to serve on the city environmental commission.

Appointments: Taxicab Board

At the conclusion of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje announced several nominations to boards and commissions, including that of Eric Sturgis to the taxicab board. Ordinarily, appointments take place in a two-step process: (1) names are nominated at a meeting of the city council; and (2) at a subsequent meeting, the council votes to confirm the appointment.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

City councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

However, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – who serves as the city council representative to the taxicab board – asked that Sturgis be appointed in a one-step process with the vote taken that same evening. Kunselman pointed out that the taxicab board had a meeting on Thursday that week, and it would be useful to have Sturgis attend. [It turned out that Sturgis was not able to attend that meeting, but the board still achieved a quorum.]

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) ventured that it would be useful if Sturgis would update his resume, because the one he’d included with his application indicated he didn’t live in the city of Ann Arbor (though the application itself indicated he did).

Outcome: The city council voted unanimously to appoint Eric Sturgis to serve on the city taxicab board.

Communications and Commentary

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: Council Public Art Committee

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave a brief update on the work of a city council committee that was formed to review the city’s Percent for Art ordinance – in the context of a failed public art millage in November 2012. Briere reported that the committee had met four times so far, including just before that evening’s council meeting. [The group consists of Briere, Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). They were appointed at the council's Dec. 3, 2012 meeting, when the council voted to temporarily halt the expenditure of funds accumulated as a result of the city's Percent for Art ordinance.]

Briere reported that the committee has discussed concerns with the existing ordinance. At this point, the committee is considering changes to the Percent for Art ordinance and to the ordinance on boards and commissions that defines the public art commission – which are the two tasks identified in the council resolution appointing that committee. The committee is also looking for creative ways for art to be administered in the city, although the committee didn’t have a mandate to do that, Briere allowed.

Comm/Comm: Urban Core Transportation

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that meetings were occurring between Ann Arbor Transportation Authority staff and Ann Arbor councilmembers. She described other meetings the AATA was having, with elected leaders from the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, among others. She seemed to indicate some skepticism that the description of “urban core leaders” was apt, saying that some of the jurisdictions included were those that had opted out of the newly incorporated Act 196 transit authority.

Lumm wanted to make sure that resources are not wasted in planning for expansion of services. She questioned whether it made sense to proceed with this more local effort while the impact of the newly created regional transit authority (RTA) is not yet clearly understood. [The RTA covers the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland, as well as the city of Detroit. For more detailed background on Lumm's remarks, see Chronicle coverage: "AATA OKs Labor, Agency Fee Accords."]

Lumm made an appeal for a city council working session to be held on the topic.

Comm/Comm: Solid Waste Plan

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), who is one of two city council appointees to the city’s environmental commission, announced that the environmental commission would hold hearings on the updated city solid waste plan. Those hearings were to take place on Jan. 24. The plan would be coming before the city council in a few weeks, he said.

Comm/Comm: Cold Weather

In the context of the recent cold weather, mayor John Hieftje indicated that it had been reported that no one had been forced to sleep outside who didn’t want to be sheltered – anyone who wanted to be sheltered had been sheltered, he said. He indicated that he got data back from the Delonis Center on that. The Delonis Center had also figured out how to accommodate those who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he said.

Comm/Comm: Five-Parcel Plan

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) followed up on a Jan. 14 city council work session, which included a presentation from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on the five city-owned parcels that are part of the Connecting William Street project. The DDA had undertaken the project under the council’s direction, Anglin said, to come back to the council after receiving public input on the future use of the city-owned land.

Anglin felt the DDA did a good job of presenting its perspective, but he felt there was a gap in the presentation. He noted that a number of councilmembers had responded at the working session to that gap. The city’s park advisory commission had urged that there be more open green space in the downtown, he said – saying that was a clear mandate from PAC. So he urged the public to make their voices heard in the new year, suggesting that members of the public might like to consider that a New Year’s resolution. He encouraged people to contact the DDA, PAC, and the city council, to let those public bodies know what should happen on the five downtown city-owned parcels. “You should speak up and tell us what you want,” he said.

At its meeting on Jan. 15, 2013, PAC had decided to study for the next four to six months the views they’d heard from the council and within their own body regarding downtown parks and open space, in order to make recommendations to the council. Anglin indicated a preference for confining the discussion to just the five parcels – because that was the scope of the Connecting William Street project. The CWS project had not included all the land in the downtown area.

Anglin encouraged people to speak up so that the council could hear what the “townspeople really do want.” He appreciated the efforts of groups who had spoken about the use of the space on the top of the underground parking garage as a park. [That space, on South Fifth Avenue, is the focus of advocacy by the Library Green.] Anglin said a group advocating for leaving the space open was looking into whether the top of the garage was actually “build-able,” as had been envisioned by the DDA.

Comm/Comm: Dog Park in West Park

Two members of New Hope Baptist Church had addressed the council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting about a proposed dog park in West Park, directly across from the New Hope Baptist Church on Chapin Street. The proposed location had been recommended by the park advisory commission (PAC) at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. The item had been expected to be on the council’s Jan. 22 agenda, but it was announced at the Jan. 15, 2012 meeting of PAC that the West Park dog park would not appear on the council’s agenda. At a meeting with church leaders – after PAC’s December vote – it had emerged that the church concerns were more deeply rooted than concerns about noise, safety and smell, and reflected cultural differences about what it means to have a dog park so close to their place of worship.

During public commentary at the council’s Jan. 22 meeting, Aina Bernier introduced herself as a member of the dog owners community. She urged the council to establish a dog park somewhere in West Park. Citing concerns about the size of her carbon footprint, she said she would never drive to one of the two dog parks on the outskirts of town to walk her dog. She read aloud a written statement from another dog owner, Christopher Hewitt. His statement commended efforts of PAC to address the need for a dog park. Ann Arbor lacks a sizable central dog park, and the need for amenities in the central area will only decrease, Hewitt’s statement continued. The lack of a dog park in the central area was one reason he and his wife decided against living there. Dog owners need a practical alternative for exercising dogs, the statement continued, and existing parks aren’t fully utilized – given the amount of money that the city spends on them.

Also addressing the council on the topic of a West Park dog park was John Lawter, who just recently concluded his service on PAC. In December, Lawter had voted as a member of that body to recommend that a provisional dog park be established at the West Park location. He told the council he was there because he’s dismayed that the dog park had been pulled from the agenda based on concerns expressed by New Hope Baptist Church. He contended the concerns stemmed from a gross misunderstanding of canine behavior.

Lawter told the council that as a former member of PAC who’s worked on the issue for years, he was skeptical that the commitment to find an alternative site in the central area would be found. He then ticked through some of the objections to the proposed location inside West Park. As for the contention that the proposed area was too small, he pointed out that playgrounds come in all sizes. Two similarly-sized dog parks could be found in the city of Saline, he said. [Mill Pond Park has an area described on the city's website as a one-acre facility. The proposed area in West Park was described as about a quarter acre. One of the city of Ann Arbor's two existing dog parks is 10 acres, while the other is slightly smaller than a soccer field, or about an acre.]

Lawter took on the idea that a dog park land use is incompatible with a church use by pointing to a dog park in Pinckney, north of Ann Arbor, where the Arise Church owns and operates a dog park that’s open to the public. The church credits it with increasing the size of its congregation. Addressing the concern that the site might become crowded, Lawter asked if the city would not build a playground out of concern that there are too many kids in the neighborhood. Of course not, he said, answering his own question – and the city would begin looking for an additional site after building it.

If people had a concern that dogs smell, bark incessantly and are dangerous, then Lawter suggested they visit the city’s two existing dog parks to see for themselves what goes on there. People who take the time to go to a dog park are not the kind of people who own dangerous, dirty or obnoxious dogs, he contended. People who use dog parks self-police for picking up after their own dogs.

If the site was rejected because of cultural differences, then he argued that no decision should be based solely on one culture’s desires compared to those of another culture. Ann Arbor is a culturally diverse city, he said, and Ann Arbor’s dog owners are also culturally diverse – and parks should be open to all cultures, including “the four-legged variety,” he added. If members of the New Hope congregation are afraid of dogs – and Lawter said he believed they were sincere in that fear – then he said to the members of the congregation: “Please be open to change. Let us put our dog park in. Let us show you there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Fear is an ugly thing, he said, and it should be “put down” whenever possible. The proposal as a temporary facility that could be removed after a year if it’s a problem was, Lawter felt, a fair compromise.

Another speaker with a connection to PAC was Melissa Stults, a recently-appointed commissioner. She was speaking, however, as a resident of Ann Arbor and a dog owner, who was relatively new in town. She wanted to speak to show her support for more dog parks in the city. She pointed to the social benefits of providing amenities for dog owners – saying that after eight months in Ann Arbor, she’s made connections in her neighborhood only to people she meets walking their dogs. That group is an important reason that makes her feel like she belongs here.

Virginia Gordan told the council she’s been a resident of Ann Arbor for more than 30 years, and she was speaking in support of more dog parks. The item establishing the dog park area in West Park was supposed to be on the city council agenda that night, she noted. The last action taken had been PAC’s resolution in December recommending that the dog park area be established. She was dismayed that somehow it had been removed from the agenda.

Gordan said she was very perplexed by the city’s continued reluctance to establish neighborhood dog parks. Other cities have such parks or have parks with off-leash hours. Other cities have had such amenities for 10-20 years – so the concept is not new. But establishing dog parks in Ann Arbor is very difficult, for reasons she did not understand. Out of all the parks in Ann Arbor [157 total] only two were dog parks – and they were on the outskirts of town. There needs to be some proportionality, she said. She certainly wholeheartedly supported other recreational facilities provided by the city, which she described as very expensive but which she has no interest in – like golf, swimming, or baseball. She was happy to pay taxes to support those activities for those who enjoy them. But she contended there should be the same kind of respect for dog parks.

Harold Kirchen introduced himself as one of the Ann Arbor dog owners. Like John Lawter, he pointed to the Arise Church dog park in Pinckney as an example of the possible coexistence of a church with a dog park. A dog park is not just a place for dogs to get exercise, he said. Like Missy Stults, Kirchen also pointed out that dog parks were a way for dog owners to make friends. He called on PAC to allay the fears that people had about dog parks and not to be swayed by NIMBY complaints.

Comm/Comm: Israel/Palestine

Blaine Coleman led off by alluding to remarks made by Thomas Partridge during his turn of public commentary (see below). Partridge had implicitly criticized Coleman’s choice of topic, but had asked the council to pass a resolution calling on the federal government to appropriate funding to provide affordable housing, transportation, health care and education throughout the country. Coleman told the council that Partridge’s proposed resolution makes a lot of sense – because it makes sense to spend billions on infrastructure, and the city council should be jumping to pass a resolution like that. But Coleman contended that the council would not pass a resolution like that, and quoted writings of Martin Luther King Jr. in support of that contention, which were recorded during the Vietnam War: “… and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” Coleman drew a comparison of the inability of the U.S. simultaneously to provide for domestic needs and fight the Vietnam War, and current conditions that have the U.S. in continued military engagement abroad. The U.S. is “gobbling up the resources of the planet,” he said.

Coleman continued by contending that Israel has massacred thousands of Arabs and Palestinians. In that context, Coleman asked why Warpehoski would promise not to make a vote as a councilmember that is critical of Israel – given that Warpehoski is the executive director of a peace group [Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice]. Coleman wondered if anyone had asked Warpehoski to make such a promise and if Warpehoski had received anything in return for making that promise.

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani told the council she was there to speak about what she always does – to ask the council to boycott Israel, which she called a “Nazi, racist state” throughout her remarks. Israel receives billions of dollars a year in U.S. aid to maintain colonial, violent conditions, she said. Israeli soldiers, she claimed, would shoot children dead on sight. Ann Arbor councilmembers drink their coffee and read their emails but do nothing to stop what she described as genocide. She called for stopping aid to Israel. She contended there was a global movement toward a boycott of Israel, and she asked people not to buy things that are made in Israel. She noted that she’s been addressing the council since 2002. Of the councilmembers who have served, only one person – Chuck Warpehoski – has indicated he is against some of the violence Israel commits. Warpehoski has said he’s against military aid to Israel, Savabieasfahani said. She wanted Warpehoski to act on that. Instead, she said, he sits quietly and does nothing.

Councilmembers typically don’t respond – either directly or indirectly – to public commentary remarks. However, during council communications time, Warpehoski responded to the comments of Coleman and Savabieasfahani. He began by comparing them to two-year-olds – saying that his daughter is two years old and sometimes acts in ways that are designed to get attention and that generally he does not respond to that kind of attention-seeking behavior. But in this case, he indicated that it was important to respond. When he ran for office, he continued, he did a lot of “discernment.” He felt his duty as a councilmember is to serve the community. And he’d come to a personal decision that the best way he could serve the community – given the “noise” around the Israel-Palestine issue – would be to stay away from it as long as the demonstrations continue outside the Beth Israel synagogue.

Comm/Comm: Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Reads

During communications time, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he’d been impressed with sheriff Jerry Clayton. Warpehoski mention that he and Clayton had attended a meeting where Clayton had recommended that people read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The book is part of the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Reads program this year.

Comm/Comm: Corrections to the Minutes

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked that the minutes of the Jan. 7 special session be revised to reflect the fact that Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) was present for the closed session, arriving about 6:15 p.m., and present when the meeting reconvened at 6:47 p.m. [Kailasapathy had not been present when the attendance roll call was taken or when the roll call vote to enter into a closed session was taken.]

Comm/Comm: Energy

A U.S. Department of Energy grant accepted by the council at it previous meeting on Jan. 7, 2103 was the starting point for remarks made by Kermit Schlansker during public commentary. The problem with getting money for a bad project is that it takes money away from a good project, Schlansker said. He noted that the DOE’s award of the wind turbine grant to Ann Arbor illustrates his contention that DOE does not know how to spend its money – and needs to be led by local units of government, like cities. There’s nothing new about windmills, he said. He cited the rooftop of Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle schools as a good place to install solar panels. He mentioned that last summer during a heat wave, the amount of power had dwindled in his part of the city. He said the DOE money would be better spent buying land to construct an energy farm.

Comm/Comm: Affordable Services

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor, Michigan’s 18th senate district and 53rd house district, noting that he’s run for office to represent those districts. He said he still has finance committees from those campaigns and will be a candidate in 2014. He said he was there during an important week celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. – not to talk about dog parks or about trying to cause turmoil in Ann Arbor by using international controversy. He asked the council to pass a resolution calling on the White House to fund affordable transportation, health care, housing, and education and to end homelessness throughout the country. He asked for the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder and mayor John Hieftje.

Partridge also addressed the council during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting. He was critical of the city that its offices were closed on Jan. 21 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when other organizations like the University of Michigan had scheduled a full two weeks of events that were related to MLK Day. Partridge reported that he’d attended the keynote address by Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, but had not seen any city councilmembers at that event. He called on the council to reset its moral and public policy compass to advance the cause of the most vulnerable. Partridge found it inexplicable that Hieftje appeared to ignore the personal attacks against Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) by those he ventured might be paid representatives of Palestine. He contended that Warpehoski was being criticized because he appears to be a Christian who ran on an agenda of peace and justice, not on causing more conflict in the city of Ann Arbor.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.

Absent: Margie Teall.

Next council meeting: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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City Council Acts on Wind Power, Park Items Sun, 13 Jan 2013 17:01:23 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 7, 2013): Most of the council’s first regular meeting of the year was taken up with discussion of a U.S. Department of Energy grant of nearly $1 million for construction of two wind turbines, likely to be constructed on Ann Arbor Public Schools property.

This apple on a city council desk reflects the fact that part of the meeting was devoted to core priorities.

This apple on a councilmember’s desk could reflect the fact that part of the meeting was devoted to core priorities. (Photo by the writer.)

Councilmembers established a concern about the possible financial risks associated with the project, and a desire that public input be solicited on the ultimate decision for a site. But the vote was unanimous to accept the grant, which includes an obligation to provide roughly $480,000 in matching funds. That match is expected to be provided by Wind Products Inc., a company located in Brooklyn, New York.

At a meeting of the city’s energy commission held the following night, commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction that the proposal had not been brought to that body for review.

Some of the council’s deliberations on the wind turbines included the question of whether the effort was consistent with the council’s priorities for the next two years – ones that were formally adopted at the Jan. 7 meeting. The priorities, which had been identified in a Dec. 10 planning session, included the basic areas of: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.

The council had three parks-related voting items on its agenda, neither of which prompted extended deliberations. One was approval of a design for the new skatepark in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, which is expected to start construction in the spring and be completed in the fall. A second voting item was the approval of another contract with the Conservation Fund, which helps manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs.

A third parks-related voting item was authorization of a contract to replace roofs on two buildings at Cobblestone Farm.

Another agenda item – related to parks, but not requiring a vote – was a presentation from the council-appointed task force that’s been asked to make recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property. They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area.

