The Ann Arbor Chronicle » performance evaluation it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: DDA Pay Increases, Open Meetings Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:29:20 +0000 Dave Askins Earlier this month, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority executive director Susan Pollay received a 5% raise from the DDA board. That brought her annual compensation to $114,570.

Excerpt from performance evaluation for Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority executive director Susan Pollay. The DDA board appears to have decided her salary increases in FY 2013 and FY 2014 in a way that did not conform with the Open Meetings Act.

The free response portion of a performance evaluation for Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority executive director Susan Pollay. The DDA board appears to have decided her salary increases in FY 2013 and FY 2014 in a way that did not conform with the Open Meetings Act.

The procedure used this year by the board to award Pollay a salary increase appears to have conformed completely with the requirements of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).

However, that procedure was different from the one used to award raises to Pollay in each of the two previous years.

Those raises worked out to 8% and 6.7%, respectively. In each of the two previous years, the decision to award Pollay those raises appears to have been made in a way that is contrary to the most basic requirement of Michigan’s OMA: “All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.”

That conclusion is based on records produced by the DDA to The Chronicle in response to requests made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as well as records the DDA was not able to produce.

The analysis below begins with an overview.


Responding to a request made by The Chronicle under Michigan’s FOIA, the only documentation the DDA produced for board authorization of the two previous years’ raises was two letters. The letters were sent by former board chair Leah Gunn to the city of Ann Arbor’s human resources staff – dated Oct. 9, 2012 and June 27, 2013.

Those letters don’t appear to describe the salary decisions by the board in ways that meet basic OMA requirements. Specifically, OMA requirements do not appear to have been satisfied for either the board as a whole, or for a subquorum committee of the board – which DDA board members may have assumed was acting lawfully on behalf of the entire board.

By way of contrast, this year the board voted on the question of a salary increase for Pollay at its regular meeting of July 2, 2014. That vote, in open session on a written resolution, came after a roughly 15-minute closed session held by the board on Pollay’s performance review. A personnel matter like a performance review – if the employee requests it – is one of the limited number of reasons under Michigan’s OMA that a public body can bar the public from a meeting. That procedure, including the vote in open session by the board, is familiar from The Chronicle’s coverage of other public bodies. It’s a procedure that conforms with the OMA.

However, for neither of the two previous years did the DDA board discuss at any of its meetings the question of salary increases for its executive director. Nor did the board hold a closed session on a personnel matter during that period. Nor did the board vote on those salary increases at any of its meetings.

Some DDA board members might have assumed the board’s executive committee had authority to act on the board’s behalf in deciding executive director salary questions. But in response to a request made under Michigan’s FOIA, the DDA was not able to produce any records with documentation that the performance review of its executive director and recommendations on salary increases have been specified by the board as duties of the executive committee.

And even if the executive committee had been tasked by the board with those duties, the DDA was unable to produce any records of minutes for its executive committee meetings during the relevant time period. Further, it’s not clear that the executive committee posted adequate public notices of its meetings during this period, or that the typical location of executive committee meetings – the executive director’s personal office – can be considered accessible to the public under the definition of the OMA.

Concerns raised by the material that was provided to The Chronicle under Michigan’s FOIA are not limited to questions about the openness of decision-making procedures – as measured against the requirements of the OMA. The written performance reviews of Pollay are heavily weighted towards general expressions of support and commentary on Pollay’s personality, instead of providing important critical feedback on performance.

Laid out in detail below are the arguments that the decisions to award Pollay a raise in two previous years – for FY 2013 and FY 2014 – were made in a way that violated the OMA. The analysis concludes with a note on the oversight role of the city council with respect to the DDA.

Salary Decisions Made: FY 2013, FY 2014, FY 2015

At its July 2, 2014 meeting, the DDA board voted to award its executive director, Susan Pollay, a 5% pay raise for fiscal year 2015, which started July 1. That brought her annual compensation to $114,570. During board deliberations on the resolution, long-time DDA board member Roger Hewitt mentioned that Pollay had received good raises the two previous years.

Those raises were reflected in the salary history that deputy DDA director Joe Morehouse forwarded to current board chair Sandi Smith in late June of this year. That salary history is as follows:

Fiscal YR       Salary   % Increase
FY 2014    $109,114.40   6.70%
FY 2013    $102,263.20   8.00%
FY 2012     $94,689.40   0.00%
FY 2011     $94,689.40   0.00%
FY 2010     $94,689.40   0.00%
FY 2009     $94,689.40   0.00%
FY 2008     $94,689.40   0.00%
FY 2007     $94,689.40   0.00%
FY 2006     $94,689.40   0.00%


The July 2, 2014 DDA board deliberations framed that salary history as the equivalent of only a 1.9% annual raise since 2006. Board members indicated an interest in raising Pollay’s salary in future years, to bring it into alignment with the mid-point of the salary range for her city of Ann Arbor “Level 2″ position. That midpoint is $126,000 – in a range from $95,340 to $157,312.

City administrator Steve Powers cast the sole vote of dissent on the board’s July 2 action to increase Pollay’s salary by another 5% in FY 2015. He felt that 3% was more appropriate. He also expressed a desire to see a more robust evaluation process in the future.

Expressed as a percentage, the total amount of Pollay’s pay increases over the last three years comes to nearly 21%. How does that compare to other employees at the city? Powers responded to an emailed query from The Chronicle with the following data:

FY 2015   3%
FY 2014   3%
FY 2013   one-time $1,000
FY 2012   0%
FY 2011   0%


Previous Board Action

When Hewitt mentioned at the July 2 DDA board meeting that Pollay had received raises for FY 2013 and FY 2014, that was likely a revelation to anyone outside the DDA board.

The Chronicle’s coverage of the DDA since 2008 – which includes reporting on all DDA resolutions approved by the board – does not reflect any board discussion or votes on pay raises for Pollay during that period. A machine search of the DDA’s board meeting minutes available on the DDA’s website produces a single search result for the phrase “performance evaluation” – from 1997, which is a year after Pollay was hired as DDA executive director.

On July 2, 2014 The Chronicle made a records request under Michigan’s FOIA that included “all records or documentation showing authorization – by the DDA board, a DDA committee, or any member of the DDA board – for adjustments to the Ann Arbor DDA executive director’s salary over the past two years, adjustments referenced by Roger Hewitt at the board’s July 2, 2014 meeting.”

Based on the DDA’s July 10 response to that request, only two records are in the possession of the DDA that document any authorization for Pollay’s salary increases in FY 2013 and FY 2014. The two records are letters sent by the board chair at the time, Leah Gunn, to city of Ann Arbor human resources staff – dated Oct. 9, 2012 and June 27, 2013.

What the DDA did not produce in response to the request made under Michigan’s FOIA were any board resolutions or minutes from board meetings reflecting a decision by the board to increase Pollay’s salary in FY 2013 or FY 2014. The DDA also did not produce any resolutions by a committee with the authority to act on the board’s behalf, or any minutes from such a committee that reflect a committee decision to increase Pollay’s salary in FY 2013 or FY 2014. [.pdf of records from July 2, 2014 FOIA request]

What about Gunn’s letters? They do not indicate in an explicit way when the board as a whole might have made its salary decisions in FY 2013 and FY 2014.

Based on the records that the DDA did not produce, as well as the records that the DDA did produce (Gunn’s two letters), it’s fair to conclude that if the board as a whole did decide to increase Pollay’s salary in the two previous years, then the board made those decisions in a way that did not conform with the most central requirement of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act: “All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.”

However, the first of Gunn’s letters, written three months after she was elected DDA board chair, refers in a general way to the executive committee of the DDA board, and its role in Pollay’s performance evaluation and salary adjustment. It’s important to consider, for the sake of argument, the possibility that the board’s executive committee might have acted lawfully on behalf of the board, and that the executive committee acted in a manner that was consistent with the OMA.

Previous Executive Committee Action

Some background on the executive committee is presented first, before evaluating possible decisions by the committee – with respect to the OMA and the DDA’s bylaws.

Previous Executive Committee Action: Background

The executive committee of the DDA board is a subquorum subset of its members – the chair of the board, the vice chair, secretary and treasurer. Ex officio non-voting members of the executive committee are the executive director and the immediately preceding board chair.

So during the most recent year in which Leah Gunn chaired the board – from July 2012 through June 2013 – the executive committee consisted of Gunn, Sandi Smith (vice chair), Keith Orr (secretary) and Roger Hewitt (treasurer). The two non-voting members of the executive committee were Pollay and Bob Guenzel.

When a subquorum committee of a public body effectively makes decisions on behalf of the body, then according to a Michigan attorney general opinion from 1998, that committee is itself considered as a public body under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. [.pdf of AG Opinion #7000]

So to the extent that the executive committee might have made the decisions on salary increases for Pollay in FY 2013 and FY 2014, those decisions were required to have been made in accordance with OMA requirements – including those on noticing meetings to the public and on maintaining minutes for its meetings.

Previous Executive Committee Action: OMA Noticing Requirements

The letter from Gunn about the FY 2014 salary increase does not mention the executive committee, but rather only the board. However, Gunn’s letter about the FY 2013 salary increase for Pollay describes a meeting of the executive committee in a way that at least hypothetically could have been held in conformance with the OMA – a meeting at which the committee might have made a decision to authorize a pay increase for Pollay for FY 2013.

From Gunn’s Oct. 9, 2012 letter:

During the course of this work, I spoke with every member of the board and I brought their feedback to the October meeting of our DDA executive committee where we met with Susan to discuss their comments (which by the way were unanimously excellent). We are in complete agreement about adjusting the salary of our executive director to $102,264 from her current salary.

Although Gunn does not give the exact date of the October executive committee meeting, it is possible to infer that it took place on the same date as the DDA board meeting that month, which fell on Oct. 3, 2012.

That inference is based on the kind of posting that the DDA has used this year for its annual meeting calendar of the full board. In that posting about the full board meeting schedule, the executive committee is mentioned. It’s worth noting that in contrast, other DDA board committees have their own separate postings of meeting schedules, with the name of the committee prominently stated in the headline/title of the page. The DDA’s position is that this type of posting of the executive committee meetings complies with the OMA posting requirements. [.pdf of DDA Feb. 25, 2014 response letter from DDA]

The first occasion on which The Chronicle attended a scheduled meeting of the executive committee was March 5, 2014. The meeting was held in Pollay’s office. There is no signage at the DDA offices that would alert someone to the fact that the executive committee meets there, as opposed to the board’s meeting room. The board’s meeting room is immediately apparent on exit from the elevator that opens onto the third floor of 150 S. Fifth, where the DDA rents office space. The DDA’s management assistant, Jada Hohlbrook – who staffs a reception desk – directed The Chronicle to the specific location of the executive committee meeting, which requires a couple of turns to arrive at Pollay’s office at the back of the DDA suite.

The March 5 meeting was attended by only one voting member of the committee – Keith Orr. The following month, on April 2, 2014, attendance was perfect. A member of the public, Changming Fan, attended the April 2 meeting. When he arrived at the doorway to Pollay’s office, executive committee member Roger Hewitt advised him that he could not stay, as it was a meeting only for the executive committee of the board. If Hewitt thought the public could be excluded from the meeting, it’s not clear why he did not attempt to exclude The Chronicle – already sitting in plain view. In any event, Pollay told Hewitt that executive committee meetings were open to the public. Changming Fan and The Chronicle remained through the end of the meeting.

It’s fair to conclude that the conditions under which the executive committee meets are at least somewhat dubious with respect to satisfaction of OMA requirements.

The next part of this analysis focuses on issues that are clearer cut.

Executive Committee Action: OMA Requirements on Minutes

Not in doubt is the fact that no DDA executive committee minutes were kept for the period from February 2010 through February 2014 – the period during which the executive committee might have made decisions on increasing the executive director’s salary. That conclusion is based on the DDA’s response to a FOIA request made by The Chronicle on March 5, 2014. That request asked the DDA to produce, among other items, the executive committee meeting minutes for January 2008 through March 2014. In its March 11 cover letter responding to the March 5 request, the DDA indicated that only the minutes for “2008 to 2010″ were included. The most recent minutes provided were those from January 2010. [.pdf of DDA response to March 5, 2014 FOIA request]

Starting with the April 2, 2014 board meeting, after a gap of more than four years, the DDA began producing executive committee minutes for approval. That’s an implicit recognition, possibly on prompting from The Chronicle, that the executive committee is actually required under the OMA to keep minutes – if it is acting on behalf of the board as a whole. That requirement applies, even though the executive committee is a subquorum set of board members. [.pdf of AG Opinion #7000].

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the DDA’s position is that the executive committee acted twice on behalf of the full board to increase the executive director’s salary during the period of July 2012 through June 2013. On that assumption, the fact that no minutes have been produced for the meetings during which those decisions were made is an ongoing violation of the OMA. And action could be taken in Washtenaw County’s 22nd circuit court to ask that court to enjoin the DDA against this ongoing OMA violation by ordering the DDA to produce minutes for those meetings.

Possibly a more significant question, however, is whether the executive committee of the DDA board is even empowered to act on behalf of the DDA board with respect to executive director salary issues.

Executive Committee Action: Power to Act?

According to the DDA bylaws, the executive committee could be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the board about the executive director’s salary adjustments – if it were a duty specified by the board. From the bylaws:

The executive committee shall fix the hours and place of meetings, make recommendations to the board, and shall perform such other duties as specified in these by-laws or as may be specified by the board.

The bylaws themselves don’t assign the duty of deciding the executive director’s salary to the executive committee. And in a July 18, 2014 response to a July 13, 2014 request from The Chronicle under Michigan’s FOIA, the DDA indicated that it had no records that documented the board’s specification of executive director performance review or salary recommendation as duties of the executive committee. [.pdf of July 18, 2014 DDA response to FOIA request]

So even if the executive committee made two decisions on the executive director’s salary sometime between July 2012 and June 2013 – undocumented by any meeting minutes – it’s not clear that the committee was even empowered under the DDA’s bylaws to make those decisions.

Executive Director Performance Evaluations

Written performance evaluations of Susan Pollay by board members from 2006 to the present were included in the response to The Chronicle’s July 2, 2014 request under Michigan’s FOIA. [.pdf of records from July 2, 2014 FOIA request]

General highlights include the fact that the evaluation form provides suggestions for phrases to be used in open-ended description – all positive:

    (sample ideas you can use in your comments:)

  • is accountable
  • is able to motivate/lead her staff
  • is willing to try new ideas, methods
  • is an important resource to downtown stakeholders
  • is knowledgeable in his/her field
  • makes decisions on her own
  • completes assignments on time or earlier
  • responds accurately/quickly to information requests
  • remains cool despite challenges
  • maintains appropriate sense of humor
  • gives credit to others when deserved
  • puts in the extra hours and effort to get the job done
  • speaks/communicates well flexibly adapts to changing priorities
  • demonstrates dedication to the DDA mission
  • effectively uses resources/consultants

For the free-response portion of the evaluations, board members in many instances appear to have copy-pasted from that set of suggestions – either wholesale or in part.

With respect to the objective scoring portion of the form, board members have in many cases simply filled in the objective scoring portion of the form with the maximum score for the first few items (15). They have then “auto-filled” the rest of the items – apparently not noticing that the maximum score for items at the end of the list is a different number (10).

It’s also striking that some board members seem to have filled out the forms in an informal manner. One respondent offered “Mary Poppins” as the entire text of the written review; another simply stated “The goddess always does a great job.”

The set of one-page evaluations provided to The Chronicle also includes some that are apparent duplicates with respect to content – even though the sheets of paper that were scanned for The Chronicle are different. An example of that is the “goddess” evaluation. That evaluation appears twice in the set – but only one of the two scanned pages includes the handwritten year “2011″ at the top of the page.

In this context it’s worth noting that city administrator Steve Powers’ July 2, 2014 vote of dissent on Pollay’s salary increase included by way of commentary a hope that in the future the evaluation process could be more robust.

City Council Oversight

Ultimately it is the Ann Arbor city council – as the governing body of the municipality where the DDA is established – that has responsibility for oversight of the Ann Arbor DDA board. It is the city council that confirms the appointment of DDA board members. And it is the city council that can potentially remove members from the board for cause.

How well has the Ann Arbor city council exercised its oversight role over the years? On Aug. 26, 2013 a joint meeting of city council and DDA board members was held. At that meeting, Sally Petersen – a first-term Ward 2 city councilmember, now a mayoral candidate – characterized her understanding of the city council’s historical performance in its oversight role. In the following quote, she was commenting on the city council’s oversight of one specific aspect of the DDA’s function – tax increment finance capture [emphasis added]:

And if we talk about goals, my goal – and I think it’s incumbent upon the city council, I don’t think that the DDA has done anything wrong per se, it’s just that the city council historically has not held the DDA accountable in terms of understanding what that is.

Does the Ann Arbor city council have an oversight role in approving the compensation of a downtown development authority executive director? That role appears to be clearly and specifically stated in the state statute enabling the establishment of the DDA [emphasis added]: “The board may employ and fix the compensation of a director, subject to the approval of the governing body of the municipality.”

However, based on the city of Ann Arbor’s response to a request made under Michigan’s FOIA, Ann Arbor’s city council did not explicitly approve Pollay’s initial hire or her compensation level in 1996. Nor has the council approved the new compensation levels in the last two years.

In more detail, on Oct. 18, 2013, The Chronicle made a request to the city of Ann Arbor under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act for all records documenting Ann Arbor city council approval of the employment of Susan Pollay as director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. On Nov. 7, 2013 the city of Ann Arbor responded with copies of all of the Ann Arbor city council’s annual budget resolutions dating from 1997 to the present, which include the DDA budget (as a component unit of the city), but not in line-item detail.

But no record of a council resolution specifically and explicitly approving Pollay’s hire or compensation was produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to that request.

By way of contrast, when the Grand Rapids DDA hired a DDA executive director recently, the Grand Rapids city commission (analog to Ann Arbor’s city council) passed the following resolution on June 19, 2012:

*81555 Com. Gutowski, supported by Com. Bliss, moved adoption of the following resolution under the Consent Agenda:
1. As required by the Downtown Development Authority Act, Act 197 of the Public Acts of Michigan of 1975, MCL 125.1561, et seq., and the Rules of Procedure of the City of Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (the “DDA”), the selection of Kristopher M. Larson as Executive Director of the DDA is hereby approved.

The Ann Arbor city council might be able to render somewhat moot the OMA questions raised in the analysis above, by taking an affirmative action. That action would be to consider and pass a resolution that approves the pay increases given to Pollay in the last two years, as well as this year. An additional action available to the council would be to pass a resolution requesting that the DDA board produce minutes for the meetings during which executive director salary adjustments were made for FY 2013 and FY 2014.

But given the backdrop of a Democratic primary race for mayor that includes four councilmembers, the politics of those actions could be delicate. In addition to Petersen, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) are also running.

Kunselman has made efforts over the last few years to lead the council to exercise more oversight of the DDA. But those efforts have been fraught with the perception that they are purely political in nature – even when the issues Kunselman has identified have merit independent of their political dimension. DDA board members have on occasion openly criticized Kunselman for his actions, or resorted to anonymous Internet commenting in defense of the DDA’s position.

Sandi Smith, for example, has admitted to The Chronicle that in response to a published Chronicle opinion piece, she left a comment on that op-ed under the screen name “Eco Bruce.” The comment in part attempted to dismiss criticism about the DDA’s apparent failure to adhere to the city’s ordinance on TIF capture – by implicating that this criticism is rooted in “Director K’s [Kunselman's]” desire to be CEO [mayor]. Smith was DDA board vice chair at the time.

With respect to the situation about Pollay’s salary, the politics are especially a challenge – because it would mean approving a nearly 21% increase for Pollay, when computed over the last three years. That’s a period during which other city non-union employees received slightly more than a 6% increase – a $1,000 lump sum in FY 2013, 3% in FY 2014, and 3% for the current fiscal year.

Adding to the political challenge is the fact that it’s Leah Gunn who appears to have led the DDA board effort to increase Pollay’s salary in the two previous years – in a way that escaped public attention. Gunn, a former elected official and long-time Democratic activist, is treasurer for Christopher Taylor’s mayoral campaign.

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DDA Acts on Infrastructure, Governance Sun, 06 Jul 2014 21:53:15 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (July 2, 2014): Much of this month’s meeting was devoted to infrastructure projects and organizational matters, as the DDA board restructured its committees and elected new officers for fiscal 2015, which began on July 1.

Bob Guenzel, Sandi Smith, John Mouat, Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: DDA board members Bob Guenzel, Sandi Smith, John Mouat. Smith officiated her last meeting as chair on July 2, and Mouat was elected to serve as chair for fiscal 2015, which began on July 1. (Photos by the writer.)

