Stories indexed with the term ‘public safety’

Security Alliance Formed for Eastern Washtenaw

A new public safety collaboration – the Eastern Washtenaw Safety Alliance – was announced on July 8, bringing together the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, Eastern Michigan University, and the city of Ypsilanti to increase security efforts on the eastern side of the county. The alliance will work on several initiatives, including increased police officers, expanded patrols, installing new streetlights and shared jurisdictional authority, according to a press release. EMU is hiring 10 additional police officers this year, which will increase its police staff to 43 deputized officers by the fall. The city of Ypsilanti has hired eight new police officers since last fall, bringing the city’s total to 29. [Source] [Alliance FAQ] [Street light FAQ] [List of ... [Full Story]

Community Corrections Grant Approved

Application for a $421,900 state community corrections grant was approved by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its June 4, 2014 meeting.

The grant from the Michigan Dept. of Corrections is for the period from Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015. This is part of a regular, annual grant process to fund services that include diversion and alternative sentencing options to the Washtenaw County Trial Court, pre-trial services, drug testing, electronic monitoring and “social education,” according to a staff memo. The total program of $1.18 million also includes $240,983 in county matching funds, $280,584 in estimated program revenue, and $239,554 in the use of fund balance. The community corrections program is part of the county sheriff’s office. [.pdf of staff ... [Full Story]

Final Approval Granted for Police Services

A two-year pricing proposal for contracts to provide police services to local municipalities has received final authorization from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 16 meeting.

For 2016 and 2017, the police services unit (PSU) price will be  $156,709 and  $158,276, respectively. An initial vote had been taken on April 2, 2014.

By way of background, on July 6, 2011, commissioners had authorized the price that municipalities would pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 per “police services unit” – was unchanged from 2011, but has been rising in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures in 2011 involved more than a year of discussion … [Full Story]

County “Peacekeeping Court” Gets Funding

At their Dec. 4, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners authorized acceptance of a $150,000 grant to establish the Washtenaw County Trial Court’s Peacemaking Court. The grant, awarded by the State Court Administrator’s Office, is for funding from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.

The state grants are intended to support creative approaches in the court system. The Peacemaking Court is described in a staff memo:
Like tribal peacemaking programs and restorative justice programs, the Peacemaking Court will provide a great benefit to youth and the community in juvenile cases by reducing recidivism and giving youth a diversionary option to avoid a record that can preclude future educational and employment opportunities. Domestic relations and other family cases will benefit from more durable … [Full Story]

Budget Debate: Public Safety Concerns

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 6, 2013): At another nearly six-hour meeting, county commissioners handled a full agenda with several major action items, including the 2014-2017 budget.

Yousef Rabhi, Andy LaBarre, Ronnie Peterson, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). (Photos by the writer.)

Following about three hours of debate and some minor amendments, commissioners gave initial approval to the proposed four-year general fund budget, for the years 2014-2017. The 7-2 vote came over the dissent of Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), who cited concerns over a budget cycle extending for four years rather than two.

Much of the budget discussion focused on the sheriff’s operations. No layoffs are proposed, but 8.47 FTE positions would be kept unfilled. Most of those are in the sheriff’s office, which has a targeted budget reduction of $1.34 million. Sheriff Jerry Clayton, an elected official, attended the Nov. 6 meeting and addressed the board, telling commissioners that his office can’t continue to absorb budget cuts without affecting services. “For me not to tell you what I believe the impact on public safety is, if you make those cuts, would be negligent in my responsibility as the county sheriff.”

Board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) countered that every department head could make arguments against budget cuts. Noting that more revenues are needed, Rabhi said he hoped commissioners would support putting a countywide public safety millage on the ballot.

During public commentary after the budget debate, county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie told commissioners that they had a difficult job, but that they were making it harder than it needed to be. He suggested looking for guidance in the state constitution, and relying on the experience of county administrator Verna McDaniel. Mackie also questioned whether commissioners were truly committed to public safety as a priority. He praised Clayton, noting that the sheriff is a respected figure with a national reputation. “He might know more about safety and criminal justice than you do,” Mackie said.

The budget must be given final approval by the end of the year, and only two more board meetings scheduled: On Nov. 20 and Dec. 4. The board will also hold a second public hearing on the budget on Nov. 20.

Several other agenda items related directly or indirectly to the county’s budget. On a 7-1 vote, the board gave final approval to an increase in the levy of the economic development and agricultural tax, known as Act 88 of 1913. The increase to the Act 88 millage is from 0.06 mills to 0.07 mills. Dan Smith (R-District 2) dissented and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had left the meeting by the time the vote occurred, just after midnight. Smith questioned the constitutionality of the county levying this tax, as well as the legality of how the revenues are spent.