Also on the topic of parks, the council heard from representatives of New Hope Baptist Church during public commentary, regarding a planned new dog park. Members of the congregation oppose the location of the dog park inside West Park, because it’s immediately adjacent to the church on Chapin Street. Also during public commentary, the council again heard calls for the top of the Library Lane parking garage to be designated as a park.

Some other items on the agenda could be grouped under land use and planning. The council gave approval to changes to the site plan for Packard Square, a proposed redevelopment of the former Georgetown Mall. The council had postponed the item from its Dec. 3, 2012 agenda.

And the council gave initial approval to a zoning request in connection with the proposed Summit Townhomes project site, just east of Stone School Road. The land was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.

Also as a result of council action, Ann Arbor residents could have some additional flexibility for parking cars on their front lawns – beyond just the occasions of University of Michigan football games.

In other business, the council approved the appointment of Carrie Leahy to the board of the local development finance authority (LDFA). The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA.

Other public commentary heard at the meeting included remarks opposing continued investment in companies that provide military hardware to Israel.

One hour immediately preceding the regular meeting was a special session of the council. Its agenda consisted only of a closed session, to discuss labor negotiations – which is an allowable topic for a closed session under the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

Wind Turbine Grant

The council was asked to consider acceptance of a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy that will fund part of the construction of two wind turbines. The turbines are intended to generate electricity for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The project requires construction in or near the city of Ann Arbor sometime in the next year and a half.

The city is obligated to provide an additional $484,390 in matching funds on the $951,500 grant – which it expects to achieve through partnership with a third-party developer, who was not named in the council’s resolution. However, city staff responded to councilmember questions before the meeting by indicating it was Wind Products Inc., out of Brooklyn, N.Y. that is expected to make the investment.

The city’s plan is to make a $18,590 contribution of in-kind staff time, not paying any cash.

The plan is to locate the wind turbines on AAPS property, and that the third-party developer will construct the turbines. The developer would then provide AAPS with a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) – which would give the AAPS some guaranteed minimum of power at less than the current market rate. The recipient of any renewable energy credits (RECs) from the installation would be the city of Ann Arbor.

AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis responded to an emailed query from The Chronicle describing the possibility that the site of the installation could be Pioneer High School, with the height of the turbines approximating that of two cell towers already located on the property. Margolis indicated that before any decision is made to locate wind turbines on the school’s property, the school district would solicit comments from residents who live near the site. The city council deliberations indicated little enthusiasm for locating the turbines near residential neighborhoods or very near a school building.

In the state of Michigan, Ann Arbor has poor to marginal potential for wind energy generation, compared with areas in the rest of the state – according to data maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy. However, the goal of the Ann Arbor project is focused on the educational benefit – as the schools integrate the project into their curricula and the public would have its awareness raised regarding renewable energy.

Wind Turbine Grant: Public Comment

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Kai Petainen told the council that he was speaking only on his own behalf. He thanked them for their vote on the skatepark. But he told councilmembers that the wind turbine grant didn’t make sense to him, saying it doesn’t take much to see we don’t have much wind in this area. He ventured that the money would be better spent hiring him to teach children about geography, and where wind resources are distributed. He told the council that the VA hospital has a windmill on its roof that he has occasion to observe with some frequency, and he contended that it never moves.

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Kermit Schlansker told the council he was unaware that windmills were on the agenda. He told the council they should take money if they can get it, but added that they should divert it for something else. Windmills are not new, he said, and there’s nothing spectacular about them, and there isn’t that much wind in this area, he said.

A better way to spend the money, he said, would be to invest it in an “energy farm” – which relates to food, energy, jobs for unskilled labor, factory jobs, a place to house the homeless and for recreation. He advocated for putting up an apartment building that was supported by using geothermal heat, solar, wind and biomass energy.

Wind Turbine Grant: Council Deliberations

Brian Steglitz, a utilities engineer with the city, was asked to the podium to answer questions.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated that 18 months didn’t seem like a lot of time to complete the project, and the amount of staff time – with an estimated in-kind value of about $18,000 – didn’t seem like sufficient resources to complete the job.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) as she arrived at the meeting.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) as she arrived at the Jan. 7 meeting.

Steglitz explained that half the staff time is reimbursed by the grant, so the amount of staff time would actually be $36,000. He also noted that a fair amount of effort would come from non-city staff. He allowed that the timeline is aggressive but said it’s “doable.” In the scheduling of the activities that have to be completed, there are many items contingent on some previous thing occurring. For example, the environmental assessment could have an outcome that could delay the process. Preliminary conversations have been held about a possible location, he said, adding that he could not yet share details.

Lumm asked Steglitz to describe the risks to the city: What happens if costs exceed projections? He explained that under the U.S. Department of Energy process, spending isn’t authorized until certain milestones are met. As an example, he said, it’s not possible to do design work on the turbines right now. If the project doesn’t meet a milestone, then the project stops, he explained. Steglitz did not see any risk except the staff time – that is, the city could put forth $18,000 worth of staff time and not have finished wind turbines. If the project is unsuccessful, then the city would have to summarize its experience in a report, he said.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) wanted to know how big the turbines would be. Steglitz explained that they hadn’t been designed or studied yet, but estimated that they’d be about 100-150 feet tall – the height of a typical cell tower. Responding to Kailasapathy, he indicated that a turbine could be located on AAPS property.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) expressed some confusion – about whether there’d been an RFP (request for proposals) process and how Wind Products was selected. Steglitz indicated that the city had gone out initially a year ago and had made a partnership with the University of Michigan. Originally, the university was going to provide matching funds because they were interested in doing research – but that had not worked out. So the city had looked at other financing partners. The proposal from Wind Products calls for the company to construct the turbines on the city’s behalf, and then the company would own the turbines. The city would lease the turbines for a certain period of time and pay the company for the power during that period. Wind Products was the only company that had come to the table to meet the grant requirements and the financial commitment to build the turbines.

Petersen asked Steglitz if he didn’t consider that a risk – that Wind Products would not match the DOE grant matching requirement on the city’s behalf. Steglitz explained that the city had a letter of intent with Wind Products – but it’s not a contract. It states that if the city accepts the grant, then the city and Wind Products will work together to develop the power purchase agreement – the contract. The council would eventually need to authorize that contract, he said. Petersen indicated that she thought the power purchase agreement was supposed to be between AAPS and Wind Products. Steglitz responded that the parties to that agreement had yet to been determined.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked what the advantage to AAPS and to the city was: Why is the city working hard to accept this grant? Steglitz said that AAPS has been trying to do some kind of wind project for a long time. A planned project at Skyline High School never came to fruition, he said. There is some financial benefit, he said, because AAPS would pay less than current market rates for the electricity that’s generated. The school district is interested in being the “face of renewable energy,” he said, and wants to incorporate the turbines into the educational program. One of the benefits to the city is that it helps meet its goals for renewable energy.

Briere noted that Ann Arbor is not a really good location to locate wind turbines, because the steady 13-14 mph winds you need don’t blow here. Why are we doing this here? she asked. Steglitz observed that the project goes back many years, and he was not involved with the grant application. He ventured that the application was likely submitted by former city energy coordinator Dave Konkle. Steglitz said the project didn’t indicate that the city thinks it has a great wind resource. It’s more about education. It’ll be a monument to renewable energy, he said.

Mayor John Hieftje drew a comparison to a previous grant the city had received from the DOE for solar energy – which had been awarded even though DOE was aware that Ann Arbor is not the sunniest spot.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he felt Skyline High School would be a great location. He was concerned about the siting of the facility without much community engagement. He ventured that there would not be a direct feed from the wind turbine to a school building, but Steglitz indicated that might be possible – but he would not speak on DTE’s behalf.

Steglitz described challenges associated with various sites, including zoning and municipal airport flight lines. Kunselman got additional confirmation that any contracts associated with the project would come back before the council for approval.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked about the size of the turbine blades. Steglitz indicated that they’d be on the order of a 30-foot radius – so 60-feet long. She expressed concern about noise. She also wondered what would happen if a blade flew off. She indicated she had some mixed feelings about it.

Lumm echoed Higgins’ sentiments about the importance of working with the community on site selection – that should be Job 1, she said. She noted that the solar array installation undertaken by UM recently involved zero community input. And the university had made zero effort to reach out to city staff, she contended, so many people were surprised when the panels appear. She said she gets angry any time she drives past it. She expressed a desire to “test the waters” on the issue of siting before going down the path of accepting the grant.

Hieftje described vibration and danger issues associated with wind turbines as minimal. He allowed that one particular wind turbine installation – at California’s Altamont Pass – was a danger to birds.

On the topic of siting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) joked that if the idea was to consider a site where a lot of air gets pushed around, he wondered if Steglitz had considered city council chambers?

Higgins questioned whether there was clear support from the AAPS board for the project, and drew out from Steglitz that he’d been working with AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent. Higgins ventured that to complete the project in 18 months, they’d need to move with “lightning speed.” Steglitz indicated he was optimistic.

Lumm said this sounded to her like a familiar path. [She was alluding to a grant the city had received from the Federal Rail Administration that required local matching funds that the city thought it had already provided – which turned out not to be the case.] She questioned whether the city should try to do everything, or instead try to prioritize. In the year she’s served on council since being elected most recently, Lumm said, it seemed like the council had spent a lot of time on transportation and the environment, not the priorities the council had discussed at a recent planning session. She looked forward to shifting her focus to those priorities.

Petersen stated, “I’m a fan of wind.” [It's unclear if the pun was intended.] She also said the city needs to focus on alternative energy in the future. As Lumm had pointed out, environmental concerns were not in the council’s top five priorities, Petersen said. She liked the educational components, but was not sure if the AAPS board was supportive. She was also worried about the short time frame.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) did not share Petersen’s concerns and said she was pretty excited about the project. The short time frame means we don’t need to wait, she said, adding: “The time is now; the time is yesterday.”

Responding to remarks by Lumm and Petersen on priorities, Briere noted that infrastructure was one of the identified priorities – which include transportation. Briere’s comment responded specifically to Lumm’s contention that the council’s focus on transportation wasn’t consistent with the five priority areas. Briere pointed out that the council had made a big effort to define infrastructure so that it included transportation. In any case, the priorities are aspirational goals for the next two years, not for the current budget cycle. She said it would be a shame to decide they don’t want to do it.

Left to right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunsleman (Ward 3)

Left to right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Kunselman said he would support the project, reasoning that it’s important that they move forward on something that had been started years ago. He felt like the city would hand off the siting question to the AAPS board.

Warpehoski agreed with Kunselman, saying that he was excited when he saw it on the agenda – because it meets several goals of the city. Among those goals were financial and educational goals. The best way to assure we waste staff time is to back out now, he said, adding that the finish line is in sight. Higgins said she’d support the project but wanted AAPS to have a community-involvement element to its site-selection process.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said the project struck him as typical of the large, forward-thinking projects that the city staff brought forward – where the city’s risk is minimized. Taylor said the fact that he didn’t understand where the turbines will be or what the community conversation will be didn’t strike him as important. The time to evaluate that is for the future, he said. If the school district’s process is lacking, the council would hear about it. And the council would have the chance to “pull the plug” at a later time.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve acceptance of the DOE grant for wind turbines.

Wind Turbine Grant: Postlude

On the following evening, on Jan 8, 2013, the city’s energy commission met and was briefed about the wind turbine project. Based on CTN coverage, which is available through Community Television Network (CTN) Video on Demand, commissioners had a negative reaction to not being included in the review process for the project. [CTN coverage begins at roughly the 0:57 minute mark]

Wayne Appleyard, who chairs the commission, stated: “Some of us wonder what we’re here for if we’re not consulted on these things.” He also pointed to the stated purpose of the commission in support of his contention that the city should have taken advantage of the technical expertise of commission members: “To oversee City policies and regulations in areas of energy efficiency concerns and make periodic public reports and recommendations to the City Council.”

By way of explanation for the omission, environmental coordinator Matt Naud, who gave the briefing, explained that the project had languished for a time, and that there’d been a staff transition – as former program manager for the Ann Arbor energy office, Andrew Brix, had left the city. But Naud allowed: “We did not keep you up to date as much as we should have.”

Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the energy commission, seemed to discount the significance of the council’s action, expressing some skepticism that the project would even be built: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The item’s appearance on the council’s Jan. 7 agenda was facilitated by Hieftje’s sponsorship of it. It had missed the deadline by which staff could add an item to the agenda – but a member of the council can add an item at any time.

Commissioner Cliff Williams asked some pointed questions about the RFP process that had eventually led to an exclusive letter of intent with Wind Products Inc. He was aware of some companies that had submitted bids, but that were not aware of the change in scope of the project that resulted in the selection of Wind Products, which had not bid in response to the initial RFP.

Council Priorities

On the council’s agenda was an item that called for the adoption of a consultant’s report on a Dec. 10, 2012 council planning session. Part of the report outlines priorities for the next two years identified by the council at that session, including: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing. [.pdf of Julia Novak's report on the Dec. 10 session]

For more detailed coverage of the problem and success statements that the council associates with each of the priority areas, see Chronicle coverage: “Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure.” And for coverage of statements of councilmember sentiments in response to one of the planning session assignments – a 3-5 minute statement on “What I believe” – see “What They Believe: Ann Arbor City Council.”

Council deliberations consisted of remarks from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who called the session productive. She thanked the city staff for their efforts. The time was well spent in team-building and identifying key areas of focus for the next two fiscal years, Lumm said. She reviewed the five priority areas. She supported those five areas, which she felt were aligned with the community’s priorities as well, and looked forward to acting on them in the next few months. [The council will be adopting the fiscal year 2014 city budget in May, for the 12-month period beginning on July 1, 2013.]

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to adopt the planning session report.

Ann Arbor Skatepark Design

The council was asked to consider the final design of a new Ann Arbor skatepark, to be located in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The city’s park advisory commission had unanimously recommended approval of the proposed design at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting.

Ann Arbor skatepark, Wally Hollyday, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Veterans Memorial Park, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The conceptual design by Wally Hollyday for the Ann Arbor skatepark at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, with a goal of completing the project by the fall.

The park was designed by Wally Hollyday. In July of 2012, the Ann Arbor city council had authorized a $89,560 contract with his firm, Wally Hollyday Skateparks, for the design and construction oversight of the skatepark. City council action on the skatepark at that location dates back to a Dec. 1, 2008 approval of a memorandum of intent. [.pdf of memorandum of intent]

The roughly $1 million project – including an anticipated $100,000 endowment for ongoing maintenance – will be financed through a combination of funds. Those include private donations – primarily solicited through the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark – as well as a $300,000 state grant, and up to $400,000 in matching funds from the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission. The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation is acting as fiduciary.

The design includes a wide variety of skateboarding features – including bowls and pools; banked, Hubba and cantilevered ledges; and slappy curbs. Landscaped areas and rain gardens are located throughout the park, which will also serve as stormwater management elements. The design includes a small stage, which could be used for skateboarding demonstrations as well as other community performances. Organizers also hope to incorporate concrete “skateable artwork” on the site.

Two residents who live near Veterans Memorial Park spoke against the location during public commentary at PAC’s Dec. 12 meeting, saying they hadn’t been informed before the site was selected. They also referred to a petition of about 20 other residents who opposed the location, including the owners of Knight’s Restaurant, which is located across from the proposed skatepark. They were concerned about noise, maintenance, safety and other issues that they felt hadn’t been adequately addressed.

Later in that PAC meeting Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, reviewed the history of the project starting in 2007, including a listing of forums with neighbors, which he described as well-attended, and public hearings at PAC and city council. He later showed The Chronicle a receipt for a mailing sent to neighbors in 2008, notifying them about the proposal in its very early stages.

Trevor Staples, chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, also spoke to PAC and noted that the group would be holding a retreat later this winter to discuss their future mission, indicating that they’d be involved in ongoing support for the skatepark. Part of the MOI with the city stipulates that 10% of fundraising for the skatepark is being set aside for future maintenance.

At the council’s Jan. 7 meeting, no one spoke against the project.

Ann Arbor Skatepark Design: Council Deliberations

Although the skatepark design was on the consent agenda, it was pulled out for separate consideration by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Taylor sits as a council representative (ex officio non-voting) to the park advisory commission, and he reported that PAC had enthusiastically recommended the skatepark design. He said he looks forward to its implementation.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) expressed his thanks to the Friend of the Ann Arbor Skatepark for their hard work. He acknowledged that there have been recent concerns expressed about the location. Although it’s been a long-term process, he allowed that not everybody “got the memo.” He lives near the space, and characterized it as currently not well used. He thought it would be a great amenity and looked forward to seeing it in his neighborhood.

Trevor Staples perused the council agenda before the meeting started.