The board approved a $390,000 grant related to an extended-stay hotel project on the downtown’s west side. The development is by First Martin Corp. at 116-120 W. Huron – the intersection of Huron and Ashley streets. The grant will be used to pay for a new 12-inch water main, sidewalk improvements along Ashley, and landscape maintenance in the public right-of-way.

This was the first grant awarded after the board adopted a grant policy earlier this year.

The board also gave a one-year extension to a previously-awarded $650,000 brownfield grant for the 618 S. Main apartment complex. It was originally awarded in 2012, but the project is not yet completed – in part because of the recent harsh winter. The funds would help pay for upsizing a water main to 12 inches, as well as streetscape improvements and a rain garden for stormwater management.

Also related to infrastructure, the board established a project budget of $100,000 for tree maintenance and sidewalk repairs in downtown Ann Arbor in fiscal 2015.

Related to personnel issues, the board held a closed session to evaluate Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director. After about 15 minutes, the board emerged and voted to give Pollay a 5% raise, increasing her salary from $109,119 to $114,570.

In describing the rationale for the raise, Roger Hewitt noted that Pollay had received “good raises” in the last two years, but for the six years before that she had not received a raise because of the difficult economy. Her position as a city employee is in the Level 2 category, which has a salary range from $95,000 to $157,000. Several board members indicated a desire to move Pollay toward the midpoint of that range over the next few years. Sandi Smith characterized it as “catch up” to compensate for the years when Pollay didn’t get a raise. Hewitt said the intent is to bring her up to that midpoint salary of $126,000 “within a fairly short time period.”

Casting the sole vote against the 5% increase was city administrator Steve Powers, who said he’d be more comfortable with a 3% raise, and hoped there would be a more robust evaluation process in the future.

Immediately after its regular monthly meeting, the board held its annual meeting to elect officers for the coming fiscal year. John Mouat was unanimously elected to serve as chair of the board. Other officers are Roger Hewitt (vice chair), Rishi Narayan (treasurer), and Keith Orr (secretary). Outgoing chair Sandi Smith was thanked for her service, and received a gift from staff – a small pin from the former Selo/Shevel Gallery, which Pollay indicated evoked a cityscape of tall buildings. Pollay said it was inspired by a trip that several DDA staff and board members took last year to New York City for the International Downtown Association conference.

Also at the July 2 meeting, the board dissolved its two existing committees and created four new committees: (1) marketing, (2) partnerships/economic development, (3) finance, and (4) operations (parking/transportation/construction).

In supporting the idea of a separate marketing committee, Narayan noted that if a staff member is hired to focus on marketing and communications, “this area might become more fleshed out very quickly.” Previously, a marketing subcommittee had been part of the partnerships committee. The new finance committee was created in part in anticipation of the DDA’s growing budget, and a desire for more financial oversight.

During updates, Hewitt reported that work continues on a possible north/south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell known as WALLY – the Washtenaw and Livingston Line. A recommendation will be coming soon to locate a stop on the east side of the railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington streets, opposite of the former city maintenance yard. He stressed that this transportation service is probably a significant way off from being offered. If the project moves forward, the recommended stop wouldn’t be a full station – it would simply be a platform with canopies, and would be built entirely within the railroad right-of-way. Hewitt plans to make a short formal presentation about the recommendation at a future DDA board meeting.

Also related to transportation, Orr reported that the new Greyhound ticket office at the Fourth & William structure will be opening next week – ahead of schedule. Next week also will be the grand opening of the nearby Blake Transit Center, operated by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

In other updates, Hewitt noted that members of the DDA’s operations committee continue to work on a downtown ambassadors program, and are likely to bring two potential service providers in for interviews by the end of this summer.


Grants for two projects appeared on the DDA board’s July 2 agenda: a one-year extension for a previous brownfield grant to the 618 S. Main Street project, and a new grant to the 116-120 W. Huron Street hotel project.

Grants: 618 S. Main

The 618 S. Main project is an apartment complex that Dan Ketelaar’s Urban Group Development Co. intends to market to young professionals. The 7-story building, between Mosley and Madison, would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles.

The original $650,000 brownfield grant to the 618 S. Main project was approved by the DDA board at its June 6, 2012 meeting, a week before the city council gave its approval to the project on June 18, 2012.

The $650,000 total breaks down as follows:

 $85,000 Streetscape costs (sidewalk adjacent to project on Mosley/Main)
$384,500 Streetscape costs (sidewalk on west side of Main north of project)
$100,000 Rain garden to infiltrate stormwater, rather than detain and release
$ 80,500 Upsizing the water main under Ashley Street to a 12” pipe

$650,000 TOTAL


That total is to be disbursed over four years in the following amounts: $100,000, $225,000, $225,000, and $175,000. None of the money is to be awarded before the taxes are paid each year. The DDA will use the tax increment finance capture from the project to make the grant payments.

In introducing the resolution on July 2, Joan Lowenstein noting that there’s sunsetting language in the DDA’s grant policy:

The DDA’s grant will automatically expire by June 30th at the end of the fiscal year following the fiscal year the grant was approved by the DDA if a developer has not requested and received all necessary City construction permits, and the project footings/foundations are not completely installed. The DDA grant will automatically expire by June 30th at the end of the third fiscal year following the fiscal year the grant was approved by the DDA if construction has not been completed and a CO issued for the project.

The project is underway, Lowenstein said, but it has been delayed by the harsh winter. Without an extension of the grant, it would expire automatically. The length of the extension, to receive all construction permits and to complete the project, is one year. The partnerships committee reviewed the extension and recommended that it be granted.

John Mouat said he’d read that the site next to 618 S. Main, where Happy’s Pizza had been located, is going to be redeveloped. The building where Happy’s Pizza was housed had been destroyed by fire earlier this year. The site is at the southwest corner of Main and Madison.

Mouat said that’s a great sign, because the DDA had hoped that the whole area along South Main “would start to rise.” He called the changes at the Happy’s Pizza site a “fortuitous happenstance, in some ways.”

Keith Orr joked that it was rising from its ashes.

There was no other discussion.

Outcome: The vote on the 618 S. Main grant one-year extension was unanimous.

Grants: First Martin Hotel Project

John Mouat brought forward a proposal for a $390,000 grant related to an extended-stay hotel project. The development is by First Martin Corp. at 116-120 W. Huron, at the intersection of Huron and Ashley streets.

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

Rendering of proposed hotel at the northeast corner of West Huron and Ashley. The One North Main building is visible to the east.

The new building will be an 88,570-square-foot structure with a ground-floor restaurant or retail space. The extended-stay hotel will occupy the upper five levels and will be operated by Marriott. The city council gave approval to the site plan at its June 16, 2014 meeting. The project also had been reviewed and recommended for approval by the city’s planning commission on May 20, 2014.

The grant was recommended by the DDA’s partnerships committee.

Mouat said that First Martin had been very patient while the partnerships committee developed its grant policy over the past few months. The First Martin project will be used as a kind of test for the new policy, he added.

The $390,000 breaks down like this:

$340,000 New 12” water main on Ashley Street, and related hardscape 
$ 10,000 Sidewalk enhancements on Ashley Street 
$ 40,000 Right-of-way landscape maintenance (20-year commitment) 

$390,000 TOTAL


The $390,000 amount is to be distributed over three years – $100,000 (Year 1); $145,000 (Year 2); and $145,000 (Year 3).

The maximum amount that can be awarded to a project under the DDA grant policy – adopted by the DDA board at its June 2, 2014 meeting – is 25% of the tax increment capture due to the project that the DDA receives for the first 10 years after the project is built. That amount is about $390,000, according to First Martin Corp. based on an annual figure of $156,515. But the DDA’s resolution indicates the figure has not yet been verified by the city assessor. Grants are not awarded until after the taxes are paid.

Grants: First Martin Hotel Project – Board Discussion

Mouat reported that the partnerships committee had focused on two factors in considering the grant. The first was whether this was an area where the DDA would like to promote development. The committee felt that the area had been lacking, so the project met that criteria, he said. The second factor was whether the grant would result in benefits for the community, he said, such as opportunities for other sites to be developed, or for the street to be improved. It met that criteria, too, he said.

Mike Martin, First Martin Corp. Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mike Martin of First Martin Corp.

The public benefits are the new 12-inch water main on Ashley, sidewalk enhancements on Ashley, and right-of-way landscape maintenance for 20 years. Mouat said the bulk of the grant – $340,000 for the water main – isn’t very sexy, but it would help future development in that block.

Regarding the landscape maintenance contract, Mouat said that street trees in Ann Arbor suffer. They aren’t always cared for, and sometimes they die and are unsightly, he said. So the owners of the site will be responsible for those trees and landscape features. Mouat hoped it would serve as a nice precedent for projects in the future.

Board chair Sandi Smith invited First Martin’s Mike Martin and Darren McKinnon to the podium. Martin described the location where improvements are proposed along the street and alley. He highlighted the minimum amount of work that would have been required, compared to what First Martin is actually doing.

Roger Hewitt agreed that the water main and sidewalk improvements are clear public benefits. He expressed caution about the right-of-way landscape maintenance commitment. In this case, he said, he had no concern – because First Martin has a superb reputation for maintaining its properties. But for future grants, unless the DDA has a way to monitor and enforce the agreement, he would be less interested in doing it.

Martin replied that it’s his understanding that there would be an agreement to cover those details and allay Hewitt’s concerns. Hewitt again stressed that he wasn’t worried about First Martin, but “I just don’t know if other developers will be as conscientious.” Smith said she assumed there’d be a remedy for default, if the developer didn’t follow through on maintenance.

Steve Powers said it was a great example of the DDA being part of a public/private partnership that will help improve downtown. He assumed that the partnerships committee was satisfied that the grant meets the criteria that the DDA spent several months developing.

Smith passed out copies of the grant policy. It states that the project should address significant elements of these 12 criteria:

1. Addresses a documented gap in the marketplace or underserved markets of commerce within this sector of downtown.

2. Demonstrated that the project will act as a catalyst for additional revitalization of the area in which it is located which will trigger the creation of additional new tax revenue.

3. Is “connected” to the adjacent sidewalk with uses on the first floor that are showcased using large transparent windows and doorways to give pedestrians a point of interest to look at as they walk by the project.

4. Creates a large office floor plate.

5. Will facilitate the creation of a large number of new permanent jobs.

6. Is a mixed use development, that will encourage activity in the daytime, evening, and weekend, such as a development with a mix of commercial and residential.

7. Adds to downtown’s residential density.

8. Reuses vacant buildings, reuses historical buildings, and/or redevelops blighted property.

9. Number of affordable housing units created on site or funded by the project elsewhere in the community, which are beyond what is required by the City.

10. Environmental design is at or above a Gold LEED certification, or an equivalent environmental assessment.

11. Architecturally significant building or project design.

12. Strengthens Ann Arbor’s national visibility.

Smith said she wanted to review the grant process at the partnerships committee’s July 9 meeting, to make sure everyone is comfortable with it after this first grant has been awarded using the new policy. They wouldn’t change the grant itself, she noted, but they might recommend tweaks to the guidelines.

Bob Guenzel and Keith Orr also supported the grant, saying it benefited that area and the entire downtown. Orr said he was thrilled that the DDA is again awarding partnership grants, saying it’s what the DDA’s mission is about, especially related to infrastructure.

Mouat noted that the project meets all the elements outlined for eligible improvements in the grant policy. The policy states:

To be eligible, the public improvements should include elements that extend beyond the public ROW directly adjacent to the site; this may include streetscape enhancements (and on-going maintenance), street and crosswalk resurfacing, crosswalk and bike lane pavement marking upgrades, innovative public stormwater treatments, and upsizing water, storm or sewer mains. Inclusion of any of the above elements may then allow site adjacent public improvements to be eligible as well.

Mouat also highlighted the fact that the project met 8 out of the 12 elements mentioned in the policy, which he called “quite extraordinary.” Smith said there were two additional elements – adding to the downtown’s residential density, and strengthening Ann Arbor’s national visibility – that could have easily been considered as benefits that the project brought. The partnerships committee discussed whether having a national hotel chain located downtown raises the city’s visibility, she said. The hotel will be operated by Marriott.

Martin reported that a lot of people locally are excited about the project. Raising the site’s visibility within the community isn’t part of the DDA’s list, he said, but people locally are excited about having another hotel option for out-of-town guests.

Outcome: On a 9-0 vote, the board awarded the grant to First Martin’s hotel project. Al McWilliams abstained on the vote, but did not indicate why. Russ Collins and Cyndi Clark were absent.

Funds for Sidewalks, Trees

The July 2 agenda included a resolution to establish a project budget of $100,000 for tree maintenance and sidewalk repairs in downtown Ann Arbor in fiscal 2015. The item was introduced by Roger Hewitt, and had been recommended by the DDA’s operations committee.

Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

This list of DDA board priorities is now posted on the boardroom wall.

The work will include repairs like displaced bricks and uneven sidewalk flags, as well as pruning of trees. The money to pay for the work will be drawn from tax increment finance (TIF) revenue, which the DDA is authorized to capture under state statue.

Hewitt noted that traditionally, the DDA has done sidewalk maintenance – things like repairing cracks and replacing slabs. There are numerous trip hazards and other minor maintenance issues for the sidewalks, especially after such a harsh winter, he said. Many of the thousand or so trees downtown are not in good shape, he added, and haven’t been pruned in many years. Some trees are dead and need to be replaced.

There’s money set aside in the DDA’s FY 2015 budget for sidewalk work, Hewitt noted. This $100,000 would be specifically designated for sidewalk repairs and tree maintenance or replacement.

Sandi Smith pointed out that a list of projects generated from DDA board retreats is posted on the boardroom wall, to remind them about their priorities. She said the resolution clearly aligns with some of the priorities that the DDA board has identified.

Al McWilliams stressed that by doing the work now, it will save money in the future – because the problems will only get worse if left unaddressed.

John Mouat asked whether the board could consider approving a budget for a three-year period – $100,000 for each year. Hewitt said the intention is that the DDA will spend at least this much every year. But since they haven’t approved the budgets beyond fiscal 2015, it’s better just to designate the amount for this year. He noted that in the somewhat distant past, the DDA budget had a separate fund for this kind of work, but eliminated it because it was cumbersome from a reporting standpoint, he said.

Mouat observed that one-year timeframes are tight, if the DDA is coordinating with the city for this kind of work. Hewitt again stated that it was the intent to spend money on this kind of thing in the future, and that the $100,000 for FY 2015 wouldn’t address all the problems, because maintenance has been deferred for years. “This will be a first step,” he said.

Outcome: The board vote was unanimous in support of the allocation.

Executive Director Raise

The July 2 agenda included a closed session for “a periodic personnel evaluation.” The agenda also included a resolution regarding compensation for the DDA executive director, Susan Pollay. The resolution for a salary adjustment was drafted prior to the closed session, and included this whereas clause: “Whereas, The DDA Executive Committee recommends that Ms. Pollay be provided with a salary adjustment beginning July 1, 2014 to increase her salary from $109,119 to $XXX,XXX; …”

The executive committee members are Sandi Smith (chair), John Mouat (vice chair), Keith Orr (secretary) and Roger Hewitt (treasurer). Pollay serves as a non-voting ex officio member.

Susan Pollay, Mike Martin, Darren McKinnon, Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Susan Pollay, Mike Martin, Darren McKinnon

Before going into closed session, board member Keith Orr noted that a closed session isn’t required unless the person being reviewed requests it. He said the review was being conducted in closed session at Pollay’s request. The closed session was held in Pollay’s office.

The board emerged after about 15 minutes and Roger Hewitt brought forward the resolution for her salary adjustment. Board chair Sandi Smith said the evaluation of Pollay was extremely positive, saying that Pollay worked well with board members, general community entities, and is “a wonderful ambassador for the city.”

Hewitt noted that Pollay’s current salary is $109,119. He said she had received “good raises” in each of the last two years. However, she did not take a raise during the six years before that, he added, and that had been at her request because of the difficult economy. Hewitt said her eight-year average raise comes out to about 1.9% annually, which he said is below the rate of inflation. “It’s actually a losing position versus the cost of living,” he said.

Pollay is a Level 2 in the city’s pay range, Hewitt reported, which has a salary range from $95,000 to $157,000. The midpoint is $126,000 annually, he noted. Given her evaluations, he added, Pollay should be receiving a salary that’s closer to the midpoint.

However, even though Ann Arbor is doing well, the state is still not doing very well, Hewitt said. So he suggested giving her a 5% raise, which would be about $5,456 – bringing her total salary to $114,570. About half of the raise would cover cost of living increases, he said, and the other half would be to move her more toward the midpoint of the Level 2 pay range.

Board chair Sandi Smith said she hoped that future executive committee members would keep that record in mind when they evaluate Pollay’s salary in the coming years, saying there’s some “make up” that needs to happen.

Bob Guenzel asked if there was any consideration given to doing a longer-term look at her salary, for the next two or three years. Hewitt replied that the executive committee didn’t discuss it, but “the intention is that there will be continued raises above the cost of living to bring her up to a level that is appropriate for her responsibilities.” Guenzel said it would be nice to see Pollay reach the midpoint. Hewitt replied that the intention is to bring her up to that midpoint salary of $126,000 “within a fairly short time period.”

Steve Powers, Rishi Narayan, Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: DDA board members Steve Powers and Rishi Narayan.

Steve Powers said he would not support a 5% raise. He understood the reasons given for it. He thought the movement of Pollay’s salary to a midpoint level, which is being tied to her performance, needs to be part of a more robust evaluation process. Also, according to a University of Michigan economic report, he noted, inflation has been between 1.7% to 1.9%. Powers said he was more comfortable with a 3% raise.

Smith replied that Pollay hadn’t received a raise in 8 of the past 10 years, “and I think there’s some opportunity for some catch-up.” She characterized a 5% raise as “extremely modest.”

Al McWilliams asked Powers if there were precedent for this raise compared to other positions within the city. Powers replied that the management employees of the city received a 3% increase this year. Last year they also got 3%. Prior to that there’d been a one-time adjustment, he said, and salary freezes during the recession.

The resolution regarding the increase states that “a number of important DDA projects were undertaken in FY 2014 under Ms. Pollay’s leadership, including opening the new First and Washington parking structure, creating a Street Framework planning initiative in partnership with the City, and working with the City Council to approve amendments to the DDA ordinance.”

The resolution also states that board members provided reviews of Pollay’s work in FY 2014, and the reviews “noted how effectively she works with the DDA Board to support board member involvement and effectiveness, how effectively DDA programs and projects are managed, and that Ms. Pollay serves as a vital resource for downtown stakeholders, and the community at large…”

Pollay has served as the DDA’s executive director since 1996.

Outcome: On a 9-1 vote, the board approved a 5% increase to Pollay’s salary, over dissent from Steve Powers. Russ Collins and Cyndi Clark were absent.

Annual Meeting

Immediately after its regular monthly meeting on July 2, the DDA board held its annual meeting to elect officers and form committees.

Annual Meeting: Election of Officers

John Mouat was nominated to serve as chair of the board for the coming fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2014. The nomination of Mouat as chair was made in accordance with the custom of the DDA board over the last several years – to elect the vice chair from the preceding year as chair. Mouat is a partner in the downtown firm of Mitchell & Mouat Architects.

Mouat’s term on the DDA board runs through Sept. 6, 2015. He was first appointed in 2007.

Other officers nominated by the board included Roger Hewitt as vice chair, Rishi Narayan as treasurer, and Keith Orr as secretary. Outgoing chair Sandi Smith was thanked for her service. She presided over the annual meeting until the end, as Mouat’s term began at the conclusion of the meeting.

There were no competing nominations.

Outcome: All officers were elected unanimously.

The executive committee consists of these four officers: chair, vice chair, treasurer and secretary. They serve in those positions for one-year terms. Given the custom of the board, Hewitt is now in a position to become the next chair. He has served on the DDA board since 2004 and his current term runs through Aug. 19, 2016. He owns two businesses in downtown Ann Arbor – Red Hawk restaurant, and Revive + Replenish shop.

Annual Meeting: Committee Structure

In other business at the annual meeting, the board discussed what committees it wanted to create or continue in the coming year.

The board’s bylaws state that committees can be created to advise the board. From the bylaws:

Committee members shall be members of the Board, any board member may serve on any committee of the Board. The Chair of the Board shall appoint the members and select the chair of the Board committees and will solicit volunteers to chair the standing committees. The committees may be terminated by vote of the Board. At the annual meeting, the committees will be evaluated and reappointed or dissolved.