During public commentary, the board also heard from two people who objected to the tax levy, including Bill McMaster of Taxpayers United. McMaster, who helped lead the statewide campaign that resulted in passage of the Headlee Amendment in 1978, noted during public commentary that there’s a provision in the law allowing for legal action if taxes are raised without voter approval. It’s an action “which we will pursue,” he said.

The board also unanimously approved a tax-sharing agreement to allow a portion of county taxes to be captured by Pittsfield Township’s State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). Pittsfield Township supervisor Mandy Grewal addressed commissioners during public commentary, thanking them for their support of the CIA. One opponent to the CIA – former township official Christina Lirones – spoke during two opportunities for public commentary, urging the board to opt out of the CIA.

Other items handled during the Nov. 6 meeting included (1) final approval to extend the coordinated funding approach for human services, as well as to authorize some changes in that funding model; (2) appointment of an advisory committee to propose options for county property on Platt Road; (3) final approval of a brownfield plan for Chelsea Milling Co. (Jiffy Mix); and (4) appointment of Ellen Rabinowitz as temporary health officer to replace Dick Fleece, who’s retiring at the end of 2013.

Communications during the meeting included public commentary from supporters of the Delonis Center homeless shelter in Ann Arbor, and concerns about state standards for permissible levels of 1,4-dioxane. [Full Story]

UM Football Game Day Street Closures OK’d

City streets on three sides of the University of Michigan football stadium will have traffic restrictions on game days in 2013. The Ann Arbor city council action authorizing street and lane closures came at its Aug. 8, 2013 meeting.

UM football game day street closures.

UM football game day street closures (pink) with detour route (purple).

Vehicle access on the fourth side of Michigan Stadium, on university property, will also be restricted.

The street closures are new security measures. According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, it’s … [Full Story]

County Approves Community Corrections Plan

At its June 5, 2013 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved an annual community corrections plan with a $1,042,468 budget for FY 2013-14 – from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014. [.pdf of community corrections plan]

The community corrections division is a unit of the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, with an emphasis on programs and services aimed at keeping people out of jail by providing sentencing options for the Washtenaw County Trial Court – including pre-trial services, drug testing, electronic monitoring, and social education. The funding comes from several sources: (1) $421,900 in state revenue; (2) $260,890 in program-generated fees; (3) $240,983 in appropriations from the county’s general fund; and (4) $118,703 from fund balance.

According to … [Full Story]

Council Asks DDA to Fund Downtown Police

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has now been encouraged through a formal resolution of the city council to consider paying for three police officers to be assigned to the downtown. The total annual cost would be about $270,000.

The council’s action came at its June 3, 2013 meeting, two weeks after the council set its FY 2014 budget – during a May 20, 2013 debate that ultimately rejected funding for three additional police officers. The proposed budget amendment, which failed on a 5-6 vote, had been brought forward by Jane Lumm (Ward 2). The amendment would have reduced the budget of the 15th District Court by $270,000.

The resolution on June 3 was brought forward by Lumm and Sumi Kailasapathy … [Full Story]

Details on FY 2014 Budget Debate

Ann Arbor city council meeting Part 1: Budget debate (May 20, 2013): The council’s meeting did not conclude until nearly 2 a.m. after a 7 p.m. scheduled start. This portion of The Chronicle’s meeting report focuses mostly on the council’s fiscal year 2014 budget deliberations, which started at about 9 p.m. and ended around 1:30 a.m.

From left: Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Budget deliberations pushed the meeting until nearly 2 a.m.

From left: Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Budget deliberations pushed the meeting until nearly 2 a.m.

The council considered several amendments to the FY 2014 budget. But the total impact on the general fund of all the successful amendments was not significant, leaving mostly intact the “status quo” budget that had been proposed by city administrator Steve Powers a month earlier. That was a budget with $82.9 million in general fund expenditures. [.pdf of one-page summary of possible amendments] [.pdf of longer detail on FY 2014 budget amendments]

Most of the successful amendments were voted through with relatively little debate, and involved amounts of $100,000 or less. For example, the Washtenaw Health Initiative received an additional $10,000 allocation, and the Miller Manor senior meals program received a $4,500 boost. Allocations to human services nonprofits were increased by $46,899. And the general fund balance was tapped to conduct a $75,000 study of sidewalk gaps so that projects could be prioritized.