Trevor Staples perused the council’s Jan. 7 agenda before the meeting started. He’s chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, and a teacher at Burns Park Elementary School.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that it had been a long time coming, and called it a community effort. He noted that it had involved kids, who had come to the meetings. He said the city’s youth had stepped up and shown what’s important to them. He was happy to be there for the vote.

After some lighthearted back-and-forth between Kunselman and mayor John Hieftje about age and skateboarding, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) weighed in. She said it was very nice to see the resolution come forward. She asked some clarificational questions about some of the elements in the design – highlighting a “multi-event area.”

Trevor Staples responded to Higgins, saying that from the beginning, the skatepark has been conceived as a community gathering space. The multi-event area could be used for award presentations, or a judges’ stand for competitions, or music. He noted that the area Higgins was asking about is designed to be “completely skateable.”

Higgins expressed some concern about the adequacy of the parking at Veterans Memorial Park – if a skateboarding competition were to be held there at the same time as softball games were going on. Sumedh Bahl , the city’s community services area administrator, indicated that he could not give a precise analysis on that. Staples indicated that parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and park planner Amy Kuras had looked at the parking situation.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the skatepark design.

Conservation Fund Contract

The council was asked to approve a $156,230 contract with The Conservation Fund to manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs. The programs are funded by a 30-year 0.5 mill open space and parkland preservation tax that voters approved in 2003. The contract is for a one-year period, with the option for two one-year renewals.

The city had issued a request for proposals (RFP) in early November, with a Nov. 28 deadline for responses. [.pdf of management RFP] Only one proposal had been received – from The Conservation Fund.

The Conservation Fund has held that contract since the greenbelt program launched. The current three-year contract ends on Jan. 15, 2013. The nonprofit is headquartered in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Ginny Trocchio is the nonprofit’s Ann Arbor staff member.

The current contract was approved by the Ann Arbor city council on Dec. 21, 2009. It authorized $119,565 in 2010, with two one-year renewal options for $113,661 in 2011 and $106,797 in 2012. The Conservation Fund also was the only bidder for that RFP.

Council deliberations on the issue were limited to a brief remark from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who is now the city council representative to the greenbelt advisory commission. Previously, the council representative had been Carsten Hohnke, who left the council in November 2012, having chosen not to seek re-election.

Taylor noted that he’d only attended one meeting of GAC so far, but said that GAC supports the contract with The Conservation Fund.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve The Conservation Fund contract.

New Roofs for Cobblestone Farm

The council was asked to approve a $109,500 contract with Renaissance Restorations Inc. – to allow replacement of roofs at Cobblestone Farm. Roofs on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House will be replaced. The bid from Renaissance was the lowest of three received for the work. The contract includes a 10% contingency, bringing the total to $120,450.

The project will be funded with proceeds from the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.

According to a staff memo, the Tincknor-Campbell House is a cobblestone farmhouse that was built in 1844. Its existing wood shingle roof was installed in 1977 and is in serious disrepair. The proposal calls for the new roof to be made of cedar shakes, with flashing done in copper.

The event barn, built in the late 1980s, is rented out for weddings, parties, business conferences, and other events. Its existing roof is over 30 years old and is also in poor condition. Because the building is not historically significant, the proposal calls replacing the roof with a recycled plastic shingle that resembles cedar, but that is less costly and more durable.

The alternative material was approved by the city planning staff who provide support to the city’s historic district commission. The Cobblestone Farm Association has also reviewed the proposal and agreed with the recommendations. The park advisory commission voted to recommend the contract at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting.

Outcome: Without substantive deliberations, the council voted unanimously to approve the contracts for replacement of roofs at Cobblestone Farm.

721 N. Main Presentation

Two members of the North Main and Huron River Corridor task force – David Santacroce and Darren McKinnon – gave a presentation to the council summarizing the group’s work to date.

721 N. Main recommendations

A map showing recommendations for the city-owned property at 721 N. Main St.

The group had been tasked with developing recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property.

They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area. But the council had given the task force an end-of-the-year deadline for a recommendation on the 721 N. Main property – because of grant deadlines. One of the grant applications was due at the end of 2o12, while the other is due at the end of March 2013.

Recommendations were divided into the floodway portion and the non-floodway portion of the site. For the floodway portion, there was not a lot to decide – because a city council resolution from Aug. 15, 2005 calls for the floodway area of the 721 N. Main site to be included within a planned Allen Creek Greenway.

The task force is now recommending that the roughly 2.5 acre floodway portion be developed to include non-motorized paths to connect from Felch Street to North Main and West Summit streets.

Recommendations for the non-floodway portion of the site include:

  •  That, consistent with its charge, the NMVT investigate potential uses for the non-floodway portion of the site, beginning with the existing masonry buildings outside of the floodway for potential reuse. And that, in order to do so, Council shall provide City staff with sufficient resources to conduct a structural and environmental assessment of the buildings and a market analysis of the portion of the parcel outside of the floodway and provide those findings to the NMVT no later than April 30, 2013. Based on these findings and other considerations, the NMVT will provide Council with final recommendations for the future use of the non-floodway portions of the parcel with the NMVT’s final recommendations to Council which are due no later than July 31, 2013.
  • The NMVT’s initial findings with respect to the non-floodway portion of the parcel are as follows:
    (i) If the buildings are determined to be salvageable, the City should promptly pursue building renovation and occupation. Prior to any public use of the site, efforts should be made to minimize the potential for nuisance activities around the buildings;
    (ii) If any future development occurs on this portion of the site, such development should remain consistent with the residential scale and character of the neighborhood and surrounding zoning districts;
    (iii) That it is essential that development of non-floodway open space coincide with efforts to activate the floodway improvements. Such efforts should consider unique and unmet needs near downtown (e.g., a dog park/community garden/flex space/sustainability demonstration/ trailhead parking).

Santacroce indicated that some resources would be required to help determine the value of the property and whether the buildings are salvageable. For general market considerations, he’d had a conversation with Todd Poole, a land use economist who’d done work recently for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. And because Poole wouldn’t be starting from scratch, it would cost perhaps only $5,000 to “tweak” the work he had already done.

For the physical assessment of the property and the buildings, Santacroce estimated it would take about $30,000 to do the necessary analysis.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed a lack of enthusiasm for salvaging the buildings and ventured that instead of hiring Poole, perhaps some local real estate professionals could be engaged, who might be willing to do the work pro bono.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Packard Square

The council was asked to approve changes to the site plan of the Packard Square project, an effort to redevelop the former Georgetown Mall. The site plan – given original council approval on May 2, 2011 – calls for demolition of the existing buildings, and construction of a mixed-use development consisting of 23,858 square feet of retail, up to 230 apartment units, and structured parking.

The changes include altering the facade of the building by reducing the number of balconies by one-third, replacing some brick with Hardi-board siding, changing windows, and changing the color of the siding. The council originally postponed the matter a month ago, on Dec. 3, 2012.

Part of the council’s reluctance to give its approval in December was based on aesthetic dissatisfaction with the changes as reflected in the revised renderings. The renderings showing the changes were not given the same amount of attention to detail as the original drawings – with respect to shading to show depth, for example – which left some councilmembers to conclude that the development looked “flat” and dormitory-like. Councilmembers at the Dec. 3 meeting also gave the new color scheme an unfavorable review.

Responding to the specific request of the council to provide drawings on which they could make “apples-to-apples” comparisons, the developer of the project submitted 3D sketches for the Jan. 7 meeting. [.jpg with original color-scheme for Packard Square] [.jpg with revised color-scheme for Packard Square]

The changes to the building that the council was asked to approve were motivated by a change to the upper level residential portion of the Packard Road facade. It was moved 10 feet to the east to make it line up with the front stairwells. That also increased the footprint of the building by 4,720 square feet.

Packard Square: Council Deliberations

Margie Teall (Ward 4) led things off by asking that the developer Craig Schubiner come to the podium. She wanted to know if the new elevations were in the council’s packet. She asked for a description of changes that had been made since December, in response to the commentary at that council meeting.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) gets a closer look at rendering for Packard Square.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) gets a closer look at rendering for Packard Square.

Schubiner explained that they’d had the elevations rendered in the new colors and the old colors in the same way. He said that on the sides, it breaks up what are really long facades on the north and south. The retail “frame” would accentuate the stores in front, he said.

All the windows are six-foot windows, he noted, and there are nine-foot ceilings. If you look at the floor plans that are currently being reviewed by the city for approval, he said, the windows take up most of the wall space in every living and every bedroom. He concluded that these are the largest windows of any non-downtown, garden-style apartment complex ever built in Ann Arbor.

The retail windows had been made bigger and the corner was embellished, he said. He contrasted the new rendering with the original colors. They were a little bit more “washed-out.” The new colors would better break up the long facades, he said. But he noted that colors are, at a certain point, a matter of opinion.

Teall left her seat and examined the drawings up close.

Schubiner noted that the basic building design and footprint had not changed.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Packard Square site plan changes.

Summit Townhomes Zoning

The council was asked to give initial approval of a request to zone a 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, as R3 (townhouse dwelling district). The property was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.

The city’s planning commission had voted to recommend the zoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting.

The R3 zoning would be consistent with the intended development of the site – to be called Summit Townhomes – for which the city’s planning commission recommended for approval at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting. The developer wants to build 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings, with each building between 80 to 160 feet in length. Each of the 24 units would have a floor area of about 1,300 square feet, and an attached one-car garage. The plan includes two surface parking areas on the east and west sides of the site, each with 12 spaces.

Summit Townhomes Zoning: Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked for confirmation that what was before the council for its consideration was simply the zoning. City planning manager Wendy Rampson told Lumm that was right.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated he’d vote for it at first reading, but he’d heard some concerns about the type of progress and development that it represents. So he wanted to alert his colleagues to the potential that this could be an issue to be discussed when the council is asked for its final approval.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who represents the city council on planning commission, reported that she’d been concerned about how children will get to school in a way that won’t require them to walk down Ellsworth. They live too close for busing, but it’s awkward if there’s no internal sidewalks, she said. But she reported her understanding that the developer has committed to achieving the goal of a walkable route to school.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give the zoning initial approval. It will need a second approval after a public hearing to be enacted.

Front-Yard Event Parking

On the council’s agenda was the second and final approval of revisions to the parking ordinance that might allow more flexibility for residents to park cars in their front yards.

The change in local law allows the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The ordinance had already allowed people to use their front yards for parking for University of Michigan football games. The ordinance change includes a provision explicitly to include “scrimmages,” which will accommodate the UM’s annual intra-squad spring football game.

The ordinance change was motivated in part by the possibility that University of Michigan football stadium events might in the future not necessarily be restricted to football games. For example, a National Hockey League game, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, had been scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013 at Michigan Stadium. But it had been cancelled last year due to labor disputes between the NHL and its players’ association.

The city planning commission recommended approval of the change at its Nov. 7, 2012 meeting. The council had given initial approval to the change at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

Front Yard Event Parking: Public Hearing

One person spoke at the required public hearing on the ordinance change – Thomas Partridge. He asked that the ordinance be withdrawn and a different one substituted that would provide for greater monetary and city council policy support for the use of existing parking lots on the outskirts of town that aren’t utilized – an allusion to AATA park-and-ride lots. We don’t need more front-yard parking in residential neighborhoods near the football stadium, he contended.

Outcome: The council voted without discussion to approve the front area parking ordinance change.

LDFA Board Appointment

The council was asked to consider the appointment of Carrie Leahy as one of six Ann Arbor representatives to the 9-member local development finance authority (LDFA) board. She replaces Theresa Carroll, whose term expired six months ago, on June 30, 2012.

The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA. The LDFA is separate and distinct from the nonprofit Ann Arbor SPARK, which operates a business accelerator under contract with the LDFA. [The Chronicle is able to offer only occasional coverage of the LDFA. From June 2012: "SmartZone Group OKs SPARK Contract."]

Leahy is an attorney with Bodman who specializes in “general corporate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, compliance with securities regulations, and issues involving venture capital funding.”

Other Ann Arbor representatives on the LDFA board include Richard Beedon and former city councilmember Stephen Rapundalo. Christopher Taylor is another one of the six Ann Arbor representatives, filling the slot that goes to a member of the city council. Based on the city of Ann Arbor’s Legistar online record system, former Ann Arbor representative Lisa Kurek’s term also expired on June 30, 2012. Leahy’s appointment leaves Ann Arbor two representatives short.

The city of Ypsilanti is currently represented by Vince Chmielewski and Phil Tepley. The term for the third Ypsilanti appointment, Mark Maynard, expired on June 30, 2012, according Legistar.

The council deliberations consisted of a remark from Taylor, who joked that no board could have too many lawyers who graduated in 1997 and specialize in corporate and intellectual property law. [Taylor himself shares the description he gave of Leahy.]

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm Leahy’s appointment to the LDFA board.

T-Mobile Antenna

The council considered a resolution to approve a contract with T-Mobile Central LLC – as the successor in interest to Omnipoint Holdings Inc. The city had a previous agreement with Omnipoint, to place antennas on the Plymouth Road water tower. T-Mobile wanted to amend the license agreement to allow additional equipment on the site. The city will also get a bit more revenue, increasing the annual license fee amount by $1,200 to $39,686. That escalates each year by 4%. Under the previous arrangement, the fee escalated 20% every five years.

Council deliberations were relatively brief. But Jane Lumm (Ward 2) wanted confirmation that the additional equipment would not change the appearance of the water tower. And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted confirmation that the revenue from such contracts went to pay the cost of the Justice Center construction bonds. City administrator Steve Powers said that he thought Kunselman was right, but would follow up and confirm that.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with T-Mobile.

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: Dog Park in West Park

Two members of New Hope Baptist Church addressed the council on a topic that had been discussed at a meeting of the park advisory commission late last year, on Dec. 18, 2012.

Left to right: Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church Roderick Green, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

Left to right: Rodrick Green, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

During the public commentary at the conclusion of the special session of the council – which was held before the regular council meeting – Rodrick Green introduced himself as the pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church. He noted that the dog park was not a topic on the council’s agenda, but he wanted to voice on behalf of the entire congregation their unanimous opposition to the proposed dog park. The park is supposed to be located off of Chapin Street, in the area of West Park directly across from the church. Among the concerns the congregation had were issues of safety, noise and odor. They did not think it’s a proper location for a dog park, Green said.

During public commentary at the start of the regular session, Tom Miree, a trustee with New Hope Baptist Church, told councilmembers that he wanted to give them an update on the dog park in West Park. He told them that before the holidays, members of the congregation had met with the city’s park advisory commission, and gave testimony about why the site within West Park that had been selected for the dog park wouldn’t be a good spot. He reported that commissioners had listened politely, but then passed a resolution that said, “Let’s try this for a year to see how it works out.” Miree noted that the dog park site is right across the street from the church. He described the entire area of West Park as about 24 acres, but noted that only about 0.2 acres was designated for the dog park. He described it as a small area on a parcel where a house previously stood.

Miree ventured that anyone who’s done planning work knows you need conflicting land use buffers between properties. He said everyone recognizes that having amenities is a good thing. But he wanted the city to consider the impact a dog park would have on the neighborhood – especially on young children and the ministry in the area. He also asked that they consider the worship service that’s held there, saying that the congregation wants to maintain the dignity of the worship services.

Comm/Comm: Connecting William Street

By way of background, the city council will be holding a work session on Jan. 14 to hear recommendations from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on future redevelopment of five city-owned sites currently used for parking. The project, which eventually was named Connecting William Street (CWS), began with an April 4, 2011 city council resolution that directed the DDA to engage seek “robust public input” from experts, stakeholders and residents to develop a plan for those parcels.

Jamie Pitts introduced himself as the chief technology officer of a local startup []. The company is located in Detroit now, but he lives here in Ann Arbor, he said. He wanted to talk about the DDA’s Connecting William Street as it relates to open space. In the space next to the Ann Arbor District Library on South Fifth Avenue, the recommended plan depicts a very large building. He said he couldn’t help but notice how small the green space was that’s allocated on the parcel. There’s an opportunity to do something great, he said, so the council would be forfeiting a huge opportunity by not allocating a greater amount of area on that parcel for green space.

He encouraged councilmembers to envision the people who live downtown. If they want more people to live downtown, they need to think about amenities. People who live in urban centers need a backyard, he said. So he called for the creation of a backyard for future downtown residents.

Alan Haber commented on the CWS recommendations that the Ann Arbor DDA would be presenting to the council on Jan. 14. In many ways, Haber said, it’s an excellent report. But he felt that the DDA understood “development” as only buildings and economic development. Other kinds of development, Haber said, include human development and community development. The DDA is only seeing the economic development perspective, he said. The council needs to see the part of the equation that involves community benefit and growing a space on which something can be created together.