Sandi Smith noted that for the last several years, all members of the board served on every committee. That way, she said, everyone got the meeting notices and packets. “I don’t know whether that’s a good practice or a bad practice, but it’s time that we bring that forward,” she said. Smith added that she believed she got the opportunity to appoint the committee chairs, as board chair.

The two existing committees were (1) partnerships/economic development/communications, and (2) operations. The partnerships committee includes a subcommittee on marketing. The board first considered whether to dissolve these committees.

Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Partnerships, Marketing

Keith Orr advocated for keeping the partnerships/economic development/communications committee as is, with its marketing subcommittee working as needed. He didn’t think there needed to be a separate marketing committee.

Al McWilliams said he tended to agree with Orr. While marketing and communications activity is “picking up steam,” he didn’t think it was mature enough yet to need its own full committee.

Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The Ann Arbor DDA board.

Rishi Narayan pointed out that the partnerships meetings are getting unwieldy, so it might be better to pull out marketing and communications. If it turns out that a separate marketing/communications committee eventually isn’t needed, the board could dissolve it, he noted. This would allow there to be two separate meetings, each one shorter than the current combined committee.

Orr advocated for keeping it unchanged, and noted that the board can create a separate marketing committee during the year, if they feel they need it.

Joan Lowenstein agreed with Orr, saying she didn’t think the partnerships meeting was unwieldy. She noted that the board members are volunteers, and creating new committees requires yet another block of time to devote to the work. She thought it worked better for people’s schedules to consolidate as much as possible.

McWilliams then suggested creating separate committees, but holding back-to-back meetings.

Narayan said that in the future, if there’s a staff member focused on marketing and communications, “this area might become more fleshed out very quickly.” He noted that there’s been talk about hiring another employee for that purpose in the future, although he characterized that possibility as a “fantasy” at this point.

Smith picked up on McWilliams’ suggestion – having the partnerships meeting run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then a marketing committee could meet as needed at 12:30 p.m. People attending the partnerships meeting could stay for marketing if they’re interested, she said.

Mouat encouraged board members to arrive at committee meetings on time, saying it would help save time and make the meetings more efficient.

Steve Powers asked that the DDA board chair or executive director remind the partnerships committee members who represent other taxing jurisdictions about the purpose of the committee and the changes that are being made, “so that their expectations are in line with the DDA board’s expectations for that committee.”

Smith said it sounded like there was consensus for a new marketing committee. She asked that McWilliams serve as chair. She asked anyone who was interested in serving on the committee to raise their hand. She, McWilliams and Narayan raised their hands.

At this point, DDA executive director Susan Pollay asked whether the board was going to vote to dissolve the existing partnerships/economic development/communications committee, and vote to create the marketing committee.

Orr repeated his preference to keep the current committee structure.

Outcome: The board voted to dissolve the partnerships/economic development/communications committee.

Roger Hewitt then moved to create a partnerships committee and a marketing committee. As a friendly amendment, Keith Orr suggested that the partnerships committee be named partnerships/economic development.

Outcome: The board voted to create a partnerships/economic development committee and a marketing committee.

Sandi Smith asked Joan Lowenstein and Al McWilliams to serve as co-chairs of the partnerships/economic development committee. Other board members who volunteered to serve on the committee are Bob Guenzel, John Mouat, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Sandi Smith, John Splitt.

Smith noted that “committee participants” of the partnerships/economic development committee are: Ken Clein (city planning commission); Jane Lumm and Margie Teall (Ann Arbor city council); Charles Griffith (Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority); and Jason Morgan (Washtenaw Community College). Based on an emailed response to a Chronicle query to Pollay, the DDA’s position appears to be that historically, membership on the partnerships committee was always restricted to DDA board members – because it has been a “board committee” under the DDA bylaws.

By way of background, however, the DDA bylaws provide for a second committee type – “advisory committees” – that do not have a requirement that members be DDA board members. It’s been assumed by at least some city councilmembers that those who are now being described as “committee participants” have been actual “members” of the partnerships committee and that the partnerships committee has been an “advisory committee” under the bylaws. To the extent that the DDA board committees function without taking formal votes or observing rules on quorum, the issue of committee membership as compared to “participation” could be considered moot.

At the July 2 meeting, Smith added that there was an “ongoing invitation” for representatives from Washtenaw County government and the Ann Arbor District Library to participate. “They know that they’ve been invited to come and share during the update time” during the partnerships meetings, she said.

By way of background, the DDA captures taxes from the following jurisdictions that collect taxes in the DDA district: the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The partnerships committee includes representatives from each of those entities, with the exception of the AADL and Washtenaw County. Until last year, county commissioner Leah Gunn was a DDA board member and served on the partnerships committee. Former county administrator Bob Guenzel is on the DDA board and the partnerships committee.

When queried by The Chronicle via email, AADL director Josie Parker stated that she hadn’t been formally invited to join the committee. She said she did participate on the partnerships committee several years ago, but hasn’t been part of it at all in the last few years. That was her choice, she said.

Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Operations, Finance

Roger Hewitt noted that the DDA has a budget of about $24 million. During the operations committee meetings, there’s a lot going on, he said, and the financial piece tends to not get the attention that it needs, given the size of the budget. Having a separate committee that focuses strictly on the financial aspects of the organization would be beneficial, he said.

Roger Hewitt, John Splitt, Ann Arbor DDA, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

DDA board members Roger Hewitt and John Splitt.

So Hewitt preferred two separate committees. He suggested that operations could continue to meet at 11 a.m., then would break for lunch and continue with a meeting of the finance committee. Anyone who’s on operations could attend the finance committee meeting, he said, but it would focus in more detail on the organization’s financial records and reports.

Keith Orr said he thought it made sense to have separate committees for operations and finance. Finance is an important enough subject to warrant its own committee, especially as the DDA’s budget continues to grow, he said. It’s important to develop people on the DDA board who are comfortable with the financial oversight role – especially since there are now term limits, he said. [The city council voted last year to impose a limit of three terms for DDA board members, which amount to 12 years.]

Hewitt then brought forward one resolution to: (1) dissolve the existing operations committee, and (2) form two new committees: the finance committee, and the operations (parking/transportation/construction) committee.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Smith appointed the new board treasurer, Rishi Narayan, as chair of the finance committee. Other board members who volunteered for the committee were Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Splitt and Keith Orr.

Smith then appointed John Splitt as chair of the operations committee. Other board members who volunteered to serve on the operations committee are Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Joan Lowenstein, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr.

Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Executive

Sandi Smith noted that the executive committee consists of the board officers: chair John Mouat, vice chair Roger Hewitt, secretary Keith Orr, and treasurer Rishi Narayan. Smith, as the most recent former board chair, is a non-voting member. The DDA’s executive director, Susan Pollay, is a non-voting ex officio member.

Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Membership

Committee membership was determined by board members volunteering for the committees on which they wanted to serve. The committee chairs were appointed by outgoing DDA board chair Sandi Smith. The four new committees have the following membership:

  • Marketing committee: Al McWilliams (chair), Rishi Narayan and Sandi Smith.
  • Partnerships/economic development committee: Joan Lowenstein and Al McWilliams (co-chairs), Bob Guenzel, John Mouat, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Sandi Smith, John Splitt. Listed as “committee participants” of the partnerships/economic development committee on the agenda are: Ken Clein (city planning commission); Jane Lumm and Margie Teall (Ann Arbor city council); Charles Griffith (Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority); and Jason Morgan (Washtenaw Community College).
  • Finance committee: Rishi Narayan (chair), Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Splitt and Keith Orr.
  • Operations (parking/transportation/construction) committee: John Splitt (chair), Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Joan Lowenstein, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr.

Two board members – Cyndi Clark and Russ Collins – were absent, and will likely be joining one or more of the committees.

Steve Powers noted that he hadn’t volunteered for any of the committees, but he’d try to attend meetings if assistance is needed. He encouraged the committee members to make sure that the purpose of the committees is clearly understood by committee members, staff and the public. It’s important to be aligned regarding the role of the committees, he said, and to maintain the positive relationship between the DDA board, staff, and the other jurisdictions.

Smith agreed, saying that in September each committee should kick off their meeting with a re-introduction of members, and a discussion of purpose.

Powers said he appreciated that the board priorities were posted on the DDA boardroom wall, saying that it’s a powerful reminder about why the DDA is here and what they’re focusing on. He suggested doing something similar for the committees. Smith joked that “it’s easy to be swayed by shiny objects.”

Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Coda, Future Meetings

The board discussed the possibility of canceling its committee meetings for July. Roger Hewitt indicated a possible need to meet to discuss renovations at the Fourth & William parking structure, but that might be handled by a subcommittee. Sandi Smith wanted to have a partnerships meeting in July but not August. She wanted to evaluate the partnerships grant policy, after awarding its first grant under the new policy. She thought the committee should review the policy while the action was still fresh, rather than waiting until August or September.

After further discussion, the board decided to leave the July committee meetings in place.

According to the DDA’s website, upcoming committee meetings will take place at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth, Suite 301:

  • Partnerships & Economic Development: Wednesday, July 9 at 9 a.m.
  • Marketing: Wednesday, July 9 at 10:30 a.m.
  • Operations: Wednesday, July 9 at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, July 30 at 11 a.m.
  • Finance: Wednesday, July 30 at 12:30 p.m.

In addition, the board has scheduled a meeting on Wednesday, July 9 at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the design of the Fourth & William stair tower & elevator tower. All committee meetings are open to the public.

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s July 2 meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council, as well as public commentary. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council

Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter said the group recently welcomed two potential new members who live and work downtown. He said the advisory council would welcome the participation of others who live or work in the downtown area and who are interested in shaping developments downtown. There are three more membership openings. The group meets on the first Tuesday of every month except August at 7 p.m. in city hall.

He noted that by next fall, new developments will open that bring hundreds of residential units to the downtown, and “amazingly, our group is in full support of most of them.” Those developments that avoid having a negative impact are being undertaken by local developers, he noted.

But most of the advisory council’s July 1 meeting had been focused on the future of the Library Lane site, Detter reported, where a current surface parking lot is located atop the underground parking structure there. He noted that the city council provided direction to the city administrator to hire a broker to explore selling the development rights for that site, while reserving a portion of the property for a downtown park.

Members of the advisory council strongly support a significantly sized public plaza on the Fifth Avenue side of that location, Detter said. They also support pedestrian walkways to Liberty Plaza, and believe that all future development should take into consideration the needs of the Ann Arbor District Library and possible connections to the Blake Transit Center as well as nearby historic properties, and businesses. They encourage the possibility of a new tax-generating private or public development on the major part of that Library Lane property, he said.

Detter noted that the issue of improving Liberty Plaza has apparently been moved to the city’s park advisory commission. He said most of the citizens advisory council believe that changes to Liberty Plaza should be part of a larger plan for the entire block. The city about a decade ago spent $250,000 on redesigning Liberty Plaza – with $50,000 from the city’s parks department, and the rest provided by the DDA, he said. It’s a beautiful park, Detter added, and he hoped it would be part of a larger plan for the block.

Comm/Comm: Streetscape Framework Project

John Mouat noted that there was no agenda item for an update on the DDA’s streetscape framework project. He asked Amber Miller, the DDA’s planning and research specialist, to provide an update.

Miller said the staff and consultants had done some on-the-ground outreach, getting feedback from people who were using the streets downtown. They heard from over 200 people and got a lot of good feedback. She said they’ve also pulled in an “economics team” that focuses on retail and ground-floor uses, to make sure that any streetscape improvements would benefit those active uses. That team made its visit on July 1 and July 2, she said, meeting with some DDA board members and walking around the downtown district. More information would be provided at the project’s next advisory committee meeting, Miller said.

The next advisory committee meeting is Tuesday, July 8 at 9 a.m. at the DDA’s office, 150 S. Fifth, Suite 301. The meeting is open to the public.

By way of background, at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the DDA board authorized the consulting contract SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard to manage the project. According to the project’s website, a “comprehensive set of design, construction, and maintenance standards can enhance and maintain the high quality experience provided by some streets and improve the identity and functionality of others. A framework plan will be a tool to ensure downtown streets provide a high quality of place for all users, while also meeting broader community goals.”

Feedback is also being collected via an online survey and a wiki mapping tool.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

Roger Hewitt reported on the status of the connector study. [By way of background, an alternatives analysis is currently being conducted by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.]

The technical oversight committee met last week, Hewitt said, and are very close to wrapping up its preliminary conclusions. A public meeting is planned for Sept. 17, he reported. That will take place in the evening at the Ann Arbor District Library to bring the public up to date, with two sessions – at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Hewitt described it as a long and arduous process, going through reams of data. They’re close to making recommendations, depending on public input, he said.

Comm/Comm: WALLY

Roger Hewitt also gave an update on the federally funded study regarding a railroad station for a north/south commuter rail running between Ann Arbor and Howell. [The project is known as WALLY – the Washtenaw and Livingston Line.]

railroad, WALLY, Ann Arbor, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

View looking south toward Liberty along the railroad tracks between Washington and Liberty. If the commuter rail project known as WALLY moves forward, a proposed train stop might be located here, in the railroad right-of-way east of the tracks – on the left side of this photo.

Hewitt said this service is probably a significant way off from being offered, but there had been funding for a study to recommend station locations. The consultants evaluated “every possible location” between North Main Street south to where Fingerle Lumber is located, he said.

The final site recommendation for a stop is for the east side of the railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington streets, Hewitt reported – opposite of where the former city maintenance yard was located [at 415 W. Washington]. He said it wouldn’t be a full station – it would simply be a platform with canopies and a ramp to Washington Street to the north and a sidewalk connection to the south onto Liberty.

The stop would be built entirely within the railroad right-of-way, he explained – there would be no taking of public or private property.

Hewitt said he’d like to make a short formal presentation about the recommendation at a future DDA board meeting.

Comm/Comm: Communications & Marketing

Rishi Narayan reported that the marketing/communications subcommittee was still collecting data to determine what the DDA’s place might be in marketing the downtown. Traditionally, marketing hasn’t been part of the DDA’s role, he noted, so if they decide to do it, they need to make sure it’s efficient in time, money and staff energy.

Narayan said they’re working with a company, at no cost to the DDA, to develop a plan that would give the DDA some macro-economic data. They’ve also started talking with Republic Parking, which oversees the city’s parking system under contract with the DDA, to see if there’s a way to extract information from Republic’s data.

Because the art fairs are approaching, people don’t have a lot of time to talk about this, Narayan noted. He hoped to come back with recommendations in the coming months. It might mean partnering with the downtown area associations and the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau to do more, such as grants for events.

Al McWilliams noted that the CVB is doing data collection during the art fairs, to show what the impact of those events are. The CVB will be sharing that data with the DDA.

Comm/Comm: Fourth & William Renovations

John Splitt reported that the subcommittee for renovations at the Fourth & William parking structure had met with the design team. Construction drawings for the elevator and stair tower are moving forward. By way of background, the board had approved the $5 million project budget at its May 2, 2014 meeting, with Carl Walker Inc. handling the design.

Image from preliminary drawings by the Carl Walker design team for renovated elevator and stair tower for the Fourth & William parking structure.

Image from preliminary drawings by the Carl Walker Inc. design team for renovated southwest elevator and stair tower for the Fourth & William parking structure.

The subcommittee is still fleshing out general concepts about the rest of the potential build-out along Fourth and Williams, Splitt said. They want to be as flexible as possible, and would like to see wheelchair access, awnings and ways to break up the horizontal surfaces. Architect Carl Luckenbach has come up with some different concepts that the subcommittee is considering.

They haven’t decided where bathrooms might be installed, and aren’t certain how much space they can build out without triggering city code issues for ventilation and fire suppression, Splitt reported. The subcommittee is meeting with the design team again in the next week, and might emerge with answers to some of these questions.

John Mouat said they’d be reaching out to “our realtor friends” to get advice about what the “white box” might be for this build-out, to make sure that it’s viable for potential tenants.

Roger Hewitt reported that the subcommittee already had one meeting with real estate professionals. The feedback was that there’s big demand for business incubator start-up space, he said.

Keith Orr told the board that construction of the Greyhound ticket office at the Fourth & William structure is underway, and the bus company will be relocating there next week – ahead of schedule. The office was previously located at the site on West Huron where First Martin is now constructing an extended-stay hotel.

Comm/Comm: Ambassadors

Reporting out from the operations committee, Roger Hewitt noted that a meeting had been held with several representatives of local social service agencies, as well as Ann Arbor police chief John Seto and Mary Kerr from the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau. They discussed how an ambassador program might be integrated into existing efforts, and complement those efforts.

Now they’re trying to figure out how to frame an RFP (request for proposals), Hewitt said. They’d like to bring the two potential providers here for interviews, he added. A meeting is set for Wednesday, July 9 at 1 p.m. to discuss exactly how to structure the interview process.

Hewitt expected to set up interviews sometime before the end of this summer.

Comm/Comm: Parking Update

Roger Hewitt said there was nothing new to report, other than the monthly permit data that was provided in the board packet.

Comm/Comm: City Updates

City administrator Steve Powers gave a couple of updates that related to the DDA district. The city council, as part of its approval of the fiscal 2015 budget, has authorized hiring three new police officers. Two of the three positions will be community engagement officers who’ll be starting by the end of July, he said. Downtown will be a priority area for their work over the summer.

Sandi Smith asked Powers to elaborate on the nature of the community engagement work. Powers described it as an initiative that police chief John Seto has been advocating since he took that position. Currently there is one officer doing community engagement – Sgt. Tom Hickey. The additional officers will help Hickey engage with three areas of emphasis: downtown businesses, neighborhoods and public schools. Their work will contrast with patrol activity or calls for service, Powers said, in that they’ll be more pro-active.

Powers also noted that during this year’s art fairs, the city’s police, fire and emergency management staff will be using Liberty Plaza – on the southwest corner of Liberty and Division – as staging area and a cooling station for the public. There will be misting and water available, as well as shade, he said. Red Cross will be participating, as will the city’s volunteer community emergency response team (CERT).

Comm/Comm: Real-Time Parking Data

During public commentary, Ed Vielmetti noted that in 2009, he’d approached the board with ideas and a prototype of a system to monitor and provide real-time information about the city parking system. At the time, the DDA board was not interested in supporting it, he said, and the DDA removed access to the real-time information. He said he’s recently spoken to staff at Republic Parking, which manages the city’s parking system under contract with the DDA, and showed them some prototypes. They’d been receptive to some of the ideas, he said, but had made it clear that a good first step would be to talk with the DDA board.

Vielmetti said his system could provide real-time alerts when parking structures are full, for example, among other features. He said he’s built all of this on his own, mostly as a demonstration project. He’d be happy to share the results of the prototype with board members. He’s doing a similar project for a solar energy-monitoring system.

Sandi Smith suggested that Vielmetti talk with DDA executive director Susan Pollay, as well as the board’s operations committee.

Comm/Comm: TiniLite

Changmin Fan introduced himself as the owner of TiniLite World. He said the company is registered in Ann Arbor, and he has a factory in China that’s building a prototype. He’d like to manufacture the product here, however. He said all four mayoral candidates are great, but noted that Sally Petersen has pointed out the city’s economic development needs. The economic ecosystem isn’t very good for him, Fan said. Small businesses and people – not just the University of Michigan – are the engine for economic development in this city. Communications are also important, he added, and there needs to be smart signs on the street. The DDA can take a leadership position on this, he concluded.

Comm/Comm: BTC Open House

Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, invited board members to the Blake Transit Center grand opening on Monday, July 7 at 10 a.m. There will be tours, food and “dignitaries aplenty,” she said. The getDowntown office is located on the second floor, and she urged them to drop by.

Shore also reported that there is a community space within that facility where meetings can take place. It might be a nice location for a retreat, she said.

The Blake Transit Center is the downtown hub for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. It’s located north of William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.

Comm/Comm: Bill’s Beer Garden

Board chair Sandi Smith noted that the DDA board would be gathering that night at Bill’s Beer Garden at 6 p.m. She joked that the purpose was “to have some very serious discussions about Original Gravity, IBUs and things like that.” She said it would be open to the public, and is a celebration of hard work by a lot of volunteers.

Comm/Comm: Staff Thank You to Board Members

At the end of the annual meeting, executive director Susan Pollay made a presentation to the board, saying it was the staff’s chance to thank the board. DDA board members are volunteers, she said. “I don’t know that that’s widely understood out in the community.” She thanked the board for their service.

Pollay also said that it’s a tradition for the staff to present a small gift to the outgoing board chair. This year, the gift was inspired by a trip to New York, she said. “It was a wonderful moment for many of us to actually be in one of the most fabulous cities in the world.” [The trip was for the International Downtown Association conference in October 2013.] The gift comes from Selo/Shevel Gallery on Main Street in Ann Arbor, which closed earlier this year. It’s a pin that evokes a cityscape of tall buildings, Pollay said.