The affordable housing trust fund received an infusion of $100,000 from the general fund reserve. The council also approved an amendment prohibiting the spending of $326,464 that was set aside in the FY 2014 budget for public art, in anticipation of a final affirmative vote on a change to the public art ordinance. A vote on amending that ordinance is likely to take place on June 3, before the fiscal year begins on July 1.

The “parks fairness” amendment, which came after deliberations on all other amendments, was a straightforward calculation in accordance with a city policy. The policy requires that any increase in general fund spending be matched by a parallel increase for parks. The council approved that $22,977 amendment with scant remark.

Just three issues took about 80% of the council’s roughly 4.5-hour budget deliberations: (1) the budget of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, (2)  the possible reduction of the 15th District Court budget in order to pay for three additional police officers, and (3) the proposed restoration of loose leaf collection in the fall.

Of the most time-consuming items, the change to the DDA’s budget was ultimately approved – after escalating political rhetoric led to a kind of compromise that had almost unanimous support. The DDA compromise budget amendment called for a $300,000 transfer from the DDA’s TIF (tax increment finance) fund to the DDA’s housing fund, and a recommendation to spend $300,000 of TIF money on the replacement of Main Street light poles. Only Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) dissented.

The lone dissenting vote on the budget as a whole was Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who issued a verbal spanking of her colleagues and the city administrator – for proposing and approving a budget she did not feel reflected a priority on public safety. Countering Lumm was Taylor, who pointed out that roughly half of the general fund expenditures are related to public safety. [Full Story]

FY 2014 Budget: Getting It in a Box

What if the city of Ann Arbor had a daily newspaper with a section dedicated to public safety? And what if city administrator Steve Powers were editor of the public safety section of the local paper? What would he want to read about in that section, if he were just a resident of the city, not its top official?

FY 2014 Ann Arbor budget box

FY 2014 Ann Arbor budget box. (Chronicle illustration using city of Ann Arbor budget summaries.)

That hypothetical was part of an April 2 conversation between Powers, chief financial officer Tom Crawford, and Chronicle editor Dave Askins. The focus of the conversation was to confirm and clarify some of the ideas that have been expressed at the city council’s budget retreat and work sessions over the past few months.

Announced by Powers and Crawford at the most recent council work session, on March 25, is the fact that the budget proposal is now essentially “inside the box” – meaning that it falls within the parameters imposed on Crawford by the city council’s adopted fiscal discipline priority. [.pdf of general fund budget summary as of March 25]

The tentative summary of the general fund budget calls for recurring general fund expenditures in FY 2014 of roughly $80.8 million, with $83.6 million in expenditures the following year.

Until March 25, the draft two-year plan had called for expenditures that would have left the city’s general fund unrestricted balance at $13.1 million (16.1% of operating expenses) and $9.7 million (11.5%) for FY 2014 and FY 2015, respectively. In the second year of that plan, the 11.5% left the city well short of the 15-20% currently recommended by Crawford, even though it’s within the 8-12% mandated by city policy.

But on March 25, the revised budget proposal called for unrestricted fund balances of $13.8 million (17%) and $12.1 million (14.4%) for the respective years.

Also up to March 25, the budget proposal had called for a two-year deficit of $252,000 for a specific subset of line items – which included recurring revenues, recurring expenses, recurring new requests and one-time requests. That’s a number that Crawford wants to balance for the two-year plan, even if it doesn’t balance in any one year. On March 25, the new figure was positive at $699,000 – or almost $1 million better than the original proposal.

The conversation between Powers, Crawford and Askins is reported below in more detail.

Pulling out some highlights, the discussion confirmed that this year’s budget won’t include a significant re-thinking of service delivery. Greater efficiencies and improved service could result from taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, but the recent departure of IT director Dan Rainey is not seen as an immediate opportunity for that kind of efficiency  – say, through a further merging of the Washtenaw County and city IT operations. Rainey’s position will be filled. With respect to IT in general, the telecommunications component of the staff’s draft economic development work plan – referred to as “fiber optic to the premises” – is still so conceptual in nature that the question of funding hasn’t been explored in detail.

Communication to the public from the city – in the form of reliable, consistent information about police and fire incidents – is a key part of the council priority that Ann Arbor feel (and be) safe. Related to that priority, the city administrator appears receptive to the idea of a data feed produced by the city containing all the police and fire calls. He indicated that a survey of citizens on attitudes and experience with public safety, as well as a range of other topics, is likely to be included in the FY 2014 budget.