Haber characterized the previous Sunday night caucus discussion as making clear to him that he and a lot of others had been barking up the wrong tree. That approach had been since people wanted a park, they should approach the “parks people” [the park advisory commission]. He wanted the council to hear a citizens report, because the DDA translates everything into money terms, Haber concluded.

During communications time, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) relayed a request from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who was absent from the meeting. He asked to include in the council’s Jan. 14 work session on CWS an opportunity to hear from citizens on their open spaces ideas.

Comm/Comm: Public Art Committee

During her communications time at the conclusion of the meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that the city council committee created to review the public art ordinance had held a second meeting.

Councilmembers are sometimes asked by students to sign their agendas to prove attendance. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) turned the act into a kind of performance art.

Councilmembers are sometimes asked by students to sign their agendas to prove attendance. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) turned the act into a kind of performance art.

As the committee moves forward, she said, the members want to hear from the public art community, but also want to think about the best way to reach the public.

The goal is to work with the city staff to create a topic on the city’s A2 Open City Hall. [For detailed Chronicle coverage of that committee meeting, see "Council to Seek Feedback on Public Art Program."]

The committee’s next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14.

Comm/Comm: Environmental Commission

During her communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that a resolution to appoint Christopher Graham to serve on the city of Ann Arbor’s environmental commission would be on the council’s next meeting agenda.

Graham was initially appointed in 2006 and has served two three-year terms on the commission.

Graham is also a member of the executive committee of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Comm/Comm: Recall Snyder, Hieftje

During public commentary, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, and a recent candidate for the state senate and house. He stated that he was there to advance the cause of the most vulnerable. He called on the council and the public to prioritize affordable housing and countywide transportation, and to recognize that we are one community, whether we like it or not. He called for less attention on stormwater drains, and more on getting sufficient affordable housing. He called on the council to end homeless this month. He concluded by saying that mayor John Hieftje and Gov. Rick Snyder should be recalled.

Comm/Comm: Divestment from Israel

Addressing the council on the topic of divestment from Israel and Palestinian rights were Blaine Coleman and Mozhgan Savabieasfahani.

By way of background, for several years a group of people has regularly demonstrated near the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor with various anti-Israel signs. Critics of the action have described the regular demonstrations as religious harassment. Coleman has in the past stood with the group. In that context, his opening remarks can be understood as a way of responding to that criticism – by appealing to protests that have happened in the contexts of other religious institutions.

Coleman began by noting that Ann Arbor has a long history of protest against racist oppression at churches and synagogues. He showed the council a copy of the front page of a Michigan Daily from Aug. 20, 1970 that read: “Church Takeover Backs Demands for Reparations.” Another article from the Ann Arbor News, with the headline “Octogenarian Joins Fight Against Poverty,” described a sit-in at the First Presbyterian Church. [The article, from Nov. 29, 1970 also describes a court-ordered injunction against the group for disrupting church services.] Coleman described the point of the sit-ins as insisting that the country and the city keep its promises to black America.

Today, Coleman ventured, “unless you’re a racist, you will keep your promise to the Palestinian people, too. The Palestinian people are still being murdered and robbed and starved by Israel,” he said. It was human rights violations like those, Coleman said, that had led councilmember Chuck Warpehoski’s organization, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ), to publicly resolve itself to work for divestment – from all companies that sell arms to Israel.

Coleman called on Warpehoski to “keep that promise” as a city councilmember. Coleman went on to describe Israel’s actions as a “starvation siege.” And he noted that the ICPJ “brags” about its fight against hunger. Coleman ventured that “unless [Warpehoski] wants to look like a racist and liar, he will keep that promise” to work to divest the city from companies selling arms to Israel.

Coleman noted that Israel was an ally of apartheid South Africa and he characterized Israel as the “last apartheid state on earth.” Federal aid that goes to Israel should instead be spent on rebuilding cities like Detroit, Coleman concluded.

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani said she was very hopeful that the city can do more work on human rights and to promote children’s health – particularly the health of children in Gaza. She said she was hopeful because seven of the 11 councilmembers are women, and women, she ventured, are more sensitive to issues involving children’s health.

In addition, she said, Warpehoski has in the past stood for the human rights of Palestinians and against providing military aid to Israel. His election to the council elevated Warpehoski to another level, she said. She wanted to convince the council that it’s past time to stop the “genocide of the Palestinian people.” She criticized continued U.S. aid to Israel, which she called a “racist state.” She wanted to see the city council speak up against the acts that have been committed by Israel and that would lead to a change in policy – and money would be kept in the U.S. That money could be used to clean up neighborhoods, and get the homeless off the streets of Ann Arbor. She concluded her remarks with “Boycott Israel!”

Typically councilmembers do not respond directly to public comment, but occasionally they do. Warpehoski indicated that the public comment from Coleman reminded the council that there are “right ways and wrong ways, productive ways and unproductive ways” to promote respect understanding and coexistence. Eight or nine years ago, he said, the council had passed a resolution saying that democracy and the freedoms it engenders cannot exist without “civil discourse.” [This was a 2004 resolution that condemned the regular demonstrations near the Beth Israel Congregation.] He also pointed to council resolutions in 2008, 2010 and 2011 encouraging people to honor Religious Freedom – on Jan. 16.

One group in town that is “doing it right,” Warpehoski said, is the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County, led by George Lambrides.

In Ann Arbor, Warpehoski said, we like to assume we’ve got everything all worked out, but when a Muslim woman driving home from her job at the university hospital had a gun pulled on her and was told to “go home,” that indicates that there’s work yet to be done. Another example he gave was the idea of putting a swastika over the Star of David, or circulating literature saying that Jewish religious observances turn boys and girls into “monsters.”

Present: Jane Lumm, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.

Absent: Mike Anglin.

Next regular city council meeting: Jan. 22, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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Pre-Thanksgiving Council Pre-Heats Oven Sun, 25 Nov 2012 15:50:24 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): The first meeting of the council’s new edition featured delaying action on two main agenda items – revisions to the Ann Arbor living wage ordinance, and two competing proposals about the city’s public art ordinance.

The newly elected members of council are sworn in by city clerk Jackie Beaudry (back to camera). From left: mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

The newly elected members of council are sworn in by city clerk Jackie Beaudry (back to camera). From left: mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). (Photos by the writer.)

Legislative activity on the public art ordinance resulted from the Nov. 6 rejection by voters of an alternate means of funding public art – a 0.1 mill tax that would have generated roughly $450,000 annually. At the Nov. 19 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) proposed ending the existing public art program, which requires that 1% of the budget for all capital projects in the city be allocated for public art – with a limit of $250,000 per project. A competing proposal, from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), would narrow the type of capital project from which Percent for Art funds could be allocated. Briere’s proposal would have the practical effect of reducing – by about 90% – the amount of public art funds generated by the existing program. In the last two years the program has generated over $300,000 a year, and more in previous years.

The council wound up tabling both proposals, a parliamentary move that means there’s no particular time in the future when the council must consider them. The proposals will expire, if the council does not take them up off the table in six months. However, the council’s strategy will likely be to appoint a committee to study the matter and to suspend temporarily the existing program. A resolution to that effect was added to the council’s agenda during the meeting, after the tabling of the other proposals – but that third resolution was then postponed until the council’s Dec. 3 meeting.

Also postponed was a set of revisions to the city’s living wage ordinance. The main change would be to exempt those nonprofits from the ordinance that receive funding through the city’s human services allocation, which has totaled roughly $1.2 million each year for the last several years. The ordinance currently has a waiver provision, requiring a city-council-approved plan for compliance with the living wage ordinance within three years. Only one such waiver has been sought since the living wage ordinance was enacted in 2001. That came at the council’s meeting earlier this month, on Nov. 8, 2012.

Based on council deliberations at the Nov. 19 meeting, the living wage revisions in their current form seem likely to be approved only with great difficulty. Some councilmembers seemed more interested in pursuing exemptions for categories of workers – temporary or seasonal – instead of exempting categories of organizations. The living wage ordinance revisions were postponed until Feb. 19.

Getting initial approval were changes to two other city ordinances – on noise and the storage of cars on streets.

The changes to the noise ordinance were prompted by the impact that recent construction of the Landmark building at 601 S. Forest had on neighbors. If given final approval by the council, the changes would make clear that holidays are to be treated like Sundays and that supervisors can be cited under the ordinance, not just a worker who’s operating a piece of equipment.

The revision to the towing ordinance would make it easier to prevent people from storing inoperable vehicles on city streets. Like all changes to city ordinances, it will need a second vote by the council, after a public hearing.

In other business, the council authorized a $15,000 budget for analyzing alternatives for installing a sidewalk along a section of Scio Church Road. Residents in the area have petitioned the city for a sidewalk.

And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) used his communications time toward the end of the meeting as an occasion to deliver harsh criticism of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and mayor John Hieftje.

In the first meeting for newly elected councilmembers, the council also chose Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to serve as mayor pro tem, as she has for the last three years. The order of succession to the mayor, based on seniority lines, was also set.

Public Art

The council had two items on its agenda related to the city’s public art ordinance. One proposal would have terminated the program, while the other would have narrowed the range of eligible projects.

Added to the agenda during the meeting was a resolution to appoint a task force of five councilmembers to study the issue and to suspend the expenditure of funds – with several exceptions – currently allocated for public art.

Public Art: Background

The legislative activity was prompted by a failed public art millage that had been placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The city’s Percent for Art ordinance currently requires that 1% of the budget for all capital projects undertaken in the city be set aside for public art – up to a limit of $250,000 per project. The proposal to revise the ordinance, sponsored by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), focused on the definition of projects to which the ordinance applies. It also added requirements for public participation. The practical effect of the narrowing of project eligibility in the way proposed by Briere is estimated to reduce the amount of public art funding by about 90%. For each of the last two fiscal years, the Percent for Art program has generated roughly $300,000. If the ordinance revisions had been in place, only about $25,000 would have been generated.

Left to right: Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Left to right: Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm.

The other proposal, to terminate the program, was put forward by Jane Lumm (Ward 2). She interpreted results from the failed public art millage on Nov. 6 as an indication that voters wanted the existing, non-millage-based program eliminated. The millage failed by a 10-point margin (55.8% opposed and 44.14% in favor). Lumm had described her intent at the council’s Nov. 8 meeting to bring forward a proposal similar to one she’d made on Aug. 20, 2012 – a resolution that directed the city attorney’s office to prepare an ordinance revision that would repeal the Percent for Art program. In an email sent to other councilmembers, Lumm stated that “… the version I will bring forward on 11/19 will be the proposed ordinance changes themselves for consideration at first reading.” The Aug. 20 meeting was the occasion on which the council voted to place a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. It was meant to provide a more flexible funding mechanism for public art in Ann Arbor. The 0.1 mill tax was expected to generate around $450,000 annually.

The public art millage won a majority of votes in just 13 out of 59 Ann Arbor precincts, with the most support coming from Ward 5, Precinct 4 where 60.5% of voters supported the public art millage. Ward 5 had six of the 13 precincts where the proposal achieved a majority. And the proposal finished in a dead heat in Ward 5, Precinct 5 with 471 voting for and against it. Opposition among in-person voters was strongest in Ward 1, Precinct 9, where only 34.5% of voters supported it.

The proposal did not win a majority of votes in any precinct of Ward 2, which is represented by Lumm and – following her election on Nov. 6 – Sally Petersen. Differing interpretations of the expressed voter sentiment that were part of the council’s deliberations on Nov. 19 included the idea that voters were saying something about: (1) the way public art is funded, or (2) whether public money should be used to support public art at all.

The proposal to modify the ordinance took a different tack from the one Briere has previously explored. In the past, Briere has proposed ordinance revisions based on restricting the funds from which public art projects could draw. But her proposal on Nov. 19 was to narrow the definition of projects to which the existing ordinance would apply. Currently, the Percent for Art ordinance applies to essentially any capital improvement project undertaken by the city. Briere’s proposal would narrow the definition by restricting eligible capital improvement projects to those that are “intended to be open or visible to the public.” Projects to construct roads, highways, paths, and sidewalks would be eliminated from eligibility. Bridges would still qualify.

History of public art funding allocations by year and by fund.

History of public art funding allocations by year and by fund.

Of the roughly $300,000 that’s been allocated to public art through the Percent for Art program in each of the last two fiscal years, about 90% of it has been generated through projects that have been paid for partly out of the street millage fund and the sanitary sewer fund. The two-year total attributable to the street millage fund is about $250,000. For the sanitary sewer fund, the two-year amount is about $180,000. Given the narrowing of the eligible project scope in Briere’s ordinance revision, that money would not have been allocated to public art if Briere’s ordinance amendments had been in place.

Briere’s proposal also included a financial threshold for qualifying projects: $100,000. Her proposed ordinance amendments would also require a public process associated with proposed art projects. Part of that process would require notification of the councilmembers in whose ward a project is proposed.

Public Art: Public Commentary

Debra Polich introduced herself as a Ward 5 resident who’s worked in the cultural sector for 30 years, and currently works as director of the Arts Alliance. She served with Marsha Chamberlin as co-chair of the public art millage campaign. [Chamberlin, who is retiring as president of the Ann Arbor Art Center, also serves as chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, which oversees the Percent for Art program.] Polich contended that the election results don’t give a clear reason why the measure didn’t pass. She’d heard people were confused about the ballot language. [The question began with "Shall the Charter be amended to limit sources of funding for public art ... ] The campaign committee also heard that people voted against the millage because they wanted to keep the existing Percent for Art program.

The Ann Arbor region is widely recognized as an outstanding arts and cultural community, Polich said, rivaling the offering of cities that are larger and have more resources. Ann Arbor is an arts leader in the region and in the state. And because of that, she said, Ann Arbor is a great place to live, work, play, learn and visit. She asked the council to take time to give some thoughtful consideration to the Percent for Art program. If councilmembers decided to move either of the proposals forward, she asked that 120 days be allowed before the second and final reading, to give some time for discussion and improvement.

Margaret Parker introduced herself as co-owner of Downtown Home & Garden with her husband, Mark Hodesh. She noted that she’d chaired the Ann Arbor public art commission for many years and had worked on the millage campaign. She observed that Ann Arbor has been designated as an arts and culture destination by the convention and visitors bureau and by the state’s Pure Michigan campaign. She characterized that as “just one more success” that had come from the city council’s support for art in public places – which had put a beautiful and environmental fountain in front of the city hall that children can plan in, she said. [Parker was referring to the piece by Herbert Dreiseitl.] Parker pointed out that the council had wanted to replace the current program with a voter-approved millage – with only eight weeks for a millage campaign. The failure of the millage meant that the current program is still in place, she noted. She allowed that it might not be perfect, but contended that “it works.” In the last five years, she said, there’s been more public art than ever before in Ann Arbor, and at least 10 more projects are ready to go out the door.

Parker invited councilmembers to compare Ann Arbor to other cities in the Big 10 athletic conference. She told them that 10 out of 13 Big 10 states have a statewide percent for art program. Of the 13 Big 10 cities, nine fund public art as well, she said. Of those nine, five use a percent-for-art approach, while the other four use a public-private mix. Michigan has a percent for art law, she said, but it’s optional.

Parker contended that by now, Ann Arbor’s public art commission has gotten the hang of the system, and city departments are ready to go, and the community is getting excited, she said. She invited councilmembers to ask neighbors of Allmendinger Park how they like their new mural. She asked what needs to be fixed. She questioned whether now is the time to restrict funding and to add more oversight, by giving the city council more control. She asked councilmembers: “Do you really need more work?” What the city’s public art program really needs, she suggested, is a vote of confidence.

Marsha Chamberlin addressed the council as chair of the public art commission and as retiring president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Art Center. She ventured that we can agree that nobody can agree on what makes good public art: Some people love it and some people hate it. But she contended that there’s agreement that public art is good because it attracts people, excites people, generates interesting discussion and serves as a place maker. Public art is an important thing for cities that have an educated and international population, she said. She reminded the council that she’s stood there before to talk about the serious commitment that the city has made to public art by establishing funding through the Percent for Art ordinance. It takes time to make good artistic decisions, she said. It takes time to engineer pieces of art, it takes time to put the legal agreements in place, and it takes time to nurture the community engagement. The commission has done all of that and there are many projects in the pipeline, she said. The important thing is not to rush a decision that negates the opportunity for the future. Chamberlin supported Polich’s request for a delay.

Public Art: Rescinding – Lumm

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) led off deliberations by saying that since 2007, when the Percent for Art ordinance had been established, it had been controversial. She reviewed aspects of the program that she described as controversial: the basic premise of public funding of art instead of focusing priorities on enhancing private funding of art; diversion of funds from capital projects to art; and the legal basis of the program, which had never been authorized by the voters. She described the program as plagued by operational challenges, including the requirement that art be permanent and monumental. That constraint on the type of art that could be funded by the program, she pointed out, had been given as an argument for placement of the millage on the ballot.