Smith received a round of applause from staff and the board.

Present: Al McWilliams, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Steve Powers, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Russ Collins, Cyndi Clark.

Next board meeting: The board does not meet in August. The next board meeting is at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [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 Downtown Development Authority. 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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Planning Commission Sets Work Goals Wed, 19 Jun 2013 14:00:34 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor city planning commissioners met earlier this month in a work session focused on two main issues: (1) evaluating the city’s planning manager, Wendy Rampson, and planning staff, and (2) laying out the work plan for both staff and the commission in the coming fiscal year.

Wendy Rampson, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

At a June 4, 2013 work session, Wendy Rampson – the city of Ann Arbor’s planning manager – wrote down topics that the planning staff and commission will address in the short term, including an evaluation of A2D2 zoning. (Photos by the writer.)

The evaluation was positive, with most of the discussion focused on increasing collaboration with the city council and other city boards and commissions. The possibility of holding a joint session with members of the city council was raised, though some commissioners expressed skepticism about it. Ken Clein noted the challenge would be to avoid posturing by councilmembers, saying it might be difficult to have a productive discussion in a public forum. Wendy Woods observed that sometimes the planning commission is used for political cover. If a joint session is “just for show,” she said, then planning commissioners have better ways to spend their time.

Sabra Briere, a Ward 1 councilmember who serves on the planning commission, cited some benefits for a joint session: “If you want to work with council, sitting in the same room and at least getting a sense of where this year’s crop of councilpeople are can’t hurt – and it can help the council.”

Regarding the work plan, commissioners identified projects and issues to tackle in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, as well as longer-range goals.

The most pressing of those short-term projects is the review of A2D2 zoning as directed by the city council, with a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to council. The primary focus of that is the downtown D1-D2 zoning, especially in light of the controversial 413 E. Huron development, which the council recently approved. Rampson said the plan is to bring in a consultant to manage that zoning review, because the planning staff right now doesn’t have the capacity to take it on. It also helps to have someone look at the issue from a fresh perspective, she said.

Other projects for the coming fiscal year include: (1) developing an action plan for the city’s sustainability framework; (2) completing the Zoning Ordinance Reorganization (ZORO) effort; (3) recommending amendments to the R4C/R2A zoning districts; (4) working on certification for the state’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” program; and (5) making amendments to the city’s master plan for two corridors plans – Washtenaw Avenue and North Main/Huron River.

Several longer-term efforts are on the commission’s work plan too, including amendments to the city’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance and neighborhood outreach.

Commissioners voted to approve the work plan at their regular meeting on June 18.

Planning Staff Evaluation: Collaboration

The planning commission gives an annual formal evaluation of the city’s planning manager and staff. Commissioners had completed a survey, and spent part of the June 4 working session reviewing the results of that survey. [.pdf of evaluation survey results] The session was also attended by Sharie Sell of the city’s human resources department.

Ken Clein noted that the evaluation was “overwhelmingly positive.” Much of the commission’s conversation focused on the issue of collaboration, and an interest in increasing the planning staff and planning commission’s collaboration with other city boards and commissions, as well as with the city council.

Collaboration was mention explicitly in some of the commissioners’ survey responses, which were made anonymously:

City Council can be tough, especially when they aren’t in the trenches…hang in there and let CPC know when we can be more proactively helpful. Would an annual joint working session be helpful (maybe including a couple other commissions that may have valuable input on current issues)?

I’d like to see us include other commissions (or at least a representative or two) when dealing with Energy, Environment, Parks, Housing, etc.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson wondered if some kind of collaborative element was important enough to add to the commission’s regular schedule, or whether it should be handled at the committee level.

Sabra Briere, a city councilmember who serves on the planning commission as the council’s representative, reported that the city administrator, Steve Powers, recently asked her if she thought a joint session between the council and planning commission would be useful.

Wendy Woods, a former city councilmember, wondered whether the point of a joint session would be to work on a specific issue, or whether other commissioners felt there was a general need for better communication and collaboration. She noted that the environmental commission includes representatives from other commissions, including planning. Perhaps that’s a model that should be adopted by more commissions, Woods said.

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor planning commission, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sabra Briere serves on the city council and planning commission.

Diane Giannola worried that joint meetings of the planning commission and city council would bring politics into the commission’s work. She wasn’t interested in regular sessions with the council. Briere clarified that the idea was for a once-a-year working session, not regular meetings.

Ken Clein noted that the challenge would be to make sure that councilmembers aren’t just posturing. There are certainly issues in the community that warrant discussion, he said, citing possible changes to the R4C and D1 zoning, as well as other land use issues along the city’s main corridors. The challenge is to get people together in a productive atmosphere. It’s even more difficult to do in a public meeting, Clein said.

Briere recalled a joint meeting with the council and planning commission – held at the Community Television Network studios – that she described as very valuable. [That session, held in September 2009, also included members of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and focused on developing downtown design guidelines.]

Briere said she understood the concerns about politics and posturing. But she also hears people on council and on the planning commission say they’re waiting for direction from the other entity. The council is looking to the planning commission to help create a vision, she said.

Woods noted that sometimes the “help” is really the council looking for political cover. She observed that sometimes a member of the council will talk about taking an issue to the DDA to see what the DDA will do – even though that same person sits on the DDA board. [She didn't mention him by name, but mayor John Hieftje is the only person current serving on the council who also serves on the DDA board.] Woods pointed out that the planning commission is only advisory, so it concerns her when the council – as an elected body – isn’t the entity that’s creating a vision for the city.

Briere replied that each councilmember has a vision for the city, but that doesn’t mean the council as a whole has a collective vision. In that case, Woods said, perhaps the council needs a facilitator.

In that regard, Briere highlighted a council retreat late last year that focused on developing budget priorities. [See Chronicle coverage: "Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure."] It was the first time that the council as a group had worked together to develop some consensus statements, she said. “If you want to work with council, sitting in the same room and at least getting a sense of where this year’s crop of councilpeople are can’t hurt – and it can help the council,” Briere said.

Woods responded, saying that councilmembers can pretend like they’re taking advice from the planning commission, but then they’ll just count votes to make their decisions, and use the commission for political cover. She noted that some councilmembers have told her that they’re glad she’s made certain comments in public. Why don’t those councilmembers feel like they can make the same kind of statements? Woods said that if people want to have a joint meeting and really listen to each other, that’s fine. But if it’s “just for show,” she added, the planning commissioners have a lot of work to do and have better ways to spend their time.

Briere replied: “I’m being the messenger.” The council hasn’t discussed having joint meetings, or raised these issues, she noted. The city administrator had queried her about it, as have some people who sit on other city boards and commissions, who are interested in talking about D1 zoning. “They want to talk about some of the impacts they see,” Briere said.

Giannola feared that a joint session would involve councilmembers trying to persuade planning commissioners to take action in a certain way. Briere reiterated that the council as a whole hasn’t talked about holding a joint session.

Rampson brought the conversation back to the topic of the evaluation, asking whether the staff should look for more collaborative opportunities, or take their cues from commissioners in terms of next steps. “We can be as proactive or opportunistic as you want us to be,” she noted, but it sounded to her like direction might need to come from commissioners or the council.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Wendy Woods, who formerly served on city council.

Bonnie Bona cited the city’s master plan as the area in which the council and planning commission overlaps the most, from a voting perspective. By law, both the council and planning commission must approve the same version of any document in the master plan.

Relative to D1 and D2 zoning, Bona thought it would be great to get together with other commissions and the council. There’s a high level of interest, she said, and it’s better to be as inclusive as possible in those discussions. But perhaps those discussions can focus on the master plan level, as opposed to the zoning level, she added. If they were to hold just one joint session, Bona felt that should be the topic.

Bona also thought a well-facilitated discussion on R4C zoning would be useful, focused on “what are we trying to do?” rather than “how are we doing it?” She felt that R4C might get “hung up” in the details, and getting on the same page regarding the intent of the zoning would be helpful so that the process doesn’t “self implode.” It’ll be messy, Bona said.

Another possible joint-session topic would be the action items for the sustainability framework, Bona said. That issue covers more than just planning issues.

Bona also noted that the commission’s executive committee has in the past been responsible for council relations, and she suggested letting that committee decide when to bring in the council on any of these issues. Conversations in that committee can be more in-depth, she said, and they could strategize about the best use of everyone’s time. [As the commission's secretary, Bona currently serves on the executive committee. Other members are the chair (Kirk Westphal) and vice chair (Wendy Woods).]

Commissioners also talked about the need for a facilitator for any joint session, so that it would free participants – commissioners, council and staff – to engage fully in the discussion.

Their June 4 discussion was wide-ranging, and frequently circled back to other issues related to the city council. One issue raised was the length of recent meetings, which have lasted past midnight. Woods suggested that the council might consider doing things differently, possibly by starting meetings earlier in the day. Currently, council meetings begin at 7 p.m. She indicated that it’s hard for people to think straight at such late hours, and noted that some cities hold their council meetings during the day.

Briere pointed out that some councilmembers work during the day. She felt that daytime meetings actually limited participation by the public, because most people have jobs that would prevent them from attending a meeting before 5 p.m.

Briere also observed that until the past year, council meetings didn’t extend as late as they do now. The meeting length isn’t necessarily related to the number of public hearings or presentations, she said, although it can be. “It’s often a factor of who sits at the table,” she said. “There are times when individuals are more loquacious, ask more questions, and have more opportunity to speak – and that extends the discussion time for any given item.”

Briere recalled when the former Ann Arbor News used to publish a “council clock” to record the length of council meetings. [This was during the late 1990s, when meetings also ran long.] Westphal jokingly asked if the clock indicated how long each councilmember spoke. Briere said it hadn’t been that sophisticated, although now it would be easier to do that. She noted that if that were done today, people would note that some councilmembers never speak. That might be because some councilmembers don’t feel the need to extend the discussion, she said.

FY 2014 Work Plan

Commissioners also spent more than half of the June 4 session discussing the work plan for both the commission and planning staff. They identified projects and issues to tackle in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, as well as longer-range goals.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kirk Westphal, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson highlighted several “must do” tasks for FY 2014. The most pressing of those is the review of A2D2 zoning as directed by the city council, with a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to the council. The primary focus of that is the downtown D1-D2 zoning. She said the plan is to hire a consultant to manage that effort, because the planning staff right now doesn’t have the capacity to take it on. It also helps to have someone look at the issue from a fresh perspective, she said.

The commission’s ordinance revisions committee will take the lead on that project. Members include Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal and Wendy Woods. Westphal noted that a review of A2D2 zoning had been part of the commission’s work plan, even before the council directive. That directive had been spurred by a controversial development at 413 E. Huron, at the corner of Huron and Division. The site is zoned D1, the highest density allowed, and developers are building a 14-story apartment building there. The council voted 6-5 to approve the project at its May 13, 2013 meeting.

Sabra Briere, who also serves on the council, noted that councilmember Marcia Higgins has reestablished the design review committee to review the city’s downtown design guidelines and process. Rampson reported that the planning staff is not staffing that effort, so it’s not part of the work plan. Westphal, who served  on the original design review committee, was nominated again but declined to participate on the current iteration.

In addition to the A2D2 zoning review, other short-term efforts in the work plan related to master planning and ordinance revisions are:

Some of these projects will require more heavy lifting than others by the planning commission and staff. Regarding the ZORO project, which has been in the works for years, Rampson noted that when the staff has completed the draft revisions, it will likely take quite a bit of work to move forward – first by the commission’s ordinance revisions committee, then by the full planning commission.

Regarding the status of the R4C zoning changes, Rampson noted that earlier in the meeting, commissioners had discussed the possibility of holding a joint session with the council on this topic. After everyone agrees on the items that should be implemented, she said, then the staff and commission can work on an implementation plan. The commission’s recommendations on R4C/R2A zoning changes were provided to the council as an item of communication on May 20, 2013. “They probably barely even noticed it, because they were talking about other things,” Rampson noted. [The focus of that meeting was approval of the city's FY 2014 budget.]

Rampson also explained that the city has been accepted into the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” program, which requires a formal presentation to the community’s elected body – the city council. That might happen at a working session, which could include the planning commission and other city groups. From the RRC website:

RRC is a certification program promoting effective redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices. The program measures and then certifies communities that integrate transparency, predictability and efficiency into their daily development practices. The RRC certification is a formal recognition that a community has a vision for the future and the fundamental practices in place to get there.

Rampson noted that the RRC was originally developed by the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, which sold the program to the MEDC. [The executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance is Conan Smith, an Ann Arbor resident who also serves as a Washtenaw County commissioner – an elected position.] The MEDC has indicated that if a community becomes certified as an RRC, it makes that community more “readily accepted” into that state agency’s various grant programs, Rampson said.

Ken Clein, Ann Arbor planning commission, Quinn Evans Architects, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Ken Clein.

Another issue raised during the session related to the city’s flood ordinance. Rampson joked that it’s a situation in which not working on the flood ordinance might have actually helped the city. She said that last year, FEMA and Congress made changes to the federal flood insurance program that are fairly dramatic. Because the program was so deeply in debt – even prior to Hurricane Sandy – the legislation raised the federal flood insurance rates to market levels. If you have a property in a flood zone with a high flood depth and a federally backed mortgage, she explained, “your insurance rates may go up to as much as $25,000 a year.” [The 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act was passed with the intent to make the National Flood Insurance Program self-sufficient.]

With new FEMA flood maps in place, some property owners have raised concerns about the fact that their land is now located within a floodplain or floodway. Rampson noted that about 500 homes are in the Allen Creek floodway, and a large portion of those are located within an historic district. Until now, historic buildings have been exempt from a lot of the city’s flood-related requirements, she said. But if the federal changes remain in place and prices of these homes drop in value because of insurance requirements, property owners might want to take action to avoid paying insurance – like elevating homes above the flood depth. “That changes the whole look and feel of a street,” she said.

“I’m trying not to be too alarmist,” Rampson added, but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s possible that there’s a backlash and Congress might revoke the changes, she said.

The commission also identified topics for long-term possible action:

  • Economic development initiatives.
  • Student neighborhood property conditions.
  • Visioning for southeast area neighborhoods – in the Ellsworth and Stone School area.
  • “Mixed use” overlay amendment.
  • Neighborhood outreach/engagement.
  • Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance amendments.
  • “Age-friendly” master plan and ordinance amendments.
  • Non-motorized Plan implementation
  • Lowertown land use amendments.

Late in the session, Eric Mahler expressed frustration that so many items were being added to the work plan. [It was Mahler's last working session as a planning commissioner. His term ends on June 30, and he has been appointed to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.]

He noted that the only thing the planning staff had been criticized for in its evaluation had been that they don’t move projects forward as quickly as some commissioners would like. Now, commissioners are adding to the list. Rampson replied: “We’re just getting it out of your system!” She said she wasn’t advocating to take on all these projects, but rather it was an exercise to ensure that commissioners laid out all their ideas. Woods added that the commissioners were brainstorming, particularly for the long-term items.

Mahler advocated for “moving the ball forward on what we’ve got,” rather than adding to the list. Rampson replied that it was important for commissioners to talk about their goals, but then it’s her job to bring them back to reality and talk about what’s possible for the staff to achieve, given their resources. The alternative, she noted, is for the commission to advocate to the city council for hiring a consultant for a particular project that the staff can’t handle.

On June 18, commissioners voted to approve the work plan with no additional revisions.

Present: Bonnie Bona, Sabra Briere, Ken Clein, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

Absent: Eleanore Adenekan.

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Ann Arbor Library Board Sets 2012-13 Budget Tue, 22 May 2012 16:04:47 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (May 21, 2012): The board’s main action items related to the 2012-13 budget, for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012. The public portion of the meeting lasted 45 minutes, following an executive session to discuss a written opinion of legal counsel and director’s evaluation.

Looking down and to the north from the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library downtown building, overlooking the underground parking structure.

Looking down and to the north from the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library downtown building, overlooking the city-owned underground parking structure being built by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The black area in the foreground will be the small road called Library Lane, running between Fifth Avenue and Division. (Photos by the writer.)

In three separate, unanimous votes, the board approved the $12.183 million budget, set a millage rate at 1.55 mills – unchanged from the current rate – and designated the budget as a line-item budget with a policy for disbursements. There were no amendments, and minimal discussion. No one attended a public hearing on the budget.

Several trustees noted that the millage rate is below the 1.92 mills that the district is authorized to levy. If set at that higher rate, the library would see an additional $1.6 million in property tax revenues. The lower rate has been in place since fiscal 2009-10.

Monday’s meeting also included a report on the performance evaluation of AADL director Josie Parker, which was overwhelmingly positive. Parker’s salary will remain unchanged at $143,114.

Board president Margaret Leary read aloud a letter to Parker that praised her accomplishments, and highlighted an upcoming challenge: “The Ann Arbor District Library has increasingly been central to our community and its growth and prosperity. Now AADL has to decide whether its downtown facility is up to providing what the community deserves.”

The reference to a downtown facility reflects a decision by the board and top staff to resume exploring the possibility of a new building, in place of the current four-story structure at 343 S. Fifth Ave. A recent survey commissioned by AADL – and presented to the board at its April 16, 2012 meeting – indicates voter support for a tax increase to pay for major renovations or reconstruction of that building.

In another action item at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a one-year extension to the space-use agreement with Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL). The nonprofit operates a used bookstore in the lower level of AADL’s downtown building. Proceeds of the store – about $90,000 annually – are given to the library.

Most of the board’s questions and discussion at the meeting related to a non-action item brought up during Parker’s report on the recent Vision 2012 conference, which drew 400 people from across Michigan and nearby states. The event featured three dozen exhibitors of products and services for the blind and visually impaired. It was hosted by AADL, which administers the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled. Ed Surovell speculated that there might be an opportunity to grow the event even more.

AADL 2012-13 Budget

The board considered three resolutions related to the $12.183 million budget for fiscal year 2012-13, which runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

Near the start of Monday’s meeting, the board held a public hearing on the budget to seek input, but no one showed up to comment.

A draft budget had been presented at the board’s April 16, 2012 meeting. At that time, the budget had been developed based on a 1% increase in projected tax revenues. That projected increase was subsequently lowered to 0.4% following the April 18 release of Washtenaw County’s equalization report, which is the basis for determining taxable value of property in the county, and in turn indicates how much tax revenue will be collected by local taxing entities.

The final budget projects an estimated $11.132 million in tax revenues – or about $71,000 less than the draft budget had projected. In addition to property taxes, other revenues come from library fines and fees, state aid and fines, interest, non-resident fees and grants.

Karen Wilson, Margaret Leary

From left: Administrative assistant Karen Wilson gives documents to AADL board president Margaret Leary to sign after the May 21 meeting.

On the expenditure side, the highest category is salaries and wages, at $5.8 million – an increase from $5.67 million this year. Employee benefits are budgeted to increase 6% from $1.476 million this year to $1.565 million in the next fiscal year. In part, that reflects an increase in the amount that AADL must contribute to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) – from 24.46% this year to 27.37%. The budget also includes a 3% merit raise pool for employees. In recent years, there has been no allocation for merit pay increases. [.pdf of 2012-13 budget summary]

AADL director Josie Parker commented that this is the first time in three years that the library has been able to offer merit raises, and she was pleased that staff who deserve raises would be able to receive them. The library hasn’t faltered in its accomplishments in recent years, she said, and the staff have stepped up and worked hard. Parker said she was grateful, and wanted to thank them publicly.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the 2012-13 budget.

AADL 2012-13 Budget: Millage Rate

In a separate vote, the board was asked to set a millage rate of 1.55 mills, unchanged from this year. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

Rebecca Head noted that the millage rate is below the 1.92 mills that the district is authorized to levy. That reflects the board’s conservative nature, she said, adding that she appreciated the work of AADL director Josie Parker and Ken Nieman, AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations.

Prue Rosenthal asked how much additional revenues the 1.92 mills would raise. Nieman replied that if the full millage were levied, it would bring in about $1.6 million more in revenues.

Ed Surovell noted that the 1.55 mills is lower than what the library has levied in the past. As recently as 2008-09, the library had levied the full amount. The rate was lowered to 1.55 mills in 2009-10 and has stayed at that rate. From The Chronicle’s report of the May 18, 2009 AADL board meeting:

In the past they’ve levied 1.92 mills but have been operating on 1.55 mills – the difference was set aside and used to pay for building projects, such as the Traverwood branch. Barbara Murphy noted that when she first joined the board, AADL had been operating at 1.65 mills. She said that when Parker and her staff came on board seven years ago, they managed to lower the operating costs while improving service, and that they should be commended for that.