With regard to a tentative proposal to remove funding for re-use of the city-owned 415 W. Washington site, it appears that the change was purely a function of a desire to get the budget “into the box.” [Full Story]

Division & Washington

If there really is a high voltage risk here, this just strikes me as an unsatisfactory attempt to protect the general public. I couldn’t help but to laugh… and then wonder. [photo]

Rounds 4, 5 FY 2014: Priorities, Reality

Over the last month, the Ann Arbor city council has been using a series of working sessions to deliberate toward a final budget decision in late May. That’s when the council will need to adopt the city administrator’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, or make adjustments and adopt an amended budget. The city administrator’s proposed budget is due by April 15 – the council’s second meeting in April.

City of Ann Arbor Two Year Outlook

Chart 1: City of Ann Arbor two-year outlook for the general fund. The black bar represents recurring revenue. The stacked bars represent expenses. From the bottom up, those expenses are: existing recurring expenses (light red), requests for new recurring expenses (dark red), one-time requests (light blue), and capital improvement plan needs (dark blue). There also could be additional expenses needed to meet the city council’s priority goals.

The most recent of those work sessions took place on March 11, 2013. The agenda focused on the city council’s top priorities, as identified at its planning retreat late last year: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; and (3) infrastructure. Two additional areas were drawn from a raft of other possible issues as those to which the council wanted to devote time and energy over the next two years: (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing. The retreat had resulted in a consensus on “problem” and “success” statements in these areas – answering the questions: (1) What is the problem we are solving? and (2) What does success look like?

The priority-focused March 11 work session followed one held on Feb. 25, which mapped out the financial picture for the next two years fund-by-fund – not just the general fund, but also the various utility funds (water, sanitary sewer, stormwater, and streets) and internal service funds (fleet, and IT). But on March 11, the council’s focus was primarily on the general fund – as deliberations centered on the first two priority items: fiscal discipline and public safety.

The Feb. 25 session had provided the council with a sketch of the basic general fund picture for the next two years, which is better than it has been for the last several years. Based on current levels for all services, recurring revenues for the two years are projected to exceed recurring expenses by a total of $1.44 million in a general fund budget of about $82 million each year.

That doesn’t factor in requests from various departments that would result in additional recurring expenses, totaling $1.17 million for the two years – which would leave a surplus of just $265,000. When further requests from departments are considered that would result in one-time expenses, that two-year surplus would flip to a deficit of about $252,00. And if all as-yet-unfunded capital improvement expenses are added in for the two years, the city would be looking at a two-year general fund deficit of $4.41 million.

The general fund’s uncommitted balance could cover that deficit – but it would leave the uncommitted balance at $9.69 million at the end of FY 2015, or 11.5% of operating expenses. Under city policy, the uncommitted general fund balance should be between 8% and 12%. However, Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, has recommended that the city strive for 15-20%.

None of those numbers factor in any additional resources that could be required to achieve success measured in terms of the city council’s priority goals.

At the March 11 session, discussion by councilmembers of the first two priority items – fiscal discipline and public safety – revealed some unsurprising philosophical differences in approach. The majority of councilmembers seemed to accept city administrator Steve Powers’ inclination to take FY 2014 as a “breather” year, not asking departments to meet reduction targets this year, after several years of cuts. But Jane Lumm (Ward 2) – who previously served as a Republican on the council in the mid 1990s, and was elected as an independent in 2011 – expressed disappointed with this approach. She wants reduction targets every year.

And Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), who was elected in November 2012, challenged the idea that it’s only new councilmembers who need to learn during the budget process. She pointed out that city staff members also have a learning curve – as they shift the organization’s priorities to the new council’s priorities.

For public safety, a consensus seemed to emerge that the council’s planning retreat success statements about policing might need further refinement – in light of the current department’s configuration. Police chief John Seto characterized that configuration as set up to be reactive, not proactive. Current staffing levels don’t allow for a proactive configuration, he indicated.

But the council did not appear to have a complete consensus about the importance of that proactive capability – unless that capability could be linked to success in making the community be safe and feel safe. Measuring perceptions of safety through the National Citizens Survey – for the first time since 2008 – was an idea that seemed to have some traction on the council. Some sentiment was expressed that the number of police officers should be increased – whether or not that increase could be tied to better safety as defined in adopted city council goals.

For the fire protection side of public safety, councilmembers effectively made a decision – without voting – to give clear direction to fire chief Chuck Hubbard that they didn’t want to see his three-station plan implemented. He had first presented the plan about a year ago. The proposal would close three stations but re-open one, for a net reduction from five to three stations.