Lumm continued by saying she felt that the art projects produced through the program had been met with less than universal acceptance. She felt that it stretched the bounds of reason to come back after the millage failed to say that the public art program is fine and that it shouldn’t be changed.

If it’s the council’s collective priority to publicly fund public art, Lumm said, then it’s up to the council to find some other mechanism to do it besides the Percent for Art program. When the council approved the public art ballot question, Lumm reminded her colleagues, many of them said they were confident that the millage would be approved by voters, but if it didn’t there would be a need to reassess.

Mike Anglin

Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Lumm anticipated hearing that the vote against the millage was somehow really an endorsement of the existing Percent for Art program, or some other convoluted explanation. She hoped that other councilmembers would agree it’s time to terminate the program. She reviewed how her proposed change would terminate the program effective July 1, 2013. Funding to date would remain in the public art fund, she said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) observed that there were questions raised when the council voted to put the millage question on the ballot. There were legitimate questions about what the appropriate funding was. When councilmembers had said if the millage failed it would be time to reassess the public art program, she felt that time was now, and she felt that more time was needed to do that properly.

So Higgins said she wanted to make a motion to lay Lumm’s proposed ordinance changes on the table, then listen to comment on Sabra Briere’s proposal, and then to lay that question on the table as well. She believed that a council committee should be formed to look at both proposals, to find a way to move forward. Ultimately, she said, Lumm was right in that it needed to be explained to the voters. And the council had not done as good a job as it should have. So Higgins moved to table the resolution, which was seconded by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). [At this point, under Robert's Rules of Order, the council should have voted on the tabling, because according to Robert's Rules, a tabling motion is not subject to debate. However, discussion continued.]

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) felt that it’s legitimate for the council to have a discussion on Lumm’s proposal and later on Briere’s. No one at the table disagrees that public art is beneficial to the city, he contended. The only question is the implementation. He noted that the council had previously considered changes to the ordinance with some frequency – reducing the required allocation to 0.5%, for example. He thought the public art commission needed to be asked for a dollar figure along the lines of: “We can supply really good art to the town for this amount of money.”

Anglin described the program as having gotten off to a rough start. It’s good to admit mistakes, he said. He felt that the Allmendinger Park mural was a success. He was less confident about the Dreiseitl fountain. “Just admit a mistake and move on; it’s not a perfect project. I walk past it all the time … What I like about it is its purple colors – I couldn’t say anything else.” [The bronze structure includes flashing blue lights that are meant to evoke falling water.] He said he was disappointed with the price tag. [In total, the project cost nearly $1 million.] He said the voters had given a clear message with their rejection of the 0.1 mill public art tax, so he wondered how the public could now be sold on a public funding mechanism for art.

Mayor John Hieftje felt that Anglin’s comments supported the idea of tabling the issue.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said that when the public art millage was placed on the ballot, two problems were identified with the existing approach: (1) the money has to be linked thematically to the fund paying for the project; and (2) art that’s paid for through the program has to be monumental and permanent.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) before the council meeting started. The public art millage ballot question was pushed forward by Taylor over the advice of the larger arts community.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) before the Nov. 19 council meeting started. The public art millage ballot question was pushed forward by Taylor over the advice of the larger arts community.

Given that the millage failed, to maintain the existing public art program is problematic, Kailasapathy said. She felt that would undermine the electoral process. She believed that the council should have repealed the existing millage and then put a “clean” proposal before the voters. But the council did not do that. She called the approach the council had taken as “playing games.” She thought that now the council should repeal the ordinance. No one is trying to say that art isn’t valuable, she said.

Hieftje noted that the discussion should focus on the tabling, not the merits of the ordinance revisions.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said she was inclined to think about what it means when voters rejected the millage. She was hesitant to interpret the no vote on the millage as a vote against art in public places. She also was hesitant to interpret the outcome as a yes vote for the existing Percent for Art program. But she noted that the legal effect of the no vote on the millage was to continue the existing program. She said the existing program is problematic and that the council doesn’t know what was going through the minds of the public when they voted on the public art millage.

Petersen then delivered a broadly supportive statement about art: “… [A]rt happens in Ann Arbor; every single day, art happens.” She indicated she supported tabling the question, and asked that during the period when the question is on the table, the council take the time to consider it. She asked that during the time of the tabling, any future allocations be suspended that would otherwise be required under the public art program. That would give the council the time to consider what the public is thinking. Councilmembers need to review with their constituents how the city should reflect its support for art.

Responding to Petersen’s suggestion immediately to suspend the program, Hieftje noted that even if the proposed ordinance repeal were to pass, it wouldn’t take effect until after June 30, 2013.

Higgins indicated that if both questions were to be tabled and both referred to a council committee, she had a resolution prepared that would implement Petersen’s suggestion – to suspend the allocation of funds required by the current ordinance.

Lumm said she wouldn’t support the tabling. Like Kailasapathy, she believed that in many ways, public dollars for public art gets to the essence of how we view taxpayer funding of services. She did not feel the community was telling the council “to perfume” the existing Percent for Art ordinance.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) didn’t want to address the issue of suspending funding at this time. If the council tables the question, she said, she felt the council would be responding to the message that voters had delivered. Of the voters, 55% said they don’t want a tax on their houses to pay for public art. But 44% actually said they did want to be taxed to support public art. “When we represent our constituents, we don’t only represent those who agree with us; we represent those who disagree with us. We don’t just represent the majority; we represent all the minority voices as well.”

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Paul Fulton, with the city's IT department.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Paul Fulton, with the city’s IT department.

Briere was content to see her resolution tabled as well. One of her concerns, after formulating her proposed ordinance changes, was that there was little opportunity for anyone to weigh in on the possible impact of the changes. She had intended to request a two-month postponement of her own proposal. So she encouraged the tabling of the questions, on the condition that the council held firm on appointing some councilmembers to draft new ordinance revisions – or to decide that this is not the way to go.

Kunselman indicated he’d support tabling because it’s important to discuss everything. He wanted everything discussed, not just tweaking. He noted that he’d been one of the strongest critics of the Percent for Art program, because he doesn’t believe it’s legal to take funds that are designated for other purposes and transfer those funds to support public art. He had voted for the original ordinance in 2007 because of the importance of art in the community. He described himself as caught between a lot of emotions. But he didn’t want to vote it up or down without a little more thought. He noted that little time had elapsed since the vote to reject the public art millage and he didn’t want to speculate about what that rejection meant. He wanted a little more time to see the issue discussed thoughtfully.

Outcome: The vote to table Jane Lumm’s proposal to rescind the city’s public art ordinance was 8-3, with Lumm, Mike Anglin and Sumi Kailasapathy dissenting.

Public Art: Modifying – Briere

Briere led off discussion of her proposed changes by saying she didn’t think another round of discussion was required. She noted that the council had in the past more than once voted on reducing the funding to the public art program, but those proposals had failed. She took that as a reflection of the community’s strong commitment to public art and to the strong commitment to the public funding of art. She moved to table her proposal, in the event a committee could be established that could make recommendations.

Lumm said she was ready to vote on the proposal, indicating she was opposed to tabling the proposal. She noted that some information had been provided by the staff that made clear that Briere’s proposal would have the practical impact of reducing public art funding significantly. She wanted to know what was supposed to happen while the question was tabled.

Briere observed that when the council had voted to table Lumm’s proposal, it had been in the expectation that a committee would be formed to look at the Percent for Art ordinance as well as the ordinance establishing the public art commission and to consider how to go forward from there. It’s possible that the committee’s recommendation would be to eliminate publicly funded art. There would be a lot of divided ideas about the outcome of the election, she said. Considering the issue for a longer time seemed wiser, Briere concluded.

Hieftje ventured that what was being proposed with the eventual tabling of both questions was a task force of five councilmembers.

Higgins said that the charge to that task force would be imperative. Whether to go forward at all would be very important, she said. She felt the committee needs to consider all the options. She also felt it needs to be done in an expeditious manner. The task force that’s appointed should come back to the council with a recommendation, she said. In her opinion, Higgins said, that recommendation “should be a repeal of the current ordinance, and anything that you think is the right thing to move forward with – or not.” She felt that the council is an intelligent body and is interested in what’s in the best interest of Ann Arbor.

Anglin ventured that the task force should have one council representative from each ward.

Public Art: Modifying – Rules

As the council appeared ready to vote on the tabling of Briere’s proposal, city attorney Stephen Postema interjected and appealed to Robert’s Rules – which governs all matters of procedure that are not addressed in the council’s own rule set. He expressed the view that under Robert’s Rules for these circumstances – with two questions about the same subject matter that were potentially to be tabled – it was preferable to table one but to postpone the other, or else to suspend the council’s rules. Postema told Higgins that “… the effect of laying on the table of two items that have the same subject matter, the recommended way to go about it is to call the second one a motion to postpone – that’s under Robert’s Rules – so either way, either suspending the rules on that or calling the second one a motion to postpone may be preferable just for the sake of rules …”

By way of background, it’s not clear to what part of Robert’s Rules Postema’s remarks appealed. The section of the rules on tabling a motion does indicate a prohibition against considering a question on the same subject as one that is already lying on the table [emphasis added]:

Since a motion that has been laid on the table is still within the control of the assembly, no other motion on the same subject is in order that would either conflict with, or present substantially the same question as, the motion that is lying on the table. To consider another motion on the same subject, it is necessary first to take the question from the table and then to move the new proposal as a substitute, or to make whatever other motion is appropriate to the case.

However, if this issue were to have been raised in connection with the city council’s deliberations on Nov. 19, then it would have been proper to raise the point of order immediately when the council reached Briere’s proposal – as Briere’s proposal might have been considered to conflict with Lumm’s, which at that point was already lying on the table. It’s not clear how a council action to postpone Briere’s proposal would have solved the issue of not considering a question with the same subject matter as one already lying on the table. Any discussion of Briere’s proposal at all, including deliberations on postponing it, would appear to violate the prohibition against considering a question with the same subject matter as one already lying on the table.

The Chronicle queried Postema by email for a citation of his contention expressed at the council table that under Robert’s Rules there would be a preference against simply tabling both motions and for either postponing at least one of them or else suspending the council rules. Postema did not provide a citation for that strategy. From his email response:

Section 17 deals with Laying on the Table, and in the standard description as to the particular effects of the motion there is some vague and broad language concerning “motions on the same subject.” For that reason, the waiver of the rules was done as a way to simply allow the motions to table to be used as desired, and to preclude any issue.

The tabling of the two motions was a way to deal with both proposed ordinances in the same way. Any proscription against this obviously would not make sense. Waiver of the rules ensured this was clear.

In the end, it is for Council to use the rules so as to make sense. I did not mean to suggest that postponing the second motion was preferable to waiving the rules, or even required.

My only thought about postponing, was that Robert’s Rules about postponing (Section 11 and 14) don’t have the same language as found in Section 17.

I did not intend to suggest that such a method was preferable to waiving the rules.

Obviously, Robert’s Rules doesn’t state preferences; the language provides procedures. My only intent was to work through those procedures.

A rule that could have been applied during deliberations – but was not – was the fact that motions to table are, under Robert’s Rules, not debatable. Considerable discussion was entertained on both motions to table the public art questions. However, because no councilmember objected to the debate of those motions, the discussion continued without a need to suspend the council rules.

In this the council could be considered to be following the advice of Henry Robert:

In enforcing the rules there is a need for the exercise of tact and good sense. In small assemblies, and especially when the members are unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure, a strict enforcement of the rules is unwise. It is usually a mistake to insist upon technical points, so long as no one is being defrauded of his rights and the will of the majority is being carried out. The rules and customs are designed to help and not to hinder business.

Public Art: Modifying – Finally Tabling

In light of Postema’s suggestion that either Briere’s proposal should be postponed (as opposed to tabled) or the council rules suspended and Briere’s proposal tabled, Higgins was emphatic in wanting to treat the proposals by Lumm and Briere in the same way. So the council voted to suspend the council rules, and Higgins re-introduced the motion to table Briere’s proposal.

Lumm argued again against the tabling. The Percent for Art ordinance didn’t meet her threshold for a taxpayer expenditure, she said. Responding to Briere’s point that 44% of voters had supported the public art millage, she felt that kind of reasoning could be extended to any millage.

Outcome: The council voted 10-1 to table Sabra Briere’s proposal. Dissenting was Jane Lumm.

Public Art: Committee Recommendations?

Higgins then moved to re-open the agenda to add the resolution she’d alluded to during deliberations on the two public art proposals. That was accomplished over the objection of Lumm, who consistently objects to late additions to the council agenda.

It was placed on the agenda in a slot that came a bit later. Higgins read aloud the entire resolution. Key points of the resolution included the suspension of the use of funds for new art projects until April 1, 2013, but it explicitly did not affect projects for which funding had already been approved, like the Kingsley rain garden, or artwork at the East Stadium bridges or Argo Cascades.

The resolution included in its “whereas” clauses a statement that a committee had been appointed to make recommendations on the public art program – but no such committee had up to that point been appointed. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) requested a short recess to sort things out. When the council returned from the break, the consensus was quickly reached to postpone the resolution until Dec. 3, the council’s next meeting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone Marcia Higgins’ resolution until Dec. 3.

Living Wage

The council was asked to consider several amendments to Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance. The main proposed changes to the law – which sets a minimum wage of $12.17/hour for those employers providing health insurance and $13.57/hour for those not providing health insurance – would exempt from the minimum wage requirements those nonprofits that receive funding from the city for human services work.

The current law applies to companies that have contracts with the city for more than $10,000 in a given calendar year, and that employ five or more people (10 or more for nonprofits). The current law also provides an exemption for organizations funded from the city’s community events budget – an exemption put in place to accommodate the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s practice of paying its temporary employees less than the living wage and the city’s desire to fund the festival at a higher level.

Among the other amendments is an increase from $10,000 to $25,000 for the amount of a contract triggering the application of the ordinance. The timeframe would also change from a calendar year to one fiscal year. Also included in the proposed amendments is one that would allow the city administrator to grant a waiver from compliance with the ordinance, instead of requiring the approval of the city council.

At its meeting on Nov. 8, 2012, the council had granted such a waiver to the Community Action Network, which receives funding from the city to do human services work.

At its Sept. 17, 2012 meeting, the council had considered but withdrawn a resolution that appeared to be an attempt to invoke the waiver clause of the ordinance across all nonprofits that receive human services funding from the city. The move was tantamount to revising the city’s ordinance with a simple resolution, which is not a legal way to proceed. The Sept. 17 resolution was prompted by concerns expressed by CAN, although the resolution did not mention that organization explicitly.

The city’s ordinance is likely on dubious legal grounds. A Michigan Supreme Court order from April 7, 2010 left in place an unpublished court of appeals opinion that found a Detroit living wage law to be unenforceable.

Living Wage: Public Comment

Ian Robinson introduced himself as an Ann Arbor resident and a teacher in the University of Michigan’s department of sociology. He also noted that he serves on the board of the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium – an organization he described as one that seeks to encourage state and local governments to purchase supplies from sources that don’t use sweatshop labor.

He told the council he opposed the proposed changes to the living wage ordinance – raising the threshold from $10,000 to $25,000 and the exclusion of nonprofits. The ordinance itself isn’t being eliminated, so he interpreted that to mean that the proposer must not be opposed to the ordinance in principle. He felt that the two changes taken together might substantially reduce the coverage of the ordinance, which he said would not be a good thing. It would be good have some empirical data to determine how many contracts are covered under the ordinance, but he assumed that the changes would be large enough to have a significant impact.

There are several reasons the city shouldn’t want to change the coverage of the ordinance, Robinson said. First, government is bound by rules to take the lowest bid – rules created to prevent corruption. But that can also have the effect of incentivizing bidders to cut costs by paying sub-living wages, which does not serve the larger public. The best way to prevent that from happening is to put something in the bidding process that neutralizes that potential incentive. When nonprofits are working for the city, they shouldn’t be treated differently from any other employer, he said. When companies pay a living wage, it increases the purchasing power of workers, which increases the purchasing power of the community. He allowed that some nonprofits might have to reduce their employment if they have to pay their workers more, but purchasing power would increase.

During the concluding public commentary at the end of the meeting, Michael Benson said that as a student at the University of Michigan, he was glad the issue had been postponed. Commenting on the idea that students don’t need to be paid at the level of the living wage, he said that while it might be true that some students don’t use a wage to support themselves, that wasn’t true of all. About half of the masters degree students at the university receive financial aid, he said. For the half that don’t receive financial aid, it doesn’t mean they don’t need it.