Surovell called it great progress that AADL was levying a lower amount. Jan Barney Newman said it was especially impressive, in light of everything the library has been able to accomplish.

Outcome: Board members unanimously set the millage rate at 1.55 mills.

AADL 2012-13 Budget: Line Item

A third resolution related to the 2012-13 budget designated it as a line-item budget and set a policy for disbursements. [.pdf of line-item/disbursements resolution]

There was no discussion on this item.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to set a line-item budget and policy for disbursements.

Financial Report

Ken Nieman, AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations, gave a brief financial report for the month of April. At the end of the month, the library had an unrestricted cash balance of $9.7 million, and has received nearly 98% of its budgeted tax receipts for the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2012.

Two items that are currently over budget – materials and circulation supplies – are expected to come back in line by the end of the fiscal year, Nieman said. [The report indicates that to date, materials are $4,741 over budget, while circulation supplies are over budget by $2,614.][.pdf of financial report]

Neiman said the fund balance of $8.17 million is “pretty healthy” heading into the next fiscal year.

For the current fiscal year, the library finance staff is projecting a surplus of $292,025.

The board had no questions or comments on the financial report.

Director’s Evaluation

At the May 21 meeting, board members gave their annual evaluation to AADL director Josie Parker, which they had discussed with her during an executive session at the start of the meeting. It was overwhelmingly positive.

Board president Margaret Leary read aloud a two-page letter to Parker that had been vetted by all board members. [.pdf of evaluation letter] The letter states that Parker’s salary will remain unchanged at $143,114 and that the board believes her salary to be equitable with comparable positions.

The letter describes Parker’s performance as excellent, and lists several areas of accomplishment, including the attraction and retention of top talent, consistency in presenting a balanced budget, and creativity in providing new services. The letter also points to challenges ahead.

From the letter:

We are aware that AADL’s community relations efforts have succeeded in creating demand beyond what our existing facilities can support. The big challenge to all of us in the coming year – and the biggest challenge for you – is to lead the effort to determine the best path for ensuring that AADL lives up to what our community expects, in all regards. The coming year will present new demands that are not completely foreseeable. Ann Arbor is a special community, founded and built on learning and information. The Ann Arbor District Library has increasingly been central to our community and its growth and prosperity. Now AADL has to decide whether its downtown facility is up to providing what the community deserves.

The reference to a downtown facility reflects a decision by the board and top staff to explore the possibility of a new building, in place of the current four-story structure at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

AADL director Josie Parker

AADL director Josie Parker.

A recent survey commissioned by AADL – and presented to the board at its April 16, 2012 meeting – indicates voter support for a tax increase to pay for major renovations or reconstruction of that building.

When Leary finished reading the letter, the board gave Parker a round of applause.

Parker responded by saying that 18-year-olds who are graduating from high school this time of year are typically told to choose a career that they love. ”And I do – I love what I do,” she said. “I could do a lot of things, and I chose to do this.”

Parker noted that she’s held this position for 10 years, and plans to continue. ”There isn’t right now a better place to do it.”

Parker also said she enjoys the people she works with, and that makes a huge difference. She concluded by thanking the board for their support.

Outcome: This was not an action item – no vote was taken.

Friends of the AADL Space-Use Agreement

The board was asked to approve a one-year extension to the space-use agreement with Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL) is a nonprofit that operates a used bookstore in the lower level of AADL’s downtown branch at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Proceeds of the store – about $90,000 annually – are given to the library. At its May 2011 meeting, the AADL board had also approved a one-year extension to the space use agreement. [.pdf file of FAADL space-use agreement] On Monday, essentially the same agreement was proposed for another year.

There was minimal discussion on this item. Board president Margaret Leary said it was wonderful that Friends are using the space and generating revenues for the library.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the one-year extension of the space-use agreement with FAADL.

Director’s Report

Most of Josie Parker’s report focused on the May 9 VISIONS 2012 Vendor Fair, held at Washtenaw Community College in partnership with WCC and the Michigan Commission for the Blind. The event featured three dozen exhibitors of products and services for the blind and visually impaired. It was hosted by AADL, which administers the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled.

Ed Surovell, Prue Rosenthal

AADL board members Ed Surovell and Prue Rosenthal after the May 21 AADL board meeting adjourned.

About 400 people attended from across Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, Parker said. Many came for the opportunity to try out technology and devices in person – exhibitors showcased magnifiers, electronic readers, Braille devices, therapy and service dogs, and other support products and services for the blind and physically disabled.

In addition to vendors, there were four speakers, including Neil Bernstein of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the “AT Guys,” who specialize in assistive technology.

Prue Rosenthal asked if there is anything else like this in southeast Michigan. Parker replied that Wayne County Subregional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will host a vendor fair in October, but it will be much smaller.

Ed Surovell wondered if there would be a benefit for the AADL event to be even bigger. Does anyone gain if it’s marketed more broadly? Parker said there’s no downside to AADL – she wants as many people to come as possible. She noted that most people came with a companion – a person or a dog – to help guide them. There were also volunteers to provide that service at the event, so it gets pretty crowded. If more people attend, a larger venue would be needed, she said.

Parker mentioned one other item in her director’s report – the May 12 It’s All Write! Teen Short Story Writing Contest hosted at the AADL downtown building. The guest speaker was Caitlin Horrocks, who published her first short story collection in 2011 – “This Is Not Your City.” Parker noted that Horrocks had won AADL’s teen short story contest in 1997. This year, 350 submissions were received from teens in grades 6-12. A list of 2012 winners in several categories is posted on the AADL website.

Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.

Absent: Nancy Kaplan, Barbara Murphy.

Next meeting: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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AADL Director Praised in Evaluation Mon, 21 May 2012 23:41:50 +0000 Chronicle Staff Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, received a positive evaluation from the AADL board at its May 21, 2012 meeting. Parker’s salary remains unchanged at $143,114. A two-page letter to Parker from board president Margaret Leary, and vetted by all board members, notes that the board believes her salary to be equitable with comparable positions. [.pdf of evaluation letter]

The letter describes Parker’s performance as excellent, and lists several areas of accomplishment, including the attraction and retention of top talent, consistency in presenting a balanced budget, and creativity in providing new services.

The letter also points to challenges ahead: “We are aware that AADL’s community relations efforts have succeeded in creating demand beyond what our existing facilities can support. The big challenge to all of us in the coming year – and the biggest challenge for you – is to lead the effort to determine the best path for ensuring that AADL lives up to what our community expects, in all regards. The coming year will present new demands that are not completely foreseeable. Ann Arbor is a special community, founded and built on learning and information. The Ann Arbor District Library has increasingly been central to our community and its growth and prosperity. Now AADL has to decide whether its downtown facility is up to providing what the community deserves.”

The reference to a downtown facility reflects a decision by the board and top staff to explore the possibility of a new building, in place of the current four-story structure at 343 S. Fifth Ave. A recent survey commissioned by AADL – and presented to the board at its April 16, 2012 meeting – indicates voter support for a tax increase to pay for major renovations or reconstruction of that building.

This brief was filed from the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Ann Arbor Adds Flashers, Alters Traffic Law Fri, 30 Dec 2011 00:43:44 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 19, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the council ended the current round of discussion on the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance by finalizing changes that clarified conditions under which vehicles are required to stop for people who are trying to cross the street.

Jane Lumm crosswalk ordinance approaching air quotes

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) made air quotes around the word "approaching" as the council discussed the city's ordinance on crosswalks. (Photos by the writer.)

The current ordinance amendment maintains an existing requirement that motorists accommodate not just pedestrians who are “within” a crosswalk, but also those who are verging on entering a crosswalk. What’s different is the way the concept is expressed. In July 2010, the council chose to describe pedestrians who are about to enter a crosswalk as “approaching” the crosswalk. The version of the ordinance finalized on Dec. 19 requires motorists to accommodate “… a pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk …”

As part of the previous amendments made in 2010, the council also had removed language that specified a half of the roadway where drivers needed to accommodate pedestrians. This time around, the council restored similar language, which reads, “… 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.”

In other crosswalk-related business, the council approved an expenditure of $81,000 to install five rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB) on existing pedestrian islands in the city. Four of the locations are along Plymouth Road, at Georgetown, Traver Village, Beal and Bishop. The fifth location is at Seventh and Washington.

Also at the Dec. 19 meeting, the council ended a long process of review by the city and negotiation with neighbors by approving a change to the zoning of the Hoover Mansion property on Washtenaw Avenue, which University Bank uses as its headquarters. The change will allow University Bank to build 13 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building, allowing the bank in accommodate expanded employment.

Towards the end of the council’s meeting, a relatively rare debate unfolded about a mayoral nomination to a city board. At issue was the nomination of a city employee – transportation program manager Eli Cooper – to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He’s replacing another city employee on the board, public services area administrator Sue McCormick, who left her position with the city in mid-December. In the end, Cooper’s nomination was confirmed with dissent from two councilmembers. A separate vote on a general policy opposing nominations of city employees to boards and commissions received only four votes of support.

The council considered two compensation-related issues – one for its city attorney, Stephen Postema, and another for election workers who staff the polls. After a closed session to discuss Postema’s performance review, the council voted with dissent from one councilmember to award Postema the ability to cash out 250 hours of banked time. The council delayed its vote on pay increases for election workers, on the possibility that their pay could be increased more than what’s proposed, to match the amount specified in the city’s living wage ordinance.

In other business, the council approved a bond re-funding, authorized reimbursement for a broken electromagnet at the materials recovery facility, accepted additional federal money for solar projects, and heard about a possible strategy for addressing vacant and dilapidated properties.


Two pedestrian-safety-related items were on the Dec. 19 agenda. The first was final consideration of a change to the city’s crosswalk ordinance. The second was authorization of $81,000 for installation of flashing pedestrian crossing beacons at five different locations in the city, four of them on Plymouth Road.

Crosswalks: Ordinance Revision – Background

The section of the crosswalk ordinance given final approval now reads: ”… the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a 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.”

The council struck from the ordinance an addition to which it had given initial approval on Nov. 10, 2011 that required motorists to stop for pedestrians “without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using.”

This recent round of revisions to the ordinance comes after the council modified the pedestrian safety ordinance on July 19, 2010 to include an expansion of the conditions under which motorists must take action to accommodate pedestrians. Specifically, the 2010 amendments required accommodation of pedestrians not just “within a crosswalk” but also “approaching or within a crosswalk.” The modification approved on Dec. 19 was intended to address a perceived ambiguity of the word “approaching.”

Besides the “approaching” phrase, the 2010 amendments also included two other key elements. The 2010 amendments included a requirement that motorists “stop” and not merely “slow as to yield.” And the 2010 amendments also eliminated reference to which half of the roadway is relevant to the responsibility placed on motorists for accommodating pedestrians. That eliminated phrase was restored in the version approved by the council on Dec. 19.

Crosswalks: Public Commentary

Kathy Griswold spoke during general public commentary as well as during the formal public hearing. She described the tremendous engagement of the community and the city council in the discussion of pedestrian safety. Now is the time for the community to come together, she said. She described how Boulder, Colorado’s sight distance ordinance supports pedestrian safety, by regulating vegetation along roadways, not just at intersections. Also, in 2009 Boulder had a full-time employee to make sure utility boxes are not placed to restrict sight distances, she contended. She questioned whether the goal in Ann Arbor is to try to improve safety, or rather to do something else.

During the public hearing, Griswold complained that the word “safety” doesn’t appear anywhere in the brochures the city uses to tout Ann Arbor’s walkability. She contended that passing this ordinance seemed like an attempt to be “cool” – but that’s not how safety works, she said. The local community is good at advocating for pedestrian “rights,” Griswold said, but she suggested that pedestrian “rights” are a different issue from pedestrian safety.

Griswold expressed frustration that the signage the city is using refers only to “within” a crosswalk when the ordinance includes additional conditions for stopping. To get alternate signage, she’d learned from city staff, would require submitting a request to “experiment” with alternate wording. She objected to the idea of experimenting with the lives of young children. She said we should not expect that young people who are not drivers to determine if it’s safe or unsafe to cross. “We can do better than this,” she said, and she hoped the focus could change to improving safety.

Tim Hull said he thought that defining stop conditions on the local level is a bad idea – it will result in an ordinance that is not recommended by the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC). People will see it as a revenue generation scheme, he feared. And pedestrians don’t feel more safe because of the ordinance – they don’t know if cars will stop. At Plymouth and Beal, Hull said he never knows if cars will stop. What’s safest for pedestrians is to use the UTC recommended standard, even if that code is not actually the state law. He suggested lobbying Ann Arbor’s representatives to the state legislature.

Larry Deck Eli Cooper

At the left is Larry Deck, who spoke about the pedestrian ordinance on behalf of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. He was chatting with the city's transportation program manager, Eli Cooper.

Larry Deck of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition told the council that change has to start somewhere. He agreed it’d be nice to see that change happen statewide. The WBWC supports the wording that the council approved at its first reading, he said. A transitional phase is needed in order to make the cultural change, he said. Of the principles of engineering, education, and enforcement, the initial step should be educational, he said. For the engineering step, the WBWC is starting to have a discussion about crosswalk design guidelines that would include advance stop bars and flashing beacons. On Plymouth Road, the beacons would help clarify the situation, Deck said.

Michael Benson introduced himself as a Ward 2 resident, speaking on behalf of the graduate student body at the University of Michigan. The changes to the crosswalk ordinance are a step in the right direction. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s a good start, he said. The proposed wording still leaves an incongruity between the city of Ann Arbor and the rest of the state. For a student who comes to study at UM from outside the city, what do the flashes mean on the proposed new signs? Benson suggested approving the changes and forming a working group to continue to review the ordinance.

An unidentified man spoke during the public hearing and made remarks couched in a general complaint that the city did not do a very good job of helping people who have problems – he’d spent three years trying to get help with Social Security and said he had called every information number that exists. The city should give serious thought to helping the elderly before coming up with an idea that will risk lives, he concluded.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a disabled senior citizen who had experienced near-accidents as a pedestrian. The city needs an effort involving driver education and a much more full and comprehensive approach to crosswalks and other areas of pedestrian safety, he said.

Stephen Ranzini introduced himself as a resident of downtown Ann Arbor. He drew the council’s attention to a poll that had run on about the pedestrian ordinance. He said he’d written a comment suggesting that one of the choices in the poll should have been the repeal of an ordinance that is incompatible with state law. He indicated that his comment had been well-received by other readers of

Crosswalks: Ordinance Revision – Council Deliberations

Mayor John Hieftje led off deliberations by saying that awareness of the issue had been the result of enforcement, not the specific language of the ordinance. As to the idea that the ordinance put young people in danger, Hieftje said that the previous version of the ordinance asked pedestrians to put themselves in danger in order to trigger the condition under which drivers should stop. The negative outcomes the city has experienced would have been the same if tickets had been written for drivers, based on the previously existing traffic code.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) echoed the comments made by Hieftje. Hohnke said it was important to understand the status of the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC), which people sometimes referred to as a state law or recommended ordinance. There is no state law, or a particular recommendation for a local ordinance, he said. Independent of the changes Ann Arbor adopts, he said, there will be a variety of ordinances in place across the state and the country.

Some mild confusion then resulted concerning what Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted to propose as an amendment to the language already initially approved on Nov. 10. Compared to the initially-approved language, what was eventually settled on in the way of amendments was as follows [added words in italics, deleted words in strike-through]:

”… the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk, without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using. 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.”

Some of the confusion, which was resolved between Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Briere, stemmed from Briere’s initial reluctance to revise the phrasing involving the roadway half. She’d been hesitant because the flashing beacons the city plans to install will alert drivers in both directions, yet the existence of the beacons did not make the crosswalk a signalized crosswalk in terms of the traffic ordinance. She had contemplated just eliminating the “without regard” language addressing the roadway half, and not adding the “half of the roadway” phrasing.

What helped the council settle on the language above as the amendment to consider were remarks from transportation manager Eli Cooper, who indicated there were two reasons why the staff recommended the “half of the roadway” phrasing. As part of the UTC, it would help ensure consistency with other communities, he said. Also, the language is straightforward to understand as far as what constitutes a “stop condition.”

The issue relates to what a driver can readily see – that’s really what is along side of you, said Cooper. It’s not really possible to see what’s happening possibly five lanes away on the other side of the road. It was felt that it’s too onerous on the driver, Cooper said.

Responding to a question from Briere about the impact of leaving out all reference to a part of the roadway, Cooper said he would recommend specificity, because staff can “amplify that specificity.”

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) got confirmation from Cooper that what was proposed is consistent with traffic engineering. Cooper allowed that he is not a licensed engineer, but he said the staff working group is supported by traffic engineers, who supported the proposal.

With the proposed amendment in front of the council, Hohnke observed that he’d been comfortable with folks having to grapple with the word “approaching” in the phrase describing pedestrians who were verging on entering a crosswalk. Now, the word “approaching” has been eliminated in that place, but introduced elsewhere. With some hesitation, he said, he would support the change.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she appreciated the inclusion of the phrase that divides the roadway into halves. Motorists need to focus on the roadway in their immediate view, she said. No amount of education, she believed, would have helped the situation if motorists had been required to stop without regard to which half of the roadway a pedestrian was using.

Outcome on amendment: The council unanimously approved the addition of “curb line” and the re-introduction of roadway halves as pertinent to defining the stop conditions for motorists.

Lumm made a motion to strike language in the ordinance defining stop conditions for motorists as anything except “within a crosswalk.” The motion died for lack of a seconding motion. When the motion died, Lumm mused, “That’s what I thought.”

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2)

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). Briere is demonstrating that councilmembers wait to be recognized before speaking during their meetings – they don't just blurt things out.

Smith felt that previously the problem had been that the council had approved changes to the ordinance, then let it sit. There’d been some education, she allowed, but then the city began with what some might say was “radical enforcement.” That’s what created the turmoil, she said. She asked that the city administrator talk with the police chief to take a softer approach to helping the community learn how to adapt to the ordnance.

Briere offered her own experience with a change in traffic rules – the installation of a new stop sign on Madison Street, when she previously lived in Ward 5. She said it’s a tough adjustment. Drivers are used to driving the way they’re used to driving. Briere advised that the council would continue to hear from people about the ordinance. She said she thinks more people are becoming aware of pedestrians.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) got clarification from assistant city attorney Kristen Larcom that ordinance infractions would not result in points on driver’s licenses.

Lumm said she wants to protect pedestrians, but not at the expense of creating traffic hazards. So she said she supported the ordinance amendment, but looks forward to follow-up on appropriate signage to make sure it comports with the ordinance.

Cooper responded to Lumm’s concern about the signs used by the city, saying that they are in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) – he emphasized the word “uniform.” The phrase “within a crosswalk” is not the full body of the ordinance, just as the speed limit sign is not the full text of the law, explained Cooper. Briere ventured that the signs “say what they need to say.”

Lumm still wondered how you enforce the ordinance, if the sign doesn’t say the exact same thing. City attorney Stephen Postema explained that the city would move to enforce it, but then then it’s up to a judge.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved changes to the crosswalk ordinance.

Crosswalks: Flashing Beacons – Background

The council was asked to authorize a budget modification, drawing on its major street fund to allow an expenditure of $81,000. The funds would be used to install five rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB) on existing pedestrian islands in the city. Four of the locations are along Plymouth Road – at Georgetown, Traver Village, Beal and Bishop. The fifth location is at Seventh and Washington. [.pdf with schematic of intersections and an RRFB] [.pdf of map depicting locations]

The flashing function of an RRFB would not be continuous – it would be activated by a pedestrian pushing a button. The staff memo accompanying the resolution describes an RRFB as “similar in nature to the light bars on the top of emergency vehicles.” The flashing beacons do not count as traffic control signals for the purposes of the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance, which addresses motorist behavior “[w]hen traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation …” Otherwise put, the pedestrian safety ordinance will still apply at those crosswalks where RRFBs are installed.

Annual costs for operation and maintenance of the RRFBs are estimated at $160 per crossing. Installation of the new signs is scheduled to begin in February 2012, and to be completed by April 2012.

Crosswalks: Flashing Beacons – Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off deliberations saying that she’d heard concern expressed about the possible triggering of seizures and migraines by the flashing beacons. She explained that the flashes are random, not rhythmic, thus less likely to trigger those problems.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) questioned why the city’s alternative transportation fund was not being tapped instead of its major street fund. The city’s head of project management, Homayoon Pirooz, told Lumm the two funds have the same source of money – the state’s Act 51 appropriation, which is based on gas and vehicle taxes.