Some dissent was offered, but mayor John Hieftje indicated that in his view the three-station plan was dead. Still, councilmembers seemed unenthusiastic about an alternative – which would entail hiring an additional 23 firefighters to staff existing stations. They seemed more inclined toward incremental improvements in fire safety. Those improvements might be gained through community education. Another possibility is deployment of some light rescue vehicles, which would require a crew of just two, instead of water-carrying trucks that need a crew of three.

This report focuses exclusively on the top council priorities of budget discipline and public safety. Also discussed at the working session, but not included in this report, were draft work plans for the other three priority areas: infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.

The council may schedule an additional work session on March 25 to give city administrator Steve Powers more direction as he shapes the final budget that he’ll submit to the council in April. [Full Story]

Column: When Tech Supports Policy Decisions

When the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Cities Survey ranked Ann Arbor as first in its population category for 2012, I considered this to be terrible news.

Ann Arbor Police Department old-style manual activity reports (bottom) contrasted with newer, digital system.

Ann Arbor police department old-style, manual officer activity reports (bottom) contrasted with a newer-style, digital records system.

It deprived me of my favorite way give a poke in the ribs to Dan Rainey, who heads up the city’s IT department: “A top 10 finish, huh? So what went wrong? Why not first place?”

Of course, a top ranking on the Digital Cities Survey is not a terrible thing. And by rights, as part of the Dec. 3, 2012 city council meeting report, Chronicle readers might have reasonably expected to see some mention of that first-place award.

That was the meeting when Rainey announced the award, and invited IT staff to the podium to talk about some projects they’ve been working on. Those included a project involving traffic and signal systems that’s connected to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s smart-vehicle research study. They also talked about a project that will integrate three major software systems at the city: asset management, finance and payroll.

None of that award talk made it into the Dec. 3 meeting report.

Last year, when the merely fifth place Digital Cities ranking was announced, it was also not included in The Chronicle’s council meeting report. As a partial explanation for that omission, I wrote in a subsequent column: “But one reason I don’t mind omitting that kind of award from a meeting report is that it really does not matter to me where Ann Arbor ranks on that survey. What matters to me is the fact that the city’s investments in the realm of digital technology make life in Ann Arbor as a local journalist easier than it would be otherwise.”

That column put a spotlight on some of the city’s digital tools I use on a regular basis that make my life as a journalist easier. This year, I’d like to highlight three digital projects that I think will make life easier and better for citizens and policymakers, too. None of these three projects were mentioned at the Dec. 3 meeting – which is to say that I stumbled across them in my regular travels.

Those three projects are: (1) the transition to a digital platform for submitting site plans to the planning and development department; (2) the integration of a simple button push that Ann Arbor firefighters can use to record timestamps at key points during their response to calls; and (3) conversion of pen-and-paper police department officer activity reports to a digital format.

It’s the third project I am particularly excited about – because of its potential to provide data that will directly affect policy choices made by the city council. That optimism is based in part on the fact that it was cited specifically at a recent city council planning session. The question it will help answer is this: How much time do Ann Arbor police officers have available for proactive policing?  [Full Story]

Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure

A key outcome of an Ann Arbor city council planning session held on Dec. 10 was the identification of five priority areas for the next year.

Three of the areas generated immediate consensus among the 11 councilmembers: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; and (3) infrastructure. Two additional areas were drawn from a raft of other possible issues as those to which the council wanted to devote time and energy: (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing.

Five issues identified by the city council as the areas they'd like to invest time and energy in the coming year.

Five issues identified by the Ann Arbor city council as the areas they’d like to invest time and energy in the coming year: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; (3) infrastructure; (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing. (Photos by the writer.)

Possibly more important than the five areas of focus were the answers councilmembers developed to two questions about each area: (1) What is the problem we are solving? and (2) What does success look like?

Based on remarks at the conclusion of the evening, councilmembers seemed almost universally enthusiastic with the outcome of the planning session, which was facilitated by Julia Novak of the Novak Consulting Group. Novak holds a masters degree in public administration from the University of Kansas – the same program where Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers obtained his degree. However, the two did not overlap there as students.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who’d helped plan the format and content of the session during budget committee meetings over the last two months, said: “I think the engagement among councilmembers tonight was extraordinary.” She attributed that engagement at least in part to the fact that councilmembers were asked not to bring their laptop computers or cellphones to the session.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) felt that having an objective facilitator helped. And Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) thought that Novak did a good job keeping the council focused on not presupposing solutions, but rather on trying to clearly define what problem the council is trying to solve.