Living Wage: Council Deliberations – Preliminaries

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) led off deliberations by disclosing that she sits on the board of the Neutral Zone, which receives funding through the coordinated process for funding human services in which the city of Ann Arbor participates. [The other partners in the coordinated process are Washtenaw County, the Urban County consortium, United Way, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. For the current 2013 fiscal year, the Neutral Zone was allocated $10,000 from Washtenaw County for its S.C.O.R.E. (School, Career, Opportunities, aRe, Endless) program.] Petersen did not believe that there’s a conflict of interest that would preclude participation in deliberations and voting, but she was declaring the relationship in the event that other councilmembers wanted to vote to excuse her from voting.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that she’s on the on board of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which also receives funding through the coordinated funding process. She stated that she did not think it reflected a conflict of interest. [The funding through the coordinated funding program in FY 2013 was $43,460, which comes from Washtenaw County for a youth mentoring program.]

Lumm reviewed the history of the council’s Sept. 17 agenda item and the wavier granted to the Community Action Network (CAN) on Nov. 8, which she characterized as a “one-off” action. Based on the council’s discussion at the Nov. 8 meeting, Lumm said it was clear that the issue was complex. Lumm said the nonprofit community supports the living wage, but in a challenging economic climate the requirement made it more difficult to maintain programs.

Lumm expressed the view that when the ordinance had been enacted, it could not have been anticipated that it would put the city’s nonprofit partners in this kind of difficulty. The need for the human services provided by nonprofits has continued to grow, Lumm said. Since 2008, city funding for nonprofits has dropped by 11% but the living wage specified by the ordinance has increased 18%. She described the situation as a “squeeze” that was resulting in some nonprofits ignoring the living wage ordinance or causing them to drop programs. Other nonprofits are structuring their budgets in a way that segregates employees who’d be subject to the city’s living wage ordinance so that they’re not funded with city money.

Lumm indicated that her thinking on this issue was guided by trust in nonprofit human services providers that they’ll weigh the right balance on the question of how much to pay their workers.

Living Wage: Council Deliberations – Legal Issues

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) queried about current legal status of the city’s living wage ordinance. City attorney Stephen Postema seemed keen to discredit the idea that there was a significant question as to the legal basis of the city’s living wage ordinance. Referring to a Detroit case, where the Michigan court of appeals found Detroit’s living wage law to be unconstitutional, Postema said that some people begin to cite a case without realizing it may have no broader applicability. Postema then argued that the Detroit case had no binding effect on the city of Ann Arbor, because the court chose not to publish the case.

By way of background, it’s the classification of the case as published versus unpublished that matters, not whether the case is broadly disseminated. In actual practice, however, judges may use the logic and reasoning available in unpublished opinions to inform their thinking about how to correctly analyze a case. And it’s this practical issue that has led many observers to conclude that Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance is not on a solid legal foundation – not a mistaken belief that the unpublished opinion is binding. Attorneys sometimes rely on unpublished opinions to provide advice to their clients, even if those opinions do not impose a binding precedent. For example, Postema relied on an unpublished opinion in advising the city council that a failure to provide unrestricted access to a special meeting posting for an 18-hour period before the meeting – for an Aug. 29, 2011 session – was not a violation of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

In the Detroit living wage case, the court of appeals felt bound by a 1923 Michigan Supreme Court decision that found the regulation of wages to be assigned by the state’s constitution only to the state legislature. [.pdf of court of appeals opinion] Although the court of appeals analyzed that precedent as binding, it expressed frustration that the basis of the 1923 decision – the Michigan state constitution – had changed since then. Specifically, the court of appeals cited a change to Section 34 of Article 7:

The provisions of this constitution and law concerning counties, townships, cities and villages shall be liberally construed in their favor. Powers granted to counties and townships by this constitution and by law shall include those fairly implied and not prohibited by this constitution.

On that basis, the court of appeals expressed the view that the state Supreme Court should review the case: “…we respectfully urge our Supreme Court to revisit Lennane [the 1923 decision] and reconsider whether the rule therein continues to have a place in today’s jurisprudence. ”

However, a Michigan Supreme Court order from April 7, 2010 declined to hear the appeal on the Detroit living wage case, leaving the court of appeals ruling to stand in that case – a result that’s led many observers to conclude that a challenge to Ann Arbor’s living wage law would be struck down at least initially and would require an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court to maintain it. As a practical matter, that kind of challenge is unlikely to come from the set of nonprofits to which the city provides human services funding.

In his remarks to the council, Postema characterized the Detroit living wage case as “sort of a historic relic.” The general rule, Postema said, is that an unpublished case has no precedential effect. Postema said that in his view, the court of appeals was not required to follow the 1923 Supreme Court precedent that it felt it was bound to follow. The Supreme Court, Postema said, had allowed the unpublished case to stand, which left people to wonder about it, and to “spread information about it that is sometimes incorrect,” he said.

Left to right: city administrator Steve Powers and CFO Tom Crawford

Left to right: city administrator Steve Powers and CFO Tom Crawford.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked about the city’s enforcement of its ordinance. The city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, explained that enforcement is based on complaints – which are forwarded to the city’s purchasing office when someone believes there’s a violation of the city’s living wage ordinance. In the last couple of years, he said, he was aware of one complaint, which had been investigated and found not to be a violation. Responding to follow-up from Kunselman, Crawford confirmed that enforcement is complaint-driven and that he wasn’t aware of any complaints that found a violation – but he couldn’t speak to the entire 10-year period since the ordinance had been enacted.

Kunselman followed up with Postema on the enforcement question. Postema said there’d not been enforcement action, although he’d heard some allegations. He wasn’t aware of any violations.

Living Wage: Council Deliberations – Continued

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) recalled that she had worked for a nonprofit, and when that organization had a contract with the city, it had to agree to pay the living wage, post the current living wage amount on bulletin boards where it could be read, and to report what wages it was paying to the city. She had written those reports, so she remembered it, Briere said.

So Briere wanted to establish that the lack of enforcement activity that Crawford and Postema had described did not mean there’d been a failure to ask for that documentation. Crawford returned to his point that the process was primarily complaint driven – and if the purchasing office does become aware of something, they do pursue enforcement. “We will not contract with an organization that is not in compliance,” he said. He was not sure how many companies might start the bidding process and not finish it because they weren’t in compliance – but was not aware that it was a large or frequent number.

Briere imagined from Crawford’s remarks that few complaints had been received and that no contracts had been cancelled as a result of proving a case that an organization wasn’t paying the living wage. Briere ventured that the city required the same thing from for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Crawford responded by saying that the city is very clear about its requirements. Briere concluded that it would be misleading to say that the city has not enforced the ordinance. Crawford provided some support for Briere’s comment by saying he was aware of some companies saying they would not submit a bid because of the city’s living wage requirement. In terms of “enforcement,” Crawford said, the city documents well what it expects, and that results in companies sometimes deciding not to pursue a contract. Briere finished out her speaking turn by saying she was happy the city did not have sufficient staff to go look at every contractor’s books to verify living wage compliance.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) mentioned that during the council’s previous deliberations on Nov. 8, there’d been a lot of discussion of part-time and seasonal positions. She observed that there was no mention of that kind of position in the ordinance revisions.

Lumm responded to Teall by re-stating that the ordinance revisions address a category of nonprofits – those that receive funding from the city to do human services work – that also tend to hire part-time and seasonal workers to do a lot of their work.

Teall noted that the exemption granted to those nonprofits is not limited to just positions that are part-time, seasonal or temporary. Lumm confirmed that was the case and compared it to the 2008 revision to the ordinance that exempted those organizations that are funded from the community events fund.

Kunselman noted that the proposed ordinance revision exempted a class of organizations. He wondered if that violated the equal protection clause of the constitution. Postema offered to provide further information on that before the council considered the ordinance at second reading. Postema said there needs to be a reason for exempting a particular class of organization.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked if Lumm’s intention was to deal with the issue on a contractual basis. Some back-and-forth then took place between Anglin, Lumm, and Mary Jo Callan – director of the city/county office of community and economic development, which oversees the coordinated funding process. The discussion centered around Anglin’s question about handling things at a contractual level. Anglin asked if the idea was that a nonprofit would approach the city and say that due to economic hardships, they were proposing that the living wage would not be paid to a specific list of employees: “We’re going to hire 15 employees to teach reading at this pay scale.” He ventured that this would be clear, if it were included in the contract signed by a human services nonprofit. Anglin wanted to know if that was the kind of mechanism that was being proposed.

Callan responded by saying that she was not sure she understood the question – as all the work is done through contracts. Anglin observed that CAN had come back and said it couldn’t fulfill the contract – so he wanted to know if this was now the proposed vehicle that would be used. Callan said that as far as the mechanism goes – by which a nonprofit would share its hardship – she explained that a nonprofit completes a “self-survey” indicating that it’s paying the living wage. In order to execute a contract, she explained, the nonprofit has to self-certify that it’s paying the living wage. In the case of CAN, that triggered a process of applying for a waiver.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated she didn’t think the intent was to exempt all employees for a nonprofit. She’d heard from some people who were part of the effort to establish a living wage 10 years ago, who were really concerned about exempting a whole class of employers. The ordinance was aimed in part exactly at these nonprofits, Higgins said. If the council was going to say that the living wage didn’t apply to certain kinds of workers, she said, that would have to be spelled out in the ordinance. It’s not something that can be done administratively, Higgins said.

Higgins ventured that she and mayor John Hieftje were the only two councilmembers still serving on the council who had voted to establish the living wage ordinance. A concern at the time was that everything looks great on paper, but after implementation there might be some evidence that the council didn’t get it right. But at the time the council felt that they’d hear about it if the nonprofits were being harmed by the living wage ordinance. After implementation, the council hadn’t heard that the living wage ordinance was doing harm to the nonprofits. She indicated that the issue was supposed to be monitored, but she was not aware that the question of harm to nonprofits had been pursued. Higgins felt that Lumm had brought up a good issue, but she was not ready to move forward with it.

Callan responded to Higgins by indicating that the question of the possible harm to nonprofits done by the living wage ordinance has not been revisited. Higgins indicated her disappointment at that.

Higgins said she was dismayed about what CAN executive director Joan Doughty said at the council’s previous meeting about many nonprofits who receive funding from the city for human services work. Doughty had indicated that many nonprofits are not paying the living wage to some of their workers. So Higgins wanted to know what the checks-and-balances process was.

Callan echoed the description that Crawford had given, saying that the process is complaint-driven. It’s basically the honor system, she said. There’s not a separate monitoring process for the living wage. When her office monitors an agency, they look for the living-wage poster that’s supposed to be placed in a visible spot, but Callan said her office doesn’t monitor every agency every year. Callan said she thinks that nonprofits are paying the living wage – because she hears how “tortured” they are as a consequence of having to pay it. Nonprofits take contracts with the city or county seriously, she said. She allowed it was possible that there were some nonprofits that did not pay the living wage.

Higgins said that based on the council’s Nov. 8 deliberations on CAN’s request for a waiver, it seemed that after CAN submitted its letter requesting a waiver, the request had languished. It was Higgins’ understanding that Callan had people in her office who could help put together a business plan for compliance with the living wage – a plan that would not just be the dire things a nonprofit would do. [This was an allusion to CAN's compliance plan, which was critiqued along those lines at the council's Nov. 8 meeting.]

Callan told Higgins that the expectation of help from her office with a business plan is an appropriate one. She allowed that CAN’s application for a waiver did languish and she took that on her shoulders. She said that CAN’s plan was written with strategic intent, which was separate from offers to work on sustainability and capacity building. Higgins said she appreciated Callan’s candor.

Before the meeting, Sumi Kailasapathy gets a hug of support from Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi.

Before the meeting, Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) gets a hug of support from Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi, who was re-elected on Nov. 6 to represent District 8 in Ann Arbor.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) observed that the living wage is supposed to help the most vulnerable – so she wanted to know if an exemption from the living wage applied to just the lowest-paid workers, or if there was a wage freeze across the board. Callan responded by saying that the exemption sought by CAN was the first one to be requested – and her office doesn’t certify that an organization cannot pay the living wage, but rather only that they are paying it. If the organization certifies that it’s paying the living wage, then she executes the contract.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) noted that the current hourly rates specified in the city’s living wage ordinance [$12.17/hour for those employers providing health insurance and $13.57/hour for those not providing health insurance] worked out to about $24,000-26,000 annually for a full-time employee. Callan confirmed for Warpehoski that such an employee would be eligible for support through the city’s human services nonprofits. She said that most people who work in the nonprofit sector would be eligible for such services, as would many city and county workers.

Kunselman wanted to hear why it took so long for any nonprofit to seek a waiver from the living wage ordinance. Was it because the process is so arduous? He wondered if it would solve the problem to tweak the ordinance – by exempting just part-time or seasonal employees. He felt that might be a better way to go. Together with the proposed ordinance revision to allow the city administrator to grant an exemption, he felt that would result in a greater use of exemptions and better compliance.

Callan told Kunselman that the nonprofit sector is squarely in favor of the living wage – and no director of a nonprofit wants to stand in front of the cameras and say, “I don’t want to pay the living wage.” Kunselman wondered if granting an exemption for nonprofits’ seasonal workers would create an incentive to hire seasonal workers. Callan’s response indicated that she didn’t think so, noting that the nonprofit sector is about empowering people.

Living Wage: Council Deliberations – Who Supports?

Hieftje indicated he couldn’t support the ordinance revision. The issue had been the subject of great discussion when the ordinance was passed. He reiterated Warpehoski’s point that someone who’s making the living wage qualifies for human services. One of the big worries at the time was that exclusion of part-time workers would encourage the hiring of those workers to get around the ordinance requirements. He observed that it’s taken “all these years” before a nonprofit asked for an exemption, yet the council was now discussing major changes to the ordinance. Many people who work for human services organizations are themselves on the edge of being clients, he said.

Hieftje then responded to criticism that the city has exempted itself from the living wage ordinance. But he contended that the city had recognized that it could get on a path to bring those workers up to a living wage standard, and gave two examples of having done that: workers at the materials recovery facility (MRF) and employees who work in the public parking system.

[In neither case were city employees at issue. For example, in September 2004, the council reopened a contract with FCR Casella, the private operator of the city’s materials recovery facility (MRF), in order to undertake a $5.6 million expansion of Ann Arbor’s recycling facilities. The contract with FCR – which extends to 2015 – thus became subject to the living wage ordinance. FCR was not willing to come into compliance, so the city council agreed to pay the wage differential. In the case of the public parking system, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is responsible for its oversight, and contracts with Republic Parking, a private firm. For more background on the city's decision not to abide by the levels set forth in the living wage ordinance for the workers it hires directly, see "Living Wage: In-sourcing City Temps."]

Hieftje characterized the changes as chipping away at the living wage ordinance, thus weakening it as a standard of pay.

Lumm elicited from Crawford that fact that a company in Texas had inquired about responding to a city contract for call center work. The company had pointed out that the cost of living in Texas was different than in Ann Arbor. Crawford said the company had been told that this was nevertheless the city ordinance. He didn’t recall if the company had bid on the contract, but he didn’t think so.

Some back and forth between Teall and Lumm focused on the previous exemption – which does not name the Ann Arbor Summer Festival but rather any organization that receives funding from the city’s community events fund.

Teall called it a difficult vote and wanted to look more seriously at limiting it to part-time, temporary employees. What made her inclined to support the changes is the difference between nonprofits and for-profit entities.

Briere returned to her perspective of having worked in the nonprofit sector, saying the impact of being paid a living wage was enormous. Knowing that you were one step above poverty was better than being paid a minimum wage, she said. For people who had to support children, the extra couple of dollars an hour made a tremendous difference. Most people who work for nonprofits didn’t do it for the money, she said, but rather because they are passionate about what they are doing. Briere noted that a question had come up at the council’s previous discussion about the applicability of the living wage ordinance to college students – with an accompanying assumption that college students are wealthy. Briere felt that a college student who was doing an internship at a nonprofit was not necessarily wealthy. Briere indicated she wasn’t inclined to support the ordinance revisions.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2)

Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

Petersen indicated she’d be inclined to take it to second reading, with a focus on seasonal or part-time employees. A nonprofit is a professional business organization like any for-profit enterprise, she allowed, but she didn’t think that a consequence of an exemption would be to lowball salaries. Nonprofits know that employees can go elsewhere. She’s concerned that nonprofits might meet the living wage requirement by cutting services.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) echoed the sentiments of Petersen, agreeing that there’s tension between an important social justice issue and the need to maximize services. People should receive a living wage, he said, but he wasn’t certain that the proposed revisions were exactly the best means to support it. However, he indicated support for advancing the revisions to a second reading.

Kunselman indicated he’d support moving the proposed living wage ordinance changes to a second reading but wouldn’t support the changes as written, characterizing them as too far reaching. He wanted to look for ways of finding a middle ground on part-time and seasonal workers. He characterized as a failure of the ordinance the fact that there’s been only one nonprofit has applied for an exemption waiver in 10 years. He looked forward to discussing amendments that deal with the exemption section – like giving the city administrator the authority to grant exemptions.