Lumm then proposed an amendment to remove from the proposal the two “low volume” crosswalks of the four on Plymouth – near Traver Village and Georgetown Boulevard. She contended that there are signalized intersections near enough to those locations that pedestrians could cross there.

Pirooz responded to Lumm by explaining that typical distances for which pedestrians are willing to walk in order to cross, based on the length of city blocks, are 500-700 feet. Based on that, the crosswalk locations for which the flashing beacons are proposed are in exactly right spots, Pirooz said. It’s not an excessive number, and he would probably recommend more, Pirooz concluded.

Briere clarified with Pirooz that two of the crosswalks where beacons are proposed are adjacent to bus stops. She noted that she’d seen Plymouth Road in action for years and years. The city had made some improvements to signage seven years ago and had used the best technology at the time – there’s better technology now, she said. Responding implicitly to Lumm’s concern about the relatively fewer number of pedestrians at two of the crosswalks, Briere ventured that instead of counting pedestrians, they should count the number of lanes a pedestrian has to cross.

Queried by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Craig Hupy, the city’s head of systems planning, said the city would likely use a combination of solar-powered and hard-wired beacons. Kunselman sought and received assurance that pedestrians who activated the beacons would not be blinded by them.

Lumm observed that nothing had happened as a result of the motion she’d made to eliminate two of the proposed beacons. She said she thinks the beacons seem like a reasonable solution – because they generate 75-80% compliance from motorists. Her issue, she said, is with the number of the beacons. It’s about balancing the safety of pedestrians and motorists, she said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved $81,000 for flashing beacons.

University Bank, Hoover Mansion Rezoning

Before the council for its consideration was final approval to alter the University Bank PUD (planned unit development) and site plan for the bank’s property at 2015 Washtenaw Ave., known as the Hoover Mansion. The bank wanted to revise the site’s existing PUD – originally approved in 1978 – to allow for an increase in the total number of employees and parking spaces permitted on the parcel. The site serves as the bank’s headquarters.

The change will allow University Bank to build 13 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building – for a total of 52 spaces on the site. The city planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the change at its Oct. 4, 2011 meeting, after the proposal had been submitted to the city at least a year earlier. The council gave its initial approval to the change in the PUD at its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting.

The long approval process could in part be attributed to opposition from immediate neighbors to specific elements of the plan, which was to some degree modified in response. A letter of opposition, attached to the council’s Dec. 19 agenda packet, made a more general objection to “the likelihood of further commercialization of the residential neighborhood.” [.pdf of letter of opposition][.jpg of aerial view with parcels]

Because the proposal was a change to the city’s zoning, it was a change to the city’s ordinances – a process that required a second approval by the council at a separate meeting, preceded by a public hearing.

Hoover Mansion: Public Hearing

Two separate public hearings were held – one for the zoning and the other for the site plan.

At the zoning hearing, Thomas Partridge complained that such agenda items are predetermined for approvals by the planning staff. All such items should recognize the need for civil rights, he said. At the public hearing on the site plan, he called for increased access to affordable housing and transportation.

Also speaking at both public hearings was the president of University Bank, Stephen Ranzini, who introduced himself as a downtown resident of Ann Arbor. He sketched the history of the bank now named University Bank, explaining that it was founded in 1890. After he led a investment group that bought the bank 23 years ago, its assets under management have grown from $35 million to $10.3 billion, he said. Today the bank has 280 employees, making it the 11th largest bank with its headquarters in Michigan, he said. In the last 90 days, the bank has hired 60 employees – all but five outside Ann Arbor. [More hires were not made in Ann Arbor, he indicated, because of the limited parking at the Hoover Mansion.] The bank has been a good neighbor, he said, and has won all the major awards a community bank can win.

Stephen Ranzini

Stephen Ranzini, president of University Bank, in his Milford Track jacket. He compared the difficulty of completing the New Zealand hiking trail to the city of Ann Arbor's approval process.

Ranzini calculated the value of the land on which the Hoover Mansion stands at $3.6 million. The cost of operating the 10,000-square-foot mansion is around $200,000 annually, he said. And its appraised value is only $2 million, due to its high cost of operation. Given the capital tied up in the building and its more than $20 per-square-foot operating cost, office space available elsewhere was actually cheaper, Ranzini said.

On-site parking is currently limited to 39 spaces, he said, and that limits the number of employees – especially because a certain number of the spots have to be set aside for the public. University Bank stepped up and bought the property in 2005, he said. To be sustainable in the long term [regardless of who owns the property], the parking needs to expand to accommodate something in the range of 60 employees. If the value of the building is not increased from $2 million, he warned, some future owner will pursue a different course. He said that if University Bank had not fought an intense legal battle, the mansion would not be standing today.

At the second public hearing, Ranzini laid out a complaint about the length of the approval process with the city, which he contended began 39 months ago, with a request for 28 additional parking spots. The result of that long process, which had included two neighborhood charrettes, would result in perhaps 13 additional spaces. Of the 19 adjacent property owners, 16 had supported the proposal from the very beginning, he said. The remaining three were now on board, he thought. However, he’d heard that two neighbors still have some concerns about lighting. Ranzini expressed some frustration that they would raise these concerns on the last day. In any case, he felt the concerns about lighting were not valid – the proposal met and exceeded lighting requirements. If the neighbors with objections based on lighting were present that night, Ranzini said, he could put their fears to rest.

Ranzini said that University Bank had committed to $150,000 in extra amenities for the site and $50,000 in engineering expenses. The public transportation benefits of the site, which he said his fellow citizen Thomas Partridge could use, included a bus stop in front, a walking path and new bike racks. Due to the delays in getting the plan approved, the bank relocated one of its divisions and eight jobs to Farmington Hills – those jobs will never come back, he said. Ranzini told the council he was wearing his jacket from the Milford Track because he wanted to compare that hike in New Zealand – which he’d enjoyed with his wife on their honeymoon – with the city’s approval process. It made completing the Milford Track seem easy, he said.

Hoover Mansion: Council Deliberations

City planner Chris Chang Cheng took the podium at the request of Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). Cheng responded implicitly to Ranzini’s description of the process as taking 39 months by saying that he’d seen a submission made in December 2009, with revised plans submitted in July 2010. Cheng said that it had been around for approximately two years. About six months had elapsed between submission and revision. The original recommendation of the planning staff would have been to deny the approval, but the staff worked its way through it, and the eventual proposal had a smaller parking area.

The issue of lighting did come up, he said, in meetings with neighbors held over the last two years. University Bank has indicated that there are zero foot candles emitted from the property, he said, and if it turns out that there’s any light spillage, the bank has agreed to shield the lights and reduce the wattage.

Derezinski said that from his recollection seeing the project come before the planning commission, a lot of give-and-take was involved in the project. [Derezinski serves as the city council representative to the city planning commission.] Cheng confirmed for Derezinski that no parking would be allowed on the circular drive. He told Derezinski that he personally attended two meetings with neighbors and that there were other meetings. Cheng confirmed for Derezinski that the result of those meeting was a consensus on proposed solutions.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated that over the weekend she’d fielded some questions about expanded commercial uses in a residential area. But she got clarification from Cheng that future alterations from current use would require approval. Lumm said she was impressed by how people had worked on the issues.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that the Hoover Mansion is a unique property, and that it shows what PUDs are about. His understanding of the purported public benefits to the alteration of the PUD were: (1) expanded employment, (2) an additional walkway to the bicycle parking spaces, and (3) a greater-than-required mitigation of the loss of trees due to creating more parking spaces.

Hohnke wanted to know if there was any contingency related to the first benefit. Cheng allowed that there’s nothing that forces University Bank to hire 10 additional employees. Hohnke got clarification that the walking path and the bicycle parking spots would be used by both employees and visitors. Hohnke wanted to know how the city planning staff evaluated the mitigation of any impact on the tree loss, if the impact wouldn’t have existed without the requested change. Cheng explained that the proposal made the least impact on woodland and natural features as possible.

Derezinski described the process that lasted over the course of a couple of years as the result of good people working on both sides. Obviously, he said, the bank wanted more parking spots and the neighbors wanted fewer. He called it a “grudging consensus.” He felt it was the best possible solution, given the circumstances.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Hoover Mansion PUD and site plan.

Mayoral Appointments of City Employees

The council’s meeting was bookended by discussion of mayoral appointments of various sorts. In Ann Arbor’s council-manager form of government, the mayor is also a member of the city council. One basic difference between the mayor and other city councilmembers is that the mayor is elected on a vote of citywide electors, whereas councilmembers represent just one of five wards.

But another key difference between the mayor and other city councilmembers is this: The mayor has the responsibility of making nominations to boards and commissions. [The other differences include the power of veto, status as the ceremonial head of the city, and responsibility for city management in states of emergency.]

Mayoral Nominations: Meeting Bookends

On the council’s agenda for its consideration were a number of mayoral appointments, as well as a resolution that opposed the appointment of city employees to city boards and commissions. When the agenda was approved at the start of the meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) got support from her council colleagues to move a resolution about mayoral appointments to the end of the meeting, to the slot after votes to confirm mayoral nominations from the previous meeting. Briere had co-sponsored the resolution.

So the vote on the general policy was set to come after the vote on the appointment that prompted the policy – city transportation program manager Eli Cooper’s nomination to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Cooper’s nomination was opposed by Tim Hull, who introduced himself as a recent candidate for Ward 2 in the August 2011 Democratic primary. [The primary race was won by incumbent Stephen Rapundalo, who was then defeated in the November general election by Jane Lumm.] Hull also spoke in favor of the resolution that opposed the nomination by the mayor of city employees to serve on boards and commissions.

Hull said such appointments raise questions about conflict of interest, and he failed to see the benefit of adding a “city insider” to the AATA, especially someone who doesn’t live in the city itself. The AATA needs someone who has a stake in the community, Hull said, and the AATA board needs outside voices to ensure that the implementation of the AATA’s transportation master plan (TMP) will succeed. Hull also questioned the “haste” with which the appointment was made. He called for a transparent approach to appointments. Hull noted that he had nothing against Cooper, and that Cooper had helped him with a project when Hull was a student at the University of Michigan school of information.

Related to the general issue of appointments and vacancies on boards, during his communications early in the meeting Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) announced that the taxicab board had met recently and the board had been informed that it’s short one member. So the taxicab board is looking for someone to step up and serve, Kunselman said.

During public commentary at the end of the meeting, after the council deliberated and voted on all specific appointments and the general policy, Michael Benson thanked the council for adjusting its agenda at the start of the meeting to move the item on mayoral appointments. That way all councilmembers could be present. [Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) arrived late.] Benson noted that the city’s online Legistar system lists current vacancies. And earlier in the meeting, it had been announced that there’s a vacancy on the taxicab board, Benson said. But that vacancy is not listed, he noted – the only open spots listed are some for the housing and human services advisory board. Benson requested that vacancies on other boards and commissions be added.

Mayor John Hieftje responded to Benson’s request by venturing that the reason vacancies are not listed is simply because the appointments are made before the terms actually expire, so that the spots don’t ever technically become vacant. Hieftje offered the replacement of Margaret Parker with John Kotarski on the public art commission as an example, contending that her term was up at the end of 2011. Kotarski’s appointment was confirmed by nomination was presented to the council that night.

By way of background, Parker was actually appointed through 2012, so her departure was a year earlier than expected. As for the idea that vacancies are not listed only because the appointments are made before terms expire, it’s not uncommon that a mayoral appointment is made only after a term has expired, without a vacancy ever being listed on Legistar. For example, three vacancies currently exist on the seven-member local officers compensation commission, two of which have persisted for over a year – but those vacancies are not currently listed on Legistar.

Mayoral Nominations: Miscellaneous

Before the controversial AATA board appointment and the resolution on the general policy issue of appointing city employees to boards and commissions, the council handled some somewhat less controversial appointments.

Nominated to replace Margaret Parker on the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC) was John Kotarski. Kotarski has been a media consultant who previously worked for the Mount Clemens Schools.

Parker served for several years on the commission on art in public places (CAPP), the precursor to AAPAC. She was last re-appointed to AAPAC on June 15, 2009 for a three-year term, which would have ended Dec. 31, 2012. Parker served as chair of AAPAC from the enactment of the city’s Percent for Art ordinance in 2007 until the end of 2010. Marsha Chamberlin agreed to assume responsibility as chair in April this year.

Nominated to replace Dave Gregorka on the zoning board of appeals (ZBA) was Ben Carlisle. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves as the city council representative to the ZBA, said she would miss Gregorka, saying he was a ZBA member with some of the most knowledge about that body. She said she was also looking forward to working with Carlisle.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm Kotarski’s nomination to serve on AAPAC and Carlisle’s nomination to serve on the ZBA. The vote on Kostarski’s confirmation is scheduled for the council’s January 9 meeting.

Mayoral Nominations: Economic Development Board

Two nominations to the city’s economic development board touched on the issue that would be discussed in more detail in connection with Eli Cooper’s appointment to the AATA board.

The EDB is a body that is meant to assist the economic development of the city, and it enjoys the ability to issues tax-exempt bonds on behalf of private projects. Such a body is enabled by state statute – Act 338 of 1974. Nominated for the EDB were the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford (a re-appointment), and the city administrator, Steve Powers (to fill the vacancy left by former city administrator Roger Fraser).

The state statute explicitly contemplates the possibility of city employees serving on the EDB, but places a limit on their number at three:

(2) The board of directors of the corporation shall consist of not less than 9 persons, not more than 3 of whom shall be an officer or employee of the municipality. The chief executive officer and any member of the governing body of the municipality may serve on the board of directors. … [.pdf of Act 338 of 1974, Economic Development Corporations Act]

Outcome: The council voted to approve Crawford and Powers as members of the city’s economic development board, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Mayoral Nominations: Eli Cooper to AATA Board

The council considered the nomination of the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, to serve on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Cooper is filling the vacancy on the AATA board left by Sue McCormick.

McCormick has left her post at the city of Ann Arbor as public services area administrator to take a job as head of the Detroit water and sewerage department. McCormick’s last day on the job was Dec. 16. City administrator Steve Powers announced at the council’s Dec. 5 meeting that the city’s head of systems planning, Craig Hupy, will fill in for McCormick on an interim basis. Powers reported that Hupy had no interest in the permanent position.

McCormick’s last AATA board meeting was Dec. 15. On that occasion, she was presented the AATA’s traditional token of appreciation for board service: a mailbox marked up to resemble an AATA bus.

Cooper’s city position as transportation program manager falls under the city’s systems planning unit. The council previously appointed Cooper to serve on the AATA board on June 20, 2005. He served through June 2008, and was replaced on the board by current board chair Jesse Bernstein.

When Cooper previously served on the AATA board, his and McCormick’s service prompted an op-ed in The Ann Arbor News criticizing the appointment of city employees to citizen boards. [.pdf of "Let's Stick With Autonomous Appointees for Citizen Boards"]

Mayor John Hiefjte led off deliberations on Cooper’s appointment by noting that it’s preferred that members of city boards and commissions be city residents – but sometimes people have unique expertise, and he cited a member of the city’s energy commission as an example of that.

Hieftje said he believed Cooper fits that additional requirement – he doesn’t know of anybody who has a better understanding of mass transit than Cooper. He said he hoped councilmembers would look on the nomination favorably.

By way of background, the city charter stipulates the residency requirement for all city officers, but allows for the waiver of the requirement with a seven-vote majority on the 11-member city council [emphasis added]:

Eligibility for City Office–General Qualifications
SECTION 12.2. Except as otherwise provided in this charter, a person is eligible to hold a City office if the person has been a registered elector of the City, or of territory annexed to the City or both, and, in the case of a Council Member, a resident of the ward from which elected, for at least one year immediately preceding election or appointment. This requirement may be waived as to appointive officers by resolution concurred in by not less than seven members of the Council.

Though the charter stipulates a seven-vote requirement, it’s commonly believed throughout the city’s organization to be an eight-vote requirement. For example, Hieftje noted that the outcome on Cooper’s vote had satisfied the “eight-vote requirement,” even with two dissenting votes and the early departure from the meeting of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Outcome: The council voted 8-2 for Cooper’s nomination to the AATA board, with Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) dissenting, and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) absent from the table.

Mayoral Nominations: Opposing City Employee Nominations

The council was asked to consider a resolution opposing the nomination of city employees to serve on boards and commissions. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by saying he wanted to bring forward the resolution as a separate policy issue from Eli Cooper’s nomination to the AATA board. Kunselman offered his perspective as a former township administrator – in Wayne County’s Sumpter Township from 1998 to 2003 – noting that he served as the employee of seven elected officials.

Kunselman noted that the definition of “office” includes the idea of a special duty, charge, or a position conferred for a public purpose. The AATA board appointment, he said, was not just any sort of appointment – members of that board vote on the hiring and firing of the AATA’s CEO.

Kunselman cited a city charter provision that appears to define what an employee is: “The personnel of the City, other than the elective and appointive officers, shall be deemed City employees.” For an employee who is also an appointed official, Kunselman wondered – if he wanted to communicate with that person – whether that person was a political appointee or an employee.

Kunselman said it was important because of an administrative policy signed back in 1993 by then-assistant city administrator Robert Bauman, which addresses the issue of employee contact with elected officials. The point of the policy, Kunselman said, is: “To ensure accountability, consistency and accuracy of information provided to elected officials.” Kunselman read aloud most of the document, which addresses how responses to requests for information from elected officials to city employees should follow the chain of command:

4. Procedure

4.4 Requests for policy-related information from elected officials or their staff should be submitted through the City Administrator’s Office.

Kunselman then read the resolution in its entirety. [.pdf of resolution as presented on Dec. 19, 2011]

When Kunselman, as an elected official, wanted to communicate with Eli Cooper, wondered Kunselman, would Kunselman interact with him in Cooper’s guise as a “political appointee” or as a city employee? Kunselman wanted to know if he would need to go through the city administrator in order to talk to Cooper. Kunselman then caught himself, and recalled that he had not wanted to talk about Cooper’s appointment specifically.

Kunselman noted that previously there’d been a city employee [Sue McCormick] who served on the AATA board when six feet of land was purchased from the city by the AATA. He wondered if that employee had recused themselves from the discussion – Kunselman said he didn’t know because he wasn’t there and didn’t know if it was reported on. He wondered if the employee had insider information on the purchase price? [It does not appear that the AATA board actually voted on the land acquisition. The Chronicle has no record of it in its reporting and a vote is not reflected in a search of the AATA website for all board resolutions. The cost of the strip of land was $90,000, which falls under the $100,000 amount that the board is required to vote on.]

Eli Cooper Craig Hupy

At the left is Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor transportation program manager, seated next to Craig Hupy, head of systems planning and interim public services area administrator. Obscured behind the two men is Tom McMurtrie, the city's solid waste manager.

Kunselman acknowledged there are certain positions that allow for staff to be appointed – as with the economic development board. He said he was willing to amend the resolved clause to read, “except where authorized by statute.”

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) wanted to know why Kunselman had read aloud the entire resolution. Kunselman explained that he’d read the most recent version – it had been changed since its initial online publication.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who co-sponsored the resolution, expressed the concern that this type of appointment is not sound government practice. The basis of the objection, she said, is similar to the concern that a blue ribbon commission had expressed about the makeup of the city’s pension board. Employee members, the blue ribbon commission had concluded, had undue influence on the pension board. [Ann Arbor voters approved a charter amendment this past November altering the composition of that board in response to the recommendation of the blue ribbon commission made six years ago.]

Lumm allowed that there could be instances where having a staff member with relevant expertise could be beneficial to a board – she wouldn’t be opposed to having such a person as an ex officio non-voting member. But when someone opines on an issue, that’s advocacy, and that poses a potential conflict of interest, she said.

But the bottom line for Lumm was that for every city employee who is appointed to a board or commission, that’s one less citizen who’s engaged. The city should be trying to create more engagement, more independence, a “fresh-eyes” approach. Appointing city employees fosters a like-minded group think, she said.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she couldn’t support the resolution. She couldn’t see the conflict of interest or even an appearance of one. She questioned the last “whereas” clause – “Whereas, Mayoral nominated City of Ann Arbor employees serving as appointive officers are not granted the same rights, privileges, and protections as their co-workers;” – and wondered how the concern could be wrapped in the guise of protecting the employees who might be appointed. She asked Kunselman to explain that, but was emphatic about the fact that she was not relinquishing the floor – rather just allowing Kunselman to comment.

