Are you bored by baseball? Of course you are. And you’re bored even more by the inside baseball of Ann Arbor city politics.
So this is not really a column about city politics or baseball. Instead, it’s a column based on a saying that baseball Hall of Famer Casey Stengel loved to repeat: “You can look it up.”
Yes, we can look stuff up. And we do look stuff up. Because looking stuff up and writing it down is part of The Job of a journalist. It’s just as much a part of The Job as showing up to a place and writing down what you see there.
Where does a local journalist look stuff up? When the past actions of the Ann Arbor city council are of interest, one place I check is the set of official minutes of city council meetings. When basic law is of interest, one place I check is the Ann Arbor city charter.
Now, the city charter has been the subject of some recent community conversation because of the eligibility requirements it appears to impose on city officers. That conversation has been prompted by Bob Dascola’s attempt to run for a seat on the Ann Arbor city council representing Ward 3.
Fair warning: This is going to be a long windup.
According the city clerk, Dascola doesn’t meet the city charter’s requirements on eligibility for office. Those requirements include two separate one-year durational requirements dating from the time of election: residency in the ward and voter registration in the city. Dascola contends he does meet the requirement on residency. But he concedes he doesn’t meet the requirement on voter registration.
But Dascola is represented by local attorney Tom Wieder, who’s arguing that both charter requirements are null and void as a result of two court decisions in the early 1970s. The city’s position is that court decisions after those from the 1970s have re-established the validity of the charter requirements.
That lawsuit is currently in the U.S. District Court, slated to be handled on an expedited schedule. So the matter is likely to be resolved before ballots are finalized sometime in early June for the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary election. A key question of law in the case is whether subsequent court rulings in other jurisdictions can be interpreted in a way that restores Ann Arbor’s charter provisions, which had previously been ruled null and void.
In a recent blog post on the topic of Dascola’s lawsuit, local attorney and Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Joan Lowenstein argues that the Ann Arbor city charter’s eligibility requirements have, in fact, been revived by subsequent court cases. She further argues that Ann Arbor voters themselves also “revived” the charter requirements – by citing a failed 2003 voter referendum on a proposed charter amendment.
About that referendum question, which the city council voted to place on the ballot, Lowenstein had this to say: “After Wieder lost the Wojack case in 2002, he convinced the city council to put the residency requirement to a vote, which it did.”
In her blog post, Lowenstein does not quote out the language the council voted to place on the ballot, though she does include in its entirety a post-election Ann Arbor News article from 2003.
Had Lowenstein included the council-approved ballot language from the 2003 city council minutes, it would have been clear that the vote was about much more than just durational residency requirements for city councilmembers.
And had Lowenstein included the council minutes from March 3, 2003 in their entirety, it would have been clear that she herself was part of the council to which she refers. And it would have been clear that she herself co-sponsored the resolution, which includes the following statement in a “whereas” clause: “Fewer restrictions on holding office are more consistent with open and democratic government;”
How do I know this? I took a dead baseball player’s advice: I looked it up.
Now here comes the pitch: I think it’s about time to establish a charter commission – to review a document that is nearly 60 years old and no longer can be interpreted without studying the state’s history of legislation and jurisprudence.