Kailasapathy also indicated her support to move the changes to a second reading. She indicated she didn’t worry as much about a nonprofit taking unfair advantage of workers as she might about a for-profit company.

Anglin ventured that many nonprofits have left the field. He said he receives much more mail soliciting donations than he ever has before. He noted that the council has directed nonprofits to share resources and has asked them to get lean. Callan noted that she’d only been working in the county/city office for community and economic development for five years – but she’s seen a handful of nonprofits become defunct.

Warpehoski ventured that a lot of unanswered questions remain, some related to whether workers are part-time or seasonal. The council had heard from CAN that their after-school workers weren’t in need of being paid a living wage, because they weren’t trying to make a living. He felt like this would be a difficult issue to address. He wondered if it would be possible to refer the question to a committee of councilmembers or others and work it out.

Hieftje told Warpehoski that there were several options. The ordinance changes could be passed at first reading with a second reading and public hearing set two months from now. He also said if the ordinance changes were voted down, then the issue might continue to simmer for quite some time.

Left to right: Paul Fulton, with the city's IT department, and Chuc Warpehoski (Ward 5)

Left to right: Paul Fulton, with the city’s IT department, and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

Briere picked up on Warpehoski’s suggestion and wondered if there were a committee that would normally review a matter like this. Lumm responded to Briere by saying that when she and Sandi Smith had brought forward the Sept. 17 resolution, they’d done so as city council liaisons to the housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB). That’s a discussion that would be continuing at HHSAB, Lumm said. [Sandi Smith formerly was a councilmember representing Ward 1, but she did not seek re-election this year.]

Briere got Hieftje to confirm that the council’s action on the ordinance revisions could be delayed and referred to a committee or commission.

Briere noted that in the five years she’s served on the city council, the council has endeavored to hold steady on human services funding. But if you hold steady, you are losing ground, she said. The problem is that Ann Arbor is expensive. Part of the reason the living wage ordinance was enacted was because of the expense of living in Ann Arbor. She noted that the city is funding human services less fully than what might be ideal, but the solution is not to cut wages, she said.

Higgins asked Crawford what the current funding level for human services is. Working from memory, he said that it was around $1.3 million. Higgins recalled in the early 2000s the city was allocating around $1.1 million. And Mike Reid, who represented Ward 2 at the time, had led a move to raise that allocation by $250,000. Higgins noted that the human services funding comes from the city’s general fund. She wouldn’t look to lower it, but wanted to observe that Ann Arbor is one of the few communities in the state that funds human services at all.

Higgins still had some real questions, and expressed a desire to have HHSAB weigh in on the question. She suggested a postponement until the council’s second meeting in February to give HHSAB a chance to do that. Callan indicated that some amount of time would be needed to weigh in and offer recommendations. A consensus quickly emerged at the table to postpone the question of revising the living wage, with a request that HHSAB give the council advice on the subject.

Outcome: Consideration of the changes to the ordinance was unanimously postponed until the second council meeting in February 2013 and referred to the city’s housing and human services advisory board for more study in the meantime.

Towing Ordinance

The council was asked to give initial approval to a change to the city’s towing ordinance that makes it more difficult to store cars on the streets of Ann Arbor.

The city’s current strategy – of placing notices on cars that give owners 48 hours to move their vehicles – appears to be thwarted by people who simply push their vehicles a few feet. The proposed change in the ordinance would address directly the issue of whether a vehicle is operable, in part by adding the following language:

If a vehicle appears to be inoperative based on outward appearance or otherwise appears to not have been driven after a 48 hour notice has been affixed to the vehicle pursuant to section 10:136, the city administrator or his/her delegate may demand that the registered owner demonstrate that the vehicle is operative. Failure or refusal to demonstrate that the vehicle is operative shall be considered conclusive proof that the vehicle is inoperative.

Towing: Council Deliberations

The scant deliberations on the ordinance included a request from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) that both ordinance sections that were being changed should be mentioned in the agenda item.

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Ann Arbor firefighter Amy Brow and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Ann Arbor firefighter Amy Brow, and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Kunselman wanted to highlight a change to the heading of an ordinance section, from “Abandoned Vehicles” to “Storage of Vehicles.” Kunselman felt that the word “abandoned” created confusion. What’s really being addressed is not people abandoning vehicles, but rather people using the city streets as storage, by leaving them longer than the 48 hours allowed by state law.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) added that the ordinance change is meant to tackle one set of problems related to towing. The council is not trying to legislate relationships among neighbors, she said.

Outcome: The council gave unanimous initial approval to the changes to the towing ordinance.

Noise Ordinance

The council was asked to give initial approval of a change that strengthens the city’s noise ordinance. The amendments to the ordinance, sponsored by Ward 3 councilmember Christopher Taylor, were related to the now-completed construction of The Landmark at 601 S. Forest, an apartment building located in Ward 3. Construction noise was one of several aspects of the construction activity that came under sharp criticism at the council’s Oct. 1, 2012 meeting from nearby resident Eleanor Linn. Linn also addressed the council at the Nov. 19 meeting.

The revision adds language to the text of the ordinance to make clear that the ordinance can be enforced against those in a supervisory capacity – people who are causing the work to be done that is generating the noise, not just the workers who are operating the equipment causing the noise:

The persons to whom this subsection applies shall include, but not be limited to, construction managers, foremen, property owners, developers, contractors, and subcontractors who direct, order, require, authorize, or commission another person to perform these activities in a manner that violates this section. If the person is an entity, this subsection shall also apply to the officers, directors, partners, limited liability company members, or other individuals constituting such entity.

The revision also explicitly adds legal holidays to the time during which excessive noise levels caused by construction activity are prohibited:

Construction, repair, remodeling, demolition, drilling or excavation work at any time on Sunday or a legal holiday and between 8:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Monday-Saturday …”

Legal holidays are defined in the ordinance as “New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Veterans’ Day, Christmas Day.”

Noise Ordinance: Public Comment

Eleanor Linn reprised comments she’d made at the council’s Oct. 1, 2012 meeting about her experience living near to the site of the Landmark building construction, which was recently completed.

Residents Eleanor Linn and Marc Gerstein chat with Christopher Taylor before the meeting.

Residents Eleanor Linn and Marc Gerstein chat with councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) before the council’s Nov. 19 meeting.

She supported the amendments to the noise ordinance, and related specific anecdotes that supported the two revisions. On Memorial Day she was awoken at 7 a.m. by construction noise, and learned that the code doesn’t explicitly state that holidays are to be treated just like Sundays.

And on another occasion, when construction noise was continuing past the time limit, a police officer was reluctant to issue a ticket – because the citation would go to the person doing the work, not the supervisor. Linn thanked Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), in whose ward the construction took place, for moving the ordinance change forward.

Noise Ordinance: Council Deliberations

Taylor summarized the changes to the ordinance, characterizing them as modest but important for residents who are affected by construction activity.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the revisions to the noise ordinance. To be enacted, the initial approval by the council will need to be followed by a second approval at a subsequent meeting, following a public hearing.

Sidewalk for Scio Church Road

The council was asked to authorize $15,000 to pay for a study of alternatives to filling a gap in Ann Arbor’s sidewalk system along Scio Church Road. The area of study will extend from Maple Road to Delaware Drive. [.pdf of map showing area to be studied]

Around 75 residents submitted a petition to the city in August requesting that the lack of sidewalks along the stretch be addressed. Margie Teall (Ward 4), in whose ward the stretch is located, mentioned the lack of sidewalks along Scio Church during deliberations at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting. At that meeting the council considered, but rejected, a proposal from Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to enact a general plan to fund a program for eliminating sidewalk gaps.

On approval of the project budget, city staff are supposed to develop conceptual alternatives and rough cost estimates. Those alternatives and costs will then be presented at a public meeting for discussion and input. After getting that feedback, city staff would make a recommendation to the council and possibly proceed with development of a final design.

Sidewalk for Scio: Public Commentary

Peter Hauk introduced himself as a resident of the Churchill Downs neighborhood. He had circulated a petition asking that a sidewalk be installed on a stretch of Scio Church Road near his neighborhood. Seventy-five of his neighbors had signed the petition, he said. A lot has changed since the neighborhood was built. More residents live west of town, which means there’s more traffic along Scio Church. Important destinations are nearby, like the Ice Cube and the Pittsfield branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Lately there are a lot of young kids in the neighborhood, including his two daughters, Hauk said. On his court there are eight houses, and there are 10 kids under the age of 18, he reported. There had been only one child under 18 when he moved into the house 12 years ago. He’s looking forward to a time when his kids and everyone else in the neighborhood have a safe pedestrian route to nearby destination. So he asked the council for their support of the resolution.

During public commentary at the end of the meeting, Michael Benson spoke more to the general issue of sidewalks. As the city replaces sidewalk slabs, he said, it might be worth looking at inserting re-bar in the slabs to improve durability.

Sidewalk for Scio: Council Deliberations

Margie Teall (Ward 4) noted that the resolution simply established a process to look at how a sidewalk might be installed and authorized a budget for a study. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she supported the resolution and noted that there was a demand for a lot of sidewalks in a variety of locations. Ann Arbor is lucky that in a town that was not really built for pedestrians, she said, so many people want to be able to walk to their destinations.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the Scio Church sidewalk study.

Environmental Commission Nomination

Patti Smith was nominated as a replacement for John Koupal on Ann Arbor’s environmental commission (EC) – for a three-year term. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), the current Ann Arbor city council appointee to the commission, put Smith’s nomination forward. The commission provides advice to the city council on “environmental policy, environmental issues and environmental implications of all City programs and proposals on the air, water, land and public health.” Smith’s educational background is as an attorney, and she now works in the field of special education.

Unlike the majority of nominations to city commissions and boards, which are made by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, the environmental commission nominations are made by the council. The vote on Smith’s appointment will come at the council’s next meeting, on Dec. 3.

When the council arrived at the mayoral nominations on the agenda – which are placed toward the end of the meeting – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that there was a “Patti Smith” who was included as a nominee to the recreation advisory committee (RAC). She wanted to know if this was the same person as the Patti Smith who had been nominated to serve on the environmental commission. Mayor John Hieftje indicated that it was the same person, saying “she is eager to serve.”

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) then noted that Smith already serves on the city’s commission on disability issues, which is listed on her application. Also listed on her application is an interest to serve on the historic district commission. Petersen observed that Smith was being nominated to serve on two bodies – RAC and EC – that were not listed on her application for service. [It emerged in subsequent conversation that the city uses a single one-size-fits-all application form.] While Smith might be eager to serve, Petersen wondered if there might be a limit to the number of boards and commissions someone can serve on.

In support of Smith’s nomination to the environmental commission, which was not listed on Smith’s application, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that when the vacancy on the EC had been announced several months ago, Smith had immediately contacted Briere and indicated her interest in serving on that commission. It had taken some time for the council to move forward with that, but in that time Smith’s eagerness to serve on the environmental commission had not diminished, Briere said. She allowed that it’s unusual to find someone who’s willing to take on as big a load as Smith is, but Briere did not feel that indicates an inability to do the work.

Outcome: The council is expected to vote on Smith’s appointment at its Dec. 3 meeting.

Call for Accountability: AATA

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) took advantage of the final agenda slot assigned to council communications – toward the end of the meeting – to pick up on a topic the council had discussed at its previous meeting: opting out of the newly-incorporated transit authority. [The new transit authority, called the Washtenaw Ride, was incorporated on Oct. 3. After several jurisdictions exercised their right to opt out within a 30-day window, the city of Ann Arbor followed that lead, and itself chose to opt out of the authority that it had been expected to help move forward.]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Kunselman said he wanted to point out some problems related to the communication that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had sent out.

A letter dated Sept. 28, 2012 – sent to the city of Ann Arbor as well as all other jurisdictions in the county – stated that requests to withdraw from the new transit authority after Nov. 2 would be null and void. [That timing was keyed to a 30-day window starting from Oct. 3, 2012, when the new authority was incorporated.] A follow-up communication from the AATA and Washtenaw County indicated that the first letter had raised a legal question and that additional time would be given. The letter from the Washtenaw County administrator had indicated that the first letter was not the official 30-day notice.

By way of background, the contrast that Kunselman was highlighting were the following two passages from the respective letters. From the AATA’s letter:

A legal question has been raised recently regarding the 30-day withdrawal period. Out of an abundance of caution, it has been decided to provide communities with additional time to make their decision to participate or withdraw from the transit authority. It is likely that this will result in new notices being sent out to all communities on or about Nov. 3, 2012, starting a new 30-day withdraw period. [.pdf of AATA Oct. 19, 2012 letter]

And from Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel:

The letter dated Oct. 3 was sent by AATA, not the new TA [transit authority]; as such, it was not the official notice under Public Act 196 which triggers the 30-day opt out period. [.pdf of Washtenaw County administrator Nov. 5, 2012 letter]

In his subsequent remarks, Kunselman ventured the possibility that the intent of the AATA in sending out the letters specifying an earlier deadline of Nov. 2 was to prevent the new edition of the Ann Arbor city council from voting to opt out of the transit authority. [A deadline of Nov. 2 – if accurate – would have also precluded the prior council's Nov. 8, 2012 vote to opt out of the new transit authority.]

In his remarks, Kunselman said he was bringing this topic up because he’s deeply concerned about the professionalism of the AATA. The AATA’s letter, which was sent to every elected official in Washtenaw County, was “deeply embarrassing” to him. The AATA’s follow-up letter reflects a lack of accountability for the error, Kunselman said. It wasn’t the case that the AATA could extend the deadline, Kunselman said, but rather that the AATA had no authority to send the letter with that deadline. “Yet we continue as if nothing had happened … When we see this level of incompetence, in my opinion, it needs to be addressed.”

He said he didn’t have anything specific in mind as a way to address the issue. [One option he has reportedly weighed is to ask for the resignation of all AATA board members.] But he wanted to see something that shows the AATA leadership is cognizant of the error, that shows humility, and that will “restore the credibility of their way.” He stated that he does not have the confidence in the AATA’s leadership to move forward with the council’s direction given at the Nov. 8 meeting to work with other urbanized communities to improve transit.

The AATA has yet to “make amends” for the error, Kunselman said, and until the AATA makes amends, he’s deeply embarrassed as an elected official of Ann Arbor who has to oversee the AATA leadership. He again indicated that he did not have an answer but had some ideas. He noted that Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had suggested at the previous meeting that the city council should meet with the AATA leadership – and Kunselman said that could take place in the context of some kind of work session.

The AATA needs to own up to the error that it made and recognize that they had no authority to write that letter, Kunselman said. When he saw the sentence about the Nov. 2 deadline, he said, it “just sent chills down [his] spine” because he knew that it was not true.

He said the AATA needs to do something to restore credibility to the organization. Until the issue is resolved, he won’t have any confidence in the AATA. He noted that one of the AATA board members is also a city staff member – Eli Cooper, who would have occasion to appear before the council as the city’s transportation program manager.

Kunselman stated that he would ask Cooper whenever he had the opportunity at council meetings: Did you have the authority to send out that letter? He’d also ask if there was an intent to send out that letter in order to close the 30-day opt-out window so that the new edition of the council would not have the opportunity to opt out. Kunselman then revealed a larger point to his remarks, saying to mayor John Hieftje: “Mayor, I have to put this on your lap, because you are the one who appoints these AATA leaders, and I think we should somehow deal with it.” [The mayor makes nominations, but the entire council votes on those appointments. Kunselman voted against confirmation of Cooper.]

Following up on Kunselman’s remarks, Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said she’d received several requests from residents for accountability from the AATA. She wanted to know how much it cost for the planning, marketing and advertising for the countywide effort.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Ann Arbor Mayor Pro Tem

On the council’s agenda was the election of a mayor pro tem and the order of succession to the mayor. According to the city charter, the Ann Arbor city council must elect from its members a mayor pro tem “at its first meeting after the newly elected members have taken office following each regular city election …” That meeting was Nov. 19 – the first meeting for new councilmembers who won their seats in the Nov. 6 general election.

Mayor John Hieftje and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Mayor John Hieftje and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

New councilmembers include: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5). Petersen won the August Democratic primary against incumbent Tony Derezinski, while Kailasapathy and Warpehoski won their respective Democratic primaries against Eric Sturgis and Vivienne Armentrout, when incumbents Sandi Smith and Carsten Hohnke did not seek re-election. Petersen and Kailasapathy were unopposed in the general election, while Warpehoski prevailed against Republican Stuart Berry.

The mayor pro tem acts as mayor when the elected mayor is unable to do so. Mayor John Hieftje won election on Nov. 6 for a seventh term, against independent Albert Howard. When acting as the mayor, the mayor pro tem enjoys all duties and responsibilities of mayor except that of the power of veto. With respect to other duties and responsibilities of the mayor as compared with other councilmembers, they consist largely of serving as emergency manager, making nominations to boards and commissions, presiding over meetings, and fulfilling a ceremonial function.