Kunselman explained that elected officials are supposed to work with staff through a chain of command. When an employee is taken out of that chain of command, Kunselman wondered if the employee could be subject to disciplinary action. Kunselman noted the council-manager form of government under which the city is run by a city administrator, not the mayor. Kunselman said he’d been challenged in the past as an elected official – a city councilmember – about whether he was telling a staff member what to do. He contended he had not told a staff member what to do, but wondered if an employee would enjoy protection from the direction of elected officials if they were an appointee to a board or commission. Smith did not seem impressed, telling Kunselman, “That’ll do.” She said she didn’t find Kunselman’s explanation convincing.

Smith also wondered how many such appointments – of city employees to boards – were actually made. Alluding to the appointment of CFO Tom Crawford and city administrator Steve Powers to the economic development board and to Eli Cooper’s appointment to the AATA board, Hieftje said he thought the council had just voted for all three such appointments. From the audience, Craig Hupy – head of systems planning for the city, and interim public services area administrator – noted that he’d sat as treasurer on the board of the Huron River Watershed Council as a mayoral appointment.

Smith noted that the resolution was written to apply to all boards and commissions, so it would in any case need to be modified. There are good opportunities that would otherwise be lost to have expertise added to a board. She didn’t want to lose that opportunity through the resolution. Smith concluded that she couldn’t even begin to think about supporting the resolution.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said the resolution raises some interesting issues. He contended that “conflict of interest” is a loaded phrase – that’s a term of art in the law. The word “office” is also an important term, he said. For the first term, the state has a conflict of interest statute and for the second the state has an incompatibility of public office statute, he noted. Derezinski said he’d like to have an opinion from the city attorney on the question of whether either statute is applicable – the council should comply with state law, he said. [.pdf of conflict of interest statute] [.pdf of incompatible public offices statute]

City attorney Stephen Postema was not able to provide a view on the matter at the meeting, and said he would have to review it further.

Derezinki noted that there are also hundreds of attorney general opinions on the subject, and it would be worth looking at those opinions. He reiterated his view that “conflict of interest” is a loaded term, saying it’s pejorative. For that reason, he said, he wanted to be very careful in using that term, and he couldn’t vote for the resolution.

Kunselman responded to Derezinski by citing a book chapter on the subject written by some local Ann Arbor attorneys. Kunselman ventured that the council would never get a straight answer right now about whether there is a conflict of interest, and he noted that the phrasing of the resolution uses “appearance” of a conflict. Kunselman then read aloud the passage from Chapter 52 of “Michigan Public Employment and Labor Relations Law.”

Public officials and employees are often faced with competing demands for their time and energy. Regardless of the number of directions in which such individuals are pulled, however, it is crucial that they strive to maintain high ethical standards when carrying out the duties of their offices. … Because each situation is unique, however, it is impossible to provide specific guidance for every possible situation that may arise, and it is important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney if it appears that the potential for a conflict of interest exists. [.pdf of Chapter 52]

Based on his experience working in Wayne County, Kunselman said, what is unethical isn’t always illegal. Kunselman said he’s specifically concerned about appointments to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, because they’re taxing authorities or receive federal funds. [The DDA is not technically a taxing authority, but rather is enabled to capture a portion of the taxes of other taxing authorities. The transportation millage that benefits the AATA is levied by the city of Ann Arbor and is "passed through" to the AATA.]

Kunselman wondered what would happen if there’s a labor disagreement – what if a city employee is a member of the AATA, and there’s a disagreement with the director of the AATA? Will an employee of the city be allowed to vote on the four-party agreement, to which the city and the AATA are both parties? Kunselman said these issues require serious review so that there are no concerns. The best way to have no concerns is to have arms-length nominations, he said. Kunselman said he was risk averse and therefore he opposed city employees as nominees to boards and commissions.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he was supportive of the resolution because of the term “appearance” of a conflict of interest. He noted that he’d voted for Cooper’s appointment, because he knows Cooper personally. If it had been someone else, he said, he may not have voted that way. He observed that he serves on the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) but that his position is non-voting. Still, he said, he thinks he influences people in that ex officio capacity.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that she’d previously opposed the appointment of a country transportation planner to the AATA board. [She voted against the appointment of Anya Dale on May 17, 2010.] Briere explained that she’d voted that way because she believed it would be difficult to wear multiple hats – as a member of the AATA board and as a member of the county planning staff. It’s difficult not to want to appoint qualified people, she said, but she concluded that to her it was clear that at least four members of the council [those who'd co-sponsored the resolution] would like the mayor to broaden his scope in selecting nominees.

Stephen Kunselman Christoper Taylor

Christoper Taylor (Ward 3) was visibly annoyed during remarks made by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) about the possible appearance of a conflict of interest.

Lumm again noted that the conflict of interest issue is a concern, but for her it’s about engaging more citizens. During her election campaign, she said, she spent a lot of time knocking on doors and she was asked about the AATA board at a fair number of residences. Lumm said she was not sure that residents know how to apply for boards or commissions.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who had shown outward signs of irritation as his wardmate Kunselman had spoken earlier, then began to deliver some prepared remarks of his own. The best that can be said about the resolution, Taylor contended, is that it’s a solution in search of a problem. The resolution speaks of conflicts of interest, but does not identify any, he said.

Each nomination deserves to be considered on its own merits, Taylor said. There’d been an effort to extricate this policy issue from Cooper’s nomination, but Taylor contended it’s inappropriate to do so. Cooper’s nomination is what puts it into focus, he said, and the effect of the resolution would have meant the loss of Cooper to AATA board and that loss would have been substantial. In the era of government cooperation, someone with subject matter expertise is not just good for AATA, he said, it’s good for the city of Ann Arbor. Cross-pollination, Taylor said, is good.

While all that is the best that can be said about the resolution, continued Taylor, that’s not all that should be said. Taylor claimed there’s a tendency in Ann Arbor to make vague and false assertions of unethical behavior. That discourages participation and cheapens public discourse, he said. It causes us to focus on false issues – on hypothetical failings. Instead, he said, we should focus on our challenges and fulfilling our aspirations. He concluded that it’s a misguided resolution and said he’d be voting no.

Hieftje took exception to Kunselman’s characterization of the appointment to the AATA board as a “political appointment.” Hieftje stated that this is just the way the city charter reads and that the appointment to the AATA is no more a political appointment than an appointment to the ZBA.

Hieftje said he doesn’t see the difference between the appointment of a city employee to the AATA, and other appointments where a statute might explicitly allow an employee to serve. As an example, he noted that the state enabling legislation for downtown development authorities requires the mayor or city administrator to serve on the DDA board. [Hieftje serves on the DDA board.]


At the May 5, 2010 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting, because of the opinion rendered by DDA legal counsel Jerry Lax, mayor John Hieftje took a seat in the audience between former DDA board member Bob Gillette and Adrian Iraola, of Park Avenue Consulting.

Last spring, Hieftje said, as the city and the DDA went though protracted negotiations, he had voted a couple of times on issues involving the city’s finances as well as the DDA’s. Hieftje then claimed that at no time was he determined by the city attorney or the DDA attorney to have a conflict of interest – because he was required to be on the board by state statute.

By way of background, Hieftje did participate in all the votes in the spring of 2011. However, a year earlier he was recused for one vote – against his own wishes. While Hieftje accurately depicted the opinion of the Ann Arbor city attorney for the votes in 2010, the opinion expressed at the May 5, 2010 DDA board meeting by the DDA’s legal counsel, Jerry Lax, was that for one particular vote, Hieftje needed to recuse himself. And Hiefjte left the board table to sit out that one vote as a member of the audience.

Outcome: The resolution failed, with support only from Lumm, Kunselman, Anglin and Briere.

Pay Increase for Poll Workers

On the agenda was a resolution to increase the pay for election inspectors – those who work at the polls on election day to verify the registration of voters and to handle all other duties associated with ensuring compliance with election laws at each precinct.

The proposed increases are as follows: election inspector from $8 to $9/hour; floater from $8.50 to $9.50/hour; chairperson from $11.25 to $12/hour; and absent voter count board supervisor from $14 to $14.50/hour. According to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, prepared by the city clerk’s office, the increase in pay is expected to cost $2,000 in a local election and $8,000 in a presidential election. For the upcoming 2012 presidential election, the increase would total $5,000 – a cost that will be reimbursed by the state.

The justification for the increase in pay for Ann Arbor’s election inspectors was based on comparative pay with other nearby jurisdictions. For example, the raise for election inspectors from $8 to $9 now matches what the city of Ypsilanti pays.

After the raise, however, the proposed compensation for election inspectors would still fall short of the amount set forth in Ann Arbor’s living wage policy, which the city itself is not obliged to follow. By ordinance, the wages paid by city contractors to their workers must meet minimum thresholds that are adjusted each year, based on federal poverty guidelines. In May of 2011, the new living wage minimums were set at $11.83/hour for those employers paying health insurance, and $13.19/hour for those employers not paying health insurance.

When the council deliberated on the issue, the living wage factored into the council’s decision to postpone the election inspectors’ pay raise.

When the council came to the item on its agenda, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered why the increase did not go all the way to the level of the living wage? The microphone-less city clerk’s comments in response to Briere weren’t easily audible, but seemed to address the issue of why any increase was being proposed at all – it had been several years since one had been given.

Briere first suggested that the resolution be altered to reflect the living wage. At mayor John Hieftje’s suggestion, she agreed to change her motion to a postponement. The council will receive a budget impact calculation for the additional increase to the living wage level before it votes.

Outcome: The council unanimously postponed the vote on the increase in poll worker compensation.

City Attorney Performance Review, Contract Amendment

In a closed session held toward the end of the meeting, the council reviewed the purchase of land and conducted a performance review for 2011 for the city attorney, Stephen Postema.

Tony Derezinski Stephen Postema

From the left: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) chats with city attorney Stephen Postema.

Personnel evaluations and the purchase of land are each permissible reasons for a closed session under under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. The position of city attorney is one of two positions that report directly to the council – the other is the city administrator. Under Michigan’s OMA, reviews of personnel are allowed to be conducted in a closed session on request from the employee, but are not required to be. However, Postema’s contract contains a clause specifying that: “The results of the evaluation shall be in writing and shall be discussed with the Employee in closed session.”

Around 10 minutes into the closed session, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) emerged from the council workroom adjoining the chambers where the council holds such sessions, and took her seat at the council table. Asked by The Chronicle if the session was done, she indicated that she was done, but the other councilmembers were not – she had felt “blindsided” by what she was asked to consider and did not choose to participate in the closed session discussion.

When the rest of the councilmembers eventually emerged from the closed session, Margie Teall (Ward 4) read a resolution amending the city’s contract with Postema, which allows him to cash-in up to 250 hours of accrued banked time before June 30, 2012.

Briere asked how the resolution differed from the one approved by the council just two months previously, when the council also held a closed session to review Postema’s performance. The explanation offered to Briere was that the performance review conducted at the Oct. 24, 2011 meeting had been just for 2009-10. That review also did not result in any adjustment to Postema’s base salary, but also allowed him to cash-in up to 250 hours of accrued banked time before the end of 2011.

Briere then questioned whether the council’s administration committee had provided other councilmembers with an opportunity to offer feedback on Postema’s performance since the Oct. 24 review. [The council's administration committee, which by custom reviews the input of other councilmembers on personnel evaluations, met earlier that day. The committee consists of Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), mayor John Hieftje, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).]

Sabra Briere

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) sat alone at the council table as her colleagues conducted a closed session on the review of the city attorney's performance. The door to the workroom where the council conducts its closed sessions is visible behind her.

Briere noted that councilmembers not on the administration committee had been given an opportunity to provide their view on Postema’s performance before the Oct. 24 review, but that review had specifically been just through 2010. And Briere did not recall being given an opportunity to provide additional feedback since October for the current review – which included 2011. When Briere asked if she had simply not seen the solicitation for feedback, none of the members of the council’s administration committee could point to an occasion when feedback had been solicited during that time period. Hieftje offered that sometimes all the forms are confusing.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) wondered whether she should participate in the vote, given that she was newly elected to the council in November – she had not been a part of the council for much of the period of Postema’s review. Postema told her that the vote was on his contract going forward. Lumm participated in the vote.

Outcome: The council voted, with dissent from Briere, to approve the contract amendment for Postema, which allows him to cash in 250 hours of banked leave time before June 30, 2012.

Drop-Off Recycling Contract

The council was asked to consider approval of a contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to continue the operation of the drop-off recycling center on the city-owned property at 2950 E. Ellsworth Road, with no financial support from the city.

Previously, the drop-off station was supported by three municipalities: the city of Ann Arbor ($30,000), Washtenaw County ($50,000) and Pittsfield Township ($7,500).

According to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, when Washtenaw County withdrew its support in 2009, Recycle Ann Arbor declined support from the other governmental units – because it would have required tracking where users lived in order to determine the appropriate use charge. Roughly 60% of the users of the facility live outside Ann Arbor. Recycle Ann Arbor now charges a $3 entry fee, in addition to the specific drop-off charges for specific kinds of items. For example, the charge for dropping off a car tire is $5 – with the $3 entry fee, it would total $8.

The previous contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to operate the drop-off facility expired nearly two years ago, on Jan. 1, 2010. The new contract is retroactive to that date.

The staff memo for the agenda item notes some significant sinking of the southeast corner of the building at the facility, but indicates there is no immediate danger. Still, building repairs are recommended.

During the brief council deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said the contract sounds fine, but contended that the city is subsidizing other municipalities. She asked for cost estimates for the recommended building repair – less than $10,000, said Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste manager. McMurtrie said he was not aware of any other needed capital repair expenses associated with the drop-off station.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to operate the drop-off station.

Solar Money

The council was asked to vote on a resolution accepting an additional $20,000 in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE). Of that amount, $17,500 will be applied to a contract with the Clean Energy Coalition for its XSeed Energy community solar program. The remaining $2,500 will go to the city of Ann Arbor to cover grant administration and oversight costs.

The original grant from the USDOE, as part of the Solar America Cities Project, was made in July 2007 for $200,000. According to a staff memo, Ann Arbor has secured commitments from 11 local organizations for various matching funds for an additional $355,008.

The city’s energy coordinator, Andrew Brix, was invited to the podium to give a brief overview. He highlighted the solar panels on top of city hall and the justice center, as well as the solar thermal hot water units, which he said a lot of people are not aware of.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the acceptance of the additional grant money.

Reimbursement for MRF Magnet

Before the council for its consideration was authorization of a reimbursement of $94,788 to the company that operates its materials recovery facility (MRF) for costs of replacing an electromagnet that failed back in February 2011.

RRS Inc. made the request for reimbursement in September. The electromagnet is used to separate metal from other material. The reimbursement will be made from the city’s MRF capitalized renewal and replacement account.

During deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) got clarification from the city’s solid waste manager, Tom McMurtrie, that of the $230,000 in the MRF capital fund, the city had contributed $22,000 and RRS had put in $207,000. He explained that the contributions are based on a per-ton basis for material brought into the center. The city contributes $2/ton for its material, and RRS puts in $4/ton for the non-city material that it brings in.

Lumm wanted to know if the $230,000 will be sufficient for the coming year. Yes, said McMurtrie. Lumm said she applauds trying to save money by using the old magnet in the new single-stream system. McMurtrie said that when the switch was made to the single-stream system, extensive testing of the magnet had been done, but it developed a leak from a weld that was not visible during testing. Once the magnet was installed, it was expensive to get it out of the building – it had to be lifted through the roof with a crane, McMurtrie said.

Bond Re-Funding

The council was asked to consider approval of issuance by the city of re-funding bonds in the amount of $2,400,000 in order to refinancing the $2,230,000 outstanding principal amount on bonds issued to pay for the Fourth and William parking structure project. The refinancing is estimated to yield a savings of approximately $195,000 over the next 10 years.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that she’d support the resolution but asked that the word “refund” be spelled with a hyphen.

City treasurer Matt Horning explained that the reason the resolution had to come quickly was that municipal bond interest rates had fallen, and the city needed to initiate the 45-day referendum period. The process was compared to refinancing a mortgage on a house.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) confirmed with Horning that the city is not extending the maturities of the bonds. Said Horning, “That’s against the law.” Lumm thanked Horning for identifying the opportunity to save the city some money.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the re-funding of the bonds.

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: Vacant Properties

Mayor John Hieftje reported that he’d had a meeting with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and they’d be bringing legislation forward in January to address some of the frustration with abandoned and boarded-up properties. One problem is that the city needs a funding source, in order to take action. In October of 2012, Hieftje said, it was expected that a fund could be established as a result of the resolution of the Michigan Inn situation. Hieftje said he expected to bring a resolution to front load a fund to take care of dilapidated properties, and then pay the general fund back in October. Hieftje said he expected it would be enough to deal with 8-10 problem properties.

Comm/Comm: Property Tax

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she wanted to plant the seed of changing the requirement of when residents must pay their property taxes. In other communities, there’s usually an option to do it at the end of a year or early the following year. City treasurer Matt Horning and the city’s CFO Tom Crawford discovered that there’s really no downside for the city to allow people to pay their taxes early in the following year – the only loser on this is the IRS, Lumm said. However, she said it would require a charter amendment to change the requirement. Nevertheless, she said, she’d be pursuing it.

City administrator Steve Powers and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) shared a light moment before the meeting starts.

City administrator Steve Powers, left, and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) shared a light moment before the Dec. 19 meeting started.

During his communications, city administrator Steve Powers noted that this year, because Dec. 31 falls on a Saturday, the deadline for winter taxes is Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.

Comm/Comm: Immigration

Lourdes Salazar Bautista appeared before the council to thank councilmembers for their support in her fight to stay in the U.S. She had faced deportation on Dec. 27. She reported that on Dec. 13 she’d received word that her deportation had been delayed for one year. Laura Sanders of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) also spoke in to the council on the issue.

Sanders told the council that it was not clear what action had been persuasive enough to achieve the delay, but so many pancakes were thrown against the wall that one finally stuck, she said. Sanders said she was pleased that Bautista’s case has spurred further action to oppose trumped-up immigration charges. Ann Arbor’s close proximity to Canada means that the immigrant population is vulnerable, she said. However, she ventured that “we can be a very sticky syrupy pancake and throw ourselves against the wall of injustice.” Ann Arbor can repeatedly send Washington D.C. the message that it opposes excessive enforcement. She asked the council over the holidays to look at a draft of a resolution that they’ll be asked to support related to this issue.

Mary Anne Perrone introduced herself as a longtime resident of Ann Arbor. She noted that she’d addressed the council before opposing Arizona’s immigration law. As a member of her worshiping community, she thanked the council for its support. She attributed the problem not to any failure to secure U.S borders, but to an insatiable demand for drugs in the U.S.

Comm/Comm: Spirit of Christmas

Thomas Partridge told the council to let the spirit of Christmas give rise to responsive government. There are too many residents without housing, transportation, healthcare and jobs – the things that make life rewarding and give it purpose. He called on everyone to put forward good will and eradicate discrimination.

At the end of the meeting, Partridge returned to the podium to deliver a general rebuke of the council, saying there is the appearance of corruption and evil.

Comm/Comm: Coordinated Funding

Lily Au introduced herself as an Ann Arbor resident. She asked the council two questions: (1) Is government a business or a mission? (2) Do we live only for ourselves or do we also give back? Au said that it is possible to do more than we are. She criticized the coordinated funding approach for human services that the city uses, saying that Washtenaw County, which is a partner in coordinated funding, shortchanges the city.

During her communications time, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that the council had heard a number of times from Au about coordinated funding and Au’s contention that the city might be getting the short end. Smith said she’d worked with Margie Teall (Ward 4) on the coordinated funding process. Smith said it’s allowed the strongest nonprofits to do capacity-building and she characterized it as a “wild success.”

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

Next council meeting: Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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Postema’s Performance Review: No Raise Tue, 20 Dec 2011 05:04:45 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Dec. 19, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council conducted a closed session to review the performance of its city attorney, Stephen Postema, for 2011. The result of the session was that the council voted, with dissent from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), to approve an amendment to Postema’s contract that allows him to cash-in up to 250 of hours of accrued banked time before June 30, 2012.

The position of city attorney is one of two positions that reports directly to the council – the other is the city administrator. Under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, reviews of personnel are allowed to be conducted in a closed session on request from the employee, but are not required to be. However, Postema’s contract contains a clause specifying that: “The results of the evaluation shall be in writing and shall be discussed with the Employee in closed session.”

A performance review conducted just two months ago at the council’s Oct. 24, 2011 meeting had been just for 2009 and 2010. That review did not result in any adjustment to Postema’s base salary, but also allowed him to cash-in up to 250 hours of accrued banked time before the end of 2011.