The general enthusiasm among councilmembers  for the two-question approach that Novak took carried over to the work of a five-member city council committee on public art that met the following day. The group actively attempted to apply the problem/success approach to their work.

Somewhat dubious about one of the problem statements – in connection with public safety – was Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), who still wondered at the end of the session about the implications of the word “optimize.”

This report includes the consensus problem/success statements for each of the areas of focus. The report also provides a more detailed look at how the council moved from an initial draft to its final consensus on one of those priorities – public safety. [Full Story]

Seto Named Permanent Ann Arbor Police Chief

At its July 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the appointment of John Seto as permanent police chief and head of safety services. Seto has served as interim in both roles since the resignation of former police chief Barnett Jones effective March 31.

At his farewell sendoff on March 30, Jones was emphatic about his view that Seto should be hired as permanent chief, describing Seto as “the right person to follow me.” [.jpg of Seto at former Chief Barnett Jones farewell]

Seto was hired in 1990 as a patrol officer in the AAPD and achieved the rank of deputy chief in 2008. Seto’s college degree is from Eastern Michigan University, and his subsequent professional development has included training … [Full Story]

Fire, Police Retirement/Health Changes OK’d

At its April 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave approval to changes to the employee retirement system to accommodate recent changes to the collective bargaining agreement with its police command officers union and firefighters union. The council also gave final approval to changes to the retirement health care benefits to reflect changes to those collectively bargained agreements.

Changes to the retirement system include: (1) increasing the pension contribution of command officer members to 6% from 5%; (2) implementing a pick-up feature as permitted by the Internal Revenue Code for the pension contributions of firefighters and command officers, converting their 6% pre-tax contribution to a 6% post-tax contribution; (3) increasing the vesting and final average compensation requirements for firefighters hired … [Full Story]

Initial OK for Fire, Police Retirement/Health

At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to changes to the employee retirement system to accommodate recent changes to the collective bargaining agreement with its police command officers union and firefighters union. The council also gave initial approval to changes to the retirement health care benefits to reflect changes to those collectively bargained agreements.

Changes to the retirement system include: (1) increasing the pension contribution of command officer members to 6% from 5%; (2) implementing a pick-up feature as permitted by the Internal Revenue Code for the pension contributions of firefighters and command officers, converting their 6% pre-tax contribution to a 6% post-tax contribution; (3) increasing the vesting and final average compensation requirements for firefighters … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Fire, Police Contracts

At its March 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved new contracts with its firefighters as well as with its police command officers.

The contract with Local 693 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is retroactive to July 1, 2010 and runs through June 30, 2014. Ann Arbor’s firefighters have been working without a new contract since the previous agreement expired June 30, 2010. Features of the new contract include the restoration of pay to the 2008 level – the union had previously accepted a wage decrease of 3% in order temporarily to preserve jobs. The restoration to previous wage levels will take place over the course of two years, at 1.5% each year.

The contract reduces the … [Full Story]

UM Regents Call for External Investigation

In a resolution approved unanimously at the start of their Feb. 16 board meeting, University of Michigan regents called for an external investigation of actions related to a former UM medical resident who is charged with possession of child pornography. The resolution, moved from the floor by regent Martin Taylor, called the incident “one that is unacceptable to the regents and that we, the regents, feel we must do everything within our power to ensure that it is not repeated.” [.pdf of Taylor's statement]

The former medical resident, Stephen Jenson, is accused of viewing child pornography on a UM health system computer. The incident was reported in May of 2011 but was not acted on by university officials until November. Jenson … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Cannabis Laws Done, For Now

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 20, 2011): Two ordinances regulating medical marijuana businesses were finally approved by the council on Monday night, following more than a year of discussion in some form.

Sabra Briere, Carsten Hohnke, Christopher Taylor

Before the June 20 meeting started, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) handed out amendments she'd be proposing to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. From left: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). (Photos by the writer.)

The first local law stipulates where medical marijuana businesses can be located in the city – it’s an addition to Ann Arbor’s zoning code. The second law establishes a licensing board for medical marijuana dispensaries and sets up an application process for the award of a maximum of 20 licenses to dispensaries in the first year of the program.

On Monday evening, the council undertook amendments to the licensing ordinance that were few compared to massive changes that have taken place at several council meetings dating back to January 2011. On Monday, the labeling requirements for marijuana packaging were changed so that dollar amounts are no longer required.