The mayor pro tem’s salary is the same as other councilmembers – $15,913 per year. Although the local officers compensation commission recommended in 2007 that the mayor pro tem be given additional compensation, the city council that year rejected that part of the commission’s recommendation.

The order of succession to the mayor considered by the council adhered to the same principles as it has for the last several years. It’s seniority-based with a secondary sorting based on alphabetical order by last name. The order of succession, with the councilmember’s year of election, is as follows: Margie Teall (Ward 4 – 2002), Mike Anglin (Ward 5 – 2007), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 – 2007), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3 – 2008), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3 – 2009), Jane Lumm (Ward 2 – 2011), Sally Hart Petersen (Ward 2 – 2012), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1 – 2012), and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5 – 2012).

The nomination of Higgins as mayor pro tem was put forward by Taylor. She has served in that capacity since Christopher Easthope left the council in 2008.

Except for Higgins’ observation that the compensation for mayor pro tem is the same as for other councilmembers – despite some perception to the contrary – there was no discussion on the question.

Councilmembers were sworn in without incident.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to adopt the order of succession and to have Higgins serve as mayor pro tem.

Communications and Comment

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

Comm/Comm: Divestment from Israel

Blaine Coleman passed out a copy of an Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) resolution passed in 2003 that called for arms divestment and cessation of U.S. military aid to Israel. Coleman note that newly-elected Ward 5 councilmember Chuck Warpehoski is executive director of ICPJ, which Coleman described as the only visible peace group in Ann Arbor. Coleman said he wanted to put Warpehoski on the spot and ask him when he was going to enforce the resolution. The resolution pledges the ICPJ to push the city of Ann Arbor to divest from companies that support the Israeli military.

Coleman continued by saying that right then that night, “Israel is bludgeoning Gaza.” He described the situation as the fourth biggest military on earth attacking a tiny helpless strip of land populated by 1.5 million people “packed like sardines” in a tiny space. He called on the city council to boycott the “apartheid state of Israel.” The billions of dollars of aid that have been given to Israel should instead be spent on rebuilding Detroit and the cities of the U.S., he said. Coleman characterized cited a statement he attributed to an Israeli official – stating that Israel would bomb Gaza back to the Middle Ages – as a “Nazi statement.” and said in his opinion that  Israel is a Nazi state.

[Coleman has a lawsuit pending against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for refusing to run an advertisement on the sides of its buses that states, "Boycott 'Israel.'" The initial substantive ruling in the case was in Coleman's favor, when the judge granted a motion for injunctive relief. But the nature of that relief – which could include forcing the AATA to run the ad – has not yet been determined.]

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani addressed the council on the same topic as Coleman. [Chronicle archives indicate that she last appeared before the council on July 6, 2010.] She told the council she was there after a long absence, but said she still recognized many of their faces. She drew a laugh when she told them flatly: “You have all gotten a lot older.” She added that to their shame, however, they’d done nothing to stop the genocide of the Palestinian people. She had consistently tried to get the city to boycott Israel, so she had something to show for her age, she said. Today children in Gaza are being bombed – and many parents are mourning the death of their children. She was hopeful that Warpehoski would spearhead a city-wide boycott of Israel and stop arming Israel so that it’s no longer able “to slaughter children.” She asked the council to pass a resolution that called for the cessation of military aid to Israel.

Henry Herskovitz delivered commentary on Israel’s Law of Return. He described the law as granting the right of Jews anywhere in the world to “return” and gain citizenship there. The term “return” indicates a claim that Jews lived in the region thousands of years ago. He then went through some arguments that he said showed that there was no basis for the contention that Jews were expelled from the region, which would justify the notion of “return.”

Comm/Comm: Coordinated Funding

Lily Au told the council that she had three items she wanted to talk to them about. The first was that a traffic light is needed on Huron Parkway. The second was a request for a warming center – which is needed, she said, because many people are turned away from the Delonis Center. The third item was a criticism of the coordinated funding approach the city uses to support human services. She contended that it’s not a moral policy and she accused the United Way of paying its staff inappropriately high salaries.

Comm/Comm: City-Owned Property

Alan Haber greeted the new councilmembers by saying that he hoped it was a creative period for them. He said that some same-old questions persist – for example, about the future of the city-owned Library Lane site above new underground parking garage.

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Alan Haber.

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Alan Haber.

People want a public place there, Haber said, but the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s committee has not entertained any notion of a park or an expansion of the small concrete space that had been part of a conference center proposal. [Haber was referring to an advisory committee formed as part of the DDA's Connecting William Street initiative.] He contended that the DDA’s committee had totally stonewalled all comment that supported the development of the Library Lane as a public place. Haber hoped that the council would send back whatever report it received from the DDA’s committee with a request that a public space be considered with various amenities.

Haber also noted that freezing weather is approaching and it will be a hardship for homeless people. He contended that the city-owned building at 721 N. Main could be rehabbed for a community center, with no city expense.

Comm/Comm: Council Rules

During the period for public commentary at the end of the meeting, Michael Benson suggested that the council consider reviewing its rules on speaking and reserved time at the start of the meeting. There’s a priority list, he noted, for people to speak on agenda items as opposed to items that are not on the agenda. He essentially suggested that this priority ranking be further refined so that agenda items on which the council is taking action get higher priority than those where the council is not voting on something.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.

Next council meeting: Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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AATA Lawsuit Update: Motion Hearing Thu, 19 Apr 2012 23:18:54 +0000 Chronicle Staff U.S District judge Mark Goldsmith heard motions today, April 19, 2012, at the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, in Flint, Michigan, on a lawsuit filed last year against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. At the AATA board meeting on April 19, board chair Jesse Bernstein reported that Goldsmith did not rule on anything from the bench; his written ruling is expected at some unspecified future time.

The initial lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on Nov. 28, 2011 on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ad]

The two motions heard by Goldsmith on April 19 included one by the plaintiff – for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the AATA to accept the advertisement for its buses that it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29, 2011 ACLU motion for preliminary injunction]

The other motion heard on April 19 was AATA’s motion to dismiss the case. [.pdf of AATA motion to dismiss] [.pdf of AATA brief on preliminary injunction/restraining order] [.pdf of ACLU reply to AATA's response]

At its April 19 regular board meeting, the AATA board members had scheduled a closed session on the litigation, as permitted by the Michigan Open Meetings Act, but did not hold the session because Goldsmith did not rule on the two motions.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link]

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ACLU Files Motion in AATA Bus Ad Lawsuit Tue, 29 Nov 2011 17:09:57 +0000 Chronicle Staff On Nov. 29, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed with the U.S. District Court (Eastern District of Michigan) a motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to accept an advertisement it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29 ACLU motion]

The previous day, on Nov. 28, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ad] The image appears to stem from an original by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada.

The ACLU’s position, as put forth in the Nov. 29 motion, is that the controlling authority for deciding the issue is a 1998 case involving a labor union that had proposed an advertisement on a regional transit authority’s vehicles. The union ad had been rejected on the grounds that it was “too controversial and not aesthetically pleasing.” The case was argued and won by the union in the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit. [.pdf of United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 1099, v. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority]

The standard of review for the preliminary injunction, now sought by the ACLU, includes: (1) the likelihood that the party seeking the preliminary injunction will succeed on the merits of the claim; (2) whether the party seeking the injunction will suffer irreparable harm without the grant of the extraordinary relief; (3) the probability that granting the injunction will cause substantial harm to others; and (4) whether the public interest is advanced by the issuance of the injunction.

In the motion for a preliminary injunction, the ACLU’s argument is laid out in greater detail than in the initial lawsuit [.pdf of Nov. 28, 2011 lawsuit]. Among the issues raised by the suit is whether the AATA has created a public forum through its advertising program. The ACLU contends that the AATA has, in fact, created a public forum, but does not rely exclusively on that conclusion in arguing that Coleman’s constitutional rights were violated. In addition to the First Amendment claims (free speech), the suit alleges Fourteenth Amendment violations (due process).

In a similar case in Seattle, the ACLU has now filed a notice of appeal after the federal district court ruled in October 2011 in favor of the transit authority – over an ad with the text, “Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work,” and featuring a picture of children next to a bomb-damaged building. [.pdf of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) v. King County ruling]

In contrast to the AATA case, the transit authority in Seattle at first accepted the SeaMAC ad. Then, when advance publicity about the prospects of the ad’s future appearance resulted in proposed counter-ads, possible demonstrations, and the specter of violence, the transit authority decided not to allow the ad to appear.

The AATA case evolved after Coleman tried unsuccessfully to place the ad, and the ACLU sent a letter to the AATA in August 2011 supporting Coleman’s position. [.pdf of ACLU Aug. 12, 2011 letter] [.pdf of AATA advertising policy]

At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board affirmed the decision to reject the proposed ad in its current form, and passed a resolution to that effect, inviting Coleman and the ACLU to discuss the advertising policy. [.pdf of AATA board resolution rejecting advertisement] According to ACLU staff attorney Dan Korobkin, communication took place between the ACLU and the AATA’s legal counsel after the board’s resolution was passed. However, that communication did not avert the filing of the lawsuit.

[Coverage of AATA board meeting when action was taken regarding the ad: "Bus Ad Rejection Affirmed"]

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Vigil for Peace in Gaza Fills Street Corner Sun, 11 Jan 2009 00:45:26 +0000 HD Scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. last Thursday, a vigil organized by Michigan Peaceworks and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice had people filling all four corners of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor. The vigil was organized to call attention to the military violence in Gaza, with organizers calling for an immediate ceasefire. When I arrived around 6:45 p.m. it was apparent from the signage and the shouts that some of the demonstrators had taken a more strident position than the vigil organizers had likely hoped for.

One smaller event that unfolded almost immediately was embedded in the larger one. It was a changing of the guard: one vigil participant handed off their sign to another as the one arrived and the other departed. But by this time several participants were beginning to filter away without being replaced. One estimate floated by a participant put the peak number of participants at around 200.

Some of the demonstrators on Thursday had responded to the scheduled vigil in order to make a more partisan point than the organizers were making. But at least one of them had no prior knowledge of the vigil, and had been demonstrating in her usual spot on weekday evenings at Liberty and Fifth – in front of the Federal Building. Seeing the activity just west of her, and already equipped with a sign, “US-RAEL, biggest rogue nation,” she decided to join the larger group.

A group of young men were collecting signatures for a petition (calling for a ceasefire) to be sent to elected representatives in Michigan. Chatting with them, they recognized the name, Ann Arbor Chronicle, and let me know they were in agreement with comment number [5] about a previous article published here on an earlier demonstration. The comment was critical of the inclusion of an interaction between a demonstrator and a passerby, who questioned the motivation of the demonstrators.

On Thursday, I shared with them the same sentiment with which I ended that comment thread: we try to describe what unfolds in front of us. But in some ways that skirts the issue. Because we don’t describe everything that we see. It would be impossible to write, or to read, something that detailed. Every inclusion or exclusion is an editorial decision. A good photograph offers that level of detail, but the photographer has to point the camera somewhere. And that entails a decision about what direction to point it. Once you have the photograph, you have to decide if and how to crop it. That’s another editorial decision.

Below are some photographs from Thursday evening’s demonstration. The captions consist of commentary intended to provide some insight into what I thought was interesting enough about the image to offer them to Chronicle readers.

First shot of the evening. Many of the demonstrators carried the "Ceasefire Now" sheets, which seemed to be the preferred signage for those who'd responded to the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice request that participants should, "Please bring signs that support a peaceful end to the conflict in Gaza."

I like this one for the way a single candle and a single sign drew the whole huddle of people together.

The irony of the news hotline number: If I'm reading this number, I don't need to call you ... you're already here.

Given the sides represented among the demonstrators, the Channel 7 slogan on the truck prompts the question: "Really?? You're on MY side?? Which side is that, exactly?" (The photograph's angle makes it somewhat unclear what the demonstrator is holding. It's a rectangular sign – edge view.)

What was interesting to me about these signs was the split into two fields of black and white with reversed field lettering, which mirrors the stark contrast in viewpoints on the conflict. Also the pairing of "received" with "rocket" struck me as somewhat odd, making me wonder if the understatement was intended.

The woman next to the sign-holder was energetically wiping her feet on an Israeli flag, which I took to be the sign-holder's point of view as well. I took the sign to be an allusion to an Iraqi journalist's recent attempt to throw his shoe at President Bush – that is, a call to stand up and do something, whatever it might be. But the ambiguity is intriguing.

I liked this one for the contrast between everything that said "warm" (the glove, the candle, the fur-edged hood) against the shivering exhale.

I wondered if this guy was smiling about anything in particular, or if wearing a smile was part of his way of keeping warm.

This photo was cropped to include the signage on the restaurant, because I think it brings out how routine "background" messages would fill our visual field, if demonstrators on street corners did not occasionally offer a different message.

As someone who in many ways "goes green," the sign, in some sense, spoke to me.

This photo demonstrates that photos by themselves don't tell an accurate story. It might appear to show a confrontation between the sign holder and the person wearing the dark hooded coat. In fact, it was chat between friends.

This one, I thought, captured nicely the span in ages of participants.

These photographs give some idea of what happened on a street corner on a cold evening in a sleepy little midwestern U.S. college town. But they don’t give much real insight into events happening half a world away. Most of us, I suspect, don’t make conscious choices about how we want to be informed about far-away places. I sure don’t. We randomly sample from the ubiquitous stream of TV, radio, newspapers, and wire reports that permeate our modern life.

But there’s bound to be some Chronicle readers who aren’t as lazy as that, and who consciously use a specific news source to get information about the Middle East. If so, kindly provide a link (if possible) and a brief description why as a comment below. Feel free to leave other comments as well, bearing in mind our commenting policy.

[Editor's note: HD is Homeless Dave, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. ]

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Demonstrators Protest Gaza Violence Sat, 03 Jan 2009 15:50:56 +0000 Dave Askins Demonstrators on southeast corner of Liberty and Fifth in downtown Ann Arbor

Demonstrators on the southeast corner of Liberty and Fifth in downtown Ann Arbor.

While out and about early Friday afternoon, The Chronicle noticed a Channel 7 News truck parked across from the Federal Building at Fifth and Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. A little over an hour later, the news truck had disappeared. But according to one of the people demonstrating on the corner, before departing the camera crew had shot footage of the local protest prompted by recent and ongoing violence in Gaza.

By The Chronicle’s estimate, about 100 people, organized in part by students from Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan, had gathered at 3 p.m. to protest. Their signs and their chants placed the blame unambiguously on Israel and the U.S. for supplying financial support. One sign read simply, “Stop Funding Israel.” A group chant began, “1, 2, 3, 4 stop the killing, stop the war,” and concluded with “5, 6, 7, 8 Israel is a terrorist state.”

A demonstrator on the opposite street corner, who wished to be identified simply as “Chuck,” told The Chronicle that he saw a problem in the way that Israel was typically portrayed in the media, “as a victim,” and the way that Palestinians were portrayed typically in the media as “terrorist psychos.” For him, a key statistic to look at was the rate of casualties among Palestinians versus Israelis – which he said were sustained at a ratio of 10:1 or greater – and asked, “Is that self-defense?”

Demonstrators on the southwest corner of Fifth and Liberty

Demonstrators on the southwest corner of Fifth and Liberty.

A few feet away one of Chuck’s colleagues was concluding a verbal altercation with an observer (who did not wish to be further identified) with words to the effect, “It’s good to know there are people like you out there,” walking away despite the observer’s gambit for more talk. But Chuck was game.

The observer’s question: “Do you acknowledge violence everywhere, or only by Israel?” The observer said that he’d not seen similar demonstrations and vigils on behalf of people in China or Darfur, and said that it seemed to him that the protest was not motivated by a desire for peace so much as by anti-Israeli sentiment. Chuck responded by inviting the observer to organize demonstrations on behalf of whoever he liked, saying that it made sense for us (as U.S. citizens) to take a strong interest in Palestine because of the direct connection to U.S. foreign policy on aid to Israel. Chuck’s question for the observer: “Do you acknowledge the right of Palestinians to self-defense?” A yes-no response did not seem forthcoming, but the observer noted what he felt was a “double-standard” applied to Israel on the question of violence. The wind howling out of the north and freezing temperatures probably played a role in cutting the conversation shorter than it might have been.

Asked by The Chronicle what specific call to action locally the demonstration was meant to convey to people walking and driving past, Chuck allowed that it could be distilled into asking people to look deeper than the headlines.

When The Chronicle looked up a few minutes later, the demonstrators had headed east on Liberty for an apparent circuit downtown.


Demonstration chants were led by megaphone.

Some drivers headed through the intersection responded to the sign by honking and waving.

Some drivers headed through the intersection responded to the sign by honking and waving.

Gaza don't cry

The green sign at left reads: "Gaza, do not cry, Palestine will never die."

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