In a rare move, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) sat out most of the closed session on Dec. 19 and voted no on the contract amendment this time around. She questioned whether the council’s administration committee had provided other councilmembers with opportunity to offer feedback on Postema’s performance since the Oct. 24 review. She noted that other councilmembers had been given an opportunity to provide their view on Postema’s performance before the Oct. 24 review, but that review had specficially been just through 2010.

And Briere did not recall being given an opportunity to provide additional feedback since October for the current review – which included 2011. None of the members of the council’s administration committee could point to an occasion when feedback had been solicited during that time period. Mayor John Hieftje offered that sometimes all the forms are confusing.

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

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AATA on Chelsea Bus: Cut Fares, Add Wifi Fri, 26 Mar 2010 14:44:23 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 24, 2010): The transportation news out of this month’s AATA board meeting was that the twice-daily Chelsea-Ann Arbor express bus service will continue, despite low ridership. It will be moved in-house using AATA buses. The $125 monthly fare will be reduced to $99. Up to now, the pilot program has been operated by Indian Trails.

 Ted Annis public commentary AATA board

Ted Annis distributes copies of his treasurer's report during public commentary at the start of Wednesday's AATA board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

A representative from Indian Trails addressed the board during public commentary at the start of the meeting, in part to convey disappointment, but primarily to thank board members for the opportunity to work on that private-public partnership.

Public commentary also included remarks from Ted Annis, the board’s treasurer, who signed up for a public comment slot, and used it to deliver his treasurer’s report. The report had not been given a slot on the agenda by the board’s governance committee – after reviewing it, the committee decided it did not fit the parameters of the treasurer’s report specified in the board’s bylaws.

The wrangling over the treasurer’s report thus continued from last month’s board meeting, when fellow board members expressed the view that Annis’ monthly reports, which he has submitted since taking over the treasurership last fall, do not include the material specified in their bylaws. Instead, they said, the reports are effectively the expression of an individual board member’s dissent on board policy.

The board voted to establish a bylaws committee to be chaired by David Nacht to examine the matter in more detail.

Board members also voted to change their meeting venue and day, starting in two months. In May, the board will begin meeting at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on the third Thursday evening of the month at 6:30 p.m. The library board room location, also used by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and AADL for their board meetings, offers more space for attendees, as well as video recording facilities.

Chelsea-Ann Arbor Service

Before the board was a resolution – recommended by the performance monitoring and external relations committee – that the Chelsea-Ann Arbor commuter bus service be continued through May 2011, but switched to AATA buses from Indian Trails motor coaches.  The resolution specified that the fare would be reduced to $99/month from $125/month. The fare reduction, in concert with an intensive marketing campaign, is a move that is hoped to improve ridership numbers.

Although the service has not achieved the expected ridership, board members authorized its continuation as a useful means of gathering information, especially as the board moved forward with its contemplation of countywide service.

Chelsea-Ann Arbor: Public Comment

Jeff Deason, sales representative for Indian Trails, the motor coach operator that’s been operating the twice daily service between the city of Ann Arbor and Chelsea, appeared before the board to thank them for the opportunity to provide the service as long as they did – since May 2008. He told them that in those two years, Indian Trails had been a proud partner with the AATA, and noted that the ridership had been pleased with the quality of the equipment and the service provided by their drivers.

Deason described how Indian Trails had understood that the AATA was contemplating the move to in-house operation of the service due to concerns about reducing costs, and that Indian Hills Trails had presented an alternative plan, which had ultimately not been recommended. While Indian Trails was disappointed, he said, he thanked the board and expressed appreciation for the opportunity. He said they would continue to provide the service on the Canton-Ann Arbor express route, and that they were optimistic about other opportunities in the future.

In his turn during public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen pointed out that commuter service fares were being reduced from $125 per month to $99 a month even while fares for fixed-route service were set to increase. [The $0.50 increase, which was spread over two years, was approved last year. That resulted in a rise from $1 to $1.25 last year, with the second phase of the increase due in May 2010 to raise the basic fare to $1.50 per ride. See Chronicle coverage: "Bus Fares Will Increase"]

Asked Mogensen, “Where does the money [to offset the cost not covered by fares] come from? Is there a Chelsea purchase-of-service agreement?” [AATA provides service to communities outside of Ann Arbor  through purchase-of-service agreements. Ann Arbor taxpayers fund AATA through a property millage.]

Mogensen cautioned that the cushioning of a motor coach like Indian Trails had been providing was much different from riding on a regular AATA bus.

Mogensen returned to the topic of express bus service during public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting.

He noted that part of the challenge in marketing the Canton-Ann Arbor service [which targets University of Michigan workers] is that to get to work in Ann Arbor from Canton, you get in your car, you drive down Ford Road, you park your car at the new Plymouth Road park-and-ride lot, you take bus to work – it’s free. [AATA buses do not require payment of a fare by UM workers on boarding – their fares are paid through the M-Ride agreement between UM and AATA. The M-Ride agreement is currently being re-negotiated.] It’s understandable why it’s hard to market that, Mogensen, said.

Mogensen also returned to the specific question of where the money to support the commuter service comes from. If it derives from the Ann Arbor property millage, he said, there are regulations that apply with respect to the use of the funds, which could be used in other ways.

Chelsea-Ann Arbor: Board Deliberations

David Nacht led off with a blunt question: “How much money are we going to throw into this?” Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, put that number at $110,000. The total breaks down into thirds: 1/3 would be covered by fares, 1/3 through a state grant, and 1/3 by the AATA. [It is the 1/3 from the AATA that Mogensen focused on during his public commentary.]

Based on the numbers, Nacht tentatively floated the conclusion that ridership needed to almost double in order for the service to operate without support from AATA. Sue McCormick, an AATA board member who is also the city of Ann Arbor’s public services area administrator, asked Michael Ford, the CEO of AATA, if the staff thought that a doubling of ridership was achievable.

Ford said, “We’re going to try.”

Nacht wondered if it was possible to offer a commission for people to sell tickets. “I would urge us to use capitalist incentives,” he quipped.

Ted Annis noted that given the current ridership numbers, the Chelsea-Ann Arbor service required support if it was to continue. “On its immediate merits, it doesn’t stand up.” However, Annis argued for continuing the service, because it gives the organization useful information going forward. Part of that going forward is the AATA’s contemplation of expanding its service countywide, which Charles Griffith cited as a reason to retain the Chelsea-Ann Arbor express service at least another year.

During the board’s question time for the CEO, before it deliberated on the Chelsea-Ann Arbor resolution, Nacht had also expressed his unwillingness to see the service discontinued, with the AATA countywide initiative in the works.

During question time, Nacht also elicited from Chris White a clarification of the University of Michigan’s fare subsidy for its employees – UM pays $62.50, or 50% out of the $125 fare. With the reduction in fare, said White, UM will continue to pay $62.50, so UM riders will receive the full benefit of the reduced price.

Question time was also the occasion when Sue McCormick asked for some clarification about whether riders wanted the deluxe coaches versus standard buses. White explained that the kind of coach did not appear to be a “make or break” issue for riders. However, the availability of wireless Internet access on the bus did appear to be “make or break” for some riders.

Griffith said that Indian Trails had developed a proposal for their coach service at a reduced rate but without wifi capability. The desire to provide wireless access to the Internet was thus a crucial aspect of the decision.

During deliberations on the resolution, Griffith noted that the motor coach version of the service was tried at first, because the “luxury version” was thought to be necessary to attract ridership. Based on surveys of riders, he said, that did not appear to be essential.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the continuation of the Chelsea-Ann Arbor express bus service through May 2011, reducing the fare, and using AATA buses instead of Indian Trails.

Board Venue Change

At its Feb. 17, 2010 meeting, the board discussed but did not vote on the idea of changing its meeting day and place, in order to improve accessibility and transparency to the public in the context of its contemplation of countywide expansion.

During her report to the board, Rebecca Burke, who chairs the AATA’s local advisory council (LAC), told them that the council had drafted a letter to CEO Michael Ford outlining a variety of issues they saw as challenges with the library location. [The LAC  provides a forum for seniors and those with disabilities to provide input to the AATA.]

Jim Mogensen, during his public commentary, noted that the library closes at 9 p.m. and arrangements should be made to make sure AATA board meetings could, if necessary, go past 9 p.m. He noted that Ann Arbor Public School board meetings met in the same location and often ran past 9 p.m. [At its most recent meeting, on March 24, the AAPS board meeting lasted well past midnight.]

Ford said the staff would look at all possibilities for making the transition as smooth as possible.

During deliberations on the resolution, Sue McCormick got clarification that the concerns raised by Burke had been taken into account. [They fall into two categories: possible issues with the library building; and the accessibility to the library building in the context of ongoing construction of the underground parking garage directly adjacent to the building.]

Nacht wanted to know if the meetings would be on TV. Jesse Bernstein, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee that worked on the issue, explained that coverage on Community Television Network (CTN), the local cable access television station, would not be live. However, within a couple of days after the meeting, the video will be available through online video-on-demand, in the same way that other meetings are, when CTN records them.

In addition, continued Bernstein, the meetings would be aired on CTN’s cable TV channels during a couple of slots during the week, still to be scheduled.

Sue McCormick declared that the new system would represent a substantial improvement.

At the board’s Dec. 16, 2009 meeting, during a discussion on the issue of videotaping meetings, David Nacht recalled the recent history of the board’s position on the question:

In board discussion of video recording their meetings, board member David Nacht said that he was personally in favor of video recording meetings, but noted that the board had recently voted down a proposal to video record meetings, and that lacking new information, out of respect for previous board decisions he was disinclined to support it. Responding to Nacht, Annis said that the “new information” could be that the AATA had a new CEO and was exploring an extension of its service to more areas of the county.

On Wednesday, Nacht said that he’d been a supporter of video recording meetings for six years in the interest of transparency and there had been zero interest in going that direction for 5 and a half years. Now that the board would be voting to make it happen, Nacht said he was “thrilled.”

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution to change its meeting time and location to the third Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The board currently meets at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., on the second-to-last Wednesday of the month.

Treasurer’s Report

Ted Annis has served on the AATA board since having his nomination confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council in February 2005. His current term ends in May of this year, but he could be re-appointed. He has told mayor John Hieftje that he would serve another term, if asked. The mayor makes nominations for appointments, which must be approved by city council.

Treasurer’s Report: Annis as Treasurer

Since election by his board colleagues as treasurer in 2009, Annis has submitted one-page treasurer’s reports:

At the board’s February 2010 meeting, Annis raised his objection to the omission from the board’s agenda of the item that called for the presentation of his report. From discussion at the February meeting, it emerged that other board members were concerned that Annis was using the treasurer’s report as a vehicle for expressing a dissenting view on board policy, rather than presenting commentary on dollars-and-cents information:

That being said, cautioned Nacht, there is a reason for the treasurer’s report in the bylaws – it’s supposed to be more than just a dollars-and-cents accounting, and the treasurer should have the ability to report directly to the board. It all depended, Nacht said, on what the report includes: Is it more philosophical or is it more dollars and cents? To the extent that the content of the treasurer’s report amounted to a dissenting opinion on board policy, Nacht said, it shouldn’t come in the form of a treasurer’s report.

Treasurer’s Report: Annis as a Member of the Public

At Wednesday’s meeting, then, with the treasurer’s report item not included on the agenda, Annis signed up for public comment on the sign-in clipboard, after two other speakers.

When the first two speakers had said their piece, board chair Paul Ajegba noted that Annis was signed in. Ajegba expressed uncertainty about whether it was possible for a board member to address the board during public commentary as a member of the public. David Nacht said he thought it was a “definitional issue,” meaning that a person was a member of the board or of the staff, or of the public, but not more than one of those.

Queried by board members about the content of the bylaws, executive assistant Karen Wheeler [who keeps the minutes of the board meetings] said she didn’t think there was anything in the bylaws that disallowed it.

Annis suggested that because it would be a brief presentation, the board could debate the question of whether he should be allowed to address the body during public commentary – while he gave the report.

Ajegba offered somewhat resignedly that Annis would be “breaking new ground.”

Treasurer’s Report: The Content of the Report

Annis then read briefly from the introductory material explaining that the report was being delivered during public comment time, noting that:

[...] Board members have complained that the last three Treasurer’s Reports have ranged beyond the reporting upon the monthly financial statements and that they do not wish to be exposed to the Treasurer’s presentations. The offending reports have included an analysis of countywide millage funding, a request for transparency, a request for appropriate Board meeting accommodations, a suggestion of a budgeted operating amount to guide the outside consultant designing the countywide bus system, a computation of savings available from cost-efficient operations, and the hiring of a CFO (Chief Financial Officer).

The February report – delivered on Wednesday – contained the recommendation that the AATA’s cost per bus service hour, which is currently around $104, be placed into the CEO’s goal’s and objectives:

1. $95/bus service hour by year-end 2010

2. $85/bus service hour by June 2011

3. $75/bus service hour by year-end 2011

The report also contends that capital funds available from the federal government are typically transferred into operating revenue to produce a balanced budget on an annual basis. Over the last five years, the report contends, the net effect of the practice is that $10.773 milion has been removed from the capital funds account to cover “excessive operating expenses.”

As capital funds, the report says, those dollars would have been otherwise available for use on a new transit station or a rail station. [The city of Ann Arbor's share of the Fuller Road Station – a joint project to build a parking structure and bus station – is around $5 million, but no financing plan has yet been identified except that the mayor has indicated no general fund money would be used.]

Near the conclusion of the board meeting, Ajegba asked the senior staff to look at Annis’ report with particular attention to the $10.773 million in capital funds transfers and to compare that with other transit authorities.

Treasurer’s Report: Formation of a Bylaws Committee

At the conclusion of Annis’ public commentary remarks, Ajegba asked CEO Michael Ford to get an opinion from the AATA’s legal counsel, Jerry Lax, on the question of board members addressing the board as members of the public.

Later in the meeting, Ajegba explained that the governance committee had looked at the report and determined that it was not consistent with the description of the treasurer’s report in the bylaws. That description is as follows:

The Treasurer shall submit to the Board, and comment on monthly budget-expenditure reports prepared by management.

Ajegba also indicated that Lax had concluded Annis’ report was not consistent with the treasurer’s report, as specified in the bylaws.

Ajegba asked David Nacht to serve as chair of a bylaws committee to take a look at the issue. Nacht indicated that Ajegba had phoned earlier to ask him to serve in such a capacity and that he’d agreed. He quipped: “I am not going to change my mind at this moment,” which provoked laughs all around. He then joked, “I would like the bylaws to be written in Romanian.”

CEO’s Goals and Objectives

CEO Michael Ford was hired last year and started work in the summer of 2009. Since that time the board has asked Ford to work with its committees to come up with a mutually agreeable set of goals and objectives on which his evaluation would be based. That process has been iterative, and the board had before it a set of goals and objectives that had evolved from that process.

Sue McCormick led off discussion by describing them as “well-written and understandable.” However, she asked where the financial objectives were expressed in them. Ford pointed to a section in the second page that was meant to address that issue:

Using the findings of the audit, CEO will support and encourage continuous improvement teams and the principles of six sigma and lean processes to eliminate waste and inefficiencies thereby controlling costs while enhancing performance.

McCormick allowed that she appreciated the language but pressed: “What’s the metric?”

David Nacht concurred with McCormick’s concern, saying the language seemed “watered-down and mushy.” He said that Ford’s first year was not supposed to be “just a learning year.”

McCormick identified two basic issues that were problematic: (i) the formalized performance goals and objectives for the CEO were not aligned with the budget process [AATA's fiscal year starts in October; Ford's evaluation period started in July], and (ii) there’s not anything as simple in the goals and objectives as “perform within budget,” let alone something like improve efficiency by 1%.

The goals and objectives, said McCormick, need something that gives financial direction.

Nacht concurred, saying that financial direction was especially important, given how easy it is to use preventive maintenance dollars for temporary budget fixes.

Jesse Bernstein said he was not opposed to putting in some kind of metric, understanding that there was a short time-frame from now until the point when Ford would be evaluated on it.

McCormick then turned to Ford and asked if there were any issues as far as being within budget for this year. Ford indicated there were challenges and said that Nacht was right about the issue of preventive maintenance dollars being used to cover other parts of the budget.

Reflecting on the idea that they would vote on something in March and use it for evaluation three months later, Nacht said he supposed that as far as due process, they had flunked. “That’s ridiculous, it seems to me,” he said. Nacht wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to think of it as setting up the evaluation for next year, rather than doing it as a “pretend thing.”

Annis indicated agreement with what others had said and added that he didn’t see a target completion date. Ford responded by saying there was an accompanying work plan that reflected dates. Annis allowed that it might be simply a presentational issue.

Griffith didn’t concur with Nacht’s assessment that the board had flunked, saying “Let’s back off from calling it a failure.” He suggested that what they needed to do was to figure out how to get the evaluation of goals and objectives on a schedule and a routine that works as two-way communication.  He suggested that quarterly check-ins would be desirable.

Ajegba acknowledged the long process that had started before December 2009 in developing the goals and objectives. He noted that there were still some specific measurable outcomes in the goals and objectives that Ford could be evaluated on. He did not feel it made sense to put in metrics like a reduction in cost per service hour to $95/hour, which were not achievable in three months time, when the evaluation would take place. [That was a metric suggested in Annis' treasurer's report.]

Come July, Ajegba suggested, they could add specific metrics. For now, it was still a useful tool for evaluating a 1-year contract.

McCormick indicated she would support the goals and objectives for this year, but not for next year – they were too “activity oriented” as opposed to “outcome oriented,” she said.

Outcome: The board approved the set of goals and objectives for the CEO, with abstention by Annis.

Other Financial Matters

Also on the agenda were two other financial items. One related to the receipt of the audited financial statement for the year ending on Sept. 30, 2009. The other authorized the use of funds to hire additional personnel.

Audited Statements

Ted Annis summarized the audit report by saying the best part was that there was no substantial disagreement with management. Among the recommendations in the audit report were a surprise audit of on-demand service vendors to make sure billable hours are correct, tightening up of controls on payroll and who’s signing for what, and checking the vendor files to make sure that W-9 forms are in place.

Outcome: The board unanimously accepted the audited financial statements for the year ending Sept. 30, 2009.

Personnel Funding

A resolution before the board authorized the CEO to make some professional hires:

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Chief Executive Officer is authorized to utilize funds currently available within the FY2010 budget toward meeting AATA’s needs for sufficient professional personnel, [...]

Sue McCormick said she was supportive of the resolution’s intent but was concerned that it was open-ended – there were no funding limits and there was no indication of how many FTEs were to be added. Annis asked if McCormick was suggesting a friendly amendment on the fly – yes, replied McCormick.

After brief discussion, the board approved an amendment to specify “up to three FTEs.”

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the authorization to hire additional professional staff.

Other Public Commentary

In addition to the public commentary reported above, three others also spoke.

Sandra Holley said she wanted to draw the board’s attention to the new Plymouth Road park-and-ride lot and the impact it had on routes. To get from the north side of town to Domino’s Farms on a public route – which should be a 15-minute trip – took two hours. First you have to go down Pontiac Trail to downtown Ann Arbor, transfer at the Blake Transit Center, ride to the UM hospital, then take the shuttle. She also noted that A-Ride, the AATA paratransit service, does not consider Domino’s Farms to be inside Ann Arbor, so the fare was $9 each way, not the $2.50 fare inside the city .

In support of Holley’s depiction, Carolyn Grawi, of the Center for Independent Living, said it took a good hour spread over three routes to get from CIL to Domino’s. Grawi also alerted the board to the Transit Partnership Conference to be held April 1-2, 2010 at Mt. Pleasant, Mich. At the conference, attendees will work together to develop strategies to improve public transportation. Grawi called particular attention to the fact that one of the sessions will include participation from rural transit managers, which is germane to the AATA’s contemplation of a countywide expansion of its service.

Nancy Kaplan asked the board a question: How will the planned Fuller Road Station change bus service to that area? Board chair Paul Ajegba responded that he did not know if the logistics of that had been worked out. CEO Michael Ford indicated that there’s more work to be done on it, including modeling work. Jesse Bernstein said the advantage of a large enough bus terminus at that location was that it could handle a full busload of people. That meant it could perhaps bypass the downtown Blake Transit Center in bringing people to work at UM hospitals from Ypsilanti.

Kaplan followed up Bernstein’s comment by asking why it was not possible now to run a bus straight from Ypsilanti to the Fuller Road area. Bernstein explained that currently there is simply no location where passengers could get off the bus without blocking traffic. David Nacht wrapped up the public comment for the evening by appealing to board chair Ajegba to bring things to a close, saying that public commentary was not intended as a Q&A session.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Ted Annis, Jesse Bernstein, Paul Ajegba, Sue McCormick

Absent: Rich Robben

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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