The council teetered on the edge of postponing the legislation, when city attorney Stephen Postema encouraged councilmembers to delay voting until the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion on a case (Michigan v. McQueen) for which oral arguments were heard on June 7. Despite the support for postponement from mayor John Hieftje, an initial vote to postpone achieved only two other votes. A second vote achieved a total of five votes, leaving the postponement one vote short of the six-vote majority it required.

As some councilmembers observed that the council had invested a disproportionate amount of time on the medical marijuana legislation, Hieftje contended that it had not prevented the council from handling its other work.

On Monday, that other work included a collective bargaining agreement with its police service specialists union, which was an item added just that evening to the agenda. The council also heard public commentary critical of the recent budget approved on May 31 by the council, which includes the layoff of some firefighters and police officers. The meeting was preceded by a demonstration by the city’s public safety employees, at Fifth and Huron streets just outside city hall

The council  also approved two contracts in connection with the East Stadium Bridges replacement project and three purchase orders related to tree care. And the council gave final approval to sewer and water rate increases and a revision to its landscaping ordinance.

The council revised its debt/fund balance policy, and revised its budget to reflect the blending of its economic development fund back into the general fund. Also related to economic development, councilmembers approved the annual $75,000 funding for Ann Arbor SPARK and set a public hearing for a tax abatement for Picometrix.

The council established an affordable housing lien policy and gave initial approval to technical revisions to the city’s pension ordinance. They confirmed appointments to the new design review board, but postponed a vote on setting the design review fee. The council added a work session for July 11, which is likely to include an update on the planned Fuller Road Station.

The council also heard a presentation on a skatepark planned for Veterans Memorial Park. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Budget Marathon Ends

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 31 session of May 16, 2011 meeting): The Ann Arbor city council finally adopted its fiscal year 2012 budget near midnight on the last day of May. The meeting had begun on May 16, was then recessed until May 23, immediately recessed again, and finally ended on May 31.

Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere

Councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) makes a point during budget discussions at the Ann Arbor city council's May 31, 2011 session. In the background is Sandi Smith (Ward 1). (Photos by the writer.)

An amendment to extend funding for four police officer positions for an additional three months failed on a 5-6 vote. That means that 20 total full-time positions in the police and fire departments will now be eliminated. In terms of sworn officer positions, that translates into a loss of six police (four through layoffs) and seven firefighters (three through layoffs).

Successful amendments to the budget included: (1) use of $85,600 in general fund reserves to add to human services funding; (2) use of $90,804 in general fund reserves to add to the parks allocation; (3) use of $7,000 in general fund reserves to cover the cost of an additional city council primary election (as proposed, the FY 2012 budget anticipated primaries in only two of the city’s five wards); and (4) acknowledgment of an additional $87,452 from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s parking fund to the city’s general fund, resulting from a newly ratified parking contract. A proposed amendment to reduce allocations to the public art program failed.

In other business related to the city’s budget, the council ratified a new contract with the DDA for management of the city’s public parking system. It’s a contract that runs for 11 years and will transfer nearly $3 million of public parking revenue to the city every year. The council rejected on a 2-9 vote a proposed amendment that would give the city council veto power on the DDA’s authority to set parking rates.

The council also approved a resolution to waive the city’s share of excess TIF (tax increment finance) capture in the DDA’s district – that amounts to $712,000 that won’t be paid to the city. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays Budget Vote

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 16, 2011): Ann Arbor’s city charter requires that the city council amend and adopt a city budget by its second meeting in May. If it fails to act, by default the unamended budget proposed in April by the city administrator is adopted.


During public commentary, Sue Maguire addressed the council on the topic of proposed reductions to the fire department. (Photos by the writer.)

But Monday, at its second meeting in May this year, the city council did not act, choosing instead to recess and continue the meeting the following week, on May 23. The decision to delay was prompted by uncertainty about revenue from the public parking system. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city were poised to ratify a new agreement on parking revenue on May 2, but that agreement was put off when questions were raised about the DDA tax increment finance (TIF) capture. The DDA later called a special meeting on Friday, May 20 to address that issue.

Even though the council did not act on the budget, most of the evening’s discussion was dominated by budget talk, including extensive public commentary on the proposed cuts in the police and fire departments. The council also got a briefing from its chief of police and interim fire chief, Barnett Jones, who responded to an article published in about fire department response times, calling the calculations presented in the piece inaccurate.

In addition to putting off action on the FY 2012 budget, the council also tabled decisions on human services funding, funding for a water system study, and fee increases for next year.

However, the council did transact some business. It authorized an increase in taxicab fares in light of rising gas prices. The council also approved neighborhood stabilization funds for demolition of three houses on North Main Street to prepare the site for construction of the Near North affordable housing project. Two large vehicle purchases – a street sweeper and a sewer truck – that had been postponed from the previous meeting were authorized.

The council also revised its administrative policy on how the 2006 parks millage is to be spent. Funds outside the general fund can count as general fund money for the purpose of the policy, as long as those funds are not drawn from the parks millage. The council also gave initial approval to an ordinance on design guidelines for new buildings downtown. [Full Story]

County Board Connects, Hard Choices Loom

Washtenaw County board of commissioners retreat (Jan. 29, 2011): A budget retreat for county commissioners last Saturday – also attended by other elected county officials and staff – laid some groundwork for tackling Washtenaw County’s two-year, $20.9 million projected deficit.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners retreat

At their Jan. 29 retreat, Washtenaw County commissioners, staff and other elected officials gathered to talk about the county's budget priorities. The retreat was led by commissioner Conan Smith, the board's chair, who's sitting in the center of the horseshoe table. Other participants are sitting around the room's perimeter, off camera. (Photos by the writer.)

While no decisions were made, the group took steps toward reaching consensus on budget priorities. They identified among their main concerns: public safety, service delivery and human services. At the end of the five-hour session, several commissioners cited the main benefit of the day as building closer relationships with each other, which they hope will help the board and other elected officials – including the sheriff, prosecuting attorney and treasurer – work together more effectively as they make difficult decisions about programs and services to cut.

The retreat was led by board chair Conan Smith, who structured the day with time for sharing individual priorities and concerns, combined with small group work to discuss specific outcomes the commissioners hope will result from those priorities. For example, if public safety is a priority, a possible outcome might be the goal of responding to a 911 call in 20 minutes or less. The county could then budget its resources to achieve that outcome.

Though these kinds of examples emerged during the retreat, the work of setting priorities will continue. Smith said the goal is to develop a formal board resolution outlining their priorities, to guide the budget-setting process. The board will hold its next retreat on Wednesday, Feb. 9 from 6-9 p.m., immediately following its 5:30 p.m. administrative briefing. Both meetings are public, and will be held at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.

The county’s fiscal year mirrors the calendar year, and budgets are developed on two-year cycles. The current budget runs through the end of 2011. While there will likely be some additional cuts this year, most discussions are focused on the 2012-2013 budget, which commissioners will be asked to approve by the end of this year. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "'State of County' Tackles $20M Deficit"]

This report summarizes Saturday’s discussions of personal priorities, aspirations for Washtenaw County, budget priorities, and reflections on the process. For breakout sessions, we covered the group focused on public safety. By day’s end there were threads of optimism – Yousef Rabhi, one of four new commissioners, said he felt inspired that they were starting to work not just as a team, but “almost as a family.” But notes of caution were sounded as well, as veteran commissioner Wes Prater told the group that “the most difficult part is yet to come.” [Full Story]

Local Concealed Weapons Permits Increasing

Washtenaw County is on pace to set another new record for applications for “concealed-carry” weapons (CCW) permits.

Sign in Washtenaw County administration building

A sign in the Washtenaw County administration building directs residents who want to apply for a concealed weapons license.

Whether more adults legally able to carry guns enhances or erodes public safety is a matter of debate. What’s not in doubt is that more community members want the option: A member of about 1 in every 20 households in the county now holds a permit.

The number climbed in late 2008 and 2009 as people across the U.S. acted on concerns that Democratic leadership in Washington might promote restrictions on firearms, according to law enforcement officials.

The upward trend has continued in Washtenaw County, fueled – according to gun-rights sympathizers – by continuing worry about potential legislative restrictions, along with concerns about crime and shrinking public-safety budgets.

So far this year, 1,019 county residents have applied for permits. If that rate continues, the county would see a more than 20% increase over 2009’s record-setting 2,255 applications.

“It’s amazing,” says retired Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy Ernie Milligan, who chairs the county’s concealed weapons licensing board, which held its monthly meeting this week. “In the past year or so, I’ve started to see roadside signs advertising CCW classes. That may help fuel it, but there’s a fear factor, too.”

Under legislation that liberalized Michigan’s gun laws in 2001, state residents 21 and older who complete a safety course can apply for a permit to carry concealed weapons. Criminal convictions and mental-health problems can disqualify applicants. But unlike the “may-issue” law it replaced, the 2001 “shall-issue” law leaves local gun licensing boards with little room for subjectivity. For the most part, an application yields a permit.

In 2010, 983 permits have been issued so far in Washtenaw County. Seven applications were denied. [Full Story]